Bringing Euro-style trail racing to the Rockies

By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

Mike Wolfe and Mike Foote were leading the pack of 800 runners 28 miles into the 73-mile Lavaredo Ultra Trail race on June 28 when they took a wrong turn, and went five miles and 3,000 vertical feet off course.

It had snowed a foot and a half in the Italian Dolomites the night before, and the lifts were turning at the nearby Cortina ski area. The race directors had re-routed the course, but hadn’t taken down the original flagging, which the Mikes had followed. A truck chased them down, and gave them a ride back to the spot where they’d gone astray. Now behind 18 other runners, Wolfe and Foote high-tailed it back to 2nd and 5th place, respectively.

Both professional ultramarathoners for The North Face, the Mikes are founders and race directors for Big Sky’s inaugural ultra, the Rut – a 50K and a 12K – set for Sept. 14.

Combined, the two Missoula residents have run approximately 50 ultras, and they’re using that experience to avoid incidents like theirs in the Dolomites, Foote said.

“We’re going to work hard to have this course well-dialed and marked, and to have course marshalls where necessary.” Also, he noted, having a good backup plan is key: That includes a lower mountain route in case of snow, and working with ski patrol to prepare for emergency and medical situations.

There are some aspects of the Alps, however, they wanted to bring to the Rut.

“[Lone Mountain] is steep and technical like the Alps,” Foote said. “We’re trying to fit that niche of a mountain race, but have a course with that steep European alpine feel. You’re on trails that aren’t even runnable up an 11,000-foot peak. Lots of trail races don’t integrate that type of terrain.”

That section he’s referring to is the approximately 5-mile section of the 50K that runs from the top of the Swift Current chairlift to the top of the mountain, and then down to the base of the Dakota lift.

The rest of he course, he noted, is “more runnable,” with lots of smooth singletrack, particularly on the 10.5-mile section at Moonlight Basin.

Race spectators can hike to most parts of the course, and Big Sky Resort is opening Swift Current and the tram for spectators starting at 7 a.m. that morning.

“This is such an awesome opportunity for someone to go support their runner in places they’d never be able [access],” said Lyndsey Owens, director of marketing at Big Sky Resort.

Owens encouraged spectators to post up in the Black Kettle Soup Shack, because the runners will pass through the Bowl twice. The only off limits locations are Alto Ridge and the Upper Morningstar Road, she said.

As for the vibe, Foote hopes to combine the Alps with the Rockies.

He compared the Bighorn 100 in Dayton, Wyo., with it’s “extremely low-key Rocky Mountain down home feel,” to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc’s 2,300 racers from 70-80 countries and “tons of hype.”

“Between those two races, I’d like for us to find a happy medium, a race with that good classic Montana feel, but also draws an international field in future years, a destination event,” Foote said.

As of July 16, 170 people had registered for the 50K and 125 for the 12K. Although most runners are coming from the northern Rocky Mountain region, there are also participants coming from Georgia, Florida, New Mexico, California and even one from Spain, Foote said.

Both races are capped at 200 participants.

“Even though we’re on a ski resort, the surrounding area of southwest Montana just feels a little bit more wild than the Alps,” Foote said. “That’s what I like about it.”

Want to volunteer?

The Rut will utilize 80-90 volunteers. Opportunities include positions at aid stations, along the course to monitor runners, at registration, parking areas and at the start/finish area. Find more information at runtherut.com.