Badasses. By day, they humbly tune your bikes and skis, work as first responders and pediatricians, assess our snowpack for avi danger, and serve you perfect flat whites at local cafes. After hours, they morph, Clark Kent-like, into hard- charging endurance athletes who win famed 100-mile ultras, summit Himalayan peaks, ski some of North America’s most highly technical ski mountaineering descents and earn national titles in endurance mountain biking, off-road triathlons and ski randonee races. Some are unsung and understated, preferring to pursue their mountain passions outside the spotlight of organized races or sponsorship; others compete at high levels at premier events around the world.
Breckenridge, Colo. is filled with highly accomplished endurance athletes whose penchant for suffering is matched only by their abiding passion to spend as much time as possible in the beauty of the high mountains. Below are profiles of four talented locals who call Breck home.
Teague Holmes: Ski Mountaineer and Climber
Last winter, he raced at the International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships in Switzerland as a member of the Men’s US National Team. Earlier this spring, with fellow Breckenridge resident Mike Schilling, he notched a ski descent of The Otter Body, a no-falls, extremely technical ski mountaineering route on the east face of the Grand Teton, a route summed up one Jackson mountain guide with the dire statement that “if you fall on the East Face of the Grand, that’s a closed casket funeral.”
For fun, this summer, he’s planning to run a 75-mile trail loop that summits every peak visible from Main Street Breck, gains 26,000 feet of elevation and travels along exposed, dicey ridgelines – a good portion of which he’ll traverse at night. He also climbs 5.12+ (Trad and Sport), is a talented mountain biker, and can ski backwards with more skill and grace than a significant portion of Summit County’s thousands of annual visitors. What’s most impressionable about the multifaceted mountain athlete Teague Holmes, however, may well be his endless, ebullient psyche for the mountains, no matter the conditions.
“I never regret going out the door,” says Holmes. “When it’s dark and minus twenty degrees and you’re heading up for a few laps on Peak 8 with your headlamp after work at 9 PM because you know you have to train, that’s the best part. Because what that represents, for me, is the sacrifices made to reach for something big. The objective pulls you out the door, but the thing that’s truly inspiring, really, is the choice to do that hard work when it would be so much easier not too.”
“To be in these incredible places and share that experience with incredible people and friends; to live in a place where so many people are motivated to make moving through mountains a big part of their life – I am constantly inspired by that. I would not be the person I am today without it.”
Helen Cospolich: Ultra runner
How does a woman who lives at nearly 10,000 feet in a town that sees barely three snow-free months a year become a highly accomplished and sponsored ultra runner –– all while juggling a demanding full-time job and parenthood? Discipline. Lots of it.
“I have never considered myself a truly gifted athlete, but I have always been a very dedicated one,” says Helen Cospolich, a Breckenridge local who has competed in over eighty ultra distance events. The petite blonde squeezes in the hours required for her favored sport through disciplined early morning training sessions that start at 4:30 AM and trading long run/ride days with her husband Jeff Cospolich, a competitive mountain bike racer.
During the height of her running career, Cospolich’s discipline translated to race results that garnered her sponsorships with Nike and The North Face and propelled her to the podiums of esteemed ultras around the world. The discipline to arise daily in the pre-dawn hours also translates to perfect mental training for a competitive sport that requires tolerance for sleep deprivation, extreme fatigue, and environmental challenges ranging from hypothermia to heat stroke. “I’ve had a lot of challenging experiences in the 100 milers in which I’ve competed,” notes Cospolich. “Everything from hallucinating to sprained ankles, to extreme dehydration and severe electrical storms. In the mountains you learn to be self-sufficient, and it helps to be pretty stubborn as well.”
Despite the impressive race resume, Cospolich’s passion for running comes from a deep desire to travel simply through the mountain landscapes she loves while connecting with fellow members of the trail running tribe.
“I got into the sport because I wanted to move through the mountains and experience new trails,” says Cospolich “I love the mountains and feel so alive when I am alone on the trails, especially at higher elevations. I really cherish all of the experiences I have had through running, but especially the experiences of new places when I have the opportunity to travel abroad. I have some wonderful memories in Europe, Scandinavia and Central and South America, in particular; I feel very lucky to have had those experiences.”
Josh Tostado: Endurance Mountain Biker
In 2002, when he was 26 years old and still living out of his van in Breckenridge while competing in slope style park skiing, Josh Tostado decided to try his hand at mountain bike racing. Most cyclists might choose a short, friendly course for their race initiation. Not Tostado. He signed up for Montezuma’s Revenge, a grueling, underground ultra endurance mountain bike race comprised of a succession of unmarked, rugged, high altitude backcountry loops starting and ending in the tiny town of Montezuma. The goal was to ride as many miles of the 200-mile course – which traveled ten times over the Continental Divide and gained over 37,000 feet of elevation– as possible in 24 hours. One loop mid-way through the race required participants to strap their bikes on their backs and haul them up nearby 14,270 ft. foot Gray’s Peak in the middle of the night, navigating off trail over loose talus and snowfields by headlamp.
