For the past ten years, the Gunnison Growler has helped kick off the riding and racing season in Western Colorado. The race takes place in the Hartman Rocks Recreational Area, high desert terrain offering technical rock features and ripping fast descents.
On Saturday the weekend’s events got kicked off with the Half Growler, a 32-mile long single loop race on some of the best trails Hartman has to offer. The field rolled out of downtown Gunnison under sunny skies, and brisk temperature as winters grip has yet to let go in the Rocky Mountains. A double barrel shotgun blast from the Mayor sent riders off and it didn’t take long for things to heat up as riders attacked the opening climb into the park affectionately known as Kill Hill. Riders soared over the climb descending to the first section of single track for the day, a stiff and technical climb up and over Top of the World.
In the Pro Men’s Race, Brian Smith put the pedal to the metal early and held on for the win while J.J. Clark and the seemingly ageless Dave Wiens chased for the entirety of the race to round out the podium. While Wiens one the Full-Growler last year it was his only his first time competing in the event as the former race director. Wiens son Cooper took last years Half Growler to complete the Wiens sweep. Dave Wiens is now the executive Executive Director of IMBA but remains a resident of Gunnison.(stay tuned for more on that subject)
In the Pro Women’s field, Jennifer Smith of Cannondale Kenda team soloed to the finish to win by a sizeable 17 minutes over second place Andrea Wilson with Leia Schneeberger taking the final step on the podium.
As fast as the pro’s attack the course they are but a small fraction of the total of 350 riders taking on Saturday’s Half Growler. The Growler has long served as a fundraiser for the Gunnison Trails, a non-profit organization that builds, and maintains trails and BLM resources throughout Gunnison County. (As mentioned above stay tuned for more on this subject).
On Sunday riders once again lined up bright and early in the chill of the morning to tackle the Full-Growler, a double loop of the prior day’s course, riders would be testing the full potential of their endurance abilities. The field was greeted with cooler temps in the afternoon than the previous day, but high winds blasted as the day wore on. Strong gusts confronted the riders on the exposed high desert terrain, making an already challenging outing a little more complicated.
With two blistering sub 3 hour laps, Ben Parman from Fort Collins, CO. took the men’s race, followed by Tim Fish and Taylor Jones. In the women’s race, Sparky Moir Sears took the top step followed by Tracy Thelan and Erin Weber.
There were a host of other fields throughout the weekend, juniors, single speeders, junior single speeders, and a couple 60 plus riders. The Growler is a down, and dirty grassroots event and that appeals to our senses. A host of volunteers come out to make sure that everything goes smoothly throughout the weekend. There was a pile of Saturday racers who volunteered Sunday and a party at the top of Skull Pass (a heinous lollipop climb about 14 miles from the finish) to keep the participants motivated. While the Growler is most certainly a race, it felt equal part a celebration of the mountain bike community in Gunnison.
If you are looking for an early season challenge next spring or you want to ride some great trails in a beautiful landscape, put the Growler on your calendar for next spring, it certainly won’t disappoint. Also, beware of Werewolf with a knacked for percussion instruments.