W Mountain Race: From Tire Roll to Mountain Run
Oct. 15, 2009 -- – In 1951, Western State student Ed Ali sat at a table in the Gunnison airport and looked at the “W” that graced the side of Tenderfoot Mountain.
He was thinking about a competition that could take place on the mountain, and eventually narrowed the ideas in his head down to two ideas: a tire roll and a running race.
After 58 years, the running race would become the longest-running race in the state of Colorado. Saturday will the 59th running of the W Mountain Race, beginning at 10 a.m. on the service road behind the mountain.
The tire roll, however, didn’t make it through the years.
The goal of the tire roll was to take a truck tire and see how far the tire would roll once it reached level land at the bottom of the mountain. Participants were allowed a five-yard runway to get the tire up to speed, and could roll the tire on either side of the “W”.
Tires rolled out of sight among the trees and got caught in brushes, ditches and water. Roughly 2-4 tires were never recovered, and when the “W” Mountain plaque was dedicated, Ali challenged others to try to find the missing tires.
The tire roll didn’t fulfill Ali’s desire for a true person-to-person contest. So Ali, Smitty Whipp and Paul Wright measured a two-mile course using a 100-foot steel tape on the road that ran to the top of the mountain. Eighteen athletes started the finished the course, with skiers Lynn Levy and Salph Kuss taking first and second, respectively. And so a Colorado tradition was born.
Only two men won the first six races, split evenly between Levy and John Burritt. It wasn’t until 1957 when Henrik Bresinki became the third person to win the W Mountain Race and started a streak of six years with different winners of the race. Burritt became the first four-time winner of the race in 1963, seven years after his last title and three years after he placed No. 14 in the Winter Olympics in the biathlon.
Mike Elliott won three of the four races from 1964-67, with Danny New providing the only other win in 1966. Four different winners followed from 1967-72 before the dominance of one runner and the addition of women to the event.
Frank Mencin won five W Mountain Races in a six-year span from 1973-1978. Mary Jean Noland became the first female champion of the race in 1973 in the first year women champions were recorded. For the first seven women’s races, seven different runners won the race.
Kathy Harris became the first woman to go back-to-back in 1980 and 1981.
In 1984, the race was snowed out for the first, and so far, only time in its history.
Lori Moreno went back-to-back in 1986-87 while Dennis Leck ran a new race record in his second win in 1988. Stan Fox’s two wins in 1989 and 1992 sandwiched back-to-back wins for Josh Thompson.
Ben Johnson closed out the decade with wins in 1998 and 1999 while Ingred Butts won her second W Mountain title in 1999.
The women’s race has been dominated by two runners since 2000. Current Head Cross Country Coach Jen Michel became the first woman to win the race three straight years, from 2000-02, and set the women’s race record in 2002 with 19 minutes and 37 seconds. Michel won the race again in 2005 and 2006.
Rebecca Dussault won her W Mountain titles in 2003 and 2004 and became the second woman in the race’s history with three titles when she won the race last year. Between the eight race wins by Michel and Dussault, Jenny Smith was able to capture the 2007 race.
The only multiple winner on the men’s side since 2000 was Dan Tjosvold in 2004 and 2005. Scott Dahlberg broke Leck’s 20-year record last season with 16:11.
Story by: Jared Verner, sports information director