After I retired from the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Team, I went straight into coaching for Sun Valley SEF. It was time for me to move on from competitive skiing, but that doesn’t mean that I will ever move on from the sport. The transition away from being a full-time athlete was pretty smooth because I still love being active, and I always loved training, so my life didn’t really change.
Being a Nordic skier, we are privileged with how we train for skiing. It is essential that we mix up our workouts between running, biking, rollerskiing, and strength. When I was skiing competitively a lot of my training included exploring the wilderness around Sun Valley by running, biking, or skiing.
I have instilled a lifestyle that allows me to stay fit year-round. In the springtime, you will find me backcountry skiing in all the different mountain ranges surrounding Sun Valley. You will also find me squeezing in the perfect spring skiing conditions at Galena and on the Harriman Trail. I spend most of my days outside doing what I love, skiing! Backcountry skiing and cross-country skiing in the spring help me build up my endurance base. Without even considering this training, I am putting in big training hours, simply by exploring.
Once the snow is gone, I rely on my running shoes and bike to explore. There are so many places I have yet to experience around Sun Valley and that is my biggest motivator when it comes to exercise. During the weekdays, I try to get outside once a day for either a bike or run and on the weekends I try to climb one or two peaks. I no longer focus on intervals sessions or how many hours my training plan says. Instead, I focus on what will bring me the most joy. I love getting outside with good friends who share the same passion.
On rare occasions, I will jump into a running interval or two with my athletes to help them with their technique or to keep them motivated to dig deeper. Intervals are not a top priority for me. However, it is good to squeeze in a couple here and there.
While I am far from the perfect training plan for cross-country racing, I stay fit by doing what I love! The most important thing to do for Boulder Mountain Tour prep is to get outside and enjoy your time, especially in the spring and summer. Training hours will build up, and you will get fit in no time.
Born and raised in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Mary Rose is a former SVSEF Gold Team athlete. Mary represented the United States at the Under 23 World Championships as well as the Colorado Buffaloes at the NCAA Championships where she earned two team National Championships. Now that her professional racing days have come to an end, Mary has decided to call the Wood River Valley home and pass on her sport knowledge as a ski coach for the SVSEF.
The Boulder Mountain Tour is delighted to announce Zions Bank remains the event’s title sponsor for the fifth consecutive year.
Tracy Groll, Regional President of Idaho Resort Banking, remarked, “We enjoy partnering with the BMT because it supports the local community and we believe it’s extremely important to invest and participate in the communities where we have a presence.”
Bob Rosso, a longtime board member and local business owner, concurred, “We are really thrilled to have Zions back as our title sponsor. Zions has really terrific people who back us up, give us support, and share really creative ideas. It is an excellent relationship and one we are very appreciative of.”
Boulder Board President John Reuter added, “Long-term sponsorship is incredibly important for the BMT because it allows us to make educated planning decisions toward growing the event and maximizing the positive impact of the BMT on the community as a whole. Specifically, Zions’ five-year sponsorship has allowed us to increase our marketing and outreach, improve our timing and results, modernize our website, and deliver a “presentation” to visitors that highlights this amazing valley in which we live.”
Salt Lake City is the corporate headquarters for Zions Bank, which does business in 10 different western states in the U.S. In addition to Idaho and Utah, Zions and its subsidiaries have locations in Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. There are two branches in the Wood River Valley in Ketchum and Hailey. (Tip: Check out the freshly-baked cookies offered every Friday).
Notable among Zions Bank’s BMT enthusiasts are Mark Garfield, Senior Vice President of International Banking, who participates with his whole family. This year, seven skiers related to the family were in the field, and Garfield semi-jokingly says that one of the criteria to marry into the family is being able to ski the Full Boulder.
“That is exactly the case!” Garfield exclaimed.
Of course, being a zealous cross country skier helps, and Garfield is a prime example of how Zions encourages its employees to exercise and take care of themselves and how that philosophy spreads to the greater community as well.
“As a bank organization, we are encouraged to stay active and healthy and have incentives to do so. I believe the handful who do participate (in the Boulder) recognize the superb course conditions and beautiful landscape Sun Valley has to offer,” Groll said.
Community is at the heart of the Boulder Mountain Tour, and that is readily apparent in the remarks offered by both Groll and Reuter.
“Having Zions Bank remain as our title sponsor demonstrates Zions’ long-term commitment to supporting our local community. The BMT is technically just a ski race, but it’s actually a celebration of Wood River Valley – its natural beauty, its welcoming people, its local businesses. Zions Bank understands that supporting the BMT is really supporting the place we call home,” Reuter remarked.
“I think the biggest thing I would like people to know is that we really do support our community – whether it’s a sporting event, the arts, nonprofits, or cultural – it’s important to us. We are invested,” Groll said.
