Fairplay hosts burro world championships race with altered course because of snow
Days away from August, this winter and spring’s snowfall is still affecting outdoors events here in the High Country. Sunday’s 71st annual World Championship Pack Burro Race will not reach Mosquito Pass for the first time since the race, which pairs a human with a donkey, has run its course from historic South Park in Fairplay up to the 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass, and back.
“The snow is still too deep,” town of Fairplay special events coordinator Julie Bullock said Wednesday evening.
Bullock said snow drifts up near the top of the pass, near 13,000 feet, remained as high as 13 feet late last week. Bullock explained that the town of Fairplay worked diligently, with the help of volunteers, in recent weeks and months to clear out the copious avalanche debris that remained on and near the traditional 29-mile course over rugged terrain. Though the crew was successful in removing the avalanche debris, Bullock said there’s a roughly 2-mile stretch leading up to the pass on a narrow mountain road that has proven too difficult to clear well enough to safely put human racers, and especially donkey racers, out on any cleared stretch in the snow.
Though the race has been hosted since 1949, Bullock said this specific route up to the pass has been used since 1973.
“This is actually the first time ever that we’ve not been able to get to the top of the pass,” she said. “We’ve had to shovel to get to the top of the pass before, but it wasn’t that high.”
Bullock said the route change effectively means racers and their donkeys, or burros, will go directly up Mosquito Pass instead of being able to take the usual route up Forest Road 696 through terrain known as American Flats, an area near the top of Mosquito Pass. Once traversing across American Flats, Bullock said the race traditionally follows a narrow, single-track road known as The Shelf Road, which takes racers up to the top of Mosquito Pass.
The alternate route will shorten the long course race by roughly 4 miles, but the 15-mile short course race will be unaffected.
“It was thought we might be able to get to as far as we could into the drift,” Bullock said, “but it’s a single-track road, and we just can’t get all the burros out. Burros are used to running together with their stall mates.”
Bullock said this year’s turnaround point will be at just over 12,000 feet, shortening the long course race’s elevation gain by about 1,000 feet.
“The biggest drifts seem to be right before they would cross American Flats,” Bullock said. “And they can’t get onto it, near the South London Mine. It’s just too much to be able to deal with — even bulldozers. It’s just too much, too heavy. It is melting every day, but we are getting a lot of moisture over here, and it seems like the rain is making it worse.”
The long course course change aside, Bullock said this weekend’s Burro Days celebration will be much the same as previous years, featuring 150 vendors including arts and crafts and food, as well as an airstream open house following Sunday’s 11:30 a.m. parade.
The weekend’s races will include an 11 a.m. llama race on Sunday as well as short and long course burro races on Front Street commencing at 10:30 a.m. The annual outhouse races will begin at 1 p.m., also on Front Street.
New this year will be a Bayou Salado Rendevous, which will run 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday across the river at 200 Platte Drive. The Rendevous, which used to be part of the Burro Days weekend years ago, will feature a pre-1840 primitive camp paying homage to Fairplay and the High Country’s mining and mountain history.
“Everybody is in costume,” Bullock said, “in camps, a black powder chute, the ladies fry pan toss.”
This weekend will also be the second consecutive year the event will host its Burro Days Museum on the Courthouse Lawn at Main and 5th streets.
“Every year we are trying to gather more and more items,” Bullock said. “We received a grant from the South Park National Heritage area to preserve and protect some of the pieces in the museum, and we will continue to do it every year, to build on it.”
The annual Burro Days races are hosted in conjunction with the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation, the organization that puts the rules and regulations together for several burro races each summer in the High County. Those races include the annual “Triple Crown of Burro Racing,” three consecutive weekends of races in Fairplay, Leadville and Buena Vista. The Triple Crown will continue in August with the 71st annual Boom Days Pack Burro Race, a 21-mile race, hosted in Leadville on Sunday, Aug. 4, followed by the 46th annual Buena Vista Gold Rush Days Pack Burro Race, a 13-mile race, on Sunday, Aug. 11.
Last year, Kirk Courkamp of Pine and his burro Mary Margaret won the Triple Crown by winning all three races in the series.
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This past season brought with it Hailey Swirbul’s greatest individual result as a professional cross-country ski racer. But any real satisfaction she received always came when racing alongside her teammates, notably during world champs.