North Routt’s Glide the Divide race put on ice
January 8, 2015
Steamboat Springs — The best of times were almost a blur, Dr. Dan Smilkstein said.
He led the way in starting the North Routt Coureur des Bois in 2004 and in the seven years he organized the event, before stepping away after the 2011 edition, the best moments blended together with the lack of sleep and nine months of work that also characterized the event for those putting it on.
There were plenty of great moments, though, and that's what Smilkstein reflected on Thursday when talking about the end of one of the region's toughest events.
After celebrating its 10th birthday last spring, the Coureur des Bois, renamed more recently to Glide the Divide, will not return for an 11th go. Organizers opted in August to cap the race at a decade.
"It was a great event and we were definitely reluctant to see it go," event organizer Dave Mark said.
He said numbers for the massive race, which had 90- and 45-kilometer courses, proved flat in recent years.
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It was started by Smilkstein almost as a labor of love, but it was taken over by the North Routt community in 2011 and used as a fundraiser for winter trail grooming efforts in the area.
With flat attendance and rising costs everywhere else, it wasn't serving that purpose for the community.
"It was a fundraiser for the trail system and we weren't making any money," Mark said. "It took about 50 volunteers to put it on and we were stretched pretty thin. We had done it 10 years and we were having a hard time putting together the management for the event."
The race was an all-day celebration, both of cross country skiing and of the North Routt community.
For Smilkstein, there was the excitement of the start, then the building anticipation as the racers went out.
It always was fun when the race leaders — often some of the best skiers in the country, including plenty of Steamboat's Olympians — came rushing toward the line for dramatic finishes.
And it was fun when those behind them made it, too, capping a day that was more adventure than race.
"I always remember those people later in the pack, who struggled through it came through, people who set out for the day and said, 'I'm going to make it,'" Smilkstein said. "On some of the bad blizzard years, they came in and said it was the hardest thing they'd ever done but that they wanted to come back."
Many of those who finished the gargantuan race became fixtures in it, returning year after year to tackle the course, which went from the base of Hahn's Peak north, dipping into Wyoming and returning back to Hahn's Peak.
"It was a challenge for people at the highest level," Smilkstein said.
It was never an easy race to put on, thanks to all the moving parts involved. Local volunteers staffed aid stations all around the course, donning costumes to add a festive feel to the day. Grooming the trail could be tough, and that only got more expensive as the years wore on — Mark said it now costs $100 per hour to run a grooming machine.
"We had a lot of fun with it for 10 years," Mark said. "Sometimes it is just time to move on to something else."
What will take the race's place in the fundraising efforts isn't yet clear. Mark wondered if a snow bike race might work in the area, but he is far from committed to that idea.
Anyone wishing to donate to the grooming efforts in North Routt can find more information at http://www.steamboatlakesnowclub.com/.