Big three dominate Grand Traverse |

Big three dominate Grand Traverse

Elk Mounain Grand Traverse co-ed division winners Monique Merrill of Breckenridge and Pete Swenson of Boulder crest a hill on Richmond Ridge three quarters of a mile from the top of Aspen Mountain Saturday morning April 2, 2005. The couple seized first place in the Co-ed division. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Last year, high winds put the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse in jeopardy of cancellation. The year before, subzero temperatures wreaked frostbite havoc on the racers, and in 1999 it was a blizzard. In the eighth annual running of the 40-mile backcountry ski race between Crested Butte and Aspen on Friday night and Saturday, skies were clear, temperatures were warm, and winds were almost nonexistent. While the weather was different this year, the top three finishers werent except for their order. Vails team of Mike Kloser and Dan Weiland returned to the top of the podium, edging last years winners, Jimmy Faust and Pat ONeill of Crested Butte, by more than 12 minutes. The duo cruised into the finish just before 8 a.m. with a time of 7 hours, 48 minutes and 30 seconds. Kloser and Weiland finished second last year. Theyre a tough team to beat, they do this for a living, Faust said about Kloser and Weiland. We were definitely chasing them, but theyre a tough team to catch.It was an honor to ski with them.Faust and ONeill the only team to have raced in the Traverse all eight years finished in 8:01:00, followed by fellow Crested Butticians Dave Penny and Todd Malzhan, who completed the trek in 8:04:55. Malzhan and Penny took third for the second consecutive year. Faust and ONeill have won the Grand Traverse three times, and Penny took back-to-back golds in 2001 and 2002 with partner Geo Bullock. Both Faust and Penny spoke about the challenges of keeping up with a professional adventure racer like Kloser when both have entered fatherhood. Its a new chapter in life, Faust said, adding that the main goal of the Traverse is really just to have fun. [ONeill and I] are best friends, we just love to ski together, Faust said. We dont have a training regimen. He said their strength lies in their experience. We can read each other without talking, its unspoken, Faust said. I feel like over the years weve made so many little errors that weve learned from. Penney, who used to spend several months of the year as a mountain guide in the Himalayas, said he looks forward to the future, when he can race with his wife and eventually his kids. Its always going to be fun, and a challenge, he said. Local favorites and brothers Pierre and Andre Wille suffered a major misfortune near Star Pass and finished 22nd overall. We were going along pretty good in there with the leaders and then Andre broke his ski on the way down Star Pass, said Pierre, who won the first Traverse in 1998 with Travis Moore. Pierre said attempts to bolt the ski back together failed and the brothers spent about two hours post-holing their way out of the basin. It took us forever, he said. A fellow racer with a spare ski about 160 centimeters in length came to Andres rescue. Andres one good ski was 205 centimeters. We deserved it, taking that light stuff out into the backcountry, said Andre, who is one of the bigger competitors at over 6 feet 3 inches. The Willes would still finish with a time of 10:27:30.In the coed field, Pete Swenson and Monique Merrill returned to take victory after a broken binding knocked them out of the race in the first hour last year. Swenson, from Boulder, and Merrill, from Breckenridge, finished in 9:30:05, more than 17 minutes faster than Robert Woerne and Carol Quinn, from Grand Junction and Gunnison, respectively. Swenson said he was exhausted after the race and pleased that he just finished.[Merrill] always wants to win, I just came to get to Aspen, he laughed. On the womens side, Butticians Sarah Fuld and Janae Pritchett winner of the 2005 U.S. Telemark extremes in Crested Butte slaughtered the field with a time of 11:41:25. The Basalt team of Amy Capron and Darcey Angelo followed with a time of 14:22:50. Racers said the course was in excellent, fast condition, although a slight detour that sent racers deep into Star Basin due to extreme avalanche danger added an extra, unanticipated challenge. We werent expecting that many switchbacks, Penny said. But the majority of racers said the toughest part of the course was the last leg along Richmond Ridge, where skiers had to remove their skis and hoof it on foot through large sections of the rolling, ice chunked snowmobile trail. It takes everything you have left, Penny said. Thats the hardest part, with all the whoop-dee-doos, Swenson said. Merrill feels the most difficult aspect of the race is the midnight start time. It took me about four hours to come around, she said. As of 3:30 p.m. Saturday, there were still 23 teams working their way to the finish. Full results will run later this week. Steve Bensons e-mail address is

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