On the afternoon of the first snowfall of the Utah winter, Utah senior Nordic skier Kevin Bolger was as happy as an elementary schooler on the last day of school before summer. Why wouldn’t he be excited to see snow? For Bolger, snow has always been part of his life, and a big part of his success starting from when he was a child in Minocqua, Wisconsin – a town of just 4,385 people.
“I grew up alpine skiing, but I didn’t start Nordic skiing until I was in third grade,” Bolger said. “It was different for me. Me and my brother skied, so he was the one who got me into it.”
Bolger’s first year of Nordic skiing went “really well,” so he decided to stick with Nordic skiing and it has paid off for him. Bolger’s home town also had a lot to do with why he chose to commit to Nordic skiing over Alpine.
“I grew up in Wisconsin and there’s not very many alpine hills there,” Bolger said. “It’s pretty flat. You can go up to Michigan and get a few small hills, but nothing crazy.”
Bolger competed for his high school club skiing team at Lakeland Union High School and found success there.
“I was the only kid in my grade who Nordic skiied,” Bolger said.
Bolger also ran track and played soccer for Lakeland Union – a rarity for a skier.
“I’d always go to ski camps and a lot of the coaches would say, ‘If you want to be successful in skiing, you have to be 100 percent skier, you have to train year round,’” Bolger said. “I guess I was kind of a rebel in that sense. I enjoyed playing soccer, so I wasn’t going to stop doing that. I ran track my freshman year.”
Bolger finally relented later in high school and focused more on skiing.
“Once I realized skiing was getting more serious, I cut running track to focus more on skiing,” Bolger said.
Bolger saw success from an early age in Nordic skiing. Bolger competed in the Junior Nationals before coming to Utah and he finished in the top three multiple times.
“I competed at the high school level for a while and did really well, so I knew that Junior Nationals was the next step,” Bolger said. “Once I was able to achieve that goal and perform well there, it was the thing that kept me going — kept the fire burning — and made me want to get to the next level.”
That next level was Division I skiing. When Utah — a top skiing school — offered Bolger, he knew he had to sign with the Utes.
“The coaches, Kevin Sweeny and Abi Holt, they were awesome when I met with them,” Bolger said. “They got me super fired up about the program, the snow, and the team is definitely well known throughout the country, so I thought if I could get here and represent this team well, it would be sweet.”
Bolger has excelled at Utah and he has represented the school at the NCAA championships every year that he has competed for the Utes. In 2014, Bolger finished 18th in the 20-kilometer freestyle. In 2015, Bolger finished 16th in the 20-kilometer classic. In 2016, the Utes finished third overall at the NCAA Skiing Championships. Bolger finished seventh in the field of 40 skiiers, beating his 2015 times by seven minutes. With his performance, Bolger was named to the 2016 NCAA Skiing All-Americans Second Team.
“Not many kids can say they’ve gone three years in a row, let alone even one, so to be able to go for three consecutive years in a row — hopefully four, with this being my last year,” Bolger said. “It’s been awesome, it’s been really cool to be able to compete, year after year, against the best kids in the country, and represent this school and the team on that stage.”
Bolger’s favorite moment so far as a member of the Utah ski team came at the starting line of the 20-kilometer freestyle at the NCAA Championships in 2015.
“We were on the starting line of the 20K and just having all the fans and the Alpine team out there cheering for us,” Bolger said. “Just knowing that it was my last time I got to race with the seniors on the team that year was very emotional, but definitely fired me up as well and that moment has stuck with me the most and keeps me going.