Summit for Life benefit perks up the Aspen night

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
A record number of uphillers took off at the start of the ninth annual Summit for Life benefit at Aspen Mountain in 2014. Similar numbers are expected Saturday.
Aspen Times file photo |

Jennifer Mendez knows the way to the top.

She’s been there before.

Mendez charged up Aspen Mountain in the dark Saturday night to win the women’s competitive division of the ninth annual Summit For Life benefit for the Chris Klug Foundation.

Mendez, an Aspen personal trainer, won the night uphill for the second time, climbing 2.5 miles and 3,200 vertical feet in 58 minutes, helped by a brilliant headlamp and an equally brilliant full moon.

She pulled away late from runner-up Anne Gonzales, another former winner of Summit for Life.

Kim Master was close behind as Aspen swept the women’s podium in the event that raises awareness and money for organ and tissue donations.

“Great conditions,” Mendez said of the generally fast snow surface up Ajax. “It was great. Definitely good conditions for a fast race.”

Mendez, 42, said she enjoys supporting the Summit for Life cause and namesake Chris Klug.

“He’s always such a great supporter in the community,” Mendez said of Klug, the only organ transplant recipient to win an Olympic medal. “He’s a great athlete; he’s a great person overall. This is a fantastic race.”

Aspen also swept the men’s podium, led by winner Brian Johnson and runner-up Lucas Franze.

Aspenite Tyler Newton finished third

Johnson, a 44-year-old ski patroller at Aspen Highlands, won the 2014 Summit for Life in 50 minutes, 39 seconds.

“It took awhile (to win the uphill race),” said Johnson, who has participated in all nine Summit for Life events. “I had my friend Lucas with me.”

Johnson said he and Franze were out front together, particularly after the competitive uphillers left Spar Gulch and started up the final slopes of Aspen Mountain.

His pal kept him going, Johnson said.

“I know how strong this guy is, and he’s got legs that go all the way up to his neck,” Johnson said. “This guy can stride.”

Franze, for his part, said powering along with his friend made the uphill even more difficult.

“All I wanted to do was take a break, but you know you can’t,” Franze said.

“We’ve been racing around together for 15 or 20 years now,” said Franze, a ski and snowboard instructor and offseason carpenter.

The two raced in a snowboard giant slalom at Snowmass back in the mid-1990s — an event that featured American snowboard superstar Chris Klug before his liver transplant in 2000.

Franze and Johnson were snowboard forerunners on that course on Sam’s Knob.

But they were podium finishers in the Saturday uphill that included Chris Klug himself.

“It’s always a pleasure to support this event,” Johnson said. “And this year, it was so warm, … not a blizzard.”

A sold-out field participated this year with 500 uphill enthusiasts, most in the recreational division.

The fundraiser this year helped Summit for Life surpass the $2 million mark in funds raised in Aspen.

“It’s so rewarding at the end when you cross the finish line,” said 11-year-old Aspenite Jack Fox, who has done the uphill three times. “It’s a sigh of relief, and it feels so good.”

Fox, in the rec division, just nipped his mom at the finish line near the gondola station at the top of Aspen Mountain.

“We love it,” said Jack’s mom, Robin Fox. “Now my kids are old enough to do this.”

Michael Fox, Jack’s dad, also joined the festivities, which included a finish-line party at the Sundeck restaurant.

“It’s a family event, but they all seem to beat me,” Robin Fox said.

For results of the Summit for Life, visit


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