Running Roundup: Skiers Find Success at the Golden Trail World Series

Ella HallAugust 15, 2022

The sport of trail running is growing. With more specialization, sponsorships, and media attention, the scale of competition changes. The Golden Trail World Series, which launched in 2018, is helping guide this growth. With a world series circuit, national series, and a championship, the Golden Trail World Series (GTWS) “exists to celebrate and evolve trail running as a sport.” Given that trail races can be roughly anywhere from 5 k to 330 k and with a range of national and private circuits, the idea with the GTWS was to provide a competition for the top trail athletes to compete in year after year. 

Golden Trail World Series competitors pose together before Sierre Zinal in Switzerland (photo:@goldentrailseries)

The GTWS combines a circuit of the best-known 21 to 42 kilometer races in the world and draws the best athletes to compete. In practical terms, the Golden Trail World Series could be considered a trail world cup. The man behind the vision, Gregory Vollet, sees the GTWS as a way for more professional athletes to be able to make a living from running, as broadcasting helps grow viewership and thus sponsor interest. In an interview earlier this summer, Vollet said, “currently the rate of athletes who have a real financial contract is very low. The Golden is designed to help them: them, the athletes, and the sport. This is its raison d’être and it will remain so.” With four GTWS completed this summer, the next two events will be happening in the U.S. in September before the five-stage series finale in Madeira at the end of October. 

Two athletes whose names will be familiar to the FasterSkier audience recently made debut appearances on this famous trail running circuit. Sophia Laukli (U.S. Ski Team & University of Utah) won the 25 k Stranda Fjord stage of the GTWS, just days after her rollerski victory on the Lysebotn Opp. Sam Hendry (University of Utah) finished 10th in the Stranda Fjord 25 k and a week later, came in 24th in a stacked field at the 31 k Sierre Zinal stage

Sophia Laukli is all smiles after winning her first-ever Golden Trail World Series event (photo: @goldentrailseries)

In an email to FasterSkier, Laukli shared her thoughts on the GTWS experience, saying “the environment was very intense, but also fun and exciting all around, similar to ski races I would say.” Having never met or competed against the other women was initially a little daunting but Laukli said, also “made it a bit more exciting.” She remarked that, “All the runners ended up being very nice and stoked for each other which is always great. It stood out to me too that the top ten women were almost all from different countries, which was pretty sweet to see.” 

Stranda Fjord women’s top-five finishers: Blandine L’hirondel (FRA), Elise Poncet (FRA), Sophia Laukli (USA), Emelie Forsberg (SWE) and Sara Alonso (ESP) from left to right. (photo: @goldentrailseries)

According to the race description, the Stranda Fjord 25 k “takes you on a wild ride in the Norwegian fjords. This course has everything from fast and flowy trails, steep climbs and technical downhill running.” With 1700m (5,577 ft) of climbing, there was plenty of vertical to be found as well. Laukli described the race as “crazy technical.” She wrote, “I had done part of the course a couple days before so I knew what was coming, and I was pretty terrified on the start line. There was a lot of discussion about the strong technical skills of the other runners before the race, so I knew there would be tough competition since I knew I struggled with technical terrain myself.” 

In soggy conditions with minimal visibility, Sophia Laukli leads the women’s race (photo: @goldentrailseries)

Knowing that about herself, Laukli made a plan to go hard out of the start in an effort to make up time on the climbing sections. The plan worked, “I had a pretty large gap at the final peak,” Laukli shared, “so I did everything in my power to stay on my feet and keep moving on the descent. The first boulder section was brutal and slippery but luckily I avoided any crashes. The course then moved along to basically a long mudslide, and then the hardest part for me ended up being the marsh for the last part of the course, which seemed to last forever.”

Nearing the finish, Laukli began to suffer, realizing that she hadn’t been eating or drinking enough throughout the race. She wrote, “I bonked pretty hard the last 45-ish minutes in the marsh, and that’s when I no longer stayed on my feet, but it was just face plants in the mud so no injuries involved. I was really just playing catch up until the finish and hoping none of the other women would come fly by me. I was absolutely exhausted at the finish, but managed to hold off the rest of the field, although many of them did make up some time on me on the whole descent. Once I crossed the line, I was honestly very shocked I had won, but it was a great feeling! It felt so rewarding to be done after probably the hardest race I had ever done.” 

When asked about maintaining a balance between ski training and trail racing, Laukli said that the two go well together. She wrote, “I haven’t changed much about my ski training this summer just because I have always incorporated quite a bit of trail running into my plan for skiing. In the week or so leading up to my running races, I do sometimes have a little more running focus at least for the intensity, just for some last prep, but the majority of my training is still a lot of roller skiing. It’s very helpful to have the roller skiing aspect to prevent running injuries and keep building a solid base, so I feel the two are very compatible and cross over well. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work initially, but so far it seems to be working well to combine the two.”

Originally, Laukli’s plan was to travel to Switzerland for the next stage of the GTWS at Sierre Zinal before heading to Sweden to join the U.S. Ski Team for a camp there. Unfortunately, she caught COVID just after the Stranda race, meaning that plan was out. Instead, Laukli will be traveling back to Utah in preparation for the start of the school semester at the end of August and competing in a couple more running races later in September.  

Laukli’s University of Utah teammate, Sam Hendry also shared some thoughts with FasterSkier about his recent racing experiences. Before traveling to Europe, Hendry won a stage of the U.S.-based Cirque Series, in Brighton, UT, which he described as a “good training race.” 

Sam Hendry closes in on the finish line at the end of the Stranda Fjord 25 k (photo: @goldentrailseries)

Heading across the Atlantic, Hendry touched down in Norway, ready for his GTWS debut. “The Golden Trail World Series is pretty cool,” said Hendry, “it is essentially the World Cup of trail running.” About his performance in the Stranda 25 k Hendry shared, “Stranda was a crazy technical and challenging course, but I was very happy to finish in the top ten.”

The men’s top-ten from Stranda Fjord, won by Jonathan Albon (GBR), with Sam Hendry in 10th (far left) (photo: @goldentrailseries)

From there, Hendry moved with the rest of the GTWS circuit to Switzerland for the 50th edition of the famous Sierre Zinal race. Hendry wrote, “[Sierre Zinal] was much more straightforward but still super hard, being a 31 k with 2100m (6,890 ft) of vertical. I had a terrible climb but got into a rhythm at 11 k and managed to move up into 22nd. I’m pretty happy with the two weekends of racing here in Europe.” 


In other domestic running news, Scott Patterson held onto his title as victor of the Crow Pass Crossing, earning his 8th win (6th in a row). Patterson finished the 22.5 mile race in a time of 3:04:07, running in challenging weather conditions. His fellow APU teammate, Ari Endestad, finished in third place, +28:35 behind Patterson. 

In the Alyeska Cirque Series on July 30th, former U.S. Ski Team D-Team member and current UAF athlete, Kendall Kramer won the female division in a time of 1:24:26. On the men’s side, Patterson won (1:07:02) ahead of Micheal Earnhart (U.S. Ski Team D-team & APU) and David Norris (APU). Norris also competed in the Snowbird Cirque Series on August 6th and finished in sixth place, while continuing his recovery from a bruised heel that hinders his ability to run downhill quickly.

Ella Hall

Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.

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