Pack Burro Racing heads to Idaho Springs |

Pack Burro Racing heads to Idaho Springs

On Sunday, Aug. 7, Leadville's famous Burro Races send runners and donkeys carrying mining packs on a 21-mile running course through the area's backcountry roads. Before that catch the Pack Burro Races in Idaho Springs on July 17.
Lake County Tourism Panel / Special to the Daily |

What could make a marathon even harder? Adding donkeys to the mix. Pack Burro Racing is back for another season in Colorado as participants compete with not only each other, but their donkeys as well. Runners will have to learn to work as a team with an animal most often referred to as a “stubborn ass.”

To anyone just getting into Pack Burro Racing, it sounds like a bad joke; spectators will see a donkey, or burro, with a pack and a 15-foot lead rope. The pack is filled with a pick and a shovel and both runner and donkey need to cross the finish line together.

“We would never ask our burro to do something we couldn’t do,” Brad Wann media relations for Western Pack Burro Association said. “A runner needs to be willing to do anything the burro would do. The humans do as much work as the burro does.”

This year, the race season started on May 28 in Georgetown with each participant running approximately eight miles. It continues on July 17 in Idaho Springs with a six- to eight-mile race, and the last race, an eleven-mile trek, will be held on Sept. 10 in Victor.


The history of Pack Burro Racing is split between two legends according to Wann.

“There are two miners in the bar and they were saying who has the fastest donkey. As drunk as they were, they saddled up to see. The second legend is that two gentlemen struck gold at the same time on the same claim. Now, you couldn’t own the claim until you got to town and produced your gold and said, ‘I found it here!’ So the miner’s quickly packed up their gear and raced to town to prove who owned the mine.”

The reality of these races has more to do with saving Summit’s neighboring towns.

“The real story that we know of is that Fairplay and Leadville and Buena Vista were dying,” Wann said. “There’s not much industry or tourism in 1949. Leadville and Fairplay got together and Fairplay said, ‘We’ll start these races in Fairplay and finish in Leadville.’” The idea was that the next year the two towns could switch and the races would start in Leadville. Now, each town has their own independent race as Pack Burro Racing continues to grow.

“The whole reason Pack Burro Racing got started was to keep the town alive,” Wann said. “We produce tax revenue that keep the teachers paid, firefighters, police officer jobs. We bring that many people and that much revenue in town. Without a burro race, Fairplay doesn’t have much.”

This year the races are continuing to expand, including a triple crown consisting of five total races.

“Burro racing has more spectators than cycling in Colorado,” Wann said. “You can’t see the whole race but you want to see the start because it’s absolutely insane and you definitely want to see the finish. The animal is so unpredictable. It could’ve just run a 6 minute mile for 24 miles then stop right before the finish line.”

These races are about trust and making sure your partner, the donkey, is comfortable and trusts you.

“It’s about trust and building a relationship with your ass,” Wann said. “If the animal trusts you, it’ll follow you off a cliff.” Wann mentions how you can never move a burro that doesn’t want to move. He recalls a time where he had to stop in the middle of his race, remove the pack from his burro and “love him up,” scratching his back for ten minutes before he could move on.

With a rise in popularity, these races have the opportunity to grow and become national.

“We have people from all over the world that come and do this sport,” Wann said. “Ireland wants us to come out and start racing. Hawaii wants us there.”

The sport is a communal sport that helps towns like Fairplay stay alive. Wann refers to it as “daring” and “unpredictable” which is one of the reasons it brings along so many spectators. It’s unlike any other race in that sense.

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