We’re thrilled to be headline sponsors for the Grand Traverse this year and can’t wait to see the action unfold at this iconic ski event on the 02-03 April. Not sure what to expect? Read our dedicated story behind blog to learn more about the race's heritage and its suitably challenging route.
Approximately 500 eager hopefuls will be taking on this challenging ski race this year amongst them is new Montane athlete on the block, Alyssa Wendt. Eager to learn more we caught up with Alyssa to discover where her passion for ski mountaineering began and to find out about her race preparations, essential kit as well as her favourite things about the Grand Traverse…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you love skiing?
I’m a full-time health and wellness coach and athlete based in the Elk Mountains of Crested Butte, Colorado. My parents first put me in a hand-me-down pair of ski boots before I could walk. Ever since, skiing has been a constant and evolving part of my life, from annual family cross-country hut trips to volunteering with adaptive ski programs, and now to chasing an Olympic ski mountaineering dream. In college, skiing became my second priority behind a running scholarship, but after being involved in a hit-and-run accident and getting diagnosed with Celiac disease, skiing took on a whole new meaning.
As my body began to heal, I started easing into backcountry skiing and getting into ski mountaineering racing. Both helped me to retrain my body and mind and taught me lessons that I’m continuing to learn like managing risk, being a lifelong student, and communicating honestly with my partners. This sport has introduced me to some of my closest friends and reminds me over and over again that you can do both – make an impact and do activities for joy. To ski and to be healthy are privileges and I never take for granted any time that I get to slip across snow.
Why are you taking part in the Grand Traverse ski event?
The Grand Traverse Ski Race is a 40-mile backcountry ski mountaineering race, the longest in the country, from Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado. For safety, racers travel with a partner across the Elk Mountain range and begin the race at midnight when avalanche risk is decreased. I have crossed the finish line of this race twice, and though it’s a huge challenge, I am drawn to the beautiful community and opportunity to see if I can be just a little bit faster and more efficient.
You’re required to ski in a pair - what role do you usually play in a team?
This year, I’m excited to share the experience with a strong athlete, mother, and friend, Fanny. While this will be our first time racing together, I’ve found in past partner races and team dynamics that I take the role of “organizer” leading up to the race making sure our logistics and gear are in order so we aren’t stressed leading up to the race (im a self-confessed spreadsheet queen!). During the races, I usually pick up and match energies really well with my partner.I am a gentle encourager, and I’m driven to push consistently and in unison with my teammate.
What skills do you think are essential for a race like this?
Having a good base of fitness, long hours of training in your equipment, good communication, and knowing how to manage your gear, food intake, and roll with change is key. “Perfect” races almost never happen, so you need to be able to manage mishaps, from dead batteries, to supporting your partner while they sleep-walk through the early morning hours (both of which may have happened to me at some point…).
How have you prepared?
I feel lucky to have a strong and supportive group of training partners in Crested Butte who have each pushed me and have joined me on various training tours alternating between focusing on getting in lots of vertical gain and distance. I’ve also done a handful of races this winter including the Power of Four and the Vail Winter Games, each with plenty of chances to make mistakes and learn along the way.
Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to?
For me, it’s the little moments of joy that you find while working really hard during long races that make them so fun and worth it. I’m already looking forward to the hoots and hollers at the start, catching familiar faces out on the course, reaching the high point of the race and seeing hundreds of headlamps snaking through the forests and up the moonlit peak, and finally feeling the sunrise on our faces after hours of skiing through the dark. I also love passing by the best volunteer crews, and of course, that wave of relief when we cross the finish line together.
Any parts of the race you are worried about?
The beauty of having done the Grand Traverse before is that it has removed a lot of the anxiety and fear that can sometimes surround the unknown. The one thing I’m constantly aware of is what the conditions could look like on the course– will the snow bridges be in? What’s the weather going to be like?
What kit will you be relying on to keep you comfortable and protected?
I’ll be wearing the Montane PRIMINO 140 Long Janes and T-Shirt, Windjammer Helmet Liner, along with the Switch Gloves with Pull-Out Mitt. While I hope I won’t need them, I’m happy knowing I’ll also have the Montane Flylite Packable Down Jacket and Podium Waterproof toursers and waterproof jacket stowed away in my pack and know they will keep me warm if needed.
Any other plans beyond this?
I’ve got a few things on the calendar so far. I’m looking forward to doing a ski mountaineering course in the Cascades later this spring and knocking off a few ski lines from my bucket list. After that, I’ll shift gears and compete in a few run and bike races this summer to help me prepare for the Grand Traverse Triple Crown (completing the Grand Traverse ski, bike, and run all in one year) this fall. Cheers to staying healthy and looking forward to a fun season ahead!
Discover more about the Grand Traverse race by heading to our dedicated event HUB. You can also read our story behind to learn all about the events fascinating heritage and route highlights. Or for Montane clothing suitable for tackling snowy mountain trails, don't miss our Grand Traverse kit builder.