At just 19 years old, Noah Hoffman is brimming with potential. He followed 2008’s 12th place in the 10k classic at the World Junior Championships with a 17th and a 14th this year, but then emerged from a month off to take a solid fourth place (second American) at Distance Nationals in Fairbanks. Hoffman is currently training with the U.S. Ski Team in Park City, Utah.
FasterSkier: Before we start talking about what you’re doing this year, I’ve got a question about last year. You had some disappointing results and took a month off in the middle of the season, then came back and did very well at distance nationals. What was going on?
Noah Hoffman: I think the general consensus between my coaches-and they convinced me-was that I was just tired at World Junior’s and in the middle of the season in general. I think all the way from after the first couple of races of the year, I just needed a break. And I got sick at the end of World Junior’s as well, and that just reinforced our belief. We didn’t skip anything really big-I’d hoped to make World Championships last year, and with the way I was skiing I wasn’t even close then. I went to Arizona for a long weekend, then went back to Sun Valley where I was training and just trained really lightly and hung out, and I think it was really good for me.
FS: So now you’re in Park City, training with the U.S. Ski Team. Is it tough being the youngest person there?
NH: The National Training Group is in Park City right now, and there are actually 4 juniors that are here training for eight weeks. And so, we’ve been combining workouts with them as well, and we see them quite a bit. There’s maybe a bigger gap on the team on the guys’ side, but the girls are closer to my age. Liz is the youngest-she’s only two or three years older than me. I don’t think it’s a big deal-at USST camps and stuff I don’t feel like I’m the youngest one there necessarily. I definitely look up to those guys and really respect what they’re doing, and the opportunity to train with [Andy] Newell and [Kris] Freeman and Torin [Koos] is awesome. It’s really nice to be able to train with them, but I don’t feel like they think of me of the younger kid necessarily.
FS: How has the training been going this year? And what races are you shooting for? Are you trying to qualify for the Olympics, or are you focusing on U-23’s?
NH: The training’s been going really well. I’m really psyched and the situation in Park City has been just awesome, really high quality. The coaches here are providing an incredible amount of support, more than I expected by far. In terms of the focus for my training this year, we have two really big goals that we want to do way better than we did last year, and that’s making tech gains, which is off to the right foot, and also energy management-making sure that what happened last year doesn’t happen this year.
In terms of results goals and the focus for next year, definitely the U-23 World’s are the big focus of the year-those are in Germany and that’s the level I’m at. I want to get a podium there, and I think I can do it if I’m skiing really well.
If I go to Canada for the pre-Olympic World Cups, that would be a bonus-it would be so fun and so awesome to be in Whistler, but I think U-23’s is where it’s at this year.
FS: You mentioned you’re working on your technique-what are you doing specifically?
NH: We’re building from the beginning, we’re looking at body position first and foremost, and then really getting my hips forward and getting myself into position for the whole stride, both skate and classic, so I’m not having to climb out of a set back hips position. We’re trying to just get me more efficient. From the get-go nobody’s ever told me I have good technique, and there’s a lot of ground to make up there. It could be really high-quality and hopefully result in some faster skiing here.
FS: You chose to defer from college for a few years-what’s you’re status with school?
NH: I only deferred one year and then I let the admission lapse, so when I go back to school I’m going to have to reapply. It’s my third year not in school.
FS: How did you go about making that decision?
NH: It was a tough decision for sure. I thought a lot about it and I talked to a lot of different people about it. I got advice and ultimately it came down to a conversation between myself and my coach and my parents. The reason my coach was in on that conversation was because I knew I valued skiing and I wanted it to be a big priority. We looked at three ideas: going to school right away, taking a year off and going to school, and basically waiting for school until I’m done skiing. My coach ruled out the possibility of taking a year off and going to school afterwards, because he thought that just pushed school back to the time when I really wanted to be skiing.
It was ultimately my decision, and I decided that I wanted to focus on skiing. If I was going to go to school with the expectation that I was going to be a full-time ski racer afterwards, then I wasn’t going to focus on school very much. I wanted to just focus on skiing, and when it’s time to focus on school, I’ll focus on school.
FS: Are you going to go back to school when you’re done?
NH: I’m absolutely going to go to school when I’m done skiing-I want to be an educated member of society. Maybe math, maybe some technical theater, like lighting design for on-stage, Broadway-type productions. I did some of that in high school and really enjoyed it. Maybe broadcast journalism-I’m not sure exactly.
FS: A number of people have mentioned that they have a tough time with the singular focus on skiing, and that they need something to distract them. Does it work for you?
NH: It works for me-I’m taking one class right now at Westminster College and it feels like a distraction from skiing for me, and I felt like I’m just overwhelmed with the class and full-time skiing. I know that’s ridiculous in terms of time management skills and being able to multitask, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like a relief to me.
It’s going to be a little bit of a discussion, I should say between my parents and I, whether I will take another class or not. They like me to stay academically involved, and I feel that I want to focus solely on skiing, so I do not need something else to focus on. I feel like skiing takes up as much time as you want it to, and there’s always more to do. I’ve always got stuff on my to-do list.
FS: It seems like sometimes the expectations of you younger guys on the U.S. Ski Team are huge, compared to those of your peers in college, for example. Do you ever feel like you’re being asked to do too much?
NH: No. Not at all. I know that I put more pressure on myself than anybody else puts on me. And it doesn’t matter to me what the outside expectations are, because I don’t think they’ll match my own. I expect a lot from myself. As far as the college thing goes, I really miss Gelso and Rosie and Alexa at the camps and stuff-it was fun to hang out with them, and I know it was a really tough decision for the ski team. It doesn’t affect me as much-I go about my business as usual.
I couldn’t see Gelso skiing full-time-I feel like he just likes having other stuff going on, and he loves it at college, and it’s awesome. He’s having a great time-I’m happy for him. Same goes for Alexa and Rosie.
FS: As for pressure, do you feel any more pressure being pretty much the only male distance skier on the team, aside from Kris Freeman?
NH: No, I don’t. It’s the same thing-I provide the pressure for myself. I think Kuzzy does want to be a great distance skier and he has the potential to be a great distance skier. I do look up to Freeman, and he’s kind of my role model on the team. I’ve been talking with Zach Caldwell a little bit, hoping to learn from his experience working with Kris. Zach is a great guy and has so much to offer-working with him is an honor. Definitely Kris is kind of who I’m looking up to at this point, but Andy Newell has been in town, and it has been great to train from him. There’s so much I can learn from him as well. The more I can become a sprinter, the more it will help my skiing. Getting to chase Andy Newell around in 100-meter speeds is an unbelievable opportunity. It’s so much fun to watch him ski-he’s so smooth and technically sound.
FS: If Andy Newell’s distraction from skiing is skateboarding, what’s yours?
NH: I already mentioned a couple. I love to read just for fun, and watching sports. I had Liz record Wimbledon so I can go to her house and veg out and watch the TV. I really enjoy doing other sports-I’ve been doing weekly tennis matches against my strength coach, and have yet to win one. One of my good friends who grew up with me in Aspen is on the US Alpine B Team, and we like to throw the Frisbee around.
The social opportunities here in Park City are innumerable-any time you want to go do something, there’s people to go do it with. It has been an experience having to cut back and not do everything, Here it’s always happening, especially with Liz [Stephen] around, because she is the social queen.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.