Hailey Swirbul of Basalt participates in the women’s 4x5km cross-country relay on March 4 in Oberstdorf, Germany.
Even Hailey Swirbul struggled with cross-country skiing at one point. While this was several years ago, it shows the mountain she has scaled in her brief career.

Preparing for the season opener in Finland, U.S. cross-country ski head coach Matt Whitcomb recalled skiing with Hailey up Big Cottonwood Canyon, when she could hardly classic ski. “Then, eight years later, she’s on the podium in Davos. It’s abrupt because some veterans retire, get out of the way, and these young athletes suddenly become famous. Then they appear out of nowhere with a race. But Hailey has slowly improved and had a fantastic season last year. She’s a fantastic altitude racer, which is great for Beijing.”

Hailey Swirbul, 23, of Basalt, is a fourth-year member of the US national team and a critical component for the American women as the 2022 Winter Olympics approaches. Swirbul is projected to be among the eight-woman squad that will represent the United States in Beijing in February.

Hailey Swirbul would be competing in his first Olympics. Last winter in Oberstdorf, Germany, she competed in her first world championships, finishing fourth in a team relay with Jessie Diggins, Rosie Brennan, and the now retired Sadie Maubet Bjornsen. Swirbul finished third in a 10-kilometer freestyle race at Davos, Switzerland, in 2020-21.

“I’m looking forward to trying to live in the moment over the next few months since so many things are out of our control,” Swirbul said in a preseason video conference with Ruka, Finland, media. “We want to pick the best — and we will — to go to Beijing with the best squad of athletes. It’s nerve-wracking heading into my first Olympic season with so many eyeballs on our team since we’ve become a powerhouse. “I’m delighted to just kind of experience the wave, for all the difficulties and the bright moments.”

Diggins, who won an Olympic gold medal with Kikkan Randall in 2018, is the team’s standout. Brennan, 33, has cemented herself as the team’s No. 2 following a breakout season. He won the overall World Cup title last season, a first for American cross-country skiing, while Brennan finished fourth.

Hailey Swirbul finished 23rd overall among American women last season. After four races this winter, Brennan (fourth) and Diggins (fifth) remain in the lead, with Swirbul (27th).

“We are very fortunate to have such a great bunch, especially our women’s team,” Swirbul said of learning from veterans like Diggins and Brennan. “They paved the path and showed us the ropes in and out of road racing. There are numerous things to consider, such as what to pack and what meals to bring from home. The older, more experienced women share with the younger ones what has worked for them.”

Americans in particular have started the season cautiously. The broader aim is to build for a solid showing at the Olympics, which begin Feb. 4.

A 10k freestyle on Dec. 12 in Davos saw Swirbul sixth, Diggins second, and Brennan fourth. Hailey Swirbul also competed in a relay alongside Diggins, Brennan, and Julia Kern on Dec. 5 at Lillehammer, Norway.

Kern, 24, and Swirbul are among the younger ladies replacing stalwarts like Maubet Bjornsen, Randall, and Sophie Caldwell Hamilton, wife of Aspen’s Simi Hamilton, who just resigned.

Diggins, the face of US cross-country skiing, praised her younger colleagues’ impact on her.

“There is a fallacy that inspiration and leadership are one-way processes. No. “I’m excited and fired up by these younger competitors just as the elder athletes are,” Diggins added. “They have what it takes to win. I am convinced. A lot more talented than I was at their age. “I envision a bright future.”

After the Americans finished Period 1, the annual Tour de Ski began Tuesday in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The tour, which has six stages over eight days due to the Olympics, is one of the most prominent events of the World Cup season. Last winter, Diggins won the overall tour.

Brennan and JC Schoonmaker, members of the men’s squad, have opted out of Tour de Ski and will likely race in the US Cross Country Championships at Soldier Hollow on Jan. 2. But Diggins, Swirbul, and Kern are slated to race next week at Tour de Ski.

Last year’s Tour de Ski saw Brennan sixth and Swirbul 18th overall.

“We’ve seen Hailey win races all over,” Whitcomb added. “There’s no end to it. No magic has occurred. She’s really grown better and better every year.”