Durango skiers win 2015 Grand Traverse | AspenTimes.com

Durango skiers win 2015 Grand Traverse

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
The podium finishers pose Saturday morning at theAspen Mountain finish line of the 2015 Elk Mountains Grand Traverse. They are, from left, third-place finishers Billy Laird/Jon Brown, winners Paul Hamilton/Scott Simmons and second-place J. Marshall Thomson/Rob Krar.
Dale Strode / The Aspen Times |

The dudes from Durango won the 2015 Elk Mountains Grand Traverse, the epic ski mountaineering race from Crested Butte to Aspen.

Scott Simmons and Paul Hamilton skied into the still-darkened base area of Aspen Mountain at 6:45 a.m. Saturday, crossing the finish line to complete the 40-mile ski adventure.

Simmons, Hamilton and the rest of the intrepid Grand Traverse skiers had left Crested Butte precisely at midnight, headlamps lighting the way through the backcountry.

Six hours, 44 minutes and 35 seconds later, the Durango duo raced into history with the fastest time ever in the Grand Traverse, flying along on a firm and fast (i.e. icy) course that concluded with a high-speed early morning rip down Aspen Mountain.

With the sun starting to work its way around Kleenex Corner onto Little Nell, the second-place pair skied into the finish area adjacent to the gondola loading station.

J. Marshall Thomson of Crested Butte and Rob Krar of Flagstaff, Arizona, completed the trip from Crested Butte in 6:54:44, just 10 minutes behind the winners.

Thomson, a Crested Butte ski patrolman, won the Power of Four 50K trail race in Aspen last summer – for the second consecutive year.

His partner, who he met for the first time on Thursday, was competing in his first big-time ski mountaineering race.

But Rob Krar isn’t a first-timer at big-time endurance events. Krar is one of the best ultrarunners in the world; he won the Leadville 100 trail race last year.

Third place Saturday went to the veteran Crested Butte/Gunnison skimo duo of Billy Laird/Jon Brown.

Race organizer Bryan Wickenhauser and partner Brian Smith, also from Crested Butte, finished fourth.

The first coed team to finish the 2015 Grand Traverse featured Carbondale’s Lindsay Plant and Brad Edmiston. They were ninth overall.

Plant is coming off a national championship season in ski mountaineering. She and partner Jessie Young won the women’s division of the Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race last month.

The winners in the women’s division Saturday, finishing in 8 hours, 17 minutes, were Crested Butte’s Stevie Kremer and Yari Kirkland.

Kremer, too, is a multiple winner in Aspen events — including a victory in the Aspen Backcountry Marathon last summer and a previous win in the Power of Four 50K.

“We could not have asked for better conditions, better weather,” Kremer said, quick to credit her teammate.

“Your partner is huge because this is such a long race and you have so many hurdles,” Kremer said. “Communicating and understanding each other is key.”

The course, she said, was fast from the start.

“It was insane how fast,” Kremer said.

Most importantly, she said, they had fun — especially on the early morning ski down Ajax.

“We finished with a smile on our faces. That’s what matters,” Kremer said.

The Durango winners of the men’s division also finished with smiles — perhaps a bit tortured. But smiles nonetheless.

“(The course) was about as fast as it could be,” said Simmons, the 43-year-old veteran of ski mountaineering. He’s raced in the Grand Traverse and the Power of Four multiple times. “We probably wore our skins out it was so fast.”

He, too, commended the work of his partner.

“Paul (Hamilton) just started skimo skiing this year,” Simmons said, adding that they first met a year and a half ago.

After a long trail run together, Simmons said he realized he had found a new partner for the Grand Traverse.

They two took off up the Engineer Mountain Trail in the San Juan Mountains north of Durango.

“It’s like 3,000 feet (of climbing), and he smoked me by 20 minutes,” Simmons said with a smile. “I said, ‘There’s my GT (Grand Traverse) partner. The dude is cool, super-strong. He’s definitely got the engine.”

They focused their training over the last six weeks on the traverse from Crested Butte to Aspen, preparing for Saturday’s race.

“The first 10, 12 miles was pretty heinous … a lot of skating and hiking,” said Hamilton, a runner with the North Face Endurance Team. He finished second to J. Marshall Thomson in the Power of Four 50K trail race last year. “I don’t talk a lot (on the course). I don’t like to talk when I’m hurting. But we encourage each other even if words aren’t spoken.”

He said Simmons helped him with his ski mountaineering this year — in a big way.

“I feel like he’s taken me under his wing,” said Hamilton, who is 20 years younger than Simmons. “It’s really fun training with him. He’s an amazing skier. I’ve learned a lot.”

He helped power Simmons to victory.

“I’m getting older, and I wanted to win this race at least once,” said Simmons, married and a father of two boys (13 and 11).

The runner-up duo also featured a veteran and a veritable rookie.

“This is my first year of (skimo) racing,” said Krar, who usually trains at Snowbowl outside Flagstaff. “When I looked at this race back in December, I thought it was so far off the charts for me.”

But training, encouragement and partnership with Thomson helped Krar, 37, make the podium at the 2015 Grand Traverse.

“I was very fortunate to team up with Marshall, who has so much experience,” said Krar, who also is an age-group course record-holder in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.

“I had a blast. It’s a different hurting than I’m used to, but I like it,” Krar said.