Racers take off from the starting line of the fifth-annual Cody's Challenge on Saturday as fog lays like a blanket over Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley. The event drew nearly 80 racers, many of whom were ski patrollers.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Racers take off from the starting line of the fifth-annual Cody's Challenge on Saturday as fog lays like a blanket over Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley. The event drew nearly 80 racers, many of whom were ski patrollers.

Cody's Challenge a boost for local ski patroller, a hit for adventure race fans

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Top long course finishers

Men

1. Max Taam, 1:19:56

2. Pete Swenson, 1:24:42.23

3. Brian Johnson, 1:24:42.30

4. Alex Banas, 1:24:45

5. Robert Woerne, 1:24:48

Women

1. Amy Lawton, 1:39:24

2. Jaime Falcom, 1:53:06

3. Mindy Mulliken, 2:04:29

4. Caroline Lalive, 2:20:17

5. Karen Tremaine, 2:25:16

See complete results here.

— It was one of the best — or, depending on his mood, worst — days in the long process of saying goodbye to Steamboat Springs for Greg Wiener.

A thick fog gripped the town Saturday morning. It sat low in the valley, and from the upper slopes of Mount Werner, it appeared like a blanket covering a still-snoozing town. The sun rose and lit Sleeping Giant to the west and the gondola cars as they emerged from the muck loaded with racers for the annual Cody’s Challenge Randonee event at Steamboat Ski Area.

“I have a couple of pictures,” said Wiener, destined for University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver in the fall.

“Any time in the next couple of years when I’m sitting in class and I need a reminder,” he said, “I have those pictures.”

Before he returns to the world of lectures and notebooks, homework and classes, he’s been saying goodbye to the mountain that for five years has helped define his life in Steamboat Springs. That hasn’t been easy for a ski patroller who’s ridden that gondola every winter day for four years and loved every moment.

In Cody’s honor

Saturday marked the fifth year for Cody’s Challenge, and the day was perfect for it. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., 79 racers sped away from the top-of-the-gondola starting line and up the groomed slopes, most with climbing skins strapped to Alpine touring or Telemark equipped skis.

This year’s course was longer than previous versions, though there’s no normal for an event that’s been drastically altered more than once by weather.

It’s never been easy, challenging racers with a route that gains thousands of feet in elevation, cutting up and down, up and down, up and down Mount Werner.

“It’s almost like a mountain bike race that’s the same every time. That’s good, but it’s nice to change it up,” said Kyle Lawton, who laid out the course and then raced it himself Saturday.

“We don’t ever want to make it way longer. It’s a memorial and this is for all abilities,” he said. “We are extremely happy. We had guys from the World Cup and a lot of great competitors, from other patrollers and the community here in Steamboat.”

No one was faster than Max Taam, a member of the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team fresh off a 10th-place finish at the World Championships in France. He bested the course in 1 hour, 19 minutes and 56 seconds. Pete Swenson was second in 1:24:42.23, and Brian Johnson was third, a blink later in 1:24:42.30.

Amy Lawton won the women’s division in 1:39:24. Jaime Falcom was second at 1:53:06, and Mindy Mulliken was third in 2:04:29.

The event honors former Steamboat ski patroller Cody St. John, who died from complications following a 2007 car accident.

He was beginning work on a nursing degree and was en route to the University of Wyoming when the accident occurred. Now, Cody’s Challenge is an event for people like St. John — Steamboat’s adventure sect flocks to the race. And the proceeds fund a scholarship for patrollers who, like St. John, are seeking an education in the medical field.

“The more we continue to do this, it’s not about any number of competitors. It’s about the feel of it, the spirit of the day,” said Corinne St. John, Cody’s sister. “That’s what this is all about.”

Wiener was one of the scholarship recipients two years ago as he worked to finish undergraduate prerequisites, and he was chosen again this year among eight patrollers from across the country.

Reaching the finish

Wiener remembers his first day as a ski patroller as uncomfortable.

“It was intimidating,” he said. “You’re going into this family, and at that point, you’re a bit of an outsider. You’re trying to find a locker and get your stuff situated. It was intimidating, with a sense of awe.”

It was early in the season, and the crew was hauling equipment to help set up sections of the mountain. They strung poles and fence along Rough Rider Basin, a beginner’s area near the base.

He wasn’t uncomfortable for long, however. Hopes of landing such a job was what drew him from Florida, and he quickly found his place in the tight patroller community.

“It’s been one of the most amazing experiences ever,” he said, reflecting Saturday. “It was every bit of what I hoped and more.”

He’s grown to love his co-workers, and he’s grown to love his job, be it rappelling down Hell’s Wall in Fish Creek Canyon to help a cliffed-out and stranded backcountry skier or being the first on scene after a knee injury, offering comfort and care in a moment of crisis.

That’s what’s made the past few weeks so difficult. He’s logged his final Christmas season with the patrol and the spring break crowds have come and gone. Now the snow’s melting away and so is the season, with just a week left.

“It’s going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to leave. It’s really bittersweet,” he said. “This is my last week as a full-time ski patroller, but I know that med school and becoming a doctor is where I’m meant to be.”

Maybe, he suggested, he’ll return someday to volunteer on patrol or take a director’s position, but for now, he’s counting down the days to another tremendous opportunity, one made possible in part by the scholarships in honor of Cody.

On Saturday, he took a grand tour of the ski area with many of his best friends — patrollers are drawn to Cody’s Challenge by the desire to support one of their own and by cash prizes given to the fastest teams of patrollers from other resorts.

Wiener raced toward the front of the pack. He cut up and down his mountain, from the top of the gondola to the Four Points Hut, down Cyclone and back up through the trees and steep chutes.

Finally, he descended from the sunny peak, skiing down toward the town that Cody had grown to call home, that Wiener grew to love, dashing into fog that still wrapped Steamboat Springs and toward the finish line.

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

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