Thursday, November 15, 2018
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Conditions lead to fastest traverse ever

This year’s GORE-TEX Grand Traverse presented by Dynafit and Outdoor Research provided a number of “firsts” in the race’s 18-year history. For starters, the seven-hour mark racing from Crested Butte to Aspen was cracked for the first time. One team skied the course start to finish in shorts (one wearing jean shorts) for the first time. A woman finished in a bikini top and a couple men with no shirts on for the first time. And, one man skied 40 miles from Crested Butte to Aspen to drop to his knee at the finish line and ask his girlfriend to marry him.
Breaking the seven-hour mark this year was a testament to a number of things. For starters, the engines on these men and women just keep getting stronger. Add in the latest in ski mountaineering technology (i.e. light and stable), mild temperatures and conditions that were described as “firm and fast,” and you’ve got the makings for the fastest Grand Traverse ever.
“It was wicked fast,” says multiple Grand Traverse winner and race co-director Bryan Wickenhauser. “It was conducive to a track meet. No tactics, really, since the typical variables like frozen water tubes and frost bite, didn’t come into play.”
Granted, the course has changed over the history of the race but still, skiing from Crested Butte to Aspen in under seven hours in not just insane, it’s unsane.
Also, for the first time in the history of the Grand Traverse, the trophy for the overall winners will be heading south of Gunnison. In the first 17 years, the winning team hailed from Crested Butte, Gunnison, Aspen or Vail. This year the trophy is headed to southwest Colorado as the winning team of Scott Simmons and Paul Hamilton are from Durango, Colorado and they crushed the course finishing the race in a time of 6 hours, 44 minutes and 35 seconds. Marshall Thomson of Crested Butte and his partner Rob Krar finished 10 minutes later with a time of 6:54:44 and the Gunnison Valley team of Billy Laird and Jon Brown finished a little over a minute behind them in third place with a time of 6:55:52.
“I think the faster times had to do with skating more this year and the pretty warm temperatures,” says Laird. “Thirteen times going over Star Pass and this was the first time ever I didn’t slow down to put some layers on. It was perfect conditions for fast times.”
Fortunately, there was Stevie Kremer and Jari Kirkland to keep at least one of the trophies in the Gunnison Valley. Kremer and Kirkland teamed up this year to take the women’s title with a time of 8:17:08. Brynn O’Connell and Christie Hicks skied the course in a time of 10:29:01 to take second and Carrie Hicks and Janae Pritchett completed the sweep, coming in third place with a time of 10:42:01.
While the coed title went to a team out of Carbondale, Crested Butte’s own Allen Hadley joined up with Petra Pirc to place second with a time of 8:50:54 and continue his streak as the only person to start and finish every single Grand Traverse.
Simmons and Hamilton put the hurt on from the get go with a furious pace from the start line up Crested Butte Mountain to the top of Ten Peaks before dropping into the East River valley floor.
“I felt like we were in a 30-minute vertical race from the get go,” says Laird. “It was tough to stay with the front. The pace was manageable, but barely manageable for me.”
Simmons and Hamilton kept the hammer down with Thomson and Krar in second, Wickenhauser and Brian Smith in third and Laird and Brown trying to hang on in fourth place.
“It definitely was a fast pace,” adds Wickenhauser.
Laird admits they hit a low point early in the race when a team passed them on Nordic gear skating their way to the Friends Hut and dropped back to fifth place.
“I was getting a little bit down but Jon kept it going,” says Laird.
Meanwhile, Simmons and Hamilton made their break from the other two teams for good where the course hits the end of the Block and Tackle trail on the way to the Friends Hut.
Ultimately, Laird and Brown reeled the Nordic team back in once on their skins and were back in fourth place with the lead pack in sight as they headed into the basin above Friends Hut.
Course marshals took teams for another tour of the infamous Groove Tube, or Disco Tube, above the Friends Hut and threw in a boot pack to the ridge but that didn’t slow teams down either.
“The Groove Tube was groovin’, it was nice,” says Laird.
After climbing up over Star Pass and dropping to Geo’s fire pit below Star Pass, they got another update and realized third place was within reach.
“We just started going for it,” says Laird.
Shortly after Taylor Pass, Laird and Brown moved into third place and finished strong to hold their spot on the podium, posting the top finish among local teams and cracking the seven-hour mark as well.
“From the bottom of Star to the finish we had a really good race,” says Laird. “Jon was a great partner, he kept me in it, sticking to it and going through it.”
  In the end, 175 of the 200 teams that started completed the race, one of the lowest rates of attrition in the 18-year history of the Grand Traverse. It is estimated close to 60-percent of the teams were first time racers.
“The course probably helped with the high rate of finishers,” says Wickenhauser. “Conditions were great and that bodes well for first time racers finishing.”
Skimo racers can now hang up the race equipment and look forward to the corn harvest and bike season and set their sights on the Second Annual GORE-TEX Grand Traverse Mountain Run & Bike September 5 and 6. Registration is currently open and can be found at elkmountainstraverse.com.
Wickenhauser has his own plan for the in between season.
“I’m gonna work on my Milwaukee tumor,” says Wickenhauser.

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