The secret is out: PQ racers receive final instructions

BIG SKY n Primal Quest’s well-kept secret has finally been given away.

Details and maps for the 500-plus mile endurance racecourse were given to racers and support teams Sunday afternoon, only 14 hours before racers need to be at the starting line at the base of Lone Peak. Course specifics had previously been withheld to prevent any team gaining an unfair advantage.

The course will cover 525.5 miles of territory through the Gallatin National Forest, Paradise Valley and the Crazy and Bridger mountains, starting and finishing at Big Sky Resort. Competitors will also navigate sections of both the Yellowstone and Gallatin rivers n both running fast, high and cold.

 The race, beginning at 10 this morning, will require competitors to spend most of the time on their feet. Nearly 200 miles of the quest will be covered by running or trekking on trails. Mountain biking covers 210.5 miles, kayaking will cover 71.75 miles. The rest of the course will be done orienteering, climbing, river boarding or paddling an inflatable boat.

Each of the discipline directors discussing the issues of their sections stressed safety as the paramount concern. Race director Don Mann described Primal Quest Montana as a course not for novices. The course has changed a few times already and contestants still could be given new maps mid-race if another change is required.

This year’s event marks the first time that free climbing is included. Climbing director Jay Smith and his team designed the three main climbing sections. One is located in the Gallatin Canyon’s gneiss formations, a popular local destination.

Other new features include the use of SPOT satellite messenger devices. The device transmits the wearer’s location, which will be transferred to a course map on the Primal Quest Web site ( for “real time” tracking of racers. Not only can race supervisors keep tabs on participants in the deep backcountry, but SPOT devices can also signal emergency services if needed.

“We wouldn’t have this course today (without SPOT),” Mann told the gathering of 82 teams, each of which paid $12,500 to enter the race.

Primal Quest Montana will appear on Rush HD television in four episodes, marking the expanding interest in adventure racing.

Due to weather and lingering deep snow, this year teams are allowed to carry a GPS device as well. Though seen by many as an unnecessary crutch, course designers decided to allow its use after discovering snow at high elevations that was covering many of the natural landmarks used in navigation. The GPS will be sealed in a bag by race staff prior to the start and if used (denoted by an open bag) a team will incur a time penalty.

“The penalty is severe which should prevent anybody from wanting to use them,” Mann said. The longest expected time for the section of the course GPS is used will be the time added in penalty.

After receiving a packet of 10 maps, teams had only a few hours to finishing planning, packing, getting a feel for the territory and trying to get some sleep.

“We really could be on the map from right now until nine o’clock tomorrow morning,” said team Hunky Dorys’ Scott Pleban, of Colonial, Va.

Darin Fredericks of team Big Sky/Flathead Beacon,set off with his teammates immediately after the meeting concluded.

“We’ve got to check out the first couple legs and see where we have to go, get the last little bit of the gear packed in the packs,” said Fredericks, “A lot of logistics going on.”

The course will be demanding, but as designer George Rice, accompanied on stage by his dog Slim, said in his comments to the audience: “If this nine year-old, 25-pound dog can do this course, you folks can do it.”

Anyone interested can watch the live tracking that will be hosted at Whiskey Jacks at Moonlight Basin on Monday, after the racers vanish from view.

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