2004, 2005 Spring Series Had Tour Format…and Backflips (Updated with Pettersen Video!)

Nathaniel HerzApril 5, 20104
The Colorado International Spring Series in 2004 and 2005 featured a leader's bib (pictured), a climber's bib, a sprinter's bib, and a fun leader's bib. Photo, Tim Carter

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

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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  • crashtestxc

    April 5, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    YES!!! I remember being at these races in 2004 and 2005.

    “This IS what ski racing needs today in the U.S.”
    These are by-far the best races ever held on mainland soil.

    It was exhilarating watching the criterium held on the side of the mountain at Winter Park, watching the top-guys duke it out in the sprint at Snow Mountain Ranch, and racing against a really fast group of guys in a chaotic mass start pursuit race.


    We need a greater concentration of races to happen in the springtime in a more easily accessible location (i.e. Sun Valley, Colorado, or Utah). If you can’t afford to go to some remote location (Maine!) and don’t want to travel to other places just to do one tour or a 24 hour race, then there are no venues for racing come late March. This is disappointing…

    It would be great to have a good points race that could attract some of the top skiers in the U.S. and maybe a few from abroad?!

    Great article, let’s hope something magical can happen for the 2010 – 2011 season!

  • Mike Trecker

    April 8, 2010 at 8:37 am

    These indeed were fantastic events, hats off to Natron and his crew. Not to be forgotten is the role that Devil’s Thumb Ranch played as the main hosts of these races and the financing they provided. Much credit to the Fanch family for not only showcasing their fine facilities but also for contributing directly to the development of ski racers in this country. Between the Fanches and the City of Aspen who puts on the Owl Creek Chase SuperTours, Colorado has had great stepping stones for local and regional skiers since the early 2000’s. Make sure to patronize those who have helped our cause so much throughout the years. If you haven’t been to DTR recently or checked out the Aspen/Snowmass trails, make sure you do, they keep getting better and better and these two groups really deserve our support. And when you’re there make sure to remind everyone how great their races are and that’s why you’re there.

  • deanerbeano

    April 9, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    That wasn’t a backflip that was a frontflip! pretty impressive haha!

  • nordic_dave

    April 13, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I just returned from Lapponia Ski Week in Muonio, Finland. It is a 3 day stage race, part of the season long Euroloppet Series. See http://www.euroloppet.com. It’s been going on for at least a decade, so no CISS was not “the first of it’s kind”.

    A past champion at Lapponia Ski Week was one Carl Swenson, current champion is Kari Varis also European Marathon Champion. Racing in April is like a festival of multple races all over Scandonavia for both young and old. Racing in the U.S. for youth/ seniors and masters alike in April is almost non existent.

    YES! WE SHOULD BRING BACK THE SPRING SERIES TO ANY VENUE WILLING TO HOST IT. (I think Sun Valley had it first. ) I would be willing to help get sponsors, etc…

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