2024 BMT Crowns Two New Champs

The 2024 Zions Bank Boulder Mountain Tour provided a proving platform of sorts for two entirely different reasons for this year’s overall champions. 

For 26-year-old Mariah Bredal of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Gold Team, it is that she has ascended to another level of skiing; for 32-year-old Erik Bjornsen, a 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympian, it is that a recent lack of participation in competitive events in no way translates to a diminished competitive nature. 

Held on Saturday, Feb. 3, the 51st edition of the Zions Bank Boulder Mountain Tour featured surprisingly ideal and fast race conditions for an event that only three weeks prior had a few question marks hanging over it due to a lack of snow. 

Wave four ready to roll. Photo by Derek Svennungsen.

In a total field of 793 finishers in the 34km Boulder Mountain Tour, the elite men’s and women’s fields were deeper than in the recent past. Unlike 2023, when champion Peter Wolter broke away at Prairie Creek and never looked back, this year, the Hailey native was in fast company all the way down the Harriman Trail course. The pack included former Olympians and World Cup racers Bjornsen and Andy Newell, sprint specialist Anders Weiss (BSF), Simon Zink (BSF), and Jack Hegman and Nick Power, who finished first and second in the 2023 Boulder. 

The Bridger Ski Foundation Pro Team brought a bevy of talented women, including 2023 BMT champion Hannah Rudd, 2019 champ Erika Flowers, and Erin Bianco, who, like Wolter, recently skied in World Cup races in Goms, Switzerland, and Oberhof, Germany. Also on hand were Bredal, who until this year was also a member of BSF but moved to SVSEF in fall 2023, and SVSEF alumna Annika Landis, now skiing for Enjoy Winter Factory Team, returned to attain another step on the podium after placing third in a photo-finish the prior year. 

Bjornsen’s last major result was four years ago when he won a 30k classic at the U.S. National Championships in Michigan during 2019-2020, his final racing season. In the ensuing years, he and his wife, Marine Dusser, a longtime member of the French Biathlon Team, had a baby girl and launched an eponymous pole company, Bjorn To, which manufactures carbon fiber ski and adventure poles in Winthrop, Washington, where they are also co-owners of Winthrop Mountain Sports. 

The transition from World Cup athlete to husband, father, and business owner is complete and all-encompassing. However, Bjornsen’s experience of being a high-level athlete is still part of his makeup. 

“I have been exercising a lot less, but still love skiing,” Bjornsen said. “My parents-in-law were here over the holidays helping out, and I was able to ski a decent amount. Mentally, I was in a good place but did not expect to hang with the leaders. 

“It was my first day off in four months. So there was not much pressure. I was just psyched to be able to ski with a group of fast young guys and throw down.” 

The 25-year-old Wolter had to balance wanting to defend his 2023 title while staying within his physical reserves for three upcoming World Cup starts in Canmore, Alberta, and Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

“I didn’t want to crank my body too hard in between World Cups, but it is definitely fun to be the hometown hero,” Wolter said. “The last time I did the BMT it wasn’t like a classic Boulder because it was more of a solo effort. This time, it was because I was skiing with a bunch of people.” 

And the bunch was fully intact when rounding the last corner before the homestretch. 

Wolter recounts, “On the last turn, I knew the group was still with me. I sprinted for the first preem and was feeling pretty strong, so I pushed the pace really hard. That could have been enough to break some souls. Maybe I was a little too confident. I thought, ‘Oh boy, this is not going well.’ “  

Wolter was smack dab in the middle of Bjornsen on his right and Weiss on his left. 

“My strategy was nothing to lose or prove, but I can dig a lot deeper and go into the pain cave pretty hard these days,” Bjornsen said. “With 6k to go, I thought, ‘I have got these guys.’ I had a reserve, and even though I struggled the last couple of years (in my racing career), domestically, I could still out-close anyone in the U.S.” 

Which he did, barreling to the lead in 10 ground-eating strides to win in 1:13.31, nipping Wolter (1:13.32.02) by 1/100th of a second. Weiss was third in 1:13.32.58. It was the second-fastest Boulder since 2018, when Matt Gelso won the race in 1:10.28. 

Race day views and elite finishes by Derek Svennungsen.

Newell, Zink, Power, and Hegman all crossed the line between 1:13.33.77 and 1:13:54.55. 

