Breckenridge foursome headed for Elk Traverse |

Breckenridge foursome headed for Elk Traverse

It didn’t take much convincing from John Warner and Scott Downen – touring 40 miles from Crested Butte to Aspen is exactly the type of thing Tim Casey and Larry Crispell would prefer to do on a Saturday in March.

The Breckenridge foursome will compete Saturday in the sixth annual Elk Mountains Grand Traverse – a tour that connects the two fabled Colorado ski towns via high ridgelines and two mountain passes.

Warner and Downen did the event last year. It took them 14 hours. This year they easily persuaded Casey and Crispell to join them, creating a contingent of longtime Breckenridge residents for the race, a contingent of established partners in ski tours of this kind.

“I like backcountry skiing, and I particularly like backcountry skiing with this group of guys,” said Crispell, a seven-year member of the Breckenridge Town Council. “John and Scott did it last year, and they’ve been kind enough to share their race tips with us.”

Gold Run Nordic Center director Scott Yule and his girlfriend Roanne Miller will form a coed team for the event. Yule was in Crested Butte on Thursday and said about 10 teams from Summit County are planning to race. He also said there was talk that avalanche danger might force organizers to shorten the course, making it an out-and-back, or to cancel the event altogether. A decision will be made today.

If it goes off, the race will start at midnight Friday in downtown Crested Butte (Warner et al. planned to leave Breck for the Butte this morning to try to get some pre-race sleep this evening). At the stroke of midnight, the approximately 100 teams of two will head up Mt. Crested Butte and out through the ski area toward the first aid station at 12 miles. As day breaks, the skiers will climb up and over Star pass and Taylor pass before heading toward Aspen on rolling Richmond Ridge, which crests at the top of Ajax Mountain. Competitors will then ski down the face of Ajax into Aspen, finishing in anywhere from seven to 17 hours. The course gains about 6,000 feet in net elevation.

“I like long distance endurance events,” said Warner, a Breckenridge dentist. “I love to climb on skis and go long distances on skis, so I thought “this 40-miler sounds like a real challenge.'”

Warner and Downen hope to finish by 12:30 p.m., under the 13-hour mark. That would likely give them a better placing than last year’s 71st (they were third in the 46-and-over age division).

Although Warner admits passing other teams is part of the fun – he and Downen were dead last in the early stages of last year’s event because of waxing problems before overtaking 39 teams – the competition is more within each individual skier, a measuring stick of fitness and mountaineering skill.

“It’s a competition but in the healthiest sort of way,” Crispell said. “You want to do your best, but it’s not a matter of someone defeating someone else. It’s just seeing how you are among the group.”

Warner and Downen feel better prepared this time. They’ll use light metal-edge touring skis, and they’ve gotten their packs – filled with avalanche probe poles, beacons, water, food and other survival gear – down to 20 pounds. Crispell and Casey will follow their lead, benefitting from their experience with the race and the terrain.

Although it’s an event for teams of two, the Breckenridge foursome plans to stay together the whole way.

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