The 2013 Elk Mountains Grand Traverse was this past weekend. As our last race of the season, we were thrilled to finish well– Christy was the first female to cross the line and we nabbed the top spot in the Coed Division. And after twelve finishes here (six as a team), our time of 9:55 was the fastest we’ve done together, and PR for Christy.
As is always the case, it didn’t come easy. Every year this race seems to have some sort of defining course challenge, be it weather, sub-zero temps, a lack of snow etc., and this year was no exception. Though it wasn’t too long lasting, a nasty breakable crust stymied early efforts to get ahead through the East River section. Rather than the field spread out en route to Brush Creek, everyone– would-be leaders and all– traveled as a pack, often single file and in stop-and-go like traffic for the first two hours.
Eventually we were through it, and then the real race began. In our little coed world, we found ourselves with the second place team early on and kept our foot on the gas in an effort to stay in front. When it was over eight hours later, we were only seven minutes ahead of them. Apart from the mandatory ten minute stop at Barnard, we estimate we took around 7 minutes of total stops for transitions and such all night. It was a big, sustained effort.
Afterwards, when it was all done and we heard everyone’s stories from the day, one race story stuck out as most interesting to me– the Aspen team of Linden Mallory and Ben Koons was actually in the outright lead to Friends Hut, and on skate skis.
According to some second hand reports, when the nordic duo started up Brush Creek, not only did they open up a sizable lead, but some of the AT (alpine touring) front runners were reportedly unwilling to accept the notion that a couple of nords could actually win. Eventually they were reeled in, primarily due to the AT efficiency on the descents, but they still hung on to finish 5th, the top nordic finish in years as well as the best overall place of an Aspen team in more than a decade (I believe).
Most interesting to me was not that a couple of guys on skate skis could almost pull off the upset, nordic gear always won in the early years, but the realization of how quickly the evolution skate vs. AT occurred. It was only six years ago that Bryan Wickenhauser and Eric Sullivan nearly pulled off a comparable, yet opposite upset. In 2007, on AT gear, they took the lead over the nordic-dominated field, only to get reeled in mid-course, eventually finishing 6th. It was a big deal, so much so that even Lou Dawson felt it newsworthy, blogging about it with the headline, “Randonnee Gear Makes Top 10 in Elk Mountains Traverse (Wick and Sullivan Take 6th)…” (see the full post here.)
Dawson saw where it was all headed and went so far as to say, “…as randonnee race gear improves we will no doubt see more of this equipment mix….” How right he was. A mere 5 years later, all the top finishers were on AT gear, and it’s now news that a nord team could finish in the top ten.
Personally I think it’s cool to have witnessed firsthand this evolution in the sport. Newcomers look at me with disbelief when I tell them that I did ten years of GT’s– including many completely frozen Star Pass descents– on edge-less Fischer Superlight’s. Now that the AT race gear is so prevalent, it’s hard to believe it was only five years ago that Wick and Sully were actually the AT mavericks, and nordic was the norm.
A race like the Grand Traverse will always have nordic teams, and if conditions are right I know such teams could still pull off a win. The lightweight AT gear is advancing so quickly I wonder what it will be like another five years from now.
As for Christy and me, it was only a few hours afterwards that she declared her desire for a 9:15 next year. So while I’m relieved to have the season wrapped up, it’s really just a brief respite, and we’ll be back at it before I know it.