|A Taxing Pursuit
BY BRIAN MAFFLY
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Tuesday, August 8, 2000
PARK CITY -- In Cory Smith's version of a perfect world, cross country skiing is the sport every true American cares about and his International Rollerski Series is the sport's Big Dance, its Blacktop Circus.
Ski fans on a winter-sports jones converge on the Nordic mecca of Park City in the dead of summer to line sun-baked ribbons of asphalt so they can watch their favorite sports heroes glide to glory on aluminum planks fitted with polyurethane wheels.
And everyone in town knows the name of Cory Smith, ski wheeler demon and aspiring World Cup skier.
But this is all fantasy. Few have ever heard of the International Rollerski Series, better "known" as the IRS, where the only things at stake are "chipwiches," silly hats and bragging rights.
This is the United States after all, and no one is more painfully aware of Americans' disinterest in cross country skiing than Smith and his roommates, fellow cross country skiers Scott Loomis and Erik Stange. Loomis, in fact, co-wrote the book on this subject.
But the Park City skiers are doing something about it. Amid tongue-in-cheek hype, the trio launched the rollerski competition last summer, racing on the freshly installed strips of blacktop feeding the Snyderville Basin's new subdivisions.
It was a way to make training fun and implement formal time trials that gauge their progress in the summertime absence of ski competition, Smith said. The race series has also inspired a heated rivalry between the three sometimes friends, who all hope to break into international racing, as they vie for the top positions in the overall standings.
What distinguishes the IRS from something like the World Cup, which Smith refers to as "the second most prestigious series in cross country racing," is that anyone who rollerskis is invited to race. As a result, Olympians such as biathlete Ian Harvey and Canada's indomitable Beckie Scott have shared the asphalt in IRS events with junior racers from Park City.
But the big boys don't hold anything back just because there are young skiers on course. In a a skate-technique race on July 15, the second of this summer's six-race series, Stange was the last out of the starting gate, slashing down a road near Kimball Junction. The winner was to be the proud wearer of a purple hat donated by IRS sponsor Marshmallow Peep.
Five kilometers later, Stange crossed the finish in a yet-to-be-built subdivision after 13 minutes, 22 seconds -- six clicks slower than Smith.
Stange barked the kind of profanity that would get him kicked him out of a ward-league basketball game.
"I wanted that hat," Stange fumed in mock disappointment. What he really wanted was to show up Smith, the holder of last year's overall IRS title. In past races, Smith awarded podium finishers with chipwiches, an ice-cream dollop squished between two cookies. First place got the vanilla chipwich, second the chocolate, and third the strawberry.
Like all his past IRS victories, Smith's July 15 win went unnoticed in the local press. But a week later, Smith realized his dream of becoming a virtual household name in Park City when he cropped up in the 12th paragraph of a story in the Park Record, mentioning his victory in the 10-kilometer Mountain Challenge in 40:05. That's a foot race, by the way.
European cross country ski racers invented rollerskiing in the 1970s, strictly as a dryland training tool. After decades of R&D, rollerskis have been perfected into two-wheeled vehicles that sell for about $270 a pair. Pole tips should be retrofitted with special carbide tips, which are designed to handle thrusting off asphalt.
"It's purely for the sake of simulating the on-snow experience," said Stange, an employee at Nordic Equipment, a Kimball Junction ski shop. "Rossignol [the prominent ski manufacturer] tried to market it to the masses and that concept fell on its face. It doesn't make much sense to put people with no snow experience on rollerskis. You can get just as much fun roller blading."
The biggest difference with real skiing is that roller skiers hit pavement and gravel when they fall. And no one is immune from wiping out, not even Norway's Bjorn Daehlie, the greatest cross country skier of all time. He injured his back last summer in a rollerskiing crash and sat out the entire 1999-2000 racing season. Nice roads to rollerski are Mirror Lake Highway and the freshly paved road over Wolf Creek Pass, but only in the early morning. Closer to Salt Lake, City Creek Canyon (odd-numbered days are best) and Jordan River Parkway are good. The new four-kilometer rollerski loop at Soldier Hollow follows tricky terrain and should be left to the elite skiers the course was designed for.
"We try to get out where there is decent pavement, but not much traffic," Smith said. A favorite training run for Smith and his cohorts is a 50-mile haul that uses the freeway frontage road from Wanship to Coalville, then out the scenic Chalk Creek Road.
For more information on the IRS, check Smith's Web site www.xcskiracer.com. Upcoming races are Aug. 26, Sept. 15 and Oct. 7. %% Results from Friday's race, the most recent in the International Rollerski Series in Park City:
1. Cory Smith -- 14 minutes, 22 seconds
2. Scott Loomis -- 14:40
3. Erik Stange -- 15:02
(photo not pictured)
On skis equipped with rollers, Erik Stange thrusts forward on the Park City blacktop course. The International Rollerski Series is a casual competition with no prize money, but Stange and others take it seriously. (Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune)