The sun was shining on the 2020 Zions Bank Boulder Mountain Tour and Sun Valley Nordic Festival – literally and figuratively.
The 47th annual race marked the feel-good edition of the BMT. Not only was the weather flawless, adding to a marked cheerfulness by all involved, locals had reason to cheer as the race saw its first local champion in 12 years and the youngest ever race winner.
Johnny Hagenbuch, 19, a senior at Sun Valley Community School and member of the U.S. Ski Development Team, backed up his potential in the men’s elite field deemed to “be the deepest in the history of the race” by Rick Kapala, SVSEF cross country program director.
Emerging from the trees in front, Hagenbuch built a strong enough of a lead on the homestretch to turn around and look at his pursuers. He crossed the finish line – alone – in 1:17.07, almost one second ahead of Jordheim and Bie, who were separated by 1/100th of a second. The pair, along with women’s champion, Guro Jordheim, are coached by Miles Havlik, a former racer on the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Team and two-time NCAA National Champion at Utah.
Hagenbuch’s victory marked the first win by a skier who grew up in the valley in 12 years. Mikey Sinnott claimed the Harriman Trail crown in 2008.
The women’s race came down to the wire, with Jordheim narrowly overtaking 2019 runner-up Katie Feldman at the finish to win in 1:25.50.3. Feldman crossed the line in 1:25.50.5, and 2019 champion Erika Flowers was a close third in 1:25.50.9.
Jordheim, 23, a six-time All American, is competing in her third NCAA Championships this week in Bozeman, Montana. She is the top-seeded skier in the women’s 5k classic and 15k skate in the West Region. Havlik’s Utes won the 2019 NCAA banner in his first season as head coach, and with six veteran skiers, including the Jordheim twins and Bie, competing are looking solid once again.
Cash prizes totaled $8000 in the elite class with $2,500 going to the race winners, $1000 to second place and $500 to third place, along with flowers and BMT special-edition cookies. There is no disparity between men and women regarding cash prizes awarded.
Age class champions in the Full Boulder were Ella McNeeley, Sarah Kilroy, Jordheim, Mary Rose, Flowers, Kellie Carim, Kathryn Roberts, Brooke Hovey, Barbara Kreisle, Kim Kawaguchi, Elizabeth Youngman, Janet Conway, Linda McClatchy, Andrew Crouch, Jackson Monz, Hagenbuch, Bolger, Gelso, Joshua Korn, Sam Kreig, Joe Jensen, John Bauer, Barry Makarewicz, Kris Thoreson, Steve Moore, Peter Darienzo, Del Pletcher, and Steve Swanson.
Wave class winners (3-7) took home $75 cash courtesy of Zenergy Health Club and Spa. Champions were Sloan Storey, Eloise Zimbelman, Maria Gesior, Naomi Goldberg, and Justin Calvin for the women, and James Roloff, Will Sladek, Ruslan Reiter, Jeff Aken and Clint Mortley for the men. Goldberg and Calvin won their waves outright.
The Jon Engen Memorial Award to the skiers who improve their times by the most significant percentage year-over went to Hannah Young (17.5%) and Brad St. Clair (31.7%). Jon’s wife, Darlene Young, was on hand to give out the eponymous belt buckles hand-crafted by Foster Weld of Boise.
A new award this year, Ski It Forward, is given to the nonprofit organization of the winning team’s choice. “Bjorn to Adventure” with Hagenbuch, Bolger, and Bjornsen garnered $1,000 for The Hunger Coalition, who builds healthy community through access to good food and addresses the root causes of food insecurity in Blaine County.
“There are so many amazing nonprofit organizations on which our community is built and depend. We are happy to contribute to their wonderful work and be a good partner in our quest to create a healthy and happy community,” Jody Zarkos, BMT executive director, remarked.
Youth was served in the 15k Half Boulder, as overall titles went to 13-year-old Reed Wuepper of Bend, Oregon, in 38 minutes and 15 seconds and 12-year-old Cora Scott of Hailey in 43 minutes and 28 seconds. The pair finished first and sixth overall, respectively. The winning parent/child team was McCallen and Brady Campbell of Hailey.
This year’s race attracted 877 (676/201) participants, with 587 racers finishing the Full Boulder and 174 crossing the line in the Half.
As always, the Zions Bank Boulder Mountain Tour received tremendous support from its partners in the community and nationwide. Zions Bank was the title sponsor for the sixth consecutive year. Gold sponsors were Sentinel Security, Sue Engelmann of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, and Blaine County Title.
Silver sponsorships were provided by SWIX, Limelight Hotel, Backwoods Mountain Sports, Elephant’s Perch, Atkinsons’ Market, Power Engineers, Voće Tea, Lutz Rental, Zenergy, Blaine County Recreation District, Galena Lodge, Davis Embroidery, Rossignol, Madshus, Rex Wax, Salomon, Hammer/Heed, TOKO.
