To quote the traditional Grand Traverse pre-start prayer, “blessed you are and blessed you’ll remain, though we come to worship the church of pain!” The 2014 Gore-Tex Grand Traverse was no exception.
The race start was scheduled for midnight on March 28th and yet the high passes on the course, specifically Star Pass (12,303’), received somewhere between four to six feet of new snow between March 26th and March 28th with 1.5” – 2.5” of snow water equivalent. On March 28th, The Crested Butte Avalanche Center rated the avalanche danger near and above treeline as considerable, with the following concerns: storm slabs, wind slabs and deep persistent slabs. This storm series left 10’ high cornices on the northeast side of Star Pass, which happens to be the second descent on the traditional course.
Given that safety was the main goal for race organizers, and that avalanche conditions were dangerously reactive, enter the 2014 Grand Reverse; the third reverse course in seventeen years. Instead of the traditional course from Crested Butte Mountain Resort to Aspen Mountain, this year’s course started and finished in Crested Butte. While this might seem to indicate an easier undertaking than the usual path, the Grand Reverse turned out to be longer than usual, with more vertical gain as well. The traditional course travels 38-40 miles with 7800’ vertical gain. This year’s course punished 179 teams of two with somewhere around 41 miles and 8200’ vertical gain, according to co-race director Bryan Wickenhauser.
Seven hours and fifty three minutes after midnight, the first finishers arrived in Crested Butte – local CB strongmen Bryan Smith and Bryan Wickenhauser. They were followed six minutes later by Team Dynafit, consisting of Benedikt Boehm (Dynafit President and world renowned ski mountaineer) and Marshall Thompson (Dynafit Athlete and CBMR ski patroller). The Women’s category was impressively won by Stevie Kremer and Jari Kirkland in a time of 9:42. The co-ed title, and fourth overall, was secured by nordic Olympian Rebecca Dussault and three time GT winner Pat O'Neill in 8:46. While the elite racers were still unbelievably fast, a majority of the field experienced a challenging race, with the average finishing time ending up longer than the usual course. Many teams (as many as 38) did not finish, due in part to cut-off times imposed by race organizers.
It’s worth noting that the Grand Traverse used to be dominated by racers on nordic gear. This year’s race (the 17th edition), highlights an evolution of moving fast in the mountains, with 80% of teams using lightweight AT gear. According to three time GT winner Bryan Wickenhauser, “Back in 1997 (first edition) "Light & Fast" for the GT meant Nordic, because Dynafit/AT gear was unobtainable on this side of the pond. For the next nine to ten years, the GT always saw Nordic style gear on the top teams. Now in the last six to seven years retailers are beginning to carry Dynafit gear (and can't keep it in stock, in part because of this race!). For the 17th edition of the race, we saw about 80% of the field on lightweight AT gear. There is no weight penalty when compared to Nordic gear and so many more advantages, its not even worth mentioning! I believe we have had AT Winners since the 2009 edition and every year there after....so six yrs. of AT on the Winners feet.”
We had a chance to catch up with Team Dynafit for some Q & A:
Q – How did the race compare to what you expected?
The race was harder than expected. According to locals I calculated to be back in 5,5 h. But it took us 8 h. So I was suffering what is actually a good thing once in a while… A beautiful race with a very strong partner.
Q – How does the Grand Traverse compare to similar races in Europe?
The atmosphere and people of the GT are unique. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and the hospitality not only of the race committee, but also of the Crested Butte people in general. The GT is a real happening and Crested Butte understands how to transform this race into a 2 days fun backcountry event with great people and conversations. Very inspiring and everybody should go there once in a life time who considers himself a backcountry skier.
Q – Can you briefly describe how the race went for your team?
Briefly: first half of the race ok. Water frozen after 3-4 hours and food gone. Cold air in lungs and high altitude = Beni messed up. Marshall strong. Marshall helping Beni by roping him on some hill. Flat. Finger and toe tips frozen. Close to heart attack. Coughing. Finally somehow got through the finish line as second after just below 8 h.
Q – Anything else to add?
A must for every backcountry skier.
Q – How did you prepare for this year’s race?
I trained, raced and skied a lot this season to be prepared for all skiing adventures. I did go over the course many times and ran scenarios through my head. Unfortunately I did not plan on any possibility of the
Q – How did the grand reverse course compare to the traditional course?
The reverse course was mentally tough. The last few hours I felt lost, wondering where we were going. The course was extremely flat with little opportunity to skate. It made it very challenging making the decisions to use or not to use skins. The race was amazing and lots of fun, In Typical Grand Traverse fashion it is NEVER the same.
Q – Can you briefly describe how the race played out?
I felt a little off from the beginning, I couldn’t find my balance and was fighting myself. As a team we were skiing well and remained in front all the way to the Friends Hut turnaround. My water all froze before I had more than a few sips. As we descended back to the valley floor I made the wrong judgment call on using skins and we were passed. We fought hard to catch up and regain the lead. The new unfamiliar loop was hard. Not hard because of climbing but hard because I didn’t know where I was going. Beni asked me for some water and I told him that mine had been frozen all day. Neither of us had water for hours. The several hours without water was setting in and I became weak. We lost our lead on the long flat traverse back to Crested Butte. Beni was pushing hard and it gave me a burst of energy. We came close to recapturing our lead but after I made a few more bad skin calls we sat comfortably in 2nd.
Q – I hear you’re headed to Europe for the Patrouille des Glaciers. What are your thoughts going into this race?
I am so excited for the PDG. My team and I are excited for the entire experience. We want to just have a good time and enjoy the race. Our main goal is to just beat Beni’s last PDG time
Q – Anything else to add about this year’s race?
The Grand Traverse is about Team work, suffering and a one of a kind experience. Not the destination. The race never disappoints and we all learn a lot about racing and ourselves every year. Just stand around the finish and listen to the stories
Q – Any specific goals for next winter?
Goals for next winter are to ski a lot, work on my technique, race at the world championships with team USA, race in a world cup event and ski the Mezzalama