When I first heard U.S. nationals were going to be in Soldier Hollow, I was flat-out jazzed. Yes, that’s the word I was looking for.
Images of a brightly lit landscape under a bluebird sky and sun reflecting off seemingly endless kilometers of snow fluttered through my mind.
I had been to the cross-country ski resort made famous by the 2002 Olympics once before at Junior Nationals last March. Even though that involved long days standing alongside trails watching one age group after another ski by, it was a lot of fun. I got a sunburn on my face, under my nose and over my ankles (don’t ask), but who’s gonna complain about that? If you come home with a tan from work trip, it’s a good thing.
Nationals would probably be different. For one, they were in January, but I figured the weather would still be awesome then. This was Utah for goodness sakes, one of the first states I visited upon resolving to move to out West after college (don’t ask why I live in eastern New York now).
Brimming with excitement for my upcoming trip, I returned home from the World Cup in Canmore, Alberta, to dire forecasts for the Park City-region. Soldier Hollow was hurting for snow, and organizers were being up front about it. Nationals weren’t in question, but the size of the loop racers would ski on was.
Oh boy, I thought. One beautiful venue and Mother Nature’s going to let it go to waste. Then it snowed in upstate New York, feet upon feet, and last year’s U.S. nationals host – Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine – got perhaps the most snow of anybody in the region.
Funny, I thought. But not really.
It seemed the curse of nationals, with low snow challenging organizers the past couple years, had spread west. I tried not to think about it too much and spent the in-limbo time enjoying the snow in my own backyard and at local ski areas.
Then the news came, and I checked the online to confirm: Utah was also getting snow, and a foot or more of it.
Suddenly, I started feeling excited all over again, and asked my personal wax tech (a.k.a. my dad) if he had time to wax my skis before I left. The man did great work and within a few days I found myself happily cruising up and down the SoHo trails. The altitude bit me a bit at nearly 6,000 feet, but staying up in the nearby Park City (at almost 7,000 feet), I joked that we were living high, training low.
Except that my “training” skis were really just baseline, let’s-see-if-I-can-get-in-shape-again jaunts. Either way, toward the end of the 10-day trip, I started to feel better, last longer and explore higher reaches of Soldier Hollow’s 30-plus-kilometer trail system.
While trails like “Little Buckaroo” and “Goin’ Home” keep you coming back for more, one of my favorites turned out to be one of the most challenging: Roller Coaster. (Note: I HATE hills.)
It must’ve been SoHo’s lack of oxygen that made me feel giddy, or the sheer endorphin rush of the largely treeless landscape with tiny shrubs dotting the hillsides. The rollercoaster trail kept climbing, then descending, then shooting up higher toward the top of Hollow’s encompassing range.
At the high point, I could’ve taken off my skis and walked to the very top, but I decided I was close enough with a similarly unrivaled view of the entire ski area. I stopped, snapped a few photos and weaved back down to the stadium and media workspace inside a charter school (kids were on break, so we used their classrooms and desks for the week).
Pre-race and off-day skis like that were certainly a bonus and exactly what I had been hoping for in my visit to Soldier Hollow. But overall, they were a small part of the highlights: seeing both race favorites and underdogs win and athletes start to believe in themselves continually added to the experience. We covered adaptive races, heard some inspiring background stories, and watched one man finish a 15 k sit ski on two broken skis.
Meeting and interviewing different people, as always, kept the work fun and fresh. It didn’t hurt that the sun was out, either, and just as I wanted, I came home with a tan (on my face, or maybe it was windburn. Either way, it was color).