Hometown race series begins
The week leading up to Saturday’s race at Monarch started with warm snow and rain (yes, rain in Gunnison, Colorado in February!) basically ruining our prized winter snow for the rest of the week.
Midweek dawn patrol missions were put on hold with this weather and rumors of road bikes were being whispered among the community. The saving grace for rando racing was that the Crested Butte Town Rando Series was starting on Thursday, February 28 and offered a refreshing and fun “locals series,” a primer for the upcoming COSMIC series race at Monarch on Saturday, February 28.
The Crested Butte Town Rando race went off really well, with a surprisingly great course Thursday evening. Travis Scheefer won it over rando legend Ethan Passant. In the woman’s race it was Carol Quinn winning it over Sarah Gillis.
Local rando racers then headed to Monarch for the inaugural Race the Divide. With clear, sunny skies and a cold start, 53 racers headed to the top of Mirkwood Bowl reaching the 1,162-foot climb in under 20 minutes. To give you an idea of what the average person does to get here—They take a chair lift for 12 minutes then hike up a cat road 10 to 15 minutes to make the final 300 vertical foot climb (1,200 linear feet) to the edge of Mirkwood.
There’s something in the Gunnison Valley water, as Brian Smith was once again the first to the top, followed by series organizer Pete Swenson (Breckenridge), Travis Scheefer, Jon Brown and Bryan Wickenhauser.
Skins were ripped in windy conditions each time we topped out above tree line at 11,952 feet on the Continental Divide. From there it was a series of quick descents down and back up north-facing slopes. Some were within the resort boundary and others were on the famed Monarch Snowcat Tours terrain. Thank goodness for the cold nighttime temperatures Friday night, which helped lock up the snow pack and make it quite fun skiing/ skinning. It really had a good backcountry feel to the race, as there was never a chair lift in sight except for the Start/Finish.
Due to the shorter descent/climbs, transition skills were paramount. In total, there were four descents and four climbs, with each descent/climb about 600 to 700 feet. Pete Swenson chipped away at Smith’s lead throughout the race, while the battle for third between Wickenhauser and Scheefer played out in front of Brown.
At the top of the final climb, Smith had a 20-plus-second lead over Swenson, with the descent down Mirkwood Bowl and a cat road to the finish line all that was left. Smith, unfortunately, double-ejected in his speedy attempt to get down, allowing Swenson to take first, with a dejected Smith following up in second.
The race for third had a similar fate, with Wickenhauser entering Mirkwood Bowl first over Scheefer, but by the time the flat cat road came into play it was a game of cat and mouse, with Scheefer edging out Wickenhauser at the finish line for third, followed by Brown rounding out the top five. The winning time for the men was just over an hour and four minutes, with about 2,800 feet of climbing and descending.
In the woman’s race it was Monique Merrill leading it from start to finish, followed by Janelle Smiley winning the “Crested Butte local women’s crown,” Gretchen Reeves placing third and Jari Kirkland and Sarah Gillis battling out for fourth and fifth, respectively.
The next COSMIC stop is Loveland this Saturday, March 7, offering more racing on the Continental Divide.