PHOTO: Gunnison Valley local Cam Smith is this year’s ‘Triple Crown Winner’ for the annual Grand Traverse. Credit: Xavier Fane/ Crested Butte Nordic

This past labor day weekend, The Grand Traverse, mostly known as a backcountry ski race between Aspen and Crested Butte, held its running and mountain biking segments. After winning the winter race with his partner in March, Gunnison Valley local Cam Smith took first in the running race and sixth in the mountain bike race – good enough for the lowest combined time among all racers and the title of Triple Crown Winner. I sat down with Smith to discuss the race, the sports, and more. 

Listen to the interview with the audio player above, or read the text below.

KBUT: Not only did you win the foot race this past weekend, for the Grand Traverse, you are the Triple Crown winner, which means sort of the lowest combined the time of all three events, which is the ski-mo (short for ski mountaineering) event, the bike event, and the foot race. So does the foot race and the bike race happen at the same time? Is it like day after day? Like that’s got to be exhausting.

Smith: Yeah, so the ski is a standalone event in March. So that’s, that’s more simple because you’re just getting ready for one day of racing. And then in the summer, you have to run from here to there, Crested Butte to Aspen on Saturday, rest as much as you can Saturday night and then bike home. So it’s a little bit of a balancing act between those two.

KBUT: I’m wondering if you can tell us about high points and low and low points in any of these races. “What was your high point? What was your low point?

SMITH:  Yeah, um, well, I mean, just thinking to this weekend and the run early on, there’s a lot of really strong competitors coming from all over the country actually. I didn’t really know where everyone was going to shake out and was kind of nervous about where I’d end up. And I was actually in fourth or fifth for the first couple hours and seeing guys way ahead of me just pushing really hard at a pace that I’m not used to. And that’s just a little stressful like knowing that you can’t really push any harder, but that people are crushing you a little bit. But you just have to have some faith in yourself and some trust in yourself to run your own race and that it’ll eventually come back. And so coming up to Star Pass, nearing halfway in the run I I finally caught up to those guys and moved into first and then from there was kind of running my own race and moved into my own course and, and didn’t see anybody else the rest of the days that kind of brought me from a low point to a high point. 

KBUT: I mean, obviously, these are endurance races. It’s a long, long haul from Aspen to Crested Butte on foot. Tell me how do you train for something like that? And how do you train for three [different] sports?

SMITH: Um, well, I’m self-coached. So at the end of the day, I’m just doing whatever I think is best for me. And it’s really just in the winter, focusing on skiing. And then in the summer, it’s 50-50 running and biking. Some days, I feel like going out for long, slow rides, and some days I feel like doing short fast workouts. Some days I feel like biking. Some days I feel like running and I find that if you just let your body tell you what it wants and needs, then you listen to that and your mind and body work together, then it kind of turns into some good good training. So I really just do whatever I feel like day-to-day.

The 2019 Grand Traverse Male Triple Crown Podium. From left to right: Max King of Bend, OR; Cam Smith of Gunnison; Christopher Jones of Bend, OR. Courtesy of Crested Butte Nordic. Credit: Petar Dopchev.

KBUT: How long have you been doing these races?

SMITH: I first did the Grand Traverse Ski in 2015 with my sister. It was my first winner here, and I actually had never done like ski-mo or anything before. And she had tried and didn’t finish the Traverse the year before and was like, hey, like, you should totally do this with me. I was like, Ah, no, I’m good. Doesn’t sound like that much fun. She eventually convinced me – and she’s just like the coolest older sister ever. She still lives in Gunnison – And I eventually agreed to do it as just like a return favor to her because she’s always been the best older sister ever. And so we did that first ski together in 2015. And I was like, Oh my gosh, this is the most fun thing ever. Like, good idea! Thanks, Zoe! And then from there, I’ve done every ski and just started doing the run in the bikes last year.

Smith told KBUT that if he had to choose a sport from the three for 12 months out of the year, it would probably be skiing. But it wasn’t always that way.

SMITH: I grew up just running, growing up near Chicago in Rockford, Illinois. And I wanted to come out to Western to be a runner actually, but just kept having injury issues and was really frustrated by it, but I’d already decided I wanted to come here. And so I arrived and she had talked me into mountain biking and talked me into doing all the mountain sports programs down at Western. But this one just seemed a little bit. . .I didn’t understand it. Like why are you running around in the middle of the night on skis? Like, that’s not skiing. Skiing is when you ride the chairlift up and down. She took me for those first couple of tours in early winter of 2014. I remember skiing Red Lady for the first time and skiing out at Mill Creek and seeing how cool it was to be able to move yourself around in the winter with that gear was really neat. And so I yeah, I really owed it all to her for getting me stoked and excited in the first place. And she kind of showed me the ropes to get started.

KBUT: Cam Smith, who lives here in the Gunnison Valley, Triple Crown winner for the Grand Traverse as well as the winner for the ski-mo event and the running event. Congratulations and thanks for coming in!

SMITH: Yeah, thanks so much for having me, Chris. 

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