Benedict 100 trek honors World Champs tradition
VAIL — Buck Elliot of Paragon Guides still distinctly remembers watching the Alpine World Ski Championships flag make the nearly 100-mile journey from Aspen to Vail.
It was the winter of 1989, and Vail was hosting the World Championships — the first time the event had been hosted in the United States since 1950, when Aspen held the event.
To commemorate the return of the races to American soil, a group of organizers, dignitaries and area officials skied a special “Aspen to Vail Interconnect” flag, carried mostly by a team of relay skiers, along the 100-mile route over the course of three days, right into the opening ceremonies of the races.
Passing on the spirit
“I remember watching these legends, such as Pete Seibert, handing the flag off to the first two runners in Aspen. When they got into Beaver Creek, John Garnsey welcomed them with fanfare. Coming down Vail Mountain, a lot of kids and their parents passed it off. There were so many people there, and all these kids got a turn to ski with the flag,” said Elliot, who helped organize the first Interconnect.
The flag started down the International run in Aspen, was run through town, and then was skied into the mountains. Relay skiers followed the path of the 10th Mountain Hut system along the way, ending up in Beaver Creek. From there, the flag was driven with fanfare through Minturn on a fire engine before another skier took it up the backside of Vail, where local youngsters took turns skiing the flag down Golden Peak. Finally, Norwegian Olympic gold medalist Stein Eriksen carried the flag into the opening ceremonies of the 1989 Championships.
“It was the second time it had been back in the country since 1950, and we were glad to pass on the tradition in Colorado,” Elliot said.
That passing on of the spirit of the Championships was a memorable event, said Elliot, so much so that local enthusiasts wanted to make it a tradition.
“After 1989, people said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ For awhile the co-owners of Paragon Guides and the 10th Mountain Hut Association ran it, then we (Paragon Guides) took it over,” Elliot said.
Over the years, the Interconnect took on a life of its own. Today, while it is still possible to take the original route that the flag bearers took, the more popular route doesn’t go through Edwards and Beaver Creek, but instead loops around to Camp Hale, up to Vail Pass and on into Vail.
The trek was eventually named the Benedict 100 in honor of Fritz Benedict, the father and visionary behind the 10th Mountain Division huts, and guiding companies such as Paragon Guides and Aspen Alpine Guides continue to keep the annual pilgrimage alive.
Today’s Benedict 100
Over time, the trek began to draw more visitors than locals, becoming a bucket-list experience for people from all over the globe. These days, Paragon Guides leads the trip as a fully guided six-day experience. Usually, about 12 trekkers make the journey, staying overnight at several of the huts in a style reminiscent of European treks such as the Haute Route between France and Switzerland.
The guiding company makes the tough trip more manageable by transporting items such as food and sleeping bags. Each night, the tired skiers are greeted at their destination hut by “hut hosts,” who serve up appetizers, drinks and a freshly cooked feast.
“As things like ultra marathons have become more popular, a lot of people are drawn to the trek, not as a competition — it’s really not a race in any way — but as a destination experience,” Elliot said.
This year, the Benedict 100 skiers rolled into Vail Village on Monday, the opening day of the World Championships, just like the original Interconnect skiers did in 1989.
While most of the skiers weren’t there to commemorate the Championships, the trek did draw an international crowd who loved skiing — just as the Championships are meant to do.
The 2015 trek included skiers from Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as Americans who hailed from New York and Colorado.
Benedict 100 participant Robin Collins of Canberra, Australia, said he heard about the trek nearly a decade ago and has wanted to come do it ever since.
“I traveled through Colorado years ago and thought, I have got to come back here,” Collins said. “I love this mix of nature and the mountains, and skiing through the forest is still something special for me.”
John Dodd, of Colorado, was completing his third Benedict 100 trip.
“This brings together all different kinds of people from different backgrounds who just have a similar love for the outdoors and skiing,” he said.
Elliot said that the Benedict 100 will always remain steeped in history and tradition.
“We once again honor the history of alpine skiing by finishing our tour on opening day of the 2015 Championships,” Elliot said. “We continue this tradition partly to continue the tradition of traveling hut to hut, which is very special. We also do it to remember Fritz Benedict and his dream and vision.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.