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Elk Mountain Grand Traverse

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Grand is definitely proper description of this mega ski traverse from Crested Butte to Aspen.  This year was the 17th annual Elk Mountain Grand Traverse and I was super pumped to be a part of it.

Check out the details of the ski traverse at the Grand Traverse Website:  Elk Mountain Grand Traverse

About seven weeks prior to the GT, I was contemplating how cool it would be to do a Randonee Ski Race.  The Sneffels Ski Traverse had just taken place and I was in awe of my friends that had participated;  I was thinking, next year I’m going to go for it and give one a try.  That very same day, I was resolving I would take on the challenge of some ski traverses next winter, my dear friend Ximena asked me out of the blue if I’d be willing to be her partner for the  Grand Traverse.  Her original team-mate had to bail.  Synchronicity at it’s finest.  It is true that we are capable of manifesting anything we focus our energy on.

A bit shocked at the size of the objective and the short duration of which I had to prepare; still I was totally psyched to rise to the occasion.  All winter I had been ski touring a fair amount, but with this new found goal I would surely need to amp up the cardiovascular training and do lots of long ski tours.  Probing around, asking every athlete, trainer, and friend that had done something of this magnitude, I gathered some beta on how to train for the GT.   I concluded that the best thing for me to do with the little time I had to get ready was to ski tour as much as possible and pump up the cardio.  Training, along with piecing together the very specific gear needed to partake in this sort of ski traverse, experimenting with ski set-ups, pack arrangements, clothing layering systems, doing  research on the traverse, and details of how to go about accomplishing it; I had my work cut out for me in terms of prepping.  For certain, I had a ton to learn.  The entire Ski traverse from evolution of deciding to do it, to actually completing it, was a huge learning experience.   I am grateful for the awesome partner that I had for my first Grand Traverse, Ximena expelled her knowledge and helped me out with every detail.

With goals in mind and objectives to work towards, I feel that we try harder and go longer.  Every moment counts in the grand scheme of reaching our greatest heights.   Goals give us purpose.  To train, to stay healthy, to focus our attention, and to maximize our daily time.  With positive effort and tenacity, it is possible to achieve anything we decide to do.  When we aim high and challenge ourselves, we constantly discover more about ourselves as individuals, and as partners we grow.  Self development is a big drive for taking on this type of challenge; believing in your will power to achieve and trusting in yourself and your partner to follow through.

Getting ready for the Grand Traverse was fun!   Putting all the elements together and trying different strategies made it a really neat learning experience.  There is so much room to grow and always more to know, every detail can be tweaked, until perfection.  It will be an ongoing evolution of fine-tuning and learning.  Of course, good old Mother Nature always throws her twists in, you can never be over-prepared, because, it is out of our control what the conditions will be the day of the traverse.  Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance!

Ski training was my favorite part of the Grand Traverse, I love ski touring, and with the GT on the horizon I had to get out practically every day to get in shape and become familiar with my race set-up.  I focused on doing long tours that had good moderate gradient and long traversing terrain.  The objective was to go long, steady and strong.   Long durations of conversation pace cardiovascular was my focus.  This got me out on some beautiful tours.  On days I couldn’t completely devote to touring, I still made it a point to train by going on evening ski tours or by going to the gym for jumping rope, running, and rowing sessions.

Ski Touring in the San Juan Mountains

Ski Touring in the San Juan Mountains


Anticipation grew as the GT came closer.  Quadruple checking that we had all the mandatory gear and that we had enough personal food, water and layers, but not too much was a balance.  We had to be prepared for the elements and the possibility of being out in the back country with an injury or problem.  What makes this Rondonee Ski Race unique is that 90% of it is in back country terrain.  It something goes awry with your equipment or personal safety, you have to be able to survive many hours without assistance.  Partnership crucial to accomplishment.   Clear communication with your partner and a great understanding that what happens to one of us happens to both of us is key for a successful finish.  For me, doing this with Ximena made it all so much more fun and rewarding.  Not only do we gain personal growth through-out the training and race, but we benefit from interpersonal growth by collaborating with a teammate.  So, the spectrum of learning is that much more intricate.

