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X-C Ski Racing in the Age of COVID

How Crested Butte Nordic plans to keep skiers racing — and safe — for this year's Alley Loop.

News Thursday, January 7, 2021

It began with a dramatic lockdown last March when it seems like all of us went from “concerned but fine” to holed up in our homes, workplaces and schools shuttered, events canceled, even outdoor resorts and activities ceasing as we held our breath during the first wave of COVID-19.

As winter circles back to us again, this year our Nordic ski calendars look a whole lot different.

Trade shows, races, clinics, and events have, for the most part, been suspended as we fight to prevent the spread of the disease. But this year, we also know more about the threats of transmission, and that socially distanced outdoor recreation is not just a lower threat activity—it’s one we’ve clung to in order to stay healthy, grounded, fit, and sane.

That’s part of the reason that the tradition of Crested Butte Nordic’s iconic Alley Loop race is planned to take place this year. Even it if looks a bit different.

Alley Loop 2021: A New Vision

Alley Loop logo

To make the race happen this year, Andrew Arell, CB Nordic’s director of events, says the Nordic center had to collaborate tightly with the county department of public health to make certain adjustments and accommodations to keep racers safe.

The race usually draws around 1,000 skiers, and this year they’ll race over two days. Rolling starts will replace mass starts, to allow for social distancing, and racers won’t be allowed to do pre-race warmups on the course. “And you won’t be racing your competitors directly,” Arell explains, “but with the chip timing, you’ll be racing the clock. Unless you want to race with a friend for a little competition and camaraderie, which you can do by scheduling for the same start window.”

Other changes include a few less of the legendary “alleys” in the loop, to keep the course one-directional and prevent passing, and volunteer marshals will help prevent congregating on Elk Ave. at the start and finish. Awards will be virtual, with no post-race events. But the energy will be high, the course ready and welcoming, and the spectators encouraged to cheer racers on from more dispersed locations.

Cancellation policies will be more flexible, with up to 80% refunds available. There’s also a new racer manual including links to Covid case information so that racers can make informed decisions before they travel.

Because Racing Matters Now More Than Ever

Arell says that their center has seen an increase in interest this year, particularly from master skiers seeking connection and community as they commit to their sport. “I think we’ve all seen how critically important sports and the outdoors are to our wellbeing right now,” he says. “We wanted to give the Nordic community something to hold onto, to train for and look forward to.”

So how did Crested Butte Nordic pull it off when other race organizers haven’t been as lucky?

“Our risk here has remained pretty stable and hasn’t spiked exponentially, so our county has been more willing to entertain how outdoor events can be safely executed,” Arell says. He points to their successful Summer Grand Traverse, which was a “good practice event” that demonstrated how they could handle racers safely.

Is it worth the extra accommodations, work, and possible risk to host an event in a year like this? Arell says yes. “People have COVID fatigue. They need outlets where they can get out and engage the community safely and responsibly. We’re ready to pump the brakes if we have to and cases rise, but we can pull this off. We know people need events like these for pure enjoyment; we’re going to do our best to be there for the Nordic community and carry on.”

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