The president of the local Summit ski mountaineering association and the United States, Ram Mikulas, does not mince words when referring to the vertical discipline of ski mountaineering.
“It’s pure suffering of endurance capacity in a short period of time,” Mikulas said. “And that’s where Grace is great.
Mikulas was referring to Grace Staberg. The 19-year-old from Silverthorne is the US team at the International Ski Mountaineering Federation’s world championships this week in Andorra. On Thursday, March 4, Staberg achieved her greatest accomplishment to date, en route to a silver medal as the youngest competitor in the U-20 uphill race.
“She can dig deep and can get into a cave of pain and just focus on the finish line,” Mikulas said. “It’s a very simple but very demanding discipline. A lot of people are nervous or afraid of it because it just hurts. In aerobics, you just put in maximum effort.
Staberg crossed the finish line of the 400-meter vertical gain course in 19 minutes and 32 seconds, 18 seconds off the championship pace of Staberg’s Italian friend Samantha Bertolina, who visited Summit County and stayed with Staberg in the summer of 2019 as part of an intercontinental ski mountaineering friendship.
The Staberg Silver Medal is a statement for American ski mountaineering in a sport historically dominated by European countries. It is also a testament to the commitment of her and her coaches to do everything in their power to ensure that the ambitious young American has competitive opportunities at the highest level despite all the obstacles she and the contingent have. Americans had to overcome amid the pandemic.
Staberg has spent the season living alone in the mountains of France and training with French ski mountaineering coach and legend Laetitia Roux after being forced to apply for and re-apply for a travel visa. Since coming to Europe, Staberg has competed in the Coupe de France and the World Cup.
While Staberg was coached by Roux overseas, her longtime coach Joe Howdyshell of Breckenridge – the head coach of the U.S. national team – helped organize and plan her training schedule from the snow. home. Howdyshell’s teamwork with Roux and other members of the American ski mountaineering community has made Staberg the only North American to compete in Andorra.
All of this led Staberg to take the lead with Bertolina before Staberg excelled in the competitive situation she loves the most.
“I really like the feeling of being completely exhausted,” she said. “I really like being able to push my limits. “
Howdyshell described Staberg as the kind of athlete who “knocks down one wall, then walks over to the next and starts nibbling at it.” He praised Staberg’s mental toughness for being isolated in a foreign country during the winter and staying positive despite some disappointing results earlier this season to finally climb onto the sport’s biggest stage.
For Howdyshell, Staberg’s entire journey this season is about who she is as a person. When she visited France months ago, it was in doubt if the French curfew and COVID-19 regulations would allow her to train for more than an hour a day.
Howdyshell said Staberg is an athlete who “knows what she wants”. Staberg said his goals for the future were twofold. On the one hand, it is his ultimate goal to win World Championships and World Cups at the U-20 and then senior level.
“I would like to be the best,” Staberg said.
“And then I think… a secondary goal that is important to me is to be a positive influence and inspiration for young athletes,” Staberg continued.
Mikulas said young American ski mountaineers from the Silver Fork Skimo Club in Utah to local Summit County athletes all admire Staberg and keep an eye out for his escapades in Europe.
And then there is the elephant in the ski mountaineering room: the Olympics. If and when the International Olympic Committee approves the sport for the 2026 Milano-Cortina Games, you can bet Italy will play their country’s strongest chances in all Olympic events, of which vertical numbers are a part.
And right next to an Italian snow hero like Bertolina, Staberg could be the American who introduces so many people in the United States to the new sport of the Olympics and continues to motivate young American girls everywhere.
“What she does helps them see what’s possible,” Mikulas said.