The Zions Bank Boulder Mountain Tour is the premier cross country ski marathon in the western United States. Held annually on the first Saturday of February, the Tour’s 34k route travels from Galena Lodge on the historic Harriman Trail in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to the finish line across from SNRA Headquarters. There is also a 15k Half Boulder that begins at Baker Creek. The event attracts upwards of 1,000 people with more than 50 percent of participants from out of town, representing 23 states and three countries. This year’s race is on Saturday, February 1, 2020. Registration opens on July 1 at www.skireg.com.
It is said that roots don’t lie. You can take that a couple different ways.
In the case of Svea Grover, who was born and raised in Alaska, her roots in cross country skiing run as deep as the Bering Sea and as true blue as the water in it.
When she was six-years-old, her family moved from Ketchikan to Homer, Alaska, (“Where the Road Ends and the Sea Begins”), and built their first home, a 20-by-24’ one-room cabin on 40 acres, located 14 miles out of town and a mile off the main dirt road, according to Svea. When the main road is composed of dirt, you are definitely well off the beaten path, but that seemed to suit Svea and her family just fine.
Svea recalls, “With no snow plow for many years, this meant learning to cross country ski to get in and out of our property. I skied to the school bus stop from our home every morning, leaving skis by the mailbox for many years. I learned to love that cold air on my face and the snow under my skis!”
Her love of skiing continued unabated through middle school and high school, to Junior National Championships, and, eventually to college at the University of New Mexico, where she was a member of the Lobos ski team in 1985-1986. Svea was one of two Americans on the 11-person team. The roster was rounded out by Finns and Norwegians racing for longtime coach Klaus Weber, who was enshrined in the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame in 2010.
Deciding she needed to branch out, Svea continued her education at the University of Oslo in Norway for a year, then enrolled for a year at a Norwegian business school before returning to the states to finish her bachelor of science degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management at Northern Arizona University.
Fast forward to 1994, Svea moved to Ketchum and began coaching for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s cross country team and program director Rick Kapala. By good fortune, Kapala hired one of his former racers from Anchorage in 1996, a young man by the name of Chris Grover. While matchmaker is not a word normally associated with Kapala, he definitely cast Cupid’s bow at the pair, culminating with walking Svea down the aisle when the two married in 2001.
After living in Bend, Oregon, and Park City, Utah, Svea and Chris moved back to Hailey with their very young daughters, Eva and Anja. Chris took the role as head coach of the SVSEF Gold Team, created to train elite cross country skiers and provide funding to pursue racing at the highest level possible. Grover, who began coaching with the U.S. Development Ski Team the late ‘90s returned to the organization in 2006 and has been the head coach of the U.S. cross country team since 2009, overseeing some of the team’s greatest success to date, including its first-ever Olympic gold medal for the U.S. women.
A skier, coach, wife of a coach, and mother of competitive skiers, Svea holds every possible role in relation to the sport of cross country skiing and in May of 2019 added one more; board member for the Boulder Mountain Tour. With the appointment, the board gains a knowledgeable and respected member of the cross country community and our community at-large.
Board vice president and fellow SVSEF ski coach Martha Pendl concurred, “Svea brings a unique wealth of knowledge to the BMT Board…as a competitive ski racer, a longtime SVSEF coach, parent and team volunteer, and an avid cross country World Cup and U.S. Ski Team enthusiast, she has a keen eye for a race well run. As a local business partner, Svea has been a dedicated supporter of cross country skiing and its continued growth and development in the Wood River Valley. Svea harbors many trusted relationships within our community, and I look forward to her advocacy and enthusiasm for the BMT as the newest member of the board. Welcome, Svea!”
A successful realtor with Engel & Vöelkers in Sun Valley, Svea remarked, “the BMT has a part of my life nearly each winter it seems – either volunteering as a coach at the start, skiing sweep with the coaches at the end, skiing the half Boulder with my then, little kids, TRYING to ski the full Boulder with my kids or being a sponsor of the event, it’s always been something I’ve been proud to be a part of on whatever level.”
“I’m thrilled at the honor of being invited to join the BMT board with this accomplished list of friends and colleagues from the nordic world, who have worked so hard to raise the bar each year. “I hope I can help give back to our community through this unique and important event.”
Race day for the 46th annual Zions Bank Boulder Mountain Tour is drawing near and this year’s race promises to be special for several reasons.
The capstone event of the Sun Valley Nordic Festival, this year’s Boulder on February 2, 2019, will honor Jon Engen, a three-time Olympian who was a dedicated ambassador and respected competitor in the sports of cross country skiing and biathlon. A longtime Ketchum resident, Engen passed away from pancreatic cancer in April of 2018. Many of his friends from near and far, including Bozeman, Montana, where he attended college, will be in attendance to pay homage to Engen and ski in his memory.
