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Skiing for 24 hours in fundraiser at Schweitzer required some pacing

The sunrise never looked so good, ascending over the mountains to turn the lake from deep blue into molten gold. I had made it through the night on skis in 24 Hours of Schweitzer.

Daylight was a welcome sight for 153 skiers and riders subjecting themselves to sleep deprivation, aching legs, chills and a few spills last weekend to raise $75,000 for the National Cystinosis Research Foundation Board. They were also subjected to plenty of good food, enough energy drinks and coffee to float a boat, a heaping helping of adrenaline and a sense of shared purpose and fellowship.

Tricia and Brian Sturgis and their fellow employees at Coldwater Creek in Sandpoint organize the skiathon. The Sturgis’ 3½-year-old son Hank was born with cystinosis, a rare congenital disease. The Sturgises, in the name of their little boy, have made 24 Hours of Schweitzer one of the most successful Cystinosis fundraisers in the country.

I stopped a little more than halfway through last year’s event. This time I was determined to go the distance. My goal was 100 runs. Experience taught me that unlike the leaders hurtling in a tuck non-stop around the clock, pacing was essential to survive.

The field began its vertical assault at 10 a.m. on a blue bird Friday. We spent the first six hours riding the Sunnyside chair to the Quicksilver run. Quicksilver is a series of high-speed rollovers, roped off in a chicane at the bottom for speed control. It didn’t take long for the exit to get pulverized into rutted boilerplate. A few skiers ended up sprawled in the netting.

At 21 runs I broke for lunch at the race support setup in the Lakeview Lodge Caribou Room. Going forward my strategy was to take 10 runs, hit the Caribou Room to rest, refuel and rehydrate, then hit 10 more.

At sundown the event shifted to the Lakeview Express Quad and Schweitzer’s NASTAR course. A yellow half moon materialized. The surrounding basin had an ambient glow from the lighted run. Prowling groomers shone like beacons on the hillsides in the night. Volunteers passed out energy bars, shots of hot chocolate and coffee at the lift line.

Riding high in the chair, I watched skiers and riders streaking down below. I controlled my speed skiing upright on tiring legs. Tucking skiers blew by me like I was standing still. Racers gathered at Pucci’s Pub in the village for a pizza feed at 1 a.m. Others stayed on the hill, racking up laps.

The field moved to the Musical Chairs lift at 1:30 a.m. Lifties tricked out in goofy costumes cheered us on through the most difficult hours of the race. I took advantage of the mellow terrain to make a final push toward my goal.

Come sunrise, the race moved back where we started the day before. Daylight felt rejuvenating. The view was inspiring. I was elated from making it through the night. Even so, after two more runs on the steep Quicksilver pitch, my legs were done for good. The race concluded at 10 a.m.

Sandpoint skiers led the way. Defending champion Matt Gillis retained his title with 196 runs and 207,236 vertical feet. Justin Anthony was just two runs back. Emily Querna won women’s solo with 182 runs and 189,905 vertical feet. Rick Orchard of Sandpoint was the top fundraiser at $3,200.

I achieved my goal and then some with 109 runs and 109,261 vertical feet. The entire field amassed 10,789 runs and 11,968,345 vertical feet (2,266 miles). We did Hank proud.

Bill Jennings can be reached at