25-year-old Bredal became the 32nd woman to win the BMT, and her 1:20.21.79 was the second-fastest time since the race went from 30 kilometers to 34k in 2014. The current record of 1:17.41 was set by Olympian Caitlin Compton Gregg in 2018. 

“Going into the race my plan was to try to help break up the pack around the halfway point, as the race easily becomes a sprinters course with the downhill and draft to the end which is not typically my strongest suit. I did so as planned and then Annika skied the whole course with me to the end, it was very close between us and I really liked skiing with her for this race,” Bredal said.

Landis, who grew up skiing for SVSEF and raced her first BMT as a 12-year-old, clocked in at 1:20.22.13. Knowing the course so well, she had her race plan down pat. 

“My strategy going into the race was to ease into the first 5-ish k and then be ready for an attack. I wasn’t sure if I would feel good enough to lead the attack, but I wanted to be in a position to respond if somebody else did. I knew if I could hang on through the last climb at Anderson Creek, that I could draft and recover and be in a good position to fight for the win,” Landis said.   

“I saw Mariah take a feed about a kilometer before the Prairie Creek aid station and my first thought was ‘uh oh.’ I knew she would have last year’s narrow 4th-place finish front and center in her mind, and that she would be out for blood. Mariah and I often bond over our lack of natural sprinting ability. Usually our strategy is a battle of aerobic attrition – go hard and go early and try to break people before the finish. And that’s exactly what she did, putting in a massive surge at the Prairie Creek aid station. I went with her, and soon enough we had a gap. We exchanged leads, knowing that our only chance to stay away was to work together and keep the pace high.” 

The teamwork that ultimately put them two minutes ahead of the chase pack dissolved as the pair dueled for the finish line, with Bredal finishing first by 0.34 seconds. 

Bredal recalled, “I knew this race a little better this year as last year I followed the draft the whole way to the end and was out-sprinted for the whole podium which definitely made me consider different tactics for this year. (Chris) Mallory is a great coach and supported this idea for me.”

The top three women all have ties to SVSEF, with Bredal and Goble skiing for the Gold Team, dedicated to training elite-level skiers, and Landis, a lifer with the organization. Bredal arrived in Canmore, Alberta, Tuesday, to compete in World Cup distance races.

Goble, now racing for the BSF Pro Team, was third in 1:20.38. Her podium continued a streak dating back to 2017 of a BSF woman on the podium. 

Boulder prize money totals $2500 to each winner, $1,000 to second place and $500 to third place. The organization has always furnished equal prize money to the top racers in the men and women’s fields.

Friends on and off the course, Annika Landis and Mariah Bredal bask in a happy post-race glow. Photo by Derek Svennungsen.

Salomon provided age-class champions with beautiful Container Cabin bags. Tops in their class for the women were Josephine Renner, Evona West, Sophia Gorman, Bredal, Erika Flowers, Sarah Armstrong, Kellie Carim, Hannah Young, Tanja Beauler, Elizabeth Youngman, Muffy Ritz, Carol Mutzel, Julia Page and Marit Glenne. 

Men’s age class champions were Owen Wellner, Alex Larson, Wolter, Bjornsen, Dakota Blackhorse-Von Jess, Newell, Samuel Cordell, Joe Jensen, Duncan Douglas, Ron Barrett, Michael Allan, Bob Rosso, Andy Andrews and Stephan Swanson. 

Bredel checked off both wins in the two on-course preems at Baker Creek and Frostbite Flats. Wolter and Weiss collected the men’s wins. Jones-Grover of Engel Volkers, and Sturtevants sponsored the preems, providing $400 in prize money to the winners. 

In the Para Division, Team USA’s Grace Miller, all 5-feet of her, packs a major punch on her skis. The 24-year-old, born without a left forearm, ripped up the course to finish in 1:41.43. She was the 54th woman and 205th overall. 

U.S. Paralympic Gold medalist Dan Cnossen of Massachusetts was fastest down the Harriman in the Full Boulder sit category, completing the course in 1:43.52. Greg Mallory, a 2006 and 2010 Paralympian, was second in 1:55.04. Josh Sweeney, a U.S. veteran and two-time Paralympic gold medalist in ice hockey, was third in 2:10.24. 

Dan Cnossen looking relaxed at the start. Photo by Hank Dart.

