Steamboat Springs Not all of the region’s best skiers wear speed suits.
Cody’s Challenge — the skiing, skinning and climbing test that returned for its fourth year Saturday to Steamboat Ski Area — always has been a ski patrol-focused event. It memorializes Cody St. John, a Steamboat ski patroller who died in a car accident in 2007. Much of the organizing is done by ski patrollers, patrollers fill its ranks and on Saturday, patrollers ripped down Mount Werner.
They tucked tight as they rocketed down the mountain toward the finish line as red-eyed visitors only just began to poke their heads out of condos along the way.
Ski patrolling is a lifestyle, they explained, and from the grueling challenge to the brisk mountain morning, from the sheer delight in a day of skiing to the great camaraderie shared over a rowdy beer afterward, Saturday proved that few things showcase it all as well as Cody’s Challenge.
Consider the race itself, designed by patrollers for patrollers. There’s the early morning dash up from the top of the gondola, the first of a series of rugged climbs interlaced with dives down the steepest terrain Steamboat offers.
On Saturday, Jan Koles was the champion of that course, finishing in 1 hour, 17 minutes and 17 seconds.
“It was pretty hard, actually. I wore too many clothes,” said Koles, a racer based in Winter Park who competed in the event for the first time.
“Some of the uphills were pretty technical,” he said. “It wasn’t icy but hard packed and slippery, but it was fun.”
Stevie Kremer, meanwhile, won the women’s course, finishing fourth overall in 1:23:12.
Cody’s Challenge always has been about more than a race, though. Racers tore through the bottom of the mountain, bobbing and weaving between pizza-pie beginners down Short Cut, Right-O-Way and Headwall North, the race brought to a screeching halt with a hard 90-degree turn to the finish line at the base of the Christie III lift.
There, they found more than a chance to catch their breath. Friends waited with congratulations, hugs and, steps away at T Bar, a cold beer. They were’t all patrollers. Many, like Koles, were just adventurers caught up in the spirit.
Many were patrollers, however, and like brothers, patrollers from different ends of the state greeted one another and celebrated the sunny morning and the warm day.
“The talent pool is starting to come to this race. The good racers are starting to come, and that’s awesome,” said Kyle Lawton, a friend of St. John’s, one of the organizers and one of the event’s fastest racers.
“I don’t care what place I get. That has nothing to do with this,” he continued. “Ski patrol is a fraternal organization that’s super tight, super close. The memorial is important. I race to represent ski patrol and to represent Cody.”
Like the race and the party, the memorial fund that’s the beneficiary of it all is pure patrol. St. John died from complications following a car accident while he was driving to University of Wyoming to pursue a nursing degree, and last year, the Cody St. John Foundation began granting scholarships to other patrollers seeking a similar education.
This year, seven scholarships were handed out.
“There are loads of scholarship opportunities that come into my inbox at school, and often, I feel like I could try but that they don’t really feel like my thing or that I’m a candidate,” said Elliot Larson, one of the recipients on hand Saturday.
He’s a patroller at Aspen Highlands and attending University of Colorado Denver to get a nursing degree.
“When I read about the Cody St. John Foundation and their scholarship, it connected with me,” he said. “I was pretty excited. It’s reassuring to hear that someone else appreciates you and appreciates the mountain community, that ski patroller community.”
Breckenridge patrollers Todd Greenwood and Mark Beardsley, meanwhile, won Cody’s Cup, a new addition to the Challenge that sends $2,000 for training or education to the patrol with the best combined time between its two top finishers.
Greenwood also was one of the scholarship recipients and another student chasing a nursing degree at the CU Denver campus.
He planned to use the degree to assist his ski patrol lifestyle, not to replace it.
“I love the camaraderie and the lifestyle,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from Steamboat, Breckenridge, Aspen or anywhere. It’s all the same type of people.
“Ski patrolling is a dream job.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com