Racers say 'oui, oui' to Coureur des Bois

3rd annual ski ultramarathon returns Saturday

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— Racers and organizers have one all-encompassing motto to describe the North Routt Coureur des Bois marathon and ultramarathon cross-country ski race - "it's out there."

The massive 90K course that circles Steamboat Lake, heads on a loop to the Wyoming border and finishes in Hahn's Peak Village returns to North Routt on Saturday for the third year. A shorter 45K course curves around Steamboat Lake and then Hahn's Peak.

"You never see that area and the first time you do it, you're amazed at the perfectly groomed course out there in the middle of nowhere," returning racer Allen Belshaw said. "Once people experience that, they realize they can't go anywhere else in the country and do a race like it."

Race director Dan Smilkstein has noticed the same trend. In the race's first year, he had three out-of-state competitors. That number grew to 13 last year and as of Tuesday, Smilkstein said he had a record 27 out-of-state racers, 80 from out-of-county and even a couple of Canadians to give the event some international allure.

"We are the highest, longest, hardest ski race in North America, possibly the world," Smilkstein said. "There may be a longer point-to-point, one-day race in Canada, but it's the hardest event we know of until challenged."

To put some more bragging right credibility to the races, Smilkstein said this year's race will constitute the National Intercollegiate Ultramarathon Championship, with a pack of racers from the University of Wisconsin gunning for the team championship.

Chief of course Dave Mark, working in cooperation with authorities from the Colorado State Parks, the national forest service and Routt County, will work 12 hours through the night to have a pristine groomed course ready for the 7:30 a.m., start near the Steamboat Lake Visitor Center, Smilkstein said. The 45K race will start at 8 a.m., from the same location.

Racers could finish as soon as 10:15 a.m., for the short course and 12:30 p.m., for the 90K. The finish line and awards ceremony will take place at Steamboat Lake Outfitters. All race benefits go to support the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council and the Steamboat Lake Snow Club.

For more race details and registration information, visit www.steamboatxcski.org. Registration ends today. Cost is $85 for the 90K and $75 for the 45K.

Race organizers asked backcountry enthusiasts to avoid accessing North Routt public lands Saturday via Routt County Road 129 past Hahn's Peak Village.

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