Vail’s Kloser wins sixth Imperial Challenge |

Vail’s Kloser wins sixth Imperial Challenge

Adam Boffey
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Mark FoxMike Hagen, left, of Colorado Springs, and Mike Kloser of Vail take the lead as they skin up Imperial Bowl during Saturday's Imperial Challenge on Breckenridge's Peak 8. Kloser passed Hagen to finish first, while Hagen came in second, nearly 3 minutes behind the leader.

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado ” Seconds after Mike Kloser crossed the finish line for his sixth career Imperial Challenge victory Saturday at Breckenridge Resort, he was surrounded by his wife and two kids.

The meeting wasn’t marked by jubilation or celebration ” the interaction was more like, “Hey, Mike/Dad, how was it up there?”

Winning has simply become normal for Vail’s Kloser, who’s won more elite-level endurance and adventure races than his family can count with all of their fingers and toes.

Kloser’s 14-year-old son, Christian, was one of the first people to debrief the 6-mile bike ride, 3,000-foot climb and 3,000-foot ski, with the champ.

Dad will always be dad, but the interaction seemed more like two fellow competitors breaking things down. Actually, that was the case.

Watching Christian, who won the citizen’s course short race, talk to his dad about the 17th annual event, brought to mind two truths: Metaphorical apples don’t fall far from their trees, and age doesn’t’ really matter in the Imperial Challenge. (Competitors raced from the Breck Rec Center to the base of Peak 8, where they transitioned into gear that would get them up and down Peak 8).

Kloser, 48, finished the course in 1 hour, 24 minutes, 43 seconds, a lengthy-interview ahead of Hike Hagen (1:27:04) and Max Taam (1:28:02). (The reigning champion Jay Henry of Vail, didn’t compete).

Kloser, who holds the course record of 1:22.5, led the race out of the transition from biking to skiing, but was passed by Hagen halfway up the T-Bar. Very close to the Summit of Peak 8 is where the two frontrunners parted ways.

“I got him right at the top,” the winner said. “He skied around and I boot-packed up. … I felt like (the win) was slipping away on me for awhile today, but you just keep saying, ‘It’s not over until you cross the finish line.'”

“He started the downhill race about 10 seconds before me,” Hagen said. “But he’s such a better downhiller. I never saw him again.”

Taam, a 25-year-old Aspen racer, had smooth transitions in part, to thank for his spot on the podium.

“It’s pretty easy from biking to skiing, if you have it well-thought-out in advance,” Taam said. “But it’s easy to loose an extra 30 seconds or something at the top if you’re not quick.”

Whereas many racers stepped into boots that were already locked into bindings, Imperial Challenge poster man (the only person to compete in every single one), Mark Taylor, donned his ski boots at the outset of the race.

“A friend of mine, Pete Swenson, talked me into it the other night,” Taylor revealed when asked about his strategy. “He did it the year he won and thought it worked well. It’s just different for everybody. For me, it was just kind of odd pedaling in ski boots. But the transition (into the race’s uphill skiing leg) was instantaneous, that was kind of nice.”

Moms kick butt

Sari Anderson was Saturday’s women’s champion, finishing with a time of 1:42.54, ahead of Eva Hagen (1:51:29) and Colleen Ihnken (1:53.20).

All three women have infants or toddlers to look after.

“I didn’t compete at last year’s (Challenge) because I was afraid I would go too hard,” said Anderson, who gave birth in June, “that I wouldn’t be able to take it easy.”

With young (daughter) Juniper alive and well, this year’s race was not to be missed by Anderson, a teammate of Kloser’s on (adventure) Team Nike.

Anderson’s husband was out of town, but why would that be an impediment to her competing?

The Klosers kept their eye on Juniper during the proceedings and when it was over, the champ strolled off into the midday sun with one hand on her skis, one on her poles and both on an occupied all-terrain baby stroller.

Eva Hagen (the wife of men’s runner up, Mike), has a 14-month-old.

“I had a baby, so that helps,” said Eva Hagen, who logged her fastest Challenge time in four tries. “It increases the lung capacity.”

“A lot of people say that,” said Ihnken, who was on her way to rendezvous with her 2-year-old at a nearby day-care program. “I think you do get more motivated after you have a kid. You have to focus your energy on when you have time to work out, so it’s a little more intense.”

Ihnken won last year’s Imperial Challenge with a time that was 7 minutes slower than the one she clocked on Saturday.

Like many competitors who turn out for local event after event, Ihnken probably would have been smiling even if she missed out on the podium.

“It makes you realize no matter how you do, it’s about the people,” she said of the annual spring celebration, “the support and seeing all your friends out here.”

Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-4634, or at

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