Two weeks ago, I had no idea what the rest of my ski season was going to look like. Everything was riding on my race results in Craftsbury, VT at the 2019 US National Championships. I have gone to nationals as a college student for the past four years having high hopes and expectations to qualify for international racing. Growing up, I always dreamt of racing at Junior World Championships, but I also recognized that my entire collegiate season didn't really start until after nationals and I had a lot to focus on with that.
All four years I was able to race well and qualify for World Juniors or Under 23 Championships. Every year, I was proud of this accomplishment, but I only chose to accept the invitation two out of the four years.
During the years that I declined a chance to wear the stars and stripes, I was focused on representing myself as a UVM Catamount. On both occasions this was an extremely challenging decision to make because I was passing up an incredible opportunity. However, the UVM Ski Team had given me so much over my four years in college. The team had grown to be my family away from home and I believe that I owe much of my success to my UVM coaches and teammates. In retrospect, I could not be happier about the choices I made.
Going into the qualifying races this year I felt a lot more pressure. I had been working toward these races all summer and fall so that I could have one more chance to represent USA at the U23 World Championships in Lahti, Finland. I didn’t have a plan for racing after nationals because I had no idea where I would be going. There were no college races or schoolwork that I could fall back on, I just had to race really fast!
Throughout the week I was very content with each of my races. I felt like I had skied pretty well and finished in the top 10 in every race no matter what discipline: skate vs. classic or sprint vs. distance. However, this year there has been a field of U23 female skiers unlike any other. There is such a strong group of girls racing in my age group that most have the potential to podium in Lahti. At the end of the week, I found myself sitting in 6thplace. I was the alternate.
One of the top girls decided to decline the trip to focus on college racing, a decision that I made on numerous occasions. This meant that I was bumped up and selected as one of the top five. At first, I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. I am beyond thrilled to have this opportunity, but in the back of my mind I am still thinking, “you were just the alternate.” This has been hard for me to process. It has forced me to step back from the situation and reevaluate why I am doing this. Am I doing this for bragging rights? Or for the chance just to go on a fun international racing trip? NO! I am doing this to become a better skier. To use this unique skill that I have and to challenge myself to reach outrageous goals. Short-term and long-term goals. Putting this into a big picture perspective I have realized what an improvement I have actually made in just one year.
In previous years at US Nationals I would maybe pop out a top 10 result. This year it happened every race! I have made a jump in my abilities to compete as an overall skier. Yes, in the rankings of U23’s I finished in 6th, but I was always in the mix with those top girls. I can’t expect myself to make this transition from college skiing into elite racing and immediately start winning national level races. It is a goal of mine, but these types of goals take time to achieve. I know that I am getting stronger and faster. I am improving. I am slowly making my way up and I am hopeful that I will continue on this trendline through this season as well as the upcoming seasons.
For now, I am excited to have this opportunity to represent American skiing and do my best to throw down some great races in Finland!
Throughout college I was able to make my way home about three times per year: in the Spring after finals were over, right before going back to school in the Fall, and around the Holidays in December. I love seeing my family and friends in Minnesota and wish I had the opportunity to visit more often, but it’s hard to find the time during school and plane tickets get expensive…
This year I was lucky enough to spend almost three weeks at home over the Holidays. After injuring my back in the last Supertour race in Silverstar, B.C., I jumped into a recovery routine and tried to get it to heal as efficiently as possible. After a few days and a trip to the chiropractor I thought I was good to go and started easing my way back into my normal training. Unfortunately, I pushed my luck, and this only made my back seize up again. I realized that if I didn’t want my back to cause me problems during US Nationals then I needed to take a step back and really rest up. It might seem easy to focus on resting, but with pretty important races coming up in January it was hard not to worry about missing out on key workouts. This tested my patience, but after about a week and a half I was finally ready to get things going again.
Once I was able to accomplish what needed to be done I found myself more relaxed and ready to enjoy the Holiday season at home. I got to see old friends from high school, teammates from the ski community, and had some quality time with my siblings.
My family and I drove up to our cabin in Hayward, WI to find some skiing on the Birkie trails. Although there wasn’t a ton of natural snow, the Birkie Foundation was able to put together a fun little loop of man-made snow for everyone to enjoy. Our cabin isn’t far away from the upper peninsula of Michigan, so we made a day trip to ski on some incredible trails at ABR in Ironwood, MI. My family grew up skiing and it is something we have always done together. Having the opportunity to spend this quality time with everyone really makes me happiest!
