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Nordic enthusiasts find gives competition and camaraderie in Wasatch Citizens Series

by Adia Waldburger

of the Record staff

Cross-country enthusiasts are ringing in the New Year the way they know best on snow-packed trails, under sunny skies, duking it out against their neighbors and friends. Maybe it’s the exercise, maybe it’s the social benefits.

The Wasatch Citizens Series, a more than 30-year tradition in the area, is underway once again on the courses at White Pine Touring Center and Soldier Hollow, giving Nordic lovers the opportunity for a little competitive fun.

According to series spokesman Dave Hanscom, it’s the camaraderie that draw so many participants out year after year.

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"It’s a lot of great folks and people I’ve known for years," Hanscom said.

It was a bit of a slow start this season, with a lack of snow pushing back the start of the season to Dec. 20. But Hanscom reports that now that the snow is here, things are well underway. Soldier Hollow has a marked amount of snow pack and has had fresh snow for a few weeks and White Pine is finally catching up. On New Year’s Day, The Utah Nordic Alliance (TUNA) held its annual relay races at White Pine and Saturday, skiers will be back on snow for the second Wasatch race of the year.

The Wasatch circuit includes five races on courses at White Pine, Soldier Hollow and Mountain Dell all within an easy driving distance for Summit County residents. The series started three decades ago when cross-country lovers organized race around the Park City Golf Course. Since then, the race has grown incrementally, welcoming as many as 300 racers two years ago and averaging more than 200 for each race.

Each week, racers as young as eight and as old as eighty make the trek out to the event and compete for bragging rights — and a lollipop in the children’s case. There is even an open class that regularly welcomes elite skiers such as U.S. Ski Team members, Olympians and University of Utah skiers.

"The quality has grown," Hanscom said. "Many Ski Team members use the race as training."

But Hanscom is quick to say that the event is for everyone. The series welcomes those who cross-country ski recreationally or who are new to the sport. Hanscom said that there is a novice class that makes only lap around the course and is doable for even the newest of Nordic skiers.

Perhaps the fastest-growing age group is the junior skiers. Many of them are on the Park City Nordic Ski Club and improve rapidly each week. In the last few years, many young participants have gone on to ski in Division I college programs.

Hanscom laughed as he explained that, although they are designed to be "fun" races, there are many heated rivalries within each age group.

The races are also spectator friendly. With relatively flat courses, fans can follow the entire competition on foot or on skis.

The Wasatch Citizens Series has also become a family affair. Junior racers often convince their parents to start racing and it’s a good healthy activity that families can participate in all winter long.

Traditionally, most of the racers came from the Salt Lake area, but as the popularity of the sport has grown in the area, so has the number of Parkites that come out each week, making it about a 50/50 balance currently. Hanscom noted that Heber has started to make a good showing recently most likely a direct result of junior programs at Soldier Hollow.

Hanscom said that part of the series success comes from the volunteers. He remembers growing up in Maine and the commitment of the local citizens who came out week after week to make the races happen. The same goes for the Wasatch series, where the efforts of Nordic enthusiasts to put on the series year after year, makes it so successful. It was Hanscom’s great memories of the Maine races that first prompted him to get involved years ago and, he says, he is addicted these days.

He also notes that cross-country skiing is great exercise for any age. It is low impact but offers an intense total-body cardiovascular workout. Hanscom said he uses the Nordic season to recover from the beating he gives his body during the running and cycling season.

All series events are designed to be user friendly, so registration is always done on the day of the race.

There are four races remaining in the series. Hanscom says newcomers are not only welcome but encouraged to come out. Saturday’s race is a 15K classical race and will be held at White Pine, located at the Park City Golf Course off of S.R 224. Registration will be held from 8 to 9:30 a.m. with the competition starting at 10 a.m. For more information, call the White Pine Touring Center at 649-6249 or visit the TUNA website at http://www.utahnordic.com.