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32nd Alley Loop Nordic Marathon this weekend

Catch some of the top college racers as they compete

by Than Acuff

On Saturday, February 3 Crested Butte Nordic will host the 32nd Annual Alley Loop Nordic Marathon presented by Fischer.

The Alley Loop is not your typical Nordic event, though very typical for Crested Butte. The course passes through Crested Butte, winding around on snow-covered streets, narrow alleys and one-lane bridges.

At any given time, you may be cheered on by an alley party, find yourself surrounded by oompa loompas, or skiing past a train of people connected by a crazy costume. Racers are sometimes forced to make quick passes and depending on their luck, may even get stuck on a bridge for a few seconds. Once you make it through town, you are rewarded by pristine tracks and epic views on the outskirts of Crested Butte. If you like normal, you may want to look for another race.

If you are up for anything, this is right up your alley.

And while the Alley Loop race is a time-honored Nordic tradition, not just in Crested Butte but nationwide, drawing more than 700 Nordic skiers of all ages and abilities, this year’s race just got a bump.

True, the Alley Loop is a qualifier for the Birkebeiner, arguably one of the most prestigious Nordic races in the U.S., if not the world, but this year’s Alley Loop is also drawing some serious NCAA collegiate talent.

“WSCU and UNM will be hosting their races here as part of the Alley Loop,” says Crested Butte Nordic director of marketing Drew Holbrook. “This means that the biggest DI schools in the West will be coming here to duke it out at the Alley Loop to qualify for NCAAs. They’re the top dog skiers that came over from Europe to race for Division I schools in the U.S.”

That means the top collegiate racers will be throwing down in the 21-kilometer skate race and this is your chance to either try to match wits with, or at least witness, some serious Nordic racing talent.

“We’ve never had this level of talent in the 21k before,” says Holbrook.

And if that 21-kilometer action isn’t enough, with $5,000 cash on the line in the 42-kilometer races, that will be a sight to see as well.

But before you start thinking the Alley Loop has lost its funk, stop.

Fact is, while there will be collegiate racers turning themselves inside out, there will also be the usual throngs of Nordic skiers shuffling their way through the alleys and out into the surrounding meadows, pressing their physical and psychological limits in costumes and in spandex.

Now, as we are all well aware, it has been a pretty thin winter. The folks over at Crested Butte Nordic have made the most of the snow we have to offer up some serious track, but arrangements have been made to the usual course to accommodate the lack of significant snow, including the start/finish area being moved to the Nordic Center.

“We’re not starting on Elk Avenue but we got things in motion,” says Crested Butte Nordic events director Andrew Arell. “The trails are in great shape. First Street might be a bit of a stone grind but we still have three alleys on the course on the north end of town. It will be a thrilling finish with skiers on the Ditch Trail above the Nordic Center before the downhill behind the hockey rink to the finish.”

The racing starts at 9 a.m. sharp Saturday and continues on into the early afternoon with the awards ceremony at the Nordic Center and additional awards and raffle at the after party at Bonez at 4 p.m.

In the end, prepare to be inundated with Nordic skiers Saturday and witness both the speed and spirit of Nordic racing in Crested Butte. For more information or to register go to

“It’s such a big event already and we’re combining it with two other college races, “ says Holbrook. “It will be nuts.”

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