You just never know what your gonna get until the time comes.  Two days before this year’s GT, it started snowing and blowing super hard from Crested Butte to Aspen.  In 48 hours there was 24 inches of new snow on Star Pass, the main avalanche hazard area of the course.  It would have been impossible to mitigate the risk of avalanches through-out the course terrain.  The wind blew really strong and created humongous cornices above the slopes the racers were to skin up.  This traverse has had great fortune in being safe and that is because they make educated decisions.  With all the snow safety people and volunteers out on the course the week leading up to the GT, there was ongoing assessment of the conditions for the big event.  On the day of the GT racers attend a final meeting where the course id discussed.  The GT committee decided that conditions were unsafe to go over Star Pass.  Therefore, the Grand Traverse turned into the Grand Reverse.   A bit of a bummer, but better to be safe than sorry.  Participant safety is priority.  The course was altered to turn around just above the Friend’s Hut and then continue onto local trails (snowy) surrounding CB.  The entire new route was still 40 miles long and actually had more vertical gain than the GT course.  It started and ended at the base of  Mount Crested Butte.  It was a good course, very challenging towards the last eight miles or so.  Lots of ups and downs.

Pre-Race Blessing

Pre – Race Blessing

We had a few skin issues and water freezing issues, but other than that, nothing serious.  It was critical to keep hydrated and fed.  We were burning a lot of calories, constantly moving for 14.5 hours!  The race started at midnight and went through the night into the next day.  During the course of the race you go through many extremes; cold, hot, hungry, thirsty, tired, excited… For me, I could really tell when I needed to put food in my body.  I’d squeeze a GU into my mouth and within minutes I’d be fired up charging again.  A major thing I came to understand is that you have to take care of problems as they come up, don’t let things get worse; like skins that don’t glide or cold fingers.  Mitigate the issues before they become real problems.

As we approached the Friends Hut is was breezy and cold.  I changed into mittens and my water froze.  It is really nice to have all the items you think you will need, i.e. mittens, water, food, spare headlight, accessible.  I used a marsupial pouch on my belly and waist belt pouches for easy to access items; this is so we wouldn’t have to stop for these things.  Another great benefit of having a partner, we can reach into each others packs if needed.  As we peeled our skins for the big downhill from the Friends Hut we were psyched.  It was great pow skiing from the top and then it turned into a really cool forested track.  Ximena had glide issues with her skis and that was an eye-opener for us.  In the future we will be certain that the base of our skis have sweet glide.  It was a super long fun downhill.  This basically backtracked a bunch of the course, but then it cut off onto a local trail system that went into the Brush Creek Area.

Ximena looking strong.

Ximena looking strong.

It was gorgeous when the sun began to rise, the sky lit up pink and purple.  It was a relief  and rejuvenating to have light, and our water could have a chance to unfreeze when the warmth came.    The course went on and on, the scenery was gorgeous and the day was perfect.  There were quite a few transitions in the second half of the course, lots of ups and downs.  Then there was a big long flat stretch that seemed to go forever.  This is when our blisters got bad.  It’s worse to be on flats than gradient for the feet.  Finally, we came to the base of the backside of the ski area.  There were three more uphills to go on MCB.  The heat of the day was hot and we were dragging a fair bit.  Pushing on through with water and GUs, we kept our attitudes positive.  Each step/glide was one closer to the beer!  It got brutal with the transitions on MCB, but we persevered, which is the key to finishing.  At the final downhill we were super amped!  The snow was soft and slushy and we skied down together, cruising through the finish line with huge smiles.   We were definitely happy that we finished feeling good!

Ximena and Annie at the Finish!  Super Stoked!

Ximena and Annie at the Finish!  Super Stoked!