Now in it’s 18th year, The Elk Mountains Grand Traverse continues to be one of the great test pieces for American ski mountaineers. “The Traverse” is an iconic backcountry ski race that connects the two legendary ski towns of Aspen, CO and Crested Butte, CO. Racers depart Crested Butte at midnight braving the 40 mile course with a partner and enough survival gear to bivouac for up to 24 hours in winter alpine conditions.
For the second consecutive year, Western State Colorado University’s Endurance Ski Team had three student teams take on this brutal course in an effort to cap off a season dedicated to pushing their mental and physical fitness to the limit. Senior Zoe and Freshman Cameron Smith, a brother sister duo originally from Rockford, IL, made up one team. Senior Nick Schley and Sophomore Sam Lesnikoski formed a second. Juniors Erin Kearns and Tyler Lee joined to form Western’s third team.
Team Schley Lesnikoski had a great race finishing just under the elusive 10 hour mark at 9:44:58. The pair went on to take first place in the Men’s 18-25 age category and 33rd overall. This was both of their second year taking on the grueling event, but, due to last year’s dangerous avalanche conditions, their first year finishing in Aspen.
This was Zoe’s second attempt at completing the GT, and her course knowledge combined with brother Cam’s fitness and enthusiasm led the pair to a first place finish in the Co-Ed 18-25 age category. With Zoe graduating in May, Cam intends to convince Western Nordic Skit Teammate, Kevin Geisen, to race with him next season.
Unfortunately for team Kearns-Lee, trouble early on forced them out of the race at Friends Hut, just shy of the half-way mark. The pair was slowed down by early technical difficulties when Erin’s skin fell into the East River and immediately froze. Kearns’s skin later broke completely and she would lose half of her water due to a crash in the difficult snow conditions. Despite their best efforts, cascading minor defeats would eventually overcome the team and force them to look towards next year for a shot at skiing to Aspen. Both Erin and Tyler are eager for another shot at finishing in 2016.
For more information on this year’s race check out the following links:
Elk Mountains Grand Traverse Homepage
Full 2015 Results
Aspen Times Article