Full Grand Traverse skimo race from Crested Butte to Aspen looks promising for Saturday
Only a few days out and the annual Grand Traverse ski mountaineering race looks like it might get the full go ahead.
“I am confident,” race director Andrew Arell said Wednesday evening. “We will continue to adjust as necessary in the next few days.”
The popular race, presented by The North Face and organized by Crested Butte Nordic, takes skiers from Crested Butte to Aspen. Held almost exclusively in the backcountry, it’s a roughly 37.3-mile trek that includes more than 6,800 feet of climbing and 8,200 feet of descent. While the course can change based on conditions, it is expected to include areas such as Star Pass, Upper Brush Creek and Richmond Ridge.
Despite historically bad avalanche conditions this past month, conditions look promising for Saturday, which will be the 22nd consecutive year the race has been held. It’s never been canceled, although on four occasions (1999, 2014, 2016, 2018) it’s been run as a “reverse,” or an out-and-back that begins and ends in Crested Butte.
Arell said as of Wednesday afternoon they had three advance field teams in place at the three predominant huts on course — Friends Hut, Opa’s Taylor Hut and Barnard Hut — each of which reported good conditions for racing.
“The crux of the course is getting over Star Pass and the potential for avalanche hazard on the north side in the Star Basin,” Arell said. “From what they are telling us is they got a viable route they feel really confident in. They even attempted some mitigation work in dropping a very large cornice off of the pass and didn’t even get any reaction in the basin, so that’s a good sign.”
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, avalanche conditions in the area were rated as moderate (2 out of 5) as of Wednesday night. This is well down from the conditions seen earlier this month that triggered some of the record avalanches that occurred, including the one in the Conundrum Creek Valley.
While current conditions look good, a storm system is expected to hit the area Friday that could change things. A final decision on the race likely won’t be made until late on Friday. The race starts at midnight Saturday, with the winners expected in Aspen around 6 a.m. Saturday morning, based on past times.
Last year, the race was changed to a “reverse” in the “11th hour” because of a storm.
“Even when we do make a provisional call at the racer meeting at 1 p.m. on Friday, it will be provisional,” Arell said. “With the warm up during the day, what our snow safety forecasters like to see is a good, hard freeze at night. That’s another factor we are watching and I think we are confident with that weather moving in we will get a good lock up for the race.”
Should any issue arise, Arell wanted to point out and thank Pitkin County for helping them install permanent antennas along the course that will help backcountry communication, which Arell said is “critical” to the race.
Safety being the primary concern, shadowing over this year’s race are the Feb. 16 deaths of Roaring Fork Valley locals Michael Goerne and Owen Green. They were caught up in an avalanche in the East Brush Creek area while training for the Grand Traverse.
The two men likely will be on the minds of many athletes this weekend.
“Every race bib is actually bearing their name,” Arell said. “At the mandatory racer meeting on Friday, we are going to recognize those two in a moment of silence tribute to memorialize their lives.”
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