Becky Kuhl climbs during Saturday’s Cody’s Challenge at Steamboat Ski Area.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Becky Kuhl climbs during Saturday’s Cody’s Challenge at Steamboat Ski Area.

Fundraising memorial Randonee race in Steamboat again a hit

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— The Cody’s Challenge Randonee race at Steamboat Ski Area is a ski patrollers party.

The annual event, in its third year, is in memory of a former patroller in Steamboat Springs, Cody St. John, and his co-workers dominate the grueling race that incorporates long stretches of climbing and sharp descents down Steamboat’s steepest runs.

Patrollers kept careful watch on the race Saturday morning, radioing reports among one another to keep track of friends and loved ones taking part in the competition, which wound up and down a sunny, crusty mountain.

As the event has grown, it has become about more than just that tight fraternity of red-jacketed patrollers, however. When St. John’s mother, Candy St. John, launched nearly 100 racers from the morning’s top-of-the-gondola starting line, all of Steamboat was represented in the field. From Olympians to schoolteachers, football coaches to golf pros, Steamboat on Saturday tightened its grip on one of its newest, most punishing events. 

Rollercoaster Randonee

Saturday’s course was a mind-boggling collection of ups and downs at the ski area, a test that left even the most experienced athletes in the race winded — impressed and winded — afterward.

Racers used a half-dozen techniques even from the start of the race. Some sprinted from the line, striding in Telemark or Alpine touring gear up the race’s first challenging climb, an ascent up the Rainbow ski trail, past the Four Points Hut and to Storm Peak Laboratory at the top of the Morningside chairlift. Some donned snowshoes with skis or snowboards strapped to their backs while others pressed forward with skins clipped to the bottom of split snowboards.

The first incline, 1,488 feet of climbing, challenged them all.

“That was the hardest part,” first-time racer Steve Stefko said. “You’re starting cold, first thing in the morning. That was tough.”

Many corners of Steamboat were represented in the parade of competitors that cut its way skyward. Three-time Olympic silver medalist Johnny Spillane drew wide-eyed glances from opponents. Former Steamboat Springs Middle School teacher and Everything Outdoor Steamboat founder Matt Tredway lamented the loss of one of his skins during one hiking section — “That cost me 10 places,” he growled later, all the while never actually losing the smile that seemed to be plastered on the face of all the racers.

Former Steamboat Springs High School football coach Aaron Finch followed not far behind.

They skied down Chute 3, hiked up Christmas Tree Bowl, skied down again and then climbed up yet again, racers coming to a near standstill at the bottleneck that is the Rancid Tuna couloirs between No Name and North St. Pat’s. They groaned climbing up the thin ribbon of snow laced between rock walls, every racer with skis or a snowboard attached to their back as they clung to and tugged on a rope strung to make the climb possible.

And they loved it.

“That was the fun part,” Stefko said.

They dashed back down and climbed back up again, and again, the trips up actually becoming a relief as some of the lower-elevation downhill segments were little more than sheets of ice, the previous day’s melt forming a terrifying glaze over the top of the snowpack.

They eventually made it to BC Ski Way, where one final climb awaited to the lower part of Vagabond. From there, finally, it was all downhill.

Max Taam, a member of the U.S. Mountaineering Ski Team, was far and away the fastest through the obstacles. He finished in 1 hour, 11 minutes and four seconds, nine minutes ahead of any competitor. Amy Lawton was the top woman in the race, finishing at 1:30:13.

“It was really fun,” Taam said. “This course has it all. There’s physical skiing, a great boot pack and challenging skiing.”

A great day

Cody’s Challenge is hard. All of the gleaming faces at the post-race party swore that it’s fun, too.

St. John’s friends said it’s perfect.

“He was always first out of the gate,” Brandon Holmes said.

Holmes grew up with St. John in Maryland. The pair moved to Colorado together and became ski patrollers in Steamboat.

Holmes raced Cody’s Challenge for the second time Saturday.

“He had lots of endurance, stamina and life,” Holmes said. “He overcame significant hurdles and obstacles in his life, just like the race represents. You can feel his spirit here.”

St. John was driving to nursing school at University of Wyoming when he was in a car crash. He died several days later. A year later, his friends and family organized the first Cody’s Challenge and began raising money for scholarships for ski patrollers pursuing similar dreams. For the first time this year, that group started awarding those scholarships.

Saturday’s Cody’s Challenge was a Steamboat Springs kind of race. The skies were blue. The racing was good. All varieties of locals showed up to take part, and competitors came from other mountain towns and the Front Range.

Those who knew him said it was also a Cody St. John kind of day.

“It’s another great tribute to who he was,” said Corinne St. John, Cody’s sister. “It’s great to have a day to celebrate my brother.

“Steamboat is an amazing town. This was the town Cody fell in love with, and we’re in love with it. To come here and have so many people come out every year, it’s incredibly humbling.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

They eventually made it to BC Ski Way, where one final climb awaited to the lower part of Vagabond. From there, finally, it was all downhill.

Max Taam, a member of the U.S. Mountaineering Ski Team, was far and away the fastest through the obstacles. He finished in 1 hour, 11 minutes and four seconds, nine minutes ahead of any competitors. Amy Lawton was the top woman in the race, finishing at 1:30:13.

“It was really fun,” Taam said. “This course has it all. There’s physical skiing, a great boot pack and challenging skiing.”

A great day

Cody’s Challenge is hard. All of the gleaming faces at the post-race party swore that it’s fun, too.

St. John’s friends said it’s perfect.

“He was always first out of the gate,” Brandon Holmes said.

Holmes grew up with St. John in Maryland. The pair moved to Colorado together and became ski patrollers in Steamboat.

Holmes raced Cody’s Challenge for the second time Saturday.

“He had lots of endurance, stamina and life,” Holmes said. “He overcame significant hurdles and obstacles in his life, just like the race represents. You can feel his spirit here.”

St. John was driving to nursing school at University of Wyoming when he was in a car crash. He died several days later. A year later, his friends and family organized the first Cody’s Challenge and began raising money for scholarships for ski patrollers pursuing similar dreams. For the first time this year, that group started awarding those scholarships.

Saturday’s Cody’s Challenge was a Steamboat Springs kind of race. The skies were blue. The racing was good. All variety of locals showed up to take part, and competitors came from other mountain towns and the Front Range.

Those who knew him said it was also a Cody St. John kind of day.

“It’s another great tribute to who he was,” said Corinne St. John, Cody’s sister. “It’s great to have a day to celebrate my brother.

“Steamboat is an amazing town. This was the town Cody fell in love with, and we’re in love with it. To come here and have so many people come out every year, it’s incredibly humbling.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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