A preview of the cross-country junior national championships at Soldier Hollow | ParkRecord.com

A preview of the cross-country junior national championships at Soldier Hollow

Geneva Humbert (559) hustles up a hill on her first lap around the course at Soldier Hollow during the Utah Nordic Alliance's Wasatch Citizens Series 5 km race on Saturday, February 10, 2018. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)

All season, youth Nordic racers have been pushing themselves to the point of exhaustion in hopes of qualifying for one event: the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Cross-Country Junior National Championships.

From March 3-10, athletes from around the country will converge on Soldier Hollow for the biggest event of their season. Of the nearly 400 athletes will suit up, between 15 and 17 will represent Park City Ski and Snowboard, Wasatch Nordic and Team Soldier Hollow to compete.

If any of those athletes wins one of their four races, they will be named a national champion. But, the competition will be fierce.

According to Zachary Hall, biathlon program manager and wax technician at Soldier Hollow, athletes at this level have been training for several years (even those that are coming for the first time, at age 14). The younger athletes will likely have spent 300 hours a year training, while the older ones — the age limit is 20 — can train up to 700 hours a year.

Sarah Studebaker-Hall, cross-country program manager and head coach for Team Soldier Hollow, said most athletes won't have a certain finishing time in mind for their Nordic races regardless of their training.

"It's not like track or cross-country running times, because it depends so much on snow conditions," Studebaker-Hall said.

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Zachary Hall added that the athletes pick the speed they compete at based on the conditions they ski in — warm and "sloppy" conditions being slower than cold, hard snow.

"Then there's a team of coaches waxing those skis to make them as fast as possible," he said. "So when an athlete wins, it's a whole group effort that got them there."

So far, Studebaker-Hall said, conditions are looking fairly cold in the mornings, making for quick races.

There will be four races over the eight-day event, all of which will be free to the public.

The races are scheduled to start on Tuesday with a classic individual start race — either 5K or 10K depending on age. Wednesday features a skate sprint, then Thursday will serve as a practice day for Friday's 5k, 10k, and 15K mass-start skate races, which the Halls said would be fun events to watch.

"There's a lot of jockeying for position," Zachary said of the 75- to 100-person competitions.

Saturday's 3x3K classic relay will have fewer racers, but will have a clearly visible head-to-head element as teams from different regions compete against each other.

The Halls said the best place to watch is from the building in the center of the course, which gives a near-panoramic view and allows spectators to see the race's drama across the course.

There will also be food trucks — Waffle Love on Tuesday and Lola's Street Kitchen on Wednesday and Saturday. Spectators are welcome to bring a picnic. Soldier Hollow's lodge will be open for refreshments, and will rent out Nordic equipment when races have concluded each day.

For a more detailed schedule go to utaholympiclegacy.org/soho-events/.