The UW Nordic Ski Team more than doubled in size this year, going from about a dozen skiers to 27 athletes. While always a popular club sport at the University of Wyoming, the dramatic increase is due, at least in part, to a special program between the University of Wyoming’s Division of Kinesiology and Health and the Shanghai University of Sport, or SUS, in China.
Dr. Derek Smith, director of UW’s Division of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, said UW has an agreement with SUS to establish an education coaching program in Nordic skiing, in conjunction with UW’s competitive Nordic skiing program. The effort stems from the UW strategic plan that encourages engagement in national and international communities and broadening the exposure of faculty and students in programs abroad.
“We looked at how we could develop international partnerships and, because we had faculty with connections to China, it grew from that,” Smith said.
Part of that partnership with SUS was due to the desire in China to increase their winter sport participation in anticipation of the 2022 Winter Olympics being held in Beijing. Nordic skiing is not that popular in China, although there is a strong focus on endurance sports.
“At SUS there was a desire to improve their Nordic skiing program,” Smith said. “That fit real well with us since we have two outstanding Nordic ski coaches who are internationally recognized, and we have close proximity to Nordic ski trails.”
Those two coaches are Rachel Watson and Christi Boggs, who have coached the UW Nordic team since 1998. Their teams have competed internationally and always come out on top, or near the top, each season at the National Championships.
Last summer the two coaches, along with Smith and other UW faculty, headed to Shanghi. Their goal was to winnow down the 80 Chinese applicants who applied to come to Wyoming to learn how to ski and coach skiing to 10 athletes.
Applicant selection included not only academic ability but also physical performance and what might be best described as “grit” that is needed not only in Nordic skiing but also in making the transition from Shanghai to Laramie.
Of the five men and five women selected, none had skied before and one had never even seen snow prior to coming to Wyoming.
Two of those included Murong Yu, from Huai Nan, and Dong Yang Han, who adopted the name “Andy” and hails from LuoYang. Both are at top levels in their respective sports where Yu competes in women’s soccer and Han is a runner and a rock climber.
Both students are excited not only to learn to ski but to also get instruction on coaching, which they hope to do when they return to China.
When asked what they find the most surprising about coming to the United States or Wyoming, both paused to give the question consideration.
Han said he was surprised that winter was so long here. He is used to having snow only for short periods, not for months on end as we have here.
Madison Tinker, who is president elect of the UW Ski Team, also serves as the Learning Assistant for the UW course taught by Boggs and Watson called “Art and Science of Nordic Ski Racing.”
Tinker, who has been on the UW ski team for three years, said it’s been an adjustment to have the ski team jump in size this year.
“Last year the team fit in one car when we went to meets,” Tinker said. “Now it takes four vehicles. We still all cook dinner and eat together, so the team comradery is still there; we’re just a bigger team.”
That team is proving quite successful this season. Qualifying for the National Championships held in Lake Placid in March is a goal for many of the skiers. Boggs said initially they would have been pleased if even one of the Chinese skiers qualified for Nationals.
“As of our race last weekend we have all 10 of the SUS skiers qualified,” Boggs said. “We also have 10 of our American skiers qualified. Of those 4 men and 6 women, nine are from Wyoming and one is from Massachusetts. We’re excited since we have never taken this many skiers to Nationals.”
Anyone wanting to cheer on the UW team or even ski in a race with them, that opportunity comes to the Happy Jack Recreation Area on Feb. 29 and March 1. On Saturday, Feb. 29, UW hosts the Cowboy Chase with a college team sprint race, although citizen racers can also enter. Next day is the annual Laramie Loppet, open to collegiate racers as well as citizen racers. This 21 km freestyle race starts at 10 a.m. and is open to hard core racers as well as novice skiers. For those opting for a shorter event, a 5 km race and a kid’s race is also being held. Registration and more information is online (Laramieloppet.weebly.com).