The cross country World Cup moves to Szklarska Poreba, Poland this weekend, beginning with Friday’s skate sprint. This marks the first time Poland has hosted a World Cup event, and with the queen of the home team, Justyna Kowalczyk, only 12 points behind Marit Bjoergen (NOR) in the season-long battle for the overall World Cup title, there should be plenty of excitement for the local crowd.
As part of the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) effort to jump-start the visibility of top-level skiing in Poland for its debut on the circuit, a third event will be taking place in addition to the sprint and the 10/15 k classic: the inaugural World Uphill Trophy, set to start at 12:30 CET on Sunday.
In an email on Monday, FIS Cross-Country Race Director Jürg Capol said he expects the event to be popular with the home TV audience.
“We wanted to create a several-days event,” he wrote. “Cross-country is a growing sport in Poland, first it’s our [number one] TV market right now.”
The 8 k race, which goes straight up Karkonoski Mountain for 4 k and then back down, is not part of the World Cup, but is positioned on the schedule so that athletes already in Szklarska Poreba can easily take part in it. The Uphill Trophy race is also open to elite Continental Cup-level skiers and amateurs over the age of 18.
Capol estimated that 25-30 World Cup skiers would stay to race on Sunday. Between the top class, COC-level skiers, and amateurs, he expects around 250 skiers to participate in the Uphill Trophy race.
Simply finishing the course will be no easy feat—after climbing 500 m over 4 k with no break, skiers will turn around and come back down a separate alpine slope. On the way down, they’ll navigate through approximately 10 giant slalom-style gates to finish back at the bottom of the mountain, which works out to 2.5 gates every kilometer.
“Not so many are [needed] because the alpine slope has natural curves,” said Capol.
By comparison, the grueling final stage of the Tour de Ski on Alpe Cermis contained 100 fewer meters of climbing, and ended at the top.
As exciting and crash-inducing as the event is likely to be, several World Cup teams have already said they won’t be participating. Trond Nystad, head coach of the Norwegian men’s national team, said his athletes would be done competing in Poland on Saturday.
“We prioritize World Cup races and have decided that a race format like this does not fit into the training and racing schedule,” Nystad said on Monday.
Likewise, Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth said the skiers wouldn’t be entering.
The U.S. Ski Team will play it by ear; head coach Chris Grover said the Americans are sticking around for the Uphill Trophy on Sunday, but won’t know who will race it until they gauge how everyone is feeling on Saturday night after the 10/15 k classic.
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.