As the winter storms roll-in one after another, they set a snowy stage for an epic skinny-ski showdown in America’s highest city – The Leadville Loppet. This year the race will take place on Saturday, Feb. 15, o make sure to secure your place at the start-line and register today for The Leadville Loppet.
A local favorite and fast becoming a must-do regionally, this high-altitude Nordic ski race began in 2003 and serves as the primary fundraiser for Leadville’s historic Mineral Belt Trail (MBT). It is a fun, sometimes cold competition with a course that travels through a rolling, forested trail network behind Colorado Mountain College (CMC) campus in Leadville. The longer races include time on the MBT, where climbs and descend await along with abandoned rail grades leftover from Leadville’s mining era. It’s a one-of-a-kind course which is usually laden (and groomed) with fresh snow, something you can generally depend on at 10,200 feet! Tradition at the Leadville Loppet also calls for a colorful display in costume, barrel fires, music, and dozens of homemade soup–the most famous of which, hot blueberry.
Registration is currently open online for both classic and freestyle 44K, 22K, & 10K distances, plus 5K and 1K fun races, for which costumes are strongly encouraged! There’s something for everyone, at every level of Nordic skiing. In addition, skiers will be able to utilize results from either the 22 or 44 km race for improving their wave placement for the American Birkebeiner!
The day of winter competition and family fun culminates with the awards ceremony in the Climax Molybdenum Leadership Center starting at noon. A true community gathering as neighbors, friends and competitors warm up with three tables-full of homemade soups and Leadville trivia. The Leadville Loppet usually hosts a free wax clinic provided by Tim Hill of Alpine Ski & Sport the night before the race on Saturday in the Cloud City Ski Hut at Dutch Henri Hill, located off Highway 24 south of town. For race info and registration: LINK.
According to race results from the 45th Annual American Birkebeiner (Classic and Skate 55k), four Leadvillites were among the thousands who braved snowy, cold conditions for one of the largest and longest cross-country ski races last Saturday, Feb. 23. Since its debut in 1973, the Birkie, as its affectionately called by its fans, has been billed as the “Greatest Show on Snow.” In 2016, The Leadville Loppet officially became one of the Birkie’s portals and four Leadville contenders clipped in to represent the home-team in Hayward, Wis. last weekend.
Kalmeyer and Quinn opted for the Classic 55k ski, with overall times of 4:28:32.6 and 4:47.00.9, respectively. Meanwhile over on the skate-ski contest Stanek and McCall, encouraged each other along the 55k course, finishing quite respectfully at 3:35:12.2 and 3:49:00.6. According to race officials, weather conditions for the race from Cable to Hayward (WI) included light snow and temperatures in the 20s. This year’s race drew skiers from 23 countries and 49 states — every one except Oklahoma. Way to represent, Leadville!
But what ended on the big Birkie stage, began for some on another course, this one a bit closer to home: The Leadville Loppet. And in 2019, sweet sixteen could have easily been the median age of participants as well as the number of years marked by the ski-race, as the rise in youth participation seemed to dominate the news at the Loppet this year held on February 16.
“All of the HMI kids who used to do the 5k, are now doing the 10k this year because their skiing improved after last year’s Loppet,” said Vicki Koch owner of Leadville’s High Mountain Pies which has supported the primary MBT fundraiser for many years as the sponsor for the 5k race, which lightens the day with skiers dressed up in fun costumes and a more relaxed pace. Of course, for readers who may not know, the HMI kids are students from nearby High Mountain Institute and this year they came by the busloads, three to be exact.
“I’ll tell you if those kids weren’t doing the race, then they were helping with the aid stations,” reported Howard Tritz a member of the Mineral Belt Trail (MBT) Committee. Good to know, as the races saw record participation in 2019, with 31.5% of the participants being under the age of 18 years, according to volunteer race registration coordinator Sara Mahan, who also works for the Leadville Race Series on staff in the same capacity. In addition, the Loppet race date seemed to sync-up well with the Lake County Nordic Ski team many of whom were able to participate this year. And they didn’t just show up, but showed out, marking success in the 10k with Sam Frykholm, 16, of Leadville taking the top podium spot with a 40:42 finish time and 14-year-old Matthew Cairns rounding out the winner’s circle, garnering third place at a 43:57 time. The two student-athletes put 34-year-old Robert Rosati of Carbondale in between at second place for the 10k division with a 43:36 sprint finish over Cairns.
