Welcome to “17 Questions for 2017”, where we are catching up with American and Canadian national-team members before the beginning of the winter season.
Jake Brown’s move to Lake Placid wasn’t his first major relocation in recent years: after helping NCAA Division III Saint Olaf win a cross-country running championship, Brown used his final year of ski eligibility to join midwest behemoth Northern Michigan University, where he won the 10 k skate at NCAA Central Regional Championships by over a minute last season. He also became an NCAA All-American and placed sixth in the 30 k skate at U.S. National Championships.
But Brown has let his International Ski Federation license lapse, picked up a rifle, and moved again. He joined the U.S. Biathlon Association’s X-team this year, after being identified by team staff as a potential talent worth developing.
Brown had his first on-snow biathlon race in West Yellowstone two weeks ago.
“I hopped in the biathlon race- overall it was a good opportunity to feel fast with snow underfoot and to get in a hard effort and my first on-snow biathlon race,” he wrote in an email.
Despite now competing in a new sport, the joys of the West Yellowstone Ski Festival are familiar ones: seeing your community all in one place (mostly).
“Great vibes and it’s a blast to see a big chunk of the ski community come together,” he wrote. “I was helping coach the Duluth area high school trip and training around the coaching. As a former Minnesota high school skier I really enjoy hearing the kids talk about who might make it out of their section and earn the right to race on the legendary state meet course at Giants Ridge!”
More recently, Brown finished ninth in both the 10 k sprint and 15 k mass start at biathlon NorAms in Canmore, Alberta.
1. Biggest change in your life in the last five or so months since the ski season ended?
I picked up a rifle, put it on my back, and started biathlon after moving to Lake Placid in June.
2. Biggest change in your training?
The simple switch in focus from cross-country to biathlon has meant more intervals and easy rollerskiing on a loop, with twists and turns rolling up and down. Aside from the obvious, shooting bullets at black targets after each interval, this means a more targeted focus of working on transitional skiing instead of just pounding away straight up a hill. As a runner-turned-skier, mastering the technical aspects of the sport- including transitional skiing- is an aspect at which I can still improve.
3. Major areas of improvement you’ve seen so far?
I have so much appreciation for the work a dedicated biathlete has to put in to improve their shooting and consistency. When I reflect on my progress I can see I’ve taken quite a few clicks up since June- my range time is light years faster, my standing is more stable, and my prone group is getting smaller. However it hasn’t been without work, and when I see where the elite biathletes on our team are and the work they’ve put in to get there I am humbled. I’ve also learned how to ski a biathlon race differently; as my teammate Max Durtschi told me when I first started in June, “this isn’t skiing and shooting- this is biathlon.”
4. Whom you’ve been working closest with this offseason (coaches or training partners)?
I work most closely with Jean Paquet, the USBA development coach. I’m always impressed when Jean jumps in a workout- trying to hang onto his back wheel during a 70-mile road ride was one of the most joyfully painful experiences of my summer.
This year has been a fantastic opportunity for me to learn from all the veteran US biathletes- I’ve been lucky to train with each and pick their brains for sage biathlon wisdom. Paul Schommer, a good friend of mine, joined the X-team in August and is who I train with most. He picked up biathlon a year before I and we are close in ski times, so chasing him in shooting is a really valuable challenge for me.
5. Best trip in the last five months (and why)?
Over the summer my cousin got married in Seattle, which served as a mini-family reunion. I don’t see my extended family often, so when I get the chance it’s always special.
6. Favorite cross-training?
Mountain running. I prefer basketball or climbing for an active recovery day.
7. Favorite non-athletic activity or pastime this summer?
Life at the training center can become repetitive, so on occasion I’ll venture into the Adirondack park for a short backpacking excursion. There’s nothing quite like a night in the peace of wilderness to reset your mind, body, and spirit.
8. Song that was your jam this summer?
Whatever heavy metal Jean plays in the weightroom.
9. All time favorite race moment?
Skiing in the lead pack towards the end of the 2013 Birkebeiner; Matt Liebsch turns and points between himself, Brian Gregg, Sylvan Ellefson, and I and says “For America.” I may or may not have peed my pants I was so excited. To me those guys were legends.
10. First thing you pack in your bag when you leave for Europe?
Whenever traveling for skiing I make sure to put my boots in my carry-on. I learned that the hard way after my ski bag, boots included, failed to make it to Lake Placid (when NCAAs were there in 2015) until the day before the first race. I have yet to ski race in Europe, so I hope to get the chance to put others’ packing tips to use soon.
11. Venue/event you’re most excited to visit this season?
Mount Itasca in Coleraine, MN. It’s the first true test of the year and a challenging course (if they have natural snow) in my home state. I can’t wait for it all to start.
12. Who will win the World Cup title this year?
Tim Burke and Susan Dunklee. I pick with my heart.
13. Biggest sacrifice you feel you’ve made choosing this career path?
I certainly wish I could spend more time with family and friends, especially those who don’t ski and those who live back in MN.
14. If you could change one thing about your sport, what would it be?
Increased access to biathlon, especially in the USA. I’d love to see any youngster be able to bike across town to the local biathlon range, pop on his skis, grab a club-owned rifle, and give the sport five shots. Of course that’s a dreamlike scenario, but developing a passion takes time, and if we want biathlon to grow in this country we need to inspire the next generation. I think the US Ski Team has done an impressive job of developing those passions- they’re a great example for biathlon to follow.
15. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
An egg and oatmeal with banana, yogurt, and almond butter. It’s usually oatmeal with whatever I find to put in it. Orange juice to wash it down.
16. In 5 years, I’ll be ____?
Skiing, trail running, climbing, triathloning, canoeing, and enjoying the great outdoors in any way possible.
17. In 50 years, I’ll be ____?
Skiing, trail running, climbing, triathloning, canoeing, and enjoying the great outdoors in any way possible. Plus skiing my 45th Birkie and waxing skis at Giants Ridge for the Minnesota State High School ski meet.