While I was home I followed up on a few promises I had made at my Gear West fundraiser. I had the chance to stop by the Mound Westonka and Wayzata High School ski practices to work with some speedy looking juniors in my community. I also hosted a clinic with the Minnesota Youth Ski League (I learned how to ski through MYSL) and had the opportunity to ski, play games, and encourage the next generation of skiers to continue doing what they love! In my spare time I was giving a few ski lessons to some great supporters in the ski community and started working with a new sponsor: Zum Wax.
It’s always sad to say goodbye to home but the time came for me to pack my bags again and head back East. Now I am fired up to be racing at US Nationals in Craftsbury, VT – another place I like to call home. Craftsbury is not far from Burlington and over my four years at UVM I loved every chance I had to ski and race here. The Craftsbury Outdoor Center has done a tremendous job at saving snow and somehow surviving two rain storms in the past few weeks. The conditions are incredible here and it should be a fun week of racing!
We have officially started the 2018-2019 race season and the skiing has been incredible! Unfortunately, my racing hasn’t been quite as thrilling as I had hoped. I have had a little bit of bad luck and needed to face my biggest fear in racing: ALTITUDE!
Some people don’t have much of a problem skiing or racing at altitude. Physiologically, when your body is working hard it relies on glucose (sugar) that has been stored in certain cells. Oxygen is used to break down glucose to then create energy for your muscles to use. When your body can’t obtain enough oxygen this process cannot be completed and instead of creating energy the glucose is converted into something called lactic acid. This is what causes your muscles to cramp up or cause soreness after doing a really hard workout or race. Your body can convert this lactate into energy without oxygen but it is a super slow process and can’t keep up with how fast it builds up in your bloodstream. When racing, your body is already fighting to get enough oxygen to all of your muscles, but when you decrease the concentration of oxygen in the air that you are breathing this becomes particularly challenging. You can train your body to race in these conditions if you live at altitude or if you can easily travel to altitude to practice. However, one component is simply how much your own body can tolerate moving without as much oxygen and continuing on with a buildup of lactate. So, putting my biochem nerd pants away, my body has an extremely hard time functioning with a decreased amount of oxygen!
During a race there is a limit to just how long your body can work really hard. If you go over that line you will start to get very tired and soon crash. I know how to find and sustain this limit when I am racing at sea level; I’ve done it my entire life. I am still working on figuring it out at altitude. And when I hit the wall at altitude, I hit it HARD!
So, keeping all of that in mind I was extra nervous going into the first two weekends of Supertour/NorAm racing. We started off in West Yellowstone (7,000 ft) and the first race was a skate sprint where I was able to qualify 9th. I’ve always thought of myself as a distance skier so I was happy with this, but also eager to make it into the semi-finals and finals that day. All I had to do was qualify top two in my quarterfinal. When it finally came around to my heat I was able to position myself pretty well in second place until one of the last corners when a crash took out the top three skiers. I did my best to get back up and finish the round but I didn’t quite make the cut to move on. I was disappointed, but I knew I had done my best, it just wasn’t my day! I was really psyched though to see my teammate, Julia Kern crush her way through the heats and end up winning the final!
The following day was a distance race which I was excited about, but I also had the looming fear of crashing and burning at 7,000 ft. I tried to go out conservatively and work my way into the race but unfortunately couldn't quite kick it into that next gear. I finished the race again, slightly disappointed, but hungry for more. I was excited that the following day we were traveling up to SilverStar Ski Resort in Vernon, B.C., Canada. I had never been to SilverStar but I had heard of it’s beauty. Also, we were dropping two thousand feet in elevation and although it was still pretty high, I could feel a difference as soon as I got there.
Julia and I had some magical skis in this little snow globe called SilverStar. There were so many trails that you could ski to right from our rental house and the snow stuck to the trees making it look like you were in a Dr. Suess cartoon. I was ready to put the disappointment in the past and just appreciate the opportunity of skiing in such a beautiful place.
