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A Grand Scheme

BY Alexa Fitzpatrick | March 20, 2018 | Feature Features

Celebrating its 20th year, the Grand Traverse from Crested Butte to Aspen has become a rite of passage for ski-mountaineer athletes.
Racers start the Grand Traverse at midnight, often cresting Star Pass around dawn.

At midnight, Rev. Tim Clark begins the Grand Traverse by offering the “Blessing of the Freeheelers,” composed anew each year.

“Know this; the almighty hath blessed-
Thy skis, thy skins and thy poles as ye art put to the test!
Now fortify thy heart as it pumps to this verse
Ye art now sanctified, for the great Grand Traverse!”

With a cheer, skiers start the 40-mile, 6,800-foot climb out of Crested Butte, over the Elk Mountains and down to Gondola Plaza in Aspen. Race director Andrew Arell says, “In this day and age of ‘resortification,’ Crested Butte and Aspen still hold a sense of authenticity. The race creates a bridge between the communities for those who have dedicated their lives to adventure.”

In the oldest backcountry race of its kind, racers, using lightweight ski mountaineering equipment, compete in pairs for safety. Course field teams are stationed on the route to keep watch, and each team has to carry emergency equipment for a 24-hour bivouac, if necessary. Perhaps the most crushing regulation is that those who don’t make it across Star Pass checkpoint by 7:20am are not allowed to continue on the course. 2017’s winners Max Taam and John Gaston won in 6:37:38, just under 10 minutes per mile. The slowest team to finish took almost 17 hours.

In 1998, about 60 teams competed in the inaugural race. Since then, the technology has changed, but the lure and challenge hasn’t. Now, the Grand Traverse typically sells out to 250 teams in just 12 hours, and organizers have added a run and bike race to the series as well. March 23-24, $400 per team, thegrandtraverse.org

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