In the absence of a SuperTour last weekend, many elite skiers on the domestic circuit chose to contest one of several marathons taking place around the country—notably the Boulder Mountain Tour on Saturday in Sun Valley, Idaho and the City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis, Minn. on Sunday. You didn’t have to take a close look at the results to notice that at least one person entered both races: Matt Liebsch (Team Strong Heart/Team Birkie) won the 32 k in Sun Valley and the 17 k in Minneapolis the next day.
“It was a little bit much, but I think it was fun,” said Liebsch after he’d returned home.
Liebsch’s plan was always to do the City of Lakes, but he made the last-minute decision to add a week of training in Sun Valley to the mix in light of the lack of real snow he’s been able to train on this winter. At this point in the season, he estimated he’s skied on natural snow only 14 days, a stark reality that many skiers in the U.S. are facing this year.
The race-hopping would have perhaps seemed more reasonable if he’d been able to fly to Minneapolis on Saturday after the BMT like he’d planned, but Liebsch’s plane out of Salt Lake City got delayed until 4:00 am on Sunday morning. The gun went off at the City of Lakes Loppet at 12:30 pm.
Liebsch had about 90 minutes from the time he arrived in Wirth Park to the start of his race—plenty of time to warm up, but not under the most ideal of circumstances of rest and recovery from the 32 k he’d finished just hours before.
“The whole thing was a blur,” said Liebsch of his weekend on Tuesday afternoon.
With a week to adjust to the altitude in Sun Valley, he had figured he stood a good chance of winning. Liebsch was also coming off an overall win at Tour de Twin Cities, and was clearly in good shape.
Despite successfully navigating the week-long tour, however, he’d never dealt with a plane ride between back-to-back races before.
“Sunday was more of a question mark,” said Liebsch. He told himself that two races in as many days were nothing compared to something like the Tour de Ski.
“I definitely got a little tired on Sunday; I didn’t have that same pop,” he said.
Liebsch skied to a comfortable 12.4-second victory at the Boulder Mountain Tour over Lars Flora (APU) despite bonking in the final few kilometers.
The next day, he barely held off Brian Gregg (CXC) over five laps in Minneapolis.
“Then Monday I was back at work for a full day, and today I took the kids all morning. I took two full days off training after this crazy weekend.”
That’s the other unique thing about Liebsch: while most of his competitors at the top of the U.S. racing circuit only have their own well-being to keep track of, Liebsch has a wife, Marybeth, and two young kids to think about every time he decides to skip a week of work at Gear West and go race.
“Some elite skiers can do the couch surfing thing all season long, but I have to think about groceries for a family of four and a mortgage,” said Liebsch.
Every racing decision he makes is therefore a financial choice in addition to an athletic one. Some may stop training as seriously once they have other obligations, but Liebsch only uses it as extra motivation.
Before he left for a week of training in Sun Valley in preparation for the BMT, he sat down with his wife to discuss the trip. She pointed out to him that to make it a financially reasonable, Liebsch had to come in first or second.
“If I’d tanked, it would have put our family in a difficult position,” said Liebsch. “That problem makes me dig a little deeper at times. When you’re skiing to put food on the table for your family, that can give you access to a whole other level…during a race.
“I think it’s made me a better ski racer—I have to be a little bit more focused to balance finances, training, work and family. In Sun Valley it was all training—I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Now that another weekend of racing is behind him, Liebsch’s focus is the upcoming American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wisc. He was ninth in the 50 k freestyle last winter, but knows that he’s in much better shape this year. The biggest race in the U.S. is less than three hours from his house, and at seven times the payout of a SuperTour win (first is $7,500), presents a big opportunity for return on the time and effort Liebsch has invested in his racing this season.
That, and it’s the Birkie. As a skier from the Midwest, victory in front of thousands of other racers and spectators would carry more weight than any of the results Liebsch has yet posted this winter. With thoughts of his family motivating him, he’s hoping for big things.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.