Organizers of the Ride for the Pass are hoping the third time is a charm.
Last year, a freak four-hour May snowstorm canceled the annual road cycling race. It had been an unusually warm spring that didn’t see moisture for weeks on end, so when white stuff fell from the sky, it came as a surprise and a disappointment to the hundreds of people waiting and ready to ride.
In 2011, it was the opposite case. Snowpack on Independence Pass was 145 percent of normal, and it was just impossible for riders to reach the ghost town of Independence, where the race ends.
“We really hope people aren’t discouraged by the poor record,” says Mark Fuller, executive director for the Independence Pass Foundation. So far, registration is pacing to prove that people aren’t leery of the weather.
In its 19th year, the Ride of the Pass is an annual pilgrimage from the winter gate, four miles east of Aspen, to Independence. The course climbs nearly 2,500 feet in 9.5 miles. Though riders can summit the pass any time they want on their own, it’s the only organized cycling event of the year. And there’s that whole no-car-traffic thing.
The 12,095-foot Independence Pass is closed to automobiles in late October or early November, and reopens Memorial Day weekend. So once the snow melts in May, it offers a unique opportunity for bicyclists to take advantage of the open road.
It’s open to professional and recreational cyclists; the fastest riders finish in around 40 minutes, and the majority come in under two hours.
But, it’s not just for fun. Ride for the Pass is one of the Independence Pass Foundation’s largest fundraisers, says Fuller. Working with local, state and federal agencies, the nonprofit works on projects that maintain and enhance the ecology, beauty and safety of Independence Pass. The Colorado Department of Transportation takes care of the actual road. Projects for this summer include areas of revegetation with a compost mixture, Lake Creek trailhead improvements, the restoration of a gully near the ghost town and removal of snow-fence debris from the high tundra.
In addition to the Ride for the Pass, the city of Aspen also hosts the Aspen Cycling Criterium downtown on Sunday, May 19. Riders lap town at speeds reaching 30 mph, which make the high-energy race fun to watch. Together, Ride for the Pass and the Criterium make up the Aspen Cycling Festival.
“We like the fact that it’s a weekend of biking,” says Fuller.
With the introduction of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, interest in the sport has picked up in the state, he adds. While it’s hard to tell if that’s translated to more participants in this weekend’s events, it’s got a lot of people excited about bicycling in general.
“Beyond the fundraising aspect, this race is important to use because it creates awareness and appreciation for the beautiful place that we live in,” says Fuller.
Here’s to hoping that Mother Nature agrees.