Crested Butte’s largest race… and party
by Than Acuff
It has to be one of the best Nordic ski races in the country, if not the world. Granted, there’s the Vasaloppet and the Birkebeiner, but the Alley Loop has the perfect blend of pain and pleasure. With distances for all abilities on a course that takes you throughout town as well as into the surrounding meadows, it offers an outstanding tour of some of the Crested Butte Nordic trail system. On Saturday, February 6 Nordic skiers from around the country will line up for the 30th annual Alley Loop.
This year could be the biggest one yet. Last year more than 600 skiers participated and race organizers are seeing even stronger numbers for this year’s race.
“We are definitely expecting a few more folks this year,” says Crested Butte Nordic director of marketing and development Drew Holbrook. “We’ve been better about getting the word out about early registration price discounts and I think the $5,000 purse is drawing some people.”
This year there will be some serious money on the line for the 42-kilometer skate race, with $1,000 going to both the men’s and women’s winners and the pay-out going on down to fifth place, plus $400 each to the first man and woman after the first lap.
“There has been money offered before but I don’t think this much,” says Holbrook.
Holbrook has also noticed that the cash prize has attracted some high-end Nordic athletes to sign up. 2014 U.S. Cross Country champion and former Alley Loop champion Sylvan Ellefson, who missed making the Sochi Olympics by one spot, will be here for a shot at a share of the cash.
“That’s just what we were hoping for,” says Holbrook. “That some high caliber skiers would see the prize money and come out of the woodwork.”
The course has been tweaked for this year’s race in an effort to lessen the impact on town as a whole, as race officials are keeping the course in town west of Third Street before heading out onto the Crested Butte Nordic trail system.
“It’s just easier on everybody,” says Holbrook. “We lost two alleys and were going to add two more, but ran into further issues. We still have four blocks of alleys.”