Bronze sponsors were Sturtevants, Jones Grover Team of Engel & Vølkers, Clear Creek Disposal, Sun Valley Associates, Sun Valley Garden Center, Lizzy’s Fresh Coffee, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, McCall Remastered, Boulder Nordic Sport, Fischer, Bliz/Swenor/START, and Enjoy Winter.
Race supporters include West Yellowstone Montana, Sun Valley Community School and Ski Academy, Morgan’s Fine Finishes, Lloyd Construction, Mason Family Restaurants, VAMPS, DONS, Conrad Brothers Construction, Perry’s Restaurant, Wrapcity, Nourish Me, Sushi on Second, The Cellar, Sawtooth Avalanche Center, Lefty’s Bar & Grill, Glow, Wood River YMCA, Pisten Bully’s, Mountain Rides, Wood River St. Luke’s, U.S. Forest Service, and Bluebird Solar. The NordicTown USA Sprint purse was provided by board members Muffy Ritz and John Seiller.
The BMT would like to extend its gratitude to Sharon Pyle of Atkinsons for her help in procuring race-bag items and the following amazing companies who made very generous donations to the delight of our racers: Pro Bars, Nuun Hydration, Kate’s Real Food, Betty Lou’s, BoBo’s, Nature’s Path, Wolo Bars, Honey Stinger, NibMor, Raw Rev Bars, Dandies, and Backcountry Bars.
Jack Weekes created the official poster and artwork for the custom-made socks of the 2020 BMT. A limited number of both are available for purchase at email@example.com. Nils Ribi was the official race photographer. Program contributors include Emily Williams, Mikey Sinnott, Annie Pokorny, Don Shepler, Mary Rose, Matt Gelso and John Reuter. Design by Judy Stolzfus of Judy’s Design House.
We would like to acknowledge the City of Ketchum for co-hosting our BMT Block Party and Awards Bash, as well as local businesses and sponsors who provided food and drink; The Cellar Pub, Leroy’s, Voće Tea, Wood River Sustainability Center, La Parilla, Sawtooth Brewery, and Zions Bank.
Race stalwarts include our wonderful aid station sponsors, Galena Lodge, Sun Valley Suns, Sun Valley Community School, Sturtevants, and Girls on the Run spearheaded by Tom Bowman. We would also like to extend our thanks to the road crew with Bryce Turzian and friends. Andy Munter for buses and biffies. John Seiller ran the start for the Full Boulder and Kelley Yeates and Family the Half Boulder start. Prime Time Timing of Wisconsin expertly provided race timing supported by Bobby Noyes, safety measures by the Galena Backcountry Ski Patrol and emergency services by the Ketchum and Sun Valley fire departments, Idaho Transportation Department, Idaho State Police, and Wood River Ham Radio. In acknowledgment of the local ham radio club’s years of service, the BMT donated $500 to the organization in honor of Joe Yelda. The course grooming crew headed up by Eric Rector of the BCRD did an excellent job, and the course held strong all day long.
The board of directors of the BMT would also like to extend its sincere thanks to the 260 committed volunteers who absolutely make the race what it is year after year. This race would not happen without your dedication, energy, and enthusiasm. Volunteer heads include Ted Angle, Jenny Busdon, Roberta Heinrich, Travis Jones, Rick Kapala, Jim Keating, Eric Rector, Bobby Noyes, Ashton Wilson, John Reuter, Nils Ribi, Gay Riley, Muffy Ritz, Bob Rosso, Jim Keller, James Lieberman, Frank Rowland, Andy Munter, Don Shepler, Pete Stephenson, Mike Wolter, Bryce Turzian, Tom Bowman, Joe Yelda, Mat Hall, Kelley Yeates, Sue Hamilton, Ivana Radlova, Paddy McIlvoy and Martha Pendl.
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.
Racer assignments are ready for the 2019 Zions Bank Boulder Mountain Tour. The 46th annual cross country race takes place Saturday, February 2, on the Harriman Trail of the Sawtooth National Forest north of Ketchum. This year’s race attracted 907 registrants.
Click on the link below to see wave assignments. Please note; every effort has been made to place each racer in the appropriate group, both for the racer’s personal enjoyement and safety of the 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
Crashing a meeting between Martha Pendl and Paddy McIlvoy, two new members of the Boulder Mountain Tour board of directors, is like having a front row seat at an Improv Night comedy show – albeit German improvisation.
“Ja, ein bisschen Deutsch,” Paddy affirms, apparently thrilled to be conversing in another language.
“Das ist wunderbar. Ich liebe es!” Martha exclaims. (“That’s wonderful. I love it!” – according to Google translate).
This exchange is delivered with the energy level and excitement of two 8-year-olds about to go trick-or-treating, which is a fitting mindset for the pair of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation coaches. Martha, a SVSEF and Wood River High School alumna, is the head coach of the Cross Country Devo Team at Lake Creek, taking over this year for longtime skipper Dave Bingham. Paddy has been with the devo program for 14 fun-packed years.
