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Breckenridge, Colorado - As the deep Colorado snowpack of 2013/2014 began its transition to varying states of refrozen snow, mud and water, several hundred competitors gathered on a cool April morning for the 23rd iteration of the Imperial Challenge, presented by Dynafit and Mountain Outfitters. The Imperial Challenge is an annual multi-sport race that celebrates the transition from Winter to Spring for locals and visitors alike. The name of the game is fitness, with three components: bike or run, ski-uphill and ski-downhill.

Competitors have the option of running or biking from the Breckenridge recreation center to a ski transition zone at the peak eight base area. In any case, this portion is 6 miles long with 1000’ vertical gain. Rando is the next order of business, with two course options: short (to the top of the T-bar - 3300’ aggregate vertical gain) and long (to the top of Peak 8 proper (12,998’/3,963m) with 4000’ aggregate vertical gain). The race ends with a 3000’ descent to finish at the transition zone. Gear drop at the transition zone is the first order of business on race day, where racers stash their AT gear at snowline, attaching skins to skis and boots to bindings to enable a swift transition. The only exception is the retro category - racers that carry skis from the start to snowline. 2014 was the debut year for the run option, as race organizer Jeff Westcott explains, “Seemed like a natural fit to welcome the running community.  Let’s face it, not everyone rides bikes!” Given the reality of wheels being faster than legs, runners started 45 minutes before bikers, bringing about a handicap of sorts.

Breckenridge locals Greg Ruckman and Pete Swenson dominated the men’s long-course bike category, finishing 1st (1:17) and 2nd (1:19) respectively. The women’s long-course bike was taken by Marlee Dixon (1st overall, 1:31)  and Eva Hagen (2nd overall, 1:38). The men’s and women’s retro category winners were Kate Zander (1:37) and Michael Hagen (1:24). The newly introduced men’s and women’s run categories were won by Ben Kadlec (1:49) and Jamie Falcon (2:06). No doubt an impressive display of cross discipline dominance.

As with many other snow endurance races, gear used for the IC has evolved over the years. Nordic skate setups with kicker skins were widely used prior to the widespread availability of lightweight AT gear, which is now the unequivocal option for moving fast in the mountains. Jeff Westcott recalls the prior paradigm, “These people would sacrifice the downhill for the light gear on the ascent.  It was comical watching them basically cartwheel down the upper part of Peak 8 and into Peak 7 terrain.  Clearly, there was a safety issue as these people had zero control and the ski area had legitimate concerns for other skiers on the mountain. So that lasted for only a couple of years and then the “minimum ¾ length metal edges for the descent” rule was added.”

Race results available here - http://www.mavsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/2014-Imperial.pdf 

Photos can be viewed here - http://climbbettybreck.smugmug.com/Events/2014-Imperial-Challenge/i-mwVcFjB

More race info available here - http://www.mavsports.com/events/?event-categories=imperial-challenge

Thanks to: Jeff Westcott (Maverick Sports Promotions), Mountain Outfitters, Breckenridge Ski Patrol and Breckenridge Ski Resort for putting on this great event.