VAIL, Colorado - The events in the Winter Mountain Games are a showcase of what the human body is capable of, but the mixed climbing competition seems more like a showcase of what the human body shouldn't be capable of.
Sam Elias, of Boulder - and formerly of Glenwood Springs - stands at just under 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 135 pounds. He's solid muscle, and after climbing a 55-foot wall made to resemble both ice and rock climbing surfaces over and over again Friday, he defended his win from last year and took home first place.
At the end of the competition Friday night, he was sweating and his hand was bleeding from a nasty cut on his finger that he wasn't sure how he got. It could have been the massive ice-climbing ax he used throughout the day to climb his way up to the top - maybe.
"I'm not sure," Elias said. "I cut the palm of my hand open earlier, too."
He didn't seem too worried about it, even as he sopped up the blood with some tissues while photographers snapped pictures of him. He was just happy to put a long day of climbing behind him and to claim the $5,000 purse.
"This format fits me a little bit. The route was a lot harder this year and it's just a long day and I feel like that caters to me, but I'm actually sick, too," Elias said. "I just didn't really know what to expect and I just tried to do my best."
The field of competitors and the crowd of spectators were both smaller this year, but the talent was strong. Elias went up against a new Winter Mountain Games athlete, Scott Adamson, of Utah, who has experience as a backcountry ice and rock climber.
He's mainly an ice climber and Friday was his first time ever in a competition.
"I do a lot of climbing, but it's in the backcountry, so this stuff is wild - you're doing some wild moves," Adamson said. "It's fun, there's a lot of energy and really fun people to climb with."
Adamson hopes to be back next year and said he looks forward to keep up with the sport. Unfortunately on the women's side, though, two out of three of last year's competitors didn't return, leaving the women's field slim.
Dawn Glanc, of Ouray, was the only woman who competed Friday, meaning she went up against the men. It pushed her harder - she wanted them to view her as a strong competitor.
"I don't want to finish last place against the boys - if anything, I want to try to beat them," Glanc said.
Glanc won last year's mixed climbing competition for the women, and this year she made it to the semi-finals against the men. She "topped out" in all four of her climbs, too, meaning she made it all the way to the top of the wall and never fell.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, for Glanc, there aren't a lot of American women who compete in mixed climbing. She said it's popular in Europe and Canada, but American women just haven't latched onto the sport. She tries to encourage other women to enter competitions, but some women just don't feel they're up to the level of competing yet, she said.
"I always say every year, 'let's see you out there,'" Glanc said. "All you have to do is get out there and try."
It's easy to see why there's an intimidation factor with this sport - maybe it's the axes, or the totally vertical wall or the inhuman bending and twisting seen in the inverted moves known as figure fours and figure nines.
"Sometimes when routes are so steep and there's no where to put your feet, you have to do those moves - it's just showcasing the diversity of movements that you have to do in mixed climbing," Elias said. "They're wild moves, but fun - really physically taxing. It's cool they incorporated that this year."