Ski mountaineering races at Growth in Wasatch

Two budding youth ski mountaineering programs took to the snow for a mid-season race at Brighton Ski Resort on Tuesday: the Park City Mountain Ski Team and the Park City Mountain Ski Team. Silver Fork. The two are the only teams in Wasatch and, through their friendly competition, they hope to develop the sport as a whole.

Standing in the dark in front of the Brighton Lodge car park, the two teams lined up with dozens of other skiers and formed a mass of headlamps at the start line. At the word of a race organizer, the runners set off and climbed in the aspens next to the Milly chalet and at the back of the track.

Ski mountaineering, or SkiMo, is a combination of Nordic and alpine skiing. Skiers run around a course that typically incorporates elements of cross-country skiing, shoe packing and climbing, and downhill skiing.

“At night the biggest challenges can be the cold, the dark and doing whatever you do in SkiMo in the dark, and navigating more difficult descents,” said Nina Silitch, head coach of the Park City team.

The Park City team rode the course and finished among the Silver Fork runners, with Jamerson Kent leading the Park City junior runners in second place, followed by Wesley Perkins in third and Declan Kryger in fourth.

Silitch said having two teams has made it more competitive as the sport begins to take hold in Utah.

“It’s great,” she said. “I mean it’s a great atmosphere, and sometimes we’ll have practice together.”

She and Sarah Cookler, the coach of the Silver Fork team, a neighborhood near Brighton Resort, both started coaching last year after talks with Utah Ski Mountaineering.

“It started with the neighborhood team – skiing around the neighborhood and coming in and playing,” Cookler said after the race.

As her students paraded, she caught the attention of a skier and congratulated him.

She said he was one of two neighborhood kids who saw her on tour, and after seeing the season’s highlight – the Powder Keg – in her backyard, asked if she would train him. , him and a friend, for the event.

“(They) approached me about two weeks before the Powder Keg when they were 8 and 10 and said, ‘Hey, I think I want to try it,'” Cookler recalls. “I was like, ‘Guys, let’s try.'”

She said that at the time the Powder Keg, a three-day event, didn’t have a junior division, so the kids raced with the adult recreational skiers.

“An 8-year-old girl, who can’t really ski, slammed the entire Powder Keg,” she said. “Then we kind of grew her up and started training once a week and then last year was a formal start for the team and they just kept growing.”

The teams will both end their seasons with the Powder Keg, which will also serve as a race for US nationals after the planned site in New Mexico does not receive enough snow.

Both teams will compete in the sprint race on Friday and the individual race on Saturday, which Cookler said would mean around 3,000 to 3,500 feet of climb for the junior competitors, but she said they were ready to do it. .

“These kids, they’re on running gear and 30 second transitions,” she said. “They crush it.”

According to race organizer Eric Bunce, the teams are part of a growing trend in ski mountaineering in the Wasatch Range. He said the sport has grown exponentially since its first races were held in Brighton just under a decade ago.

“It’s gone from five to 10 guys, to 20, to 50; and now 80 to 100 is pretty average most nights, ”he said.

Utah Ski Mountaineering, which hosts the Brighton races and the Powder Keg, plans to expand to more venues, starting with two races at Solitude Mountain Resort in the coming weeks, and hopefully more in the seasons. future. Bunce said SkiMo organizers had also been in contact with Snowbasin station about potential races there.

“But what I would like to see is more sites in Wasatch instead of just being in Brighton – showcasing the whole of Wasatch and all the great resorts that we have here,” he said. declared.

Thanks to growth, Brighton’s seven-race series has not lost its original charm. Just like in its first edition, the races always start near Thanksgiving and continue until the Powder Keg at the end of February.

“They kind of set up a free run and handed out pies to the winners,” Bunce said of the series’ origins. “And we keep this tradition alive. There are pastries for the winners tonight.

Cookler said she and Silitch are hopeful more teams join in the future, but for now the little rivalry is working well.

“Who knows?” she said. “Maybe some of these kids will be our next Olympians.”