Athletes to watch: Rea Kolbl
Photo: Maurizio Torri

Athletes to watch: Rea Kolbl

Posted by: Ross Leonhart

Rea Kolbl takes serendipitous path to world of Skimo racing

Rea Kolbl grew up in Europe where her mom put her on skis when she was 2 years old. At the age of 5, she got into gymnastics and competed on a high level with aspirations of competing in the Olympics, but she left the sport at the age of 17 due to the mental toll competing had on her. She ended up stopping doing sports altogether.

But when she moved the U.S. for college, she started running recreationally again for the health benefits. In 2014, she landed in obstacle course racing as she was finishing her undergrad at University of California Berkeley and starting graduate school at Stanford – all while working on her Ph.D. at the same time. She was naturally skilled at obstacle course racing, combining her gymnastics background with her running passion, and eventually joined the Spartan pro team.

With lots going on, she decided to drop out of her Ph.D. program and move to Colorado to try the full-time professional athlete life and “loved it,” she said.

“It kind of led me to have this life that I have right now which is kind of a dream come true,” Kolbl said earlier in January while preparing for the first World Cup Skimo race of the season.

After being in Colorado, she was close to snow again and wanted to try skiing again, but downhill passes were expensive, she said. When a friend told her that uphill is free, her life took yet another path.

Rea Kolbl is a professional adventure racer who recently started training full-time for ski mountaineering. (Photo by Jon Lowe)

“I was really bad at the start. I didn’t have the right gear,” she said. “Audi Power of Four was my first race off-piste, and it took us 11 hours to finish – we finished like two minutes before the cutoff. I thought I was going to die on every single descent, but it kind of lit a fire because I’ve always like being bad at things and getting better. I thought I could be really good if I just learned how to ski off-piste a little bit better and get better gear. So over the past couple of years I was trying to fix one thing at a time.”

Last year, she secured sponsorships that helped her be better equipped and started training specifically for Skimo. She also has two ski passes now.

“I found out that I’m pretty good at it, and I really love it,” she said.

In the summers, Kolbl still does trail running, obstacle course racing, bike riding and more because she still wants to compete in the U.S. National Series for the Spartan race.

“I like doing multiple sports,” she said. “I’ve learned that doing just one sport I can over-train pretty easily and get injured. I feel like these sports complement each other so I plan on still doing everything all of the time.”

At 30 years old and the sport of Skimo coming to the Winter Olympics in 2026, Kolbl has new goals she would have never dreamed of growing up.

“It’s a big goal,” she said of trying to compete in the Olympics. “When I was little and I was a gymnast, Olympics was kind of my goal there and I didn’t quite make it. I was close but not quite there. So it almost seems like I have another shot at trying to get there. But I’m also 30 now, and I’ve learned there’s so much to life other than just training, so I want to keep some sort of balance in my life while still trying to manage that dream.”

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