SCARPA/Ski Trab-sponsored Team Crested Butte is an elite adventure ski team that trains in Crested Butte, Colorado and competes around the globe in various disciplines such as ski mountaineering (skimo), classic cross-country skiing and skate skiing. Practicing what they preach, “live to ski and play hard,” heed their warning: Don’t put your skis away yet, spring ski mountaineering is some of the best touring of the year.
In the 10 years Team Crested Butte’s been around, we’ve experienced a transformation from an elite adventure racing team to an elite ski mountaineering team. Heck, some of us don’t even tele ski any more.
We’re a mountain-based team of four athletes and like to think of ourselves as “jacks of all opportunities” based upon what the weather grants us. The GORE-TEX Grand Traverse that takes place during the winter in Crested Butte, Colo., was the race that really sparked something in all of us and all of us, at one time or another, had taken first place.
It provides a sense of adventure, while testing the commitment of you and your teammates, as well as your endurance against the elements and against some of the toughest athletes in the US. The race was best known as a “Nordic race” for the first 12 years of its inception until the availability of lightweight AT gear came around, nearly mirroring Team Crested Butte’s rise in the light and fast AT world of skimo racing.
Rosters of the top competing teams are impressive; nearly all of the athletes use AT gear and many are probably members of the US Ski Mountaineering Team.
At this year’s GORE-TEX Grand Traverse, the field consisted of 169 teams with two people per team at the start line. One hundred and fifty teams made it to Aspen. This was one of the highest finishing rates we’ve seen. The top four men’s teams and top three women’s teams used AT gear. Looking deeper across the field, the Grand Traverse probably saw about 60 percent of its field finishing on lightweight AT gear – and this trend is growing.
Today, athletes are racing on higher quality gear, the field is becoming savvier at training, and participation in the COSMIC Series is growing exponentially. Western State Colorado University is even developing a collegiate Mountain Sports program under the direction of decorated pro mountain biker, Dave Wiens, giving younger athletes an opportunity to try out and compete in ski mountaineering racing.
Manufacturers in the backcountry segment of the ski industry are riding this wave of momentum as well. There’s a strong desire by traditional, resort-based skiers in the West to seek soft snow and fresh powder. However, it’s usually “skied off” at most resorts by 11 am. Thus, the industry has seen an increased demand for ski touring (AT) equipment, which is pushing manufacturers to make better fitting and higher performing gear.
Additionally, endurance based mountain athletes are fueling a growth for uphill skinning at resorts to maintain efficiency and performance.
Places like Crested Butte Mountain Resort are embracing this new hybrid (skin to ski) sport that is more common to the backcountry. The resort is welcoming these athletes with dedicated “uphill only” routes on the resort’s property with 24-hour ski days, a rental fleet of lightweight SCARPA/SkiTrab gear, and mid-mountain dining options to fuel their habits.
If you’re new to the sport, Crested Butte is a great place to learn on a groomed slope. If you’re a savvy veteran, you can skin up for a quick fix when you don’t have time to get to the backcountry or the snow pack off-piste is less than ideal.
While most ski resorts are closing this time of year and racing season is nearing its end, unexpected springtime storms are delivering fresh snow to reinvigorate passions for ski touring.