Cold makes for hostile Traverse |

Cold makes for hostile Traverse

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The 2003 Elk Mountains Grand Traverse will go down as the coldest race in history, and probably the toughest race, too.

The sixth annual running of the 40-mile Crested Butte to Aspen overland ski race saw its greatest attrition rate ever, about 40 percent, and its perfect safety record diminished by widespread cases of frostbite.

Of the 102 two-person teams that started from Crested Butte at midnight Friday, only 62 reached the finish line at the base of the Silver Queen gondola on Saturday.

Because of the harsh conditions, race officials turned back 30 teams at the Friends Hut, about 10 miles north of Crested Butte along the route. Two racers – who suffered the worst cases of widely reported frostbite – were flown out by helicopter from the hut around 10 a.m. Saturday to Gunnison County Hospital. Both are OK, a race official said.

But if extreme weather was the defining characteristic of this year’s race, it was lost on men’s champions Mike Klosure of Vail and Dan Weiland of Edwards – the first Grand Traverse men’s winners hailing from somewhere other than Crested Butte or Aspen.

Klosure, 43, a three-time Eco-Challenge champion, and Weiland, 26, a nordic ski coach at Vail Mountain School, scorched the frigid course in 8 hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds, nearly an hour ahead of the runners-up.

“Maybe the weather was a little worse behind us,” Klosure said Sunday. “I was really

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shocked to hear that teams were suffering from frostbite going up to the Friends Hut. … I had on a thin Lycra headband and glasses, and my teammate didn’t have on much more than that.

“I thought it was actually quite ideal conditions.”

Fewer than 10 teams finished by noon Saturday, at the 12-hour mark, making it the slowest race, cumulatively, in history, too.

Jimmy Faust and Pat O’Neill of Crested Butte, the 1999 and 2000 champions, finished second in 9:24:50, followed by brothers Steve and Jeff Banks of Crested Butte in third (9:48:20), the same result as last year.

Brothers Andre and Pierre Wille of Basalt posted the top Aspen-area men’s result, coming in fourth (10:00:30). The Wille brothers won the inaugural race in 1998.

On the women’s side, only four teams completed the race.

Crested Butte’s Elizabeth Becker and Susan Sherman won the title in 12:49:20, followed by Basalt’s Galen Nourjian and Aspen’s Heather Lafferty in second (14:08:15). Aspen’s Christy Sauer and May Eynon took third place (15:53:05), followed by Carbondale’s Darcy Kyle and Mary Lewis, who finished at 5 p.m. Aspen time in 17 hours even.

Aspen’s Bob and Ruth Wade captured the coed division crown in 11:41:40.

Race officials recorded a low temperature of 2 degrees at the Friends Hut at 2 a.m. on Saturday.

“We’re assuming it’s the coldest race on record, but some racers said it was colder last year,” said Mike Martin of Crested Butte, the assistant race director. “Obviously, most people just thought it was very, very cold.”

Winds were a factor as well, he said, however only moderate winds were recorded on the route’s high point, the 12,303-foot Star Pass. “It was moderate at 2 a.m., and after that winds diminished. So the winds were not that substantial at Star Pass,” he said.

The two racers who suffered the worst of the frostbite – a man from Basalt and a woman from Dillon with a frozen foot, Martin said, were transported to the Gunnison hospital as a safety precaution.

“Once that foot thaws, you don’t want it to freeze again,” Martin said. “They wanted those folks to stay thawed, and that’s why the decision was made to fly them out.”

Martin declined to give their names, but said they were not teammates.

On Sunday, he reported that Crested Butte Mountain Rescue said the two victims suffered from “moderate frostbite on their feet and hands, but not at all severe.” The man was treated and released from the hospital, Martin said. The woman refused further treatment.

Crested Butte’s Geo Bullock was one notable DNF.

Bullock and partner Dave Penny, also of Crested Butte, entered the race as the two-time defending men’s champions.

Last year the duo battled with Grand Traverse rookies Klosure and Weiland, running side by side for much of the race and pushing each other at a course-record pace. And it was only on the 3,267-foot descent of Aspen Mountain from the Sundeck that Bullock and Penny managed to put 26 seconds between them and Klosure and Weiland to finish in 7:10:24.

But early Saturday morning, Bullock got frostbite on his ear before even pulling into the Friends Hut.

“It was cold and it caught a lot of us by surprise,” Bullock said Sunday. “Unusual for this time of year, not unheard of, and I mean, geez, it was as forecasted. Just a little breeze moving just enough to chill people.”

Penny continued on to Aspen with another Crested Butte racer who’d lost his partner to frostbite at the Friends Hut, while Bullock recouped for about three hours before continuing on with another friend from Crested Butte waylaid with frostbite at about 7 a.m. Saturday.

“The scene up there? The place was packed!” Bullock said. “There was 25 or 30 people there; carnage basically. A lot of people would just pull in, take a break, warm up for awhile and then go on. But a lot of people were a mess: frostbite, cold, their water’s all frozen and their skin’s falling off.”

Complete results of the Grand Traverse will appear in The Aspen Times later this week.

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