It was hard not to ski too much last week, but we knew we also needed to focus on the important races over the weekend. It was a similar format in that we did a skate sprint on Saturday and a classic 10k on Sunday. I abosultely loved the classic course that we were going to ski during the distance race and was feeling good after dropping in elevation. All I had to do was get through the sprint day…. I was again eager to make it out of the quarterfinals during the sprint and thought I was maybe on my way to doing that. Until, someone stepped on my pole up one of the last climbs and my reaction was to quickly pull my hand and pole up. In doing so, I reacted too quickly and pulled a muscle in my lower back. I was able to make it to the finish line but not in the same style that I was hoping for. I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t even bend over to take my skis off. I tried to take care of it the best I could that afternoon and was hoping to still be able to race the next day but in the end I had to make the very tough decision to sit out. I figured my back would most likely be okay. However, with the chance that I agitate it more and cause long term damage, I would really be kicking myself with more important races yet to come.
It’s never fun to sit out of a race that you had been looking forward to. Even knowing it’s the smart choice to make- it’s easier said than done. But in a way I am proud of myself for making that decision and focusing on the big picture here. I have finally left the mountains and traveled back home to the Midwest where I will make sure my back is healed and can start getting ready for some of the most important races of the season, US Nationals in Vermont during the first week of January. Overall, the first period of racing has left me a little underwhelmed, yet hungry for more! It's time for me to pick myself up and keep on getting after it.
It’s been quite a week on the move! In the past 9 days I have managed to squeeze in a lot of last minute details before kicking off the season. I flew home to Minnesota last week with two days to complete the finishing touches for a fundraiser that I had been planning since JULY. The event was at Gear West last Thursday night and it was a huge success! The entire staff at the store was so incredible for helping out with an evening full of fresh snow, running, eating a lot, listening to my presentation, and raising money via silent auction items. HOWEVER, I am feeling especially grateful for all of the extra hard work Gear West employee, Jenny Beckman, put into preparing for the event and of course the store owner, Jan Guenther, for making it all happen. Growing up in the Twin Cities I was always able to rely on Gear West Ski and Bike Shop for anything I needed skiing related: new skis, boots, ski grind, clothing, athletic encouragement… The shop did a great job in making me feel like I was back at home and I was humbled by the support shown from the community.
During the event, I was able to share my history as an athlete starting from a Wayzata High School student, into college, and now into this new and focused life that I am so proud of. Friends and family were able to bid on auction items such as a Birkie weekend cabin, Birkie parking pass and wave boost, Rossignol skis, Swix poles, US Ski Team gear, an assortment of gift baskets, and so much more! All the while sipping on some delicious Barley John’s Brewery beer and munching on snacks provided by Gore Wear. Gore Wear is an athletic clothing company primarily creating bike gear but has recently launched its very own Cross Country Ski line. The company was a huge reason for my fundraiser’s success and it was so nice to partner up with them for the evening. By the end of the night we had raised a total $4,785 in silent auction items and numerous donations. As if I couldn’t feel the love from just that, Gear West and Gore Wear were generous enough to match up to $1,000 in these donations as well! All of these donations will be put toward my season to help me fund plane tickets, hotel rooms, food and ski/wax support for racing all over the world. Thank you to everyone who came out for the event, for all of the donations and for the confidence boost in believing that this is all worth it :)
After an exciting evening, I was delighted to drive up to Hayward, Wisconsin to spend a relaxing weekend at my family’s cabin. Overnight, it happened to snow just enough on the Birkie trails that we were able to break out the old rock skis and go for a fun ski. There’s nothing quite like the excitement of the first big snowfall of the year to get you motivated for the season. It was so nice to spend such a calm weekend in the woods with my family and finally be home to celebrate my sister’s birthday! (Since I’ve missed it the last four years). My sister has always been my biggest role model in life and is the reason I started ski racing in middle school; I wanted to be just like her. Not only is she in the middle of her second year at P.A. School, she’s also training her butt off for the California International Marathon on December 2nd in the hopes of qualifying for the Olympic Trails. She somehow manages to balance it all with so much more grace than I will ever be able to achieve. That being said, it was great to spend the weekend with her in the hopes of all that hard work rubbing off on me!
After that it was a rush to get things ready for a big road trip out west. On Wednesday night I left The Cities with my parents and drove into Bozeman, Montana. I am planning to spend Thanksgiving week with my parents and a few thousand other skiers at the West Yellowstone Ski Festival. My parents have made this into a fun family vacation ever since I was in 6th grade but for the past four years I had been training with my college team in Quebec, Canada and missed the festival. Over the years the size of this family trip has dwindled as each sibling heads off to college. We’ve kept it a fun group though by inviting friends to tag along and teammates from the Wayzata High School team to get some great early season skiing in. This year though, it will just be my parents and me. Who can ski more hours: my dad or me? We will see...
