(Note: this preview doesn’t include college or junior skiers, although many will be competing in the opening SuperTours. College racing will have its own preview at a later date.)
With one week until the opening SuperTour races in West Yellowstone, it’s time to start remembering what the domestic race circuit looks like. A number of top athletes retired after last season, but their spots have been filled by recent college graduates. Here’s what you need to know about the nation’s best teams.
Alaska Pacific University
Let’s just get this out of the way: everyone’s favorite non-NCAA college team kind of ran the show last year in about a million ways.
You could look at how the most dominant skier in the country, Kikkan Randall, trains with them. Or you could consider the fact that even without Randall attending U.S. Nationals, APU skiers won one two three titles and put four women in the final of the opening sprint. You could mention that Lars Flora won the men’s overall SuperTour and Holly Brooks led APU to a podium sweep in the women’s standings. There’s a lot of other things you could list – they club cleaned up.
Since then there have been changes in Anchorage. Two-time Olympians James Southam retired, as did Katie Ronsse (well, kind of). After just a single excellent season with APU, Morgan Smyth headed back to the lower 48. That’s a lot of success leaving town.
But nobody seems too worried.
“We are excited to start the year,” coach Erik Flora told FasterSkier. “We have a big group- this weekend we should have 24 skiers racing! This year is very similar to last year. We have put in a lot of training and have a motivated group of athletes. Our team is strong and depth growing each year.”
The team has added a few new members, like U.S. Ski Team D-teamer Erik Bjornsen and recent Dartmouth College graduate Rosie Brennan, who in four years of NCAA Championships racing never finished worse than 7th. Alaska native Lauren Fritz has also joined the roster. And with juniors like National Elite Group member Kinsey Loan coming up – well, APU will continue to dominate the results sheet.
But, in some ways, not in the U.S. This weekend, four team members will be competing on the World Cup: Randall, Sadie Bjornsen, Brooks, and Flora. Somehow, FasterSkier thinks that the rest of the team will be fine without them.
Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation
First of all: strike the ODP from the books. Sun Valley has renamed its Olympic Development Program the “Gold Team.” Got it? Good.
While APU had a stranglehold on the women’s domestic circuit, the men’s field actually had more to contend with from Sun Valley in 2011. When all was said and done, the team had more men ranked higher on the USSA points list than anyone else.
One of those men, Colin Rodgers, has retired. But he hasn’t left; Rodgers took over coaching responsibilities from Travis Jones, and program director Rick Kapala said that the new arrangement was working out great. He was particularly psyched that Rodgers could actually provide feedback to the athletes in real-time during training sessions, because he’s fast enough to keep up with his skiers during workouts.
The rest of the team is still going strong. U.S. Ski Team member Simi Hamilton will be racing on the World Cup – Kapala said “we won’t see much of him” – while Mikey Sinnott, who came thisclose to snagging the SuperTour title and associated World Cup start rights from Flora, is back in the hunt. Former NCAA champion Matt Gelso is also still on the roster.
On the women’s side, a lot has changed at SVSEF. Katie Bono, who had an amazing fall last year before getting mono and missing the entire race season, has left the team after getting offered a job guiding on Mount Rainier. Perennial standout Nicole De Yong, who had two top-tens at U.S. Nationals and the year before was the top American in Alpen Cup action in Rogla, Slovenia, has retired, but Kapala says it’s “with quotation marks”. She’s still training and will do a few Western races and big marathons.
To fill the gaps, SVSEF added Chelsea Holmes, who had a breakout season last year representing the Far West Farm Team. Alexa Turzian, who made waves as the youngest skier to win a national championship a few years back, has finished school at Colorado University and will be joining the Gold Team for the winter season.
And finally: Morgan Arritola is back with the program full-time now that she is not a member of the U.S. Ski Team. After an incredibly successful summer and fall of trail running, Arritola – who was one of the top U.S. racers in international action last season – will be focusing on domestic racing.
“We’re really excited to have her back,” Kapala said. “She’s trained with us for the last few summers, but then she had to leave periodically for camps. Now she’s back full-time.”
CXC had another banner year in 2011, thanks in large part to two of its youngest members. Jessie Diggins and Tad Elliott collected their first national titles in 2011 and went on to compete in their first senior World Championships as well. Elliott has left for Team Homegrown, but Diggins will still be zipping around in her CXC suit when she’s not overseas thanks to her new role as a member of the U.S. Ski Team.
The team’s other, older power couple, Brian and Caitlin Compton Gregg, are back too. In fact, the team’s biggest news this summer might have been the fact that the two got married in an adorable ceremony that involved both skis and a straight-faced reenactment of American Gothic.
Further down the roster, CXC is facing changes – perhaps more than any other team. Birkie Champion (and remember how much that means in the land of CXC) Matt Liebsch decided to move on after five years with the program, and 2010 Olympian Garrott Kuzzy, one of their earliest headliners, called it quits and moved to Vermont. Bryan Cook and Maria Stuber also left for New England, and Canadian Brooke Gosling, who competed at 2011 World Championships, is no longer on the roster either.
