Healthy competition: Get a dose of positive peer pressure from an organized race
If you feel like you are struggling to meet your fitness goals this winter, try a dose of positive peer pressure by signing up for an endorphin-inducing romp through the high country. From alpine and Nordic skiing to running, snowshoeing and fat-bike courses, there’s a race for every ability level, from beginner to elite.
Vail Town Series
The Vail Summit Orthopaedics Alpine Town Series attracts a range of competitors, from beginners all the way through retired ski racers, said Brittney Ziebell, development and events coordinator for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, which organizes the races.
“If people are comfortable in the gates, we encourage them to come if they are interested,” she said. “The first race and the last two races are on Afterthought, which is a pretty steep pitch, so as long as they’re comfortable with the terrain, there’s no minimum skill level.”
The series includes six giant slalom races and one “super-George” super-G. The Jan. 28, Feb. 4 and Feb. 11 dual GS races will launch from the slalom start at Gold Peak Main Arena, which Ziebell described as a short, steady, pretty straight pitch.
“Jan. 14, Feb. 18 and March 24 are the days it’ll go down Afterthought,” she said. “It’s a little steeper, longer, a little more challenging. It will not be a dual; it’ll be a single course. It takes a little bit longer for everyone to get through, and it’s definitely challenging. March 24 there will be a super-G following the GS that you qualify for, and that will be on Afterthought, as well.”
Competitors can sign up for single races or the entire series as individuals or as teams in various divisions — alpine, tele or snowboard; sport or pro — and teams can either be all one discipline or a “motley crew” of multiple disciplines.
“For men, there’s two alpine categories: alpine pro and alpine sport,” Ziebell said. “Alpine pro is for people in the higher level grouping. We encourage anyone who’s won the alpine sport division more than twice to move up to alpine pro. We don’t offer (two divisions) for women because there just aren’t enough women in the series.”
Racing suits aren’t required, and neither are shin guards or pole guards, though they are encouraged. Helmets are required, but motocross-style helmets with full-face shields can cause neck injuries in the gates if you fall, so those are specifically prohibited.
Organizers are also being stricter this year about the eight-person team roster, so Ziebell warned against trying to sneak in a ninth or 10th team member to fill gaps in the series. Teams generally hail from local restaurants and other organizations, and friends, family and teammates comprise the spectator pool.
“It’s such a busy time of year that it’s hard to drop what you’re doing at some of those places that never stop — like Pazzo’s and The Red Lion — and get a few runs and some fresh air,” Ziebell said. “It’s an excuse to get out there, see your friends and hang out with the local community for a few hours.”
GoPro Race Day
The GoPro Race Day & Championship Series kicked off Jan. 11, with a string of slalom and giant slalom races on the Bear Trap course at Beaver Creek. Races continue every Monday through Feb. 22 and conclude with a Closing Party at Powder 8’s Kitchen & Tap.
The races welcome alpine skiers, snowboarders, telemark skiers and adaptive skiers and snowboarders, said Julie Heaydon, of the Beaver Creek Race Department. Racers can register online or at the GoPro tent at the base of base of Chair 6 from 8:30 to 11 a.m., and the entrance fee includes two runs. On-site registration is open at the top of the hill, available up to 15 minutes before the start of the race.
“The giant slalom course runs on Bear Trap — a 35- to 45-second course where participants race down 465 vertical feet,” Heaydon said. “The slalom is an intermediate course, but the steeper pitch makes it more challenging than the traditional EpicMix racing course.”
The race series is celebrating its 24th year at Beaver Creek, making it one of the longest-running race series in North America, she said. Spectators are welcome and can view from the bottom of the arena. The Buckaroo Gondola offers free access to foot traffic.
“Participants range from 3- to 4-year-old first-time racers to die-hard race regulars that love to join in on the fun,” Heaydon said.
Beaver Creek Snowshoe Series
As one of the largest snowshoe races in the country, the Beaver Creek Snowshoe Running Series has been a local favorite for nearly 20 years.
“Even with that pedigree, it is a fun activity for locals and guests to experience Beaver Creek in a new way and keep on running throughout the winter, when many people hang up their shoes,” said Jeremy Gross, special events manager for the Beaver Creek Resort Co.
Each race highlights a different section of the mountain. The first race, which took place on Jan. 3, was on the Western Hillside and primarily used ski ways and singletrack. The second course, Jan. 31, is mostly on singletrack and in the trees.
“The views of the second race are incredible,” Gross said. “The final race will take place at the McCoy Park Nordic Center on singletrack and groomed snowshoe trails. The elevation change varies on each course, but ranges from about 700 feet to close to 2,000 feet, depending on the course and the distance you choose.”
The field includes competitive athletes, as well as participants who come out and hike the course with friends. The fastest 5K racer the first week was a 15-year-old female who finished the course in just more than 33 minutes, and the fastest 10K runner was the 2016 Xterra Triathlon World Champion, Josiah Middaugh, who finished in 49 minutes.
