By Larry Carroll
One might think that scheduling an ultra-marathon in Colorado in early July would seem to be a pretty safe bet, weather-wise. Of course, a focal point of the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run (founded in 1992) has always been pushing athletes with extreme altitudes and multiple climate zones that can bring subzero temperatures, thunderstorms and other weather anomalies. But this year, snowy conditions may be putting a chill on the festivities.
“There have been record levels of snow late into the season down in Southern Colorado this year,” the Hardrock’s official Instagram feed posted recently. “We wanted to give you an update on what this means for Hardrock 2019.”
Indeed, this year’s “snowpack” (a term referring to layers of accumulated snow) is an astounding 202 percent of its season-to-date average at this time of year. According to the Denver Post, the snowpack is approximately five times larger than it was at this time last year. Although many entrants of the Hardrock have often used crampons, trekking poles and other such equipment typically associated with mountain climbing, such conditions are threatening to make the race impossible for even such adventurous souls.
“The Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run is currently monitoring the snowpack conditions within the San Juan Mountains,” explain the organizers of the annual race, dedicated to the memory of miners who settles the area. “We encourage everyone … to regularly monitor the Hardrock social media channels and our website to stay as up to date as possible on the situation.”
Entering the third week of May, snowpack was 302 percent of its average in the San Juan Mountains. For a race held on a loop course that traverses four-wheel-drive, cross country and dirt trails on the San Juan Range, from Silverton to Telluride to the 14,048-foot summit of Handles Peak, such snowfall could be a disaster in more ways than one. At the moment, Hardrock organizers aren’t officially telling athletes to stay home — but posted under an ominous picture of a truck squeezing between walls of snow is a message that seems anything but assuring.
The decision to proceed or postpone the July 19 scheduled event “is based on the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) measured at the Red Mountain Pass SNOTEL site.” Adding that another consideration this year is a number of avalanches that have occurred in the area, the Hardrock statement sets June 1st as a pivotal date of judgment. “Should the SWE be equal to or less than 23″ … the Run will take place … If the SWE is greater than 23″ on June 1st of this year and/or avalanche impact is still questionable, then a decision will be made by the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run management.”
Although rare, a cancellation wouldn’t be without precedent. The 2002 Hardrock didn’t take place because of nearby forest fires — and the 1995 installment was cancelled because of too much snow.
Over on Hardrock’s Facebook page, athletes and observers point out that the SWE has actually gone in the wrong direction since race organizers posted their statement, and question whether the lengthy wait to get a slot will carry over to next year in case of cancellation.
“We understand that considerable planning and resources goes into being a part of the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run,” the statement says. “With that in mind, as information on the snowpack and avalanche debris conditions and their possible impact on the running of the 2019 Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run becomes available to us we will work as fast as possible to pass any pertinent information along to all members of the Hardrock community.”
Will the Hardrock be able to navigate this sizeable obstacle, much like its participants have to do every July? As intimidating as those walls of snow may look, three decades of Hardrock runs have taught the running community that these are not athletes you’d be wise to bet against.