October 20, 2004
Elk Mountain Grand Traverse
Challenges Back Country Athletic Skills & Smarts
GUNNISON-CRESTED BUTTE, COLORADO (October 20, 2004)
– Crested Butte’s Elk Mountain Grand Traverse is a one-of-a-kind
event in the United States. The backcountry ski race
is a test of endurance and smarts, following the mail
routes that connected the Colorado mining towns of Crested
Butte and Aspen in the 1880s and requiring avalanche
awareness, backcountry athleticism, winter camping knowledge
and map reading skills all wrapped in one.
“The Grand Traverse is not a Nordic or downhill race,
but instead tests skiers overall skills and goes from
town-to-town, covering 40 miles of rugged trails in
the Elk Mountains. When Grand Traverse began eight years
ago, it was fashioned after similar events in Europe
that connect various villages,” says Jan Runge, race
At the stroke of midnight on April 1, 2005, approximately
240 racers (120 teams of two racers each) will depart
from the traditional starting line at the Crested Butte
Community School in town, catch the old Upper Loop Trail,
skirt along Hunter Hill Road and drop into the T-bar
hill at Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Mt. Crested
Butte. Cheering crowds, torches and a firework display
will greet the racers as they pass through the base
area just below the Silver Queen lift.
After the parade review, the teams will begin the climb
up and over Crested Butte Mountain Resort terrain, exiting
just below the East River lift, crossing the East River
valley, turning down stream and rejoining the course
on Brush Creek Road before climbing over two mountain
passes. Several hours later, on April 2, racers arrive
in Aspen tired, sore, bleary-eyed and exultant in their
In 2004, Pat O’Neill and Jim Faust of Crested Butte
won the men’s division with an impressive time of 7:55:50.
Ellen Miller of Breckenridge and William Mattison of
Vail captured the co-ed division crown in 9:40:00. The
dynamic duo of Ingrid Butts and Carol Quinn of Gunnison
finished at 10:26:20 to lead the women’s division.
In addition to providing a quality wilderness race
experience for entrants, race organizers make safety
of all participants and minimal impact on the environment
top priorities. The unusual start time is scheduled
so that entrants will reach the high point of Star Pass
(12,303 feet) before the warmth of the day increases
the likelihood of avalanches. Because of the remote
route through the Elk Mountains, each team of two is
required to carry enough food and supplies to sustain
themselves for 24 hours. Before the start of the race
the team’s packs will be checked for essential gear
such as bivy sacks, stove, fuel, avalanche beacons,
rescue gear, first aid and repair kits.
More than 40 support team members are present in the
backcountry during the race to insure skier safety.
Some crews are out in the backcountry for a week before
the event, assessing avalanche conditions and moving
supplies into remote camps. Local pilots also assist
by airdropping supplies into alpine basins. The difficult
communications between aid stations are performed with
O’Gara Systems Satellite Telephones.
Continuing as the race’s primary sponsor, Mountain
Hardwear is proud to support an event that embodies
the company’s philosophy and spirit. “The race incorporates
an extreme physical challenge. It requires the ability
and knowledge to navigate and survive in backcountry
winter conditions. Our technical gear is put to grueling
use, and the race is set up to be environmentally sound.
Also, teamwork is emphasized,” says Jennifer Slaboda,
sponsorship manager for Mountain Hardwear. In addition
to supporting the race, Mountain Hardwear sponsors a
team entering the race and provides the winning team
with a prize of Mountain Hardwear gear.
The cost of entering the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse
is $250.00 per team; Registration opens December 1,
2004. Remember registration is limited to 120 teams.
For more information about the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse,
Lodging and travel packages are available for Grand
Traverse participants and other visitors by calling
the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association at (800)
814-8893 or visiting www.GunnisonCrestedButte.com.
About Gunnison-Crested Butte, Colorado
Gunnison-Crested Butte is nestled among almost two
million acres of pristine wilderness in southwest Colorado.
Winter sports enthusiasts know the area for its world-class
alpine skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling, cross-country
skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing. Gunnison-Crested
Butte is also a haven for outdoor summer activities.
In the warmer months, visitors can choose from recreational
activities such as hiking, mountain biking, boating,
whitewater rafting, kayaking, fly-fishing, camping and
horseback riding. Year-round visitors enjoy distinctive
restaurants, unique shops and stimulating cultural opportunities,
and have a wide range of lodging options — from rustic
inns to guest cabins and bed-and-breakfasts to full-
service resort hotels.
Dubbed the Wildflower Capital of Colorado, Crested
Butte is the site of rich mining, ranching and skiing
heritage and home to the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame
and Crested Butte Academy, a private college preparatory
boarding and day school. Gunnison, a real western town,
is home to the beautiful, high-country campus of Western
State College, a four-year institution offering a variety
of curricula, and the Gunnison- Crested Butte Regional
Airport. Both Crested Butte and Gunnison have thriving
historic central business districts packed with shopping
and dining opportunities.
In Gunnison County, visitors will find the Curecanti
National Recreation Area, where dinosaur fossils were
recently discovered; the Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado's
largest body of water and home to the largest Kokanee
salmon fishery in the United States; and The Black Canyon
of the Gunnison, our country's newest National Park.
Gunnison County includes the quaint and historic towns
of Pitkin, Gothic, Tin Cup, Marble, Powderhorn, Almont
and Crystal, plus the better-known communities of Gunnison,
Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.
Backcountry Magazine Issue 20,1999, Issue 27, 2001,
Issue 30, 2002
Outside December 2001
Coulior Spring 2001
Aspen Times March 31, 2001