Thirty-seven years ago, a hearty crew of 40 or so runners gathered for the first race to be King and Queen (and Prince and Princess) of the Mountain for the Big Mountain Run.
The original crew who organized the first race is described as “salty and in good shape.” The kind of people that lived for winter and cross country skiing. They also needed to raise money for a van so the Glacier Nordic Club youth team could travel to races.
The annual run is Saturday, Aug. 3 at 10 a.m. starting at the Danny On Trailhead at Whitefish Mountain Resort running a 3.8-mile course to end at the summit. The Big Mountain Run is as much a relationship with the Danny On mountain trail as much as it is personal challenge. There are whispers of this being the first uphill mountain run in the nation, if not in Montana and it shows the kind of grit that keeps this little club going strong.
Mike Muldown is one of those salty racers. He’s only missed two races over the lifetime of this race. He likes it because it keeps him in shape for alpine skiing. After 35 complete races, not much has changed as far as his race strategy.
“We have our own strategy, us old guys. It’s all about pace. Some of the young guys start fast but we start slow. And then about halfway up we get a little slower and then by the end, we’re really slow.” Muldown joked.
He’s a little more serious when it came to talking about the race’s real reward: finishing.
“It is a great endorphin high,” Muldown mused, adding, “But it’s also a son of a gun —tough.”
As with anything hard in life, this race is not without merriment nor Nordic style incentive.
Take for instance the Birthday Club. If you can finish the race in fewer minutes than years on this earth (plus 10 minutes for female competitors), you earn a cupcake. Every year those who join this club earn a cupcake at the end of the race.
Vonda Garcia, who started running the race in the 80s, has passed the tradition onto her family which is the norm for this Nordic club — families run this race together. Kids that run the mountain in the summer are invariably skiing the trails in the winter.
Only a few run the entire race, and seasoned participants run the last stretch of trail to the finish just below the Summit House. In fact, the first official race started atop the mountain before the Summit House was built.
Fair warning, this race looms large in the minds of anyone who has finished.
“It is motivation to stay in shape all year long. It’s a lot of hard work. Definitely not for sissies,” Jan Metzmaker chuckled, considering.
She’s made and earned her share of cupcakes for the Birthday Club. She and her husband Pete were part of the original crew that started the race back in the 80s. Pete has won the race so many times, — a 12-time King of the Mountain.
“There is a feeling of I earned this,” Metzmaker explained, recalling several of the Birthday Club cupcakes she has eaten.
The race is still a fundraiser for the GNC. This year funds will purchase a gently used passenger van for transporting youth ski team participants and it will haul grooming equipment. This year, thanks to a heap of community support and new grooming machines, this once small club has tripled the kilometers of public access cross country ski trails in Whitefish, on Big Mountain and in Columbia Falls. Each year over 3,000 skiers and nearly 250 youth participate in their ski programs or on their trails. If you’d like to support their fundraising efforts for the season, please donate to the Great Fish Community Challenge/Glacier Nordic Club.
This hardy group of mountain runners serves as the spirit of the Glacier Nordic Club. It’s a winter sport, yet here they are, in the summer — running up a mountain. For the pride of finishing, the grit of getting it done and for some, a huckleberry cupcake.
The Glacier Nordic Club’s mission is to promote and inspire a life-long love of cross-country skiing. To learn more about the Glacier Nordic Club, visit www.glaciernordicclub.org. Registration for the race by Aug. 1 is $15 per individual, $40 per family, $10 Juniors (16 and under). Late registration is $5 additional per person. To register visit runsignup.com.