It is quality over quantity for this year's Wells Fargo Boulder Mountain Tour.
Race director Kevin Swigert said while overall numbers for the event are down, both the men's and women's elite fields have been expanded from 50 skiers to 75 and are studded with defending and former champions, including 2008 champs Mikey Sinnott of Sun Valley and the Saab Salomon Factory Team and Kate Pearson Arduser of Alaska.
"We have Sinnott, Billy DeMong, Nathan Schultz and Carl Swenson back," Swigert said of the current and former champions. "The men's field is quite strong. It's the same with the women with Kate Arduser, Kate Whitcomb, Laura McCabe, Rebecca Dussault and Kristen Trygstad-Saari.
"It really is our strongest-ever elite field. We had such a good race last year and I think people who are serious ski racers who have not ever come to the BMT decided that this is really something they could come and compete in. We have a couple dozen skiers that are potentially top ten men and woman coming and a big mix of strong skiers with NCAA champions and junior national skiers."
And World Cup racers as well.
Billy DeMong, the men's champion in 2007 (1:10.12) and a member of the U.S. Nordic Combined team (ski jumping and cross-country skiing), is in the midst of a very successful season highlighted by a pair of World Cup wins for a total of five overall.
Homegrown Sinnott, who won the BMT in 1:19.45 last year, is coming off a big victory in the 51-kilometer Noquemanon Ski Marathon in Michigan on Jan. 24, and went on to record three top-10 finishes in Super Tour events last week.
Fellow Dartmouth alum, Kate Pearson Arduser of Alaska, won the women's division in 1:28.46. A total of 722 finished the race in 2008—452 men and 270 women.
Swigert said he is hoping for 700 racers in this year's field.
"We have 654 registered and expect to get to 700," he said. "We have a bunch of new and inexperienced racers and a big elite group. It is the middle, the 3-4-5 waves, that we are missing."
"Some people ski it for five or six years and decide that they don't want to do it again. Others could be volunteering for the Special Olympics and can't do both. The economy could be a big part of it," he said. "It's kind of a perfect storm this year."
The 34th annual BMT gets off the mark at Galena's Senate Meadows at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7. The finish line comes 32-kilometers later across from SNRA Headquarters, nine miles north of Ketchum. Depending on course conditions, elite racers should cross the finish line shortly after 11 a.m. and the men's record of 1:06.27 set by Minnesota's Eric Meyer and the women's of 1:12.36 by Kechum's Brooke Baughman could be up for grabs.
"The course looks very good and very fast," Swigert said. "If we have another week of weather like this, we could see 1:05.00."
Following the race, there will be an award's party at River Run Lodge at 6 p.m. with a no-host bar. Sun Valley Company will leave food service open until 6 p.m. if attendees would like to eat beforehand.
Once again, the Wood River YMCA will be the venue for the Wells Fargo Boulder Mountain Tour Expo and bib-bag pick up on Friday, Feb. 6, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Course inspection will be allowed on Friday at no charge until 4 p.m. when the trail will be closed for a final grooming.
On Saturday, buses will transport skiers and spectators from Hemingway Elementary in Ketchum to the start and back again from the finish. There will be no private parking available at Galena Lodge without an official parking permit. Drop-offs are allowed a quarter mile south of the lodge.
On Sunday, Feb. 8, BMT Demo Day will be staged at the Sun Valley Nordic Center from 10-2 p.m.