World Masters is set to start in just two days — a celebration of Cross-Country skiing bringing together thousands of participants from skiing nations around the world. Held in McCall, Idaho, this year’s event features a staggering number of American participants. Over 600 US master skiers of all levels and ages will be competing.
Says US National Masters Director John Downing, â€œThe really cool thing about the massive US numbers this year is that not only is this the biggest national contingent (any nation) to ever attend a Worlds in the 28-year history of the event, since the MWC is concurrent with our National Masters this year, it's also the biggest national championship that I'm aware of in U.S. Nordic skiing history.â€
This is an opportunity for competitors to mix it up with the many of the best skiers in their age group. Says John Broadhead of Craftsbury, Vermont, a veteran of eight World Masters events, â€œI like competing against 100 really fit athletes my own age from all parts of the world. It is extremely inspiring to be with so many really fit athletes my age and older.â€ And while Broadhead has taken home medals in the past — including a silver in Lake Placid, he is not going to Idaho for the hardware, looking to â€œjust finishing and feeling good at the end.â€
Dave Knoop of Park City, Utah is approaching the event with a similar mindset — â€œI love to compete, so hopefully I'd like to be in the mix with some good skiers. Personally, I'll know if it was a good race regardless of overall place. I have no expectations other than to ski fast and hard all the way.â€ This sentiment was echoed by everyone we talked to — ski hard and have fun.
The master’s ski movement in the US has grown dramatically in recent years. Downing views this as integral to the overall health of the sport. â€œHundreds of youth and junior coaches around the world sell the point that XC skiing is a sport for life. This event is proof positive. If we don't live up to that motto and celebrate masters skiing as an equally important part of our competitive experience, as a sport we are going to go the same route as team sports in worshipping youth and relegating adults to the grandstands or â€˜recreation’ leagues.”
â€œTo me there's no difference — none at all — between celebrating masters that are at all spectrums (super serious to super casual) the same way we celebrate that diversity in youth and teen programs.”
â€œEveryone gets the fact that this isn't the Olympics. But it is still very special in it's own right.â€
Adds Knoop, “Our sport can use as much racing participation at all levels as possible â€”from JO's to Masters. Every level has something to offer skiers, as well as potentially create a venue in which to build life long relationships if you love your sport enough, you give back to it any way you can, allowing the sport to continue to grow.â€
Dorcas Wonsavage of Alpina Sports, who has raced at the highest level as a three-time Olympian, sees World Masters as a powerful motivational tool — â€œwithout a worthy goal such as the World Masters, many of us would have a harder time finding motivation to get out, to train, and stay in touch with the sport and fellow skiers.â€
Wonsavage was looking forward to competing with her former Olympic teammates Ingrid Butts and Leslie Hall (formerly Thompson) in the relay. Unfortunately, due to last minute complications, she will be unable to attend.
Walt Berling, a veteran coach of 23 years in Jackson, Wyoming, is taking advantage of having the event in his neighborhood — or at least within a day’s drive. His goal is to participate. As a coach, Berling doesn’t get that many opportunities to race. He points out that he usually loses fitness over the course of the winter. But getting back out on the course is important â€” â€œAs a coach it gets easy to stand on side and tell others to ski fast – but if you race now and then it reminds you just how painful and hard it can be — it is a way to say â€˜yes, I am going as hard as I can, coach.’â€
And while Berling might claim to be out of shape, that doesn’t bother Downing. â€œI love watching the progression of skiers through the different age group waves. As a coach it is fascinating to watch the human body adapt as we age. I am flat out in awe of some of the people that can just rip around on skis at any age you can name. Pound for pound I'll take some of these masters any day against the World Cup red group in an age-handicapped and life-handicapped race.â€
Medals are always nice, but that is mere icing on the proverbial cake. â€œSafe, clean races is number one for sure. I always tell the USA contingent when we are in Europe I don't care how they ski, I just want to see their faces — with a smile if possible — in the evening. I'm quite serious about that,â€ says Downing who organizes and leads the yearly World Masters trip.
A preview of World Masters by Boulder Nordic Sport’s Nathan Schultz, including snow conditions, courses, and an interview with John downing can be read here:
McCall World Masters Championship Preview