Crested Butte Hosts Two Distinct Nordic Ski Races – Alley Loop and Elk Mountains Grand Traverse

The Alley Loop Nordic Ski Race is one of the events that have put Crested Butte Mountain Resort on the map (photo courtesy of Xavier Fane/Crested Butte Nordic Center).

The 26th annual Alley Loop and 15th annual Elk Mountains Grand Traverse are two distinct ski races that have helped put Crested Butte, Colo., on the map as a place that does everything with its own distinctive style. Both have new happenings to announce for 2012 and are spearheaded by Crested Butte Nordic Center.

Alley Loop, February 4
Growing in prestige and numbers over the past decade, the Crested Butte Nordic Council’s Alley Loop 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.

With 14 races from Vermont to Alaska, the ASM Series includes such renowned events as the American Birkebeiner, Yellowstone Rendezvous and Tour of Anchorage. The Gunnison Valley Health Alley Loop is one of only four races in the western United States and the only Colorado event in the series. “We’ve been wanting to add another western event for a number of years,” says J.D. Downing, director of the American Ski Marathon Series, “and the Alley Loop ended up being the perfect fit.”

The 26th annual Gunnison Valley Health Alley Loop, known for its fun spirit and participation from both serious and not-so-serious costumed racers of all ages, is scheduled for Feb. 4, 2012. 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 1.5 and 3 kilometer races for children and families to half and full marathons, crowds line the streets and alleys to cheer on racers.

The 1.5 and 3 kilometer 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 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 at www.cbnordic.org. Complete information about the ASM Series can be found at www.xcskiworld.com.

Elk Mountains Grand Traverse, March 29 – 31
One of the most sought-after and rugged backcountry ski races on the planet celebrates 15 years of memorable moments and amazing athletic feats on March 29 – 31. The GORE-TEX Elk 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.

Kicking off at the stroke of 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 all wrapped in one. 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. The 40-mile course starts at 9,000 feet at Crested Butte Community School and traverses to Crested Butte Mountain Resort, where cheering 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 31 and celebrate that evening with a cocktail party, dinner and awards in Aspen.

“The Grand Traverse is not a Nordic or downhill race, but instead tests skiers overall skills and goes from town-to-town, covering 40 miles of rugged trails in the Elk Mountains. Every event dishes up new surprises for contestants and organizers,” says Keith Bauer, director of the Crested Butte Nordic Center, which has assumed responsibility of the race from a group of longtime volunteers.

A two-day registration and expo are new for this year. Because of the remote route, each team of two is required to carry enough food and supplies to sustain themselves for 24 hours. Upon registration, the team’s packs are checked for essential gear such as a two-person shelter, stove, fuel, shovel, probe, first-aid kit and equipment repair items.

Sponsors Dynafit and Outdoor Research will have product demonstrations available at the base of CBMR, and racers can take part in a “skin with the pros” on March 29 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and March 30 from 7:30 – 9 a.m. The tour will follow the section of course that crosses CBMR terrain and give competitors a chance to do some final equipment tweaks with the help of experienced Grand Traverse racers. On Thursday evening, race organizers will have a film festival featuring backcountry ski movies at the Lodge at Mountaineer Square, which is free to all racers and open to the public for $8 per person.

Registration for the Grand Traverse sold out within 30 minutes on Dec. 1, with 150 teams of two filling the slots. To see if any openings become available, watch the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse Facebook page. Trackleaders will provide SPOT-based so the progress of all racers can be monitored on www.elkmountainstraverse.com and www.trackleaders.com.

Crested Butte Nordic Center Facts
The Crested Butte Nordic Center is a full-service cross-country ski center providing lessons and complete rental packages for skate and classical skiing as well as guided backcountry tours, yurt dinners and brunches, ice skating, snowshoeing and sledding. The Nordic Center maintains more than 55 kilometers of groomed trails that meander through and around Crested Butte.

Located in the heart of town at Second Street and Whiterock, the Nordic Center will be open for the season from Nov. 19, 2011 – April 8, 2012 and is connected to Crested Butte Mountain Resort and various stops in Crested Butte by the free Mountain Express bus. For more information about the Crested Butte Nordic Center and its winter 2011/2012 calendar of events, visit www.cbnordic.org.

Visitor Information & Personalized Vacation Packages
To find out more about events or to book vacation packages, call the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association’s at (800) 814-8893 or visit www.GunnisonCrestedButte.com/packages. Find the Tourism Association on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gcbta or follow on www.twitter.com/gcbta. The Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport is served year-round by United Airlines and during the winter season by American Airlines and Continental Airlines.

About Gunnison-Crested Butte, Colorado
Gunnison-Crested Butte is nestled among almost two million acres of pristine wilderness in southwest Colorado. Winter sports enthusiasts know the area for its world-class alpine skiing and snowboarding at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing. Gunnison-Crested Butte is also a haven for outdoor summer activities. In the warmer months, visitors can choose from recreational activities such as hiking, climbing, mountain biking, boating, whitewater rafting, kayaking, fly-fishing, camping and horseback riding. Year-round visitors enjoy distinctive restaurants, unique shops and stimulating cultural opportunities, and have a wide range of lodging options — from rustic inns to guest cabins and bed-and-breakfasts to full-service resort hotels.

Gunnison, county seat and a real Western town, is home to the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport, Gunnison Whitewater Park, Gunnison Valley Observatory, Pioneer Museum and Western State College, a four-year institution offering majors in the liberal arts and sciences and professional fields. Both Crested Butte and Gunnison have thriving historic central business districts packed with shopping and dining opportunities.

Recognized as the “Official Wildflower Capital of Colorado” by the Colorado Legislature and one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” in 2008, Crested Butte is 28 miles from Gunnison and the site of rich mining, ranching and skiing heritage and home to the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Only three miles up the road is the resort village of Mt. Crested Butte, home to the ski area, an active base area, the area’s conference center, and outstanding hiking and biking trails.

Marble is located in the Upper Crystal River Valley along the Elk Mountains and is the gateway to nearby Crystal, home to one of the most photographed mill sites in the country. Marble has seven sites on the National Register of Historic Places and is the location of the Yule Marble Quarry.

In Gunnison County, visitors will find the Curecanti National Recreation Area, where dinosaur fossils were recently discovered; the Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest body of water and home to the largest Kokanee salmon fishery in the United States; and The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Gunnison County includes the quaint and historic towns of Pitkin, Gothic, Tin Cup, Powderhorn, Almont and Crystal. Gunnison County is part of the West Elk Loop and Silver Thread Scenic & Historic Byways.

For more travel features, visit:

www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate

www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin

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