Steamboat Springs Dan Smilkstein announced early in the afternoon that the 45-kilometer course of the fourth annual North Routt Coureur des Bois was one of the toughest in the country.
"Or even the world," he said, correcting himself.
The proof came moments later, when Ironman triathlon veteran Lisa Nelson coasted across the finish line.
She leaned into her poles to keep from falling over and pulled her sunglasses from eyes.
"That," she said, "was hard."
It wasn't the fastest year for the North Routt cross-country ski race, which offered courses of 45 and 90 kilometers. The weather - a brisk morning followed by a warm afternoon - didn't allow for fast snow and times were typically about an hour slower than last year's.
Few of the many returning competitors tried to argue with the success of this year's event, however.
"It was a little chilly this morning, but as the day went by, the snow got a little faster. It was definitely nice when the sun came out," said Steamboat Springs resident Allen Belshaw, now a four-time veteran of the long course. "The course has changed and been fine-tuned. Dan definitely has the race figured out. Every year it gets a little better."
Michael Brothers won the 90K event in 5 hours, 12 minutes, more than 16 minutes faster than second-place Mark Iverson of Steamboat.
Joshua Smith of Boulder won the short course in 2:38, just 40 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor. Boulder produced another winner in Maria Grevsgard, who won the short women's race, finishing in 2:41. Annie Creighton of Hamilton, Mont., won the long course in 6:41.
For many, it was about more than just the time, however. Both courses threw tremendous challenges at racers, the shorter one forcing a climb of 3,000 feet in elevation. The long course soared nearly twice that height and stretched north, just poking across the Wyoming border.
For some perspective, it takes nearly three rides up the Steamboat Ski Area's gondola to equal the climb the long-course skiers made.
Simply finishing was no small task.
"This was the hardest one yet," Steamboat's Katie Lindquist said.
Lindquist was another to add a fourth Coureur des Bois to her resume.
Competitors pointed to two problems with this year's race. The main complaint seemed impossible to fix. Last year's was run on an icier course, yielded much faster times and accounted for nearly all of the event's records.
The conditions this year left some racers feeling bogged down.
"It was so soft the first two-thirds of the race. You just use so much of your body," Lindquist said. "It's demoralizing when you're going so slow."
Still, she said the fourth edition of the race had plenty of improvements.
"The hardest part was the fact that the second half of the course was in such great shape," she said. "I didn't have any power left to use it like I should have."
Smilkstein said 2008 saw the most finishers in the race's history and offered one of the most diverse competitive fields. Foreign accents were everywhere Saturday as finishers awaited their awards ceremony at Steamboat Lake Outfitters, and competitors from as far as Alaska hauled home prizes.
It all amounted to more signs that the Coureur des Bois is very much a growing event, Smilkstein said.
"Part of it is this is such a unique course," he said. "These people like to go out and challenge themselves and this is a challenge.
"When people get through, they really feel like they've done something."