We hit the high point of the course at twilight. It was so amazing to be above tree-line at that special time between night and day. Star, Crystal and the surrounding mountains began to radiate and we saw the sunrise just as we were ripping our skins. I felt so lucky to be watching the sunrise on these beautiful mountains.  -Zoe Smith

All season long Western’s Endurance Ski Team has been racing and training in preparation for one final event, the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse.  Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans.  In a normal year, racers leave Crested Butte, CO at midnight and navigate their way through the 40 mile long course to the neighboring town of Aspen.  This year, for the third time in the races 17 year history, the course was reversed.  Through a disappointing announcement at the mandatory athlete meeting, race organizers declared on friday afternoon that avalanche conditions near Star Pass were just too dangerous to send racers to Aspen.  This news came as a blow to the six Mountain Sports Athletes that had spent countless hours in the skin track preparing for the monumental undertaking.

Zoe Smith, Heather Bradford, Sam Lesnikoski, Dylan Rome, Matt Clark and Nick Schley all made there way to the starting line anyway, ready to take a shot at completing the more circuitous and, by all accounts, more difficult course.  Finding their way to the finish line in  10 hours and 20 minutes, Matt Clark and Nick Schley took 2nd in the 18-25 Category and 18th Overall.  Dylan Rome and Sam Lesnikoski finished in 13 hours and 41 minutes.  According to Sam, the best part of the race was ripping skins above Friends Hut and the low point came on Saturday afternoon as the pair back-tracked the race route along the East River.

The duo of Bradford and Smith was unable to finish this year.  They came in 17 minutes late for the cutoff at Ambush Ranch, 34 miles into the 42 mile course. Needless to say, the lady Mountaineers were completely crushed.  After battling early stomach issues and navigating the painful and emotionally fatiguing course for over 13 hours, Zoe and Heather were forced to quit the race with Mount Crested Butte and the finish line at their fingertips.

Despite the heartbreaking finish, Mountain Sports Athlete Zoe Smith had this to say, “In retrospect, it (not making the cutoff) will only give me a stronger motivation for the 2015 Grand Traverse.  My brother, a complete endurance junkie, will be a freshman at Western in the fall and has shown interest in competing as my partner after watching the finish!  All in all, the Grand Traverse was such an amazing experience that I will keep with me forever. I can’t wait to trek to Aspen next year representing the Mountain Sports Team!”

For a look at the Endurance Ski Team’s road to the Grand Traverse, check out this video by Mountain Sports Athlete Matt Clark: