Inspired by the new Center of Excellence, U.S. Cross Country Ski Team Coaches Peter Vordenberg, Matt Whitcomb and Pat Casey are spearheading a select development training program this summer for young cross country skiers. The National Training Group (NTG), which is comprised of a group of rising athletes, allows the cross country coaches to use these exceptional resources to provide real exposure and superior training to the next group of future Olympians.
Through this program, the coaches’ goal is not only to offer specialized instruction, but also to provide contact with pro skiers in hopes that their living habits and training routines as elite skiers will influence those of the younger, developing athletes.
“It’s a program that is a start-up from around 2000 with athletes like Andy Newell and Kris Freeman. It’s the first year we’ve done it since 2001 and one of the goals is to use this new training center to its full potential and get some athletes here,” said Casey.
By offering the NTG athletes exposure to some of the top skiers in the circuit, and to one of the greatest training facilities in the world, they are getting a real glimpse into what it truly means to be a professional athlete, and to live the lifestyle of one as well. After this intensive summer program, which lasts eight weeks and lands between two camps, Bend and Whistler, the athletes will be able to realize if being on the national team is in fact what they want.
Spending a significant amount of time with national team athletes, whether that is in the van on the way to work outs, in the training center, or on the snow at future races, the younger athletes will “see what these guys bring to the table, in terms of preparedness and equipment. These may seem like small things but they end up making a difference,” said Casey.
Fresh from high school, the skiers have chosen to focus on becoming elite athletes. “They’ve either put their college career on hold or have committed fully. Those are the athletes we were looking for, the ones that wanted to just do this and do it right. It can be a really big motivator, but it can also be a really good educator,” Casey said.
One of the five athletes in the NTG program is David Norris of Fairbanks, AK.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to build a relationship with these coaches, to learn from them and take advantage of all that they know,” Norris said. “I kind of saw it as a stepping stone to being on the U.S. Ski Team in the future.”
From the regional development pipeline, Matt Whitcomb, the Cross Country Head Development Coach, and Casey began the search for athletes who would be a good fit for the NTG.
“We were looking out there to see who was doing it right; who was taking the steps without our help,” Casey described.
For Norris, being able to work with the national team athletes will be the highlight of his summer.
“What will be especially valuable is when we start training harder, and seeing what these athletes like Andy Newell are doing to train during the summer,” Norris said. “Back at home, there is no one really faster to train with, so it’s cool being around such fast, professional skiers.”
According to Casey, while the program is a benefit to up-and-coming athletes, it also allows his team to plan and build for the future of the sport.
“This program represents working toward excellence at all levels. Lowering the ladder one step further and dropping it down so that we can introduce that lifestyle to the group below,” Casey articulated.
Maintaining a high standard of excellence, the program upholds the USSA’s vision to help make the United States the best in Olympic skiing.
“This is just one of many efforts to ensure that we continue our progress toward winning at the highest levels of the sport,” said John Farra, the U.S. Ski Team’s Nordic Program Director.
To maintain this athletic distinction, it is important to look to the future, to dedicate time and effort to developing the Olympians of the years ahead. Farra highlights, “Our top World Cup skiers are on track to win, but who is going to be next? Who will challenge our World Cup athletes?” These are the questions this program works to answer.
Only about two weeks into their joint training, both the national team athletes and the younger athletes have responded very positively so far.
U.S. Ski Team cross country skier Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) said, “We’ve all been training together. They are really motivated athletes so it should be awesome for them. I think that the program is really going to benefit these athletes, and hopefully it will grow into something even bigger in the future.”
For both the athletes and the coaches, it is invigorating to be working with passionate, energized people in a remarkable facility.
“It is an exciting time to be a part of this great sport. There’s lots of talent out there and great club programs pushing athletes to higher levels. This is a winning combination,” said Farra.
The NTG will remain with the U.S. Ski Team through July.
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.