FasterSkier: Let’s start with World Juniors — this was your first major international Championship event — what were your overall impressions competing at that level?
Noah Hoffman: World Juniors this year was definitely a new experience for me. It was very exciting. One of my favorite parts was seeing all the different nations represented. Unlike Scando Cup, where I’ve gone the last two years, it was not just the big skiing nations who were there like Norway and Sweden. There were also athletes from places like Great Britain and Armenia. It was really fun skiing around seeing all the different uniforms and hearing all the different languages. It also definitely had the feel of being the most important race I’d ever been to, both out on the course and at the awards ceremonies. You could tell everyone knew exactly what they were doing, and that they were very good at what they do. I was also impressed with how professional everyone was, the organizers, the coaches, and the athletes.
On the other hand, I think I did a good job of staying focused. One of the mistakes I made both years at Scando cup was getting distracted. I would go out to the venue two or three days before the races and half ski, do some sight seeing, stop and talk to coaches or teammates along the trails, or even spend too much time testing skis. The effect was that you wouldn’t really get a workout in and would end up spending way more time out there than intended. This year my coach, John Callahan, and I sat down before I left and wrote out a concise, well defined training plan. That way I went up to the venue each day knowing exactly what my workout was, and I could go out and get it done.
I had also already skied against some of the top ranked juniors this season, like Alex Harvey, who has had success at World Juniors. That gave me an idea of what level those guys are skiing at, and gave me some confidence that I could ski at their level.
FS: How do you feel about your performances at World Juniors?
NH: Overall I was a little disappointed with how the week went as a whole. I was pleased with the classic race. I felt like it was a good effort and that I stayed in it mentally pretty well, but I thought of it more like a preparatory race for the 20km. For the skate, I realize that you can’t plan to break a ski, however, the race is 20km long and getting a setback in the first kilometer shouldn’t take you out of the whole race. I feel like I took myself out of it mentally a bit after I fell and didn’t ski a smart race. The group did not go out fast. The pace did not start picking up at the front until at least 10-12km, maybe even later. I don’t even feel like I burned myself too badly getting back onto the pack, I just feel like I wasn’t ready to race when I got there. As for the relay, it was my first 5km of the year and I don’t think I really got prepared for it, both physically and mentally. After the 20km I never really got regrouped for the relay. I also don’t think I’m ready or very well trained to ski 5km’s right now. For the week as a whole, I feel like I missed out on or didn’t take full advantage of a great opportunity that was available to me.
FS: What have you learned from this experience that will allow you to be better prepared next time, and how will you go about that preparation?
NH: Becoming a fast skier is a process. I believe you can take something away from every race. I felt like I wasn’t properly prepared for the relay because I didn’t mentally recover from the skate race. This is a recurring problem with me that I have been working on. I have had trouble with the second or third race in a series because I don’t get mentally focused. I feel like I did a good job with my preparation between the classic and skate because I thought about my preparation for the skate race (with a reminder from Matt Whitcomb) before the classic race. I need to get to the point where I have no problems with preparation for an entire series.
I also feel that I learned several things from the skate race that I hope I can retain for the future; that was my first time I got a large setback in a race that was not physical. I didn’t handle it mentally very well in terms of staying focused, but hopefully the next opportunity will be better. I believe I missed out on an opportunity because I feel like I could have had a big result in the skate race if I hadn’t had some bad luck and if I’d handled the situation better.
FS: Your performance in the 20km freestyle was impressive — you broke a ski out of the start and were way off the back before skiing back into the top 25. What was going through your head when you broke the ski and in the ensuing charge back to front of the field?
NH: Thanks. Initially when I broke the ski I thought my race was over. I didn’t know, but should have, the rules regarding broken and changing skis. Luckily, Durango coach and friend Jason Cork was standing right there where the crash happened. Unfortunately he didn’t have extra skis, only poles. When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to get the binding back on, he swung around and immediately spotted a German coach with a replacement ski. The ensuing actions I’d say were about 1/4 the German coach handing the ski over and about 3/4 Cork taking the ski. Either way, Cork handed me the ski and I was on my way.
When I first started out nobody was in sight. I was surprised though at how fast the pack came back into view. It was probably less than a kilometer till I was on the back of the pack. I didn’t realize though that the pack was going to split up, so while I was working my way past people, the leaders weren’t getting any closer. I kept thinking about staying smooth and working past people. Finally, at about 10k, I got back onto a smaller group of skiers, maybe 30 or so. At this point I lost it mentally. I think I made the mistake of making my goal getting back onto the group. I slipped back off the group. I even lost track of what lap I was on. On the last lap I had to ask Kristina Casey, when I got my feed, to make sure I was almost done. When I finished I couldn’t believe I was top thirty. I thought I’d slipped way further back than that.
FS: Your best overall result was in the 10km classic. How did that race play out for you?
NH: The classic race went well for me. I felt good before the start and had a good warm-up. I went out and skied a pretty good, solid effort. The snow definitely slowed down on the second lap. I started to struggle a bit up the last couple hills, but I’m sure everybody did. I feel like I pushed through pretty well.
