Ski mountaineering team forms
Combining aspects of Nordic and alpine skiing, ski mountaineering is gaining popularity in America. To try to accelerate growth of the sport and to make the U.S. competitive at the international level, Nina Silitch and the Utah Olympic Park are teaming up to form the Park City Ski Mountaineering Team.
Ski mountaineering is a timed race that has athletes ascend a trail with skins on their skis before removing the skins and skiing downhill, sometimes through giant-slalom gates or over jumps.
Silitch, a two-time World Cup gold medalist, compared ski mountaineering’s growing popularity to the way another alpine sport crossed over to the U.S.
"I think it’s kind of like how mountain biking was about 30 years ago in the U.S.," she said. "It has a lot of roots in alpine nations in Europe. It’s been in their blood for so many years. It’s just now that parents [in the U.S.] have started to bring up their children to do it for both pleasure and competition. Now we’re developing that generation of athlete."
Silitch got her start in ski mountaineering while living in Europe. She said it was the perfect way to combine her diverse skill set into one sport.
"I had a Nordic and alpine background in racing," she said. "I was living overseas in the Alps and did my first Haute Route [a six-day trek between Chamonix, France, and Zermatt, Switzerland] and was hooked. I started getting into the night races, which have a really great ambiance. I ended up focusing more energy on it and ended up doing the World Cup circuit for probably about five years."
Now that she’s back in the States, Silitch said she’d like to get young athletes ages 14 and older involved in the sport.
"My goal is to get the youth out there," she said. "It’s going to be a sport that’s possibly on the docket for [the] 2022 [Winter Games] as an Olympic sport. I really want to help grow it in the U.S. so we can develop a national team for youth. We’ve sent national teams [to the World Cup] since 2007, maybe even 2005, but have never had more than one or two juniors on a team."
Silitch believes Park City is the perfect place to start the ski mountaineering team, thanks to its active background.
"This area, Park City in particular and the Wasatch region, it’s a great sport for the endurance junkie — someone who likes running, trail running, mountain biking and also skiing and being in the mountains, pushing themselves," she said.
Though ski mountaineering can be done in different settings, Silitch is focusing on one in particular for the new team.
"What I’m focusing on with the team is developing the competition side," she said. "There’s a lot of backcountry touring that goes on in the Wasatch, but this is geared more toward competitions, which are held at areas that, if they’re off-piste, are controlled for avalanches."
Eventually, she said, she’d like to get the team in competitions against other ski mountaineering teams in the area.
"Our ultimate goal is to develop our junior team," she said. "There’s also one down in Sandy and, ultimately, we’d like to compete against other juniors in Colorado and Wyoming."
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, Silitch will host an informational session at the Utah Olympic Park for those 14 and older interested in joining the ski mountaineering team.
"I really hope people come to find out a little bit more about the sport," she said "I will be presenting the progression and curriculum I hope to target and answer any questions and show any gear. The gear is a big component of the sport. I’ll show some videos and slides and really help get the word out to people. I think it’ll be a great sport for this area."
Wednesday’s meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at the Utah Olympic Park. For more information, visit http://www.utaholympiclegacy.org.
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