The men’s elite field is shaping up to be a highly competitive one for the 34-kilometer race staged on the Harriman Trail in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Four-time Olympian Andrew Newell (2018, 2014, 2010, 2006) heads up a men’s elite field that includes 2018 champion Matt Gelso (1:10.28), 2018 bronze medalist Bryan Cook, 2012 BMT and Birkebeiner champion Matt Liebsch, a noted marathon racer, and 2008 BMT champ Michael Sinnott. This pack will be challenged by perennial top-10 finisher Wyatt Fereday, and top-20 racers from last year, Nathan Schultz, Harb Harrison, Orion Berryman, Noel Johnson, James Rucker and Joe Jensen.
With three-time defending champion Caitlin Compton Gregg set to give birth this month, the women’s field is wide open and several local women will be leading the charge. Annie Pokorny, a former Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Team racer, returns to the field after finishing fourth in 2018. Sloan Storey, a SVSEF alumni, coach and former captain at University of Utah, will try and improve on her third-place finish in 2016. Emily Williams, another SVSEF coach and alumna. 2017 women’s silver medalist, Erika Flowers, skied to 16th place overall, 7:41 behind champion Silas Talbot.
Conversely, there is a non-timed Ninth Wave for participants who want to embrace the touring aspect of the event. There are currently 25 participants signed up for the Ninth Wave. Current registration for the event is nearing the 700-person mark with 117 people signed up for the very popular 15k Half Boulder. There are 83 open slots remaining in the Half, and 235 openings in the Full. The entry field is limited to 1,000 participants altogether and last year, 317 people signed up for the race in January. The course is set to accommodate skate and classic skiers.
Two weeks remain to register at the current $100 rate. At midnight on Friday, January 25 the rate goes up to $120 for the Full Boulder and $100 for the Half Boulder (currently $85). Registration closes on Monday, January 28 at midnight. There is no week-of-race registration. Sign up is through SkiReg.com at https://www.skireg.com/zions-bank-boulder-mountain-tour.
All Boulder entries are eligible for a free pre-race clinic with Sun Valley Ski Education Gold Team racers at Sun Valley Resort on the Wednesday prior to the BMT, January 30. There is no trail fee, but participants are asked to check in at the ski desk in the lodge prior to the clinic.
The NordicTown USA Sprints on Thursday, January 31 at Simplot Field west of the Ketchum post office, feature a “Regs and Dregs” class for citizen racers. Pros and members of the SVSEF cross country team will also toe the line. Awards for the sprints will be held at the Limelight Hotel in downtown Ketchum, which will coincide with the kickoff celebration featuring live music by Ketchum’s own Pisten Bully’s, food and drink specials.
The BMT Expo is on Friday, February 1 at the Limelight Hotel from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will feature some new vendors, including local artist John Caccia, Pit Viper of Utah, and Brynje, industry standouts SWIX, Madshus, Boulder Nordic Sport, and valley nonprofits Blaine County Recreation District, Sun Valley Ski Academy and Hunger Coalition. If you would like your business to be featured at the Expo, please contact Jody Zarkos at email@example.com.
Demo Days will be held on Sunday, February 3 at Sun Valley Resort from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Local shops and industry representatives will be on hand to provide access and insight to all the latest and greatest gear and tips in cross country skiing. Demo Days is free to all BMT participants and open to the public. Sun Valley Resort will have the grill on with burgers, brats and veggie burgers available between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
There are many ways to be involved in the race besides skiing in it. Volunteers are needed. It takes roughly 210 people to execute all facets of the event and everyone who volunteers for the race is invited to an appreciation party on Wednesday, February 13 at the Limelight Hotel. Go to http://signup.com/go/HvepoEh to lend a hand.
Boulder Mountain Tour stalwart Brooke Hovey shares some of her favorite power recipes with us. Cook and enjoy!
Nicknamed “Sled Dog” for her love of endurance challenges and racing, Brooke Hovey is an athlete, mother, wife, chef and longtime Ketchum resident. She began cross country skiing later in life (23) after years of road running and competing in track and cross country for CU Boulder. She joined Team Rossignol and leaned how to ski efficiently with coaching from Jon Engen and fellow elite racers. Brooke specialized in skate sprints and 50 km ski marathons and has raced in the BMT 20 years with exception of 2-3 years. Almost every finish has been top 5; with many wins, second and third places. Brooke’s career as restaurant and private chef has always been about creating meals that are organic, local and sustainable, nutrient-dense, energy-packed and delicious, and says “Whether or not you are a trained athlete, food is the foundation of health, vitality and energy.” You can find her creations locally at Nourish Me.
