Olympians, skiers from around country race on wheels at Soldier Hollow
The competitive skiing season got a jump-start last weekend in the Heber Valley.
Roller skiers racing near Midway on Saturday said they were there for much more than just a morning cruise.
While audiences may be used to seeing Olympians like Luke Jager on snow, he was on roller skis for the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center's Schutzenski Festival.
“This is a pretty dorky facet of the sport [of skiing] in that it’s like short skis with wheels on them,” he said with a laugh. “Usually, we try and not let the general public know we do this, because it's not very cool.”
He credited Soldier Hollow organizers for putting on the event with hundreds of men and women competing in biathlon and cross-country.
“Soldier Hollow is awesome,” he said. “There's so much history here with the Olympics in 2002, and hopefully again in 2030. This event in particular, I did it last year; it's way bigger now than it was last year. It's just a great atmosphere and feels like a real ski race, even though it's only October.”
Jager competed in the 10K cross country race. Despite his good humor about the sport itself, Saturday came with major implications on the international competitive ski season.
Team U.S.A. cross-country, biathlon and Nordic combined athletes who raced in the biathlon were vying for a few spots still open in this year’s World Cup. Biathlon races Saturday counted toward men’s and women’s trials.
Olympian Sean Doherty took first place Saturday.
“Really good race,” Doherty said afterward. “We had good battles all the way through, and I was able to keep my shooting together and come out in front. It's kind of preseason for us, because we already start in a couple weeks in November. We're going to Europe to race. To try to test your race and execution — it was a really good day for that.”
This week, Doherty was named to the Pre-World Cup Training Camp in Vuokatti, Finland, along with Soldier Hollow’s own Vincent Bonacci.
Doherty represented the Vermont National Guard team, and Jager represented the U.S. Ski Team and the University of Utah. Other athletes hailed from Vail, Mammoth, Jackson Hole, Bozeman, Alaska and elsewhere around the country.
Winning her cross-country race by over 40 seconds was Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins, who drew consistent cheers especially from young fans in the crowd.
Zach Hall is a senior sport manager and coach for Soldier Hollow. He said the paved course that allows for roller ski racing is one of the venue’s underrated attributes. He also said events like Schutzenski on the home course motivate youth racers.
“One of the things that I'm always excited about is that they get a chance to meet some of the best athletes in the country and in the world, so it's pretty cool,” Hall said. “This also serves as an altitude training camp, so it's a final tune-up. That's why most of these athletes are here, they're boosting their levels a little bit, so just getting ready to head to Europe and whatever their first on-snow racing competitions are.”
A list of the full results of the weekend is available at this link.