FasterSkier Breakthrough Skier of the Year
For the first time we are naming a Breakthrough Skier of the Year. The award is even less defined than the Rookie of the Year. Any skier who took a significant step forward is eligible. Though not limited to domestic skiers, we will lean toward such athletes, as the Rookie of the Year has generally gone to the World Cup level.
Breakthrough Skier of the Year (women):
Kate Fitzgerald (USA/APU) The 23-year-old Fitzgerald was no slouch heading into the 2011 campaign, but despite consistent solid performances on the national level, she was a relative unknown outside of Alaska.
A member of the loaded APU women’s team, Fitzgerald twice skied to a career-best 14th place finish in a US National Championship race prior to 2011, and had never stood on the SuperTour podium.
That changed right out of the gate this year when on the first day of racing in West Yellowstone she placed third and fifth in the qualifier-only dual sprint event. It only got better – the next day she won the 10km classic when she edged teammate Holly Brooks by just 1.1 seconds.
Fitzgerald went on to a total of four SuperTour podiums and two fifths at US Nationals, proving that her hot start was no fluke.
When all was said and done, Fitzgerald sat in second in the overall SuperTour standings, a vast improvement over her 42nd place on the ranking list last year.
She also made six starts on the European Continental Cup circuit, with a top finish of fifth.
Breakthrough Skier of the Year (men):
Kevin Sandau (CAN/CNST) Like Fitzgerald, Sandau has had a presence on the North American racing scene for some time, but 2011 marked a significant step forward for the 22-year old from Canmore, Alberta.
Sandau earned the first three Nor-Am podiums of his career this season, and added a third place SuperTour result in as well.
He ended the season ranked fifth in the Nor-Am series, up from 11th last year. In four National Championship starts (three Canadian, one American), he placed second once, third twice, and fourth once.
The point of the season was a fifth place at U23 Championships in the 15km freestyle in Otepaa, Estonia, also the site of Sandau’s first European World Cup start.
One could argue that Sandau’s breakthrough came last year when he went from a career-best Canadian Nationals result of 29th to finishing in the top-6 three times. But this award didn’t then, and Sandau cemented his place as one of the next wave of Canadian distance skiers.
FasterSkier Awards 2011:
Rookie of the Year
Breakthrough Skier of the Year
Collegiate Skier of the Year
Adaptive Skier of the Year
Continental Skier of the Year
Biathlete of the Year
Nordic Combined Skier of the Year
Performance of the Year (cross-country, biathlon, nordic combined)
Cross-Country Skier of the Year
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.