Five Peaks race challenges skiers
special to the daily
BRECKENRIDGE – Thirty-five teams of two lined up for the first running of the Five Peaks in Breckenridge on Saturday. The ski-mountaineering race started at the base of Peak 9 where racers then skinned above the resort to the summit of Peak 10. From there racers had to skin or boot pack up, then ski down peaks 9, 8 (twice) and 7, covering more than 10,000 vertical feet in the process.
The race was thought up and directed by Breckenridge local Pete Swenson. Swenson, the two-time defending U.S. Ski Mountaineer Champion, patterned the race after the events he’d been to in Europe.
“They start and finish in the ski area, but leave it to give you backcountry terrain. I wanted some true backcountry skiing and it showed off, for me, some of the best runs in Breck,” said Swenson about the course.
The Five Peaks had four categories, men’s, women’s, co-ed and veteran. In a bit of a surprise, the overall winners came from the co-ed division. Breckenridge resident and current U.S. Ski Mountaineering champion Monique Merrill and her partner, Mike Kloser of Vail, won in a time of 4:06.
“I thought we had a chance for a top five or a top three, but I tend to not have any expectations,” said Merrill.
Since the event took place both within and outside of the ski area boundary the logistics were complicated. Swenson first had to bring the ski resort and the Town of Breckenridge on board, then get the necessary permits from the Forest Service.
From the start, the resort and town were open to the race.
“We wanted to support it because of the unique nature of the event and we had the resources to pull it off,” said Breckenridge Ski Resort communications manager Kristen Petitt. The town allowed Swenson to rent the Riverwalk Center for registration, the post-race dinner and awards ceremony. Swenson was very appreciative of the help he received, saying: “I felt that everyone at the resort and town was very supportive. It was a community race.”
Getting the course set up and making sure it was safe was a big undertaking. The Breckenridge Ski Patrol played a major role in setting up the course and ensuring it was safe. Working on their own time ski patrollers helped Swenson set the track, checked snow conditions and worked the race itself. “From a race perspective, it was really the patrollers that made it work,” he said.
Most first-year races experience some difficulties, but the Five Peaks went smoothly.
“By the time we got to race day, it honestly ran according to plan. It ran like a 50-year event,” Swenson commented after the race. The weather was mostly cooperative with sunny skies and warm temperatures, but windy conditions along the peaks challenged racers at times. Swenson described the snow conditions as “typical backcountry, which means variable.” Flags and gates were used to direct racers and course marshals were at every transition area. “It was marked unbelievably well and then the marshals were everywhere they should have been,” commented Merrill.
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