If skiing were baseball, APU would be early winners in the 2010 free-agent class. Two-time National Champion, and former NMU standout, Morgan Smyth, and 20-year-old Sadie Bjornsen, a veteran of four World Junior Championships, have joined the Anchorage-based squad.
Smyth was not re-nominated for a fifth year on the US Ski Team after struggling through a challenging 2010 season, undergoing surgery for compartment syndrome and battling mono.
Still only 24, Smyth won a National Title in the 5km classic in 2009, and scored her first World Cup points at the pre-Olympic Whistler World Cups.
Smyth points to the strong APU team as the prime driver for relocating to Alaska.
“If I had to pick one big reason for joining APU it would be the training partners,” Smyth told FasterSkier in an e-mail. “APU has a really strong women’s team and I am really excited to be able to train with them!”
That team includes World Championship silver-medalist Kikkan Randall, Olympian Holly Brooks, former US Ski Team member Tazlina Mannix, as well as up-and-comers Becca Rorabaugh and Katie Ronsee.
Bjornsen spent last season training with the Methow Olympic Development team and is familiar with Alaska, having spent a season racing for UAA. She also sees the strength of APU in the team.
Said Bjornsen, “I think it will be super beneficial to be on a team with such a strong group of girls…Basically living and training with a group that is committing to this sport at the same level as me will be really nice.”
Without the support of the US Ski Team, Smyth turned to APU, with its world-class ski preparation and excellent training opportunities. She pointed to APU’s facility on the Eagle Glacier as a major draw.
“Rollerskiing is fun and all, but you really can’t beat skiing on snow.”
Bjornsen will continue her education at APU, but will still be able to focus on her skiing, a major plus as she feels “having some school will be good for me, just having some sort of escape to get my mind off of skiing all the time.
“I realized last year I function better with some sort of balance in my life. The fact that it is not a NCAA school creates so much more freedom.”
She was looking to make a change after her year in the Methow Valley, an experience she described as “not working out for me for many reasons,” and was planning on returning to UAA to ski under coach Trond Flagstad. But after talking to Brooks and APU head coach Erik Flora at the SuperTour Finals, she changed her mind – especially after realizing she would not have to sacrifice her education.
“I never realized it was a possibility to get scholarship for schooling while racing at an elite level,” said Bjornsen.
She is approaching the change with a mature attitude, recognizing that a transition to a new program can be challenging. But she sees Flora’s ability to cater to the specific needs of his athletes as a reason that this switch should be relatively smooth.
And ultimately much of the responsibility rests on herself.
“The most important thing is knowing yourself and your limitations. The more you know about yourself, the better.”
With a an Olympic cycle coming to an end several top APU skiers have retired, including Laura Valaas and Anders Haugen. But the additions of Bjornsen and Smyth will keep the program well-stocked with talent.
2010-2011 APU Roster
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.