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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Skiers go the distance for good cause

Bill Jennings Correspondent

If it turns out I’m not smarter than a fifth-grader, I won’t be shocked. But I never thought I’d be out-skied by a 7-year-old. The fact that I was illustrates the focus and intensity people brought to 24 Hours of Schweitzer.

The event was an around-the-clock endurance race organized as a fundraiser by Brian Sturgis of Sandpoint, and others, to support research into a cure for cystinosis, a rare congenital disease. Sturgis’ 21/2-year-old son, Hank, was born with cystinosis. The little boy presided over the event, charming everyone in his path.

I joined 111 others who gathered in the sunshine at Schweitzer’s village last Friday to partake in the downhill feast. At 10 a.m. we skated down the trail leading to chair four. Some were already in a tuck. I realized making the podium was unlikely.

The field turned on the Quicksilver run for the next seven hours. It was a beautiful day. Schweitzer Basin, the village and Lake Pend Oreille sprawled out in a postcard panorama. I was inspired to go the distance, at the time.

Quicksilver is a broad, rolling boulevard that invites teary-eyed speed. To keep racers under control, the checkpoint was placed at a cat track below the last steep rollover. Saving my legs, I turned as little as possible. The unchecked velocity was thrilling. But slamming on the brakes took its toll.

At 20 runs, I took a lunch break. In the afternoon I turned laps until the sun fell behind the south ridge. Flat light and rubber legs led me to take leave of Quicksilver at 4 p.m. and 35 runs.

After an hour’s rest and a change of clothes, I continued. The race had moved to the Lakeview quad, where we would ski Schweitzer’s NASTAR course until 1 a.m. A crescent moon, arm in arm with Venus, rose above the south ridge.

The mountain was benign in daylight. It became restless at nightfall. A strong wind worked up to a fierce gale. Riding the chair, I pulled down the safety bar and held on. Shrieking gusts felt as if they would tear the skis off my feet.

The checkpoint was in the starter hut at the top of the racecourse. At one point I watched a gust blow the skier ahead of me, Spencer Sivey of Denver, straight through the hut and down the hill.

Straight-lining down the run, ripping gusts would hit from the front, back and sides. I flew through ground blizzards and raging spindrifts. The wind finally drove me off the mountain at 65 runs.

The weather didn’t blunt the resolve of Matt Gillis, 24, of Sandpoint. Gillis turned laps in a tuck through the night and into midmorning. He was solo winner of 24 Hours of Schweitzer, with 175 runs totaling 157,102 vertical feet. His four-man team, the MickDuffs, finished first with 620 runs and 536,416 vertical feet.

Seven-year-old Reed Sandstrom, the youngest participant in the field, logged 72 runs and 72,246 vertical feet. He finished 44th out of 112. The entire field skied and rode 7,183 runs for a total of 6,987,292 vertical feet.

Sturgis said 24 Hours of Schweitzer raised $63,000 for cystinosis research via donations, pledges and a silent auction. He expects the number to increase in the next couple of weeks as pledges are fulfilled.

I only met the challenge halfway. But I’ll get another chance next year. Watch out, Reed, I’m coming after you.

Bill Jennings can be reached at snoscene@comcast.net
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