It’s almost that time of year again, Saturday, March 18th is the 44th Annual Al Johnson Telemark Race. An exciting event for both spectators and participants, the Al Johnson takes off just below the North Face Lift with a mass start of approximately 200 skiers, most of who are in some form of crazy costume. From there they climb about 600 vertical feet to the top of a steep ridge before plunging back down the mountain, 1,200 feet through some of the mountain’s most extreme terrain.
The Al Johnson Telemark Race is loosely based on the efforts of early ski racing pioneers and named after a mail carrier in the late 1800’s. Al Johnson had a personal policy that “the mail must go through” and traveled between several mining communities throughout the Crested Butte area. Johnson delivered mail through some of the most treacherous winter terrain in the entire Gunnison Valley. One of his most difficult routes was the seventeen miles he traveled between Crystal and Crested Butte. He would strap on his mail sacks which often weighed twenty five pounds or more and ski through deep snow, rugged canyons and icy passes.
Our skiers nowadays have much different gear compared to the long wooden skis worn by mail carriers such as Al Johnson. The nine to fourteen foot skis were only four inches wide and about one and a half inches thick, more closely resembling planks than skis. Competitors definitely have an advantage over the skis of the yesteryears, however what makes this event so challenging is that skiers must race on free-heel telemark equipment. Contestants must also finish with both skis and poles, even if they are broken. It isn’t unusual to see a racer carrying a ski or two across the finish line.
For more information on the 44th Annual Al Johnson Telemark Race, Click Here.
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