End summer in style at the A-Basin Summit Challenge trail race | SummitDaily.com

End summer in style at the A-Basin Summit Challenge trail race

It's a side of Arapahoe Basin most folks rarely see: alpine slopes blanketed in a vibrant sea of wildflowers below the jagged, snow-free faces of the East Wall. It might just be a little slice of heaven on Earth — only there's no chairlift ride to the top.

Welcome to the annual Summit Challenge, a trail race made for A-Basin faithful. Now in its fifth year, the race on Aug. 21 features two options: a 1.8-mile mid-mountain route and a 4.6-mile summit route. The day boasts elevation gains from 700 vertical feet to a whopping 1,700 vertical feet, all covered by foot, and you know what that means: Even if you're comfortable skinning up and skiing down every morning in the summer, this brings a whole new level of interest — and stamina — to a few of the highest routes in Summit County.

"I think that, especially when combined with the popularity of our winter randonee/uphill series, A-Basin is becoming known as a place for Colorado endurance athletes to train and compete," A-Basin spokeswomen Adrienne Saia Isaac said. "The rugged terrain and the conditions of running at altitude make the race a challenge, but we keep the vibe fun and have a pretty sweet après party as well."

Last year, the event drew 77 total runners split almost evenly between the two races, with divisions for men, women and youth. Registration is still available online until Aug. 20 at 11:59 p.m.

The race

The day begins at the A-Basin base area. From there, competitors in both races immediately merge onto one of the toughest sections of the course: the climb up Argentine-North Fork trail. This is a serviced race, and so there are course marshals and three aid stations along the route, but the hard part is still up to you. The first switchback reminds people they're running at altitude, Saia Isaac said, and it doesn't get much easier from there.

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Mid-mountain runners continue on an uphill course to Black Mountain Lodge — it's only 1.8 miles, but it's a grind the entire way to 11,558 feet — while summit runners veer off to the west for the second big climb of the day: Grizzly Road en route to the top of Pali Chair.

"While the Cornice Run can be spotty, the uphill of Grizzly Road is a bit steeper than it seems," Saia Isaac said. "Even though it can be a grind to the top of Pali, you're rewarded with beautiful views — and even more uphill to patrol headquarters, of course — once you get there."

After topping out at 12,474 feet near patrol headquarters, competitors get a few brief seconds to take in the sights before turning onto the summer road for a steep, fast descent back to Black Mountain Lodge.

The reward

Like all things at A-Basin, the day wouldn't be complete without an all-ages, all-access party on the mountain. Spectators can ride Black Mountain Express for free from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for a celebration at the lodge. There's barbecue — pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked chicken and buffalo bratwurst, with sides like corn on the cob or baked beans — and a free performance from local boys the Rob Drabkin Band from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Fun fact: The band's trumpet player is taking a break from touring with Stevie Wonder to play the Summit Challenge set, Saia Isaac said.)

The barbecue is open to the public. There are no dogs allowed at the race, but spectators can hike with Fido from the base to the lodge on the Argentine-North Fork trail. Just remember to bring a leash and poo bags.

2016 Summit Challenge trail race

What: The 5th edition of a trail race on the slopes of Arapahoe Basin, with a 1.8-mile division for beginners and a 4.6-mile division for veterans, plus a barbecue for all

When: Sunday, Aug. 21 at 10 a.m.

Where: Arapahoe Basin start line

Cost: $30 adult and $15 child (race only), $45 adult and $25 child (race and barbecue)

The summit race begins at 10:15 a.m. and the mid-mountain race begins at 10:45 a.m. The barbecue at Black Mountain Lodge is open to the public and begins at 11 a.m., with food and live music for $16.50 (adults) and $10 (children). Spectators can take a free chairlift ride Black Mountain Express from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Registration is available online until midnight the day before the race. To register or find out more, see the “event calendar” tab at http://www.arapahoebasin.com.