Golden Leaf races this weekend

Steve Benson

Dubbed one of the nation’s most scenic races by Trail Runner magazine, the Golden Leaf Half Marathon returns to Aspen/Snowmass Sunday for its 26th annual edition.

And, for just the second year, there will also be a mountain biking race on the same course Saturday.

The 13.1 mile course begins at the Snowmass Village mall and immediately climbs 900 vertical feet up a dirt road on Snowmass Ski Area before topping out at the Government Trail at 9,600 feet. About six miles of up and down (mostly down) terrain follows before the course drops into the Roaring Fork Valley and the eventual finish at Koch Lumber Park (7,900 feet) near Shadow Mountain in Aspen.

Paul Perley, the Golden Leaf race director, said he expects a larger turnout for this year’s foot race, and about the same amount of mountain bikers. Last September, about 450 runners and 40 bikers competed.

“It’s a little late for some of the people in the cycling club,” said Perley, who works for the Golden Leaf’s title sponsor, the Ute Mountaineer. “A lot of them are kind of winding down their season.”

Perley said the main attraction of the race is the scenery, as the Aspen leaves are changing, and the fact that it’s a point-to-point course that begins and ends in different towns. But it’s also a relatively mellow course, especially in comparison to last weekend’s Imogene Pass Run, which started in Ouray and climbed over 5,000 feet en route to the finish in Telluride.

“It’s a technical race but it’s not the hardest race in the world,” Perley said. “It has a challenge to it, but in contrast to Imogene … it’s for mortals.

“We get a lot of people that are not racers but just participants who do it because they want to come to Aspen.”

There are also two men who have run every single Golden Leaf race dating back to the 1970s. Ron Lund, the head track and cross-country coach at Basalt High School, and Barry Mink, a local physician, will race for the 26th consecutive year this Sunday.

Thad Reichley, last years men’s winner in the half marathon and runner-up in the bike race, has moved out of town; it’s not clear if he will be competing this weekend. Julia Benson, a teacher at Aspen Country Day School, won the women’s half-marathon handily last year ” in her first attempt ” beating runner-up Cindy O’Neill of Manitou Springs by six minutes. Perley wasn’t sure whether Benson would be defending her title.

While the weekend weather forecast looks good now, Perley said racers should be prepared for anything.

“If the weather is poor, people should dress for it,” Perley said. “This time of year, if it’s raining it will be cool out there.”

New to the race this year are time chips, which will be placed in ankle bracelets and worn by all of the racers to make for more efficient time keeping.

“If five people cross the finish at once, there will be no problem with the data,” Perley said.

Three aid stations will be positioned at various points along the course, and a buffet lunch will great racers at the finish.

“It should be a pretty smooth running race, we’ve done it so many times,” Perley said.

The mountain bike race starts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday; the run starts at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Entry costs $35 for runners and bikers (or $45 the morning of the races), or $60 for both events.

Register in person at the Ute Mountaineer in Aspen or online at

Steve Benson’s e-mail address is