Before last year, Ida Sargent had had a handful of strong results, but the only way you wouldn’t have heard her name by the end of the 2009-2010 season is if you’d been buried in a snowbank. Sargent, who split her winter competing for the Craftsbury Green Racing Project and the Dartmouth Ski Team, started out with some top-10s in the early season SuperTours, then really heated up at the national championships in Anchorage, where she took third in the classic sprint and was the only woman to come within five seconds of Kikkan Randall in the qualifier.
A month later, at the U-23 World Championships in Germany, Sargent nearly made the podium in the skate sprint, finishing fourth, then came back home and won seven of the nine individual races she entered on the eastern collegiate circuit. At the SuperTour Finals in northern Maine in late March, she grabbed two more second places, and was one of the only women to seriously challenge Randall for a victory, grabbing the lead, if only temporarily, in the middle of the classic sprint. We caught up with Sargent from her home in Vermont last week.
FasterSkier: Can you start out by telling me what your plan is for the year? You’re training with the Green Team through the summer, and then you have one more year at Dartmouth starting in the fall?
Ida Sargent: That’s basically the plan. I live like 20 minutes away from Craftsbury, but I’m also just living in the Green Team house since it’s easier. School starts in the beginning of September. Dartmouth is a trimester system—I’m definitely doing the fall trimester, but Craftsbury’s going to Finland to race in November, and it will work out well with the Thanksgiving break, so I’m going to do that. Then I’m going to see how it works. If things are going really well, I could take the winter off, if not, I’ll just race for Dartmouth and do the same thing I did last year. I’ve got some options—I’ll just play it by ear, with how it goes.
FS: Do you have any cool plans for your training this summer? Obviously you guys just finished the eastern REG camp—are you doing anything else cool? Any camps or anything?
IS: We had that, which was fun—it was great having more people doing our time trials, and just having them around for workouts. We don’t have any specific camps as a team, so it’ll just be more dryland training through the rest of the summer in Craftsbury. I’m psyched to be in one place for a while, since I’ve been moving around a lot.
FS: So really, I want to ask you some questions about the last year, because it seemed like it was so successful. You had 3rd place in the classic sprint at Nationals, then fourth in the sprint at U-23’s, a bunch of wins on the eastern collegiate circuit, then some really solid races at SuperTour Finals in Northern Maine. Were there any races last season that you weren’t happy about?
IS: NCAA’s was definitely not what I was hoping for. I had a couple rough races there, so that was a disappointment. But overall it was really good—when you do that many races, you’re going to have some bad ones. It was definitely a lot of racing last winter.
If I’m in school this winter, NCAA’s is a big goal—it’s my last year, and having it be at Trapp’s [in Vermont], we know those courses so well. It’s at the top of the list for something I’d like to do well at.
FS: Out of all those races last year, was there one that you felt was the absolute best?
IS: I’m not sure which one would be the very best, but the last race I did was the classic sprint at the SuperTour finals, and racing in the final with Kikkan [Randall] was really fun for me, just really motivating. I felt like I was, at least for the beginning of that sprint, able to push her. It was cool to see that. I mean, she’s just really fit and strong, but it was cool for me to see that while she’s still a ways ahead of me, I’m closing in. It was a pretty eye-opening experience for me.
FS: You were actually leading her for a bit, up until the middle of the big hill on the course, right?
IS: The hill kind of sneaks up, with a lot of turns, and so we were both in two parallel tracks next to each other, and whoever had the inside track would pull in the front. Going over the top, she definitely put on a surge, and I didn’t have that extra gear in me, but it was cool to be that close. I figured that was a good way to go into the off-season, with some motivation.
FS: You’d obviously had some pretty solid seasons before last year, but nothing quite like this one, right? What do you think made the difference? Was it something different that you did with your training or technique, or was it just the cumulative effects of training for a long time?
IS: I’ve tried to look back and see what was different. I think it was just the cumulative years of putting the time and effort into it. I had some results before, but I think it was more the year-in and year-out, and things just kind of came together this year. I tried to look and find one specific thing, but I haven’t really found that. I was in school in the summer and then took the fall off—having the fall off let me race full-time during that period. The team at Craftsbury was great, but then also in the winter when I was at school with the team at Dartmouth—both of those programs have been really helpful. It worked out, so I’m hoping it does again. I’m just trying to keep up with the same things, to hopefully repeat that.
