About halfway up Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain, Chelsea Holmes strained to see the top. Without much luck, she put her head down and poles forward, reciting a familiar mantra to push her to the finish.
“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,” a little fish sang out in her head.
In her first time racing Idaho’s Baldy Hill Climb on Saturday, the 24-year-old Holmes wasn’t hallucinating. She actually felt pretty good scaling 3,140 vertical feet on the 1.86-mile course; she just needed a snippet from Disney’s “Finding Nemo” to help her through.
Holmes, who joined the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) this summer, was the first female to reach the 9,150-foot summit in 42:46, about 2 ½ minutes ahead of the second woman.
While she said it wasn’t one of the course’s fastest times (former U.S. Ski Team member and 2011 national trail run champion Morgan Arritola won it in 39:50 last year), she was happy with her performance.
“It’s fun and it’s not,” Holmes said. “I haven’t done a race effort in a while and you get to the top and you’re like, ‘Oh, what’s that feeling?’ ”
The pain soon fades, at which point every finisher relishes in reaching the top, she said.
“It’s just a fun atmosphere; it’s not super intense at all,” she said of the race, with fewer than 100 runners. Hikers and mountain bikers competed in separate categories.
On the men’s side, Holmes’ former teammate with Far West Nordic in Truckee, Calif., Matt Gelso was second to seven-time champion Michael Tobin, who won in 37:08. Gelso finished 45 seconds later, beating Baldy’s five-time winner, Miles Fink-Debray, by more than two minutes.
While Holmes approached the race as a tough training run, she also heeded others’ advice. Arritola, an SVSEF athlete who won the Xterra Trail Run National Championship on Sunday, told her to use poles.
Initially hesitant – Holmes had only used poles for bounding – she asked around.
“Not to mention, it makes it sound a little more intimidating that everyone uses poles,” Holmes said. “But it makes a difference. … Some of it’s slick in spots.”
While the alpine trail run wasn’t her first (she did the Squaw Valley Hill Climb several times), it was at least three times as longer than her typical jaunts. In three years at Truckee, where she trained and eventually began coaching, Holmes had a go-to uphill that lasted 15 minutes. Besides a recent running time trial in Sun Valley, the Baldy Hill Climb was her first race of the summer.
After spending part of August at home in Alaska following an SVSEF camp there, Holmes moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, in early September. There, she continued to her ski-specific training and measured her progress on the Olympic development team after mostly working out alone.
“I spent more time rollerskiing, which actually isn’t that bad once you get in the swing of things,” she said of her summer plan. “There was more direction in my day-to-day training.”
She added that her training was somewhat open with suggested workouts and time frames. That gave her room to breath and assess how she felt, she said.
Looking forward, Holmes said she would miss Truckee, her first real home after leaving Alaska. She said her training with Far West and coaching at the Sugar Bowl Academy helped her grow after college, both technique- and goal-wise.
Last year, she soared to two victories at the 2011 Canadian Nationals – in the 30 k and 5 k freestyle races – and was third in the USSA Super Tour Final freestyle hill climb.
“I’m definitely excited about the winter,” Holmes said. “I’m curious to see where I’m at … I know I probably won’t make a jump like I did this past year, but I don’t know, it’ll just be interesting to see.”
For results from the 2011 Baldy Hill Climb, click here.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.