As conditions ravage Imperial Challenge, Breckenridge’s Howdyshell wins, Campbell family shines
Despite the windy, wet whiteout conditions they all experienced near the top of Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Imperial Express, dozens of Imperial Challenge competitors convened at the base of Peak 8 for awards Saturday afternoon.
Medals were handed out to age division and overall champions spanning categories that included running, retro snowshoe and splitboard. But it was 10-year-old Breckenridge resident Victoria Campbell and her family who received the loudest ovation of the day.
“We don’t have any 19-and-under females in the age division,” Imperial Challenge race director Jeff Westcott said through a megaphone.
“However,” he continued, “ladies and gentlemen our youngest participant today needs all of your love and all of your support. This young lady battled her way up the T-Bar line. Let’s make some noise for 10-year-old Victoria Campbell.”
The applause for Campbell continued for 22 seconds before Westcott chimed back in.
“It was only a few years ago that her brother Jackson was the youngest in the race, he’s now 13 and all four members of the Campbell family left Fruita (Colorado) yesterday to come for this!”
Victoria, Jackson, father Craig and mother Emily all completed the 27th annual “pseudo-triathlon” race; one that combines either a 6.2-mile dirt road run or bike with ascending 3,000 feet of vertical gain to the top of the resort’s Imperial Express Lift before downhill skiing to the finish line near the resort’s base.
This year, though, with 5 inches of heavy, wet snow blanketing Breckenridge as of Saturday morning that 6.2-mile dirt road route turned into a 6.2-mile slog through mud. And with total whiteout conditions at the top of the Imperial Ridge at 12,998 feet, race organizers decided to shorten the ascent by about 100 vertical feet.
The conditions didn’t stop the Campbells though. The way it worked out, Jackson was the jackrabbit out ahead, completing the course in 3:14:50. Mom, Emily, last saw Jackson at the transition from the bike to the skin uphill and finished in second.
“We high-fived each other, and then he was gone,” Emily Campbell said.
As for Dad, Craig, and Victoria, the father-daughter duo stuck together through what she described as a tough slog through the mud on her everyday bike.
“The mud would just splat on your face and you ate the dirt,” Victoria said. “It was disgusting.”
And that was all before the family ascended uphill. Whatever the challenges, though, her father was there to execute what he regarded as his No. 1 job on Saturday: Ensuring Victoria had the proper nutrition she needed to conquer the Imperial as this year’s youngest contestant.
“It was just one foot in front of the other,” Victoria said. “My skins kept slipping out and I fell over quite a few times (while going up). It, like, really sucked. It was completely white (visibility at the top).”
“My primary role is nutrition,” Craig Campbell added. “Keep feeding her sugar, the (energy chew_ blocks and the GU gel packets) and that kind of stuff. And she just kept fueling up and kept pedaling. It was a team effort.”
The Campbells returned to Breckenridge for the race to take it on as a family despite the fact that they were taking a sabbatical for their spring break vacation in Fruita.
When Victoria crossed the finish line with her dad, she reminded him of the request she made during the skin up.
“She was talking on the skin up,” Craig Campbell said. “‘Daddy, after this I’ve earned some ice cream.’”
“Chocolate,” Victoria said. “I’m going to get some.”
As for Jackson, he was especially proud of himself for completing the race even though he had a flat tire for the final half-mile of the cycle portion.
“And I didn’t have a way to fix it,” Jackson said.
Howdyshell captures first Imperial — in jorts, of course
Around Breckenridge it’s relatively well known that avid ski mountaineer Joe Howdyshell has a tradition each year when he takes on the Imperial: to complete the race in cotton “jorts,” or jean shorts.
But on Saturday morning moisture filled the air in Breckenridge as blowing snow obscured visibility.
So Howdyshell had to make a decision: To jorts or not to jorts?
That was the question.
“I do that every year, because it’s usually sunny and gorgeous and nice out,” Howdyshell said. “And I’ve been working really hard, like, training specifically for this event for the last five to six weeks. So I just kind of decided this morning — I was waffling back and forth — and I said: ‘Nope, if I’m going to win this, I’m going to win it my way.’ And that’s in jorts.”
One hour and 27 minutes after he started his Imperial journey, Howdyshell crossed the finish line first in those jorts, even if they were “frozen open,” due to the moisture, wind and, well, their cotton composition.
Howdyshell described this year’s race conditions as worse than any of his previous Imperial attempts, primarily the muddiness and moisture of the bike portion and the total whiteout conditions near the top of Imperial.
The mud and moisture froze his derailers — the bike part that controls his ability to change gears — shut. And the whiteout conditions made everything near the top of Imperial — the snow, the sky and the clouds — look exactly the same.
But Howdyshell feels the conditions may have given him an advantage over his competition.
“At the top of the ski, as you transitioned and started to ski down, it was just complete whiteout vertigo,” Howdyshell said.
“I think it was good for me,” he continued. “I definitely kind of thrive in nasty, nasty conditions so, for me, I think it was good, though it was a little cold with the jorts.”
Cold might be the understatement of the Summit County ski season. Howdyshell’s token jorts were so short his pockets were visible through the bottom, frozen and hanging over his lactic acid-filled quads. Luckily, Howdyshell had his customary wind-proof “windbriefs” underwear on underneath.
And when he crossed the finish line, though he was 10 minutes slower than his previous best Imperial time, the perennial bridesmaid second-place finisher Howdyshell had gotten his win despite the toughest conditions in years — maybe ever.
“My quads are just hammered right now,” Howdyshell said. “Because some years the skiing is fairly straightforward. But this year, every part of it was bumpy and powdery and wet pow. So it’s all bumps, you just thrash yourself on the bike and your quads are hammered. And you skin 3,000 feet and your quads are even more hammered.
“Just so much burn.”
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.