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Grace Staberg spent a good bit of time picturing how her attempt at a world record would go.
The 19-year-old Silverthorne resident, who set a goal of breaking the women’s 24-hour world uphill ski record (57,980 feet, set earlier this winter by Italy’s Martina Valmassoi), planned on consuming 300 calories of real food an hour during the effort, including jelly sandwiches and oatmeal. She envisioned chatting with the friends accompanying her on many 2,630-foot vertical laps that involved skinning up a mountain slope and skiing down. And she certainly thought she’d be able to take a quick pee break.
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But much of that changed when the clock started ticking at 9 a.m. on Monday, April 26 at Copper Mountain.
Although Copper Mountain had closed winter operations the day before, resort crews groomed Staberg’s route from Copper’s Center Village, at around 9,700 feet, to the top of Storm King lift, which sits at nearly 12,400 feet. She finished the uphill part of her first lap in 42 minutes, her fastest of the 21-plus circuits she ended up making. She then settled into a rhythm, continually making her way up the steep slopes accompanied by a changing rotation of friends and fellow athletes.
As exhaustion set in, though, she found herself without much to say. “Copper was amazing and so supportive, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the people who came to pace and crew,” Staberg says. “I had about 20 pacers. For the most part, people talked at me more than with me. They’d talk and I’d listen.”
Each time she transitioned to the bottom of a lap, Staberg planned to eat the real food she brought. But that also didn’t go as planned. “I felt a little nauseous and had a bit of trouble swallowing or chewing real food, so I ended up relying on energy gel and Skratch Labs Superfuel drink mix,” she says.
Staberg brought two ski setups. Her crew, including her father, had one pair waiting with skins on them each time she reached the bottom of a lap. In the biggest hurry of her life, she never stopped for more than two minutes, not even to pee.
“I didn’t go until I was done,” Staberg says. “We weren’t totally sure how much I needed to climb for my last two hours, so my pacer was like, ‘if you can hold it, you should.’ Pretty much the minute I hit 24 hours, I hit the trees. I think it was a bigger relief than finishing the ski itself.”
Those last two hours were the toughest, she says, and not just because she had a full bladder. “When the sun was coming up, it was quite pleasant,” she says. “I love skinning during the sunrise, but then those last two hours felt like an eternity.”
At the top of her 21st lap, Staberg knew she only had about 15 minutes left before the 24 hours were up. She wouldn’t be able to break the world record, which would require more than 22 laps. But if she could climb another few hundred vertical feet, she’d break the North American women’s record of 55,045 feet in 24 hours, which was set earlier this winter in Aspen by Boulder resident Rea Kolbl.
Ultimately, Staberg started one last climb and notched another 800 vertical feet before time ran out, enough to register 56,153 feet total and usurp Kolbl for the North American women’s record. “That last 15-minute climb was kind of a slog,” she says. “I was definitely relieved to be done.”
This fall, Staberg is heading to the University of London, where she plans to study finance and continue competing in major skiing events. She landed on numerous podiums this past season on the International Ski Mountaineering Federation events.
But she isn’t ruling out another attempt at breaking the world record. “It was definitely hard, but I wouldn’t say I’d never want to attempt something like it again,” she says. “I might have to give it some time to forget how much it hurt.”