Heather Mooney has been turning heads for years, but in the last few she’s brought a whole new meaning to the word “fast”.
In 2010, the Stratton Mountain School made the A-Final of the SuperTour Finals sprint as a J2. Last season, in her first year as a J1, she racked up top-20 finishes in each of the three senior races at U.S. Nationals, including eighth place in the classic sprint.
Then she flew to Europe, where she proceeded to finish 31st in sprint qualification at World Junior Championships. It was disappointing, but at the same time encouraging for U.S. skiing: Mooney was just shy of her seventeenth birthday and competing against 20-year-olds. She led the American team with her finish and ended up staying in Europe to race in Scandinavian Cups in Latvia and Estonia.
Having conquered everything available on the U.S. junior circuit, Moooney moved this fall to Middlebury College, just a few hours north of her home in Vermont.
But while she’s taking tough classes and training with older teammates, Mooney still hasn’t left the world of junior racing completely. In January she will represent the U.S. at the Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
We caught Mooney via e-mail to ask her what she’s been up to.
FasterSkier: You’ve been winning races for a pretty long time. When did you start racing?
Heather Mooney: I started racing when I was 6, in lollipop races
FS: How did going to a ski school like Stratton where there are so many fast skiers affect your development?
HM: Coming in to Stratton 10th grade, there were always older kids to chase after, and there were four of us girls in my grade that were all really close, so it was really fun to be able to push each other throughout our time there. We had a lot of fun, and we set high goals for ourselves, but overall I think just being able to train with such a close group of people and having great coaches, Sverre [Caldwell], Poppet [Boswell], and Boobs [Matt Boobar], made it so much fun and an overall positive environment.
FS: What’s it like to transition to Middlebury? Do you feel any uncertainty about trying a new training plan and a new coach, or is there good continuity with your program from Stratton?
HM: I am loving Middlebury! It was definitely a bit overwhelming at first, getting into a new school scene and getting to know new teammates and coaches, but it has gone really well. I didn’t have any apprehension coming into it. I really like Andrew [Gardner] and Patty [Ross] as coaches, and it became clear very quickly that the team is really fun, and very talented and hard working. Everyone is psyched to be skiing, and it’s awesome!
There is definitely good continuity between the Middlebury program and the one I came from. Andrew is really open to new ideas, so I think the program here is reflective of the best of the training programs that all of us come from. There are definitely some differences in the training, focuses on different types of workouts, but I think all of the changes have been really good for me.
In addition, the program here is conducive to development beyond college skiing, and this support is important to me in my goals of skiing after college.
FS: The Youth Olympic Games are during the college carnival season. Is it at all strange to be training with the team and know that you won’t be competing with them all winter?
HM: Fortunately, the timing worked out really well, so I’ll only miss the first two carnivals. As long as I’m racing fast, I’ll get to race in the final four, so I think it will work out really well. So although I will miss being with the team for those two races, the timing should work that I’ll be able to come back, recover, and be on fire for the last four weekends.
FS: You went to World Junior Championships last year and finished that heartbreaking 31st in sprint qualifying. Did that motivate you more for this year?
HM: I was definitely bummed to finish .3 seconds out of the heats, but it was a great learning experience for me! Although it would have been even cooler to race in the heats, just being at World Juniors was incredibly motivating. It was really exciting to be able to race with such fast skiers. I’d say the experience of seeing what the world of racing really is like was more of a motivational factor for me than that particular race.
FS: In general, how did the experience of racing in Europe for a while last year prepare you for the Youth Olympic Games this year?
HM: Going into World Juniors last year, a lot of people advised me that no matter how prepared you feel, your first time racing in Europe will definitely be a shock. I felt like I was on top of it coming into the races, but I realized afterward that it was a bit overwhelming, and eye opening. Having had that experience though, I think I’ll be able to feel much more confident about racing at Youth Olympics. I’ll be able to focus on the racing a little more, instead of how awesome it is to be racing in Europe against skiers who’ve been on the World Cup, like I felt at World Juniors!
FS: Do you have any specific goals for the Games?
HM: I do, my goal is to finish on the podium in one of the races. And I hope to meet lots of other skiers!
FS: There’s only one other American nordic skier going to Innsbruck, and it’s your old Stratton teammate Paddy Caldwell! How does that add to the experience?
HM: I was so excited to find out that we were going to be the two cross-country skiers for Innsbruck. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m so happy to be able to share it with such a good friend!
FS: You guys are going to be the first ones to try out the new mixed ski/biathlon relay format. Are you psyched? How do you think it’s going to work?
HM: That is one of the most exciting things for me about Youth Olympics. I love relays, and it will be especially fun to have a relay that is both mixed technique and disciplines. It will be really fun to race with the biathletes too! I imagine one of us will classic, the other will skate, and then both the biathletes will ski and shoot, maybe 3 k each, but it will be a surprise I guess!
FS: What are you looking forward to the most about the Youth Olympic Games?
HM: Everything! I’m really excited to be going to Europe, and especially to Innsbruck, the site of the 1976 Olympics, where Bill Koch won his silver medal and where Tim Caldwell, Paddy’s dad, finished 6th in the relay. It seems like a pretty historic place for US and Vermont skiers!
It will also be really fun to get to get to know all the athletes from the US in other sports, and from the other countries.
I’m psyched to be able to race again in Europe, and I couldn’t pick anyone better to be going with than Paddy and Sverre!
–This is the sixth in a series of interviews with athletes who will be competing at the first-ever winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria this winter. The series began with interviews of U.S. biathletes Sean Doherty, Anna Kubek, Nick Proell, and Aleksandra Zakrzewska; it continued with Canadian biathletes Danielle Vrielink and Aidan Millar, then with U.S. skier Paddy Caldwell.