America's Highest Race
Kite Lake Triple is a “race amongst friends” atop Colorado’s high-altitude playground
A runner approaches the final saddle, with Mount Bross just ahead. Photo by Deni Béchard. Check out a full gallery of photos below.
At the 12,000-foot trailhead, the air feels thin. The mountains rise sharply on three sides around Kite Lake, a small body of water shaped like its namesake, about two hours west of Denver. By 8 a.m., when the race starts, the sky is bright but the sunlight has yet to reach the runners. Though it’s mid-September, their breath mists, and the slopes are threaded with snow.
Of the 70 competitors in this unsupported, fee-free race, almost no one starts out running—it’s steep and high from start to finish. The Kite Lake Triple trail makes a 7.75-mile loop over four 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet) with a combined ascent of more than 3,500 feet.
Ian Leirfallom, 34, created the race in 2012 because of his personal connection to the land. He grew up in Boulder, but his father bought property near Alma, the town closest to Kite Lake. Leirfallom spent summers outdoors—running, biking, cliff jumping. In the winters, his father drove him and his brother up Mount Democrat in a jeep (it was legal back then), and the boys skied down.
But after high school, while living in Boulder, then Durango, Leirfallom became involved in crime: marijuana cultivation, which was still a criminal activity in Colorado at that time, as well as breaking and entering. “By the time I was 22, I’d been in and out of jail too many times to count, and I was already a two-time convicted felon,” he says. “Those mountains were memories of a life once passed.”
Only with his brother’s support—the two of them taking trips skiing, hiking and mountain biking—did Leirfallom decide to change his life. In 2005, after graduating college with honors and teaching himself to make a living on the stock market, Leirfallom moved to Breckenridge, a short drive from his family’s cabin in Alma. He used the mountains around Kite Lake to clear his mind, ground himself and get healthier. He first hiked them, then began running them. His first recorded time on the 7.75-mile loop was 3:45.
Over the next year, he lowered it to 2:45, then 2:25. “I felt like a changed man,” he says, “alive again, like I could do something special and unique—and it wasn’t illegal.”
Late one afternoon, in July 2012, Leirfallom and a friend, Nic Nolan, were drinking Miller High Life and Jameson Whiskey at their favorite Breckenridge establishment, the Dredge Boat Restaurant and Bar. Leirfallom shared the idea of having a race among friends. Nolan bit and they started calling people while still at the bar. The first race consisted of 20 close friends. Teague Holmes won at 2:00, and Leirfallom came in second.
All photos of the 2013 Kite Lake Triple by Deni Béchard.