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Second to None
The Olympic connection to Nordic Town USA
“Nordic Town, USA” (also known as Sun Valley, Idaho) is a community that truly celebrates cross country skiing. Like the five Olympic rings, the coaches, athletes, community, events and terrain of the Wood River Valley link together to create a history—and a future—for Sun Valley’s Nordic scene that is steeped in Olympic tradition. Nordic skiing in the Valley began in earnest in 1970 when a group led by Leif Odmark (the US Men’s Nordic Team head coach at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo) opened America’s first Nordic ski school. Now operated by Sun Valley Resort, the Sun Valley Nordic Center maintains its ties to the Olympics, as the program’s current director is a former Olympian from Czechoslovakia, Ivana Radlova.
A couple years after the Nordic Ski School first opened, Rob Kiesel (who would go on to become the US Cross Country Team head coach at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid) convinced the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) to start a Nordic Junior Nationals division. Four decades later, the program’s history of Olympic coaches continues, as SVSEF’s Chris Grover is the US Team’s head coach for this Winter’s Games in Sochi.
As well as its strong coaching connection to the Olympics, a number of athletes who have grown up as members of SVSEF have gone on to compete in the Winter Games, including Morgan Arritola in 2010 and Lars Flora in 2002. Countless other Nordic skiers from across the West have also moved here over the years to train for Olympic competition, including Chris Cook (who made the 2006 US Olympic Team) and Simi Hamilton (who competed in the 2010 Games). The SVSEF’s Gold Team program, designed for Olympic hopefuls, also has a bumper crop of young skiers vying for glory in Sochi and other future Olympic Games, including Miles Havlick, Matt Gelso, Chelsea Holmes, Mary Rose and Rose Kemp.
Former local Olympians continue to add value to community programs. Betsy Youngman and Laura Wilson Todd (both from the 1998 Games) are coaches for the VAMPs, a cross-country ski training program for women in the Valley. Many VAMPs skiers are among the thousands of participants of the annual Boulder Mountain Tour (BMT). Originating in 1973, the BMT is the one of the oldest continuously run Nordic ski races in the country and is now part of the annual Sun Valley Nordic Festival, a weeklong event filled with races, films, seminars and all kinds of Nordic fun held each January.
Part of the SVSEF’s success is its access to more than 200km of groomed trails around Sun Valley. “In my coaching role with the US Ski Team, I’ve had a chance to cross country ski around the world, and I can say that the trail systems and grooming provided by the Blaine County Recreation District and the Sun Valley Resort are second to none,” says Chris Grover.
At the Lake Creek trailhead, just north of Ketchum, the Olympic rings are now proudly displayed on the SVSEF sign showing the world that the future of Nordic skiing in the Valley will continue its strong link to the Olympics.-Kathleen Kristenson