Thousands of miles from the U.S. mainland on the northern island of Hawaii, Sylvan Ellefson tweeted photos from his honeymoon in Kauai. He posted the first the day after arriving with his new wife, Sarah Ellefson, formerly Wright.
“Lounging after a casual 3hr waterfall run,” wrote Ellefson, the 25-year-old defending SuperTour champion.
Friends and family tweeted back in retaliation. Training? They should be relaxing for crying out loud! Ellefson responded two days later.
“She made me,” he tweeted. “All I want is another Piña Colada.”
Between kicking back at luaus and happy hour, riding zip lines and exploring a 4,300-acre ranch on four wheels, Ellefson and his bride enjoyed plenty of R & R on their eight-day getaway. The two were married Saturday, Aug. 11, at a lakeside ranch near his hometown in Vail, Colo., and left for Kauai the following Monday.
Slightly more than two weeks later, Ellefson was back home resting before an interval session with his Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) team. That morning, he ran 30 minutes, did 1 ½ hours of strength and an hour double pole.
“It’s been a big day,” Ellefson said on the phone Monday afternoon.
But he was ready to get back at it since arriving home a few days earlier. Once back in the U.S., the Ellefsons headed to Minnesota, where Sarah – a former University of New Hampshire skier – is from. Then they went to Boulder, where Sarah lives while studying physical therapy, to watch the USA Pro Am Cycling Challenge last weekend.
“I’m jazzed to be moving around again,” Ellefson said. “The wedding week was pretty crazy and then the honeymoon was nice and relaxing, kind of.”
Here’s the rest of FasterSkier’s interview with Ellefson, which details everything from the wedding-day downpour to what the Colorado native and World Championships hopeful has planned for this season.
FasterSkier: Now that you’re a husband, how do you feel?
Sylvan Ellefson: Totally different. I feel like a whole different person. No, I’m kidding. It doesn’t feel any different at all other than I’ve got this hunk of metal on my finger. I keep playing around with it, I’m sure I’m going to lose this thing here.
FS: Tell me about the wedding. How did you decide to get married there and how did it go?
SE: We got married at the Piney River Ranch. It’s north of Vail, half an hour by dirt road. We originally wanted to [get married] at the top of Vail Mountain, which is where my parents got married, but then Sarah’s mom came into town and I told them to go check out this one other place just to see if they wanted to do that. They went up to Piney River Ranch last August, I think it was, and checked it out and I’m pretty sure we booked it that same day that they went up there.
Everything [the ceremony, reception, etc.] was up there. It started at four, and it was super nice when we got up there. The clouds were kind of moving around the mountains … and then right before the wedding was supposed to happen, we started the procession and everyone was outside on the wedding deck. It started raining a little bit, and then the rain started coming down pretty hard and people started opening umbrellas. All of a sudden it was a torrential downpour and then it started hailing (laughs). It was crazy. Everyone went back into the dressing rooms and everything, and we had to talk to the ranch owners to figure out what we wanted to do. We looked at the clouds coming, and it just looked like it was going to be some kind of pretty crazy weather.
We ended up having a super-intimate wedding; it was actually really nice. We moved everybody in under the covered area. The lake that was behind us started steaming because of the contrast of the hail and the air and everything. The backdrop was really cool, and obviously I didn’t get to see it because I was looking right at Sarah and the crowd the whole time.
[Note: The rain stopped after the ceremony and the skis remained clear all night.]
We did the wedding there and then everyone ate and we danced for a bunch of hours. We had a bonfire and a keg back behind the camping area, right behind where the wedding was, and we just hung out around the fire until two in the morning. It was super fun and everyone that was up there camped and then cruised down the next morning. We stayed in a cabin that was up there.
The next morning we woke up and kind of cleaned everything up and Sarah and I rode down the dirt road back into Vail on this tandem mountain bike. It’s probably like eight or nine miles to Piney River, but it’s a really bumpy dirt road.