“The majority of the field comes in closer to 60 to 90 minutes, which is a fast walking or jogging pace,” Gross said, adding that there isn’t any experience needed since the learning curve for snowshoeing is very small. “Put snowshoes on. Walk. Simple as that.”
Those who want to participate but don’t have snowshoes can snag some demos from Atlas Snow-shoe Co., as well as snacks and recovery foods, at the start/finish area.
“We set up a warming and storage tent at the start/finish area for each race, so racers can keep their gear out of the elements,” Gross said. “After the race, racers are treated to lunch at The Dusty Boot in Beaver Creek Village, where the top three runners are awarded in each 10-year age category. Race participants are entered into a drawing for prizes, including gear from our sponsors.”
Pedal Power Race Series
It’s midseason for the grassroots Pedal Power Race Series, which takes competitors all over Eagle and Lake counties to compete in snowshoe, snow bike and winter triathlon races (shoe, bike, ski). Bruce Kelly, owner of Pedal Power, has been setting the racecourses for 20 years and said he’s never set the same course twice.
“We’re going to take you into the woods, we’re going to take you on singletrack, some untracked,” he said. “You’re going to do some steep climbs; steep, technical descents, especially snowshoeing, that you wouldn’t normally do.”
Kelly said he always puts something tricky in for the more competitive racers, like a technical downhill “where they have to slide on their butts,” but those who are new to the series shouldn’t feel intimidated to try it out.
“We’re not trying to make it so it’s just for the hard core,” he said. “We recognize all levels of participation. Once someone who’s a casual snowshoer comes out and does one of the events, they usually like it. They don’t usually come back and say it was way too hard. We get hikers, and at the same time, we have a pretty strong, deep, committed group of competitors that are 25 to 30 deep that are out there; they want the challenge.”
Most of the entry fees for the races go toward nominal scholarships for high school mountain-bike racers in both counties, though Kelly said the series has also supported locals with medical crises and the Full Circle youth mentoring program in Lake County.
Competitors must generally provide their own gear, though in a pinch, Kelly has been known to provide a bike rental or a pair of snowshoes. Fat-tire bikes work best for the groomed triathlon course, but a good 29er will handle the trails just fine in all but the heaviest snow conditions, he said.
Racers as young as 8 and as old as 74 have competed in the past, and Pedal Power Race Series organizers don’t discourage anyone from taking a crack at competing, with the caveat that they shouldn’t expect a pedestrian course or a bunch of bells and whistles.
“It’s not about the pomp and circumstance,” he said. “We do have staging and banners, but that’s not what the race is about. We try to set a fun, interesting, challenging course for these people, and that’s what will bring them back.”
Vail Mountain Winter Uphill
At the annual Vail Mountain Winter Uphill Race and Hike, runners and skiers tackle 2,200 vertical feet of groomed trails from Lionshead Village to Eagle’s Nest at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. This year’s race happens Feb. 21.
Ellen Miller, along with fellow mountain runner and Vail local Hooker Lowe, started the race in 2008 to spread their passion for mountain running and uphill skiing and to pay homage to Vail local Lyndon Ellefson, a mountain running pioneer who lost his life in a 1998 accident near the Matterhorn while training for a mountain race in Italy.
“He was an amazing, phenomenal runner that used to work at Vail Resorts,” said Jen Mason, race director. “He worked in the lift department. He would do this every day. That’s how he got himself to work every day, he took this route.”
The route hugs the Simba run on the far west of Vail Mountain, alternating steep uphills with some flatter, more forgiving sections, Mason said.
“They come at the perfect time,” she said of the flatter parts, “like, thank god, right when I needed it, and it’s steeper at the bottom than it is at the top.”
Miller said the Winter Uphill isn’t really a snowshoe race.
“Most folks wear running shoes with stabilizers, and some wear skis,” Miller said. “If it snows a lot, participants might wear snowshoes, but I don’t see too many at this race unless we see a lot of snow the night prior to the race start.”
The finish line has separate portals for competitive and noncompetitive participants, and results are posted for competitive racers only. Race categories include ski and non-ski options, and prizes will be awarded by overall place and category by gender age group.
The race is open to all ability levels, and most people take between an hour and an hour and 45 minutes to complete the course, Mason said. In honor of Ellefson, all entry fees support the U.S. Mountain Running Team.
“There are pros that come, but there are the weekend warriors and people who just like to hike up the mountain in the afternoons and now they are doing it in the morning to get themselves timed,” she said. “We all start together, and then we have a post party at Eagle’s Nest in the morning, with breakfast.
“The coolest thing about it is if the weather is halfway decent, the other competitors will stay up and cheer people on. It is competitive, people are out there to get their best time, but it’s very encouraging.”