This week's heavy snowfall in the Wood River Valley reminded Boulder Mountain Ski Tour race director Kevin Swigert of the March 16, 1975 date when fewer than 100 skiers took part in the same event—then called the third annual Galena/Sawtooth Marathon.
Wood River High School graduate Swigert was a 20-year-old local pioneer in cross-country skiing. At the time he was the top performer on the newly formed Sun Valley Junior Nordic Ski Team, indeed, the Intermountain Division's top junior racer in 1975 and 1976.
It snowed like crazy during the 30-kilometer (18-mile) race--8 or 9 inches--forcing Swigert to break trail as race leader. Visibility was awful. The new snow made for hard work. Swigert remembers eventual runner-up Hans Burkhart from Tahoe bearing down on him, right behind, somewhere close in the storm.
He recalled, "I remember trying to feel where the tracks used to be—and I remember (Bob) Rosso coming out from the finish line on a snowmobile to see how we were doing."
Swigert (2.05:50) saved a final push and held off Burkhart by two minutes. A year later, Swigert was a two-time national champion at Big Sky, Mont. He then became head coach of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation's Nordic Team.
Now 53 and a Hailey resident out Croy Canyon, three-time Boulder Tour winner Swigert is race director of the 33rd annual Wells Fargo Boulder Mountain Ski Tour, one of the country's premier ski marathons.
Swigert said this year's race might develop into a memorable finish.
"We have a very full men's and women's Elite field. In fact it's the strongest men's Elite field we've ever had by far, 72 of them plus 50 women," he said. "It should be extraordinarily competitive."
He expects 850 skiers, including an Elite field of over 120 racers, for Saturday's 32k (19.8-mile) Boulder Ski Tour on the familiar course from Galena Lodge near Senate Meadows to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters eight miles north of Ketchum.
Even for the top-level racers, the recent weather could dictate slower finishing times.
For someone with experience in the Boulder Tour snow, Swigert said, "I can almost guarantee it's going to be slow, about one hour and 20 minutes for the top men even though we have a really strong field. It could make for a bike race environment and you could have 20 in the lead pack.
"When you get 2 feet of new snow a few days before the race, it doesn't matter that the course has been worked so much and so well—if we don't get some temperature variances, it could get pretty soft for the people at the end of the field. It will depend a lot on the weather on Saturday.
"It's going to be wax race, I'm afraid. Last year was a wax race as well and a lot of guys missed it."
Current Sun Valley Junior Nordic Ski Team head coach Rick Kapala said, "Those guys (Eric Rector of the Blaine County Recreation District) will groom the heck out of the course but it's going to be soft. It will put a lid on those early breakaways."
Kapala's Sun Valley Olympic Development Team racers will be a huge factor Saturday. "We're going to bring our 'A Team,'" said Kapala.
This winter's SVSEF ODT squad is more talented and deep than ever. Secondly, ODT racers Morgan Arritola, Mike Sinnott and Ben True caught a break when the 2008 FIS Nordic Junior Championships and U-23 World Championships were postponed from Feb. 3-10 to Feb. 21-28 because of the lack of snow at Szczrk-Wisla, Poland.
That means 2005 Boulder Ski Tour second-place woman Arritola, Sinnott and True will race Saturday along with Elite teammates Mali Noyes, Nicole DeYong, Kate Underwood, Kate Whitcomb, Reid Pletcher, Taylor Sundali, Scott Krankkala and Colin Rodgers.
It also means "Idaho might win the Boulder Cup," Swigert said.
Started last year when Utah annihilated the competition, the Biznet Boulder Cup is given to the top state represented in the results. The final placings of the top five men and top five women from each state are calculated based on one point for the winner and down—with the lowest score winning.
Returning to compete Saturday is last year's men's champion and three-time U.S. Nordic Combined Team Olympian Bill Demong of Vermontville, N.Y. He is currently in second place on the 2008 Warsteiner FIS Nordic Combined World Cup after 15 events.
Adirondack Mountains racer Demong won last year's race for 818 finishers in 1.10:12, third-fastest time in Boulder Tour annals.
"We have the entire U.S. Nordic Combined team coming this year including Demong, Brett and Eric Camerota, Bryan Fletcher, Skyler Keate, Willy Graves and Alex Glueck," said Swigert.
The field of Elite Men include 2006 Boulder Tour winner Zack Simons of Rossignol, last year's men's runner-up and former All-American Zach Violett of Fischer and U.S. Nordic Ski Team racer Leif Zimmermann of Bozeman, Mont.
There have been seven different men's winners of the Boulder Ski Tour since 1996 and this year's event could add an eighth to the mix. One of the new entrants is Fischer's Andrew Johnson, 30, a two-time Olympian and U.S. Nordic Ski Team veteran from Vermont who placed 34th in the 2006 Olympic 50k race in Italy.
Factory Team racer Evelyn Dong, 22, out of Wayland, Mass., and Middlebury College, is due to defend her title Saturday. On last year's lightning-fast course Dong clocked the second-fastest women's winning time, 1.16:06.
Besides SVSEF ODT contenders, Rossignol's Kate Pearson Arduser, 28, of Dartmouth College and Alaska Pacific University, is likely to challenge for the lead. She was second in last year's BMT.
Arritola won the silver medal and Arduser took the bronze in the U.S. Nordic Championships 10k women's classic race Jan. 3, 2008 at Houghton, Mich.
Age classes, 16 in all, range in five-year increments from 12-and-under to 85-and-over. There will be nine waves of racers. Visit bouldermountaintour.com to get Boulder race results by midday Saturday. Here are pre-tour details:
Today, Friday, Feb. 1: The Wells Fargo Boulder Mountain Tour Expo will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at a brand new location, the Wood River Community YMCA on Warm Springs Road in Ketchum.
At the YMCA racers will pick up their bibs and BMT clothing bags. They'll learn about wave seeding and find souvenirs and promotional materials. Late bib pickup is Saturday starting at 9 a.m. at Galena Lodge.
Swigert said, "Most of the major sponsors will have booths during the Expo, which will be a little more elaborate this year. One of the things we'll have is a fueling seminar Friday at 5 p.m. And we'll be staying open later, until 8 p.m. instead of 6 p.m."
Course inspection will be allowed Friday at no charge until 4 p.m., when the course will be closed. At all other times, use of the course requires a $17 trail fee.
Saturday, Feb. 2: Shuttle buses to Galena Lodge leave the Hemingway Elementary School parking lot in Ketchum from 7-9:15 a.m.
Traffic headed north to Stanley can still get through, but no private cars will be allowed at Galena Lodge without an Officials Parking Permit. Buses back to Ketchum leave the SNRA starting about 12 noon.
The post-race awards party is returning to its traditional site in the Limelight Room of Sun Valley Inn, from 6-7:15 p.m. Saturday. There will be limited complimentary snacks and a no-host bar. Each entry includes one raffle ticket, which must be deposited at the awards ceremony to be eligible for the prizes.
Swigert said, "We have a really good group of prizes."