BROOKE’S PROTEIN AND POWER PACKED CREPES (gluten and dairy-free)1 1/2 cup filtered water1 cup steamed quinoa1/2 banana3 tablespoons hemp seeds1 tablespoon raw organic almond butterBlend above ingredients in Vitamix or high-powered blender until smooth, transfer to mixing bowlAdd to liquid ingredients:2 organic eggs1/2 cup buckwheat flour ( I sell sprouted and freshly ground buckwheat at Nourishme in Ketchum)3 tablespoons ground flax seeds1/2 teaspoon sea saltMix all ingredients, let rest for 5 minutes while large skillet is heating on medium heatSpread 1 teaspoon coconut oil in pan, add 1 cup crepe batter, spread thinly to cover surface of pan (these work best as crepes rather than thicker pancakes) Cook 2-4 minutes per side until light golden brownFill with your choice of berries, applesauce, granola and yogurt (dairy-free or cow’s milk, just make sure it’s organic and grass-fed:)
GREEN SMOOTHIE (perfect to go with crepes for full morning of outdoor, aerobic adventures on foot, bike or skis)2 cups filtered water1/2 cucumber1/2 apple (or 1/4 cup frozen blueberries if you prefer to apple)1/4 avocado1 cup dark leafy greens (spinach, kale or swiss chard)2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger1 tablespoon Udo’s 3-6-9 fatty acid oil blend (sold at Nourishme) or cold-pressed coconut oil1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice1/4 teaspoon sea saltBlend all ingredients well in Vitamix
HEARTY LENTIL AND VEGETABLE SOUP (can be vegan or include organic sausage or chicken)In stock pot saute over medium heat for 5-8 minutes:2 tablespoon olive oil1 diced yellow onion1 diced leek3 cloves garlic4 diced carrots3 ribs diced celery2 teaspoons each Italian seasonings, oregano, basil and thyme1/2-1 teaspoon red chili flakes1 teaspoon black pepper
8 cups water, vegetable or chicken stock1 cup green lentils (rinsed and drained)2 organic Italian sausages or 4 chicken thighs (if not vegan)2 cups organic diced tomatoes1-2 teaspoon sea salt or to your tasteBring to boil, turn to simmer and cover for 30 minutes or until lentils are soft Before serving add:handful of rough chopped dark leafy greens1 diced zucchini2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley1 teaspoon balsamic vinegarEnjoy!
The Boulder Mountain Tour is a fun and unique ski marathon. At 34 kilometers in length and with 1,100 feet of elevation loss, the race is fast and challenging, but also accessible to athletes just getting into the sport. I’ll go over some training tips, workout ideas, and a general training template for the month leading up to the BMT.
If you’re trying to be in peak fitness for the BMT, you want to have your largest amount of training volume three and four weeks out from the race. Get out for as much easy distance training as you can, while still mixing in a couple interval sessions and maintenance gym strength. Two weeks out from the race, the focus should be on tapering your hours and recovering from and absorbing the training block, while still getting in some harder intensity workouts. During the week leading up to the race, you should bump your training volume back up slightly and make sure to get in some harder “sharpening” workouts. One example could be a couple of 8-minute threshold intervals followed by a set or two of five minutes of 30 second hard/30 second easy. There’s also nothing like racing to get yourself into form, so ideally, seek out a local race or get some training friends together for a hard race type effort the weekend before the big event. Giving yourself too much of a taper can backfire and leave you feeling flat. Do not be afraid of going into your targeted race with some training in your legs. That’s when I’ve seen our athletes have their best performances.
In building out your training weeks, a good rule of thumb is to shoot for two intensity sessions per week. Some of these should be shorter and harder such as 4 x 5 minute at 90 percent of your maximum, while others can be longer in duration such as 4 x 10 minute at 80 percent of your max, or one longer continuous threshold interval for up to an hour. One idea for a marathon-specific type workout is to go out and ski for a couple hours and then add a set of low level intervals like 4 x 3 minutes at the end. This teaches your body how to go hard when tired, which is key to skiing well during the important closing kilometers of marathons. Another area to focus on is building speed work into a couple distance skis each week. Add 10 x 10-15 seconds speeds into sessions every three minutes or every time you come to a kilometer marker. This will help you get off the start line faster, stay with a pack when someone attacks, and help with that finishing sprint.
While putting in the training time is going to give yourself the biggest reward come race day, there’s a few other areas one can practice to help their performance. Make sure you get in a proper warm up. This should include at least 25 minutes of skiing, touching on each of the different race gears, starting easy and building towards some light intensity towards the end. The pace is generally fast from the start and you need to be able to handle it without putting yourself under. You’re going to have a much easier time skiing 34 km with a pack and drafting versus skiing alone dangling 30 seconds off the back. Also, practice drinking/eating during some of your easier intensity sessions. You need to keep hydrated for the longer races and it’s important to know which products agree with your stomach. Some sports drinks have a lot of sugar, some very little. Know what works for you, and test them out.
Hopefully you can utilize a few of these training tips and have your most successful BMT yet!
Chris Mallory has coached for Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation for 10 seasons while also spending three seasons coaching at the University of Vermont. He is currently serving as head coach of the SVSEF Gold Team.
