Utah to Host 2017 Junior/U23 World Championships (Updated)

Lander KarathJune 5, 2015
Torin Koos (BSF) out-lunges Ben Saxton (SMST2) for the win of the 1.5 k freestyle sprint at the U.S. Cross Country Championships. (Photo: Tom Scrimgeour)
Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah serves as the cross country venue in the recently submitted bid for the 2017 Junior/U23 World Championships by USSA. With no competing bids, there is a high chance the Championships will come to the U.S. for the first time in its modern form. In this photo, Torin Koos (BSF) out-lunges Ben Saxton (SMST2) for the win of the 1.5 k freestyle sprint at the 2014 U.S. Cross Country Championships at Soldier Hollow. (Photo: Tom Scrimgeour)

UPDATE: According to the International Ski Federation, Utah will officially host the 2017 FIS Nordic Junior/U23 World Ski Championships. See the pre-decison article from June 5 (below) to learn how the U.S. entered a bid after last hosting in 1986, and what the Championships will look like.

If everything goes according to plan the world’s best junior and U23 nordic skiers will descend upon Park City, Utah in the winter of 2017. The United States Ski and Snowboard Association announced Tuesday that organizing body submitted a bid for the 2017 Nordic Junior/U23 World Championships at this year’s International Ski Federation (FIS) Calendar Conference, which began June 3 and will continue until June 8. With no other bids, all that stands between the U.S. and the Championships is a stamp of approval from FIS.

The last time the U.S. hosted a Nordic Junior World Championships was in 1986 at Lake Placid, N.Y. At the time, however, the event only consisted of ski jumping and nordic combined and did not include officially recognized cross country skiing races (although there were cross country races that were coordinated with the event), as is standard in Junior/U23 World Championships since 1991. The U.S. has also hosted the 2004 Cross Country Intercontinental U23 Championships at Soldier Hollow, but the U23 World Championships were not created until 2006, when they were hosted in conjunction with the Junior World Championships in Kranj, Slovenia.

According to USSA Vice President of Events and IT Calum Clark, there’s a high chance the U.S. will host its first modern Junior/U23 World Championships in 2017. He explained the U.S. bid was the sole entry for the event, and that all that was left for USSA to gain hosting rights was the official go-ahead from FIS.

“We met with the FIS leadership this afternoon any they were excited for [the Championships] to come back to America,” Clark said from the 2015 FIS Congress in Belgium Thursday. He explained that the only thing left was “a simple rubber stamp from the council.”

If the U.S. is selected by FIS, the event will be held between the cross country courses at Soldier Hollow in Midway and the jumping complex at the Utah Olympic Park, in Park City.

An American-hosted Championships has been a dream of U.S. Nordic Combined Coach Greg Poirier for many years, but it wasn’t until 2014 that he decided to jumpstart the project. “It was kind of my idea to bring these Championships to the U.S. I had been thinking about it for years and finally last year I decided to stop thinking about it and get something going,” Poirier said in a phone interview.

He approached the cross country and nordic combined committees at the 2014 USSA congress and was encouraged to further explore a U.S. proposal. Poirier put together an ad hoc bid committee consisting of officials from Soldier Hollow and Utah Olympic Park, which then presented a proposal to the leadership of USSA, including President and CEO Tiger Shaw, in the fall of 2014. Once USSA was comfortable with the presented budget, it sent a written intent to host the Championships to FIS before the December 31 deadline.

A view of Soldier Hollow's stadium from the highest point of the 5 k olympic course.
A view of Soldier Hollow’s stadium from the highest point of the 5 k olympic course.

According to Clark, USSA supported the proposal due to thorough planning and feasibility.  “So often with these World Championships, the excitement can overwhelm the practicality and you get this aftermath of realizing that this is going to be a whole lot of work that you’re not prepared for,” he explained. “In this case we had such a tremendous group of people with great experience on both sides of the nordic skiing jumping and cross country.”

Clark said that the financial model of the Championships was within the means of USSA due to various groups who provided “semi-guarantees of strong financial support.”

According to the Vice President, the most important factor of the bid was the athletic opportunity it provided to U.S. athletes. Over the years USSA has been exploring the possibility of bringing other high-profile international competitions stateside to further such opportunity, exampled by last year’s discussions of a cross country World Cup in New York City. Clark said that in the end, however, a Junior/U23 World Championships made more sense.

“We went through the process of exploring an urban cross country World Cup and [the nordic leadership] came back to us and said, ‘no, if you’re doing anything Junior Worlds is what we’d like to have.’”

If USSA receives the pending bid for the 2017 Championships there will be several focus areas that organizers will need to tackle. It will start with the creation of a new organizing committee, consisting of technical delegates from cross country, nordic combined and jumping. Once the committee is created they will work to build a plan regarding marketing, television or live streaming, transportation, and accommodation. Poirier hopes to create an athlete village in Midway, Utah — possibly at the Zermatt Resort — where all competitors, coaches, and staff will stay during the event.

Organizers will also look into updating Soldier Hollow, the cross country and biathlon venue for the 2002 Olympic Games, to meet the Championships’ needs. Poirier said that a future organizing committee would explore using the original cross country stadium at the venue in addition to creating more challenging courses that feature increased climbing. According to the nordic combined coach, any changes in courses or stadium placement would use existing trails and facilities.

“It’s already a great center,” Poirier said of Soldier Hollow. “We created this bid with the intent that we wouldn’t have to create a whole lot of dollars for infrastructure improvements. If we can get some and there’s a need then it would be a great opportunity for both the Olympic Park and Soldier Hollow. But if we can’t, we’re confident that we can move forward with the facilities the way they are now.”

Although the 2014 Nordic Combined Olympic Trials featured the cross country portion of the event at the Utah Olympic Park, Poirier said that it made more sense for the cross country portion of the Championships’ nordic combined events to take place at Soldier Hollow because the venue was already in use by the other cross country races and due to its proximity to the athlete village in Midway.

Those anxiously awaiting official confirmation of the bid will have to wait until Monday June 8, the last day of the the 2015 FIS Calendar Conference.

In the meantime, the high likelihood that the U.S. bid will be approved is giving many in the nordic community a sense of excitement. “It gives me goosebumps to think about it and I have butterflies in my stomach,” Poirier said.

“What I’m most psyched about is those kids that are in our pipeline who are going to be able to compete on our home turf,” he added. “Hopefully they are really going to shine and that will really be the impetus and catalyst for the spark that gives those young boys and girls motivation. That’s going to be the real gem, the real benefit to these games.”

With just days before official confirmation, USSA officials, Poirier and other organizers aren’t about to relax.

“The real work begins today,” Poirier said.

Lander Karath

Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.

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