Vail’s Mike Kloser wins Summit for Life |

Vail’s Mike Kloser wins Summit for Life

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Racers trek towards the finish line at the top of Aspen Mountain Saturday.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Veteran endurance athlete Mike Kloser of Vail won the Summit for Life nighttime ascent of Aspen Mountain on Saturday.

The 55-year-old sprinted across the finish line near the top of the gondola just 50 minutes after he and the rest of the competitive field had left the start.

“I love this place. I love competing over here,” Kloser said. “I love competing against all the Aspen people. It’s always been a fun little rivalry. You know, Aspen-Vail.”

Brian Johnson, the Aspen Highlands ski patroller who won the 2014 Summit for Life, finished second Saturday, just two minutes back of Kloser.

Aspen native and former professional cyclist Jessica Phillips won the women’s race, making her a multiple winner in the winter climb of Ajax. She finished in 56 minutes this year.

Kloser first started winning events in Aspen at the Friday Freestyle competition at Aspen Highlands in the 1990s (and before). He’s won mogul contests, trail races, marathons, America’s Uphill and Summit for Life.

“The course was a little soft, … the whole course,” Kloser said, adding that the stretch up through Spar Gulch was intermittently soft and firm.

Saturday’s Summit for Life, the 10th annual benefit for the Chris Klug Foundation, was Kloser’s first competition since a recent surgery.

“I had a bicep tendon repaired two-and-a-half weeks ago, so I had to take it kind of easy,” he said. “I started hiking a few days after and then started doing a little skiing … uphill. I tried not to overdo it this week.”

Instead, he said he relied on his experience on Aspen Mountain, finishing nearly five minutes faster than the winning time last year.

The women’s top time also was faster than a year ago.

“I was behind this guy, and he was pacing me so well up to the bottom of (Lift) 3,” said Phillips, who led the women’s field from the start. “I think that was the key to my race, … a guy on snowshoes.”

Phillips, who was a standout multisport athlete at Aspen High School before a pro cycling career, said the snow seemed loose this year.

“Skis would have helped,” said Phillips, just back from France where husband Tejay van Garderen is training with his BMC team for the upcoming cycling season.

“Yeah, I think the skiing will be good (today),” Phillip said of the soft snow surface at Ajax.

The Summit for Life and the Chris Klug Foundation support awareness about organ and tissue donation.