Vail HillClimb celebrates 40 years
12-year-old in the top 20
Visiting from Evergreen, the Szuch family hit the Vail HillClimb as part of a circuit of running events their kids have been taking part in this summer. Fourteen-year old Colin Szuch placed 12th overall, and his sister, Alayna Szuch, took 17th overall at just 12 years old.
“I felt like I kept a really good pace,” she said. “It was a good race for me.”
VAIL — This year’s Vail HillClimb started an hour earlier and a week later than usual, but it still saw intense competition throughout the nearly 8-mile course.
More than 300 runners turned out for a 7 a.m. start on Sunday to show the world the Vail HillClimb may now be 40 years old, but the event is far from over the hill.
Visiting from Norway, Annie Bersagel nearly won the competition, edged out by Cal Deline, a 2014 graduate of Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, in a sprint to the finish. Deline said Bersagel ran an impressive race.
“She was behind me the whole way, really pushing me,” he said.
Deline says he tries to do the Vail HillClimb every year, but has never won it.
“I got lucky this year,” he said. “The new course added about 12 minutes, I’d say.”
Bersagel is originally from Greeley, but is now visiting Vail for a week from Oslo, Norway, where she specializes in marathon races. She said she took the opportunity to work with the trainers at Howard Head on a knee injury, while spending time with her brother, Vail local Paul Bersagel, and test herself at the Vail HillClimb.
“I’d say the race was a half-marathon effort,” she said. “I really liked the race, the course worked really well for me — nicely groomed dirt trails.”
The Mid-Vail finish was a new twist in the race. Sally Clair, who has taken part in every Vail HillClimb race in its 40-year history, said the course has changed several times over the years.
“They’ve switched the course … because of the way they’ve redone the mountain,” she said. “Sometimes it would come in one way, sometimes another way, but it always ended up at Lionshead.”
From the starting line, Clair said she planned on recalling fond memories from past Vail HillClimb races while she made the climb up the mountain this year. She moved to Vail in 1976, the same year the HillClimb started.
“I look forward to it every year,” she said.
For the volunteers who help make the race a success, the event is the only time each year that they see one another.
“A lot of these people, I only know their first name, but we spend two hours together each summer,” said Jeannie Bennett, who came to Vail from Highlands Ranch just for the race.
Bennett did the race a few times in the late ’80s and started volunteering after an accident prevented her from competing. Her husband, Greg Bennett, competed in the 70-and-older age division for the first time this year.
“We used to have a little group going in the mid-to-late ’90s, and it was sad when one year only the wife shows up because the husband isn’t doing too well, or the other way around, and a few years later you don’t see them anymore,” Jeannie Bennett said.
On Sunday, Bennett made the connection that one of the elderly couples which she was thinking about were the parents of fellow volunteer Chris Maxwell.
“My dad was a physician, and he would run behind people with the little cups of water saying ‘stay hydrated,’” Maxwell said.