Sunday, March 24, 2019
Three Sport Athlete Max Durtschi Has Fingers Crossed for Olympics
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Max Durtschi, shown competing at the USA National Championships, utilized the Idaho Digital Learning Academy to help him finish high school while he was racing as a cross-country skier and a professional bike racer.
 
Sunday, December 31, 2017
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

You would think Max Durtschi would have had his hands full as a pre-med student studying neuroscience at Dartmouth College.

But, after competing on the world stage in cross-country skiing and bicycle racing for nearly half his life, Durtschi realized he missed the goal setting and the regimen of training that had dominated his days.

He went after a third sport, landing a spot with the U.S. Biathlon team. And now he has his fingers crossed and his legs scooting strong in hopes of landing one of four spots with the team in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

 
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Max Durtschi raced for Sun Summit Cycling in his early career.
 

“My chances are slim to none since I’m still relatively new to the sport, this being just my third season,” said Durtschi, who is competing with nine others for those four spots plus an alternate spot. “But we have another series of international races in January, and I’ve learned that you never know what can happen in sports.  I’m just going to put forth the best effort I can and trust everything will fall in place.”

Durrschi, 26, grew up racing with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Nordic team, his lean, muscled 6-foot-2 and a 165-pound body a familiar sight whizzing down the steep cross-country ski tracks at Lake Creek north of Ketchum.

He had success on national and international levels as a junior cross-country skier. Then he added bike racing to his portfolio, going pro as an 18-year-old high school student, even though he had been recruited to ski by Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

In 2009—the year he turned pro—he represented the United States internationally in both cross-country skiing and cycling. And he won two national bicycle championships—in Road Race and Criterium—riding with a fractured hand.

 
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Max Durtschi compted in the inaugural cyclocross race in Sun Valley.
 

While a six-year- member of the U.S. National Cycling team from 2008 to 2013, he also rode for Garmin-Cervelo’s continental program for two years, then competed as the only American on Leopard-Trek’s European squad based in Lucca, Italy, for another two years.

“I was on the U.S. team but I was sometimes employed by European teams where no one else spoke English,” he said.

Durtschi competed in some of the world’s biggest bike races, including Tour of Utah. He also competed in Europe, Arica, Asia and North and South America, learning a useful amount of Italian, French and Dutch along the way.

Riding through African jungle and desert sand was made all the more bearable by seeing fans lined up six and seven deep kilometer after kilometer.

 
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Max Durtschi, shown her racing for Garmin, had to work on his upper body strength after returning to cross country skiing.
 

Bike racing is a thrilling, exciting beautiful sport, Durtschi said. But it’s also one of the scariest since it comes with a lot of bad crashes—often in foreign countries where racers can’t decipher what the doctor is telling them.

Durtschi crashed during a high-speed descent in Africa when he couldn’t get around an accident, flipping off the road.

“Afterwards, the doctor noted a stinger in me—a stinger he couldn’t identify. Luckily, it turned out not to be so serious,” he said. “You have to accept that accidents are part of the game because the sport is  so fast, so competitive. It’s just accepted you will have a bad injury along the way.”

Everything is more difficult when racing abroad, including putting up with hotels that lack electricity, Durtschi said.

“When you have unnamed bugs crawling around the wall, it makes being on a bike the most relaxed part of your day,” he said.

Durtschi also learned to be smart about the food he ate in places like China as he watched teammates become violently ill.

“But I met a lot of interesting people from different cultures and saw some remarkable countryside scenery in China,” he said. “We finished one stage on top of a mountain and it was remarkable how much the mountains looked like the front range of Colorado or the Wasatch Mountains in Utah.”

Durtschi eventually decided he was ready to be a college student in the fall of 2013. But, while skiing with college buddies that winter, the young man who’d grown up skeet and trap shooting with his father realized he wanted to try biathlon.

That June he received an invite to the U.S. Biathlon Talent ID Recruiting Camp in Lake Placid where he was put through several days of rigorous testing in the weight room. Team managers charted every pull-up and sit-up and clocked his uphill running stints.

