Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
Steamboat Springs Although the course was lengthened this year, Cody’s Challenge is meant to be a race for the everyman, or at least the Steamboat everyman. (People here in Ski Town USA may not believe it, but skiing up mountains isn’t what people in most of the rest of the world do for fun.)
In Steamboat, of course, the Challenge, which on Saturday required several trips up and down the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area, is a nice way to build up a sweat in the morning. Turns out, it’s no problem for a Steamboat kid, either.
Bridger Carlton didn’t win his classification at the fifth annual fundraiser. He was his classification. At 8 years old, he was the only competitor younger than 10 and perhaps the only one younger than 18.
Bridger had a fine role model for the event in his father, Will Carlton, who in every way fits the local descriptors. He’s an avid endurance racer, participating in running races short and long — really long — during the summer. He competed a year ago in the Run, Rabbit Run ultramarathon, fighting through to finish the grueling 100-mile race.
And he’s a veteran of Cody’s Challenge, the randonee race started five years ago in honor of former Steamboat Springs ski patroller Cody St. John.
He’s long known his son shared his way of thinking about such events. Bridger has already been making regular winter hikes up to Thunderhead — a gain of more than 2,000 feet in elevation — since he was 5.
Even Will admitted to being unsure of how things would go last year when Bridger first asked to participate in Cody’s Challenge. Still, he agreed to race with his son.
“We knew he would have fun, and that’s the main thing,” Will said.
For the encore this year, there wasn’t any worry.
Bridger skis a lot more often than just those hikes up to Thunderhead. He’s a regular Nordic combined competitor with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
“He’s on skis as much as any kid around here,” Will said.
So it came as little surprise that Bridger came flying down toward the finish line on Saturday.
He cited a few small tweaks he could make for next year. He slipped a bit on some of the climbs, and he had trouble in one icy area of a steep descent. He wasn’t the fastest on the course. His time on the event’s short course of 2 hours, 21 minutes and 4 seconds was one second faster than his father’s.
But he finished, and among his peers, that’s something no one else can claim.
It’s not easy finding a way to stand out athletically in an outdoors-crazed town like Steamboat Springs, but Bridger certainly found one.