FS: How was Hawaii?
SE: We had an awesome trip. We were literally at our hotel maybe five percent of the whole time we were in Kauai. … We got in really late the first night and then the next morning we met with the concierge to kind of figure out what we wanted to do, and it was basically, like, bam, bam, bam, everything after that. Right after that we went for that three-hour run up to a waterfall. That night we went to a luau. The next morning, we went zip lining for a half day and then we found a swimming hole and chilled there for a while. We had to go hit up happy hour at the bar that afternoon, otherwise we were paying like 12 dollars per drink (laughs).
Probably the coolest part of the whole honeymoon, though, was we went to this ranch called Kauai Ranch and it is the ranch where, like, “Tropic Thunder” and “Dragonfly” and part of “The Descendents” was filmed. We stayed at this really sweet little canvas yurt-tent. It was like this [4,300]-acre ranch and we went an explored it running one morning and then we got to use this four-wheeler vehicle, the Gator, for another five hours in the afternoon and we didn’t even cover all the trails that were on the ranch.
FS: Did you rest at all?
SE: Oh yeah. We probably slept, like, nine hours a night. It was nice. Leading up to the wedding it was, like, five hours, six hours, five hours, five hours.
FS: When did you and Sarah get engaged and how did you meet?
SE: We got engaged last July 22. We met at Carnival Crush, you know that little tradition that the East-coast skiers have on Valentine’s Day? Sarah gave me a live goldfish when we were juniors in college and it kind of just sparked after that. I think that was four and a half or five years ago. She said it was our first pet together. I didn’t know how to take that. I think she was joking, but I took her seriously, so jokes on her!
FS: And you two recently had dinner with Kikkan?
SE: I had no idea she was going to be in town and she texted me last Thursday night [Aug. 23], like, ‘Hey I’m in Vail. We should catch up, grab some food or something.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, Friday night.’ It was good to see her because I haven’t seen her before we left Spring Series.
FS: Whom have you mostly trained with this summer?
SE: [In] May, I did the Bend camp, and then a couple weeks later we came back to Bend with the junior team and a couple post-grad students and the Bend locals, like [XC Oregon’s] Ollie Burruss and Matt Briggs were there, so I trained there for about half of June.
When we came back I mostly trained with a lot of the junior and then the college guys that are here for the summer, like Conor Wallace and Sean Woods and Tony Ryerson. Actually [SSCV nordic director] Dan [Weiland] and [head coach] Eric [Pepper] have been getting out on the rollerskis quite often this summer so they’ve kind of been training partners as well. And then Cal Deline and Parker McDonald, Christian Shanley, all those juniors.
[Team HomeGrown teammate] Ryan Scott was here for a week in July right before the wedding, and we had a good training week together. I just missed [U.S. Ski Team members and Homegrown teammates] Tad [Elliott] and Noah [Hoffman]. They came right after the wedding when I went to Hawaii. I think they did a bunch of skiing with the juniors here and the other college guys.
FS: How’s training gone so far?
SE: Training’s actually been really awesome this summer. I think it’s always really great to kick it off with training in Bend in that May-June period. To be on snow that early in the season is kind of exciting instead of being on rollerskis and getting in the habit for the entire summer it’s fun to be able to ski on snow. You’re still kind of used to it. And then come July, you’re just starting to pick things up. I did a lot of running races and biking races this summer and those have been going pretty well and it’s fun because we have a pretty competitive local race series for [trail] running and [mountain] biking, so I’ve been doing those.
FS: You blogged about placing third for the first time in a pro mountain bike race in July. Was that a goal of yours?
SE: It’s a pretty competitive race series. A lot of the guys actually do race pro and race around the U.S. and I scored a third place in one of the races. I was pretty psyched for that because I’m usually like fourth every time.
If I train biking, it’s more like a recovery thing and if I do the bike races, it’s more of an intensity spot. For me, it’s good to keep that race vibe going to make sure I get that race feeling every now and then, and I don’t totally forget before the first race pops up at the beginning of the season.
