Wild Rumpus Sports

The Sun Always Shines in SoHo

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.

One of six laps in the men’s 30 k classic mass start at U.S. Cross Country Championships on Jan. 6 at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah.

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.

Mountains of manmade snow at Soldier Hollow

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.

The view from up top at Soldier Hollow.

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).

Peeking past a mound of manmade snow at Soldier Hollow for a glimpse of the nordic center’s day lodge.

Soldier Hollow’s “solid”

Quebec/Canmore: That Was Cool.

(Sorry about the delay with this, we had a slight issue with our blogs… More recent update on Soldier Hollow coming up!) There’s something about arriving somewhere new in darkness that I love. It’s not that night that I care about, it’s the next day – waking up to new sights, landscapes, and if you’re lucky, places to explore. Quebec City was just like that. Even if you’ve been to a certain place before, as I had with Quebec’s capital, it’s exciting to go back a second time, especially during a different time of year. I got my first taste of the French-speaking province in March at Canadian Ski Nationals. Organizers were able to pull off one race downtown, a team sprint, on the Plains of Abraham. That’s where the Quebec World Cup was originally supposed to be, and the organizing committee wanted to use nationals as a test event….

Up Close and Personal at the Birkie (with Video)

My feet placed firmly on the floor where the center console should have been, I braced myself for any bumps in the snowy road ahead. At 5-foot-8, girls my size are too big to sit on a box in the middle of an Astrovan, but I was lucky to be there and had no complaints whatsoever. Andy Gerlach graciously let me tag along with the Salomon support team on Feb. 25 as they chased eight racers throughout the 2012 American Birkebeiner. That meant I could squeeze in a van loaded with skis, energy gels and water bottles and listen to Gerlach and the Birkie radio announcers narrate the 50 k race. What a great way to cover it. Hinging my head forward to avoid hitting the ceiling, I chatted with Gerlach in the driver’s seat and his passenger, Salomon Nordic Brand Manager Alex Haas. Once the man behind the Subaru…

The Weather’s Great in Wisconsin

Parked at the world-famous “OO” trailhead about halfway on the Birkie trail, I stood outside my little Nissan Versa rental trying to figure out what to wear after sitting in the car for more than five hours on Monday. I turned around to a man who looked like he was in his 80s and was carrying his waxless skis in crisscross fashion. He stopped at his vehicle next to mine. “Is it going to snow?” he abruptly asked me with a Scandinavian accent. I thought he said, “It’s gorgeous, no?” then put his words in context. It didn’t make sense why I would know with my Minnesota plates; I didn’t look like a weatherperson. Heck, I didn’t even look like a skier in my yoga pants and scarf. But the old man asked anyway, and I told him I heard something about an inch or two on Monday night. Suddenly,…

First Time in Rumford

I had heard a lot about Rumford. Born in Littleton, one of New Hampshire’s northern “cities,” I spent my early days on skis at Bretton Woods, where my dad was the nordic center director. But that was about as far east in the state as I remember venturing, except for the occasional visit to Mount Washington. From the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, Rumford was still an hour an a half away. It was in Maine for crying out loud. When would I have ever gone there? As a kid, that’s how I saw it. For the first nine years of my life, I grew up singing UNH rally songs with my grandfather and just assumed the Granite State was superior to the 49 others in this country. While I couldn’t know for sure, I was pretty confident were were better than Vermont, the upside-down version of New Hampshire….