By Sam Collentine, Meteorologist Posted 10 years ago March 28, 2014

The Grand Traverse

UPDATE (2:15 PM MST): According to Skiing Magazine, race director Brian Wickenhauser delivered the news that due to massive snowfall and high avalanche danger, the course has been rerouted as a loop rather than a point-to-point from Crested Butte Mountain Resort to Aspen. This 40-mile out-and-back course has only been used 3 times in the event's 17-year history. 


40 miles, 7,800 vertical feet, while traveling through an extremely support limited backcountry environment. This is the annual Grand Traverse ski mountaineering race that takes place from Crested Butte Mountain Resort to Aspen Mountain. At midnight tonight, yes MIDNIGHT, racers set out from Crested Butte, climbing through the Crested Butte Mountain Resort before racing to Taylor Pass and finishing down Aspen Mountain. 

The Grand Traverse course. Race organizers may change the course based on snow conditions, weather or other safety concerns. In extreme circumstances, the course may be modified to finish in Crested Butte rather than in Aspen. Source:

Now, what exactly is ski mountaineering? Ski mountaineering combines alpine, telemark, and backcountry skiing techniques to obtain a mountain's summit, or in the case of the Grand Traverse, to traverse the Elk Mountains from Crested Butte to Aspen. 

Description of the course via

The course is generally unmarked. Racers must find their own route to mandatory checkpoints. This is a backcountry race and participants will have extremely limited support once they are on the course.


Motorized vehicles are not allowed from Brush Creek to Star Pass, so a medical evacuation is by sled only. Racers must be prepared to self-rescue and be self-supported in the event of an emergency

There are 4 cut-off points on the course:

  • Refuge Checkpoint #1 – Teams must reach the Checkpoint by 7:00 AM. Teams that do not meet this cut-off will be turned around and must return to Crested Butte.


  • Star Pass Checkpoint – Teams must reach Star Pass by 8:00 AM. Teams that do not meet this cut-off will be turned around and must return to Crested Butte.


  • Refuge Checkpoint #2 – There is a mandatory 10-minute stop and medical check at the Checkpoint. Racers must reach the Checkpoint by 2:00 PM. Racers that do not meet this cut-off must ski to a pre-determined pick up point, where they will be escorted to the Sundeck and downloaded on the Aspen Gondola.


  • Aspen Mountain Gate Checkpoint – Teams must reach the top of Aspen Mountain by 4:00 PM. Racers that do not make this cut-off will be escorted to the Sundeck and downloaded on the Aspen Gondola.

The interesting aspect of this race though is that it is a team event. All racers must remain in visual contact with each other at all times and enter/exit the mandatory checkpoints. If a team member is found separted from their partner, they will be disqualified from the race and all future races.

Description of the gear via

Each team is required to carry survival gear and be prepared at all times for an unexpected situation – which could require a 24-hour bivouac.  This means teams must carry enough equipment and supplies to spend an unsupported winter night in the backcountry.  Each team will be required to carry a 2-person shelter – not a bivy sack!.  Racers in a situation that prevents them from continuing are strongly advised to stay where they are and use the shelter until support arrives.

It's safe to say that the Grand Traverse is one of the most challenging races to test your skiing and mountaineering skills 

Think your up for it in 2015? Registration is $400 per team. Oh and I must mention, the two previous years winners came in with a time of 07:32:23 (2012) and 07:40:54 (2013) respectively. 

The race begins at midnight tonight and you can follow the live progress here

Sam Collentine | OpenSnow


Back to All News

About The Author

Sam Collentine


Sam Collentine is the Chief Operating Officer of OpenSnow and lives in Basalt, Colorado. Before joining OpenSnow, he studied Atmospheric Science at the University of Colorado, spent time at Channel 7 News in Denver, and at the National Weather Service in Boulder.

Free OpenSnow App

Download on the App Store Get it on Google Play