Story and Photos by Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
BIG SKY – On the morning of Sept. 13, nearly 400 headlamps flickered in the 33-degree darkness at the base of Big Sky Resort. At 6 a.m. sharp, The Rut 50K/12K co-race director Mike Wolfe sounded a plaintive elk bugle that resonated through the crisp fall air, sending the first of three waves of runners on a circuitous, 50-kilometer race to the summit of Lone Mountain and back.
In just over five hours, Spain’s Kilian Jornet came galloping back to the start line, throwing out high fives to the cheering crowd as he locked up his first Rut 50K win and the 2014 Skyrunner Ultra World Series title.
Mike Foote, co-race director with Wolfe, said he was impressed by the turnout at the finish line, for both the 286 competitors who finished the 50K and 398 12K finishers.
“That was a surprise,” Foote said. “There were hundreds and hundreds at the finish line, [and] that’s not something you usually get at an American trail run. The finish line was crowded pretty much all day.”
Jornet also won the Vertical Kilometer the day before, with a time of 46 minutes and 12 seconds, finishing just 10 seconds ahead of second-place Rickey Gates. Jornet completed the 50K with a more comfortable cushion, beating out Sage Canaday by 11 minutes and third-place finisher Manuel Merillas by nearly 20. Last year’s Rut 50K winner Paul Hamilton finished fifth, 35 minutes behind Jornet.
The front of the women’s pack was closer as Emelie Forsberg edged Kasie Enman by just over five minutes and Anna Frost by nearly 17. The top three for both the men and women’s field finished the 2014 Skyrunner Ultra World Series in the same order, which was not a surprise, according to Foote.
“On both the men’s and women’s side, I expected where they would finish,” he said. “[They] ended up on both The Rut podium and the world podium, and that was fitting.”
Jornet overtook Canaday on the steep, technical climb from the bottom of Bonecrusher to the summit, where 10-15 devoted fans and photographers cheered each runner throughout the day. The cowbells could be heard 1,400 feet below at the base of the tram and many of the competitors showed their appreciation.
Laurie Beyer from Boulder, Colo. blew a two-handed kiss to the summit crowd as she took her last, labored steps to the top of Lone Mountain. In addition to the enthusiastic fans, Big Sky Resort Mountain Operations was on hand to provide logistical and medical support, and the aid station volunteers had a buffet stocked with fluids, chips, candy and bacon for the runners.
The majority of competitors looked exhausted as they walked gingerly to the summit aid station, but most were in good spirits.
“I’m delirious,” said Big Sky local Sarah Baden, with a smile on her face. She then headed west towards Liberty Bowl, carefully planting her hiking poles in front of her. “I’m going to go ruin my knees now!”
Mike Buotte, Big Sky Resort Ski Patrol Lead Forecaster in the winter, spent his day on the summit and said he was moved by the athleticism on display and community support for the racers.
“[It’s] pretty inspirational,” Buotte said. “Mountain ops is really stoked to have this event.”
As the Skyrunner World Series Final, the International Skyrunning Federation as well as title sponsor Salomon brought a lot of attention to Big Sky, according Lyndsey Owens, the resort’s director of marketing.
“They really promoted the race through their channels and put Big Sky Resort in front of their audiences,” Owens said, noting that the two videos Salomon released before The Rut experienced more than 90,000 views. “We’ve seen an incredible amount of international impressions to our social media and website.”
Owens also said the resort experienced full occupancy Friday and Saturday nights, and is sure the rest of Big Sky felt the economic impact.
“The vibe at the start and finish – and everyone that came out to spectate and cheer – was incredible,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to doing it again next year.”
Foote says they’re hoping to expand the The Rut next year, possibly adding a race longer than the 12K as a stepping-stone to the 50-kilometer distance.
“We want to be on the front end of the sport long term,” he said. “[We’d like to] celebrate the technical, mountain running aspect of the sport with varied distances [so] a lot of people can be involved.”
With nearly 1,200 runners signed up for the three races, this year’s race eclipsed 2013’s participation by 200 percent. Judging from the smiles on every runner’s face and the community support, The Rut is here to stay, and flourish, in Big Sky.
The Rut 50K top five results
Kilian Jornet Burgada 5:09:31
Sage Canaday 5:20:26
Manuel Merillas 5:29:17
Tom Owens 5:33:42
Paul Hamilton 5:44:17
Emelie Forsberg 6:32:40
Kasie Enman 6:38:04
Anna Frost 6:49:22
Ellie Greenwood 6:57:33
Hillary Allen 7:00:31