As skiers go, there aren’t many out there more inexhaustibly enthusiastic than Liz Stephen. Her energetic description of the technique changes she’s currerntly working on, for example, could inspire you to momentarily want nothing more than to strap on your rollerskis and hit the pavement.
The U.S. Ski Team A-team member certainly has plenty to be happy about: Stephen posted top-20s twice during the regular season, a first for the 25-year-old. As the 28th-ranked female distance skier on the World Cup heading into next winter, she remains in the all-expenses-paid Red Group after first cracking the threshold this January. On one of the most grueling courses she skied all year, the Tour de Ski’s final climb up the Alpe Cermis, she had the eighth-fastest time of the field.
A season filled with personal bests doesn’t mean Stephen is resting on her laurels, though. Her training partners in Park City frequently consist of her male teammates on the USST; to keep up with them on over-distance workouts she simply switches to faster rollerskis. She’s continually refining her technique and watching other skiers to make herself better.
Stephen’s summer and fall schedule will actually have her training away from home more often than not. She recently returned from the second annual North American Women’s Training Alliance (NAWTA) camp in Alaska and is getting ready to fly to Scandinavia for five weeks this Sunday. There she’ll compete at the Blink Festival in Norway before going to Torsby, Sweden, for a joint USST camp with the Swedish women that she helped lay the foundation for with Kikkan Randall last summer.
In the middle of such a whirlwind off-season, it was time to check in with Stephen before she took off for her next trip. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
FasterSkier: You just got back from Eagle Glacier. How was the camp?
Liz Stephen: It was awesome! It was one of the best camps we did last year and I think it went even better than last year. It was really great to have Aikku (Finland’s Aino Kaisa Saarinen) there. She was outstanding in terms of having a skier from that level want to train with us, and she was also one of the nicer people we possibly could have invited. It definitely upped the level of the camp.
The glacier was great; it was beautiful up there. We had one really nice day and the rest was pretty much in the fog. It didn’t matter, though.
FS: What were the specific goals of being up there?
LS: Just being on snow; getting in lots of hours and working on the same technique stuff we’ve been trying on the rollers. It doesn’t always transfer the way you’d like it to once you get on snow, but this year particularly in classic [the technique] is transferring better than it has in the past. I think there are improvements being made in my classic skiing.
FS: What kind of adjustments are you making?
LS: Kind of skiing bigger, more powerfully. My goal was to follow people like Aikku around. She has a unique ski style but very relaxed as well. I’m a different skier than she is and don’t want to do that all the time, but in a lot of areas it’s good to practice skiing different terrains and behind different people.
A big part of it was learning how to take off the right part of my foot instead of always being back and bent over. I’m not very powerful when I get tired, and that’s been a big goal: standing upright when you get tired.
FS: Overall have you made any big changes to your training this summer?
LS: Not really. You always make little tweaks with things you want to do better. But as a theme, overall it’s the same stuff — it seems like what we did last year worked. I’m living in the same place, training similar hours.
I’m maybe doing a few less than last year because I want to do more speed and interval work — particularly speed work so I can maybe have a few better finishes, maybe qualify in a sprint. I’ve made a few strength changes. I’m spending more time working on upper body strength. I did a lot of double-pole work last year but I’m continuing the DP work to keep that really strong.
FS: When you’re not at a camp, who are you training with in Park City?
LS: Andy Newell came to Park City after Bend and we trained almost every session together. Sometimes I couldn’t keep up, but he’d come back every half hour or so to say hey. Even if I can’t keep up with them it’s fun to have somebody out there doing the same thing as you. It’s really nice to train with Andy; he always spends time helping me with technique or talking about a question I have for him. He works hard but keeps it super fun.
From living with Tad [Elliott] and Simi [Hamilton] I get to train with them all the time, and Noah [Hoffman] is in town now, too. I have rollerskis with different speeds, and if I want to go with Noah one day I go on the faster skis. It’s good to have training partners, and I need to work on skiing at high speeds as well.
FS: You’re still affiliated with Burke Mountain Academy, but have you ever thought about joining a senior club?
LS: I train with Burke when I’m home, which is rare. It’s certainly crossed my mind that I should maybe have a club team like Stratton, and have a club for more of the year, but I really want to keep my affiliation with Burke. After going there for so long I couldn’t join a different club. They gave me a lot as an athlete and I want to give back to them as much as possible. I trust Pete [Phillips] and Kate [Barton] a lot, even though spring Nationals are the only US races I do these days.
I’ll probably live in Park City until the end of my career because I love it here. The U.S. Ski Team gives me a ton of support — as much as I need.
FS: You’re headed to Europe soon, are you getting excited about that?
LS: Yeah, Kikkan and I are headed over to the Blink Festival, and I’ll be gone about a month in Norway and Sweden.
[The Blink Festival] starts on Thursday with a hill climb that sounds super cool. You take a boat down to this fjord to get to the start area, and then it’s a 1 k flat and 6 k uphill. It should be really fun. Then there’s a 10 k crit-style race where if you get lapped you get pulled. And there’s a sprint on Saturday.
I’ve never done a rollerski race before; it’ll be good training for being fast on skis and learning how to rollerski that fast next to people. I think it’ll be an eye-opener. A lot of Norwegians will be there, and some Italian and Swiss skiers. It’ll be fun to see people in the summer again and just learn how to move fast on the rollers; it’s not something I do that often.
FS: And then you’ll have a team camp in Sweden?
LS: We’ll go to Trondheim, Norway, for a week to train with one of Kikkan’s old coaches, and then we’ll spend a week with Anna Haag in Orsa, Sweden, again before meeting the rest of our team and the Swedish team for a 10-day camp in Torsby.
I’m dreaming of the week I get to spend in Orsa again. I love Anna and her family, and the training there last summer was — running through bogs is like the best thing in the world to me.
And it’ll be really cool to have both teams training together; that will be really fun to train with more people, different people, learning new things.
FS: What are your goals for next season?
LS: I guess the main goal for me is to stay healthy and make sure it’s still enjoyable. It was good for me last year; I love being on the road, I love my team, and I stayed healthy. And the results were good.
In terms of results for next year, my goal is to get a top 10 at World Championships, maybe a few top-20s as well. I’d also like to race the Tour de Ski again, but World Champs are the main goal. I want to be in the Red Group all season if possible, and just keep steeping the level up this year. A top-10 on the World Cup would be really good.
The ultimate awesome thing for me in my career would be to win a relay medal with the girls. You and your teammates on a podium together sums up why I do sport. We’ve talked about relay goals and we want to podium at the Olympics. And the next step along the way this year is to shoot for a podium [at World Championships]. We’ll see what happens. Everyone’s got to be healthy, but I think it’s possible.