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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Good cause prompts skiers to spend 24 hours on slopes

About 30 miles high in the atmos- phere, the stratosphere thins out into the mesosphere. Meteors burn up here. Burning meteors may have been what Matt Gillis’ quads felt like after winning 24 Hours of Schweitzer last January.

Gillis, a market analyst at Coldwater Creek in Sandpoint, logged 175 runs skiing nonstop around the clock. His total vertical was 157,102 feet, a few turns short of 30 miles.

The second annual 24 Hours of Schweitzer begins at 10 a.m. next Friday. Tricia and Brian Sturgis and their fellow employees at Coldwater Creek in Sandpoint organize the event. It’s a fundraiser to support research into a cure for cystinosis, a rare congenital disease.

The Sturgis’ 3-year-old son, Hank, was born with cystinosis. The disease affects about 500 people in the U.S., mostly kids. It forms crystals, or cystones, that damage vital organs and the central nervous system. Other complications include muscle wasting, growth loss and developmental delays. Cystinosis is called an “orphan disease,” because the low number of cases doesn’t attract a lot of investment for a cure.

To raise pledges and donations the Sturgis family and their friends created a ’round-the-clock bike race in the fall of 2008 and 24 Hours of Schweitzer. Schweitzer’s management donates its facilities, lifts, groomers and volunteers from the ski patrol. Last year 112 skiers and riders raised $75,000.

“The Spokane/North Idaho community has really taken a lead in national fundraising for cystinosis research,” said Tricia Sturgis, who is a member of the National Cystinosis Research Foundation Board. “To date, we’ve donated $100,000 to the Foundation through our Sandpoint ski and bike benefit events, which were among the most successful cystinosis community fundraisers in the country.”

Race categories in the skiathon include solo, plus 3 and four-person teams. Prizes will be awarded to teams and solos with the most runs, plus top fundraisers. The $125 entry fee covers a two-day lift ticket good Saturday after the event, plus a T-shirt, meals, equipment support and crash space in Lakeview Lodge.

At last year’s event, Gillis didn’t take advantage of any support as he maintained his tuck through the night straight on until morning.

“Gummy bears and trail mix was my dietary plan,” he said. “I drank one bottle of water in 24 hours. By the end I was pretty much starving and dehydrated. But there’s an adrenaline factor of having the opportunity to ski for 24 hours. And I’m a competitive guy, so since they’re counting, I might as well see how many runs I can take.”

It should be noted here that Gillis is a 25-year-old athlete with a professional freestyle skiing background. He works out regularly and trains specifically for the strength and endurance required to ski more than 150,000 feet of vertical in 24 hours.

Gillis, who also volunteers to help coordinate the event, wanted to emphasize that the race is not intended to be an ordeal. Few participants attempt to go the distance solo. Most of all, it’s a chance to have a memorable experience for a good cause.

“It’s a ton of fun,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve done any event and had so much fun. It’s more than just trying to ski as many runs as you can. It’s for Hank.”

To sign up for 24 Hours of Schweitzer, visit You can also use the Web site to reserve a seat at the dinner auction after the race, make a donation, or volunteer. Proceeds go to The Cystinosis Research Foundation. Gifts are tax deductible.

Bill Jennings can be reached at
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