NPS puts the brakes on Badwater 135, other races in Death Valley

A competitor runs the Badwater 135. (defense.gov photo)

A competitor runs the Badwater 135. (defense.gov photo)

In a decision that could affect a number of endurance races that traverse Death Valley, the National Park Service has placed a moratorium on races that go through the area until NPS officials can determine how safe such events are, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Among the most famous: The Badwater 135, an ultramarathon that crosses the world’s hottest environment before finishing at more than 8,300 feet on the lower flanks of Mount Whitney in southern California’s Sierras.

The NPS says it will do a study on the issue which should be done by spring, and events could resume as early as Oct. 1, 2014, the AP reported.

“We want to make it clear, we’re not canceling or banning any events,” Death Valley National Park spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman told The AP. “At the moment, we’re just not taking any more applications for them until we finish our safety evaluation.”

What makes it odd: A lack of major problems associated with endurance races in the area, one organizer said.

Chris Kostman, whose AdventureCorps runs Badwater 135 and other events, told the AP that his organization has held 89 events since 1990 without serious issues crop up: No deaths, no serious crashes, and a smattering of ambulance transports during that time. Despite its rigors, Death Valley’s signature race has an 89-percent finish rate, he said. Entry is by invitation only, and competitors have to have at least three 100-milers under their belt to be considered.

But the NPS’s decision means that Kostman has had to reschedule or move a slate of 2014 competitions, he said.

Temperatures in Death Valley can reach 130 degrees, and the length of the race, plus its elevation gain (about 8,500 feet from its lowest point to its high-altitude finish) make it even more taxing.

Those reasons, as well as increasing popularity and numbers of competitors, make it time for the safety review, Chipman contends.

In the long-term, Badwater 135 could be back, and other races will continue elsewhere, the AP reports. But in the short-term, there won’t be a Badwater 135 next year.

So what do you think? Is this move due diligence on the part of NPS, or is it overreach? Let me know your thoughts.

Bob Doucette

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8 thoughts on “NPS puts the brakes on Badwater 135, other races in Death Valley

  1. On paper, I think the safety review makes sense just given the taxing nature of the race. However, as you pointed out, Badwater has a very impeccable safety record due to the select nature of the competitors within the field and excellent support during the race. It would be extremely disappointing if the event was cancelled, but hopefully a non-issue if no events are ultimately cancelled (best case scenario!).

    • I’m a little confused at the reasoning behind the moratorium. Why not do the study in tandem with the plans already underway? Like you said, Badwater’s safety record is solid. I have to think you could let them operate, monitor the races AND do your study. I’d like a more thorough explanation from NPS.

  2. That is a good point. Maybe overly worried about an adverse event that could happen while concurrently doing the study? Who knows…

    • Yeah, who knows. I just hate to see an agency make an arbitrary decision that only only affects competitors (I cannot imagine the level of preparation is takes to train up for Badwater and similar races), but also for the organizers whose livelihoods are tied to the events. Seems pretty harsh, in a clumsy, bureaucratic sort of way when you consider Badwater’s safety record.

      • Well I definitely agree with that! I could not imagine training for the race and making the cut or dedicating to crew someone and then just having it all pulled away at the last moment…

      • Exactly. I trained for months just to finish a regular marathon, and I would have been crushed to not be able to run it. No comparison between the commitment level between that and an ultra like Badwater. It would be devastating.

  3. Appears to me to be an alarmist reaction of a “property manager” to particular voices, with insufficient understanding of the events effected. Inadequate stewardship in my view.

    • I wish NPS would come out with something to say exactly what they’re fearing. The safety record speaks for itself. Is something else amiss? Something not reported? Then tell us. Otherwise, isn’t there a better way to go about this?

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