Soldier Hollow prepares for Biathlon World Cup
As Park City prepares for its biggest sporting event since the 2002 Winter Olympics, Soldier Hollow is getting ready for a similar undertaking just down the road. On Feb. 14-17 it will host its first World Cup event since Games.
The venue went through one of its last major course tests on Jan. 18-19 when it hosted the junior national super qualifier, drawing more than 700 athletes from around the Mountain West to compete for places in the cross-country junior national championships. It also hosted a Utah Nordic Alliance Citizens Series Race on the 26th, but other than minor adjustments, the course was set.
“We’re basically skiing on what we are going to use for the Biathlon World Cup in a month,” said Scott Peterson, head of mountain operations at Soldier Hollow, as he stood beside the start area at the super qualifier. “We’re testing those courses to make sure they ski well.”
The track, which had several variations in length to accommodate the super qualifier, started with a full width of 11 classic lanes in the start area, then dropped down to eight, then four.
Peterson said it’s important everything be in order for when the World Cup arrives, though some of the preparation will be handled by World Cup biathlon staff.
Even though the super qualifier had far more competitors, Peterson said the World Cup will be more demanding. The World Cup competitors are the best in the world, competing for money, points toward the nine-stop International Biathlon Union World Cup series and for sponsorships, which will be overseen with strict rules and regulations from the IBU.
“It will be a completely different animal for us,” he said. “With biathlon, it’s getting so popular on European TV that it’s going to have to have a very specific look. … They have a whole marketing team that travels with them to set it up.”
The venue is simultaneously hosting the Legacy Winter Fest, a free festival to accommodate World Cup spectators with activities and entertainment while the races are spaced out for European TV. It will also be available for viewing on NBC sports.
But Soldier Hollow isn’t skimping on the local amenities. It’s planning on bringing in nine food trucks – including Lola’s Street Kitchen, Raclette Machine, Waffle Love, La Salsita and more – plus coffee from Park City Coffee Roasters, beer from Moab Brewery and Lagunitas, and music by blues guitarist Ana Popovic and The Swon Brothers.
There will also be face painting, ice sculptures, axe throwing, a petting zoo, a mechanical bull, owl demonstrations and the venue’s regular activities like snowshoeing and tubing.
The four-day event will consist of sprint races on Thursday and Friday, back-to-back pursuit races on Saturday, and relay races on Sunday.
It is expected to draw more than 180 athletes from an estimated 28 nations.
It’s a considerable departure in production value from the junior-level races that Soldier Hollow usually hosts, including junior nationals and junior worlds, though not out of the Midway venue’s wheelhouse in terms of size. It also hosts the Soldier Hollow Classic sheepdog festival, and the massive Dirty Dash fun races.
According to Peterson and Colin Hilton, president and CEO respectively of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, which owns Soldier Hollow, the venue will continue to seek out international competitions as Utah angles to host another Olympics in 2030. However, it could be some time before the venue gets a cross-country World Cup.
The next one in the United States has already been designated for Minneapolis in 2020, a nod to Minnesota native Jessie Diggins, who, along with Kikkan Randall, brought in the U.S.’s first Olympic cross-country gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Peterson said Soldier Hollow also sought biathlon first because of its endorsement structure.
“The cost of putting on a biathlon is not quite as great as a cross-country race in the current system,” he said. “But as we get closer to the Olympics, it will definitely become more of a reality.”
For now, Peterson and the Soldier Hollow staff are focused on the present, including a few minor adjustments to the course before the world’s best come to Midway.
“Now we have to go over the course and really make it look nice and ready for the World Cup,” Peterson said. “It will be polished.”
Park City Mountain Resort is scheduled to start limited summer operations on Saturday, including the operation of PayDay lift for hikers and bikers.