Identified as a potential major talent, he was ushered to the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. He moved up quickly, competing internationally his first year. The second year he made his World Cup debut in Canmore, Alberta, in 2016.

“The first year I spent so much time getting in and out of the shooting position that my knees and elbows were bleeding,” he said. “The sport is tough, and so you’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Durtschi quickly learned that biathlon is the most popular televised winter sport on the European continent. He watched, amazed, as 120,000 tickets for a World Cup biathlon meet sold out in one day.

“I really enjoy the places we go. Usually, they’re nice ski areas like Sun Valley,” he said. “I really like Italy for scenery. And Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic, which hosted the 2013 Biathlon World Championships, was so cool because of all the fans. But, as much as I enjoy seeing different venues ,  getting back to Sun Valley is pretty dang special.”

Biathlon is even more difficult than it looks, Durtschi said. The targets are small and shooting when the heart is racing is difficult. Sometimes his fingers nearly freeze on the trigger in blustery weather.

Not only does he have to know how hard he can ski without diminishing his chances of acing a shot, but he has to keep track of things like humidity and wind.

Cold, dense, moisture-laden air magnifies the influence of wind. On cold days biathletes must compensate by raising their sights. Even falling snow can affect shooting as the light reflected from it makes the target appear brighter, reducing some shooter’s accuracy

“You think biathlon is skiing with shooting—but it’s not. It’s a whole other sport,” said Durtschi. “More often than not, you nail three of five components. But to do well in biathlon you need to nail every component. You need to ski fast and shoot efficiently. And, when it all comes together, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Durtschi uses a rifle that belonged to Willie Neal, a former member of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Olympic Development Team. Neal was killed while rollerski training in Maine in 2009 when he was struck by a motorist who was reaching for his cell phone.

Durtschi is supported by USA Biathlon, as well as PowerBar, the Willie Neal Environmental Awareness Foundation and Ketchum’s Play Hard Give Back.

He relishes every opportunity he gets to train on the familiar trails of his youth. The trails at Galena Lodge and Lake Creek, he says, are just as difficult as any he’s skied in World Cup races. And he loves the view from the White Clouds Nordic trails at Sun Valley.

But, he notes, while it’s easy to ski the trails, it’s more difficult skiing around with a rifle and ammunition--especially if you want to shoot that rifle.

“Luckily for me, Sun Valley’s Head Nordic Coach Rick Kapala and his team are can-do. They’re able to make things work,” he said, describing how Kapala helped him secure gym time and Sun Valley Company and the Hurtig Shooting Center at Ohio Gulch have provided him with appropriate shooting venues.

Durtschi has stayed in contact with all his early Sun Valley mentors including Billy Olson of the Powerhouse Pub in Hailey, Chris Mallory of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and Bob Rosso and Nappy Neaman at The Elephant’s Perch.

Durtschi says he often hears the words of Rick Kapala in his head as he trains.

“Some of the biggest things he stressed were: Trust yourself, trust your training and just go for it. Be a good human being first, then a good skier. He’s produced some world-class athletes, but he’s produced even more world-class human beings,” he added.

Now Durtschi is trying to pass it on as he serves as a volunteer ski coach and a consultant for elite athletes wanting an extra edge and citizen athletes wanting an enhanced fitness routine.

“One thing I’ve learned over the years is never give up,” he said. “Biathlon is a pretty brutal sport. It involves lots of travel and training, and it puts you through so many highs and lows. But, if you can stay focused on what you want, you will make it through.”

And, that, he said, includes his tiny window of opportunity for the Olympics.

“I just want to give it my best effort. And, even if I don’t go to the Olympics, I can focus on having a good second half of the season.”

DID YOU KNOW?

Max Durtschi’s favorite quote is from Admiral William Halsey: “Touch a thistle timidly and it pricks you. Grasp it boldly and its spines crumble.”

 

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