“For a short course, it was pretty intensive”
by Than Acuff
It wasn’t a backcountry ski mountaineering (skimo) race, but the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup (COSMIC) series race at Crested Butte Mountain Resort still had plenty to offer participants.
Typically, the Irwin cat skiing operation hosts the local COSMIC race in early December on its terrain, making for some near-authentic backcountry skimo racing. But, with snowfall somewhat non-existent the past month, the race at Irwin was cancelled.
Fortunately, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) jumped in to save the day, offering the resort as a venue. The race was moved and renamed the Sunday Salvage.
The Irwin racecourse puts the wood to skimo athletes with close to 5,000 vertical feet of climbing, including a boot-pack section. Prior to the rescheduled race, organizers wondered what they could do to make the race on the resort as close to the Irwin experience as possible, and in the end they made the most of what they had to work with.
“Knowing the limited terrain they had open, it was the best we could have pulled off at the ski resort,” says race director Bryan Wickenhauser.
In the end, the course had 2,800 feet of climbing and while most of the course involved climbing up and skiing down groomed terrain, resort officials and race organizers managed to squeeze in two laps up through the trees above the base of the Teocalli lift, including a boot-pack section.
“Any time you can get into the woods and off of the groomers, the racers appreciate that,” says Wickenhauser.
“I thought they did a great job considering what they had,” says racer and Team gO athlete Brian Smith. “They included a booter, which was really fun. For a short course, it was pretty intensive.”
The morning weather added to the experience as low-hanging clouds and near-frigid temperatures had racers shaking in their speed suits as they lined up for the start at 7:30 a.m.
Twenty-six athletes headed up into the morning chill and a blistering one hour and five minutes later, Smith crossed the finish line for the win, with teammate Jon Brown close on his heels in second and Steve Denny rounding out the podium in third place.
While the course was fairly straightforward, the descent down Bushwacker under the Teocalli lift was a bit spicy, with blind rollers and plenty of shrubs poking through as skiers bombed down in the morning flat light.
“I was definitely nervous I was going to wreck coming down that, which made it interesting,” says Smith. “All in all, it was a great race. For 75 percent of the race Jon was just 10 to 15 seconds behind me. He pushed me so I had to stay on the gas the whole time.”
Stevie Kremer led the charge on the women’s side of things, completing the course in a time of 1 hour, 21 minutes and four seconds. Najeeby Quinn crossed two minutes later in second place and Team gO athlete Jari Kirkland finished in third place among the women.
The skimo fanaticism continues this weekend as the Gore-Tex Grand Traverse race and Griggs Orthopedics are teaming up to host the Grand Traverse Skimo Academy in Crested Butte Thursday through Sunday, December 17-20.
The academy has professional skimo racers and former Grand Traverse winners, including Smith, to coach and will base out of the former location of the Sweet Spot in Mountaineer Square. The academy concludes with backcountry tours geared towards racing on Sunday, including a trip from the Nordic Center in Crested Butte to the Friend’s Hut.
“That should be fun and people can get an idea of how that section of the race feels,” says Smith. “It should be a great weekend.”
The local skimo race series at Crested Butte Mountain Resort then kicks off with the first race of the series on Wednesday, January 13.