It’s a beautiful winter morning. The sun is up, the forecast calls for 27 degrees, and the trail report shows everything from here to there was groomed by last night’s crew. You’re already looking up today’s wax recommendation, and deciding which skis will be perfect for the snow from Tuesday’s storm.
Your next move is to get this day started with your ritual cup of coffee.
You hit the kitchen and dump some coffee in the filter, fill the water from the kitchen sink, and press go on your electric brewer. It’s time to pray. Is today’s cup going to be a good one? Have you used the right proportion of “that seems right” and “heck if I know”?
Let’s keep this Nordic skier daydream on track! You already have the skills it takes to be pro on the trails, so let’s apply those same tricks to brewing a pro cup of coffee that will start the day off with an early victory.
Here are five tips for great coffee, just for Nordies:
Nordic: You know that the quality of your gear matters. Good quality skis, fitted to your body height, weight, and skiing aspirations might help you bump up a wave in the Boulder Mountain Tour. If you’re rocking the random 90’s gear you got from your brother-in-law’s garage purge, it’s probably doing you no favors.
Coffee: Your coffee selection counts! Coffee is not just coffee. Beans range from bad to amazing. Specialty grade coffee is the top grade, and only about 10 percent of the world’s production. Within this grade there’s still great and so-so. That’s where your roaster comes in; taking the time to sample roast and taste different coffees, then only selecting the great stuff. Once you select a coffee that matches your desires, buy it fresh. Coffee stays freshest for about two weeks from its roasting date, so buy what you can enjoy in that time frame. If you buy old coffee, you can’t expect it to knock your socks off no matter where it comes from.
Nordic: Your ski bases need to be protected from the elements, so whether it’s summer storage, traveling to a race, or in-between sessions, you always have those thirsty skis covered in wax to keep them from drying out, and protected from damage.
Coffee: Taking care of your fresh coffee is just as important. Light, air, moisture, and heat are coffee’s enemies, so you want to keep those away. Store your daily supply at room temperature in an airtight, opaque container. Yes, right on your countertop or pantry. Never store your daily supplies in the refrigerator or freezer. If you’ve purchased more fresh coffee than you can consume in two weeks, the freezer can be an option. In that case, you can place the fresh coffee in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a month. The trip to the freezer is only a one-time event, so once you’re ready to consume it, remove the entire amount from freezer and use and store at room temperature as usual. If your coffee comes in a foil bag with a one-way degassing valve, that’s a great way to store your coffee. Just be sure to roll and secure the top between use to keep away its enemies.
Nordic: Depending on the snow conditions you plan to use your skis for, you can select a grind for the bases that will make them zippy fast. The skis you pick from your arsenal on a cold, dry day will have a fine texture, and that wet, spring snow will beg for a big, deep-rilled texture.
Coffee: The coffee grind should also match the conditions (meaning the coffee brew method). You want a fine grind for short brew cycles (like espresso machines), a medium grind for longer brew cycles (like drip machines), and a coarser grind for immersion brew (like press pots). The best type of grinder to use is a burr grinder, as it produces the most consistent and exact grind. Only grind what you need, right before brewing. The minute you grind your coffee, the aromas and oils, trapped in the beans under pressure, are released. You want to brew right away to get all those flavors in your cup. Purchasing pre-ground coffee, whether in a bag, can or pod, is not recommended, but sometimes the convenience might outweigh the loss of flavor.
Nordic: You pick a wax plan based on the temperature, and texture of the day’s snow. If you throw on the Toko Yellow when it’s six degrees out, that will probably send you back to the hut in defeat before the 2k mark.
Coffee: Water temperatures for any brew method should fall between 195-205F, so it’s important that your machine can produce these consistent temperatures from start to finish. If brewing with a manual method like pour over or press, note your area’s boiling temperature and go from there. (For example, sea level water boils at 212F, while Ketchum, Idaho water boils at 203F). Always brewusing fresh, clean, filtered water. If the water you use tastes like old tires, so will your coffee.
Nordic: That grooming report has pointed you to the best trail, and the skis are buffed to perfection with today’s wax. All there is left to do is get out there and enjoy it! You relish in the feeling as you glide along the trail, taking in every uphill challenge, and every downhill reward. Yes, please.
Coffee: Pour that brewed coffee into a pre-warmed mug and get ready for giggles as you sip while it’s fresh and hot. Keep enjoying the flavors of each coffee origin as they change during the cooling process. Yum and yum.
Sometimes even with the best skill and preparation things don’t go as expected, so it’s a pretty good rule to avoid taking yourself too seriously on the trail or in your kitchen. If it didn’t work out this time, no worries! You can learn from the experience and adjust next time. And really, no matter the weather, the wax, or what ends up in the cup, you know the best days are the ones that you get to ski alongside your friends, or sit together to share a giggle over coffee.
