Mike Sinnott is in his third year out of Dartmouth College, skiing for Salomon and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. Last year, he was fourth in the sprint at U.S. Nationals in Anchorage, participated in the team sprint and classic sprint at the Whistler World Cups, and took a victory in the Noquemanon Ski Marathon.
FasterSkier: Before we talk about the Olympics, stuff like that, I remember back to the winter of 2006-2007 when you were racing for Dartmouth. You won something like six of the eight distance races that year in the EISA, and the first four in a row. What was it like to be that unstoppable?
Mike Sinnott: It was pretty fun. I ended up winning 9 of the 12 races, including the first six. It was fun-it built a lot of confidence. Each one you keep building on, you raise the expectations for skiing. It was great too because Ben [True, Dartmouth teammate] was always right there breathing down my neck, and if I didn’t win he was picking up the slack. It was nice to be working together-we did a lot of pushing each other and believeing in ourselves. That’s what can be tricky, is to have a high level of success for a long period, and what was fun that year was that I kept my skiing at a high level from January all the way to the end
FS: What did you learn from that experience?
MS: Just the confidence. It’s different after college because you don’t have to race week in and week out-you get a lot more breaks, and you get to pick and choose. When I wasn’t doing well last season I got to take some time off-it’s not as vigorous as the college season is. But it’s nice know that you have that in your tank if need be.
FS: You guys won the NCAA championship that year, and you got to meet the president, right?
MS: Yeah-I didn’t race well there myself-I was maybe eighth in the skate and maybe 15th in the classic. Kind of a bummer way to end the season, and I flew straight over to Europe for U-23’s after that. We were driving down to get on a plane before the slalom was over.
Any NCAA team gets to visit the president that wins a championship. We didn’t go down early or anything-we woke up at five and had an early morning flight into D.C., spent the rest of the afternoon in the White House. I guess there was a bomb threat while we were there, and they didn’t tell us-they just kept telling us ‘the president will be there.’
It was interesting-they told you that you’ll know the president is coming because he’ll be preceded by laughter. Everyone was quiet and you could hear him coming-he’s a pretty amicable guy.
FS: What are some other things you take from the college experience now that you’re racing at a higher level?
MS: I took a lot from Dartmouth-we definitely picked up the training and trained hard there. We did a lot of OD’s and adventures. There was a little bit of arrogance, in that we trained super hard and tough-looking back, out of college, I know I can do more than that, but in college you’re certainly going all out. I learned a lot about how to push myself and how to keep up the competition and fighting at all the workouts-not necessarily going overboard making everything a competition, but really trying to keep up in OD’s and enjoying the rivalry and the competition within training and all the adventures we do. And from skiing out east you learn a lot about varied conditions and just going with it.
Sometimes you’ll have to deal with no snow and bad kick wax, or changed venue and changed races. It’s a lot of fun, and it keeps you on your toes and able to cope with things better out west, where it’s a little more relaxed with what you’re going to deal with. Even at Williams, they never really groom there-you might have to wake up and sidestep the course before the race. It was a lot of fun dealing with the hoopla and hullabaloo that’s the eastern circuit.
FS: Do you miss college at all? Are you feeling bored not getting that intellectual stimulation?
MS: I miss it a lot. I go back every so often when I have a chance. I’ve already noticed my mind deteriorating. It’s nice to have that side of things as a balance, something to keep your mind occupied. There’s a lot of down time, and I don’t have much going on for that downtime-it’s great for recovery and fantastic for skiing, but as for having a well-rounded life, it’s not always there. It’s different-it’s definitely nice having all that [at school], but it’s nice also to have a one-minded focus, and you can drive towards that ski goal. Some day I’ll get back to doing something worthwhile with my head.
FS: Since then you’ve been with the factory team for two years, but now it’s defunct. What are you doing this year?
MS: The factory team is defunct, but Salomon’s still holding together, so I’m racing for them. It will be at least minor support through Salomon, and just leaning a little bit more on the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) for support. I think everywhere’s scraping together pretty thin, so I’m not so worried in that regard.
FS: Who’s heading up your program?
MS: In Sun Valley, they started the Olympic Development Team just a couple of years ago. Chris Grover was our first coach, and Travis Jones is the current head coach. Rick does some coaching, and Chris Mallory also helps a little before the juniors get into full swing. Travis is our head coach, and we have several members on the team: Morgan Arritola, Kate Whitcomb, Nicole Deyong, Colin Rodgers, Simi Hamilton. We kind of have a core block of athletes that are pursuing the Olympic dream full-time, and then some post-high school kids who are taking a year off before going to college. We used to have Willie Neal on our team, and Miles Havlick, and this year we have Adele Espy, and then a lot of Sun Valley kids will come through just to have a chance to ski before they go to school. It’s modeled a bit after Euro clubs-we’re trying to get more kids involved cradle to the grave. We brought in Chris Grover to keep us going strong through college and after college-as long as we want to keep going competitively, there’s going to be something to support us.
FS: You grew up in Sun Valley training with SVSEF, and now you’re back with them afterwards. Is it nice to have that continuity?
