PARK CITY, Utah – Olympian Liz Stephen of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team held off a hard-charging Veronika Mayerhofer of Austria to claim the title at the Red Bull 400 hill climb at the Utah Olympic Park. The event, which attracted over 400 athletes who climbed a 400-meter course up the HS134 meter ski jump landing hill and inrun, made its U.S. debut. Turkey’s Ahmet Arslan took the men’s title. U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Bryan Fletcher was fifth, leading three American Olympic nordic skiers into the top 10.
The hill climb essentially reversed the path of a ski jumper, starting at the end of the outrun with a flat first 50 meters before hitting the Olympic HS134-meter ski jump. After 100 meters the pitch increased precipitously up to the 250-meter mark where it briefly flattened before athletes climbed stairs up onto the inrun and on up to the top of the jump. Most of the steep portions were hand crawled with athletes generally grasping onto cargo netting that had been placed over the plastic jumping surface.
Stephen had posted the fasted qualifying heat for the women, but Mayerhofer, an Austrian who claimed the 2015 NCAA skate championship title competing for the University of Utah, was in striking distance in the other heat. Stephen took an early lead into the pitch but had Mayerhofer hot on her heels. At the stairway climb from the landing area up onto the ski jump itself, Stephen had about a 10-meter lead. Mayerhofer, however, quickly closed the gap but didn’t have enough to overtake Stephen.
“This is a fun race and something I’ve never done before – running up a ski jump.” said Stephen. “But I like to ski up mountains so I felt it would be a good crossover.”
Stephen, an Olympian and one of the top cross country skiers in the world, is especially noted for her prowess on hills. She is one of the perennial favorites in the annual climb up Alpe Cermis in the closing stage of the Tour de Ski.
“Compared to the Alpe Cermis, this is a lot shorter,” she said. “Cemis is more of a mental endurance thing. Here you hurt for the whole time but there’s always that adrenaline thing that gets you through the first few minutes. At Cermis, there’s another 40 minutes. It’s much easier to get your head around it mentally in a short event like this.”
Fletcher, an Olympian and World Cup winner in nordic combined, is more accustomed to flying down the hill rather than climbing up. He had been sixth in his qualifying heat and stepped it up to fifth in the finals.
“The race was awesome – it was challenging and fun,” said Fletcher. “The hardest part was knowing that after the first heat you would have to do it again.”
Fletcher was joined in the top 10 by Torin Koos, a four-time Olympic cross country skier, who finished seventh, as well as Olympic champion Billy Demong, who was ninth.
The event was produced in partnership by the USSA’s 2015 Club of the Year, Park City Nordic, along with the Utah Olympic Park, and served as a major fundraiser for the club.
Release courtesy of USSA