If you ask Josh Woodbury, he’ll say Charlie Jones started it.
Jones started putting up between four and seven human-powered laps a day on Snow King Mountain after the resort unveiled its Uphill Challenge.
“He had a huge lead in vertical,” Woodbury said. “He was doing lots and lots of laps daily. That motivated me to do a lot of laps.”
That kicked off a friendly duel that netted Woodbury and Jones top honors in total vertical — 171,055 and 108,404 feet, respectively — scanned this winter in the Stio-sponsored Snow King Uphill Challenge.
New to town, Jones, a 26-year-old wildlife biologist by training, learned about the contest from a co-worker at Teton Mountaineering.
“I thought I’d just really go for it in January,” Jones said. “In the beginning I was just competing for everything.”
Jones challenged himself to hit the Town Hill every day — whether booting up or using climbing skins to ascend on skis. He also raced the clock because the contest offered prizes for both most vertical and fastest times.
Snow King invested $30,000 in hardware and software to allow uphill pass and season-pass holders to use radio-frequency identification technology to track their trips. Pass holders first scanned their passes at the base of the Summit or Rafferty lifts and then again at their destination, which could include the midmountain pump house, saddle or Panorama House.
“I think it’s a first of its kind at a ski area in the country, as far as I know,” resort General Manager Ryan Stanley said. “There’s no other uphill scan system that uses your season pass to track you.”
Although there are plenty of apps and scanners designed to log downhill travel, what makes Snow King’s system unique is the focus on tracking uphill trips, Stanley said, crediting the Jackson mountain apparel brand Stio with getting the contest going.
“Their initial sponsorship was instrumental in making it happen, and successful, this winter,” Stanley said.
The scanning system and website allowed competitors to easily keep tabs on one another. Jones recalled watching another local, Colter Lane, close in on his lead via the website. So after work he headed out with a headlamp to preserve his lead.
“January was the most heated month of people being close in vertical,” Woodbury said.
Chasing Jones along with other motivated competitors like Lane and Josh Fuller, Woodbury started to mull his upper limit for laps in a single day.
“At the beginning of the month I was very proud of myself for a three-lap day, then it just escalated,” Woodbury said.
After watching Jones, he wondered if he could do more. The answer: 10 laps, totaling 15,800 vertical feet, in 11 hours.
“I was like, ‘Has anyone ever skied the King that long?’” Woodbury said. “I’m 49 years old. I couldn’t really go fast.”
So he paced himself and fueled up with some chocolate and soda. Woodbury said he wanted to see others beat the 10-lap day.
But when asked why he didn’t one-up Woodbury, Jones laughed.
“Well, first of all that’s ridiculous,” he said. “That’s an incredible thing to do.”
Woodbury was quick to point out that athlete Meredith Edwards has logged 18,000 feet in 13 laps in a day on Snow King — a feat she completed long before the dawn of the Uphill Challenge. Logging that much vertical isn’t uncommon in the backcountry where Woodbury typically spends his time.
But he said: “You can really rack up some vertical on the King if you want to.”
Then, he paused: “The question is why would you?”
The winners did earn bragging rights, scenic sunrises and sunsets, fresh powder turns and prizes, including Stio jackets.
“It was a way to be committed to being outside and staying active the whole winter,” Jones said.
Woodbury liked “the chill vibe.”
“It’s just so refreshing,” he said. “I met a lot of the contestants, and they’re all like so positive and pumped on it.”
Woodbury even took to lounging in a camp chair in the parking lot in between laps.
“Most of the people that are doing it are nine-to-fivers, and it works for exercise,” he said.
Woodbury, who works nights as a server at a local restaurant, enjoyed being able to sleep in instead of getting up early to drive to a backcountry trailhead.
“It became my routine,” he said of the King. “You can kind of become a little obsessed with it.”
Early in the winter as the competition intensified, Jones and Woodbury bumped into each other for the first time at a scanning station.
“So we did a second lap together,” Jones said.
Now that the contest is over, both skiers said maybe they’ll meet up to go for a ski tour in the backcountry.
You can see the full results here.