Cody’s Challenge lives on for 10th year Saturday | SteamboatToday.com

Cody’s Challenge lives on for 10th year Saturday

Racers take off from the start of Cody's Challenge last season. The event returns Saturday for a 10th year.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The plan wasn’t ever to be here in Steamboat Springs — 10 years later — preparing for yet another early and busy Saturday morning.

Corinne St. John helped start Cody's Challenge a decade ago, almost exactly a year after her brother Cody St. John, a Steamboat Ski Area patroller, died from injuries sustained in a car accident.

That first year of the Challenge, a ski mountaineering race on Mount Werner that returns Saturday, featured only those who'd been close to Cody and who were friends of the family. Ski patrollers Cody had worked with also showed up en masse. Everyone else? Not so much.

A decade later, the event returns for an 8:30 a.m. Saturday start at the top of the Steamboat gondola, and it will likely do so with more than 200 competitors.

"We never really planned this," Corinne said. "It all just kind of happened this way."

Where many well-intentioned memorial events will peter out a year or two into their existence, Cody's Challenge has had two big things going for it.

First, it has always been fervently backed by the St. John family, whose members relish in their annual pilgrimage to the town Cody made his home.

Second, ski mountaineering was certainly something people did when Cody's Challenge started that first year, in 2008, but it hadn't caught on nearly the way it has in the years since.

The event proved exactly the right kind of race at exactly the right time. Innovation in Alpine touring skiing equipment led to lighter, cheaper and better gear, making backcountry skiing a booming sector of the outdoor industry. Cody's Challenge rode that wave to huge increases in participation.

"There's always been quite a bit of momentum, a desire to keep on with it," Corinne said.

Related: Photos: 2017 Cody’s Challenge 

That momentum has allowed Cody's memory to linger, and now, some athletes who are participating weren't even alive the first year of Cody’s Challenge.

The Cody St. John Foundation has also continued its work. Cody was pursuing a nursing degree at the time of his accident, and the foundation grants scholarships to ski patrollers seeking similar medical degrees. This year, it again received a rush of applications and was able to dish out funds to nine people.

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Registration remains open for this year's event. It will cost competitors $70 ($35 with a ski pass) through Friday evening at CodysChallenge.com, then $80 when on-site sign up becomes available starting at 7 a.m. Saturday morning at the Bear River Bar and Grill at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

Racers will load the gondola at 8 a.m., and the race will start 30 minutes later.

Two courses will be available, a short and a long, each with small tweaks from previous versions.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.