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Teenage Summit County ski mountaineer breaks North American record for most vertical feet climbed in 24 hours

Grace Staberg, 19, skied up Copper Mountain more than 21 times in one day — totaling 56,153 feet — and falling just shy of the world record set last month in Europe.

Grace Staberg, of Summit County, checks her watch seconds after skinning uphill on skis for 24 hours at Copper Mountain on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Staberg, who competed in International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships in Europe in the past winter, broke the women’s record for North America with 56,153 feet of vertical climbing in 24 hours. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Grace Staberg said she was “pretty tired” as the first rays of sun hit the slopes of Copper Mountain Tuesday morning. 

“I felt like slowing down,” said the 19-year-old, a few hours after setting a North American women’s record by skinning 56,153 vertical feet in 24 hours. “It was really helpful to have people who were skinning with me and pacing me for those last four hours. They knew even though I was saying I was tired, I didn’t want to quit. They kept me going.”

Starting at 9 a.m. Monday, the ski mountaineering superstar and 2020 graduate of Summit County High School skied up and down Copper Mountain more than 21 times. Paced by a team of friends  — a sort of Who’s Who of Colorado ski athletes — she climbed from Copper’s Center Village to the top of the Storm King lift at 12,441 feet. 

She just beat the record set by her friend, Boulder’s Rea Kolbl, who climbed 55,045 feet in 24 hours at Buttermilk ski area on March 13. But she fell just short of the 57,890 feet climbed by Italy’s Martina Valmassoi in the Dolomites on March 22. 

Grace Staberg, left, of Summit County, skins uphill with Nikki LaRochelle on Copper Mountain, Tuesday morning, April 27, 2021, near Frisco. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)

That’s fine with Staberg. She was aiming for a North American record. She’s not sure a world record can be set in Colorado. Valmassoi was climbing a resort with a summit around 5,200 feet. Staberg was starting above 9,000 feet and climbing past 12,000 feet. 

“I would need about 2,000 more feet of climbing (for the record) and I can’t really look back and identify where I could have made that up,” she said. “That record is definitely possible, but the elevation really does make a difference.”

Staberg has exploded on the international ski-mountaineering scene in the last two years. Since winning the Wasatch Powder Keg vertical race and the Power of Four 50K in 2019, she landed on six podiums in 19 races in Europe this ski season, including two first-place finishes. She is currently ranked fourth in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation’s World Cup standings. Which is a very big deal for an American. 

Europeans have been racing ski mountaineering contests for generations. Americans have a shorter history, but the sport has blown up in the West, with nearly every ski mountaineering race selling out. Staberg hopes her rising profile in the sport can get more people on the uphill-skiing train. 

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“I think backcountry touring and racing are growing and that gives us a lot of hope in terms of having more Americans racing over in Europe in the future,” she said. 

Staberg says she feels less experienced in European World Cup contests, especially when it comes to technical terrain and speedy transitions. 

Grace Staberg, of Summit County, skins uphill on skis at Copper Mountain on April 27, 2021. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“But for sure, throwing yourself into World Cup races is a good way to get that experience,” she said. 

Endurance events involving 24 hours of nonstop racing tend to be dominated by older athletes who have years of experience in regulating extended bouts of exertion. 

“This was my first time ever doing an event through the entirety of the night and frankly, the first time ever doing something, anything, for 24 hours,” she said. “I just really love training and I really love skiing, and I really love going out for long days when I can enjoy the mountains and enjoy my time on skis. I guess that allows me to excel in the endurance events. I like it.”

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