The team retained a number of talented athletes. Three-time World Juniors/U23 Championship competitors Jennie Bender and Karl Nygren are back, as well as Santi Ocariz and Eric Wolcott. Newbies include Ocariz’s wife Carolyn Freeman, who just finished a stellar college career at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay.
Expect CXC to be strong throughout the season – as it always is, packing the top of both the men’s and women’s points lists – but to really bring out the fireworks at its own big race, the Birkie, where last year Compton and Bender won the women’s marathons and Nygren and Wolcott finished 2nd and 3rd in the classic event.
While the Green Racing Project said goodbye to four of the team’s original members, it’s still got its headliners, led of course by newly minted U.S. Ski Team member and World Championships competitor Ida Sargent. Tim Reynolds, who has been near the top of the heap for years, turned heads when he qualified fifth in the skate sprint at U.S. nationals, which represented the best result for the men’s team all year.
But while Sargent and Reynolds might get a lot of attention, they’re actually not very much faster than the rest of the team. Dreissigacker has impressive distance skiing chops and made sprint semifinals at U.S. nationals and SuperTour finals. Pat O’Brien and Dylan McGuffin beat Reynolds about as often as he beat them last year, and the trio often finishes bunched together near the top of the results sheet.
For the coming season, the sustainably-minded team has added Wellesley College and UNH standout Clare Egan, and have also picked up Stuber and Cook from CXC. The pair is not living in Craftsbury and won’t travel with the team full-time, but will join the group for a few big events.
And if national team biathlete Susan Dunklee, who lives with the group and trains with them occasionally, should decide to jump in a cross country race, she’d probably do more than all right.
Last season, the Vail-based team was pretty much a one-man show. Sylvan Ellefson continued his post-collegiate hot streak and cashed in by winning the Boulder Mountain Tour. It was his biggest win yet, but in 2011 he also picked up a victory at the Owl Creek Chase and had a series of strong domestic results.
This year the team is becoming a bit less homegrown by welcoming Tad Elliott and Noah Hoffman, who are at least from Colorado if not from Eagle County itself. Since both are U.S. Ski Team members, Ellefson will still be more or less on his own for much of the domestic season. At this point, Homegrown might have the lowest points average of any team out there.
Bridger Ski Foundation
Last year BSF had just two elite team members, but they were two good ones. Leif Zimmerman and Glenn Randall started the season off with strong races in Finland and didn’t let up after that. Zimmerman won a race in West Yellowstone, finished fourth in the 30 k at nationals, and stood on the podium at the Owl Creek Chase. Randall was one place ahead of him there in Aspen and had an excellent end to the season in Sun Valley, where he finished fourth in the marathon, fifth in the hill climb and, true to form, 90th in the sprint.
The duo will be at it again this year, and Randall appears to be in better shape than ever after getting paid to do running races and blazing his way through his first marathon. Torin Koos will be an associate of the team this year, perhaps making up for all of Randall’s slow-twitch muscles.
XC Oregon For the last few years, the Bend-based team has been represented by Evelyn Dong, Kristina Strandberg, and Brayton Osgood. And they were fast. However, all three have left town and the team will be rebuilding its elite program more or less from scratch. Former Craftsbury GRP racers Matt Briggs and Ollie Burruss will fill the gaps on the men’s side, while Western State College phenom Jamie Woelk is returning to elite racing on the women’s team.
Methow Olympic Development
The “MOD” squad had a solid roster a couple of years ago. Then the Bjornsens left for Alaska, and last year the team was down to sprinters Torin Koos and Sam Naney. This year, Koos has moved on to other things and Naney is left as the lone athlete. It doesn’t seem to bother him though – he hangs out in the paradise that is the Methow Valley for most of the year, shows up at national-level sprints, makes the semis, and goes back to paradise.
Bend Endurance Academy
Speaking of one-man shows, Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess is still kicking around Bend. Last year he had a breakthrough when he made the A-Final of the skate sprint at US nationals, but then he didn’t do any more serious races until SuperTour Finals in Sun Valley. Takeaway message: you might not see him for months on end, but if he shows up in your sprint heat…. watch out.
Maine Winter Sports Center Over the last few years, MWSC had been in a downturn of sorts. Their best athlete is currently Sam Tarling, who is actually attending Dartmouth College and no longer has any affiliation with MWSC. In terms of seniors, they are once again led by Fred Bailey, who lists “architecture and trail design” as one of his pastimes. Maybe the County really is as boring as everyone suggests.
Far West Farm Team
In 2011, Far West grabbed onto the tail of the shooting star that was Chelsea Holmes, and she pulled them into the spotlight. But now Holmes is gone, and they are scrambling to fill the gap. Recent Colby College graduate Wyatt Fereday and perennial endurance powerhouse Phil Violett, who didn’t actually collect a single USSA point last year, will likely lead the charge.
After a flood of new activity in the last few years, the U.S. seems to have produced just one brand-spanking-new team for the 2011-2012 season, and it’s Stella Racing. Evelyn Dong and Morgan Smyth left their old posts and formed a new team with University of Utah graduate Zoe Roy. The trio is based out of Park City and, as discussed in FasterSkier’s recent profile, will be focusing on marathons. Girl power!