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Backcountry Adventure Sponsorship: Victor Chilson

Employee Adventures, Sponsored By Us

At Backcountry, we encourage all of our employees to live a life connected to nature, and this year, we decided to offer a little extra help. Our new adventure prize gives everyone on our staff the chance to chase their outdoor goals. Whether it’s a race overseas or an ultra back home, winners receive financial support to cover entry fees, training, travel, and gear expenses for an event of their choice. The only rule? The adventure must be something they’ve never done before. Over the coming months, we’ll be sharing stories from our staff.

Next up in our series is Victor Chilson, a Backcountry Gearhead who set his sights on an impressive goal: the 40-mile Grand Traverse Mountain Run in Colorado. We spoke to Victor to find out how he fared on this notorious endurance event.

Q: What do you do at Backcountry and in the outdoors? 

A: I’m a Gearhead Account Manager, and look after our customers on a one-to-one basis. I try to reach out regularly and check in—sending updates on what I’m doing, and finding out whether they have any trips coming up so I can help them get set up with all their gear. I’ve been here for one year, and it’s been super fun. 

In the winter, I’m usually skiing. I split my time pretty evenly between resort skiing and backcountry skiing. In the summer, I’m mostly running, hiking, and climbing. Plenty to keep me busy [laughs]. 

Q: Tell us about the Grand Traverse.

A: It’s a 40-mile point-to-point mountain running race in Colorado, starting in Crested Butte and finishing in Aspen. The Grand Traverse began as a backcountry ski race in the 1990s, following some of the old mail routes across the Elk Mountains that used to connect the two mining towns. Then, in 2014, a summer version was launched, which included a bike race and the mountain running race. 

Q: What made you decide to participate in the Traverse?  

A: I’m originally from Gunnison, Colorado, 30 miles south of Crested Butte. I always knew about the ski race, and one winter I worked at a checkpoint, checking off skiers’ bibs as they came through. I suppose I was drawn in from there. It’s a small valley, with less than 10,000 people combined in both towns, so I wound up meeting a lot of people who were either involved or had taken part in one of the races before. 

I ran my first marathon last summer, and knew in my head that an ultra distance event was next. It turned into a goal to take part in one, and the Grand Traverse seemed like the perfect fit.

Q: Talk us through your experience at the race. 

A: The day before the race, some friends and I went for a three-mile run, just to keep the legs fresh and shake off the pre-race jitters. The next morning, we lined up at the starting line on Elk Avenue at 6am alongside the other 260 or so people taking part. It was totally dark out and pretty cold—around 36 degrees. The klaxon sounded and everyone took off with their headlamps on.

The first mile is quite intense with a lot of jostling for position. It’s your last chance to find your pace before the singletrack takes over, which makes passing or dropping back in the pack pretty difficult. There’s a huge spread of runners—some are super competitive, some are taking their time—so you have to think really hard about where you want to be. 

A friend from college and I got in a good pack and took it easy for the first 18 miles, which is basically one continuous uphill to the high point of the course. I felt great, so I turned to my buddy and said, “I’m going to take off.” From there, the course is really rolling, and I picked up the pace a little. 

There are a few knee or thigh-deep creek crossings that you have to wade over. Then the ski area at Aspen appears on the horizon, but you’re still at the top of the mountain so you have about six miles left of running, all on steep downhill trails. At that point, you’ve already run 35 miles and your legs are pretty thrashed. It’s totally unrelenting, and probably the worst part of the race for me. But soon enough, you’re down in the town and at the finish. 

The winner was 24 years old, but there were all sorts of people participating—some who were well into their 50s and 60s. It’s an amazing atmosphere. Very few people enter with a competitive mindset, which makes it super friendly. You bounce between groups, maybe running with two or three others at a time, and you usually wind up chatting and getting into some cool conversations. 

Q: How did your body hold up? 

A: My primary goal was to go sub-10 hours, so I was pretty happy to achieve that with a time of 9.5 hours. I don’t think my legs could have taken much more of a pounding [laughs]. 

One of the main challenges is keeping yourself fueled. On a race of this distance, if you don’t drink, especially during the first half, your body goes into deficit. It’s a real skill to get the mix right. You also need to work out what’s easy to eat, and what sits well in your stomach. There are a lot of details that all add up to make a critical difference on how you feel and how you perform throughout the whole thing. 

Q: What’s next for you? Are you an ultra-distance addict now? 

A: That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out the last couple weeks [laughs]. I definitely plan on doing more events like this, but I’m not going to look at anything much bigger any time soon. I still love running and will probably do some marathon or 40-50 mile events, but I don’t want to push up the distance right away. 

For the time being, I’m pretty happy to just kick back and enjoy myself without the pressure of training. You know, tone it back and have some fun.

Have questions about your first ultra or just need some guidance on your first pair of trail runners? Contact our Gearheads at 1-800-409-4502.