Crested Butte raises money for the avalanche center with a telemark race

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leave it at Ridge to Ridge, CO organize an annual telemark race. Seems fitting given this mountain’s history of being one of the weirdest and best places to ski on the planet.

The station posted a great video on its social media accounts documenting this year’s Al Johnson Memorial telemark race. The race raised $3,000 for the Crested Butte Avalanche Center.

Check it out:

It took place on March 19 this year, but read on if you want to participate next season. Seems like a really fun way for those weirdo telemarkers to get together. 😉

Here is a bit more information about the event.

Event information from Trip to the crest of the Butte:

The AJ is back! Riders will ascend 660 vertical feet, followed by a 1,200 foot descent through the infamous extreme terrain of Crested Butte, while sporting their best suits and telemark gear. There will be sweat, screams, boos, screams, prizes, glory and costumes you will never forget. Come race or come watch, just be sure to be there on March 19!

THE PAST

In the late 1800s, Al Johnson was a postman who traveled between various mining communities in the Crested Butte area. He was known for his courage on skis and stuck to the principle that “the mail must pass”. At around 9,000 feet, the seventeen miles he covered from Crystal to Crested Butte was some of the most dangerous winter terrain in the Gunnison Valley. Johnson tied up sacks of mail, which often weighed more than twenty-five pounds, and skied with that burden through snowy, rugged canyons and passes.

It should be noted that the skis of yesteryear used by Al Johnson were nine to fourteen feet long, four inches wide, and an inch and a half thick. They looked more like boards than skis as we know them today. The wood was very thick underfoot and tapered at both ends. The tips were soft and thin enough that they could be steamed and bent to the right curve.

During this period, what was perhaps the country’s first professional ski circuit was created. From time to time, skiers from different mining towns gathered for races with cash prizes. For a race in February 1886, Crested Butte paid fifty dollars for the prize money and each competitor was charged a dollar entry fee. The first prize was twenty dollars, the second eleven dollars and the third six dollars. Skiers used skis about eleven feet long and a pole served as a rudder for direction and stability. Al Johnson was one of the best runners in this area.

THE PRESENT

Loosely inspired by the efforts of these ski racing pioneers, the Al Johnson Memorial Uphill/Downhill Telemark Race is a unique event. It starts with a mass start of around 200 men and women. The race course begins near the summit of Mount Crested Butte, climbs six hundred vertical feet to the top of a ridge, then plunges twelve hundred feet through extreme ski terrain. After the start there is only one checkpoint – a gate at the top of the uphill section. After crossing this point, runners can choose any route to reach the finish gate which is at the bottom of the “last steep”. Another short uphill section brings riders to the finish line.

What makes this event so challenging is that it must be run on free-heel telemark equipment. The rules require every competitor to finish with skis and poles, even if they are broken. Many participants had to carry irreparable equipment to the finish line. What also adds to the fun and uniqueness of the race is that the majority of runners dress in costume for the race.

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