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Bike to Ski: The Sopris Sprint

Bike to Ski: The Sopris Sprint

10 years ago when we first announced the idea of opening a ski shop in Carbondale Colorado even our most ardent ski partners were skeptical. Aspen, the closest ski resort, is 40 minutes away on a good day in the winter, without the devastating traffic and road conditions that can manifest in snowier times. However, it was really the fact that it was a human powered only ski shop located in this sleepy banana belt (for Colorado Mountain Standards) town far from the typical snow line, that raised eyebrows.

However, Carbondale, nestled at a modest 6181 feet above sea level, has one thing that few towns in the continental United States have. Nearly 7000 feet of prominence in the form of a snow-capped Mount Sopris looming far above. It was during the very first year of Cripple Creek Backcountry that the idea of biking to ski Sopris was born.

My first time skiing Sopris, years before the inaugural 2013 Sopris Sprint, the summit seemed impossibly far away even when parking my car at Thomas lakes trailhead. Equipped with Salomon Csar twin tip skis, Naxo frame bindings and 140 flex Lange alpine boots with the cuff irreversibly welded to the lower, my work was cut out for me. In 2009 only the savviest skiers were tuned into the rise of the Dynafit tech binding and I was financially bound to hand me downs. We started deep in the dark of early morning and the long flat approach lasted forever as I lugged nearly 20 pounds per foot forward across the snow. As we approached the summit, I was reduced to a Himalayan effort of managing precious few steps before resting on my poles gasping for breath.

Skiing Sopris that day enhanced my love affair with the mountain and as skis, boots, bindings and even bikes got lighter, so did how I conceptualized long days in the mountains. In the first few years of the Sprint, it was just a few friends of the shop that took on the mission to leave town on bikes. Others would shuttle our gear to the traditional trailhead and meet us for the ski. As it grew, more and more people would join, some would go fast setting impossibly fast shop to shop times in the sub 3 hours and 30 minutes direction, while others would regroup on the summit to enjoy the views and ski together in the rare backcountry safety of a warm spring week.

With the installation of a winter closure gate on the approach a few years ago, it is not uncommon to see dozens of skiers donning skis to packs and feet to pedals to make it the last 2 gated miles to snow. There is something that draws people to multi-sport days. After all, what could be better than the seemingly opposed bike and ski season meeting together on one beautiful spring day? Leaving your house on your own power and staring at a beautiful mountain as it draws inch by inch closer and being surrounded by friends on a summit and feeling the anticipation of a 7000 foot descent back to town, now just a speck in the distance, is a good start.
Now, ten years after our first Sprint, the ascent of Sopris under only human power has become a tradition. People gather outside the shop in Carbondale, some sporting the lightest gear and bikes money can buy and clad in spandex, and others on enduro-style mountain bikes with kingpins and hybrid boots. In the early morning dawn, Sopris stands in the distance, 6,781 feet above town and 16 miles to the summit. A big effort to be sure, but the perfect way to celebrate the end of winter.

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