Liz Roquet is the owner and roaster at Lizzy’s Fresh Coffee in Ketchum, Idaho, a long-time sponsor of the Boulder Mountain Tour. Find more coffee tips and info about their nationwide shipping and coffee bar at www.lizzysfreshcoffee.com. Lizzy’s is located at 410 10th Street, A-3 in Ketchum.
A special thanks for the expert contribution provided by SVSEF Gold Teamers Maddie Morgan & Adam Luban
Jon Engen will be remembered at the 2019 Boulder Mountain Tour as the 46th annual cross country race will be held in his honor.
A three-time Olympian and avid outdoorsman, Engen died of pancreatic cancer on April 26, 2018 at the age of 61, but not before he left an indelible mark on his family, friends and the sport of cross-country skiing.
“Jon Engen was and always will be the classic stoic Norwegian skier,” said longtime friend Bob Rosso. “His love of the sport, and combined with his intensity as a highly competitive athlete always pushed many of us to go harder, ski longer, and enjoy the sport of cross-country skiing.”
With a keen intellect, competitive drive and a physical engine that was both refined and dynamic, Jon would have been right at home rubbing shoulders with the denizens of Mount Olympus.
“He was godlike,” Montana State University teammate Stuart Jennings recalled. “He just wasn’t one of the guys. He was the kind of guy if he had gone out drinking, he never had a hangover, his clothes were always just right, he never needed a haircut and I never saw a scraggle on his chin.”
Ken Robertson, another college teammate of Jon’s at MSU remarked, “Jon was a star. He was the first person I ever came across that was excellent at something. He was incredibly meticulous about everything, his gear, clothes, training, equipment, down to the tiniest detail. And he kept his eye on the ball the whole time. If someone said let’s go do something fun, Jon would evaluate it to see if it would get him down the road in some fashion. He was a whole different league.”
It is hard to say if that focus was born of nature or nurture, and perhaps it was a function of both. Born in Norway on March 9, 1957, Jon was raised an only child in Raelingen. True to the culture, Jon joined a small sports club as a four-year-old and learned how to ski and ski jump like his father, Rein. Athletic success soon followed.
“As a very young boy, Jon would win or place in long races which is kind of an anomaly in the sport. Most people don’t reach peak in endurance until they’ve been a senior for 10 years,” Jennings said.
Much like classic skis trued to the tracks, Jon’s early life followed a well-charted path: junior championships, national success, a year of mandatory military service, engineering studies at the University of Oslo, but it was during a routine visit to the dentist that Jon’s life diverged from the Norwegian norm.
“He saw photos of the Rockies in National Geographic while at the dentist and set out to get here,” wife Darlene Young said. “Applying to schools was a much different process than it is now without the internet, our schools were not full of Norwegian skiers like they are now – there was no way for him to take the SAT’s in Norway for instance. Montana State University accepted him and made him take English as a foreign language which was rather funny. Jon learned how to speak English while watching Flipper, and, then in school, he learned the Queen’s English. He spoke and wrote English better than I do.”
Joining the MSU cross country team as a 22-year-old freshman in the fall of 1979, he immediately met and became lifelong friends with Robertson and Jennings, although it was apparent to both while they have been on the same squad, Jon was no ordinary man.
“Jon had a lot of facets,” Robertson said. “He was smart, determined, and in some ways very secretive. He was a very successful racer in Norway at a young age. They had a club training program and when he came to Bozeman, he participated in team training, but most of his training was based on a secret training program that he never revealed – ever. He’d go off and do intervals and this, that, and the other, but he wasn’t going to share it. At the time it seemed reasonable enough.”
“In a race he wanted to have put in a supremely quality showing,” Jennings added. “He did not hold himself above other people, but held himself to a high standard that none of his mortal friends could match. His athletic tenacity is like nothing I have ever seen in any other athlete. His ability to dig deep and never give up was remarkable. He was that guy. He would find a way.”
As an engineer, Jon was economical with his time, thoughts and words. Stuart recalled one day after practice that Jon was unable to attend.
“Ken and I had come back to the sports area and gone to our cars to go home. I noticed Ken drove out of parking lot with maximum velocity. He had a note on the windshield of his car. It was from Jon and it said, ‘Ken, hurry home, the house is on fire. Jon.’”
The culprit was a roommate from Bergen named Knut, who had stuffed his socks between the stovepipe and the roof one too many times until his woolly insulation ignited the roof and Jon’s sense of dignity.
“Jon had a lot of national pride and felt embarrassed for his country that Knut had done this thing that didn’t reflect well on Norwegians,” Jennings said with a laugh.
That doesn’t mean Jon was without a sense of humor – although, according to some – his was so dry it could have been served with a couple of olives.
“Sometimes people didn’t realize he was joking with them but I thought his sense of humor was hysterical. He had a unique insight into and understanding of human nature,” Darlene observed.
