Racers take on Imperial Challenge | SummitDaily.com

Racers take on Imperial Challenge

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Summit County, Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark FoxMonique Merrill skins her way up to the top of Imperial Bowl while competing in the Imperial Challenge at

BRECKENRIDGE – With mud splattered across her face and ski suit, Monique Merrill leaned on her ski poles at the base of Breckenridge’s Peak 8 on Saturday, thinking of just the right words to describe the Imperial Challenge, the unique, end-of-ski-season race she just completed.

“Well, it was muddy and cloudy and wet,” she started, “and a lot of fun.”

Although most of the 147 competitors that sloshed through the sloppy spring conditions took to the race with a lighthearted approach, the contest itself wasn’t exactly easy.

A triathlon of sorts, the Imperial Challenge is a three-part race that consists of biking, skinning (or snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, etc.) and alpine skiing.

Racers started at 10 a.m. at the Breckenridge Recreation Center, biking up to the Bergenhof on Peak 8. Once at the base of the slopes, they slapped on skins and worked their way up to the very top of the mountain. Then, in the third and final leg, competitors skied downhill, through alpine-style gates, back to the Bergenhof.

“It’s short, fast and different,” Merrill said. “Right when you start to feel tired of the bike, you get on skis. Once you’re sick of the skis, you go downhill. It switches it all up and ties the local community together.”

Merrill, a champion of many national endurance races, cruised to the win on the women’s side of the competition with a time of 1 hour, 37 minutes and 43 seconds. She was nearly nine minutes ahead of second-place finisher Gretchen Reeves.

Pete Swenson was the overall winner of the race, completing the course in 1 hour and 18 seconds. Like Merrill, Swenson has competed in and won numerous regional and national endurance-style competitions, but, he said, the Imperial Challenge is in a class all its own.

“I was thinking that it’s kind of funny, skiing past the top of the Imperial Chair covered in mud,” he said. “It’s foggy and lightly snowing. What other race are you muddy and out skiing? It’s cool.”

The mud was simply one of the normal hazards of any biking race, but the fog that covered the top of Peak 8 much of Saturday morning was a bit trickier for the racers.

“The top was so foggy, you could barely see gate to gate,” Swenson said. “It was just kind of crawling along looking for the next gate.”

By that point in the race, Swenson had already taken over the lead from Breck’s Greg Ruckman, whom Swenson passed while skinning past the T-Bar.

Ruckman, who finished in a time of 1:24:25, wasn’t disappointed at all in his second-place finish in the race, especially with who finished ahead of him.

“He epitomizes what’s important about sports in this community,” Ruckman said of Swenson, who runs a number of races in the area, including last week’s Five Peaks competition in Breck. “He spends more time helping other athletes than he does training. You’ve got to appreciate what he does in this community, and then the fact that he finishes first in all these races, it’s so impressive.”

Ruckman also mentioned how thankful he was the Imperial Challenge took place this year at all, as the event shifted in organizing crews. Jeff Westcott of Maverick Sports Promotions and Sandy Metzger, the team manager and program director of the U.S. Alpine Disabled Ski Team, took over the Challenge this year for what’s thought to be anywhere from the 14th to 18th running. (No one is quite sure of the number.)

“Amateur sports are the heart and soul of a community like Breck,” Ruckman said. “It was awesome. I’m so happy that it continued on.”

And that was a sentiment that seemed to be shared by all at Breck on Saturday.

“I love this race; it’s such a classic,” Merrill said, still hanging around the finish area as local Mark Beardsley whipped by wearing jeans and an over-sized, foam cowboy hat – all covered in mud, of course.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Merrill said.

For full results of the race, visit http://www.mavsports.com.

Bryce Evans can be reached at (970) 668-4634 or at bevans@summitdaily.com.

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