Before this year’s mini-tour in Fort Kent, and even before the inaugural Tour de Ski in 2007, there was the Colorado International Spring Series (CISS) in 2004 and 2005. CISS was a stage race much like those coming into vogue today, and it was one of the first of its kind—if not the very first. Nathan Schultz, now the owner of Boulder Nordic Sport, had the idea for the event, and FasterSkier caught up with him last week for a quick look back.
FasterSkier: So this being before the Tour de Ski, how did you come up for the idea for the race?
Nathan Schultz: We have great snow in the spring, and I was pretty much done with my ski racing—I was still racing, but mostly just for fun. So I thought, “well, we’ve got all these great places to ski, and wouldn’t it be fun to have a Spring Series here.” We’d been having Spring Series forever in Sun Valley. That was great, it was super, but Rick Kapala got really burnt out, because he was volunteering his time organizing it.
We did it in 2004 and had the worst March melt-out ever, and we were questioning whether we were going to be able to run the event. It was pretty rugged—at one point we had a snowmobile go into an under-snow river that had formed. So there were a lot of challenges, but it turned out to be really fun. The whole time, I wanted to do something different, because I felt like the sport had kind of been changing in the wrong way. They’d been trying to get spectators by trying these new things—it’s still kind of that way—new formats, change the distance of the sprints, change this, change that. I wanted to try to do something that was different but more fun.
I figured it would build more of a story. Nobody was paying attention to ski races in the spring anyways, but if you want to create a compelling story, you do it by having this long series of the events. It was for the athletes, but it was also to try to do something different for the sport. We did that in 2004, and tweaked it a bit in 2005.
I had come from bike racing, so I’d seen a lot of the fun things that had happened there. We had three jerseys for the skiing: We had the climber’s jersey, an overall leader, and then the points jersey, for the sprinter. And then we created another jersey, which was called the fun leader. That made it a lot of fun, and people were doing some pretty crazy things [to win the fun jersey]—it made the whole event just have a fun and relaxed atmosphere.
FS: Why didn’t you keep doing it?
NS: We had great success—the problem was just that we got really burnt out doing it. We weren’t able to raise enough money to have someone to be the race organizer, and it was too much work to be able to have someone do it as a volunteer.
FS: Any good stories from the competition for the fun jersey?
NS: There were some crazy things. We got some great athletes to come over from Europe for a couple of those years—Martin Koukal, Oystein Pettersen. One day we had a criterium at the Winter Park Resort, which was at the base of their ski mountain. It had a really sick climb up an alpine slope. We built a double jump, and it was way faster [to go over the jump] than the other way.
Oystein Pettersen was trying to get the fun leaders’ jersey, and he pulled a backflip off of it. The first time he did that, he crashed really hard and separated his thumb. He came skiing down, the doctor reset his thumb, and then he went back out did a few more laps, pulled another backflip and this time landed it. (Corey Smith somehow dug up video of that first flip, here!)
This last spring in Vancouver, I saw him out at one of the bars a couple days after he won his medal—he came up to me and gave me a big hug. We’ve stayed friends—that’s cool to have built that rapport.
The other fun leader story…there were a couple Norwegian guys—one of the Aucklands, might have been Frederick or Jorgen, one of the CU guys—they left the bar at like 2 a.m., and they had finals in Boulder that day. So they decided that they were going to run over the Continental Divide, and meet the CU alpine team at the top of the ski hill in Eldora at 6 a.m. and get a ride back down to Boulder. They took off at 2 a.m. and made it over and did their tests.
It would be awesome to see that kind of adventure come back to Spring Series. I know it’s a big race to put on, but it seemed like it’s just become another race. It used to be a big race. The first time I did it, as a kid, it was so much fun that it kept me wanting to ski race. Having fun like that and having high-quality racing in the U.S. is worthwhile.
FS: How did you convince all those Europeans to come over?
NS: That was one of the things that Rick Kapala had done really well. He had called people up and said, “look, you need to come over here and race. We’ll pay your way over here—it will be a blast, you’ll win prize money.” It lowered the FIS points dramatically, so we kept along with that.
At the time, Trond Nystad was the U.S. Ski Team head coach, and Knut [Trond’s brother] was working over there as well. We had connections with four or five people who were traveling on the World Cup. I called ‘em up and said, “find [some] athletes, and have them call me.” We put it in our budget to ship over a bunch of people—they came over.
The first year we kind of had to recruit people, and the second year, people were calling us.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.