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The 26th annual Alley Loop and the 15th annual Elk Mountains Grand Traverse are two distinct ski races that have helped put Crested Butte, Colo., on the map, and both races have something new to offer this year.
Alley LoopThe Alley Loop Nordic marathon will take place on Feb. 4, and it has been selected to join the American Ski Marathon Series (ASM Series), North America’s longest-running and largest citizen’s racing and touring series. Already an American Birkebeiner qualifier, the Alley Loop drew more than 550 skiers from 17 states in 2011.
The competition is distinguished by a unique course that starts and finishes on the town’s main street, Elk Avenue, before meandering through snow-lined alleys, behind false-fronted Victorian buildings, over footbridges, alongside residences and out to groomed trails in the outskirts of town. Ranging from 1½K and 3K races for children and families to half and full marathons, crowds line the streets and alleys to cheer on racers.
The 1½K and 3K races begin at 9:30 a.m., and the rest start at intervals beginning at 10 a.m. New Belgium Brewing’s Taste of the Alley Beer Garden on the deck of the Brick Oven restaurant offers a great spot to watch the action and socialize from noon to 4 p.m. Registration is now open on the Crested Butte Nordic Center’s website.
Gore-Tex Mountains Grand TraverseOne of the most sought-after and rugged backcountry ski races in the world is celebrating 15 years of memorable moments and amazing athletic feats from March 29 to April 1. The Gore-Tex Mountains Grand Traverse, presented by Outdoor Research and Dynafit, follows historic mail routes that connected the Colorado mining towns of Crested Butte and Aspen in the 1880s.
Beginning at midnight on March 30, the Grand Traverse is a one-of-a-kind test of endurance and smarts, requiring avalanche awareness, backcountry athleticism, winter camping knowledge and map-reading skills. The 40-mile course starts at 9,000 feet at the Crested Butte Community School and traverses to Crested Butte Mountain Resort, where crowds greet racers as they pass through the base area just below the Silver Queen lift. After conquering two mountain passes, the teams finish at the base of Aspen Mountain ski area on March.
“The Grand Traverse is not a Nordic or downhill race but, instead, it tests skiers overall skills and goes from town-to-town, covering 40 miles of rugged trails in the Elk Mountains,” said Keith Bauer, director of the Crested Butte Nordic Center, which has assumed responsibility of the race from a group of longtime volunteers. “Every event dishes up new surprises for contestants and organizers.”