If you have the good fortune to spend time in the Gunnison Valley of Colorado, perhaps on Crested Butte Nordic’s extensive trail system, exploring the Elk Mountain backcountry on mountain bike or skis, or taking laps on Mount Crested Butte, you may cross paths with a friendly red-haired resident who is likely moving faster and breathing easier than you are. Known locally as an aerobic machine, 25-year-old Cam Smith embraces all mountain sports as training to support his burgeoning development as an elite ski mountaineering (SkiMo) racer.
Originally focused on running, Smith moved from Illinois to study exercise science at Western Colorado University in Gunnison. Embracing everything the school’s mountain sports program had to offer, Smith began trail running, mountain biking, cross country skiing with the USCSA program, and was convinced by his older sister, who was also attending Western, to be her teammate for the 40 mile Grand Traverse ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen.
Flash forward through a few years of dedicated skill development and steady progress: Smith was a member of the 2019-20 US Ski Mountaineering Association National Team and won two events at the 2020 National Championships, the uphill only vertical race in just under 20 minutes and the longer individual race which lasted 3 hours 48 minutes. (Because of the pandemic and a lack of qualifying events, a national team was not selected this season.)
Smith was selected to compete in the World Championships in 2017 and 2019, racing in additional World Cup races in the 2018-2020 seasons. His best international finishes to date include an 8th place finish in the team race at the 2019 World Championships in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland with partner John Gaston, and a 7th place World Cup team finish racing with Rory Kelly. Individually, he’s taken 18th in the vertical race at the 2019 World Championships, and 20th in a 2020 World Cup vertical race in Jennerstier, Germany.
Alongside his 20-plus hour training weeks (often with astounding amounts of vertical gain), Smith plays a variety of roles within the Crested Butte community, including coaching the masters’ performance groups and youth programs at CB Nordic, assisting adaptive athletes on the mountain through the Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center, and teaching strength and conditioning classes at a local gym.
In response to the pandemic, Smith shifted his focus to the well-established local racing opportunities. Instead of chasing a World Cup top-15, he made a goal of setting a new course record on what he calls “The Elk Mountain Classics”: the Gothic Mountain Tour in Crested Butte, the Power of Four in Aspen, and the Grand Traverse. Smith also hopped into two of the CB Nordic town series interval start skate races, winning each.
At the time of our call, Smith had checked two of the three course record boxes: dropping the Gothic Mountain Tour record by over ten minutes to 3:37:06, and the Power of Four record by thirteen to 4:15:21 with World Championship partner John Gaston. As cross-country skiers well know, conditions on the day impact the possibility of chasing these records, but the results are nonetheless a testament to fitness and strength. Smith was lucky enough to have the two factors align symbiotically on the day.
Given his humble and easygoing nature, he probably wouldn’t tell you about any of this unless you knew to ask.
Smith also looked outside athletic development for his season goals. Dedicating his training and race performance at the Grand Traverse to Living Journeys, a local nonprofit that holistically supports individuals with cancer and their families during treatment, Smith set out to raise $15,000. This goal has already been exceeded; however, if you’d like to support his cause, you can donate here.
It also turns out Smith and his partner for the Grand Traverse, Tom Goth, set a new course record in 6:06:24 on Saturday.
In this conversation, Smith shares more about his development from mountain-sport-newbie to national champion. We also discuss how he still includes nordic skiing to support his SkiMo training, and how a versatile approach to yearly training paired with some sport-specific blocks could serve masters athletes focused on premier races like the Birkie.
Thanks for listening.
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Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646