'One of the more technical and exciting skimo races in the country'

The fifth annual Tellurando, which includes an 18.5-mile course with 12,300 feet of vertical climbing, is Saturday. (Courtesy photo)

Come snow or shine, the fifth annual Tellurando will kick off before dawn on Saturday, where 50 racers will tackle one of the two impressive courses: climbing, skinning, bootpacking up and ripping down Telluride’s ski slopes.

This is the fifth year of the local ski mountaineering race, started by Jon Miller, Jagged Edge store manager, in 2018. The challenging course embodies the local character.

“It definitely keeps the spirit of races in Telluride alive for the winter. It's a small race, but it's one of the more technical and exciting skimo races in the country,” Mason Osgood, who is lining up for his third Tellurando, told the Daily Planet. “I'm just looking forward to having a long, hard day out there and pushing myself.”

Before founding Tellurando, Miller raced in several skimo races himself and saw that the local area had a lot to offer.

“I thought we could do an uphill skimo race here at Telluride. We have such a cool mountain for this,” Miller told the Planet.

Miller was inspired by former ski patroller Peter “PI” Inglis, who was killed in a ski accident in Alaska in 2015. Inglis was one of the original founders of Telluride Mountain Club, a San Miguel County search and rescue volunteer and a ski patroller for more than 20 years.

After Inglis’s death, Telluride Mountain Club set up the Peter Inglis Avalanche Education Fund (PI Fund) in his memory. The PI Fund offers initiatives for avalanche education and backcountry user awareness, including free avalanche education forums, scholarships for individual avalanche courses and avalanche education for kids in the local community.

Since Miller had been considering creating a local skimo race already, the establishment of the PI Fund provided an opportunity to pair a skimo race with a fundraiser for avalanche education.

Telski approved the race, and Tellurando debuted in 2018. There are individual and duo options, as well as a pro and rec course.

The pro/open class starts at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday in front of Jagged Edge on Main Street in Telluride, and the rec class starts at the base of Comp Hill over in Mountain Village at 7:30am.

Kelly Wolf, an athlete for La Sportiva, is returning to race Tellurando for the third time.

“I’m excited for the excuse to bring me back to Telluride, having lived here for several years and for the challenging, technical course. You’ve got to have a sense of humor to keep it together in this race,” Wolf told the Planet.

Racers in the pro/open class will be challenged with an 18.5-mile course with 12,300 feet of vertical climbing, including a bootpack up to Palmyra Peak, weather permitting. The rec course still has 8,000 feet of vertical. There is only one aid station, and skiers are expected to bring their own hydration source, helmet and snow safety equipment.

The youngest racer Jula Cieciuch, 16, is a student at Telluride High School.

The course evolves a bit every year, though the last four years have been quite similar. The weather also determines what is safe to include in the Tellurando.

“Things always change a little bit depending on conditions and weather. Palmyra Peak is a big part of the pro course. But we don't get it every single year like this year,” Miller said. “We're always at the mercy of the elements. The day before the race, or two days before the race, we get a couple feet of snow, and we've got to totally redo the course because everything is buried and half the terrain is closed.”

With a storm forecasted for Wednesday, Miller is still waiting to see if Palmyra will be open this year. Ski patrol was working on the peak earlier this week for snow safety. There is a designated alternate course if the weather decides otherwise.

“It looks like we’ve got good conditions this year with the fresh powder this week, but it’s tight and technical both up and down. Hopefully it brings us to the top of Palmyra Peak to ski the couloir, where you’ve got a crowd for cheers and some heckling,” Wolf said.

Tellurando is a big endeavor for Miller, race partner Cosmic Skimo and Telluride ski patrol.

“It's definitely a huge effort to course mark and to coordinate with ski patrol for conditions. So I'm always just happy to toe the line,” Osgood said.

To flag the course, Miller uses four-foot bamboo posts, which usually hold up even to deep snowfalls, as well as ribbons and flags tied onto trees. Still, sometimes the elements surpass even this expert flagging.

“I have had to leave at 10 in the evening the night before the race and reset the entire course,” Miller said.

For those who are interested in refining their skills for future Tellurandos, La Sportiva is partnering with Telski to hold a skimo clinic on Friday.

The Tellurando is hosted in partnership with the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup (Cosmic). For anyone still interested in participating in this year’s Tellurando, sign-ups are open until 11 p.m. on Friday online on the Cosmic site at cosmicski.com.