This first day of skiing was one of those days where you look around and realize how much you love this sport. Warm sun, beautiful views and super fun trails make you never want to end your ski. It was a perfect day! Unfortunately, with every peak there comes a valley and the very next day there was freezing rain while I was skiing in town. This was one of those days where you question why you're doing this and what's the point? Do I really have to be out here training in such awful weather? But these days separate the weak from the strong and I knew it was something I'd just have to grit my teeth and get through. I thought this was similar to racing; you might have a fabulous race one day and think you're totally unstoppable only to follow that up with a horrible day where you just can't quite find your groove. Another reason why you have to face the highs and lows of whatever you're doing with the same determination and will to succeed no matter what the outcome.
For the past month we’ve been waking up in Stratton about twice a week to find a little surprise in the morning, SNOW! The temperatures are dropping and we’re beginning to bundle up for our early morning workouts which can only mean one thing; the ski season is fast approaching! It’s crazy to think back on those initial training sessions with the SMS team back in June. Five months ago, I was getting dropped during most workouts and knew I had my work cut out for me for the summer. Those hot, humid, sticky months looked daunting to me at the time as I knew I would be training outside of my comfort zone. Yet, somehow those months just flew by and now we’re all heading our separate ways.
For the last few weeks we’ve been bringing back the volume in our training and really starting to ramp up our intensity. One of the biggest changes for me is that I slowly stopped working as much. I needed to work over the summer and fall so I could save up a little bit for the winter race season, but I knew that this was taking a toll on my training. Once I stopped working I started having a lot more energy in my workouts and really felt like I had the ability to step into that next gear of training. Also, the lack of working has helped with my recovery from training and I think it could not have come at a better time.
It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to these teammates who have now become great friends. Most of the team is traveling directly over to Europe to start the World Cup season in just a few weeks. I am so proud of all of my teammates- for some, this will be their first time racing multiple world cup races in a row. It inspires me to hopefully one day join them and reach more of my goals, but for now I am heading out west to kick off the season with Julia, Katharine and Kyle in West Yellowstone.
Before I try to find snow though, I am making a quick stop at home in Minnesota for a fundraiser that I have been working on for a few months now. Gear West Ski and Bike Shop has been generous enough to support me with this and has agreed to match up to $1,000 in donations. The event will take place on Thursday, November 8that 5:30pm at Gear West and will include a run from the store, a presentation, silent auction, as well as food and beverages provided by Gore Tex and beer provided by Barley John’s Brewery! With this partnership, Gore Tex has also agreed to match up to $1,000 made from auction items. Some of these items include Birkie weekend cabin, Birkie start pass and wave boost, Rossi skis and gear, Swix poles and gear, Tailwind Nutrition Products, and a variety of other gift baskets. It’s been really great working with the entire Gear West crew and I am excited for a fun evening with Midwest skiers.
I am also looking forward to spending some time at my cabin on the Birkie trails. I grew up going to my cabin whenever I had a free weekend and have a lot of childhood memories from there. Since leaving for college four years ago I haven’t had the same opportunities to spend time there and I’ve realized how much I’ve missed it, along with having so much quality time with my friends and family. As sad as it is for me to say goodbye to Vermont for a few months, I am looking forward to heading home and then finding snow!
The last few weeks in Stratton have been great training and we’re starting to gear up for an exciting winter! It’s hard to believe we are only about a month away from the start of the season. As a college athlete, my season usually didn’t start until US Nationals in January because we were busy working toward finals in school. This year will be totally different for me! My first Supertour will be the first weekend in December, but I will have a few races even prior to that to help prepare for it. That means that right now, it’s time to put in a lot of hard work. Personally, the best way I can get into racing shape is to simply race more. We’ve been incorporating more of this into our training; two weeks ago Kyle and I competed in an uphill running race that went from the base of Stratton Mountain Resort all the way up to the top of the gondola. It was a 2.18 mile race but it took me just over 28 minutes! Kyle made it to the top of the podium while I placed second, overall a great day for SMS T2.