Graduating in 1983 with a degree in Civil Engineering, Jon continued training as a biathlete and cross country skier,
Mike Wolter, a longtime Ketchum resident, who also attended and raced for Montana State University, remarked, “I met Jon right after I got there in 1983. We spent a lot of time skiing, training, exploring Montana and participating in obscure running races. There was a race we did on Beartooth Pass and we brought our skis and went skiing after the race. He was an animal then and an animal his whole life.”
“It’s the Bridger Ridge Run,” Jennings said. “It’s a 20-mile mountain run (billed as a race “only for the truly physically fit”) on a poorly developed trail. He won that race more times than anyone and it was something he did as training.”
Jon continued to wedge his training in when he could – despite a full-time job as an engineer – and as a newly-minted American kept his eyes on his goal to represent his adopted country at the Olympics. According to Robertson, Jon shoehorned training in on nights and weekends – often roller skiing in the dark – while working 40 hours a week in Billings. His initial goal was to make the Olympic Biathlon Team, but when things didn’t pan out at the windy trials, Jon set his sights on a new goal, the Olympic Cross Country Team.
Jennings fleshed out their Olympic odyssey.
“We both trained for the ‘88 games as biathletes. We didn’t make it. The cross-country tryouts came later in January and I said to him, “You know I am spent. I will go and be your coach.” I went with Jon to tryouts in cross country as a coach. As an outsider, he had no splits or wax support from national team coaches. He had no funding and was working a career-type job.”
Bill Spencer was also on the bubble in Biwabik, Minnesota, and credits Jon with getting him over the top and on the Olympic team.
“It came down to a 50k skate race for a few of us. I had a couple classic races where I didn’t do well. I had seriously overtrained and knew that my only chance to make the team was to do well in this one race. Right out of the gate, I just wasn’t feeling good and my splits were not that great. Jon had started three minutes behind me on a pretty hilly course. About 5k in he comes chugging up the course and caught me. I hooked in behind him and he towed me for the next 45k. I went from 15th to third and Jon won quite handily,” Spencer said.
“He was very proud to make the team,” Jennings remarked.
And to represent his new country, according to Wolter, “He was proud to be an American and proud of being from Norway. He waved both flags.”
A few years ago, Jon told Eye on Sun Valley online news, ‘There is no other challenge like the Olympics if you want to be with people who are successful. One thing about the Olympics is everybody there has a story. It’s not about run-of-the-mill people. Most athletes are creative scrappers.’
“I think the number of people working 40 hours a week who make the Olympics is next to zero,” Robertson stated.
Jon’s best finish at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary was 51st in a 30k mass start. He redirected his training to biathlon, noting, ‘I’m a better shooter than cross country skier’ and competed in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, and the 1994 Olympics in his native Norway at Lillehammer. His best individual finish was a 64th in a 20k in his native country, despite being one of the oldest competitors on the team at 37.
“Skiing was in his blood. It is what he knew,” Darlene said.
With every quality it took to be a world-class athlete, and several top-20 finishes in World Cup races in both sports, Jennings believes the one thing that prevented Jon from being the best in the world came from a lack of financial support given to nordic and biathlon athletes.
“Had there been support for him to train full time, he would have had that extra percent. Lowell Bailey (the first American to win a biathlon world championship) reminds be a lot of Jon. It comes down to the level of support we have for nordic and biathlon.”
Despite the inherent challenges, Jon’s love of sport never waned and he went on to race on the international and national master’s level capturing more than 20 World Cup Master’s medals with 12 gold, including two golds in the 24th Masters World Cup Nordic Championships in 2004 at Lillehammer.
A lifelong Rossignol team member, Jon’s athletic prowess was remembered by former Rossignol USA Nordic race director Jim Fredericks in remarks to the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper.
“Jon was a fierce competitor and well known on the ski circuit, whether it was biathlon, marathon skiing or the U.S. cross-country national circuit. As a competitor, Jon was well liked but also feared by his competitors. Many elite and younger racers were often schooled by Jon as he passed them in races. However, his humble demeanor outside of competition contributed to his popularity off the ski course.”
“I still remember the one race where I nipped him at the finish, it was a 25k at the West Yellowstone Rendezvous,” Wolter said. “We went back and forth the whole race and I got him by a ski tip at the end. I’m not sure he believed it, but he was always respectful and always the first one to compliment someone.”
The ability to extend admiration in the form of a compliment served Jon well when crossed paths and fate with Darlene Young at the Boulder Mountain Tour.
“We met in 2000 at the Boulder Mountain Tour banquet. Well, we actually didn’t meet, he saw me there. He wrote me an email a few weeks later saying that, ‘while at the Boulder Mountain Tour I noticed that you have a fantastic smile.’ What girl couldn’t fall for that?”
Robertson recalled that Jon also shared his feelings about Darlene with him, displaying his understated humor that belied a deeper seriousness.