MS: I was born and bred in Sun Valley-it’s pretty nice to be able to be at home and still have a competitive training group there. I know the area well, so I know where all the adventures are to be had. There are not a lot of training clubs in the country right now-there are like three or four clubs still active for people post-high school, even, so I’m pretty lucky that way. Sun Valley’s a special place-I’m also extremely biased because I grew up there, but compared to Hayward or Anchorage, or out east now, I think Sun Valley’s pretty top-notch. And plus we’ve got beautiful weather year round, unreal grooming and support from the valley, and 100-plus k of ski trails within the town. We can get some nice altitude training at about 8,000 feet if you just drive up short ways, just a half hour. Outrageous access to the backcountry-we’ve got some tele-skiing in the spring. A great geographical spot for training. I was fortunate enough to be born there, and I’m just lucky enough to be able to keep the dream alive where I was born and raised.
FS: What are your goals for this year? Obviously the Olympics, but anything beyond that?
MS: It’s not just to make the Olympics-I want to really go there with a head full of steam and ski well and compete well and show them that America’s not so much a pushover, and I think those are easily attainable goals. I’ve had pretty good luck when I was young going to Europe and skiing against those top guys. It may appear that they’re a lot better than us, but it’s not the case-I was looking back to my first junior trips and I was right in there with [Petter] Northug and Dario Cologna. When I was younger I was competing with them-I know that it’s definitely attainable, and I know that we can ski well at the Olympics and use Vancouver as a bit of a home course advantage. That’s one goal; I think I’d also like to get over and do some more racing in Europe. I’d like to get over and do some World Cups-it’s hard to know where the level of racing when you only have a couple of starts against those top guys every year.
FS: Do you know what your schedule is going to look like?
MS: For the early season races, it’s going to be a lot about little games to see how to get the max low points, so to speak, so that you’re best ranked on the points list. I think the SuperTours are going to be a bit pick and choosey. I want to go into Nationals with a chance to podium in every event. I’m fortunate in that I can sprint and do distance, and I’ll get my mid distance legs under me after a bad year. I like to be competitive and hone that in through the early season, and then get ready to be fired up in Anchorage, assuming we’re going to be racing there, of course.
FS: On your FasterSkier profile, you mention that you’re pretty into soccer. Tell me about it.
MS: I’m on a co-ed team-they do that in Sun Valley. I’m actually on a team with Morgan Arritola and Simi Hamilton and Chris Mallory-we get together every Wednesday and play and have a ball. You’re supposed to have three women on the field at any one time, but a 50 year old man counts as a woman-I’m not sure who’s more insulted. I think it’s good getting out there and doing some sprinting-I think it helps you recover pretty quick. I love soccer, and I think it’s an underutilized way to cross train, because it is a lot of fast twitch and quick thinking, activating your mind a little bit. Newell’s got to make a lot of decisions when he’s in a sprint race-you have to be able to maneuver and be quick-thinking and making decisions, and I think that can be lost in just going for a distance ski every day.
I put a heart rate monitor on, and I average 185 beats for over an hour. And at least in coed, I get to hang out with the locals a little bit-you meet a lot of fun people and go hit the bars after, just having a softer side to the training.
FS: Do your coaches get on you about that at all?
MS: They were down on it when I was in high school, because it’s also easy to be lazy when you’re playing soccer. In college [Dartmouth Coach] Ruff Patterson was all for it. He would have us play every other week on Friday-the training program would be to get together and play soccer. Right now the coaches do get worried about injuries, but if you do it right, it’s safe. That’s why I don’t do a more competitive league. They’ve been trying to recruit me for a local travel team, but that’s why I play in this co-ed league-for the most part it’s low key.
FS: I’ve heard you’re a pretty competitive dude. What are some of your favorite ways of expressing that side of yourself?
MS: I do my soccer a lot for competition, and I argue incessantly, and just little things in training-making sure to keep the competition going. More where people start seeing that competitive side is just sitting around. I’ll be recreating and get a little too fired up out playing bocce ball or whiffleball or something. I guess I do a little recreational games, lawn games-whatever comes up, I’m definitely going to try to win.
FS: What lawn game would you go to the Olympic trials for?
MS: As one of the inventors of whiffleslide I’d have to say that. That’s a game where it’s whiffleball, but you put a slip-n-slide from third base to home, with mandatory sliding. Very important for summer, and Fourth of July mainstay, I’m good at that one. I thought I was pretty good at bocce ball, but I just got beat pretty handily yesterday, so I don’t know about that one. Croquet too.
FS: Oooh-I’m pretty good at croquet. I think I could probably take you.
MS: People don’t know all the full rules, so I can take full advantage. Noah Hoffman’s a dark horse for croquet, better than you’d expect. But I think I could take you pretty easily.
You can’t be serious about it. I’m competitive, but I’m not serious about it. I keep it fun, but try to win. At least that’s what I tell myself-I don’t know how it appears to other people.
Other fun games that people need to try: bike polo is great, and also, foccer-it’s ultimate frisbee and soccer at the same time. We played it a lot at college-man it is a tough game. There are two teams, and as soon as you drop the frisbee or you lose the ball, you’re like, ‘next game.’ It’s a great game for a kid with ADD-super fun.
FS: Well, good luck with your training, and if we meet up at the Olympics, maybe we’ll have to go for a game of snow croquet…
MS: Any time. I’ll throw down.
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.