This past weekend, we traveled up north to race at the NENSA Roller Ski race in Jericho, Vermont. I headed up a few days early to spend some time with old college friends and teammates in Burlington. It was really nice to feel so much VCat love, which made it pretty tough to say goodbye. I was so excited though to see my old teammates perform so well at the ski race with Bill Harmeyer taking first place and Lina Sutro in third. Personally, I was happy to be in the mix (finished in 5th place) but that also set a nice fire inside me to get down to business this next month.
On top of all this racing and gearing up for the season, a lot of us are starting to move out of our summer homes. Kelsey and I ran into a few challenges with our condo over the summer and decided that the combination of mice and mold did not add up to a great living space for athletes. So, we worked to find alternative living options and decided to make a small move across the mountain. Kelsey and I spent a majority of last week packing and cleaning our condo and putting some of our belongings into winter storage. It might not sound like much work but turns out skiers come with a lot of extra “stuff” required for training and racing. Happy to have gotten that out of the way so our real move-out date will go much smoother!
I am looking forward to heading home in just three short weeks before I head out West for the kickoff to the season!
Last month I had the privilege to join my Stratton Teammates, along with the US Ski Team and Craftsbury Ski Team, for a three week training camp down at the Snow Farm in New Zealand. The trip was full of spectacular views and phenomenal skiing, most definitely worth every penny and every hour of traveling to get to the other side of the world!
For the first week, the SMS crew stayed in apartments about 2k from the Snow Farm. The living arrangement was great, unfortunately, our rental van wasn't so great. I think we all lost count of how many times our van got stuck during the short drive to and from the skiing. We were very thankful for all of the strangers who chose to stop and help us out along the way.... Luckily, we had the perfect afternoon entertainment as our apartments were located right above a car testing track where people could drive cars as fast as they wanted on a slick ice rink. It was Audi's week to test on the track so we got to see some pretty cool cars driving around all day.
Coach Pat didn't let any of the technical difficulties stand in the way of getting some good training in so we got right to it, training hours and hours out on beautiful ski trails!
After one week of skiing, skiing, and more skiing, we took a trip down into the town of Wanaka for a mountain run and some New Zealand Tourism.
After a mini hiatus we went back up to the Snow Farm for a few races. Jessie and I did the Merino Muster 42k, my first skiing marathon! I definitely learned a few things about fueling before, during, and after such a long competition. Once experiencing a nice boot-and-rally about 14k into the race I was able to happily and comfortably finish the race coming in third place.
We then went on to compete in the 2018 New Zealand Audi Quattro Winter Games. The women raced a freestyle 5k, freestyle sprint, and classic 10k, while the men completed a freestyle 10k, freestyle sprint, and classic 15k.
Once the racing was completed we still had a few more days to spend every last precious second skiing our hearts out.
It was an unforgettable trip full of so much skiing and so many laughs, I can't wait to go back again soon...
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics about 70% of 2017 high school graduates enrolled in some form of college the following fall. In addition, a handful of the working population decided to either start college after a few years, or return to classes after a much needed hiatus. But what happens if you stray from the norm… and something pulls you in another direction? For Jessie Diggins and Andy Newell, there were alternative ideas for the future.
At the time, both Jessie and Andy followed the same route exploring collegiate racing right out of high school. Similar to many high school skiers, they went through the process of applying to schools, talking to coaches, and establishing academic opportunities for themselves after graduation.
“When I decided to go full-skiing, I had deferred a place at NMU, and had that as my plan B if I decided that full-time skiing was too stressful or not as fun as I wanted it to be,” states Jessie.
“What I decided to do was defer from UVM but I was also able to take some classes from the University of Utah with tuition reimbursement and a loaned laptop courtesy of the US Ski Team,” Andy claims.
At the time, both skiers were still open to going to college, but decided to “take a year off.” The only difference was that they never experienced that longing to go back into full-time school. As previously mentioned in Part 1 of this article, many skiers who decided to take a gap year soon came to the realization that something was missing and that they still wanted a balance in their life. It made sense for them to go back to school and ski in college. But why change something when you’re already happy?
Jessie explains, “At the end of the day, a happy skier is a fast skier… For me, I was super happy having all my eggs in one basket and making skiing my full-time job. I love having skiing as my career, and I perform well under stress so having the pressure of becoming a professional athlete at a young age didn’t create too much anxiety.”
This stress worked well for Jessie. With such a unique combination of personality, work ethic, and training load, Jessie knew taking this route would be better for her.
