The Vail HillClimb returns July 10 to celebrate its 40th season as part of the Vail Recreation District's 2016 La Sportiva Vail Mountain Trail Running Series, presented by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
Named best trail running race in 2006 and most-scenic, non-ultra-race in 2011 by Colorado Runner magazine, the Vail HillClimb has been one of the most renowned trail running races in the state with many veteran racers traveling from the front range and beyond. In 2000, the HillClimb hosted the first ever USA Mountain Running National Championships and continued to host it 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.
The Vail HillClimb, presented by Vail's Mountain Haus, will take place on July 10 at 7 a.m. 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. In the past, the HillClimb started at Dobson Ice Arena and ended at Eagle's Nest, moving over the years to start in Vail Village by Vail's Mountain Haus and new this year, will climb up the traditional HillClimb route to Eagle's Nest and cross over to finish at Mid-Vail. While the course offers a steady incline, even experienced runners find this mountain race a challenge due to the altitude, with many participants choosing to walk the steeper sections. 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.
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 HillClimb 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 HillClimb 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.
The Vail HillClimb is the third scoring race in the La Sportiva Vail Mountain Trail Running Series, Colorado's premier trail running series, which is celebrating its 19th season. The seven-race series runs May through September and includes distances ranging from a 5K (3.1 miles) to a half marathon (13.1 miles). Following the Vail HillClimb is the debut of the Camp Hale Half Marathon, 5K and 10K run at 8 a.m. on Sunday, July 24, taking runners along the Continental Divide Trail and the Colorado Trail surrounding historic Camp Hale. Beginning at 8 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 7, the Berry Picker 5K trail run will take participants on an intense climb from the base of Vail Mountain in Vail Village to Mid-Vail. Runners will then enjoy spectacular views and trail running during the 5K and 10K@10,000 Feet, which will start at 8 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 21 at the top of Vail Mountain, with the majority of the race above 10,000 feet in elevation. The final race of the season, the EverGold 5K and 11K is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18 and will feature single- and double-track trails on Vail Mountain showcasing Vail's stunning fall foliage. A full list and details are available here.
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.