The craggy spine of Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s Guide’s Ridge is an intimidating ascent in the balmy days of summer, but in the winter? “It’s only been done a handful of times in the last 20 years,” says Bryan Wickenhauser, a local ski mountaineer. That’s about to change: On January 28–29, Crested Butte hosts the North American Ski Mountaineering Championships, an event sanctioned by the International Ski Mountaineering Federation.
Ski mountaineering races are common in Europe, where liability isn’t as much of a quagmire. But they’re on the rise in the U.S. thanks to a growing user group of ski mountaineers. It’s like backcountry skiing—only faster. Competitors skin, hike, and traverse up as fast as possible, then descend at top speed not worrying too much about style. Pro-level racers favor ultra-lightweight gear (carbon boots and speed suits at the high end), but, in the U.S. anyway, regular Joe backcountry skiers enter as well. Races have been held at Breckenridge, Utah’s Wasatch, and there’s an annual event in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where racers hike up Corbet’s Couloir. But none of those routes have been as exposed and treacherous as the planned course at Crested Butte. “We want to make it difficult in a technical way, not a lung-burning way,” says Wickenhauser, who is organizing the event. “This is the first race Stateside to require a harness, ascenders, and fixed ropes.”
The race will start and finish at the inviting Crested Butte base area. But the crux of the first climb involves a Class V section (think nearly vertical terrain, with ropes and hardware required) up Guide’s Ridge to Mount Crested Butte. Then racers will ski down to a second ascent before skiing through the finish line in roughly two hours and 20 minutes. “The Guide’s Ridge would take the average person about 45 minutes to complete,” says Wickenhauser. “We expect racers to complete it in 20 minutes.”
Wickenhauser anticipates 25 Canadian athletes, about 50 racers from the U.S., and a team from Italy to compete in Crested Butte. “We think they are just as excited to come ski Crested Butte as they are to do the race,” he says. —Gavin Gibson
For more information and to follow the race visit skicb.com.