Cnossen, 43, was a Navy Seal who served multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, rising to the rank of officer-in-charge of his platoon. 

In 2009, he stepped on an IED, losing both legs in the blast. As part of a long and arduous rehabilitation during which he underwent more than 40 surgeries, Cnossen was introduced to the sport of cross-country skiing. By 2014, he was named to the U.S. Paralympic Team, and in the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, Cnossen dominated, winning one gold, four silver, and a bronze medal and the title Best Male Athlete of the Games. 

Wave winners were Gerrit Gerberich and Katie Paddock (3), Anders Meyer and Corrine Prevot (4), Stefan Berier and Steph Nicols (5), Joseph Pendleton and Lucy Skinner (6), Neil Johnson and Gretchen Kingry (7). 

Half Fast, for finishing exactly in the middle of the pack, went to Hannah Smay. 

85-year-old Steve Swanson and 80-year-old Marit Glenne were the eldest finishers in the Full BMT. The youngest to complete the course were Payton Daley-Scheingraber and Max Smith, both 11 years old. Next year, these categories will change to Most Ski Seasons and Fewest Ski Seasons. 

The Jon Engen Award for greatest time improvement by percentage from 2023 to 2024 went to Matthew Sanford (37.5%) and Mina Vafaeezadeh (20.6%). 

Course conditions were “epic,” and the trail only got faster on the lower third. All credit for excellent race preparations goes to Eric Rector and the Blaine County Recreation District grooming crew. 

Landis summed up the feeling for many racers who skied that day, especially the ones who grew up in the valley. 

“I love coming home to ski the BMT. The energy is always electric, and win or lose I have an absolute blast. I feel incredibly grounded afterwards from all of the support from the community,” she said. 

Bredal concurred,” The Boulder Mountain Tour was a super awesome event and I can’t wait to do it again!”

447 men and 239 women finished the Full BMT course. Combined, there were 102 DNS and five DNFs. 

Chad Cleveland celebrating the triumph of cured meats. Photo by Derek Svennungsen

12-year-old Sydney Nelson of SVSEF set a new record to win the 15k Charley Course Half Boulder in 38.09, breaking the two-year-old mark of Dani Aravich of 39.48. Nelson and her grandparents, Trish and Dave Wilson, cheered on her mom, Regan, who was skiing in the Full BMT, then threw down over a distance not usually raced by skiers this young. 

Annika Schwartz was runner-up in 40.55, and Sarah Forzley third in 41.42. 

The three were all-age class champions, along with Lauren Stevens, Kathy Lynch, Patty Costello, Kim Nalen, and Marey Allen. 

Robert Maloney of Minneapolis erased Colin Poly’s six-year-old course record 36.02, crossing the finish line in 34.39. Noah Eitel (36.30) and Isaiah Engibous (37.51) placed second and third, respectively.  

Isaiah’s little brother Ari captured the 12-under class title. Eitel, Adam Quigley, Maloney, Eric Stumpner, Craig Olivieri, Michael Judge, Ted Daley, and Robert Disbrow also claimed class championships. 

Topping the Parent/Child Team category was Schmidt Girl Power with Hazel and Anne Marie. Last of the Renners, with Piper and Kerry, was runner-up. 

The youngest Half independent racers were Adeline Zook (8) and Alden Goldwarg (7). Oldest went to Gloria Possl (78) and Bob Disbrow (81).

Champ Courtney Custer enjoying herself and friends at the finish. Photo by Hank Dart.

In the Para Division (with factors), Kevin Hoyt was the fastest sit skier, finishing in 50.37. Craig Towler (52.40) and Bruce Cooper (1:08.32) claimed silver and bronze. 

Courtney Custer won the women’s sit-skiing division in 1:01.02. Brittany Chadbourne (1:03.40) and Maria Velat (1:03.43) were next fastest. 

Sarah Pedersen (1:10.18) and Sean Stern (1:46.02) were champions in the standing division. 

115 women and 73 men finished the 15k Charley Course, named after the esteemable Charley French, whose broken ribs kept him out of the race this year. The 97-year-old French has skied in most of the Boulder’s since the race started in 1973.

Spotted watching the elite finish among a gaggle of friends, French joked, “This is a heckuva lot more fun than skiing in it. I should have done this years ago!”