Tostado placed fourth in his maiden appearance, racing against some of the sport’s best riders. He took the next year off to surf in Costa Rica. Then he returned to the mountains to train and, in 2004, took the overall win at Montezuma’s with a new course record. The year after, he set another new record by riding 156 miles of the course, climbing 32,350 feet along the way. Race Director Bryon Swezy is reported to have said of that effort that what Tostado had done “exceeds what we all thought a human being was capable of — physiologically and psychologically.”
Tostado began to race regularly after his Montezuma’s wins and channeled his phenomenal talent for racing hard and long at altitude to become one of the top endurance mountain bike racers in the U.S. He’s dominated the grueling Breck 100, taking home the overall title ten times. He’s won the USA Cycling 24-Hour Mountain Bike National Championships- four times. Last year, he placed 2nd at the World Solo 24-Hour Endurance Mountain Biking Championships.
For years, Tostado carved out time to train by working winters and living a frugal life style that allowed him to train for hours all summer long in the mountains he loves while road tripping across the country to race. Now, at age forty, he continues to ride his way onto the podium on a regular basis, but with the added benefit of a sponsorships. He still lives the road life in the summer, traveling to races with girlfriend and fellow professional mountain bike racer Marlee Dixon.
“If you calculate all the money that I’ve spent and lost pursing the sport, I don’t know if I’d want to do that. It’s going pretty good now – now that I’m almost too old for it,” laughs Tostado. “But I’ll keep doing it until they kick me out. I see so many older people that are super fit and so strong and they’re still getting after it. If you have the motivation and the drive, you just keep doing what you’re doing. What keeps me doing it is that I get to ride my bike all the time. For the most part, that –– and being in the mountains –– is what it’s about. But I love racing too. Racing pushes you so much farther than you would ever do on your own. You learn so much about yourself –– and it definitely pushes you to places you wouldn’t go to if you were just riding on your own. That’s why I’m so glad my life went in this direction.”
Nikki LaRochelle: Ski Mountaineer and Mom
Sometimes, the place you reside and the people you meet shift your life in powerful ways. That’s the case for Nikki LaRochelle, a former self-proclaimed artist-barista urban hipster who moved to Breckenridge from Seattle eight years ago and has morphed, since then, into one of Breckenridge’s most talented up and coming endurance athletes.
Bonding with a tribe of like-minded, passionate-for-the-mountains hardcores and marrying one of them –– husband Brad LaRochelle is an extremely talented, climber, cyclist, and skimo athlete –– introduced LaRochelle to many of the sports she now excels in. Five years ago, while they were still dating, Brad asked Nikki to be his teammate at the Power of Four skimo race in Aspen, a challenging endurance race which ascends 12,000 feet of elevation over a 24-mile course. The experience exhausted her to the core, but she was hooked on the sport. Four years after entering her rookie race, LaRochelle qualified for the Ski Mountaineering World Championships in Switzerland. This spring, at the famed Elk Mountains Grand Traverse, a challenging 40-mile skimo race between Crested Butte and Aspen that traverses the Elk Mountains at night, she placed 2nd with partner Eva Hagan, racing against the best female ski mountaineers in the country –– a mere six months after having a baby and just a few months after knee surgery.
While LaRochelle possesses a healthy competitive drive and is extremely disciplined about her training, she’s dedicated to finding a balance between racing and other aspects of life that are deeply important to her: her art, her family, and giving back to her community and the larger world.
“I’m very competitive but I’m also not a professional athlete or anything close to one. This is a mantra I repeat to myself if guilt ever creeps in – i.e. ‘Forego run for happy hour?’ (That approach) may not be the best for my sporting, but is really good for my friendships and my head space. I fight for balance in my life. Time with my husband. Time with my daughter. Time with my friends. Time making art and baking and hell, watching terrible TV.”
Part of the balance for LaRochelle is ensuring that time in the mountains is also filled with non-race adventures shared with husband Brad and other like-minded mountain spirits. The two attempted to climb all of Colorado’s 58 14’ers two summers ago. They had to squeeze most of the attempts into weekends between their day jobs, which meant having to attempt some climbs on inopportune days of scary and sketchy bad weather –– and the occasional midnight hitchhike back to the trailhead. One summit required an 18-hour ridge push covering 26 miles to reach the summit of Culebra. Snow prevented them from reaching the final two peaks on the tick list, but the experience helped ignite LaRochelle’s current passion.
“Long, spicy ridge ascending and traversing is what I’m most passionate about right now,” says LaRochelle. “I grin when I think about long summer days when you start an adventure at 3:00am and finish late in the afternoon. My passion lies in thinking about what I can accomplish – how far can I go? How technical of a ridge can I traverse? How much vertical can I climb?
“I’m also driven by my friends who are like-minded and driven in a similar way. Some are pushing the limits far beyond what I thought was even possible…. Everyone seems really supportive and happy to see what everyone else is doing. If and when I try a long ridge traverse later this summer, I know a dozen people who would be gracious and happy to help me – set up an aid station, drive a car, bring me a snack. That’s just how we roll here. Like, ‘Hey can you climb up to 14,000 feet at 2:00am and bring me some water?’ ‘Sure, what else do you need?’ How great is that?”