With the U.S. Ski Team’s final pre-season camp wrapping up on Oct. 22 in Park City, Utah, FasterSkier reached out to one of the newer additions to the USST’s D-Team, Hailey Swirbul, for a recap of her experience.
Born in Grand Junction, Colorado, the 20-year-old grew up skiing in the Rocky Mountain area with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. In 2016 she headed north to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), where she is currently in her junior year.
Since joining UAA, Swirbul has qualified for NCAA’s twice, racing to a second and third in last seasons races held in Steamboat Springs, Colo. At the 2018 World Juniors Championships in Goms, Switzerland, she came away with two individual medals, one silver and one bronze.
The script below is a firsthand account from Swirbul of what the Park City camp was like for her.
Though my 20-year-long life might not seem like a long time to some, I’ve spent about half of my time on earth dreaming about becoming a member of the US Ski Team. And 2018 was the year this dream became reality. As a new member of the development team, October Camp in Park City rounded out my first cycle of summer training with some seriously seasoned World Cup athletes and D-team peers.
As I write this, recalling training sessions and meetings and breakfasts in Park City, I take a moment to zoom out from the perspective with which I went through camp. There I am, sitting with Sadie Bjornsen watching dog videos together, while Jessie Diggins prepares her daily oatmeal. Wait a second… that’s me? Sitting next to these women who, to this day, pose in a poster on my wall wearing neon yellow puffy jackets and heavy duty trail shoes? These ladies are my heroes! But yes, I assure myself, that was me, a little fish in a big new pond, or a “guppy” as the older ladies dubbed my fellow D-team teammates the previous few years.
I zoom back to the perspective I actually saw with my own two eyes; the one where I not only coexisted with these athletes that are the best in the world, but learned from them and was included by them and could be myself around them. After breakfast, I would head back to the room I shared with fellow D-teamers Hannah Halvorsen and Julia Kern, where we turned on some tunes and sang our way through our morning routines until it was time to get to work.
Now it’s time to get serious; let’s talk training.
Because this was my first October camp, I wanted to keep it conservative my first few days in Park City. We tested out our bodies with distance sessions and flat, threshold skate intervals to rev our engines. And after about three days, I was exhausted! What the heck? I train harder than this regularly back in Alaska, so why do I want to curl up in my cozy bed and check out for about 15 hours? It turns out, the training wasn’t the only thing that caused stress on my body.
Though training was manageable, my first week in Park City was infused with obligations like a proctored exam, PT and nutrition meetings, and nightly dinners with supporters of the ski team or with NTG athletes. To say the least, I was not able to squeeze in the nap I so desperately longed for, and it didn’t help that Hannah, Julia and I couldn’t stop talking when it was finally time to go to bed at night.
Oops. I was told Park City camp would be busy, and indeed it was!
Once I finally figured out the general format of how each day would go, I settled in and found a rhythm to my training and daily routine. I found training sessions a good time to practice focusing and learning from others, as about 40 athletes from the NTG, University of Utah, APU, and Sun Valley joined us for some workouts. Kudos to the coaches; organizing training for 50 athletes at once is no small feat!
The camp went by quickly, and before I knew it, it was time to hammer out some race simulations: a skate sprint and a classic distance. Personally, I saw gains from any previous sprint simulation I had contested. Both my consistency and fitness improved throughout four heats of race-course-like terrain on the Soldier Hollow roller ski track.
We used a “King’s Court” format where the last skier in each heat moves down, and the winner of each heat moves up. I’ve still got a ways to go to reach the levels of the U.S. World Cup veterans in sprinting. As for my peers, I’m continually impressed by Hannah and Julia who can mix it up with the best and execute fitness, tactics, and courage throughout a sprint day.
We returned to Soldier Hollow the following day for our individual start classic time trial–my favorite. The women completed three tough laps around the roller ski course and men took on four laps. For me, that meant three grueling times up the legendary Hermod’s climb. It hurt, no doubt, but it meant that race season is just around the corner!
After that race, I saw that Sadie Bjornsen posted a photo with a caption that read, “Testing out the pain cave…I think we can be friends again.” I couldn’t have said anything better about the end of Park City camp. After months of training this summer and adjusting to a new environment with the U.S. Ski Team, I am finally ready to say that the pain cave and I can be friends once again. Bring on the races, because this new team of mine is ready to leave it all out there this season.