At the stroke of midnight on April 4, 1998, nearly 50 teams gathered in Crested Butte, Colorado. A day later, after racing through a crystal clear night and equally spectacular day, they arrived in Aspen, tired, sore, bleary eyed and exultant in their accomplishment. They had skied through 40 miles of rugged Elk Mountains backcountry. Each year since, 150 teams have done the same thing.
The race was conceived by a few individuals who loved traveling in the back country. The idea was based on the tradition of mail routes which connected the Colorado mining towns of Crested Butte and Aspen in the 1880s. The 40-mile course starts at 9,000 feet in Crested Butte, takes skiers through Mt. Crested Butte Ski Resort, over two mountain passes and finishes in the City of Aspen at the base of the Aspen Skiing Mountain. In addition to a quality wilderness race experience for entrants, priorities of the race organizers include the safety of all participants and minimal impact on the environment.
Depending on weather conditions the race is scheduled to start at midnight on Friday. This unusual start time is scheduled so entrants will reach the high point of Star pass at 12,303 feet before the warmth of the day increases the likelihood of avalanches. Because of the remote route through the Elk Mountains, each team of two is required to carry enough food and supplies to sustain themselves for 24 hours. Before the start of the race the team’s packs will be checked to be sure all essential gear is present including shelters, stove, fuel, avalanche beacons and rescue gear, first aid and repair kits etc. The Grand Traverse is a true test of endurance that keeps racers returning year after year.
Since it’s inception, the race has been a fundraiser benefiting the Crested Butte Nordic Council. In 2011, the original race organizers decided to turn it over to the Crested Butte Nordic Council to own and manage. Since then, the Crested Butte Nordic Council has organized the race with sights on improving the racer experience and safety on the course as well as continue being a fundraising event for the Nordic Council. Now in it’s 16th year, the Grand Traverse continues to be an even stronger fundraising event by benefiting additional non-profits through it’s Charity Teams option.
To learn more about the Crested Butte Nordic Council, a non-profit organization, please visit www.cbnordic.org