“Personally, going to college wasn’t going to work for me if I wanted to get the grades I wanted and train as hard as I wanted,” Jessie notes.
Jessie goes on to note how important it is to figure out your own personality; whether you can do a good job at balancing school and skiing, or whether you’re excited to focus all of your time and energy on one goal. She found that specificity suited her lifestyle really well after high school and carried that momentum for years to follow. Similarly, Andy found success from a young age and didn’t see a reason to change what was already working so well for him.
“To get that kind of international exposure was sweet for a junior but more importantly it got me hooked on skiing; the addiction to the big show and excitement of European racing,” Andy reflects after racing at World Juniors, U23’s, and World Championships his first year out of high school.
With the need for speed and an obvious progression into becoming an elite skier, Newell admits that he pretty much gave up any opportunities for racing in college after he started signing contracts and collecting win money. Although, he notes that the ski racing environment was slightly different at the time he made this choice. In high school, Andy was named to the US D Team which, at the time, provided free housing in Park City, access to daily coaching, and most of the Winter travel expenses covered.
“I consider myself lucky that the US Ski team was in a position then to support D team members a little bit better,” Andy admits.
Andy explains that he wouldn’t have given up his opportunities for anything. He was feeding his addiction to the big show of European racing, making decent money, and having the time of his life! What else could he need or want?
So, the big question is, do all the stars need to align? Do you need to have the right opportunities present themselves at just the right time? Maybe! But it’s important to note that this right moment appears differently for everyone! What is more impactful, is the way you respond to the opportunities presented to you.
“There are a lot of options these days, but those who become exceptional are the ones who actually pick something from the list. And they run like hell with it,” says USST coach Matt Whitcomb.
You don’t need to do exactly what your teammate did, or what an olympic medalist did.
Whitcomb advises, “Create your own path, get vulnerable. Most people just run down America’s path of mediocrity, when they could instead be cutting their own unique route.”
Every skier can take a different road. Maybe that road is pin straight without a single bump, or maybe that road has curves and hills and potholes. It doesn’t matter what it looks like or how you approach it, as long as you figure out the best scenario for you and what makes you happiest. One way to solve this solution would be to test out every possibility; take a gap year, go to one school, maybe transfer, take another year off... but this is unrealistic and requires far too many resources. I think that the easiest way to find your way is to talk to others that have faced a similar situation- an older sibling, teammate, coach, or friend. Also, remember that you really can’t go wrong. No matter what choice you make you will still face unexpected fears, experience a new lifestyle, and figure out why exactly you still love this crazy sport!
For those of you taking a year off from school, I wish you the best of luck in finding the perfect place where you belong. For those heading back to school, I hope you cherish every moment of it, because it goes by far too quickly. Regardless of which road you choose, own it! Make it your decision and give it your best shot/all you’ve got. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.
“There is no right or wrong decision, do whatever works for you!” -Sophie Caldwell
“You can be the fittest person out there, but if you are not happy and motivated, it will be very hard to ski fast.” -Julia Kern
“My only regret in my skiing career is that I was not mentally prepared to win a medal at my first Olympics as a 22 year old…. I thought I had a chance of winning a medal but I didn't actually BELIEVE I could do it. So above anything else I want young skiers who are graduating from high school to know that 4 years is not a long time and you can find yourself at the start line of the Olympics before you know it.” -Andy Newell
“I don’t think there’s one model that fits every person. It’s also important to remember that it’s not forever!” -Jessie Diggins
“The opportunities will present themselves when the the time is right!” -Ida Sargent
“If you want to be exceptional, don’t be afraid of being an exception.” -Matt Whitcomb
Last month I had the privilege to join my Stratton teammates for a camp down under at the Snow Farm in New Zealand. Breathtaking views, phenomenal skiing, and sunshine so sweet that you couldn't stop smiling, it was a trip that was worth every penny and every hour of travel (40 hrs).
Driving up from the town of Wanaka you forget about summer and say hello to Winter! For the first week, the SMS team stayed in an apartment about 2 kilometers from the Snow Farm Lodge. Unfortunately, this became a battle between slick roads and a horrific rental van. Luckily, Coach Pat came to the rescue (along with a few strangers who chose to help us when we got stuck, multiple times...) and we made do for the time being. On the bright side, we were staying right above a car testing track where people from all over would come test whatever brand of cars and go for a "joy ride." We got some good afternoon entertainment watching Audi's drive around an ice rink for fun!
