The Coolest Place for Skimo: Crested Butte leads North America’s uphill scene

In ski mountaineering racing, or skimo as it’s known, the days are long and the pants are tight…very tight. Combine these details with skinny skis and uphill slogs, and skimo isn’t exactly America’s most popular sport. But in Crested Butte, that’s not the case.

"Do these spandex make my Butte look big?" [Photo] Kevin Krill

“Do these spandex make my Butte look big?” [Photo] Kevin Krill

“About 20 years ago Crested Butte got really into light-and-fast skimo culture,” says Marshall Thomson, a bartender-turned-pro-skimo racer. “It wasn’t that known anywhere else.” Since then, the sport of uphill racing has taken off, and thanks to monthly races, endurance marathons and a cadre of local pro racers like Thomson, the Colorado mountain town has become North America’s skimo epicenter.

Credit there goes to the Grand Traverse, a 40-mile race from Crested Butte to Aspen. In the winter of 1997-’98, inspired by Switzerland’s famous Patrouille des Glaciers race, Crested Butte resident Jan Runge and a few friends schemed up the Grand Traverse based on the historical route miners would take to deliver gold and mail to Aspen. Now, 18 years later, more than 200 two-person teams participate annually.

“The first time I did the Grand Traverse, I took my skis off and tossed them into the woods,” Thomson says. Then, he went on to win the race in 2013 and place second in 2014. His fiancé, Stevie Kremer, is a second-grade teacher in Crested Butte and half of the winning women’s team in the 2014 race.

“There aren’t too many female skimo racers; there are more now than when I started,” Kremer says. “But I get a lot of encouragement here. People want the sport to progress.”

Luckily for diehards like Thomson and Kremer, Crested Butte caters to skimo fanatics in more ways than just the Grand Traverse. A local orthopedic practice, Griggs Orthopedics, hosted the First Annual Camp Skimo in December 2014 and a monthly randonneé race series beginning in 2012, in which roughly 20 to 45 people participate. The practice (along with Scarpa and Ski Trab) also sponsors the elite Team Crested Butte, which includes Kremer, Thomson and Bryan Wickenhauser, Grand Traverse co-director and overall winner in 2014, 2012 and 2010.

Stevie Kremer (left) and Jari Kirkland after winning the 2014 Grand Traverse. [Photo] Tyler Cohen

Stevie Kremer (left) and Jari Kirkland after winning the 2014 Grand Traverse. [Photo] Tyler Cohen

The town’s proximity to the mountains and population of skimo athletes make for ample training opportunities. “Luckily, in Crested Butte you can be out the door and on your skis,” Thomson says. “Bryan and I will meet at 5 a.m. to do laps on a local backcountry mountain, The Red Lady.”

And organizations like Crested Butte’s Nordic Center and the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) are participating in the craze, too. The Nordic Center uses the Grand Traverse as a fundraiser and hosts other races, like the annual Gothic Mountain Tour-an 12- and 22-mile race. And in early December, the Irwin/Griggs Orthopedics ISMF Race kicked off in Crested Butte, including U18, U23, Senior and Recreation divisions.

Then there’s the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup (COSMIC), which organizes some of the biggest skimo races in North America. Last year, both the series’ championship and the Natioan Ski Mountaineering Championships were held in Crested Butte on the same February weekend. Even Crested Butte Mountain Resort, with designated uphill routes and day tickets for uphill use priced at $10, encourages the human-powered exercise.

“The stars kind of came together for this town to have a solid foundation for a ski touring community,” Wickenhauser says. “Even before the Grand Traverse came around, there was a strong telemark touring tradition. There’s a great foundation of ski touring folks, all the way back to the late 1800s with the mining town.”

And while the town may be busy with competitive races, the atmosphere is participatory and supportive, softening the edges of the arduous, spandex-ridden sport. “Before a race, there’s a positive vibe,” says Kremer. “It’s a team event. We’re all on the same team-until the gun goes off.”

From March 14-15, join the editors of Backcountry Magazine at Crested Butte Mountain Resort for the GORE-TEX Backcountry Basecamp Tour, presented by Voilé, Patagonia and AIARE. All weekend, Backcountry Magazine staff will showcase the newest backcountry equipment, AIARE educators will conduct demos and classes, and Irwin Guides will take visitors on complimentary backcountry tours. For more on the event, including the party and raffle to benefit Crested Butte Ski Patrol, the Crested Butte Avalanche Center and Western State Mountain Sports, visit


  1. […] two-person teams now the Grand Traverse has become the premier ski mountaineering race in Colorado. Click here for the full […]

  2. Krisenka Finley

    The Coolest Place for Skimo: Crested Butte leads North America's uphill scene

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