North Routt The frozen faces and exhausted looks told the story of the 10th annual Glide the Divide ski race.
As if the 180-plus skiers in this year’s race needed any more obstacles to overcome in what is dubbed the “world’s toughest ski race,” a nasty series of relentless storms blasted the course.
Skis sunk ankle-deep in snow, headwinds made uphill climbs a crawl and visibility in sections was a whiteout.
Conditions were the most treacherous in the race’s decade-long history, Co-Chief of Race Bryan Heselbach said. And as finisher after finisher crossed the final line at the Columbine area of North Routt, many echoed the same sentiments.
“It was really rough, real thick at times,” Winter Sports Club Nordic coach Brian Tate — who competed in the 50K portion — said in the minutes after his race, still catching his breath. “They did their best to do some grooming in the middle, but it was tough.”
Like the 2013 race, the 2014 version began in the new “upper” courses, starting and ending at Columbine at more than 8,600 feet. The course featured nearly 8,000 feet of vertical climbing as the almost 200 racers skated their way through the Medicine Bow National Forest and along the National Continental Divide Scenic Trail.
Three races were offered: a 15K, 50K and 100K, though many who took on the 100K found themselves turning back shortly after the first of the scheduled two 50K loops.
“This is probably the worst weather we’ve had in the 10 years we’ve been doing this,” Heselbach said. “It slowed the course down, obviously. But we had a real good turnout. Not everyone made the second lap for the 100K because of the slow and tough conditions.”
Rugged conditions or not, the annual Glide the Divide is a cross-country skier’s race in the purest form, Heselbach said, and not one someone can simply walk out on the course and tackle without being up to par.
And in oftentimes whiteout conditions, a buddy system sometimes was implemented. Winter Sports Club Nordic skier Lars Hannah — who qualified for the 2014 World Junior Championships — said his goal was to keep up with Tate and fellow racer Ben Barbier on the 50K course.
But when things got sticky and Hannah branched from the pack, he found himself all alone on the course — a lonely situation given the conditions.
“It was disorienting, for sure,” said Hannah, 17. “Some of those parts were terrifying. When it came to the open fields, the wind was just pounding your face the whole time.”
Those who registered for the 100K course had to complete their first lap of the race within 3 hours, 45 minutes, though many bowed out due to the storm.
Despite Saturday’s weather, Heselbach said it was one of the better turnouts in the race’s history. Likewise, the volunteer draw from the North Routt community kept the race afloat.
“The community of North Routt was out in full force,” Heselbach said. “It’s a lot of fun and a big deal for this community. There are not a lot of people who live north of Clark who weren’t here helping and/or racing.”
Hannah said the storms and tough sledding wouldn’t keep him from future races. In fact, despite the terrifying moments in what is his last competitive race of the winter, Hannah already has Glide the Divide 2015 circled on the calendar in his mind.
“Oh, it was awesome,” Hannah said. “I did a 45K before, but this was a lot harder. It was definitely a lot of fun. I’ll keep doing it.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll