Jupiter race puts the ‘steep’ in steeplechase
The Park Record
For local runners it’s the opening salvo in the Triple Trail Challenge. For runners with their eyes on the prize, it’s the final volley of the 2016 La Sportiva Mountain Cup, a six-event trail-running series that began in Sausalito, California, in March.
“It” is the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, a 21-year Park City tradition that involves running up to Jupiter Peak and back, a 16-mile round trip with more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
And the prize? Well, there’s a total purse of $10,000, with $6,000 to be shared by the top male and female finishers. (To qualify for the prize money, you must also have competed in at least one of the five preliminary La Sportiva races.)
Charlie Sturgis, executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, said he expects as many as 300 contestants for Saturday’s event, with about 40 percent coming from out of town and perhaps 10 percent from out of state.
Among the local residents who are planning to compete is Steve Cuttitta, the coach of the Park City High School cross-country team. Cuttitta finished 11th overall in 2012 and 10th overall in 2014, but dropped off to 32nd in 2015.
“Last year I tweaked my ankle on the downhill right at the top and ended up doing kind of a walk on the way down to the finish,” he said. “So it was a bit of a rough go for me.”
In that race Cuttitta fell victim to one of trail running’s notorious hazards: a root, or maybe it was a rock. “I just stepped on it sideways and — you know, like you see in a basketball game – my foot just kind of turned sideways and smacked my ankle on the ground.”
Cuttitta said his strength is the uphill leg of the race. “It’s very runnable. It’s tough. It’s uphill, but for me it’s a nice angle of incline and I’m able to run pretty much the whole way. I’m not a great downhill runner and I usually lose a couple of spots on the downhill,” he said.
“But I like the challenge of both – going up and going down. I think it kind of levels the playing field for everybody because certain runners are better going up and certain are better going down, and it’s kind of a nice way to see everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.”
One of the competitors in the first Jupiter Peak Steeplechase on Sept. 28, 1996, was Park City resident David Hanscom, who has raced in the event seven times overall.
“That’s been a fun race for a lot of years,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it, still enjoy it, even though I’m a lot farther away from the winners than I used to be. The winners are running a lot faster than they used to, for one thing. They’ve got some amazing talent to come to that race.”
Among other local residents in that first race was Peter Metcalf, who finished fourth. Ted Wilson, former mayor of Salt Lake City, finished 51st. Top finishers in the women’s race that year included Debbie Wagner (second) and Lynn Ware (ninth).
Last year Hanscom finished second in the men’s 70+ division. “I was also the oldest finisher last year, so I got a prize,” he said.
Hanscom said he has done the race on a lot of different courses. The biggest change, he said, came when organizers added a section of the ridge trail that starts at Guardsman Pass.
“As you get over behind Scott’s Peak, that’s really where the big change is – a bunch of switchbacks in there. You used to have to go over Scott’s Peak and drop down a really steep pitch, and now they’ve put some switchbacks in so it’s pretty gentle.”
He said the bottom of the course has also changed several times.
“It used to be a little more direct, and they’ve added a little distance at the bottom. So I think time-wise it’s gotten a little longer, but it’s also gotten a little easier.”
Hanscom laughed when asked about adventures on the trail, saying that he hadn’t had any confrontations with wildlife, if that’s what the question meant.
“I remember one year I did catch a tip on the way down and crashed in the weeds – or actually in the scrub oak coming down, close to the bottom. I guess that was an adventure. Fortunately I didn’t do any serious damage.”
Hanscom said he has been taking it easy this year to allow a tweaked calf muscle to heal.
“So no plans. One of these years I’ll do it again, but not this year.”
Charlie Sturgis of Mountain Trails said an uphill section of the course has been rerouted this year to eliminate two-way traffic on the Powerline Trail in Thaynes Canyon and add a scenic section going through the trees en route to Shadow Lake. However, he said the changes won’t make much difference to the length of the race.
“The main thing is it’s a full-on loop, where it used to have a little bit (of the course) that would come back on itself. So, being a loop, it’s a much better race format.”
Registration for the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase is $65 through Thursday, July 28, and $75 on the day of the race. Registration and bib pickup begin at 7 a.m. and run until 7:45. This the first event in the Triple Trail Challenge, a three-stage race that includes the Mid-Mountain Marathon on Aug. 27 and – new this year — the Park City Half Trail Marathon on Sept. 17. (The Half Trail Marathon replaces the old Park City Half Marathon and 5K, which were canceled.) For more information go to http://www.mountaintrails.org.
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Chase Campbell, a Park City High School sophomore, has a busy summer schedule, including the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships on July 22-23.