The Road to Whistler: Laura Valaas

October 26, 2009
The first woman in the U.S. to medal at World Juniors: a silver in Tarvisio

As a three-sport athlete at Whitman College, Laura Valaas earned four All-American titles in Nordic skiing as well as five podium finishes and three more top-ten finishes in the National Collegiate Cycling Championships.  As if that wasn’t enough, Laura also ran cross country in the fall.  She graduated Whitman in 2006 with magana cum laude honors and a BA in Applied Mathematics.

In the year following, Laura  made herself  very well known on the national and international nordic racing circuit .  In 2007 she was the first American woman to earn a podium finish at the U-23 World Championships, placing second in the individual sprint. That season she was also 24th in the classic sprint at World Championships, took second and third at US Nationals, and was the overall Super Tour sprint champion.

Last season Laura took second at US nationals in the classic sprint, competed at the World Championships in Liberec , and finished her season with a punch by picking up two gold medals at Canadian Nationals in the 10km classic and classic sprint.

She is now living in Anchorage, Alaska and training with APU.

What made you pick Alaska for a home-base?  I would think one of the major downsides to living there would be the amount of travel to any races – do you find that to be a major obstacle?

It doesn’t end up being much worse to travel out of Alaska then elsewhere. Once I leave for West Yellowstone to start the race season I won’t be back in Alaska until Nationals in January, so it’s much different than if we were flying somewhere each weekend! I love to travel and wander the world and I thought that if I wanted to experience different places I should take advantage of being footloose and fancy-free. And who would NOT pick Alaska, given the option?

Have you tried anything new in your training this summer and fall?

There’s been nothing new in my training- hard work and consistency, season after season.

Do you have any health or injury issues right now?

I would answer that but I don’t want to jinx myself!

Out of the starting gate at Otepaa
Out of the starting gate in a world cup at Otepaa, Estonia

Do you still work for the Alaska National Insurance Company?   How do you balance work and training?

After working with Alaska National for two years I opted to take this year off of any standard employment. When I was working, however, I was only able to balance it because I had a wonderful employer who allowed me flexible part-time hours.

How has cycling played a role in your ski career – were you a better biker than a skier in college? If so, when did skiing become the main focus?

Cycling gave me a lot of race experience. I believe that you learn something from every race and particularly from every sprint finish. Skiing has always been my main focus and I’ve always considered myself to be a skier who biked in the spring.

Racing in Canada

Do you still train on the bike a lot?

I do not ride my bike very often anymore, in Alaska the mountain running is some of the best in the world so I do more of that. When I was in college in Walla Walla, the cycling was fantastic so I spent a lot of time on my bike. It did come in handy at Nationals in Anchorage last year when I set it up on my trainer inside since it was too cold to train outside.

What are the most important things you’ve learned since putting your focus full-time into Nordic skiing?

Snow is neither always cold nor always white, most importantly, never eat yellow snow.

Was the 24th in Classic sprints at 2007 World Championships your best race?

I’m hoping my best race is yet to come!

What has been your worst race internationally?

As long as I’m racing, it’s a good race.

What is the most important thing you have learned about traveling and racing outside of the U.S.?

Make it so home is wherever you are but embrace the unique experiences that come with being there.  I’ve also learned to focus on what I need to do in terms of training and race preparation and not be concerned about what everyone else is doing.

Happy to be an Alaskan mountain runner

Your best results have come in the individual sprints, but you have also done quite well in distance races. Do you consider yourself a sprint specialist?

I’ve never thought of it as “specializing;” I simply love to sprint race.

Tell us something about yourself you would rather we didn’t know:

There may be wedding plans fomenting for next July…

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