The following article was written yesterday by Leann Bentley with U.S. Ski & Snowboard. It has received de minimis editing for house style, but is otherwise unchanged. Thanks to Leann for her fine work. I do plan to catch up with Hailey later this spring for a retirement article of my own, but this piece is quite good, so you should read this now.
Hailey Swirbul of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team is ready to say goodbye to World Cup ski racing. The 2022 Olympian has formally announced her retirement from the World Cup circuit hours after crossing the finish line at the 2022/2023 World Cup Finals in Lahti, Finland.
24-year-old Swirbul, an El Jebel, Colorado native, has been on the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team for years, represented her country at two World Championships, and was a member of Team USA in Beijing at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. She’s had a consistent presence on the World Cup throughout the last several years, starting in 64 races, finding the top-10 in four, and standing on the 2020 Davos World Cup individual 10km skate podium in third. Now, Hailey is taking a step away from the World Cup circuit and is excited to begin her next chapter.
Swirbul was a mountain kid growing up. Her childhood in Aspen’s Roaring Fork Valley was filled with romping around the nearby peaks, riding around on a mountain bike with her family, and skiing the resorts on alpine skis. Looking back, if you asked her when she was young if she would grow up to be a professional cross-country skier, she may have brushed it aside. “My earlier memories of cross-country skiing include me freezing and holding back tears, woefully slogging along the ski trail as my dad got in his workout,” she said.
It wasn’t until later that cross-country skiing became a part of her life, thanks in part to her brother Keegan Swirbul. Keegan, now a professional road bike rider, decided that to stay in shape for bike season, he needed some consistent cross training; cue cross-country skiing. The tight duo took this new step together, and the rest is history.
Hailey started with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club until she left for college in 2016, skiing for the University of Alaska Anchorage ski team. Finding abundant success on the college circuit, Hailey then trained and competed with the Alaska Pacific University (APU) club team. There, she had breakout results, notably in the 2017 World Junior Championships in Solider Hollow, Utah, where she, Katharine Ogden, Julia Kern, and Hannah Halvorsen won the USA’s first-ever medal at Junior Worlds, and it only went up from there.
Throughout the next several years, she racked up results; in 2018 she was back at the Junior World Championships and won an individual silver medal in the 5km classic and bronze in the skiathlon. Through the U.S. National Championships, SuperTours, Nor-Am Cups, and FIS events, Hailey has over 15 wins to her name.
Then, came the next step. In 2019, she was officially called up to the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team where she would now compete on the highest stage of the sport — the World Cup.
“Hailey has been a force of nature since she burst on the scene as a U20 and started making history for the U.S.A. with two individual medals at the World Junior Championships,” said Chris Grover, the U.S. Cross Country Program Director. “Arriving on World Cup, she demonstrated that she is a force in every discipline and both techniques. She has an individual World Cup Podium and was key in securing a World Cup women’s relay podium this season in Toblach. She’s been a fixture of our World Championships and Olympic team over the past quad. Beyond the results, she’s been at the heart of the U.S. Team, an incredible teammate, and a caring and soulful friend to us all. We will all miss her but we also know she will be a big part of our community for life.”
“Hailey’s positive influence goes far beyond the ski tracks. Her kindness and thoughtfulness impacts her teammates, coaches, competitors, and supporters everywhere,” said Kristen Bourne, coach with the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team. “She follows her heart and shows us all the importance of doing so. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hailey will continue to push the sport of cross-country skiing and impact the next generation and beyond.”
Outside of skiing, Hailey is active in the community that helped shape her. As a current board member for the Women Ski Coaches Association, Hailey works day in and day out in helping create a collaborative network to encourage retention of women coaches in the industry. She also has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and this past summer, worked full time as an engineer.
“Hailey will be immediately missed as an athlete who brought a lot of personality to our team,” said Matt Whitcomb, Head Coach of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team. “While she was a very successful racer, she wasn’t simply motivated by winning, and needed to work hard to find purpose and meaning in each day. This style of motivation, and Hailey’s always-open way of sharing with her coaches and teammates, taught me how to become a better coach. She helped everyone around her improve, and I will miss that, and I’m eager to watch her bring that wonderful personality to her next team. Thank you, Hailey!”
“With the end of my World Cup career on the horizon, it is so easy to see how much I appreciate this team,” said Swirbul. “It wouldn’t be possible for me to have been on the World Cup and chase some big dreams without the support of the U.S. Ski Team, and I will forever be grateful for that.”
Retirement doesn’t mean that Swirbul will never lace up her Madshus race boots and click in her skis again. She still plans on racing, competing at a high level within the states and training for a sport that has shaped “the core of my identity for the last 15 years.” She may be closing one chapter, but is excitedly opening the next. “I set out to find peace with skiing this season after a difficult few years between Covid and the Olympic cycle, and I can truly say that I love skiing more than I ever have now — I’m just ready to love skiing in a new way outside of World Cup racing,” said Swirbul. “After all, I’ve already been given the best gift: a lifelong love of sport.”
Congratulations on your World Cup career, Hailey! We are so excited to see what this next chapter brings.
— Leann Bentley, U.S. Ski & Snowboard