Skin, ski and climb Breckenridge at The Five Peaks ski mountaineering race March 11 | SummitDaily.com

Skin, ski and climb Breckenridge at The Five Peaks ski mountaineering race March 11

You've never seen Breckenridge like this before.

On Saturday, The Five Peaks ski mountaineering race returns to Breck with a wild opportunity: Skin from the base of Peak 9 to the top of Peak 10, and then ski back down to do it all over again from one end of the resort to the other, no chairlifts needed. The annual event is part of the regional Cosmic Ski Mountaineering Cup and is easily one of the most popular, thanks in large part to that behind-the-scenes tour of Breck's towering peaks. And with a starting elevation of 9,600 feet and top elevation of 13,633 feet, it is North America's highest skimo race.

"People really like the high alpine," said Pete Swenson, co-director of the race. "Every Cosmic race has its own atmosphere, but what makes Breck unique is that racers are above treeline for three hours. It's pretty stunning."

The Five Peaks for 2017 features two different races: a long course that covers close to 7,300 vertical feet, and a short course that covers 2,700 vertical feet. Both events leave from the Maggie Restaurant at the base of Peak 9 at 7:30 a.m. and climb lower Silverthorne toward Peak 10. Both routes climb past the base of Falcon SuperChair and continue on Lehman to the top of Mercury Superchair and the Windows/Back 9 access road. From there, the short course begins traversing across the ski area on in-bounds terrain toward Peak 8 and the Peak 7 finish. The long course continues on Windows road to the backcountry access gate en route to Peak 10 for the earliest — and toughest — climb: nearly 4,000 feet from Peak 9 base to the summit of Peak 10.

"You can watch the entire race almost from Peak 8," Swenson said. "You'll see little lines of ants marching from place to place. It's during the operating hours, but it feels so remote because we're literally right on the ski area boundary all day."

The long course is limited to two-person teams with full avalanche equipment, including helmet, beacon, probe and shovel. The short course, though, is made for solo racers and requires nothing more than skins — the entire course stays in-bounds. Long course is for lightweight AT or skimo gear only, while the short course is open to splitboarders. For full course descriptions, see the event website at TheFivePeaks.org.

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Swenson and event organizers expect about 140 competitors this year, about the same as last year, but they've noticed that Colorado skimo racers are getting savvier and savvier every season.

"I think the biggest change we've seen is that people are coming into it a lot more prepared than they were even three years ago, and it's because of those midweek events. It's also so much easier to find the appropriate equipment these days. People are going faster, they're having more fun — they just kow what they're doing now."

The after-party

Of course it wouldn't be a mountain race without some kind of post-torture celebration. The post-race party gets started at Napper Tandy's in downtown Breck when the long-course racers wrap up around 2 p.m. The race fee includes a beer and a meal, and the raffle begins at 2:30 p.m. with prizes from Dynafit, Rab, Mountain Outfitters and more.

Then there are the race prizes. The Five Peaks features $300 cash prizes for the first-place teams in three categories (duo men, duo women, duo coed).

Then there's parking. Lots near Peak 9 are on the pricy side: $12 for F Lot, $12 for the Riverwalk Center lot, $15 for the ice rink lot on Boreas Pass Road or $12 for the Gondola Lot. The gondi lot is also $7 with four occupants so invite your friends.

The Five Peaks 2017

What: An annual ski mountaineering race through the Breckenridge high alpine, including a short solo course and long team course with divisions for men, women and juniors

When: Saturday, March 11

Where: Breckenridge Ski Resort, Maggie Restaurant start line

Cost: $140 for teams, $70 for solo racers, $40 for juniors

Registration for both races is available today (March 10) in person only with cash or check at Mountain Outfitters in Breckenridge from 4-7 p.m. There is no day-of registration, but there will be day-of packet and bib pickup. Race fee includes post-race meal, beer and raffle with prizes from Dynafit, RAB, La Sportive and more. The race is part of the season-long Cosmic skimo series. For more info on the race or series, see TheFivePeaks.org.