With the 2016/2017 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This set of honors goes to outstanding North American junior athletes across all nordic disciplines.
Katharine Ogden, Stratton Mountain School/U.S. Ski Team
Yes, Stratton’s Katharine Ogden has earned our “Junior of the Year” honors before. But this season, the 19-year-old Vermont skier rose to even greater heights. Early in the season, she snagged second-place honors in the senior fields at a SuperTour (the 10 k classic in West Yellowstone), a NorAm (the 10 k freestyle at Sovereign Lake), and U.S. National Championships (the 20 k classic mass start).
And that was before World Junior Championships even started. At Soldier Hollow, Ogden started things off with a fifth-place finish in the 5 k freestyle, tying the second-best World Juniors result ever by an American.
Two days later, she raced to a bronze medal in the 10 k skiathlon, becoming the first American ever to stand on the podium in an individual World Junior Championships race.
And then two days after that, Ogden anchored teammates Hailey Swirlbul, Julia Kern, and Hannah Halvorsen to relay bronze, the first medal ever won by a U.S. women’s relay team in the history of the event.
“This week at worlds has been amazing,” Ogden, wrote in an email to FasterSkier at the time. “Wonderful skiing and good weather and unprecedented results for the whole team.”
And she told the U.S. Ski Team for a press release: “It was really incredible to stand up at the medals ceremony the other night [after the skiathlon]. The only thing I can think of that would be better is standing up there with my friends.”
Then she did.
Léo Grandbois, Biathlon Estrie/Biathlon Canada 2022 Squad
17-year-old Léo Grandbois of Lennoxville, Québec, just made one international racing trip this season. But on the very first race of the trip, he made a splash.
Grandbois had traveled to Brezno-Osrblie, Slovakia, to represent Canada in the youth division at the International Biathlon Union’s World Youth and Junior Championships. The previous season he had competed at the Youth Olympic Games, with a top finish of 22nd, but this was his first time at the bigger event.
In the 12.5 k individual, Grandbois hit every target – the only competitor in the field to go 20-for-20 – and picked up a gold medal, by an impressive minute and 14 seconds over Said Khalili of Russia.
“I am probably the most happy man on earth today!” he wrote in an email to FasterSkier after his win.
Grandbois went on to be one of Canada’s most consistent performers at the Championships, finishing 14th in the sprint and 22nd in the pursuit. The sprint result came despite three penalties.
“I think it just says that I am quite strong even [during] a bad race,” Grandbois said at the time.
“I’m missing 15 days of school to be here, and my teachers/professors are probably thinking, ‘This guy is not doing the right thing,’ but I know that I am doing the right thing,” he wrote in his 20-for-20 interview.
And even then, he wasn’t done yet – Grandbois had proven his speed in that sprint, where he had the tenth-fastest course time in the field. Come the end of the season, he went to Cross Country Canada Ski Nationals for the first time and picked up junior national titles in the 10 k freestyle and the 15 k mass start.
Honorable Mention: Julia Kern, SMS Elite Team/Dartmouth College/U.S. Ski Team
Julia Kern, another Stratton skier with a U.S. Ski Team “D” team affiliation, joined Ogden on the relay podium at Soldier Hollow – and Kern’s efforts brought the team into sixth place at the halfway point of the race.
“There is no one I would rather be on the podium with than my best friends and teammates,” Kern, 19, wrote at the time. “Not only did I share the experience with my best friends, but on home soil with all my family and friends there to celebrate with us!”
Six weeks later, Kern got the first World Cup start of her career. It was a skate sprint in Québec City as part of World Cup Finals – and not only did she qualify for the heats, but she finished 24th and scored World Cup points in her first try.
Coming off a clean sweep of the Junior Nationals races in Lake Placid, New York, Kern was confident, and at the same time unsure where she would stack up against the best skiers in the world.
“At the start line it almost felt like a dream because there I was at the start line next to some of the best skiers in the world, skiers who I have looked up to and watched race after race on my computer screen to learn and gain inspiration from,” she wrote. “This is a huge confidence booster for me because it is easy to make a goal and have my teammates and coaches who believe in me tell me results like this are possible. But it is another thing to actually live up to it and believe it yourself, too.”
Honorable Mention: Gareth Williams, Telemark Racers/Canadian Junior National Ski Team
Where hasn’t Gareth Williams raced this season? The Kelowna cross-country skier started out in Canada, where he snagged a top-10 in the senior NorAm field at Sovereign Lake. At U.S. National Championships, he took third in the junior 10 k classic mass start. And then back in the U.S. for World Junior Championships, he turned in some of Canada’s best results, placing 11th in the 20 k skiathlon and 20th in the 10 k freestyle.
“It is exciting to see that I have the speed to ski with the best juniors in the world,” Williams wrote after the skiathlon. “Being so close to to the top 10 is my only disappointment.”
He headed for more junior racing after that, touring Switzerland and Germany and picking up finishes of second, sixth, and sixth in OPA Cup Juniors action.
Finally, Williams returned to Canada and started World Cup Finals, where he finished 71st overall.
“You’ve got a lot of fast guys, and you’re kind of going from being one of the faster guys to obviously to one of the slowest guys around,” Williams wrote of the experience. “That’s a cool feeling, actually.”