We made sure none of these van problems held us back and were able to jump right into skiing for hours and hours everyday. Turns out it's not that hard when there's always spectacular views to keep you company.
Part way through the camp we took a trip down into the town of Wanaka to go for a mountain run and get a taste of New Zealand tourism.
By the third week of our camp, we began racing. Jessie and I competed in the 42k Merino Muster, my first marathon ski race! I learned a lot in this ski race- like how to fuel before, during, and after such a long competition. After experiencing a boot-and-rally at about 14k, I learned my lesson and was able to happily and comfortably finish the race in third place.
Next were the 2018 New Zealand Audi Quattro Winter Games. The women competed in a freestyle 5k, freestyle sprint, and classic 10k, while the men raced in a freestyle 10k, freestyle sprint, and classic 15k.
After the races were over, we had a few days remaining. We spent every last second we could embracing the snow and sunshine including some great crust skiing.
It was an unforgettable three week trip with so much skiing and so many laughs. Can't wait to go back again sometime soon...
For the first time in 17 years I will not be going back to school this fall. Saying that out loud is more daunting than I had anticipated. For the most part, the classmates that I graduated with can say that they are “going to grad school,” “starting a new job,” or “taking a year off to travel,” but I still don’t know where I lie. I am not taking any classes this year, I am not working anywhere consistently, and I am doing more than just traveling to explore, I’m traveling to race!
I am wrapping up a three week training camp in New Zealand with the SMS, Craftsbury, and US Ski team. When I walked through customs I had to write down my reason for visiting New Zealand: Was I a student? Was I visiting a family or friend? Was I working? What was my job? In the rush of the moment and due to habit, I wrote that I was still a student and continued on my way. I later had a few reflections; I still haven’t reached the point yet where I can say I have a job. I don’t have a salary and there are no company benefits. Yet, I work 24/7 toward my job- my job is ski racing. But why is this so hard for me to admit to myself? Is it because, for my entire life, I’ve been a student? What if I hadn’t taken this route? How do others make this decision?
Racing throughout high school I was given a number of perspectives about picking skiing versus school. My friends were all preparing to go to college and I always assumed I would go to college too. My parents and older sister went to school, why wouldn’t I go as well? But then I thought about skiing. I never had the most outstanding results in high school (never qualified to race internationally), but I was good enough to qualify for regional and national level camps like REG, NEG, and NTG. I traveled to these camps and trained with other high-level athletes, getting more and more motivated by each skier or coach that I met. Then the thought came to me... what if I didn’t go to college? I could focus on training, make those vital steps toward international racing, and continue along the “pipeline” that so many olympians had followed. Maybe I would make bigger jumps and improve my skiing exponentially? I was entering the unknown and I was unsure how to pick the right choice for me. Looking back on this four years later I realize that I was far from alone in this predicament.
I have since had the opportunity to talk to a wide variety of skiers and competitors and have learned so much that I wish I knew in high school. It’s okay to be confused. It’s okay to make your own path. Every athlete is in a different situation, comes from diverse athletic and academic backgrounds, and has various goals that they hope to achieve post-high school.
“I've always believed that the most important thing to remember when discussing the decision to go to school or not (or when to go to school) is that is it a completely individual decision and the right decision for one person might not be the right decision for the next,” states Sophie Caldwell.
Personally, I finally decided that taking a gap year might be too big of a jump for me. I wasn’t ready to focus on skiing and I had a lot of goals for myself academically. I decided to attend the University of Vermont and upon reflection, can admit that this was one of the best decisions of my life. Similarly, SMS teammate, Kelsey Phinney, went from high school in Boulder, CO directly to Middlebury College.
“The reason I chose Middlebury College was simple: I went to visit and I was ready to unpack and stay for good. I loved the people, the area, the ski team, and the classes I sat in on,” says Kelsey Phinney.
Kelsey and I both fell in love with our schools from the start and knew we were where we belonged. We took these college experiences as learning opportunities; maybe we wouldn’t have been ready to jump right into the professional circuit but we both determined this was the right path for us.
“I loved the experiences I had on the Carnival circuit. Both good and bad times taught me a lot about life and skiing, and I felt like the balance of school and sport made me better at both,” Kelsey reflects.
Similarly, Sophie Caldwell had her mind made up without the need to hesitate over a gap year or jumping into full-time skiing.