FS: So you race with a very strong women’s team at Dartmouth—you feel like that’s a big part of the equation?
IS: It’s really exciting. There’s always someone to push you. We have a great group, and it feels—we’re all pretty laid back, and no one’s too intense. This winter was really fun. Traveling to races every single weekend, the carnival season can be kind of hard, but being with that group of girls makes it really exciting. Mass start races with our carnival team—I feel like we spend a lot of time just the six of us, last year, racing together. We’re able to push each other that way.
FS: Do you feel like you’ve gotten all the training you’ve needed while at college? Or, to be a little more direct, do you feel like you’ve had to make any compromises with your training?
IS: You can’t train as much in college as you could if you’re just a full-time skier. It’s adding another stress. There’s a lot of things going on—it’s really busy with classes. It takes some of the focus away from it, but it gives me a good balance, and I don’t feel like it’s impacted it that much. The balance is really great, and the team, you can’t really beat that for a women’s training group. It’s one of the best in the country.
College takes away from the training, I’m sure, but at the same time, you can still train a lot. I added it up—I think I probably go to class for 10 hours of the week, and then have 10 to 15 hours of homework a week, but that’s just like a part time job. You can do it—just, it takes more effort. Looking at where I am right now, I’m glad that I’ve had three years of college already, and next year I’ll have finished. I don’t think it’s taken away that much from my development as a skier, and hopefully by next year, I’ll have a college degree.
FS: Can you tell me how many hours you trained last year, and how many you’ll train this year?
IS: I think it was between 600 and 650. I think while I’m in school, I don’t want to increase it much more than that, so that I’m still getting recovery while I’m doing other school stuff.
FS: In addition to skiing for Dartmouth, you’ve also been working with [Craftsbury Nordic Coach] Pepa [Miloucheva] for a long time, too, right?
IS: I started skiing with Craftsbury Nordic when I was really young, and she came to the U.S. probably when I was nine.
FS: What do you like about working with her?
IS: Pepa’s just—she knows me really well now, so I wouldn’t want to change to another coach or program. She’s very smart physiologically, and so I feel like the training we’re doing is not just coming out of some random place. She always has a reason behind something. I’m really comfortable with her coaching and the program there. It’s great that the Green Racing Project was started last year—that’s really helped me a lot, and it’s great for the area. Craftsbury has a lot of potential to become one of the bigger ski areas in the country right now. I think it will grow a lot from where it is right now.
FS: Do you think having that kind of continuity with a program is something that’s been really helpful?
IS: At this point, I’m not looking to make any big changes in my training—everything I want to do is just small changes, fine-turning areas I can make improvements on. To have a coach like Pepa and a program like Craftsbury where I’m already comfortable and know what things work well—you can kind of take what I’ve already done and build on that. It’s much easier to make improvements when I have the knowledge base to grow from.
FS: Do Pepa and [Dartmouth women’s coach] Cami [Thompson] have a pretty similar philosophy? Or has moving between those two programs been tough?
IS: They have similarities, but they’re definitely different. With me and Hannah Dreissigacker, and my older sister, there’s just been a lot of Craftsbury skiers that have gone on to Dartmouth, and Cami and Pepa have worked together quite a bit. I think they have a pretty good relationship, and their programs fit pretty well. When I’m at Dartmouth, I do the Dartmouth training plan; when I’m at Craftsbury, I’m on the Craftsbury plan.
FS: So can you tell me about your goals for this year?
IS: It’s my last year as a U-23, so that’s definitely a major focus. I could either be racing for Dartmouth—in which case I’d focus on NCAAs and the college carnivals—but there’s also, it seems like, a lot of effort maybe for more OPA cup trips. If that worked out, that could be really good. If things went really well, maybe World Championships. I’m just going to try to race fast, and then see what happens—that’s my plan right now.
FS: What about in the future? Do you have any idea what you’re hoping to do after you graduate? Do you want to stay with the Craftsbury program?
IS: I’m definitely going to spend at least a year at Craftsbury full time, and see how things go. Right now, I’m having a lot of fun ski racing, and so that’s what I want to be doing. If that changes, my goals might change, but that’s about as far ahead as I’ve planned right now.
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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.