Growler races to hit Hartman Rocks Memorial Weekend

“The Growler allows you to ride almost every trail at Hartman Rocks”

By Than Acuff 

Hundreds of mountain bikers, friends and families are coming to Gunnison this weekend as Gunnison Trails hosts the 15th annual Original Growler Saturday and Sunday, May 27-28 at Hartman Rocks.

What started years ago continues to gain traction as Gunnison Trails has been diligent in tweaking the event to bring riders from ages three to 70+ into the fold. As a result, this year’s event is much like last year as far as racing options with the 32-mile Classic, the Big Bad 40 race, the Pup 20 option as well as plenty of kids’ races.

“We just adapted to what we were seeing,” says Gunnison Trails executive director Tim Kugler. “We weren’t getting as many of the 64-mile race folks and decided to offer the 20-mile race and the 40-mile race that kept the character of the longer race. Scratch that itch for folks looking for that longer experience.”

The 40-mile race does include Aberdeen, bringing in a more “cross-country” feel to the Hartman Rocks riding.

“Aberdeen is really cool,” says Kugler. “It just feels like you’re in a different region. It adds a cool flavor to the race.”

While the weekend is the main fundraiser for Gunnison Trails, each year they use the Growler weekend as a venue for a food drive to stock the shelves of the Gunnison Food Pantry.

“It’s an awesome way to spread the wealth,” says Kugler. “Racers are psyched to show up and support all different facets of the community.”

In addition, with the KOA Kampground always full well in advance and campsites filling up throughout the week leading up to the races, the I Bar Ranch will provide camping as well as live music Saturday and Sunday nights, dubbed the Grateful Growler, from local band Easy Jim complete with a free beer for all racers.

“The I Bar is a great option because you can pedal to race registration and the race starts downtown,” says Kugler.

The action kicks off bright and early Saturday morning at the main parking area of Hartman Rocks as CB Devo will be hosting the kids’ races from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There will be age appropriate courses available for every shredder from ages three to 9+ and the racing is free, but donations are always appreciated. Last year, 150 kids saddled up for the races.

“It provides something for people to do with their kiddos,” says Kugler. “To see 40 kids toeing the line for a race is pretty cool.” 

Meanwhile, as many as 350 riders will be lining up in downtown Gunnison at the IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows in case you’re wondering) Park for the 9 a.m. start of the Classic Growler on Saturday. It’s a neutral start complete with a shotgun blast and a police escort heading west out of town bound for a 31-mile course of nearly entirely singletrack riding at Hartman Rocks with the hammer dropped once they reach the trails.

“As soon as they hit dirt at Hartman Rocks, it’s game on,” says Kugler.

The race finish is at the bottom of Collarbone and the post-race party and awards ceremony will be back downtown at the IOOF Park starting at 1 p.m.

The racing then continues Sunday morning with the Pup 20 and the Bid Bad 40. Typically, the racing on Sunday starts at 7 a.m. but given what organizers have seen the past two years, they moved the start time back to 8 a.m. this year.

“We’d always done a 7 a.m. start but, as it turns out, racers are finishing faster,” says Kugler. “It’s nice because it’s significantly warmer at 8 a.m. than 7 a.m.”

The race start is just like the others with a neutral start from the IOOF Park downtown with the pedal mashing beginning once they turn onto dirt. The Pup 20 and the Big Bad 40 will share some trails but split off for their own sections of course, before coming back together to finish. Party and awards will then be back at the IOOF Park starting at 1 p.m. and if you didn’t rally for easy Jim at the I Bar Saturday night, you can wrap up the weekend with Easy Jim Sunday night before folding into your car to head home on Monday.

Course conditions were getting dry as of last week but have since tightened up and look to be good for race weekend providing a great venue for a bike race.

“We’ve had some pretty good moisture the past week, so the trails are riding well right now,” says Kugler. “I think our trail system is fun to race on. The Growler allows you to ride almost every trail at Hartman Rocks.”

Kugler and Gunnison Trails are indebted to the slew of volunteers and racers that show up each year and while all the races are full, there’s still room for volunteers. Anyone looking to help and keep the Growler tradition strong should email info@gunnisontrails.org. In a world with more racing options out there, such as the latest craze of enduro racing, the Growler continues to keep the classic style of mountain bike racing alive.

“The racing scene has evolved over the years but it’s interesting to see our race remain relevant in the changing race climate,” says Kugler. 

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