America’s Uphillers gain new traction |

America’s Uphillers gain new traction

Janet UrquhartAspen, CO Colorado
Racers reach the bottom of Spar Gulch during the 2000 America's Uphill on Aspen Mountain. Aspen Times photo/Michael Brands.

ASPEN – Racers will gain new traction in their quest for bragging rights in this year’s America’s Uphill, the grueling race up the slopes of Aspen Mountain.For the first time, the race will feature an “open” category for participants who choose to make the 2.5-mile, 3,267-foot scramble to the summit without benefit of either skis or snowshoes. The category will let competitors wear running shoes, hiking boots, etc. and footwear fitted with various brands of traction gear, like Stabilicers and YakTrax.The popular race, which takes place Saturday, March 17, has long featured four classes, based on equipment – telemark, randonee (alpine touring) and cross-country skis, and snowshoes. In addition, there are numerous age groups for male and female competitors, which means a lot of prizes. The new open category, also divvied into age and gender divisions, will make tracking results and awarding the winners even more complicated, conceded organizer Bob Wade, owner of the Ute Mountaineer, which helps sponsor the event.While some participants have long preferred to participate using Stabilicers and the like, and have been welcome to do so, those competitors weren’t among the official racers, and their finish times didn’t put them in contention for podium spots.

Rather, the official race was limited to the traditional modes of winter travel.”I wanted to keep it winter-specific traveling gear and, you know, you just can’t wade around in the backcountry in tennis shoes,” Wade said.That was also the vision of Scott Edmondson, who founded the America’s Uphill, taking inspiration from Fritz Stammberger, the mountaineer who used to run up the mountain in the 1960s as part of his training regimen.But Wade has given in to public demand.”I just said, ah, I’ll stop being so uptight about it,” he said.

Wade doesn’t anticipate an huge boost in the number of racers as a result of the new open class – about 350 people usually participate – but he’s bracing for a big shift in the snowshoe class, as more participants opt for the lighter gear.Still, depending on the snow conditions, snowshoes could be the advantageous choice, he noted.”One of the cool things about it, one of the reasons we started the race, was to find out what is the fastest way up,” Wade said. “I like the strategic aspect – what am I going to use today that’s best for the conditions?”I think it’s exciting to see who’s going to be the fastest,” he said.

Wade’s betting someone in running shoes may well turn in the quickest time this year, if conditions are favorable. New in the winter enthusiast’s gear arsenal, in fact, are running shoes with traction cleats built right into the soles.This year’s race is dedicated to both Stammberger and Edmondson; the latter, a retired Aspen Middle School teacher, died of cancer last August. The race T-shirt will feature the images of both men, Wade said.The race starts at 7 a.m. at the base of the Little Nell run.Register in advance at the Ute Mountaineer for $30; race-day registration is $40, in the gondola ticket office.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is


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