Heathen Challenge a go after Sunlight snow boost
The course won’t include the famed Heathen run itself, but the back country ski event known as the Heathen Challenge is on for Saturday after Sunlight Mountain Resort received a good covering of fresh snow this week.
Sunlight picked up 7 inches of snow Tuesday night and Wednesday, allowing the ski area to open additional terrain for its regulars and adding to the snow depth to allow the annual ski mountaineering event to take place.
The Heathen Challenge is organized by Cripple Creek Backcountry in Carbondale and is part of the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup (COSMIC) series. After one of the first events in the series at Powderhorn Resort had to be canceled earlier this month due to the lack of snow, organizer Doug Stenclik said he is anticipating numbers to be up for the Sunlight event.
As of Thursday, 60 participants were preregistered, and by the morning of the race he expected that number to possibly double as word gets out that things are a go. Registration opens at 7 a.m. in the Sunlight lodge, and the race starts at 8:30 a.m. at the base.
The race course will be different than in past years due to the snow levels. Instead of including a portion of nearby Williams Peak, the race course will be contained within or just outside the Sunlight ski area boundaries.
“It’s still a back-country skinning race, and we’re able to do all the climbs just off the main runs on the mountain, and up in the Babbish Gulch area,” Stenclik said. A snow depth of 8 to 10 inches is adequate for a good back-country ascent, he said.
The pro course will not, however, feature the 52-degree pitch on Sunlight’s East Ridge known as the Heathen, as it has in years past, due to inadequate snow.
The race features both a pro and recreational division. The pro course features three mountain ascents and descents totaling more than 4,500 vertical feet. The recreation course has just one ascent and decent totaling about 2,500 vertical feet.
The first lap in the competitive race will follow a route through the trees and along existing ski runs up the west side of the 9,895-foot peak at Sunlight, and will descend the Joslin run.
Lap two takes skiers on a long loop just outside the ski-area boundaries up Babbish Gulch, home to Sunlight’s cross country ski touring area, to the top again, then down Beaujolais on the east side of the mountain.
The third lap features a loop ascent up the east side of the mountain, and back down Beaujolais again to the finish.
This will be the 11th running of the Heathen Challenge, which is part of the COSMIC points series. Competitors come from around the world to participate in the series, and the Heathen has proven to be one of the more popular events in recent years. Last season, Sunlight hosted the United States National Ski Mountaineering Team Individual World Team Qualifier Race that drew more than 200 competitors who were vying for a spot on the national team.
“Interest in ski mountaineer racing is on a path of steady growth, and organizers anticipate even more competitors in this year’s event,” Troy Hawks, Sunlight’s marketing and sales director, said.