Skimo Elk Mountain Grand Traverse Begins

Athletes brave avalanche conditions


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Tonight at midnight, 180 teams of skiers will set out from the base of Crested Butte Mountain in Crested Butte, Colorado, for a 40-mile traverse along an old 1880s mail route through the Elk Mountains. Now in its 16th year, the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse is known for its difficulty: 7,800 feet of vertical gain, serious backcountry strategizing, and a solid 10+ hours of (ideally) continuous forward (and uphill and downhill) motion. The fastest teams will finish the descent down Aspen Mountain somewhere in the range of seven to eight hours. The rest could be out there for up to sixteen.  

Though other backcountry touring races have certainly popped up around the world, the Grand Traverse is for the most part incomparable in terms of rigor and remoteness. In order to ensure that the adrenaline-fueled participants aren’t entering the backcountry unprepared, organizers require a hefty mandatory gear list. Here’s a sampling of what’s required along the largely self-supported course:

Apart from the obvious—skis, poles, boots, skins—G.T. racers must carry a stove, pot, survival shelter, altimeter, compass, course map, first-aid and repair kit, SPOT tracker, beacon, shovel, probe; enough food and water for a long, cold haul; and a full set of extra layers.

Follow Outside editor Meaghen Brown’s progress along the course.

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