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Skiing ahead

Zach Violett hoped his cross country-skiing career would be given a kick in the boots. Instead he’ll push his career along himself.

A 1999 graduate of Nevada Union High School, Violett barely missed making the U.S. national team, which will compete in February and March at the World Nordic Ski Championships in Sapporo, Japan. With a No. 5 ranking in the country in distance skiing and a No. 9 ranking overall, Violett was not among the seven American skiers selected last week.

He now turns to his backup plan of spending a month skiing in Europe. He’ll ski in four European-circuit races – twice in Germany and twice in Italy – before taking on the 54-kilometer (33 1/2 miles) Birkebeiner in Norway, a race that dates back to the early 1200s. Violett estimated 10,000 skiers compete in the race, which Violett has had on his to-do list for years.

“It’s the next step down,” Violett said of his European tour during a recent phone interview while on vacation in Truckee. “Guys are a little bit younger, but right there.”

Violett, 24, was one of the youngest skiers with a chance to make it to Japan. The average age of the top-20 cross country skiers in the U.S. is 27.

“It’s an endurance sport,” Violett said. “If you look at a lot of marathon runners, you’ll see that they’re in their 30s. … Sprinting muscles develop a lot younger; endurance muscles take longer.”

If Violett follows suit, he could meet his schedule:

Step 1 – make the 2008 World Cup in Canada.

Step 2 – make the World Nordic Ski Championships in 2009 in the Czech Republic.

Step 3 – make the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

“That was the plan,” Violett said. “Hopefully it’ll happen.”

Violett will race in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Idaho before leaving Feb. 19 for Europe.

The amount of weight individual events carry in standings is significant. Before Violett’s performances Jan. 3-7 at the U.S. Cross Country Championship in Michigan, his overall ranking was 14th, and he was ninth among distance skiers. Violett placed in the top 10 in two of three distance events in Michigan. His best finish of the 2006-07 season, which began in November, came Nov. 25, when he skied to a second-place finish at a race in West Yellowstone, Mont.

Violett graduated from the University of Alaska-Anchorage last spring with a degree in business and marketing management. In September, he moved from Alaska to Bend, Ore. Because he’s a member of the national FSx ski team, Violett doesn’t have to pay for his equipment.

“I’m at the point now where I can live the ski season without working, or working very little,” Violett said. “Once I’m done traveling, I get a job. I bartend at one of the resorts in Bend; I’ve been working a couple days a month.”

Violett joined team XC Oregon this season (he’s still a member of FSx, his sponsor).

“There’s a lot more coaching,” Violett said of XC Oregon.

He began taking his skiing career seriously when he arrived at Nevada Union, where former Miners coach Ross Gragalia gave him direction.

Violett’s skiing eventually brought a scholarship from the University of Alaska-Anchorage, where he was named an All-American skier four times.

The highlight of Violett’s career, he said, is last year’s team-relay victory at the U.S. Championships in Maine. While Violett’s forte is skiing long distances – up to 18 miles – the team relay consists of two teammates skiing one kilometer (.62 miles) each.

“That was part of what was so funny,” Violett said. “I’m not traditionally a sprinter.”


To contact Sports Writer Jeff Miller, e-mail or call 477-4247.