Wednesday Workout: Make Your Own Agony Hill

FasterSkierJuly 19, 2017
Peter Wolter, of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, racing to the fastest time up Agony Hill during the 2017 Western Regional Elite Group (REG) time trial in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo: Matt Whitcomb)

When it comes to U.S. Regional Elite Group (REG) training camps, there are a few running themes that remain consistent across the country and from year to year. In the East, West and Alaska, participants in the U.S. Ski Team’s development program are tested with an uphill run, agility course and a roughly half-mile double pole, all of which are timed and done individually.

Western REG coaches Mike Elliott and Bill Hokanson explained how the run is done at Agony Hill, adjacent to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The “hill”, on the 6,348-foot Mount Van Cott, has been an REG staple since 2006, according to Elliott, a three-time Olympian and former U.S. Ski Team (USST) member. It has been used since the 1990s by the USST, the University of Utah Ski Team, Wasatch Ski Academy, The Utah Nordic Alliance, Park City Nordic Ski Club, and Soldier Hollow Nordic Ski Club, Elliott wrote in an email.

The Agony Hill course records set more than a decade ago still stand, which Hokanson explained was partially due to trail construction since.

“We’re not 100% convinced the modern course is exactly equivalent to the historical one,” wrote Hokanson, head coach of the Wasatch Nordic Ski Academy in Park City and Salt Lake City.

For instance, Morgan Arritola set the junior women’s record of 16:55 minutes up the 1.7-kilometer climb in 2004. The rest of the course records were set before that by John Aalberg (12:46), Nancy Fiddler (15:46) and Rob Whitney (reportedly under 14:00) for senior men, senior women and junior men, respectively.

“Variations in the Agony Hill TT course over the past 3 – 4 decades may in part account for the difficulty contemporary athletes have faced in trying to set new records,” Hokanson wrote.  “However the records are held by 4 of the toughest, fittest, most talented athletes of all time, which may fully account for the tenacity of their record efforts.”

Here’s how you can replicate the Agony Hill time trial in your own backyard:

“Agony Hill can be developed anywhere and it does not have to be all uphill,” wrote Elliott, now executive director of Rocky Mountain Nordic in Durango, Colo. “My coach, Dolph Kuss, used a course on the edge of Durango when I was in college a Fort Lewis college in 1965 & 1966.  It was a loop next to the local cemetery.  The area is still called test tracks.”

Elliott recommends a climb lasting 12 to 15 minutes for athletes 18 and older. He also suggested starting athletes individually (via interval starts).

“It can be all out for one lap or Level 3 below threshold intervals,” Elliott added. “Try and have around the same time each time.  It can be a 15-minute run to see how far you can go.  Like Agony Hill, it can be all uphill.”

He explained that these kind of time trials measure fitness, pacing and rate of improvement over time, and recommended doing this workout once every other week or once every three weeks.

The Workout: Agony Hill uphill time trial

1. Warmup: Light running and stretching for 30-40 minutes

2. Uphill Run: Interval-start recommended

  • Option 1: One time, all-out effort: see how far up the hill/mountain you can go
  • Option 2: Level 3 intervals: aim for consistent times

3. Cool down

Agony Hill specifics:

  • Where: Mount Van Cott, east of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City
  • Course map
  • Course length: 1.7 kilometers
  • Peak Elevation:  6,348 feet
  • Vertical climb: 367 meters
  • Unofficial course records:
    • Senior men: John Aalberg (12:46)
    • Senior women: Nancy Fiddler (15:46)
    • Junior Men: Rob Whitney (reportedly under 14:00)
      • 2nd fastest junior male: Glen Randall (14:34)
    • Junior Women: Morgan Arritola (16:55)
  • This year’s winners:
    • Peter Wolter (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation): 15:40
    • Novie McCabe (Methow Valley Nordic Ski Club): 17:29


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