While the weather was able to cooperate at the last minute to make for a successful Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, the future of Southwest Colorado’s other premier summer sporting event remains in question.
The Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run is an ultramarathon that takes runners across 100 miles of high country terrain at an average elevation of 11,000 feet from July 19 to July 21, starting in the town of Silverton.
But this year, event organizers fear the heavy snowpack in the San Juan Mountains won’t melt in time to clear the course for runners. Dale Garland, run director for the Hardrock 100, said runner safety is the top priority, and if the course isn’t safe, it might have to be canceled.
“That being said, we’re cautiously optimistic,” he said.
Event organizers use a weather station on Red Mountain Pass as the benchmark to surmise if the course is clear. Based on past experience, Garland said if the weather station reads less than 23 inches of snow-water equivalent, event organizers know the ultramarathon is safe to run.
If the station at Red Mountain Pass is more than 23 inches, that doesn’t necessarily mean the event has to be canceled. Instead, it triggers event organizers to look at a range of other factors – long-term weather modeling, flyovers of the course, etc. – to make an ultimate decision.
As of Friday, the Red Mountain Pass weather station showed 33.8 inches of snow-water equivalent after a series of storms the previous week, up from May 17 when the weather station recorded 30.9 inches.
Another factor, Garland said, is the sheer amount of avalanches that hit the backcountry in the San Juan Mountains, which may have damaged or buried trails.
Mark Lambert with the U.S. Forest Service said last week there was likely a significant amount of damage to trails, but crews have not yet been able to access the backcountry to assess the situation because the area remains covered in vast amounts of snow.
Snowpack in Southwest Colorado, as of Thursday, was at nearly 375% of normal, historic averages.
“We may have some real challenges out there,” Lambert said. “Some of those piles may be very high and very thick, and it may take time to clear.”
Louis Girodo, San Juan County road and bridge manager, posted to social media last week that County Road 2, the route up to Animas Forks, was covered in up to 100 feet of snow. As a result, he estimated Animas Forks wouldn’t be accessible until at least sometime in July.
Garland said event organizers will meet June 9 to look at the most current data and discuss whether to hold or cancel the Hardrock 100. He said a decision will be made that day, or shortly thereafter.
Garland and others understand the impact the decision has on runners, he said, who come from all over the world to compete in the race, and must undergo an extensive training process.
“It’s a tough decision, and it’s not something we take lightly,” he said.
About 2,200 people from 43 countries and 48 U.S. states applied for the 145 spots to run in the Hardrock 100. Some of the people selected in the lottery have waited years for the chance to compete in the race, Garland said.
“A lot goes into running the Hardrock,” he said.
And canceling the event won’t just have an impact on runners.
DeAnne Gallegos, director of the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Hardrock 100 injects $1 million into the town’s economy, not just from the event itself, but also from runners and their support crews who arrive early to train.
“It would definitely be a huge financial loss to our economy,” she said. “But it’s safety first out there.”
Garland said the Hardrock 100 has been canceled only two other times in its 25-year history: once in 1995 for too much snow, and again in 2002 during the Missionary Ridge Fire.