SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah (July 25) - The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association is partnering with Soldier Hollow, the 2002 Olympic cross country venue, paying most of the cost for a new roller-ski loop as part of its Center of Excellence. After only a couple of training sessions on it, U.S. cross country and nordic combined skiers are raving about the intensity and effort required to conquer the "gnarly" uphill route as they prepare for the coming season.
In the scorching days of summer, the Ski Team and Soldier Hollow - the much-praised 2002 Olympic cross country complex about 20 minutes from Park City (where the two squads have their preseason residency programs) - created a new 1.5K roller-ski track, which opened in mid-July. Hermod's Hill became the marquee segment of the Olympic trails because of its dramatic, testing design by Norwegian Hermod Bjoerkestol in conjunction with John Aalberg, the Olympic venue manager, as they laid out the '02 Olympic trail system.
It drew plenty of attention during the 2002 Winter Games for its gut-busting toughness and steepness at a critical point in the distance races. The new paved, as-yet-unnamed, roller-ski loop boosts Soldier Hollow's blacktopped roller-ski terrain to about 7.5 kilometers.
"It's not very often you have a hill that steep," said 2007 SuperTour sprint champion Laura Valaas (Wenatchee, WA), who became the first U.S. woman to medal at the Under-23 World Championships last winter. After winning nine sprints on the SuperTour and competing at the World Championships in Japan, she was silver medalist in the sprint at the U-23s in Italy.
Valaas: Loop will boost your heart rate
The newly paved section adds more spice to the training landscape at Soldier Hollow and, she said, "It's a good hill - you can get your heart rate going up. The steep pitch at the top is pretty rough."
U.S. Nordic Director Luke Bodensteiner said, "We have good training terrain at Soldier Hollow and in the Park City area, but the one thing we haven't had is that one, tough uphill trail - but this is about as tough as we'll ever see. This really enhances the roller-ski training...and it helps keep them off the road during some of their roller-ski training, which adds to their safety.
He said the USSA's partnership with Soldier Hollow - helping in the design and helping underwrite design, construction and paving of the loop - is a part of the increased USSA support for cross country in recent seasons.
Said Head Coach Pete Vordenberg, "This is not a roller-ski loop for recreational skiers looking for a nice Sunday stroll, but it's pretty close to perfect for elite athletes and strong development skiers."
"No question, this is a gnarly loop, but it's just what our athletes need to boost their preseason training in several ways. Howard Peterson [Soldier Hollow general manager], [project coordinator] Andy Dahmen and the staff at Soldier Hollow did a great job accelerating the paving and getting it done for us."
Peterson praises steepness, USSA support
Peterson said, "This is a cliff as you approach it. It's close to Hermod's Hill - just a few meters away from that trail, but it's a different alignment and it's definitely steeper and longer." The steepest section is 20 percent grade, he said, noting, "That's steep."
He also was pleased with the USSA's role in helping make the expanded roller-ski network happen. "This is for elite skiers and although it's not on the site of the Center of Excellence, it's completely part of the Ski Team's commitment," he said.
"This fits perfectly with [the USSA's] Center of Excellence; it's tied in all the way, and it's cross country's part of that whole project," Vordenberg said. "It's our full-on commitment to excellence and preparing our athletes for success."
When it opens in March 2009, the Center of Excellence in Park City will have the strength and testing facilities while Soldier Hollow will continue to provide a vital part of the teams' dryland training.
"This is one more crucial element for us," the coach said.
Athletes praise testing terrain
"This adds more great terrain for us. That's always good," said two-time Olympian Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA). "I like to get as much terrain as possible. When you're roller-skiing on the roads, it's hard to find anything more than six degrees. They're usually long, gradual uphills, so having a loop, which is effectively paving over the ski trail, gives us what we need.
"I'll use it mostly in interval workouts," i.e., high-speed, short-burst drills to increase quickness, "but it's just good to have it to mix things around, give you something different," said Koos, the 2005 U.S. sprint champion who produced the first World Cup podium of his career last season in Estonia.
Valaas, a Whitman College graduate, is in her first season with the U.S. Ski Team. She said the smoothness of new macadam makes skiing the new trail enjoyable. "It's nice to have new paving; there's nothing like new blacktop," she said.
Olympian Leif Zimmermann (Bozeman, MT), who is coming back from a bout with mononucleosis, which torpedoed his 2007 season, agreed. "It's really nice to be able to get another hill in for intensity workouts. We were doing intervals the other day at about Level 3, like a race pace, and the hill was perfect," Zimmermann said. "It means we're to push a little harder, and that leads to some good improvement for us...
"Soldier Hollow has a couple of [paved] hills but this is two or three times as long. It's such a good option," he said.