Steamboat Springs Kade Lawton never knew Cody St. John.
He couldn’t have. Kade’s 9 years old, and this April marks 10 years since St. John, a ski patroller at Steamboat Ski Area, died from complications following a car accident.
You couldn’t say Kade’s never known a world without Cody, however. His parents, Kyle Lawton and Amy Lawton, were close friends with St. John and, along with the St. John family, have been instrumental in organizing Cody’s Challenge, the annual randonee race at Steamboat Ski Area.
The event raced up and down the slopes of Mount Werner for a ninth time Saturday. For the first time, Kade took part, helping raise money in the name of a man he’ll never know, but one who still plays a major role in his family’s life.
“Cody was a good friend of ours, so it’s an important event for us,” Amy Lawton said. “It so cool to see all these people out here. It makes us tear up every time.”
Kade wasn’t the only one racing who didn’t personally know St. John. The race again attracted about 200 skiers and snowboarders, roughly what it did a year ago after seeing huge increases in the several years prior to that.
In its nine years, the event has grown from an emotional gathering of St. John’s close friends and family to a festive celebration of fitness and skiing with St. John’s spirit and the foundation founded in his honor — which rewards ski patrollers with scholarships for school — still at its center.
For any serious Steamboat Springs or Western Slope fitness warrior, Cody’s Challenge has become a date which requires circling on the adventure calendar.
“I’m thankful for the numbers. The fact that 200 people showed up, I’m grateful,” said Cody's sister, Corinne St. John, an event organizer.
It was certainly on Kade’s calendar for a long time, and he eagerly tackled the shorter of the race’s two courses Saturday, climbing up and away from the top of Thunderhead Peak with a huge crowd of racers.
Part of his inspiration came from a friend, Bridger Carlson, who started racing Cody’s Challenge when he was only 7 years old. Carlson, now 12, has raced it every year since, and this year, raced the long course for the first time.
“I thought it was cool he could do it, and I wanted to try, too,” Kade said.
He’d been preparing. He already has a pretty “Steamboat” activities schedule, with Alpine skiing, Nordic ski racing, ski jumping, mountain biking and soccer. He added Alpine touring this winter.
He skinned up Howelsen Hill and Hanh’s Peak — with some help from his parents — and when the time came, he was ready.
“He decided he was ready,” Amy Lawton said. “The way he talked about it and got motivated, we thought he was ready. He watches us do it and enjoy it, so for him, that was motivation.”
Taam again on top
He wasn’t the fastest. A familiar face for the event was, however.
Max Taam, an Aspen ski patroller, has been a regular on the top of the Cody’s Challenge podium, and he was there again this year, finishing the long course in 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Chris Carr was second at 1:42:58 and Charlie Macarthur third at 1:50:41.
Jessie Young won the women’s division in 1:50:20. Jaime Falcon was second at 2:16:38 and Emily Brackelsberg third at 2:33:30.
Erik Lobeck was fastest among the splitboard men and Shannon Forbes among the women.
Cam Boyd won the men’s short course, ahead of Jeff Snook and Scott Cowman. Ann Barbier won the women’s, with Joan Donham second and Kellie Nelson third.
Kade Lawton managed a strong finish, too, sixth on the men's side. His mother stuck with him throughout the race, and she said it went well.
“He’s on his skis a fair amount, so he felt comfortable,” she said. “He never whined at all. At one point, he did ask me when we’d get there.”
The only debate came from younger brother Bridger Lawton, now 7 years old. His parents decided he wasn’t quite ready, so they set a family age limit of 8 years old.
“We’ll see if he still wants to do it next year,” Amy said.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9