The Rut is one of nation’s most difficult races

By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY RESORT – The sound of an elk bugle echoes through the Mountain Village, and 200 runners leave from the starting line, taking the first steps in a rugged 50K race that will take them up and down 11,600-foot Lone Mountain and neighboring 8,850-foot Andesite.

This is The Rut, Big Sky’s first ultramarathon, set for Sept 14. Named for “the rut” –when bull elk bugle to show dominance during the September mating season– the race is the brainchild of Missoulians Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe.

The starter is using a specialized call that bowhunters use to mimic the bulls’ bugle.

Foote and Wolfe, both professional ultra runners for The North Face, designed the 50K course, which gains and loses 8,200 feet over its entirety, as well as the 12K, with its respectable 2,300 feet of gain/loss. The courses follow forested single-track trails and wind along some of the ski area’s dirt access roads, and the 50K scrambles into Lone Mountain’s rocky alpine.

Both races were full as of mid-August, with 200 competitors signed up for each.

Running is booming both on roads and trails, with half- and full marathons surging in popularity.

“It’s a worldwide phenomenon, and it’s definitely happening in Montana,” Foote said. He spoke to Explore Big Sky from a hotel room in Chamonix, France, on Aug. 27, where he was prepping for the 100-mile Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc.

Foote has run the UTMB four times, and this year finished fifth. Wolfe recently set the record for the fastest supported time on the California’s John Muir Trail with fellow TNF athlete Hal Koerner. The two ran the approximately 220 miles between Whitney Portal and Yosemite Valley, over 14,505–foot Mount Whitney, in three days, 12 hours, 41 minutes.

Big Sky Resort Marketing Director Lyndsey Owens has seen trail running growing on her home turf.

“We have so many amazing running trails right here [in Big Sky]. I’ve been running at 6 a.m. [on a trail near my house] for five years, and this is the first summer I’ve ever run into another running group.”

Competitors for The Rut are coming from across the U.S., plus Canada and even one from Spain.

Closer to home, Big Sky resident Twila Moon is signed up for the 50K. She has run all of the sections of the course to train this summer, but never all at once.

“This is a really tough course,” said Moon, who has competed in the 25-mile Devil’s Backbone ultra east of Big Sky; the 25K Old Gabe in the Bridgers; and a 50-mile race at Grand Targhee, Wyo. In comparison, she says, The Rut has “a lot of elevation in it, and a lot of really difficult terrain.”

Moon pointed out the exposed 2,100-foot climb up Bone Crusher and Alto Ridge, which may require racers to use their hands and feet in places. Descending from the peak, runners will pick their way through talus along the southwest ridge of Lone Mountain around Dakota Bowl, where there is no trail.

Missoula – with its 1,500-member runners’ club, Run Wild Missoula – has a strong running community, and quite a few are involved in this race, including Foote and Wolfe.

Maggie Angle, 39, plans to run the 12K. Angle moved to Missoula from Seattle last year and hasn’t yet visited Big Sky. She says she was “excited to have something to train for and extra motivated by the pictures of how beautiful it will be.”

Angle has been training with two friends, both of whom are also racing in the 12K. Her husband and two kids are coming along to spend the weekend in Big Sky and cheer her on.

The Missoula-based running shop, Runners Edge, where Foote works as race director, is producing the event. In addition to The Rut, the shop is putting on eight other races this year, and sponsoring more than 50 others.

“The Rut provides the big, grand ridge and peak that we just don’t get in Missoula, and you don’t get in a lot of places in this country,” said store owner Anders Brooker. The Bridger Ridge Run – which has a competitive lottery system for entry – has some of that element, he said, as do some of the larger races in the European Alps.

Brooker hopes the race will eventually draw a field of national and world-caliber runners to Big Sky, while still remaining an “everyman’s race” helping promote the sport to the public.

Another Missoula-based company, Omnibar, is the presenting sponsor. The company makes nutrition bars with a mixture of grass-fed Montana beef, whole grains, dried fruit and nuts.

“You couldn’t serve up a better venue, with all the right logistics and community to back it up,” said Anthony Krolczyk, who does Omnibar’s sales and marketing. “Foote and Wolfe know the industry top to bottom, and they’ve decided to make something their own in Montana. This is something special, and I know it’s going to go somewhere.”

The North Face is also one of The Rut’s lead sponsors.

“We’re all about helping people get outside and push their personal limits,” said Katie Ramage, TNF’s director of sports marketing. “We support our athletes, their competitive pursuits, and their passion to get more people involved in the sport – and that’s what The Rut is all about.”

The Rut will be one of the most difficult races in the U.S., Foote said.

“It has some of the most technical and challenging terrain, hands down, for a race. Obviously the 2,100-foot [Alto] ridge up to the summit of Lone Peak and down is going to be slow going for folks. Next year, with changes to the course, [we] hope to make it the hardest.”

Watching The Rut

Race organizers Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe were inspired by mountain courses in Europe, where large crowds often come out to cheer on ultramarathons.

Twila Moon, a local who’s competing in the 50K, encourages spectators to take part in The Rut, coming out to cheer – and maybe even bring out their cow elk calls and bugles.

“I hope a lot of the 12k racers stick around and cheer people on, too,” Moon said.

Spectators have a number of options to get in on the running action, including walking up beneath Swift Current, posting up on the deck of the Black Kettle soup shack in the Bowl, or hiking to the top of Andesite.

Another option is to ride Swift Current and the tram to the top, via the Lone Peak Expedition. The resort is offering a limited number of these tickets at a discount to race spectators, available online at bigskyresort.com.

By the Numbers:

The Rut 50K
• Distance: 31 miles / 50K
• Elevation gain: 8,200 ft / 2,450 meters
• Elevation loss: 8,200 ft / 2,450 meters
• 60% single track
• 30% dirt road
• 10% off trail
The Rut 12K
• Distance: 7.5 miles / 12K
• Elevation gain: 2,300 ft / 700 meters
• Elevation loss: 2,300 ft / 700 meters
• 80% single track
• 20% dirt road