Basalt’s Hailey Swirbul to start cross-country ski season on World Cup
Hailey Swirbul knows it’s about to get real. She was introduced to the World Cup stage last winter, her first on the U.S. cross-country ski team, but that small appetizer is about to turn into a full-course meal as soon as the snow begins to fall in the Northern Hemisphere.
“It will be a rude awakening to the season no matter what. But I’m ready. I’m really excited,” Swirbul said in a recent interview with The Aspen Times. “Probably going over there to get my butt kicked for a couple of weeks, but I think I’ll learn a lot. That’s my long-term goal is to excel on the World Cup one day, so I want to see what it’s like.”
Swirbul, a 2016 Basalt High School graduate and former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete, will start her season on the World Cup circuit after getting four starts on the big stage last season. She surprisingly made her World Cup debut Jan. 12 in Dresden, Germany, where she finished 41st in a freestyle sprint. Her other three World Cup starts came in the season’s March finals in Quebec, Canada, where she finished 53rd in a freestyle sprint, 41st in a 10-kilometer classic and 41st again in a 10k freestyle pursuit race.
Swirbul will compete in Period 1 of the upcoming World Cup slate, which goes from the start of the season to roughly mid-December. Where she goes after that will likely depend on her results from the early-season races.
“This will be the real deal, to kind of get a taste of what it’s like to be on the road for a while,” Swirbul said. “I’m glad to have that experience under my belt and a little more confidence knowing I’ve done it, I can do it, and if I give my best that’s all I can do and let the results fall where they may.”
Swirbul, 21, continues to live in Anchorage, Alaska, where she is studying civil engineering through the University of Alaska Anchorage, but trains mostly through the prestigious Alaska Pacific University club team. APU has produced some of the sport’s best athletes, such as Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall and current “A” team members Rosie Brennan, Sadie Bjornsen and Erik Bjornsen.
A developmental team member in her rookie season, Swirbul is part of the U.S.’s “B” team this winter alongside Julia Kern and Caitlin Patterson. The U.S. women’s “A” team members also include Olympic gold medalist Jessica Diggins and Vermont’s Sophie Caldwell.
“I feel so fortunate to be part of this group and have access to all these resources right now. It’s been an adjustment to kind of figure out how to get the best use out of those resources,” Swirbul said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity to have my teammates at APU here and on the U.S. Ski Team to learn from. They’ve paved the way a little bit for my generation, so it’s less work, I guess, in the foreground working toward my goals because these older women have proved that’s possible.”
Diggins and Randall certainly rewrote what’s possible for U.S. cross-country skiers after winning Olympic gold in 2018. Prior to that, the only Olympic medal for the U.S. in the sport was silver, won by Bill Koch in 1976. Randall has since retired, but Diggins, 28, remains the face of American cross-country skiing.
The dream for younger athletes like Swirbul is to ride the coattails of skiers like Diggins with the hope of finding similar success on the world stage.
“Granted, we all still have to put in all that hard work and training, but it’s cool just to have the support system that knows what you are going through,” Swirbul said. “I’m happy with how my season went last year. But I’m also hungry for more, so I’m really excited to get going this year.”
The first World Cup race is scheduled for Nov. 29 in Ruka, Finland. Norway, Switzerland and Slovenia all host races before the end of December as well.
Swirbul, alongside fellow AVSC alum Scott Lacy, will host a fundraiser on Oct. 20 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Mountain Chalet in Aspen.
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The Snowmass Cross Country Center will not reopen its doors this winter for Nordic ski rentals or lessons, Ute Mountaineer staff confirmed Thursday.