Triathlon has always been a warm weather sport, conjuring up images of San Diego and Hawaii. Once the leaves fall from the trees and winter sets in, triathletes either enter hibernation or head to warmer climates to work on their base and/or continue to race. The vibrant triathlon scene in Australia makes it possible to finish up a season in the northern hemisphere and jump into the beginning of another one in the southern hemisphere.
But aside from the globe trotting lifestyle that provides an endless summer for many hard-core triathletes, there is also another option for those athletes who relish the sight of the first snow flakes each year in alpine climates such as Colorado. Triathlon is no longer just a summer sport, but now has a full-fledged winter complement. When swimming is relegated to indoor pools and the water outside is mostly found in the form of snow, the fast-becoming-standard winter triathlon consists of running, mountain biking, and skate skiing-in that order, and all on snow, of course.
A big sport in Europe for the past seven years, the ITU started conducting world championships for winter triathlon in 1997. The year after, a World Cup circuit similar to its summer counterpart was conceived, along with world rankings. The 2002 world championships were held in Italy; and this year, sprint races are being added to the mix. The world championships for the 2003 season are being held in Oberstaufen, Germany from February 12-16. The distances are 8K run / 12K bike / 10K ski.
Although winter triathlon in the US has not had the popular past as in Europe, winter multisport events have nevertheless made their presence known in the Rocky Mountain region. The annual Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon in Grants, New Mexico consists of cycling, running, snowshoeing, and skiing up to the top of 11,301-foot Mount Taylor, and then the events are reversed for the descent back down to the 6,500-foot starting point. The race draws a slew of multisport athletes from Colorado each year and this year’s event is set to go off on February 15.
In the realm of three-sport events, Barry Siff and Liz Caldwell of Mountain Quest Adventures started putting on events at Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park several years ago. The original events included snowshoeing, skate skiing, and running. These events morphed into the standard European format now seen in the World Cup and world championships. In 2001, Winter Park was the site for the first official USA Winter Triathlon Championships. A similar race had to be cancelled in 2002, but now Mountain Quest is back this season with a three-race winter triathlon series. If all goes well, the final race of the series on March 9 may once again become the US championships-with an 8K run, 15K mountain bike, and 10K cross country ski.
Triathlete Neal Henderson started racing the winter events three years ago, along with another Boulder triathlete, Jimmy Archer. Henderson, Archer, and Denver’s Mason Rickard all competed in last year’s world championships in Italy, in both the individual event and the combined team relay. Henderson’s advice for summer triathletes looking to switch up their training with some winter racing, “Work on your ski technique. When dealing with water, whether it’s in liquid form in the pool or frozen in the form of snow, it’s all about technique.” Henderson suggests starting off with a skate skiing lesson to get a few pointers right from the start.
Winter events add exciting new venues to the world of multisport, and Colorado is uniquely positioned to lead the way for winter triathlon’s upsurge in North America.