So far, Flagstaff’s winter has produced trace amounts of measurable snow. It’s been one of the worst winters on record, and the tail end of our favorite season doesn’t look promising. But against all odds that didn’t translate into a poor turnout for this year’s GORE-TEX® Kahtoola Uphill. And with our 11th year now in the books—a lack of snow aside—we have a lot worth celebrating.
Once the calendar flipped from 2017 to 2018, and with all of two small snowstorms, we made the call: “Snow or no snow, this year’s Kahtoola Uphill is happening!” It seemed fitting, because that’s pretty much how the Uphill started back 2007—a “snow or no” race at the Arizona Nordic Village that extended to Utah, California, and Montana. The idea was to inspire human-powered adventure and get up and down mountains without the use of ski lifts.
Over time, the focus transitioned solely to the Kahtoola Uphill, and what began as a morning race ultimately became a night race thanks to a push from the Summit for Life uphill race in Aspen, CO.
In that first year on a cold morning, we had 25 racers, mostly friends of Kahtoola. By comparison, four years ago—during a whiter winter—the stars aligned and we hit our highest racer count to date: 350. This year, we welcomed more than 200 racers—a show that people crave uphill access in a year where there has been zero, and most importantly, that Flagstaff turns out for local fundraising efforts, a big reason this event has been a success and goes down year after year.
Nine years ago, Kahtoola teamed up with Friends of Camp Colton, a local nonprofit that supports Camp Colton, a youth environmental education program located just down the mountain from the Kahtoola Uphill—and one that Kahtoola’s owner, Danny Giovale, and two associates, Hilary and myself (Andrew), are all alumni. The event turned into a fundraiser, with 100% of profits going directly to Camp Colton and into a scholarship that allows low-income students to attend the camp. In the past decade, the Uphill has raised more than $200,000, a portion of which, in 2017, helped fund new cabins that are sustainable, handicap accessible, and benefit special-needs students. Use of those two cabins will begin during the upcoming fall semester, and this year we raised more than $37,000.
The Uphill weekend also served as a first for our unofficial Kahtoola ambassador retreat. Along with local ambassadors and star talent Rob Krar, Mike Popejoy, Brian Tinder, Amanda Manville, Sara Wagner and Emily Torrence, we invited Stephanie Violett, Maggie Guterl, Brandy Erholtz, Luke Nelson, Mike Foote and Joseph Gray so that they could connect with our community and home of northern Arizona— longtime inspirations for much of the business and work Kahtoola does. It was an opportunity for us as a company to connect with a team that was only formed a year ago. What we found is that we have an incredible group of elite-level athletes, all trail and ultrarunners, but with a steady hand in other projects ranging from environmental work and fighting for public lands to directing ultras and representing the U.S. Mountain Running Team. In 2018, many of them also look to achieve some pretty impressive goals.
In the upcoming year (to mention only a few) Mike Foote will take a crack at breaking the world record of 60,000 feet of elevation gain in a 24-hour period in his home state of Montana; Maggie Guterl has won entry into the Barkley Marathons, where she will attempt to be the first-ever woman to complete what many consider to be the most demanding and hardest ultra race in the world; and Mike Popejoy plans to set FKTs on 11 of the highest trails in the West, as well as compete in the uphill portion of the Mountain Running Championships and hopefully find a spot on the World Cup team.
We will be following all of the adventures and accomplishments of our ambassadors throughout the year, so be sure to check back regularly.
Between our amazing team of athletes, Kahtoola uphill racers and sponsors, all of the kids who attend Camp Colton and the employees who teach and welcome many of them to the outdoors, and the overall community and sense of place that continues to inspire and motivate and bring us all together—that’s a whole lot to celebrate as winter passes us by.
And go figure, the snow is finally falling.