Embrace the uphill reward: Breck Ascent Series challenges downhillers to work their way up

Breck Ascent Series

It’s not until you live in the mountains that you fully grasp the caliber of bionic athletes that exists here. But witnessing – and especially participating in – the Breckenridge Ascent Series – gives you a pretty clear idea.

The first time I attempted to ski uphill was about 12 years ago. At the time, I began my slog up Peak 9 during resort operating hours. This was A) not the best idea and B) certainly not the way most seasoned skinners go about it. Also, as evidenced by the comments from those zipping by me as I tromped up the side of the ski run with skins on my skis or a snowboard on my back (“you’re going the wrong way!” or “there’s such a thing as chairlifts, you know!”), ascending the mountain to ski down was about as unfathomable to most people as naked skydiving (which, by the way, as far as can be researched, has not yet become a “thing”). To this day, many people still cannot imagine the sheer euphoria that comes from skiing down a mountain after you have worked your way to the top using your own legs (plus lungs, heart and willpower), but the Breckenridge Ascent Series provides a fine introduction, even if you fit into the mere mortal category.

Breck Ascent Series
Breck Ascent Series

In its fifth season, the Breck Ascent Series is comprised of five races, beginning Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 6:15 a.m. That’s right. The goal is to finish before the lifts start turning. On Nordic skis, AT or telemark skis and skins, splitboard or snowshoes, racers start behind Mountain Thunder Lodge and hike nearly 1,500 vertical feet to the finish line at Peak 8’s Vista Haus. About 50 people participate’ and believe it or not, a couple of them (the bionic ones) knock it out in about a half hour. Historically, the stragglers come in around an hour and 10 minutes. After skiing or riding down (making sweeping, glorious turns since you have the whole run to yourselves), everyone convenes in town for breakfast at Cuppa Joe.

“This is a great way to meet people in the skinning community and puts a different perspective on the skiing atmosphere in Breck,” says Brian Schaefer of Breckenridge Recreation Department, which organizes the Ascent Series in conjunction with Breck Ski Resort. “It’s a good way to get some early morning turns as well as some post mountain-closing turns.”

The second race in the series is another early a.m. start on Feb. 12 on Peak 9 and the remaining three are evening races with 5:30 p.m. starts at Peaks 8, 10 and 6.

Whether you’re blasting music in your ears and stomping one foot in front of the other in an exhilarating workout or listening to the magical sound of your own skis or snowshoes crunching along amid the peace and quiet of the empty slopes, there’s no question that each Ascent makes you feel pretty good about yourself … and about life in general.

“I think the sport of alpine touring is growing tremendously due to the popularity of the excitement of racing,” Schaefer says. “It gives ordinary individuals the chance to challenge themselves in a different kind of sport.”

2014 Breckenridge Ascent Series:

Race No. 1: Jan. 15, 6:15 a.m.
Peak 8, start at Mountain Thunder Lodge and finish at Vista Haus. After party at Cuppa Joe

Race No. 2: Feb. 12, 6:15 a.m.
Peak 9, start at Beaver Run and finish at Peak 9 Restaurant. After party at Cuppa Joe

Race No. 3: March 12, 5:30 p.m.
Peak 8, start at T-bar restaurant and finish at top of T-Bar. After party TBD

Race No. 4: March 26, 5:30 p.m.
Peak 9-10, start at Beaver Run and finish at Peak 10 warming patrol hut. After party TBD

Race No. 5: April 9, 5:30 p.m.
Peak 6, start at Seven’s Restaurant and finish at the top of Peak 6. After party at T-Bar Grill

Are you up for it? Visit the Town of Breckenridge’s website  to register.

– Shauna Farnell