When Steamboat ski patroller Cody St. John died six years ago on Easter Sunday, from injuries sustained in a car accident, his short life and his renowned on-mountain career were cut short.
But the Cody St. John Foundation, founded by his family after his death, has turned his legacy into new opportunities for patrollers — including three from Aspen and Snowmass — hoping to improve their on-mountain skills with medical training and education.
The nonprofit offers the only scholarship available exclusively to professional ski patrollers for medical training. Its primary fundraiser is Cody’s Challenge, an uphill and mountaineering race in Steamboat. This year’s is Saturday, April 6.
St. John, at 28, won Colorado Ski Country USA’s 2006 award for Patroller of the Year, though he’d only been on patrol for three years. He was on his way to the University of Wyoming for nursing school orientation at the time of his accident.
Three Aspen area patrollers have won St. John scholarships since 2011.
John Perko, who has been on Snowmass patrol for nine years, used his $1,000 scholarship in 2011 to help pay for paramedic school at HealthONE in Denver. He spent six months in intensive training there, before returning to patrol with a new set of skills.
“There are so many scholarships out there for people in so many fields but very few that just help patrollers,” said Perko. “Without that scholarship it would have meant me just putting more money on my credit card.”
As a paramedic he also earned a position with the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire District.
Fellow Snowmass patroller Andy Fisher followed Perko’s lead. He won the scholarship last spring, and used it, along with funds from the Elks Lodge and Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, to pay for six months in the accelerated paramedic program at Denver Health. He returned to Snowmass patrol in December, and was hired with the Snowmass fire department in January.
“It sounds like Cody led a great life, not unlike mine,” Fisher said.
This winter, Fisher is teaching free CPR certification courses in Snowmass, to pay forward the generosity that helped put him through school.
St. John’s parents visited here last year to meet the local scholarship recipients.
“They’re working real hard, trying to carry on what Cody was doing with his life,” Fisher said.
Aspen Highlands patroller Elliott Larson won a St. John scholarship last year and is using it to pay for nursing school. He’s currently in the residency program at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, working in the medicine specialties unit. Larson, who lived in Aspen for nine years and worked as a patroller for five, is hoping to bring his metropolitan hospital experience back to the slopes when he completes the program.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to gain nursing experience working [at] a busy hospital in a big city, and build up my confidence,” he said, “rather than try to work right away in a rural mountain town.”
Larson went to Steamboat last year to watch the Cody’s Challenge competition, which organizers are hoping draws 100 racers this year.
Corinne St. John — Cody’s sister and the foundation’s director of marketing — said they’ve drawn about 25 scholarship applicants per year.
This year, they’re giving eight scholarships, to be announced during this weekend’s festivities.
“This all happened out of a terrible tragedy,” she said. “But it’s great to know that we can contribute — even if it’s just a little bit of tuition for ski patrollers to hold their place in school. It’s been healing for us.”
The key part of the application is a personal essay, where St. John said they find kindred spirits of her brother who are passionate about the mountains and helping people.
“There’s definitely a common thread that they love to serve,” St. John said. “A lot of them remind us of Cody.”
To learn more about the Cody St. John Foundation visit www.codyschallenge.org