This year's field of over 800 cross-country skiers for the 2012 SWIX Boulder Mountain Ski Tour on Saturday, Feb. 4 north of Ketchum will pause to remember the event's founder, the late Rob Kiesel.
Kiesel, 65, died in October. He was founder of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation's cross country program and a former head coach of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team. He originated the Boulder Tour in 1973.
This year's 37th Boulder Ski Tour is dedicated to Kiesel. Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Nordic Director Rick Kapala said, "It is on the shoulders of Rob Kiesel that cross-country skiing was built here in Sun Valley."
Boulder Tour race director Kevin Swigert said the event has established a Lifetime Achievement Award that will be presented to a deserving recipient Saturday. Swigert said, "The award goes to someone in the ski world who has made an impact. It's important we recognize a larger-than-life figure in Rob Kiesel."
Don't blink or you won't recognize the extremely fast Nordic skiers tackling the 32-kilometer (19.8-mile) course that travels from Galena Lodge to the SNRA headquarters Saturday starting at 10 a.m.
Swigert said he had 725 skiers registered Sunday and expected another 35 to 40 for the 32k race. Last February's race had 770 racers finishing the marathon. Also, for a third year there will be the non-competitive the Half Boulder 15k (9.3-mile) race. Swigert had another 110 signed up for the Half Sunday, meaning the entire field was flirting with 900.
Swigert said he expects a very competitive Elite Men's race Saturday. "It's not a super well known Elite field, but it has a lot of up-and-comers. It should be real interesting, open to 30 different guys—anybody's race. In large part it's the nature of the course. It's technical, a tactics race. Anybody can blow out of the top 30 and win."
Last year's men's winner Sylvan Ellefson of Vail (1.06:43) is racing in Europe and won't compete on Saturday, he said.
The women's field has many of the top U.S. racers including two-time defending champion and three-time winner Evelyn Dong, 26, two-time queen Rebecca Dussault, Sun Valley's Nicole DeYong, 29, and also Chelsea Holmes, 24, who was second to Dong in 2011.
Interestingly, Swigert said Midwest racer Caitlin Gregg is planning to do a weekend double—competing in the Boulder Saturday then flying to Minneapolis, Minn. for Sunday's City of the Lakes Loppet. Gregg, 31, is a strong freestyle racer who recently placed second overall in the Tour de Twin Cities five-event stage race.
Swigert couldn't confirm if Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation racer Morgan Arritola, 26, would compete Saturday. The local woman is still seeking her first Boulder win.
"There seems a much stronger presence in this year's women's Elite field," he said.
Part of the reason for all the attention is the $17,500 cash and prize purse going to the top Full Boulder finishers plus top teams in Thursday's Coed Sprint Relays in Ketchum. Of that total, $10,000 in cash is going to the Boulder Tour.
Swigert said Boulder prize money will be paid to the top five men's and women's places, with the winners receiving $1,500 apiece, the second-place finishers $500 and third place $300. There will be two $100 preems for men and women.
This year's awards ceremony/raffle is Saturday from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Limelight Room of Sun Valley Inn. Former SVSEF Gold Team head coach Travis Jones will call the race and also emcee the dinner.
Regarding the course, Swigert said the recent heavy snowfall in Sun Valley has made a very good Boulder course even better. "It's about as good as it ever is," he said. "We have dense, heavy snowpack, and it's nice and stable."
Swigert said, "Both (last year's winner) Sylvan Ellefson and (2007 king) Billy DeMong are in Europe, and each sent emails apologizing for not being here this Saturday. Such top skiers like the Boulder because it's fast and such a good way to measure their skis."
Boulder participants should attend the Tour Expo on Friday, Feb. 3 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Wood River YMCA along Warm Springs Rd. They also can inspect the course Friday—no trail fee required through 4 p.m. on Friday, only.
Swigert strongly encouraged racers and spectators to take advantage of the buses leaving Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum starting at 7 a.m. Friday. No public parking is allowed at Galena Lodge and also at the SNRA finish area.
Then, on Sunday, the SWIX Boulder Mountain Tour Demo is held at Sun Valley Nordic starting at 10 a.m.
Among free waxing clinics are Thursday, Feb. 2 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Sturtevants in Hailey; Friday, Feb. 3 from 1-2 p.m., also with Nathan Schultz of BNS and Holmenkol, this one at Sturtevants in Ketchum; and on Friday from 3-4 p.m. with SWIX techs at the Ketchum Sturtevants' shop.