“Shortly before he moved to Sun Valley, he had been to some ski race and met Darlene. Jon was not one to ever talk about women, he was really private, and super circumspect. He said to me, ‘Yeah, I met this woman Darlene and an independent panel of experts voted her as having the best legs of anyone at the race.’ I knew he was head over heels for her after that.”
Jon moved to Sun Valley in 2002, and the pair married in 2006.
“Darlene was the love of his life,” Jennings said.
Jon was a fixture in the Boulder Mountain Tour, and perennially challenged the elite field despite giving up a decade or two to the younger men. The Idaho Mountain Express reported that, “In one unforgettable and lightening-fast BMT on the 32-kilometer course in 2003, Men’s 45-49 class winner Engen finished sixth, just two seconds off the top time – in a pack of racers who were 15 to 20 years younger than he was.”
“(He was) Superman in mind and body,” Darlene said.
In addition to his love of snowsports, Jon was equally acclimated to the other seasons and a devotee of cycling, trail running, hiking, and hunting with his dog, Bamse.
“Jon bonded very well with the western lifestyle. He liked being out in the woods. We spent many days of hunting,” Jennings recalled. “One time we had gone to this place with good elk hunting. We were sitting in meadow at dusk, but in different parts of the field. A herd of elk came running in with a 6-point bull elk at back. I flipped off the shot. Jon was incredulous, ‘Why didn’t you shoot the cow elk?’ I said why should I, I shot the bull. And he said, ‘no, I shot the bull.’ We found both bullets. We shot him at the same time. So we split him.”
Dedicated to giving back to a sport that had given so much to him, Jon founded the Sun Valley Masters Nordic Ski program, was a valued instructor for Sun Valley Company for 15 years, a coach for Team Rossignol and led trips to the World Masters Championships among a myriad of other endeavors, and was inducted into the Sun Valley Ski Hall of Fame in 2014.
“While he still competed as an adult he really felt he was done with that aspect of his athletic career and wanted to do things he had never done. He just really enjoyed being able to get out and be active,” Darlene said. “He was generous with his time and had a positive impact on many. He was there to help whenever anyone asked.”
Fredericks added, “While skiing for Team Rossignol, his teammates often looked up to Jon for his expertise in training and technique. Many of those racers still credit Jon’s coaching as a contributing factor in their success.”
Wolter concurred, “He had such incredible knowledge of the sport and athletics in general and was always digging and looking for things. He was passionate and gave good advice,”
Jon also served as a board member for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, and chaired USSA’s Cross-Country Sport Committee from 2006-2014. In both roles, Jon brought his expertise as an athlete, coach and industry representative to spur the growth of U.S. skiing and is regarded as one of the committee’s most impactful leaders. He received a Special Recognition Award from USSA at the end of his term.
“Much of the success we are enjoying now in cross-country skiing stems from the period when Jon’s committee and community leadership played a major role in the growth of the sport in America,” USSA Chief of Sport Luke Bodensteiner stated. “Most of all, he was just an amazing, kind individual who just wanted to help the sport find success in America.”
In August of 2017, cancer knocked on Jon’s door. Jon, Darlene, family and friends were stunned.
“He was surprised when he got cancer. He had no risk factors,” Jennings said. “But it was just one of the challenges in his life that he was going to overcome. He never came across anything in his life where he couldn’t excel. He was going to win.”
Jennings added that Jon developed a regimen, similar to his secret training program in college, that be believed would help him beat cancer, “I need to focus on the program,” Jon would say, while sending visitors out of his hospital room.
That belief in self. The unyielding will remained with Jon until it was clear cancer was a foe that would not be vanquished. What remained untouched was his heart, mind and spirit, everything that was inherent and instructive to who he was and what he did.
“His mind never left. He had an incredible memory and even when he was weak and it was hard to talk he was sharp,” Wolter recalled. “The last time I said farewell to him he said, ‘Can you believe you are looking at the same person?’ I could not. But he still cracked a smile and had a gleam at the end.”
“He said that life was too precious to give up and never gave up hope that he could beat it. I think everyone thought if anyone could do it, he could. His passing stunned many as we all believed with him,” Darlene said, adding, “Jon believed in me better than I believed in myself. I think he had that effect on many. He was a coach, mentor and supporter of so many.
“And if he could see the love that came in from all around the world after he passed away, I know that would have made him truly happy.”
Earlier this summer, Darlene accepted the prestigious Al Merrill Nordic Award on Jon’s behalf. The honor is given to the individual (or group) involved with any aspect of Nordic skiing who demonstrates an exceptional level of commitment, leadership and devotion to excellence.
An unparalleled ambassador of the sport, Engen’s love of cross country skiing was only exceeded by his regard for his fellow man. Fiercely intelligent, dedicated, and determined were characteristics equaled by a relentless passion for life, the outdoors and athletic pursuits. It is in his honor and these traits he shared so generously with others, the Boulder Mountain Tour is proud to host the 2019 race in Jon’s indelible memory.