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Debuting in 2013, The Rut races (50K and 12K options that first year) were the brainchild of the Montana Mikes—Missoula residents Mike Wolfe and Mike Foote—both successful and internationally experienced mountain runners (they recently claimed the first running of the Crown Traverse, a 500-plus-mile wilderness run from Missoula to Banff, Canada), who wanted to mimic the tough and steep European mountain races they loved.
And they delivered. Gluttons for punishment have raved about the 50K’s extreme terrain, which features over 10,000 feet of climbing, much of it above treeline, and summits 11,166-foot Lone Peak.
“It is not the steepest race in the U.S. How it stands apart, though, is the terrain,” says Foote. “The alpine ridges, with their steepness, technicality, altitude and exposure are unlike anything I have seen or experienced in a race in the U.S.”
Run on Big Sky Resort property, the races aren’t subject to the typically restrictive public-lands caps on participant numbers, and the 2015 races (now with 50K, 25K, 11K and Vertical K options) blossomed to attract over 1,800 runners. Part of the U.S. Skyrunner Series (as they will be again in 2016), they drew strong international competition. Says Foote, “Now, The Rut feels more like a mountain-running festival than just a stand-alone race.”
And the races feature some Montana flare. At the start, Wolfe belts out an elk bugle to send off the runners, and trophies are plaque-mounted elk or deer antlers while finisher “medals” are a patch of real elk hide.
This gallery originally appeared in our January 2016 issue.