When the California Gold Rush started in the 1980s it was a premier stop in the U.S. cross-country ski racing circuit.
A win at the famous Royal Gorge race meant a championship medal or a national title. But that was the 80s.
During the next two decades, the popularity of cross-country skiing dwindled in California, and the Gold Rush lost momentum until the race ceased to exist after 2011.
This year, the California Gold Rush is making a comeback.
“We’re just going to try and bring it back and get everyone excited about the sport again,” said JoJo Toeppner, Royal Gorge director of operations, “and I think with this being an Olympic year the fever is starting. So we’re going to run with it.”
The California Gold Rush — a 15K, 30K or 45K cross-country ski race — returns to Royal Gorge on Sunday, March 16 at 9 a.m. Skiers will revive Royal Gorge cross-country history along a 15K loop that guarantees some spectacular Sierra views.
“The vistas at this race are absolutely phenomenal. You can look down the American River Canyon out to Devil’s Peak and on the other side you can see Castle Pass and Castle Peak,” Toeppner said. “Every time I go out I’m just floored.”
The race originated in 1980 as part of the U.S. Marathon Series and was one of the high-status cross-country races in the United States. At the time, the race was known as the Great American Ski Chase, but was renamed the California Gold Rush in 1983.
By 1986, the California Gold Rush had gained significant attention as a cross-country national championship. The race remained a championship stop in the cross-country marathon series until 1997, and then continued as a Royal Gorge staple until 2011.
Despite the hiatus, Royal Gorge is ready to pick up where the race left off. Organizers are ready for about 250 skiers to race on Sunday, and are also preparing a kids’ obstacle course.
Kids will race for free the day before, Saturday, March 15, in the Gold Nugget Kids’ Race and Junior Race. There will be a 3K course for the youngest skiers and a 6K obstacles course for juniors.
For adults, race registration costs $45 through March 10 and bumps up to $60 after. There will be no race-day registration. Racers can register online at active.com or royalgorge.com/events. Royal Gorge will donate a portion of proceeds to the Far West Nordic Ski Education Association Junior Program.
“We wanted to bring this race back because it was such a great race and it had been a big part of the marathon series,” Toeppner said. “It’s one big loop race, which also makes it fun for people to watch.”