OURAY COUNTY – A great day of nordic ski racing is coming to the Dallas Trail system this Saturday, Feb. 8, with the inaugural Sneffels Challenge backcountry ski race.
According to race director Joe Ryan of the San Juan Hut Systems, the event was inspired by the erstwhile Sneffels Half Loop, a 30-mile ski event starting above the Telluride airport and ending on Miller Mesa above Ridgway, which is no longer permitted by the U.S. Forest Service.
The Sneffels Challenge takes in some of the same terrain, skirting the northern flanks of the Sneffels Range before diving down into the Uncompahgre Valley and North Ouray Corridor, ending at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool.
The race starts on County Road 9/West Dallas Creek at the North Pole Hut Trailhead. The course heads south up to the Dallas Trail at Box Factory Park. Once on the Dallas Trail at Box Factory Park, skiers will head east on the trail (familiar terrain for Sneffels Half Loopers). Aid stations will be at Blue Lakes Hut, Ridgway Hut, and the Burn Hut. New terrain for the race commences three and a half miles below Ridgway Hut. Instead of continuing down County Road 5 and finishing on Miller Mesa where three previous Sneffels Half Loop events have finished, skiers will continue east on the Dallas Trail.
“The very exciting descent from the Burn Hut down to the eastern terminus of the Dallas Trail will be one to remember,” Ryan predicted.
But that’s not all. From the Dallas Trail Head, racers will ski an additional 1.9 miles all the way to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fellin Park. This final valley floor finish will utilize a snow berm on the mountain side of County Road 17 for approximately half a mile and then cross the footbridge over the Uncompahgre River, finishing on Ouray’s River Corridor Trail with a victory lap around Fellin Park.
All Alpine Tour (AT), Randonee and classic Nordic skiers are invited to take on the challenge.
The entire course distance is 24.6 miles, with 5050 vertical feet of ascent, and 5579 vertical feet of descent. Entry fee is $80. The race is a benefit for the Ouray Nordic Council.
Race organizers are still seeking volunteers to help with the course, aid stations, and pre- and post-race activities. For more information about how to register or volunteer for the event, call the San Juan Hut Systems, Inc. office at 970/626-3033 or visit sanjuanhuts.com/sneffels-challenge/.