Colorado's Most Amazing and Punishing (and Magical) Race
Though no one in Leadville seems to track the local economy and the race's effect on it, Mayor Bud Elliott says it's brought "millions of dollars into this community. I've talked to visitors who think the town is here because of the races, not because of mining. They'll say, 'Oh, you have mines here, too?'"
"It's an unstudied but very noteworthy phenomenon, the kind of economy you can build around just the right race," says Dr. Raymond Sauer, a Clemson University sports economist. "Look at Daytona, the Kentucky Derby. You can't take a cookie-cutter approach, though. Just because one town does it, that doesn't mean you can do the same thing. The key is, the event has to have a special resonance-it has to make people feel they're participating in an initiation ritual and becoming a part of the place."
On the far side of Hope Pass, runners get a chilling look down on the Leadville that might have been. Far below is the turnaround point, in the ghost town of Winfield. Ken didn't exactly plan the symbolism, but even after 12 exhausting hours of running, it's powerful and apparent: Before heading back to the warming cheers and pretty pastel Victorians of Leadville, runners have to absorb the silence and ruin of another post-boom town.
The Winfield turnaround is also where Ken nearly cooked his own bacon in the first race. Near Winfield he lost his way and wandered Hope Pass until finally flagging a pickup. In the open back, he rode back to the Twin Lakes first-aid station. He suffered severe hypothermia. Nearly everyone suffered a similar fate. Only 10 of the first runners finished, meaning 4 out of 5 had to be pulled from the woods.
Make it back up the boulder staircase a second time and you're treated to a bizarre welcome on the far side: an encampment of woolly llamas and even woolier partiers, who camp through the night like a tribe of friendly yetis. "Hope Pass is a bad son of a bitch on a good day," Ken says. "If it weren't for those llamas, we'd have lost a good many lives."
Before the first race, Ken didn't have the nerve to ask anyone in Leadville to staff an aid station at the top of Hope Pass; it would be too cold to tough it out for 30 hours, especially since it's the rare August night that passes without a dousing of rain or snow. But a group of llama owners decided on their own to hike up and camp out, just in case anyone was in trouble. Since then, "The Hopeless Crew" has grown to 80-some llamas and owners who hang in through the night, dispensing first aid and hot soup.