SVSEF alumna Katie Feldman, Sarah Goble and Annika Landis are all smiles after the race. Photo by Derek Svennungsen

The Zions Bank Boulder Mountain Tour is an event representing the ultimate in teamwork. More than 250 volunteers, 23 committee heads, local emergency personnel, organizations, and businesses work in tandem to execute the Boulder, a highlight of our winter season in the Wood River Valley. 

“What I truly love about the Boulder is everyone’s fingerprints are all over it. Each and every person who volunteers or works the event lends their own personal touch to the race. I think people feel and appreciate the authenticity and kindness that comes through,” Jody Zarkos, BMT Race Director said.

Our thanks and gratitude go out to the following for their support and generosity. 

Title Sponsor, Zions Bank; Tracy Groll, Mark Garfield, Stephen Quinn, and Jackie Cole. 

Course Sponsor: Blaine County Recreation District 

Starts Sponsor: Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation 

Hat Sponsor: SWIX

Race Headquarters: Limelight Hotel

Timing: Zone 4

Platinum Sponsors: The Elephant’s Perch, Zenergy, Salomon, Bjorn To, Challenged Athletes Foundation, TOKO. 

Gold Sponsors: Backwoods Mountain Sports, Blaine County Title, Atkinsons, Visit Sun Valley, Sturtevants, Fischer, One-Way. 

Silver Sponsors: Morgan’s Fine Finishes, Lloyd Construction, Sue Engelmann-Berkshire Hathaway, Rossignol, Madshus, Rex Wax, Clear Creek Disposal, Lutz Rental, Power Engineers, SYNC Vans. 

Bronze Sponsors: Heed-Hammer, Sawtooth Brewery, Sun Valley Resort, Jones-Grover, SV Ketamine Clinic, Sawtooth Avalanche Center, S.V. Community School, Nourish Me, Davis Embroidery, Lumi Experiences, Sun Valley Associates, American Ostrich Farms, Enjoy Winter.  

Supporters: United States Forest Service, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Galena Lodge, Rickshaw, Cellar Pub, Sushi On Second, WR YMCA, Lefty’s Bar & Grill, Lizzy’s Fresh Coffee, Wrapcity, Vamps, Dons, Crispy Dave’s Meats, Leroy’s, Warfield Distillery, Bluebird Solar, Nordjork, Conrad Brothers Construction, Bigwood Bread, Dark to Light, Derek Svengussen, Hank Dart, Glen Allison, Type B Laboratories, Worth Printing, Judy’s Design House, Hangar Bread, Rob Beck Tree Services, City of Ketchum, Blaine County School District, Idywood Events & Media.

Aid Stations: Galena Lodge, Sun Valley Community School, Sun Valley Suns Men’s Hockey Team, Wood River Pickleball Association. 

Race Safety: Galena Backcountry Ski Patrol, WR Ham Radio, Idaho State Police, Ketchum Fire Department, Sun Valley Fire Department, Blaine County Sheriff’s Office. 

Road Safety: Road Work Ahead, Eagle One Security, Idaho Security Group. 

BMT Board of Directors: Paddy McIlvoy, Sue Hamilton, Muffy Ritz, Matt Gelso, Svea Grover, Rick Kapala, Jamie Lieberman, Andy Munter, Mary Rose, Annie Van Fossan and Al Pokorny. Emeritus: Bob Rosso. 

Race Director: Jody Zarkos 

Organizational Assistance: Kathy Seal, Mike Wolter, Paula Viesturs, Calder Zarkos, Mason Noyes, Oliver Weidemann. 

Race Jury: Svea Grover, Courtney Hamilton, Al Pokorny. 

Race awards: EJ Harpham, IdahoMud.

Committee Heads: Ted Angle, Dave Bingham, Jenny Busdon, Joe Yelda, Mat Hall, Sue Hamilton, Travis Jones, Rick Kapala, Jim Keller, Jamie Lieberman, Paddy McIlvoy, Andy Munter, Bobby Noyes, Eric Rector, Kathy Seal, Kyle Oldemeyer, Chelan Pauly, Pete Stephenson, Bryce Turzian, Ashton Wilson, Mike Wolter, Kelley Yeates and Susie Quesnel. 

SVSEF Cross Country Program Director Becky Flynn whipping the start into shape. Photo by Hank Dart