The Leadville Loppet’s 22k division saw 93 competitors with Leadville – which made up 51% of overall race registration – locals taking the top two finishes: Alex Willis, 30, at 1:21:29 and Conner Lenhard, 17, at 1:27:50. Rounding out the podium for the 22k was Ross Delaplane, 48 of Golden with a finish of 1:29:21.
The big 44k division of the Loppet, which also acts as a qualifier for the Birkie, saw three out-of-towners post top times. While Matt Rossman, 35, of Boulder finished with an impressive 2:24:10 finish time, it was second-place winner Kathy Wickum, 50, of Lyons who was the only woman to take a podium spot at the 2019 Loppet, tallying 2:31:39 course time, which put her several minutes ahead of 26-year-old Nathan Boyer-Rechlin of Minturn’s 2:34:26 time for third place.
The Loppet also included 5k and 1k fun races, it was reported that the participation numbers were 59 and eight respectively. Loppet organizers also noted another win this year which came from a big assist. In 2019, the Leadville Race Series/Lifetime staff stepped up in a big way, from race registration to aid station support and supplies, “it really made a big difference this year, and we appreciated the support,” noted Tritz.
The day culminated with a lively awards ceremony held in the gym at Leadville’s Colorado Mountain College where a variety of homemade soups and chilis were served, allowing everyone to warm up after what turned out to be a snowy, cold event.
But in the end, the Leadville Loppet is a fundraiser for the upkeep, maintenance, and development of Leadville’s beloved Mineral Belt Trail. And while the final tally is still being calculated as a few last-minute expense receipts trickle in, Tritz indicated that the 2019 total could be twice the $6,000 raised in 2018. Leadville Today will share that information when the final report is released.
In addition to the Loppet, the MBT committee initiated another fundraising measure in 2019, this one can be seen out on the trail itself. Winter users may have noticed the new posters on display at the information kiosks as well as the wooden announcement board like the one at the animal shelter portal to the MBT on E. 12th Street. These new signs describe the new grooming efforts in place this season and provide an opportunity for users to scan in a QR code on their smartphones, which then links them to a donation page on the MBT website. The program rolled out in mid-January, and the MBT committee is encouraged to be able to directly connect with regular users who value the all-season, non-motorized trail and may be more inclined to donate to the cause.
And they will need the money. Because as it heads into its 19th season the MBT is requiring more time and attention. This season, regular winter users have noticed improved grooming conditions. That upgrade is thanks in part to the Lake County Recreation Advisory Board which chooses to provide the funds to finance a professional groomer to maintain the trails this year. But a nicely corduroyed 11.7-mile trail system comes with a price tag: $28,000. And that’s money that isn’t represented as a line-item in the county’s budget, and not likely to be covered by the MBT Committee funds either.
They are still looking for a solution for next winter as that $28,000 would not be covered for next season, explained Tritz. But as the committee solves the short term challenges, they also have some long-term plans on the books as well. Tritz described two historic loops that will be added, with initial work possibly beginning this summer. The first will be connected to Fryer Hill and highlight many of the famous mines that made Horace Tabor rich, including the Matchless and Crystalline Mines. The second MBT add-on loop will be located on Carbonate Hill, perched above the neighborhood more commonly known as Chicken Hill. This loop would be a bit longer and also pass-by the old cemetery located in the area.
So that’s a wrap for this year’s Leadville Loppet report. From a growing interest in skinny skiing among local students to pushing qualifiers on to race the famed “Birkie” to raising money to keep Leadville’s beloved MBT up-to-par for its tens of thousands annual users, thanks to all who help keep one of Lake County’s best assets open and safe for all to use and enjoy!