In Colorado, we’re lucky to have one of the premier international motorsports events in our backyard, just to the West of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, brought to you by Gran Turismo (PPIHC) is an event that can trace its roots back to its inaugural running in 1916, and was promoted by Spencer Penrose, who coincidentally founded the race’s title sponsor and the owner of the Pikes Peak Highway, The Broadmoor Hotel. With a race so steeped in history in our own backyard, its surprising that there are many residents who have not yet had a chance to attend. The PPIHC is an unsurprisingly challenging racing event to spectate; it requires prepping for a full day at Alpine elevations, with extreme exposure to sun, wind and weather. I built this list looking back at my experiences on the hill to help demystify important preparations and things you should know before you go, so you can get up there and enjoy one of Colorado’s premier motorsport events!

10. You Really Can’t Leave Early Enough to get to the hill on Race Day. Pikes Peak has capacity to park roughly 1,300 spectator vehicles, and all of them are headed to the same place you are, at the same time you are. I wanted to be up very early this year, and left my home in Arvada at 2AM.

The first hour between Denver and Colorado Springs was a cakewalk, however, as you reach US-24 into the foothills of the mountain, lanes become a commodity, and the traffic becomes fierce. I reached the gateway roughly an hour after hitting the traffic at approximately 4:00 AM, and drove the roughly 7 mile drive from the toll house to the start line parking lot at Crystal Lake for another hour and a half. For a drive that takes an hour and a half altogether on a practice day, it had taken more than double that to arrive on race day. Gates open for spectators at 2:30 AM, and the road to spectator areas beyond start line closes at 5:00 AM, unless spectator areas above fill up earlier. The earlier you can haul yourself and your stuff up the mountain, the better your parking and seating choices will be.

9. Be Ready for a Long Day, as in most circumstances, once you have parked at a spectator area, you are going to be there for the entire day. Pikes Peak is unique in that spectators arrive and traverse the mountain on the race course itself; downhill traffic is not permitted until the race has completed, with additional time to allow racers to return to the start line, and teams to maneuver their cars and trailers in the paddock after the end of the race. That being said, it’s best to approach the event as a camping trip, and make sure that anyone else who agrees to join you is in the same mindset to avoid misunderstandings about when you can head home.

8. Starting line is a hidden gem of the spectator areas. I, like many, on my first trip to spectate in 2013, wanted to get as high up the mountain as humanly possible, but was unaware of how much more freedom starting line affords a spectator. Getting up early? Yep. Still have to do that, but the definition of early really moves significantly later. The drive takes a lot less time with most of the traffic up the hill already. You still have to make some decisions about when to arrive to hopefully fit into the Crystal Lake Reservoir parking areas, which serve the start-line via shuttles, but I have arrived at 7:00AM without issue before. Starting line has a number of other intangible benefits. The publicly accessible pit lane is an awesome place to walk through; you can watch drivers and teams getting ready for their attempt on the hill and get a good look at the cars. Starting line is also generally supported by vendors, if you find yourself lacking in the food and drinks department. Also, a large screen is up showing the webcast of the race, standings and interviews with race personalities Finally, starting line is the only place that allows a spectator to leave during the day. This is a good option for families with small children who can’t afford a meltdown on the mountain without a contingency plan. Speaking of taking the less ambitious approach to your vantage point;

7. Don’t Attempt to Spectate Devils Playground on Your First Year. Many people, full of bravado wildly declare that it’s “Devils or bust”, the highest spectating area in the race at just over 13,000 feet above sea level. That altitude comes with some strings attached. Devil’s Playground is well above treeline, so there is nothing offering protection from wind and rain. The weather can be different all over the mountain, but generally Devil’s Playground and the finish line get it far worse than lower altitudes. Tying back into what I mentioned earlier, as the weather gets worse, you cannot pack it in and go home. You are stuck, in the weather and the altitude, at the top of the mountain, until the bitter end. It’s a breathtaking spot to spectate from, with views of much more of the road course than other places to spectate, admittedly, but unless you are truly prepared for it, it can lead to a really bad time.

6. Sunscreen is tremendously important, which goes without saying in a lot of cases, but I often look out over a line of people leaving the event that look like a sea of walking cherry tomatoes. You are spectating on a mountain, with several thousand feet less atmospheric top cover that ultraviolet light has to travel through to park itself in your skin. Bring some stronger sunscreen, especially if you burn easily, and reapply every few hours.

5. Leave Fido Home. It’s an understandably bummer to leave your pet at home for an outdoor outing, but you have to remember that this is an alpine environment, where a diversity of unexpected things can and do often happen. In 2021, there were bears in a tree in the paddock within 100 feet of pitted racers and their crews for the entire day. The number of hazards posed to your pet seriously outweigh the benefits of bringing them with you. Also, it’s the rules; you will get turned around at the toll-house if they spot your pet on the way in.

4. Plan your food and clothing accordingly. As previously mentioned, you’re up on the mountain all day without the ability to run home or to the store to grab something you forgot, save for any vendors in your area. Given you’re high up on a mountain, having comfortable clothes for just about any weather situation is important, even if you don’t wind up using them. Also, on food, its tempting to bring a portable stove or cook-top to make food on the side of the mountain. Propane camp stoves with a shut-off valve are allowed per the spectator website, but make sure you check the fire rules in effect for the Pike National Forest at the time of the race, as they can vary, and a fire ban for the Forest would supersede race rules. One of the funniest memories I have at the race was watching a spectator pushing quickly through the crowd at picnic grounds, smoking camp grill in tow, causing a commotion. Five minutes later, the sheriff’s deputies on hand for the race came through our section, questioning people if they had seen the spectator and his contraband grille; he was on the run! I’m unsure what happened to the grilling desperado, but don’t be like that guy; just read the rules before you go.

3. Pikes Peak is a walking-heavy event, plan accordingly. Wear good shoes with lots of support, as most of the spectating areas require a mix of paved and unpaved hiking, and keep a pair of dry socks on hand for the day in case of any adverse foot-to-puddle interactions.

2. The one thing that will enhance your experience the most is a simple AM radio. When is the last time you even really thought about one of these? While time and technology have marched on, the challenges of providing reliable data on the mountain have remained. KRDO, Colorado Springs’ local ABC affiliate, broadcasts the race live on 1240 AM. Having a radio on the side of the hill is indispensable. It can inform you of the overall standings of the race, as well as what is going on when the cadence of cars changes, or of incoming weather. Being informed of what is going on in the race is huge in elevating your time and engagement with the race on the day of.

1. Drivers have arms just like yours. This one is esoteric, but I have heard several drivers mention this over the years as somewhat of a pet peeve. At the end of the day, the race vehicles come down the hill, and spectators jolt, jostle and cajole to get within arms reach to give the drivers hi-fives as they pass by. Its an awesome way to celebrate their run and their dedication, months of preparation and huge financial outlay to get to the moment where they crested the summit of the Pikes Peak Highway, completing the race. The important thing to remember here is race car drivers have arms just like ours, made of bones, muscles and ligaments, that fit into rotator cuffs. Many fans, overly excited after a day in the sun, at altitude, (possibly sauced) will slap the drivers hand so hard it wrenches their arm, which is sticking out of a moving vehicle. Many drivers have mentioned their arm getting twisted, hyperextended or grabbed onto during the fan procession. Just remember both they and you have had a long day, and give them some skin without ripping their arm out of their socket. These have been some very high-level tips (sprinkled with the wonderful photography of Joey Burtoni), but hopefully, if you haven’t, give some thought to spectating this exceptional event in person!

PPIHC Spectators Guide

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