U.S. Skimo star wins Dynafit Vail Hill Climb trail run race

Cam Smith, the first North American to reach a World Cup skimo podium, was the fastest from the Covered Bridge to MidVail on Saturday

Cam Smith cruises to victory in the 2024 Vail Hill Climb trail run on Saturday. The Crested Butte skimo star finished the 7.7-mile course in just under 53 minutes.
Maddie Lindley/Courtesy photo

The highs after a hill climb race are something Cam Smith knows all about. That’s why the last two seasons have been so rough.

On Jan. 14, 2022, the Crested Butte endurance star became the first North American to grace a World Cup skimo podium, finishing third in the vertical in Andorra. The following February, he tore his ACL and meniscus crashing in a World Cup race. After a yearlong recovery, Smith returned to Andorra for the vertical in January 2024. The morning after placing seventh in his much awaited comeback, he dislocated his shoulder in the weight room, throwing away yet another winter.

“After being out of racing for so long, I was really excited to get back into it as much as possible,” Smith said. “Which is why I’m here.”

The 28-year-old won the 48th edition of the Vail Hill Climb trail run on Saturday. Smith covered the 7.7-mile route from the Covered Bridge to MidVail in a time of 52 minutes, 51 seconds, gapping Ryan Sederquist and Joshua Ernst with a hard move just over 2 miles into the race.

“I didn’t want to make it too hard too early,” Smith said. “And then when I decided to make the move, I wanted to go hard enough that the people around me would be intimidated and back off.”

Support Local Journalism

After being relegated to the indoor bike trainer and treadmill hikes all spring, Smith — who represented the U.S. at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand in 2022 — kicked off his summer campaign at the GoPro Mountain Games and Broken Arrow last month.

“I kind of took some risks and jumped into it pretty aggressively,” he said.

“As soon as I saw Cam, I knew this was going to be a fast race,” added Ernst, who finished in third (56:04). Originally from California, the Breckenridge runner once competed on the same Minnesota State University Moorhead track team as Sederquist’s twin brother. That type of small-world connection — discovered during a post-race interview — is vintage Vail Town Series stuff.

“I love the Vail series — I just love the people up here,” said women’s winner Alayna Szuch, who crossed the line in 1:00:36, just 36 seconds off her goal time. The 20-year-old mechanical engineering student at Colorado School of Mines has been coming to this event for more than a decade.

Alayna Szuch won the women’s race at the Vail Hill climb in a time of 1 hour, 36 seconds.
Maddie Lindley/Courtesy photo

“It feels like a second home,” she said. “My family just loves the environment here. We have a lot of friends and it’s great to keep seeing people I’ve known since I was eight.” 

Szuch is going to have to watch her back in the coming years. Cara, 11, finished in 1:13:08 to place second in the 19-and-under age group.

Eagle Valley runner Jackson Filmore competes in the Vail Hill Climb trail run on Saturday.
Maddie Lindley/Courtesy photo

The youngest division was led by a mix of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Nordic skiers and local cross-country talents. Eagle Valley’s Jackson Filmore (1:02:20) placed second, about a minute in front of SSCV skier Will Bentley. Bentley, a U.S. junior national champion, struggled with illness this past winter, but said he’s now feeling close to normal.

“In June, I slowly started ramping up,” the 17-year-old said. Bentley recently returned from the U.S. cross-country skiing National Training Group and Regional Elite Group camps in Bend, Oregon.

“It’s fun to actually be able to train,” he said. “But the fitness isn’t there. Today I just wanted a solid effort.”

Griffin Mazeski won the division and finished fifth overall in 57:45.

“It was really hard,” the Valor Christian rising junior said. “I looked at the map, but I couldn’t have really prepared for that.”

After helping his team to a fourth-place finish at state last year, the 16-year-old has increased his summer mileage to 60-70 miles a week in hopes of being a top-5 5A runner next fall. Even with the added threshold work, however, Mazeski said the gravel climb up Vail Mountain offered a foreign stimulus.

“You think when you’re going into this you’ll be flying up, but then you’re barely getting up the mountain and it’s tough,” he said. “It definitely hurt a lot more than I was expecting — more than a 2-mile probably.”

While Mazeski and Bentley will pile on hours preparing for their scholastic seasons, Szuch is getting ready for Crooked Gravel and the 70.3 Maine half-ironman. For Smith, the stakes are a bit higher next year: Skimo was added to the 2026 Olympic program.

Only 36 athletes — 18 male and 18 female — will fight for Olympic glory across two events in Milano Cortina. Twelve teams will competed in a mixed relay; those 24 athletes — plus 12 more — will compete in a men’s and women’s sprint event. With Italy’s automatic host-nation spot and two more coming from the top-two finishers at the 2025 International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) Mixed Relay World Championships, the most likely path for the U.S. to send athletes to the Games will be through the Olympic Mixed Relay Ranking list.

That means Smith and company need to have a good season next winter.

“It’s a big year,” he said. For now, however, Smith is content simply pinning a bib to his singlet again.

“I am doing a lot fewer workouts and a lot more races just because I want to be around all the people and be a part of the community and all the things I missed out on for two years,” he said. “I am really happy to be here and just be part of the race.” 

Support Local Journalism