Darla McRoberts of Boise has competed 18-20 times in the Boulder Mountain Tour — Idaho’s iconic Nordic ski race — but never like this.
On Saturday, Darla will ski the Half-Boulder Mountain Tour for the first time. Also in the field will be her husband, Greg, and their daughters, 15-year-old Quinn and 11-year-old Mylie.
After two decades of competing and a couple of age-group wins, Darla is happy to enjoy the ride this year — family costumes (theme to be determined) and all.
“I feel like I’d be missing out if I didn’t spend this race with the family,” Darla said. “I’ve done it so many times by myself. I don’t need to do it by myself anymore if the family is willing to do it. They’re going to be having fun, and I’d be suffering (in the full-length race). I’m going to give up suffering this year and have some fun.”
The 42nd annual Boulder Mountain Tour begins near Galena Lodge and finishes 21.1 miles (34 kilometers) later at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters outside Ketchum. The Half-Boulder covers 9.3 miles (15k). The races, which drew more than 750 participants last year, are part of the Sun Valley Nordic Festival.
The McRobertses have made outdoor recreation a significant part of their family life. Nordic skiing, alpine skiing, mountain biking and tennis are lifetime sports the family pursues together.
Darla, 50, began skiing in her mid-20s while living in the Ketchum area. Her strength and fitness levels spiked while pulling Quinn on a sled — “the chariot from hell,” Greg, 51, calls it. Darla became an ambassador for Rossignol and a Nordic ski instructor. She still runs a dry-land training group for women in the fall in Boise and teaches women’s skate skiing at Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area.
The girls learned Nordic skiing while being towed. At about age 4, they wore alpine skis and held onto a water-ski rope attached to a parent’s belt. After about a year of that, they graduated to skate skis and skated while being towed.
“They got to go at our speed instead of making them suffer through this boring, slow Nordic skiing,” Darla said.
Said Quinn: “That’s what made it fun for us.”
The girls started skiing alongside their parents at about 8. Mylie has joined the Bogus Basin Nordic Team. Quinn doesn’t race much on skis but runs cross country at Timberline High.
“If our parents didn’t, I don’t think we probably would (Nordic ski) because we wouldn’t really be introduced to it,” Quinn said. “I have just grown to love it.”
The entire family has skied in the Boulder Mountain Tour once before but not in the same division, and not all on their own. Darla raced the full distance, Greg pulled Mylie in the Half-Boulder and Quinn got sick several times before and during the Half-Boulder.
This time, they’ll all be on the same course but nobody is sure what will happen once the race begins.
“I think we’re going to stick together because that’s what we did when Dad raced with Mylie and I,” Quinn said.
“I’m thinking of dusting you guys with about 1 kilometer to go,” Greg said.
“I might go my own speed,” Quinn said.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to go,” Darla said. “I’m certainly not racing anyone here.”
“I am,” Mylie countered. “Good luck.”
The family hasn’t trained for the race the way they thought they might, which is one reason Darla didn’t mind dropping to the Half-Boulder. The McRobertses each skied more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) Thanksgiving week at the Yellowstone Ski Festival, an annual family trip, but they chose to ski downhill two out of three days last week in McCall.
“We thought about training but it just didn’t quite come together,” Darla said. “... This year is all about fun.”
That’s a common theme for the family on the Nordic trails. Darla and Greg told the girls when they were young that skiing was “all about the hot chocolate” — when they were ready for hot cocoa, the ski day was over. When it’s sunny, the family flops in the snow and salutes the sun. Mylie tells of playing baseball at Bear Basin in McCall, with a snowball for a ball and a ski pole for a bat. Greg was the pitcher. Quinn was the batter.
“She hits the ball and breaks it so no one knows where it is,” Mylie said. “He’s like, ‘Home run!’ ”
“We’ve tried to keep it low pressure,” Darla said. “It’s really neat because they actually really appreciate the outdoors as much as we do.”
Soon — perhaps next year — the family expects to race the full Boulder Mountain Tour together.
“We’ll probably have to train for that one,” Quinn said.
“Is there going to be hot chocolate?” Mylie inquired.
“You bet,” Darla said.
Sun Valley Nordic Festival
The annual Sun Valley Nordic Festival celebrates the resort town’s moniker of NordicTown USA. It includes the Boulder Mountain Tour, a cross country ski race in its 42nd year. Here are some highlights from this year’s schedule, which runs from Thursday through Sunday:
- 3 p.m. Thursday: NordicTown USA sprints in downtown Ketchum
- 4:15 p.m. Thursday: Boulder Mountain Tour opening ceremony in downtown Ketchum
- 6 p.m. Friday: Banff Mountain Film Festival at nexStage Theatre (also Saturday and Monday)
- 10 a.m. Saturday: Boulder Mountain Tour on the Harriman Trail from near Galena Lodge to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters. The race covers 21.1 miles (34k).
- 11:30 a.m. Saturday: Half-Boulder Mountain Tour covering 9.3 miles (15k).
- 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday: Nordic demo day at the Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center