Hailey Swirbul signs with Alaska-Anchorage | AspenTimes.com

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Hailey Swirbul signs with Alaska-Anchorage

Hailey Swirbul of the Aspen Valley Ski Club climbs the final hill in the 10k freestyle race in West Yellowstone.

Hailey Swirbul is ready for a college adventure. And a skiing adventure.

Swirbul, the Basalt High School senior and Aspen Valley Ski Club standout, signed to ski for the University of Alaska-Anchorage next year.

"It really will be quite an adventure," Swirbul said. "I'm so excited to go up there and see what they can offer."

She said her recruiting trip to Anchorage sealed the deal after she had been recruited by most of the conventional collegiate cross country ski programs in the Lower 48.

The team camaraderie, the coaching staff, the facilities and the adventuresome location convinced her to ski for the Seawolves next year.

"That was all above and beyond up there," Swirbul said.

A top junior skier with national titles on her resume, Swirbul said she also is excited about the opportunity to train at sea level.

"That was one of the criteria," she said, adding that she's intrigued by the chance to train low after living at 8,000 feet.

"As an athlete, it's really important to work … on getting faster," Swirbul said. "Sea level is the place to be."

Her new teammates, she said, bring a special intensity to ski racing.

"I got the feeling that everyone there really loved skiing," said Swirbul, who will major in engineering. "I like being around people with the same mindset."

While on her recruiting visit to Alaska, Swirbul said she had a chance to help the team with the annual ski swap in Anchorage, a community with a massive cross country trail system.

"Seeing the excitement the people have for (cross country) skiing was amazing," said Swirbul, the daughter of Rebecca and Brick Swirbul.

Her older brother is Keegan Swirbul, a professional cyclist.

Hailey Swirbul also will be training and racing with several members of the U.S. Ski Team — her coaches, her teammates and skiers who train out of Alaska Pacific University, located adjacent to the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

Swibul was recruited by Alaska Pacific but said she preferred the college experience with her young teammates at Alaska-Anchorage, including an incoming freshman from Finland and one from Poland.

"We are really excited Hailey is coming to Alaska-Anchorage," said Nordic coach Andrew Kastning, with a nod to Swibul's junior resume — including international experience. "I think she made a good choice."

Kastning, originally from Crested Butte, said Swirbul will have a chance to flourish with their training program at sea level after living at altitude..

"I took a big stride in my skiing when I could train at sea level," the Alaska-Anchorage coach said.

Kastning, who raced at Vermont, went on to coach at the University of Nevada and Montana State before heading north to Alaska.

He said Swirbul made a strong impression on her visit to the campus in Anchorage.

"She seemed really mature," he said, adding that with her academic prowess, the university was able to offer Swirbul a "significant scholarship."

He said the Roaring Fork Valley native is considered a landmark signing — a top Colorado prep skier matriculating to Alaska-Anchorage.

"She's exactly who we wanted," Kastning said. "To get Hailey is great for the Seawolves."

She'll also have a chance to race as a collegian back in Colorado against the likes of CU and the University of Denver, among others.

Swirbul will race for the AVSC through this season. She recently returned from a national race in West Yellowstone, Montana.

"I wasn't that fast. But it's early," Swirbul said. "I learned a lot from that. I think this is going to be a good year."

dstrode@aspentimes.com