Fast Eddies, ‘big-ass slides’ and a crisis
Jimmy Faust is a builder and Pat O’Neill is a teacher. Together, they’re a couple of damn fast skiers. Old buddies, they’ve taken to calling each other “Eddie” nowadays.And in the seven-year history of the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen, these fast Eddies from Crested Butte have won three times, including last year. Three more times, Team Eddie finished on the podium (two silvers, one bronze).The one year they missed the top three was 2002. That was the year Faust took a several-hundred-foot sliding wipeout off Star Pass, which, at 12,303-feet, is the high point of the 40-mile course. Faust lost one of his skis during his whizzing plummet down the slick, set-up sheet of snow into Star Basin. Then the two Eddies lost nearly two hours searching for the ski. Eventually, another racer found it and stuck it upright in the snow. They finished, of course.It’s one of hundreds of anecdotes from the growing legend that is the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse.When the race starts tonight at midnight in Crested Butte, Faust and O’Neill will be among the 120 or so teams of two edging at the line. Barring wipeout, around 7 or 8 o’clock Saturday morning, they’ll be pulling into Aspen, finishing at the base of the Ajax gondola.Last year, puffing on a cigarillo in the finish area, O’Neill summed up the race this way:”It’s about sucking it up. You have to change your strategy each year with the changing conditions. There were some super, super gusty stiff winds, with ground blizzards because of it. But you know what? I had a blast. Look, I’m here in Aspen, man. I was in Crested Butte midnight last night.”The race sold out in early February.9 p.m. NewsflashThe phone just rang; it was Jan Runge, the Grand Traverse race director.The ever-mellow Runge, of Crested Butte, had this to say at about 8:50 p.m. Thursday:”It’s me, handling yet again another crisis. They had some big-ass slides today” – they being the volunteer avalanche safety crews in the field along the race route – “so they’re a little worried. So what we’re going to do is …”Instead of starting in downtown Crested Butte, as planned, the course will now start at the Crested Butte ski area (already part of the route). The missing mileage, about 40 minutes’ worth, will be made up on a newly fashioned avalanche-avoidance route through the Star Pass and Taylor Pass (11,929 feet) cruxes.”We’re still going to take ’em through the Star Pass cirque, but we’re going to take ’em down, way down, into the valley floor, into the timber, and then back up to Taylor Pass,” she said. “And what I’m doing now is activating Geo Bullock, and some other really strong skiers, to guide people through there and make sure they avoid the slide danger.”Runge wasn’t clear on the details of the avalanches Thursday. “I think they were ski cutting. But I don’t know where the slides were exactly or how big they were, but they were alarming enough to make them reconsider the route,” she said. “They feel pretty good about sending everybody on the alternate route where things are safer.”Runge said the new route will amount to about a 45-minute detour.”And we’ll be wanting to try and get people through that section earlier with the warming trend we’re expecting,” she said.The contendersIn addition to Team Eddie, pretty much all the former champion teams will be represented.Vail’s Mike Kloser and Dan Wieland (2003) are back. In fact, Runge got an e-mail from Kloser on Thursday. “He says he’s hearing rumors about the conditions,” Runge relayed. “‘What’s up?'”Then there’s Crested Butticians Todd Malzhan and Dave Penny (2001, ’02 with Geo Bullock, of CB), the third-place overall finishers behind Faust and O’Neill, and Kloser and Wieland last year.Earlier Thursday, Runge said Team Malzhan-Penny has been on an agro training regime. “They’ve been getting up at like 3 in the morning, skiing to the Friends Hut (along the route), then skiing back, and then going to work. Crazy, huh?” Runge said.The defending coed champs, Vail’s Ellen Miller and William Mattison, are registered to compete.Gunnison’s Carol Quinn, the defending women’s champ with former Olympian Ingrid Butts, is racing the coed division this year with Robert Woerne.Brothers Pierre and Andre Wille of Aspen also e-mailed Runge Thursday. “We are psyched,” the Willes wrote Runge. (Pierre won the first Grand Traverse with Aspen’s Travis Moore.)In the women’s division, Runge said to look for Janae Pritchett and Sarah Fuld of Crested Butte. Pritchett is coming off a victory in the U.S. Telemark Extremes at the Butte. And her husband is one of the avalanche crew in the field based at the Friends Hut. “Last year,” Runge said, “he skied off Star Pass and into Aspen, and then asked her to marry him. Isn’t that sweet? He said, ‘Yeah, up there on Star Pass I got to thinking.'”Earlier, Runge also explained the status of the likes of Bullock, a Crested Butte woodworker and skier of legendary status.”He’s on call, as they say. So if my avalanche team calls me up [Friday] and says, ‘We need Geo up here,’ he’ll fly up there and help out,” she said.So it goes for the Grand Traverse.Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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