At Soldier Hollow, west of Charleston, Utah, and Deer Valley Reservoir, against the southern end of the Wasatch Mountains in the shadow of Mount Timpanogos, our nation’s top biathletes train and compete against the best from nations across the world.
Speed skiing around a hilly course at Soldier Hollow is a challenge for the best of us; now add a loaded rifle strapped to your back, an Olympic-caliber shooting range, and targets. Local Wasatch County biathletes and brothers, Phillip and Daniel Radu describe the experience, “In the Sprint biathlon event, we individually start through the opening gate at a specific time, usually 30 seconds between fellow biathletes, and compete against the clock and hit all our targets. We ski three laps around the course, two shooting events, one prone and one standing. The targets are 50 meters away, five of them, about golf ball size for the prone event and softball size for standing.” Phillip shares, “My legs are pushing those skinny skate skis as fast as I can safely go, and my heart is beating so loud coming into the shooting range. I slow down some as I approach the range to get my breathing in control, slam them [the skis] into a V to stop, rip the .22 caliber off my back, pause, aim, fire, and then sling it back over my shoulder and pump those skis back up the track toward the finish line.” It’s a grueling, demanding, yet thrilling adventure!
Oh yeah, training doesn’t stop when the snow melts. Donning nothing but a bicycle helmet for safety, serious biathletes trade in their winter skis for roller skis; imagine two “ski-boards” on wheels, strapped to your feet on a hinged binding. From the late spring to the late fall, until the tracks are covered enough to allow regular skiing, you will see these athletes buzzing around the paved trails at Soldier Hollow Nordic Center. You may now have an outsider’s view of what a biathlete can accomplish. Biathlons are one of the oldest competitive sports on earth. According to Spartan myth, ancient gods, like Apollo, charged around a challenging course on spirited stallions, before and during the first Olympics, firing long arrows from giant bows slung over their shoulders.
Just as biathlons have changed over the centuries, so too have the courses and facilities used for the sport. Soldier Hollow is one of three Olympic Biathlon Nordic training centers in the United States, and is now undergoing a significant renovation and upgrade to ensure top biathletes have the best chance of reaching their peak performance goals, including, someday, standing on an Olympic podium accepting a bronze, silver or gold medal. Additionally, this year, the United States Biathlon Association voted to move its headquarters from Maine to Utah’s Soldier Hollow Nordic Center. Soldier Hollow was home to Nordic skiing and biathlon competitions during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and numerous other international Nordic events. You can get tickets to watch the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup Biathlon competition at Soldier Hollow Nordic Center from March 8th-10th, 2024. Top biathletes from around the world racing and shooting on skis is an exciting event to witness. Select seats with catered services are reasonably priced and available online, while general admission is free for spectators.
Soldier Hollow’s major expansion and upgrade operation is being fueled by a Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation grant. Three goals drive this collective renovation effort:
- Becoming a long-term gateway for year-round multi-use trail operations.
- Creating space for large, international events, including the World Cup and, potentially, Olympic Nordic Events.
- Developing world-class training, coaching, competition, conference, administrative, and aprés-ski areas for athletes and spectators.
A new 17,000-square-foot facility will incorporate a modern training gym, youth coaching area, Nordic equipment rentals and sales, a 200-person conference/awards/events room, and an apres-ski area with food, beverage, and music services. Construction efforts are underway for this facility at the race-track center, which will handle more competitive Nordic skiers and biathletes, spectators, recreational biathletes, and skiers, in addition to the Soldier Hollow ski patrol cadre, organizers, and administrators. General Manager, Luke Bodensteiner, a former Nordic Olympian, told us that the upgrade will serve all trainees, trainers, public skiers, and mountain bikers in the summer. The completion date is projected to be just in time to host the IBU World Cup in March. A very exciting decision by the World Olympic Committee to make Utah the sole location under consideration for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Olympics adds great value and excitement to this investment.
Programs will expand as well. Soldier Hollow Nordic Center currently hosts Youth Nordic and Biathlon, Post High School Elite Nordic and Biathlon Development, and Masters Skiing programs. They focus on about two dozen nationally ranked elite athletes and will host the National Cross-Country Ski Championships during the first week of January 2024. Their annual Schutesenski Festival, just held in October, draws athletes from the US Ski Team, US Biathlon Team, and the local area for a fun-filled event. US Olympic XC Skier and Gold Medalist, Jessie Diggens, joined the Festival this year. New courses at Soldier Hollow include a much expanded Nordic Ski Trail system, Biathlon Course, a Spring-Summer-Fall Mountain Bike trail system, and a paved roller-ski training course. Mountain Bike races held over the past few years will grow to include nationally ranked racing events. The public has an opportunity to use this amazing year-round trail system through an annual Soldier Hollow membership — perhaps the best deal in Utah for accessing a world-class multi-use trail system and apres-ski/bike facilities. On a daily basis, Soldier Hollow offers the public outstanding cross-country and speed skating ski trails for a small fee, including ski rentals and sales. They even offer introductory and advanced biathlon training experiences designed for participants 10 and older, including larger groups. Their Bronze, Silver, and Gold Olympian Biathlon Experiences are unique in the world and include a summer-only, on-foot Bronze group session for 8-10 people; Silver and Gold private sessions that offer a semi-competitive biathlon experience on skis or snowshoes, and on-foot in summer, with up to seven of your friends. Each session includes a safety briefing, instructional range orientation, and time for practice. As their brochure promises: “If you elect to stage a short competition, the biathlon course will raise heart rates, and give participants a sense of authentic biathlon competition. Participants are challenged to hit all five targets, and will come away with a new appreciation for Olympic Biathlon!” Session cost in 2022-2023 was $125.00 per person, and each training-competition experience lasts 75 minutes.
Phillip (17) and Daniel (19) Radu are some of Utah’s top up-and-coming biathletes who will benefit from the renovations. With ski instructors for parents, the boys have been skiing since the age of three. They began nordic skiing at Soldier Hollow when they were seven and biathlon at age 11. The brothers have attended Soldier Hollow Charter School and Park City Winter Sports School. Today, both athletes are focused on the national events that will qualify them for the World Biathlon Championships. The brothers share that they are excited about the upgrades and expanded training and competition opportunities at Soldier Hollow. “We did really well last season and look forward to training and competition starting in December for the 2023-2024 season!”
Soldier Hollow is also home to a fantastic public golf course with a gift/pro shop and restaurant, a winter tubing hill, the Nordic Yurt, and a famous Sheepdog Contest! The ski/mountain bike center rents Rossignol cross-country skis and E-Mountain bikes. In the future, with its renovation, expect even more year-round fun and sporting activities, adventures, and dining in Heber Valley’s Soldier Hollow Olympic Park. How will you ‘Shoot for the Stars?’
Soldier Hollow Nordic Center utaholympiclegacy.org