“The mountains are talking and we need to pay attention and respect them”
By Than Acuff
Teams are now in the final preparation stages for the 25th annual Montane Grand Traverse presented by Crested Butte Nordic and Dynafit set to start at midnight on Saturday night, April 1/Sunday morning. Yet, once again, Mother Nature reigns supreme and has the final call.
“At this point I’m hoping and praying,” says Crested Butte Nordic events director Becky Nation.
The Grand Traverse is a point-to-point backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen. Racers travel in teams of two for 40 miles across the Elk Mountain range, climbing over 6,800 vertical feet, before reaching the finish line in Aspen.
In the 25-year history of the race, it’s been turned around only five times, the last time in 2018. The reverse course has had several different routes and this year race organizers and snow safety teams are prepared for a Plan B looking at how to keep the race safe while still retaining the challenge of a backcountry ski race if it is turned around.
“We’re working on that now,” says Nation. “We have teams in place to jump in if it is a reverse. We’re just talking with the resort to see what we can do.”
The reverse course does often include getting skiers into the high alpine before turning them around, but any course option remains up to what the snow safety team finds out this week.
After several years on the race snow safety team, Megan Paden took the helm in 2019. She has kept a keen eye on the snowpack and course conditions throughout the winter and the snow safety team headed to the Friend’s Hut on Tuesday to spend the week there assessing conditions right up to, and during, the race.
“The mountains are talking, and we need to pay attention and respect them,” says Paden. “It is a winter pack and very complex.”
“The Friends Hut area got over 2 inches of Snow Water Equivalent (over two feet of snow) during last week’s atmospheric river event along with periods of strong winds, and we’ve documented numerous large avalanches in the Brush Creek drainages that occurred during or in the days following the storm.” adds Crested Butte Avalanche Center lead forecaster Zach Guy. “A smaller storm is expected to bring about 6” and periods of strong winds to the course on Thursday and Friday before quieter, but unsettled, weather arrives this weekend.”
According to Nation, they hope to have an answer for teams as soon as possible, but will wait as long as they can.
“We will make the call at the racer meeting on Saturday at 1 p.m. but we’re hoping to know before then,” says Nation.
Teams can check on course conditions on the Grand Traverse Facebook page with updates from the field team scheduled to be posted each morning.
Regardless of whether or not the race goes through or is a reverse, plans are in place for some pre-race events on Friday. Race sponsor Montane will be at the CBMR base area for an evening warm up and skin up the mountain from 4:30-6 p.m. Then Dynafit is hosting a film festival at the Majestic Theatre starting at 7 p.m.
All information regarding the course, gear check times, beacon checks and everything Montane Grand Traverse race related can be found at thegrandtraverse.org.
Friends, families and skimo fans are all encouraged to come to the CBMR base area at Midnight on Saturday to send the teams off into the dark of night for what always proves to be a test for all teams, from the six-hour hot shots to the 16-hour warriors.