40th Annual Vail Hill Climb

Past Racers Return for the Historic 40th Annual La Sportiva Vail Hill Climb

When asked of her experience running the La Sportiva Vail Hill Climb Trail Running race each of its 40 years, veteran participant Sally Clair notes that “the HillClimb is not just a race. It is a tradition.” The Vail Hill Climb tradition returns this summer to celebrate its 40th season as part of the Vail Recreation District’s 2016 La SportivaVail Mountain Trail Running Series, presented by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The Vail HillClimb, presented by Vail’s Mountain Haus, will take place on July 10 at 7 a.m., has hosted over 500 participants annually over the past four decades. Featuring a switchback dirt and gravel road with spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges, the HillClimb tests local, regional and national runners with a 7.7 mile climb and more than 2,200 feet of elevation gain. Despite the grueling course, racers are always rewarded with a celebratory finish and greeted by a multitude of spectators, friends and family members who are able to ride the gondola to the top for free from 7 to 7:30 a.m. on race day.

Named best trail running race in 2006 and most-scenic, non-ultra-race in 2011 by Colorado Runner magazine, the Vail Hill Climb has been one of the most renowned trail running races in the state with many veteran racers traveling from the front range and beyond. Simon Gutierrez hails from Colorado Springs and revealed that the Vail Hill Climb was his first trail/mountain race in Colorado. “I was hooked immediately,” says Gutierrez. “The beauty of the mountain, mixed with the tranquility yet the intense climb has given me fond memories of the Vail Hill Climb.” The Vail Hill Climb has also been recognized both nationally and internationally in the past twenty years. In 2000, the HillClimb hosted the first ever USA Mountain Running National Championships and continued to host five more times. In addition, the HillClimb has been included in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup, taking participants across the country for trail running races of varying difficulty and lengths. The HillClimb then joined the international scene in 2004 as host to the first ever NACAC (North American, Central American & Caribbean Athletic Association) Mountain Running Championships.

While some of the top professionals race for time, many participants race with the goal of making it from bottom to top in the span of a morning. Sally Clair has run the Vail Hill Climb each year since 1976, even requesting to submit a time for the race a day earlier due to a prior commitment one year. “We have run in the snow, pouring rain, lightning and extreme heat but we all get out there to run the miles and soak in the beautiful views, victories and friendships,” says Clair. “The Vail Hill Climb is a challenge for many of us due to the difficult course and crossing the finish line makes you feel like a winner no matter who you are.” In the earlier years, Clair even recalls that “[runners] would get there to celebrate a personal victory with friends and a beer.” Long-time resident Marlin Smickley has been running the race for around fourteen years and names the HillClimb as a favorite because there is no downhill portion. “I like going uphill rather than going downhill, it’s a no-brainer,” says Smickley. “I’m looking forward to it, I love the early start, although any time you run in Vail it’s beautiful.”

Day-of registration will take place from 5:30 to 6:45 a.m. in front of Vail’s Mountain Haus next to the covered bridge and preregistration is available online at www.vailrec.com until 5 p.m. on Friday, July 8. Runners may also register or pick up their bibs from 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 9 at the SmartWool store in Lionshead. Individual races cost $38 for week-of registration or $45 on race day. Runners can also register for the entire race series for $215 and students for $160. Prizes will be presented to the top three finishers of each age group and raffle prize drawings will also be held at the race awards ceremonies, featuring products from area merchants and national companies. All runners will receive a Green Layer tech T-shirt following each race, featuring a unique design.

Racers should park in the free Vail Village parking structure at the race start or at the free Lionshead parking structure. Gondola One in Vail Village, which accesses Mid-Vail, is open for spectators to ride to the top for free from 7 to 7:30 a.m. All friends and family who are going to spectate will need to pick up a free voucher for gondola access (good for that morning only) at bib pick up the day before the race or on race morning at registration. Failure to load the gondola by 7:30 a.m. will forfeit access to Mid-Vail without paying a daily scenic ride ticket for $34. Dogs or other pets are not permitted to load the gondola. Post-race, the gondola will be free for racers and spectators to download to Vail Village where racers can refuel with Northside Coffee & Kitchen and Noosa Yogurt goodies.

Want to help enhance the race experience? Volunteers are always needed at each race and will receive a T-shirt, among other items, for their help. To volunteer, email Trail Running Race Director Kip Tingle.For more information, call the VRD Sports Department at 970-479-2280 or go to www.vailrec.com.