Brian Smith takes Ultimate Mountain Challenge title
With sizeable cash purses, sponsorship from Eddie Bauer and Vail hosting the event, the Winter Mountain Games February 8-10 attracted some of the top names in winter mountain sports, including former and current Olympic athletes.
In the end, Team Crested Butte made the biggest splash, stepping up to, and on top of, the podium in numerous ski events.
Brian Smith led the charge among the Gunnison Valley contingent, winning the overall Ultimate Mountain Challenge title.
The Ultimate Mountain Challenge (UMC) consisted of three events: a 10-kilometer skate race, a ski mountaineering (skimo) race and an uphill run spread over three days.
Smith opened the weekend suffering through the 10-kilometer race as a pending cold settled deep in his lungs over the course of the race.
“Halfway through I realized I was not prepared for a 10k skate,” says Smith.
While Smith let UMC opponent Stephen White get away, he held off a late surge from Mike Kloser to place second in the UMC class, 18th overall, in the opening event.
Smith used the next event, the skimo race, on Saturday to take over in the overall UMC standings. Smith led off the start line building a minute gap on the first uphill.
He suffered some carnage on the first downhill, hitting some variable snow that held him up.
“My ski got stuck under four feet of snow,” says Smith.
Nevertheless, Smith extracted himself from the trap in time to remain in the lead and when he saw veteran skimo competitor Jan Koles pulling close, Smith shifted gears.
“I started to turn on the gas again,” says Smith.
After hoofing it up a rocky boot pack section, Smith continued to carry his lead the rest of the course, making his way through milk-jug conditions to take the overall win and the lead in the UMC standings with one event left.
Meanwhile, a host of other Team Crested Butte skimo racers had a variety of experiences on the course. Bryan Wickenhauser was dueling with Koles for second place the entire race until he dropped a pole on a boot pack, falling back into third place for good.
Jon Brown found a similar experience, yet worse, in the punchy snow on the first downhill. Brown crashed and proceeded to break both poles within the first hour of the race. Being a true Team Crested Butte athlete, Brown persevered to finish the rest of the course, coming in sixth place while Billy Laird finished fifth. Once the UMC race results were pulled from the skimo results per race rules, two Team Crested Butte athletes stepped onto the podium with Wickenhauser in second and Laird coming in third place and both earning cash prize for their efforts.
Jari Kirkland edged out a one-minute win over Eva Hagen to take the women’s skimo title and a healthy paycheck, while Sarah Stubbe posted a fifth-place finish.
With the lead in the UMC overall standings after two events, the title was Smith’s for the taking as they lined up Sunday morning for the uphill race. Wearing YakTraks and using ski poles, Smith charged off the start line knowing all he had to do was hold off Kloser and Smith.
Smith covered the two-mile climb up 2,500 vertical feet in a time of 33 minutes and one second to finish fourth in the race and first among UMC competitors, for his second UMC title in two years.
Team Crested Butte, as well as a host of other skimo and Nordic racers, will line up this Saturday, February 16 for the Gothic Mountain Tour.