True Freedom: Bennett brothers make a statement at Winter Mountain Games
SSCV athletes placed second in respective age groups in Winter Mountain Games skimo
Snow is either a nuisance or a playground. For True and Freedom Bennett, every apparatus in the winter jungle gym is worth checking out.
Fresh off successful Nordic ski campaigns and with their primary seasons’ focus — late-summer’s mountain bike nationals —not yet started, the SSCV athletes took full advantage of their Vail community’s elite endurance sport offerings last weekend, placing second in their respective age groups in the vertical skimo events at the Winter Mountain Games. Later that day, True threw down again in the pro division fat tire bike race, placing fourth.
“In the wintertime, especially in the mountains, we try to race as much as we can just to keep the brain fresh and get some high-quality training in,” True explained, contextualizing the leg-burning, max-heart rate activity into their overall training scope.
“It’s fun to get those efforts in throughout the year.”
Inspired by Quinn Simmons, a pro-cyclist who participated in national-class skimo races before transitioning to full-time riding, True buttresses 15 hours per week of biking (even during the winter months) with five hours of skiing, lifting or skimo.
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“He’s kind of my inspiration for doing a little skimo,” the 16-year-old said of the 2019 UCI road world junior champion.
“I think skimo is good to do in the winter since you can’t bike. You can get ready for mountain bike season and get that mindset,” his younger brother, Freedom, added.
Their dad, Samuel, a competitive swimmer until college, picked up the sport a couple of years ago as a more enjoyable way to combine the dog’s walk and his workout. Going into Sunday’s vertical, his sons were relative rookies, with just a handful of hours spent on skimo skis between the two combined. Of course, if True tried it, Freedom was sure to follow.
“My brother is actually my idol. I always look up to him and do what he does,” he matter-of-factly stated.
True has embraced the responsibility.
“I mean, I think it’s kind of expected when you’re the older brother,” he stated. “It definitely pushes me. You want both of you succeed, but there’s something in the back of your head that you want to be the better one.”
With skimo set to become a winter Olympic sport in 2026, many of Team USA’s hopefuls descended — and ascended — upon Vail last weekend for the Winter Mountain Games. The experienced, predominantly Colorado-based field didn’t intimidate the locals, who spent most of their time in hot pursuit of two elite Park City athletes.
When Sam Kirschner made his initial move early in the U14 division, Freedom said his lack of experience hindered his ability to decipher the rest of the field. “I wanted to win, but I didn’t know who to go with,” he claimed. Still, he left satisfied and hungry.
“I was pretty happy,” the age-year-old said. “I think next year I want to start traveling for skimo and train more.”
Griffin Briley, the winner of all three U18 events last weekend, came into Vail fresh off winning the U 18 European Championships vertical last month.
“He’s definitely strong,” True stated, noting his plan going in was to hang with Briley as long as possible. The strategy worked for the first two climbs, but along the flats, Briley’s technique — distinct from the kick-and-glide of Bennett’s more familiar Nordic discipline — allowed the Utah athlete to create a gap. In the final climb, Bennett made up some ground, but a final flat exposed his lack of striding skill again, putting him 1:44 behind the European champion.
“I mean that was my second time on skimo skis this year, so I was pretty stoked on getting second,” True stated. As for whether the 16-year-old is entertaining a shift in sports, the jury is still out.
“Yeah, I mean that would be sweet to go to the Olympics. It’s definitely a super sweet sport, and that’s in the back of my head,” he said about possibly trying to make the first ever U.S. skimo squad.
“With practice, I think I could definitely make it there.”
After a brief rest, he was on a fat bike at Vail Nordic Center, trying to stay in a Josiah Middaugh-led peloton. Whether it was Briley or Middaugh, the caliber of his competition didn’t faze Bennett.
“The goal is always to win, that’s just always what I want to do, so I went into both races wanting to win,” he said. “I think the fitness is there to give Josiah a run for his money.” Competing in his first fat tire bike race — in just his third time ever on a fat tire bike — he finished fourth in the pro/open men category, 4:41 behind Middaugh after the three-loop 18-mile course was completed.
“I was pretty impressed since he raced pro but I knew he could have done better if he had lowered his PSI so he wouldn’t slip out,” Freedom complimented his older brother, who missed the breakaway on account of having to dismount is bike on a certain hill each lap due to the tire pressure misjudgment.
The weekend has stoked the pair’s competitive juices as the weather warms and they pivot to their first love. Freedom will compete in the Moosejaw Cup in Fayetville, Arkansas in April. Both are targeting U.S. mountain bike nationals in Winter Park at the end of summer.
“I definitely want to win it this year, that’s the goal,” True said as he prepped himself for a four hour ride that day. “To get ready, I got to build a big engine.”
Whether its on skis, skins, or single track, they’ll both keep priming themselves one workout and competition at a time.