Vail’s Kloser wins ‘Wild’ one |

Vail’s Kloser wins ‘Wild’ one

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

With a climbing harness buckled around his waste, a bike helmet strapped to his head and alpine touring skis attached to his feet, Mike Kloser looked a little out of place combing the inbounds slopes of Snowmass Saturday morning.

But for the 44-year-old from Vail, nothing was out of the ordinary ” it was just another adventure race.

Staying true to form, the former Eco-Challenge champion cruised to victory in the first Snowmass Winter Wild Adventure Race ” 11 miles of skinning, traversing, skiing, and rappelling around the resort’s terrain ” thereby upholding his reputation as one of the fiercest competitors in this valley, the next one, and beyond.

“He’s one of the most exceptional endurance athletes in the world,” Steve Kropf, the founder of Indigo Equipment, said of Kloser. “And he’s one of the most humble guys on top of that ” he’s a rare character.”

A field of 28 racers ” 10 individuals, and nine teams of two ” entered the race, which also tested competitors with 5,800 vertical feet of climbing, orienteering in low-visibility conditions, and a beacon search. The race, sponsored by the Ute Mountaineer, Aspen Expeditions, Indigo Equipment and the Aspen Skiing Co., began shortly after 7 a.m. on Fanny Hill and ended hours later at Two Creeks.

“I felt it went great, it was awesome,” said Chad Denning, who along with Dick Jackson of Aspen Expeditions, Bob Wade of the Ute and Kropf, organized the race. “Every racer was stoked about the course.”

Kloser, who won the Elk Mountain Adventure Race last summer, which was also organized by Denning and included white-water kayaking, trail running, mountain biking and rappelling, finished Saturday’s race in three hours, 34 minutes and 37 seconds.

“It was an awesome race,” Kloser said. “That rappel section added some true adrenaline.”

Mark Falender and Pete Stouffer of Aspen recorded the fastest men’s team time, finishing in 4:18:35.

The coed team division was won by Christy Sauer and Dirk Bockelman of Aspen in 5:19:12.

Brothers Pierre and Andre Wille of Basalt finished second and third, respectively, in the men’s individual division.

“Well, he beat me again,” Andre Wille laughed, referring to his brother.

Being from Vail and unfamiliar with the terrain at Snowmass, Kloser was surprised the Willes didn’t overtake him in some of the tougher orienteering sections.

“For me, I was out there as a blind man,” Kloser said.

“It was our own fault, we live here,” Andre Wille added.

The men largely responsible for the challenging course are Jackson and Wade. The pair spent months surveying Snowmass’ varied terrain, all the while scheming a course that would test more than physical conditioning.

“We wanted to add mountaineering skills, route finding, rappelling, beacon search and avalanche rescue [skills],” Jackson said. “We didn’t want it to just be a matter of who was the best aerobic athlete.”

Jackson said the combination worked, at least in presenting a course that pleased the competitors.

“These people may be masochistic in their efforts,” he joked, “but they all had smiles on their faces when they came into the checkpoints.”

Adventure racing has become increasingly popular in recent years, with new events and challenges, like the Snowmass Wild Adventure Race, emerging yearly around the globe.

Notorious for challenging athletes in a variety of outdoor disciplines and pushing the limits of mental and physical exhaustion, the sport attracts a rare breed.

“Certain people are gifted with those skills and get a huge adrenaline rush when they challenge their body,” Kropf said. “They’re enamored with seeing how far they can push themselves.”

For Denning, an experienced adventure racer himself, it’s an extension of his lifestyle.

“It’s just fun, it’s not really ever about the race, but teamwork and the adventure,” he said. “It’s interesting to see how well you can do things.

“It’s just my lifestyle.”

With periods of heavy snow further challenging racers Saturday morning, Kropf said the efforts of the race organizers, the Skico and the Snowmass Ski Patrol, which conducted early morning control work to get the race under way, helped make the event a success.

“The Skico was super cooperative, everybody put in a real good effort,” Kropf said. “We hope to do this every year and tweak the course a little bit to make things more challenging.”

Kropf added that more categories and classes will be added if the race attracts a larger field of competitors in the future,

“We don’t want to only cater to the real high-end athlete,” he said. “We don’t want to make it so intimidating.”