After hosting the 14th annual Telemark Freeskiing Championships on Friday and Saturday, Crested Butte held the 36th annual Al Johnson Uphill/Downhill race on Sunday. The Al Johnson commemorates a mail carrier in the late 1800s who delivered mail on skis in the mining communities around Crested Butte, skiing with bags that weighed up to 25 pounds on skis that were nine to 14 feet long.
The race was first held in 1974. While some people do sprint to the finish line to get the prizes awarded to the top five finishers, most travel at a more relaxed pace. The race is really more of an almost-closing party for the locals, who get dressed up in elaborate costumes that can make skiing difficult. Several skiers from the Telemark Extremes also participated.
The uphill portion follows a snowmobile track that starts at the base of the North Face t-bar and switchbacks up to the top of the lift. From there, participants remove climbing skins and head down towards Last Steep via Rachel's and Hard Slab. The race finishes with a slight uphill from the bottom of Last Steep to Black Eagle, just downhill from the East River lift. Spectators congregate at the finish line to watch some of the carnage on Last Steep, as skiers try to navigate the tricky terrain in costumes.
The Al Johnson is a telemark event only; no alpine touring is allowed for the race.
Race results will be posted on the Al Johnson site. The men's winner, Travis Scheefer, finished the race in just over 13 minutes, while the women's winner, Rebecca Dussault, finished in about 17 minutes. Most participants finish in 30 minutes to an hour.
Costumes were very creative, including the group that went as Tetris blocks, the garden gnomes, and the putting greens. For my money, the most impressive costumes were the contingent that went as the characters from "Spaceballs," and the group of synchronized swimmers; even if temps were in the 40s, skiing in bathing suits?
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