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photo by Petar Dopchev

30th Alley Loop attracts record numbers and record times

“It’d be great to add in some more alleys in the coming years”

by Than Acuff

When Crested Butte Nordic pulled out all of the stops for the 30th anniversary of the Alley Loop Marathon, they were rewarded for their efforts. A record number of 713 skiers signed up this year, including a gaggle of European-raised-turned-collegiate Nordic racers. It was the perfect mix of modern-day horsepower and the annual Alley Loop hijinks, and perhaps one of the most smoothly run Alley Loops since it started breaking the 500-skier mark.

“This year nobody skied the course backwards,” says Crested Butte Nordic director of marketing and development Drew Holbrook.

The plan was simple: Promote the event like never before and offer up some cold, hard cash prize money.

“We put it on everybody’s radar and in their face,” says Holbrook. “I think the prize purse brought in more high-level skiers. I think they saw the purse and wanted to go for it.”

photo by Petar Dopchev
photo by Petar Dopchev

It was a stellar day for the event and while temperatures registered below zero as organizers and volunteers scurried around to put the finishing touches on the course, by race time skiers were treated to more hospitable temperatures, albeit still on the cold side of things. And while that can put the hurt on finishing times, the caliber of skier at the upper end of things was like never before seen at the Alley Loop. The top 10 skiers in the 42-kilometer skate race all came in under the course record that was set last year.

“It was cold, and cold means slow,” says Holbrook. “We had slower snow but faster skiers.”

“It was cold but the Crested Butte Nordic grooming team did an amazing job,” adds Western State Colorado University Mountain Sports Team director and Nordic coach Duncan Callahan. “Big credit to Crested Butte Nordic grooming—it was outstanding, firm and fast.”

Amidst the classic Alley Loopiness of costumes, kids, costumed kids (had I seen the Super Bowl prior I definitely would have gone PUPPY-MONKEY-BABY), and the old school purist Nordic classic skiers, it was the collegiate racers who set a new tone at the Alley Loop, starting with the 21-kilometer collegiate skate race.

Racers from CU, the University of New Mexico, the University of Denver, Western State Colorado University, and the University of Wyoming among other schools threw down in the 21-kilometer race and then… threw up. When the leaders crossed the finish line, they collapsed in a heap of flesh and fluids, as the race was also part of a qualifier series for collegiate nationals.

“The guys from CU are national champions and on the national team,” says Callahan. “Those are some of the best skiers in the nation. There was a lot of talent in the collegiate ranks.”

The “normal” 21-kilometer women’s skate race was led by Crested Butte’s own Niki O’Connor. Crested Butte Nordic team athlete Aiden Truettner had the top local finish among the men, taking second.

But with $5,000 in total cash up for grabs in the 42-kilometer race, all eyes remained focused on how that would play out. In the end, the college racers dominated the podium in the men’s race.

Norwegian Mads Stroem, who is an NCAA champion racing for CU, took the 42-kilometer men’s title, followed by German skier and NCAA all-American for Denver University Moritz Madlener by 1/10th of a second and Slovenian-born University of New Mexico team member Aljaz Praznik in third place.

As a testament to the pace in this year’s men’s race, Team gO athlete Brian Smith has won the Alley Loop title in the past and had his best time this year, but his worst result.

Pay-out in both the men’s and women’s races went five deep and while the men’s race was dominated by out-of-towners, two local women finished in the top five of the women’s 42-kilometer skate race.

Emilie “Emily the Swede” Cedervaern, who races for UNM, took the women’s title, followed by CU athlete from the Czech Republic Eliska Hajkova in second and Finnish skier turned UNM Lobo Kati Roivas in third. Our very own locally raised Nordic athlete Hannah Smith was just two minutes back in fourth and Crested Butte Nordic team coach Molly Susla was in fifth, each earning a slice of the $5,000 prize purse.

And let’s not forget the classic Nordic race, mostly because local Andy Richmond won his second 42-kilometer Classic title in a row, edging out a 45-second win over a UNM Nordic assistant coach.

While the cash money brought in the heavy hitters raising one end of the Alley Loop bar, Holbrook and Crested Butte Nordic are committed to keeping the Alley Loop the way it was originally intended—fun.

“It was really cool seeing that level of racing here but it didn’t seem like it was too much,” says Holbrook. “That juxtaposition of the racers and the people still having fun was awesome. We definitely want to keep the original character of the Alley Loop. It’d be great to add in some more alleys in the coming years.”

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