For Grand Traverse champions Marshall Thomson and Tom Goth, the beginning of their 37.5 mile-trek did not start off smoothly.
About 15 minutes into the backcountry race, on their descent of Crested Butte Mountain, they both crashed when the surface unexpectedly went from groomed to ungroomed. There, in the pitch black, the teammates realized one of Thomson’s ski poles snapped in half.
“My heart sank,” Goth said.
But they got up, brushed themselves off and continued on. Thomson, who has finished in second place the last two years in the backcountry race from Crested Butte to Aspen, was able to make good time with one-and-a-half poles.
“It worked enough,” he said with a smile at the finish line around 7:45 Saturday morning after being in the field for over seven hours. Their official time was 7:40:54.
The conditions made for a slow start as skiers were forced to break trail through breakable and crusty snow. Many racers crashed in the same area as Thomson and Goth.
“It was boom, boom, boom and then everyone was on top of each other,” said Salt Lake City resident Andy Dorias, who came in third with his brother, Jason, with a time of 7:55:20.
Andy Dorias said Thomson and Goth made a definitive move before Friends Hut.
“Within 10 minutes they got us by 200 meters,” he said. When Dorias and his teammate stopped at the checkpoint at the hut they looked up and saw that Thomson, of Crested Butte, and Goth, of Salt Lake City, were halfway up Star Pass.
Thomson, who won last year’s Aspen Backcountry Marathon, enlisted Goth to be his partner in the Grand Traverse even though he had never done it before.
“That was the hardest ski race I’ve done,” Goth said.
Thomson said his experience on the terrain and coming in second twice helped him clinch the victory.
“It’s about time,” he said. “I guess you have to come in second for two years to win.”
Summit County locals Brad LaRochelle and Teague Holmes came in second with a time of 7:45:20. Holmes said the slow start as a result of conditions ended up saving him because he didn’t have to exert all of his energy at the beginning.
He added that conditions were challenging because of the instability of the snow. He was breaking trail and punching through the surface.
“It was kind of like playing jack-in-the-box for two hours,” Holmes joked.
Last year’s winners, Gunnison resident and co-race director Bryan Wickenhauser and his teammate Brian Smith, also of Gunnison, came in fourth.
Drama unfolded when the fifth and sixth place teams were coming down the Little Nell run to the finish line. Aspen resident Linden Mallory had crossed the line but his partner, Ben Koons, also of Aspen, was having difficulty on the descent with Nordic skis. As he flailed down Nell, Vail resident Mike Kloser and Scott Simmons of Durango were gaining on him using alpine touring skis.
Koons crossed the finish line skiing backwards before they got there, securing fifth.
“That was scary,” he said after.
Added Mallory: “I’m so happy that is over.”