Jared Eborn, Deseret Morning News
Rachel Cieslewicz of Salt Lake City speaks with the media.

SNOWBASIN — Her telemark skis had been sitting in a closet for years gathering dust. But when organizers contacted Rachel Cieslewicz and asked if she wanted to participate in today's XTerra Winter World Championship, she knew she couldn't say no.

"For me, the ski is going to be the challenge," Cieslewicz said prior to a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol. "I'll go up and just practice a little bit until I'm comfortable."

That hardly sounds like a winning strategy for what may be one of the most grueling one-day test of physical endurance in the world. Yet Cieslewicz says she's used it many times in triathlons, both traditional and offroad. That this happens to be a winter event will only add to the impromptu nature of her skills.

"I'm pretty good at winging it," she said. "Luckily, I have really good cardiovascular fitness so I should be all right."

Cieslewicz is a 28-year-old St. George native now living in Salt Lake City with her son, Canyon. Always a fitness freak, she has become one of the top amateur triathletes in the country and placed on the podium following the trail run at last summer's XTerra World Championship in Maui. That caught the attention of the event's organizers and earned her an invitation to join the field at today's inaugural winter event.

This is not a triathlon, however. Aside from the fact there is no swim portion, today's competition at Snowbasin Ski Resort involved four events — each designed to challenge participants in ways they seldom feel.

Starting with a 10k mountain bike ride on slippery, snowy trails, the athletes will slip on snowshoes and push their way through a course of deep snow for 5k. That will be followed by a 5k run on groomed — but still snowy — trails and then the hard work begins.

An 8k ski mountaineering leg to the event will take the athletes through more than 2,000 feet of climbing up the mountain at Snowbasin. The mountaineering course will require uphill climbs followed by downhill sprints to various checkpoints before the skiers will point their tips downhill and race to the finish line where a share of a $10,000 purse awaits the winners.

"I feel like I have a really good command of the run and the snowshoe," Cieslewicz said. "And I've been doing a lot more riding on trails this winter on the bike. So if I can do well in those, I think I hope I can just hang on for the ski."

XTerra is bringing several of the world's top offroad triathletes to the event. Nicolas LeBrun, from France, is a two-time winter triathlon world champion and will challenge the likes of Colorado's Brian Smith and Josaih Middaugh though he admitted the unique nature of racing four events will be challenging.

"I think I will be OK with this kind of race," he said. "But to do all four? We will see."

For Cieslewicz, though, it's a chance to compete in an event she's fallen in love with. Doing it in her backyard makes it even more sweet.

Having participated in hundreds of triathlons over the years, Cieslewicz is finding herself pulled away from traditional events and into things like XTerra.

The event today will be the highlight of a weekend's worth of outdoor activities. Friday saw amateur snowboard scrambles and ski mountaineering races and the U.S. National Snowshoe Championships will be held tomorrow.

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