Boulder Mountain Tour
Photography: Eric Kiel
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Energy vibrates through the field of a thousand cross-country ski racers as they wait for the starting horn to blast. Anxiously poised, held in check by the rope that spans the starting line, racers in the first “wave” or group shuffle their skis back and forth, like bulls scraping their hooves and preparing to charge. Colorful sponsor banners drape the area and music plays in the background, but most of the racers remain focused, eyes fixed straight ahead.
The horn blares, and the first wave of skiers erupts off the line. Charging up the first hill, jockeying for position, highly trained physiques flex beneath brightly colored, skintight racing suits. Cresting the hilltop, each body folds into a tight tuck and rockets down the slope, skillfully negotiating the curves and disappearing into the forest beyond. The remaining seven waves follow their lead. The annual Wells Fargo Boulder Mountain Tour has officially begun.
Flashback to thirty years ago: Twenty cross-country ski racers clad in earth-toned natural fibers—perhaps wool knickers, the fashion of the day—toe a line scratched into the snow. At least one pair of wooden skis, freshly pine-tarred and waxed, inches up to the starting line. It’s the comparatively quiet beginning of the first Boulder Mountain
Tour, an event that has since evolved into one of the most prestigious and respected cross-country races in the country.
Today, the race boasts national champions and Olympians—past, current, and future—but it doesn’t belong to the elite. As Race Director Kevin Swigert, who grew up on Wood River Valley ski trails, points out, “The race has a local history and intense local involvement.” Swigert earned national recognition as a U.S. Ski Team member and three-time national champion, and is a multiple winner of the Tour. He fully understands the expectations of the elite racer, but also knows the importance of this race to recreational and first-time participants.
Maintaining a local feel is a priority even though racers of all ages come from across the nation, as well as Canada and Europe, to participate. In 2004, the youngest participant was 10 years old, and the oldest was Wood River Valley’s Phil Puchner, who, at age 81, set a modest goal of “passing just one racer before the finish.” Jo Ann Levy of Sun Valley is distinguished as the only person to have strapped on her skis for all twenty-nine past Boulder Mountain Tours. In addition to loyal “regulars” such as these, the race always includes a number of participants new to the sport of ski racing.