FS: You didn’t race the sprint. Compared to your distance results this season, your sprinting hasn’t been as strong. Are you working to improve that? Do you like sprinting?
NH: I do enjoy sprinting and definitely want to improve. My sprinting is pathetic. We tried to make some changes last summer that we thought would improve my sprinting like more time in the weight room and increased intensity. I put on almost 15lbs last May and June when we did a 5 week max strength block. We also increased my intensity a bit, and I got to train with Reid Pletcher and Colin Rogers this summer, both world class sprinters. However in the three opportunities I’ve had this year I have not sprinted well. I’m looking forward to my last shot on Monday at JO’s.
FS: What are your goals for JO’s?
NH: For the JO sprint I’m really looking for my first good sprint of the year. I definitely want to qualify for the rounds in the OJ field that won’t be full strength because many NCAA skiers won’t be there. Once I’m in the rounds, I believe I can sprint with most of the juniors in the country. I think making the A final is definitely realistic for me. Look for Reid Pletcher to be dominant in this race. In the mass start classic, I want to make sure the pace doesn’t go out slowly because I don’t want to pull anybody through to the line. I’d like to get away at some point alone or with a small group and then push it in. My goal is to win both distance races. I also think Intermountain can have a really good relay team, and I think wining the relay isn’t unrealistic either.
Editor's Note: Hoffman qualified in second place in the men's OJ category but was eliminated in the quarterfinals in the classic sprint at JO's yesterday, finishing 21st. Reid Pletcher finished third.
FS: What are your plans after JO’s? Any more racing?
NH: I have a very busy spring schedule this year. I have always enjoyed skiing in the spring and wanted to do as much as possible this year. The day after the JO relay I’m heading down with some of my Sun Valley teammates to Whistler for Canadian Nationals. I’m doing the 10km and 15km in Canada. I am then leaving early, forgoing the sprint and the 50km, so that I can head up to Fairbanks to get a solid week of training in before Long Distance Nationals.
FS: What will you do during the spring to recover from a long and successful season?
NH: When I come back from Fairbanks I’ll have a week and a half in Aspen to enjoy some great spring alpine skiing. Then my parents and I are heading to Paris to visit my sister who is taking a semester abroad from CU. I’ll come back around the first of May ready to train.
FS: What are your goals looking forward? Next season? Long term? You took a significant step forward this year in our results. Has that changed your expectations or approach at all?
NH: I have always had high expectations for myself, but I don’t really set results-based long term goals. I want to have a good summer of training, improve my weaknesses and come into next season ready to go. I want to keep improving. My approach has definitely not changed based on my results. If anything, good results are just a reason to keep doing what I’m doing. I have had a really good situation going these past couple of years with my coach John Callahan and I am going to continue to work with him.
FS: I would like to hear about the Owl creek Chase as well. You skied away from an extremely tough field. Tell me about the race — how did it play out? Did you go into it thinking you could win?
NH: I definitely went into that race thinking I could win. It was my home course that I’ve skied a thousand times and it’s a really tough course and at altitude. My strategy going into the race was to make sure it didn’t come down to a sprint. If the pace went out really slow, I was going to pick it up. That is exactly what happened and I went to the front about two kilometers in and led the rest of the way. The pack got smaller and smaller until about 7km in when it was just my good friend Tad Elliot from Durango and me. We skied together for the next eight or nine kilometers when he started fading a little bit. From there I tried to put in a big effort on the last big climb and then push in the rest of the way. The pack was playing games and never came back at all. It was a really good race and I thought it played out tactically well.
FS: You turned 19 this winter. How do you find the life of an elite level junior cross-country skier? Do you enjoy all the travel and the life style?
NH: I actually turn 19 in August. I love the life of an elite cross-country skier. I like the fact that I feel that I have the chance to be the best at something. I enjoy seeing measurable results from my efforts, and I like competing. I also really enjoy all the travel. I like seeing new places and getting to ski new trails. We get to see the places we visit in a different way than the average tourist. Also, I love the opportunity to spend time with and get to know other skiers. The friends I’ve made through skiing are some of my best friends overall. I don’t mind living out of a suitcase or the plane travel.
FS: Tell me a bit more about yourself — what do you like to do with your spare time? Where do you live? What are you thinking about school in the future?
NH: I’m an avid sports fan. I follow and watch all Colorado professional sports as much as possible, the Denver Broncos, Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, and Colorado Rockies. I also follow other sports — golf, tennis and cycling. My favorite thing to do is sit down and watch a sporting event I feel strongly about. I also enjoy reading. I enjoy curling up with a good book after a workout or before bed. I live in Aspen, Colorado. However I spent last summer and fall in Sun Valley, Idaho working with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. I definitely intend on going to school some day. However, I don’t know if I’m going to go in the next couple of years and ski in school or if I’m going to go to after my skiing career is over. If I go next year, my choices are the University of Colorado, University of Utah and Dartmouth College.
FS: Thanks so much Noah. Good luck with the rest of your season!
Noah Hoffman skis for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation on the Olympic Development team. He races on Madshus skis, boots and poles.