“Whatever else I am doing in my life, two days a week I get to go skiing with a bunch of psyched kids,” he says. “How great is that?!”
One of four Pendl sisters (Barbara, Liz, Christina) born in Sun Valley to Austrian parents, Martha remembers being in the Bill Koch Ski League coached by Janet Kellam and Liza Pascall at Bigwood Golf Course.
“Every Tuesday in second grade, I wore my knickers and three-pin ski boots to school,” Martha recalled. “It was mostly me and the Jaquet brothers, but when I saw the big kids out skiing – the Stones, Harpers, SJ, Kim Csiz, my sisters – I knew I wanted to be like them. By the time I was a “big kid,” there were about 15 of us on the whole team.”
Once a year the ski team kids would tackle the BMT course and it was a big deal, Martha recalls.
“They wouldn’t groom the course all year and when they did for the race it was such a treat. I always wondered if I was going to make it the whole way.”
For Martha and her sisters, the Nordic ski team was a perfect blend of family, friends and culture.
“They were Austrian (her parents) and skiing was just part of their life. It is what they did and it is what we did growing up. We would ski out Lake Creek or Murdoch Creek with friends on weekends, have a picnic, and ski back. My sisters and I would ski around in the field in front of our house. It was so accessible and fun.”
For Paddy, the cross country trek was a little more solitary, but no less encompassing, despite growing up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a city located on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert.
“My father was a serious “nordork” from Colorado. We used to go ski the dunes at White Sands and tried our best to figure out a wax where the skis would slide, but we never did. We would drive five hours to Angel Fire to ski a one k loop. My brother hated it. I hated it and some point I loved it,” he said.
Paddy matriculated to Prescott College in Arizona, earning a degree in Outdoor Adventure Education.
“When I was there I got back into skiing in a big way and did some extremely informal and talentless racing,” he says with a big smile and dollop of stolz.
Martha, a junior national champion in relay, skied collegiately as a freshman at Middlebury College and the remainder at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, where she was a six-time All-American in the 7.5k freestyle, 10k classic and relay.
Post-college, Paddy was looking for “the best playground I could find to fish and ski and climb,” and found it in Sun Valley in May of 2003.
“I didn’t know anyone and had a lot of time to Nordic ski. I was skiing a bunch with Doran (Key) and the next winter after I moved she told me Rick Kapala was looking for another Nordic coach. I said I wasn’t very good at the teaching side and better at the fun side – no one ever said I should Nordic ski less. I have been coaching ever since. Now I am better at the skiing along with the fun. It’s a really good time,” he remarked.
In 2003, Martha moved to Driggs, Idaho, carrying on the family tradition of a konditorei, opening a pastry and coffee shop, Pendl’s Bakery and Cafe, featuring Austrian staples reminiscent of those found in her father Fred’s cases at Pendl’s Pastries in Vargold Lane in Ketchum back in the day.
Despite living in Driggs, Martha made her annual pilgrimage to participate in the Boulder Mountain Tour.
“It’s a community friend with its own personality and reputation – a friendly neighborhood shop you visit every year,” she says. “When I lived in Driggs and I would come back every year and it was like skiing with 200 of my best friends. I joined the board to be part of the process and give back.”
Giving back, being involved and a love for the sport of cross country skiing are themes that are repeated throughout our conversation and it’s apparent both Martha and Paddy have a deep and abiding affection for the Boulder.
“My best BMT memory is not one I skied in. It was the infamous canceled race,” Paddy recounts. “I was in Backwoods, waxing skis the night before. One of the sets of skis belonged to a group of five guys who were sit-skier athletes. The next morning I was there at 6 a.m. to hand out skis. I would say 80 percent of the people did not show up to get their skis. When I pulled in at 6 a.m. all of the sit-skiers were in the driveway waiting for me – and there’s 18 inches of fresh. That is radical.”
Martha takes her turn.
“I signed up the night before – hadn’t skied much but I knew I had muscle memory and enthusiasm. When I came across the finish line, there were my two kids, 6 and 2 years old, wrapped in every bit of clothing they had and screaming, “Go, Mom!” You feel like an Olympian coming down the finish lane, Bob Rosso announcing your name, kids cheering, old friends smiling. I’d made it. My kids gave me a hug, then promptly bolted for the cookie table.”
Willkommen auf dem brett, Martha und Paddy!
Martha and her husband, Geoff Hebert, have two school-age children, Eloise and Callahan. Paddy freely admits when he married his wife, Morgan, “I took that whole marrying-up thing to the nth level.”
The Boulder Mountain Tour board of directors is comprised of Tom Bowman, Sue Hamilton, Martha Pendl, Paddy McIlvoy, Andy Munter, Ivana Radlova, Muffy Ritz, John Reuter, Bob Rosso, and John Seiller.