“I chose to go to college right out of high school and it was something I had always known I wanted to do. I knew there was a good chance I wanted to ski professionally at some point in my life, but when I was 18, I wasn't ready to 100% commit to skiing” Sophie explains.
With academic goals in mind and the confidence to pursue skiing in the long-run, sometimes there’s no need to question it. Going directly to college might challenge you more than you think and it might make you question what you’re doing. The balance of school and skiing is great, but it’s TOUGH! At least you worked through those challenges and figured out where you want to be though.
“I definitely had my ups and downs throughout college and at times I considered not pursuing skiing after college, but by the time I entered my senior spring, I knew I wanted to give skiing professionally a shot and knew it was because it was what I wanted to do, not what I had to do,” Sophie notes.
Over the course of four years we were able to say goodbye to our homes, grow into adults, and develop as skiers; allowing a much smoother transition into the professional racing circuit post-college. This decision to go right to college made sense for Kelsey, Sophie and me - it was simple; but I recognize that this choice isn’t as straightforward for everyone.
“I loved my time at Burke and wasn't quite ready to leave. I also didn't know where I wanted to go to college as part of me wanted to go out west while part of me wanted to stay closer to home,” says Ida Sargent.
The conflict of picking a school, a place we are willing to spend at least four years of our lives at, can be intimidating to anyone. Taking a year off to think and explore what motivates you once the structure of school is taken out of the picture can be extremely vital to one’s skiing longevity. Other times, this year off can be done to test out what skiing professionally is actually like.
“I wanted to test out whether I could do only professional skiing,” offers Katharine Ogden.
A feat that might sound easy to accomplish- ski, eat, sleep, repeat - can’t be THAT hard! But what happens when you suddenly put all of your time and energy into one goal?
“Ironically, my gap year did not turn out even close to how I had planned or imagined!” reflects Julia Kern.
After facing an early summer surgery for compartment syndrome, and then an untimely back injury in the fall, Julia notes that her gap year was extremely tough with plenty of lows and setbacks.
Ida Sargent offers, “My PG year was a bit of a disappointment as I wasn't as happy as I was expecting and I also didn't feel like I made as big of a jump with my results as I had hoped.”
“I think in hindsight it was a good philosophy but I think I approached it wrong. I didn’t do a good job securing other things to do besides training and was thus pretty bored, which led to me putting a lot of stress on skiing and racing,” says Katharine Ogden.
Maybe taking a gap year isn’t as easy as it sounds? Coming face-to-face with this type of ski-focused intensity as an 18 year old can be challenging.
“It showed me how much I really wanted to go to college,” offers Katharine Oden.
It can also be validating, as it can prove to oneself where they really belong at that point in their life.
“It made me realize that I wasn't ready to ski full time and I still needed balance in my life,” reflects Ida Sargent.
What might be the most beneficial part of taking a gap year, is the lessons you learn throughout. How to deal with the pressure, free time, potential obstacles, and how to respond when you’re suddenly put in an unfamiliar situation.
“My gap year turned out to be far from ideal from a training/fitness standpoint; but I became very in tune with my body, learned how my body responds to training, became mentally tougher, and learned that I love the skiing lifestyle (even if it is tough sometimes) and that I want to ski at the highest level possible,” says Julia Kern.
Some things you just can’t learn in a classroom.
After taking a gap year to figure out what skiing was like full-time; Ida, Katharine, and Julia attended Dartmouth College (via various routes):
Ida states, “I started by going to school full time and I raced for Dartmouth for three years and then made the National team so I took my senior winter off to race for the USST and then I went back for a spring term my fifth year.”
“One year in [as a traditional student], I am very happy at Dartmouth and racing the collegiate circuit last year reignited my love for the sport,” adds Katharine.
While Julia contributes, “I chose Dartmouth because I wasn’t sure what skiing and school balance I wanted to have, but I did know that I wanted to be able to take terms off to race internationally.”
Regardless of which Dartmouth plan they followed all three skiers seem to have enjoyed the choices they made. Whether taking a gap year is or isn’t part of your plan, the most important takeaway is that you should TAKE SOMETHING AWAY! Learn something new about yourself, about skiing, or about classes you want to study.
So what about other options for pursuing a ski career? Jessie Diggins and Andy Newell both chose to skip college and go straight into skiing. Stay tuned for my next post when I’ll include input from both of them as well as what Matt Whitcomb has to say on this topic.