Only time will tell which heavy hitters of the local running community compete in the 2014 Squaw Mountain Run.
Regardless, organizers expect more than 500 participants to put their legs and lungs to the test when the 34th edition of the annual event returns to the slopes of Squaw Valley on Saturday.
The fundraising run, which benefits the Auburn Ski Club’s junior Nordic programs and the Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center, starts at the 6,200-foot base of Squaw Valley and climbs 3.6 miles up Mountain Run to High Camp, at 8,200 feet.
Last year, Incline Village runner Mike Sunseri claimed victory ahead of two-time defending champ JP Donovan, also of Incline, with a time of 29:21.9. Kristin Walstad of Alta outdistanced the women’s field to win with a time of 35:37.0.
Donovan confirmed Thursday that he will be gunning for his third title in four years. The winner of all three triathlons he’s entered this summer — XTERRA Tahoe City, the June Lake Triathlon and last week’s Donner Lake Triathlon — Donovan expects to face some stiff competition.
While he’s unsure if Sunseri will compete, Donovan said another serious contender, Andrew Cobourn of the Chico State cross-country team, is entered in the run. The Minden, Nev., native finished fourth in the 2011 Squaw Mountain Run.
“Mike Sunseri better come. But I work with this kid named Andrew Cobourn, and he said he’s going to beat me too. I’ve been getting some good trash talking from him,” Donovan said.
The run itself has some competition as well. It coincides with an unofficial trail marathon dubbed the Donner Dash, which follows the Pacific Crest Trail from Donner Summit to Ward Canyon near Tahoe City. The event, which is now in its second year, is put on by the Donner Lake Safari.
Donovan plans to run both. He said after he completes the Squaw Mountain Run, he’ll meet up with a friend at High Camp to run the second half of the 28-mile Donner Dash.
“I actually enjoy running uphill. I’ve become a glutton for torture,” he said.
The Squaw Mountain Run begins with a 9 a.m. mass start near the funitel. At the High Camp finish, runners and hikers will be treated to a post-race party with light food, beer, music, awards, a raffle and a glass mug from the event. Each participant and volunteer receives a ride down the tram.
Hikers looking for a more leisurely way to participate can sign up for the wildflower hike, which includes a round-trip tram ride and post-race party. The wildflower hike begins and finishes at High Camp.
Those who have yet to sign up may register on Friday from 4-7 p.m. and on race day from 7-8:30 a.m. in front of the ticket windows in the Village at Squaw.
Liability waivers are required and parents must sign for minors under age 18.