FS: How does your training plan this summer compare to last year?
SE: Basically when I was over in Europe, I definitely got my butt kicked, which I think was good and bad. It kind of sucks to get your butt kicked sometimes, but it’s also a really good learning experience.
Every time I felt like there was something I could work on, I wrote it down and sent it to Eric and Dan and we compiled a list of things to work on this summer to help me get ready for the upcoming race season. It ranged from doing more double-pole sessions to changing up our intervals a little bit, like, changing formats of races like having the preems. We’ve been doing a lot of intervals where we switch from just Level 3 and just Level 4 to doing a Level 3 piece with some Level 4 in between and then dropping back down to L3 and bringing it up again.
I noticed in a lot of the mass-start races, you can see on TV the front of the pack is usually so calm and collected. When you’re in the front, you get in a really good rhythm. I was watching all these races I was in on the World Cup last year, seeing these guys up front it just looks like it’s so easy. What they don’t show is in the back, it’s just nuts because it’s all the people who are probably racing a couple of their first races or whatever and they’re just really stressing out, me included. They’re trying to get a good spot and it requires more energy to ski at the back of the pack, especially in the beginning of the race. Until I start skiing better, I’m not going to be at the front of the pack so I need to kind of adjust to that back-of-the-pack skiing. For me, that was being able to, maybe fresh off the bat, hold onto like a Level 2 or even a Level 4 pace and then dropping back into a threshold pace without totally going under, being able to recover from it.
FS: How are you feeling heading into this season?
SE: I think my confidence going into this year is much better, which will be good. I’m not going to lie, lining up when I was in Rybinsk for my first mass start, looking at the people that I was lined up next to it was like, ‘Holy crap, these are all the people that I’ve ever watched on TV and now I’m standing next to them.’ Obviously, everybody’s going to have that shock value. I think going into this year, it’s more focused for me on a result more than experience. It’s not in my head that I’m just going to be racing World Cup this year, I want to be racing fast and I want to be getting results.
I think the first period will be good for me. What qualified me to go over to Europe last year were like 10 and 15 k skate and classic races, and I’m pretty excited to race those first races because I think there’s three 15 k’s and maybe one 10 k. I’m excited about that. I’m pretty excited with how my prologue and sprinting has been going, and then this fall, hopefully I’ll be able to ramp it up a little bit in Lake Placid and Park City and Canmore with these top-tier sprinters in the U.S., Simi and Newell.
FS: So you’re going to take advantage of a paid-for trip to the World Cup (as the SuperTour winner) and race Period 1 in Europe and Canada? Are you worried about relying on World Cup results to qualify for World Championships, rather than stay home and qualify domestically?
SE: I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. It was kind of a tactical decision because the world champs team is decided off your FIS points, but it’s kind of taking a chance. If I were to race in the U.S. and I was racing as well as I did at the beginning of last season, I would be getting good enough FIS points to bring me to World Champs. On the other hand, I would be giving up and opportunity to go race the World Cup, and I feel like that would be just a wasted opportunity.
Dan and Eric and I all decided that it would probably be best if I just took advantage of that opportunity. Assuming that I go into the first period as fit as I was last year, then I think me on a perfect day, skiing like I would at the top of my game, would land me a top-30 result, which is something that I’m looking for in this upcoming period.
The biggest reason that I’ve decided to go over to Europe this first period, I guess it depends on my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal is to progress U.S. skiing and kind of help the U.S. men to get to that next level. I think if I were to stay home that would be a little bit of a disservice to that.
I’m approaching this season similar to how I approached last season. If I stick to a similar plan just upping my hours from last year, I think that technically my body should react well to it. Hopefully period one shouldn’t be smooth sailing necessarily, but it should hopefully feel good while I’m racing over there. If I’m feeling good, hopefully I’ll be getting that top-30 spot that I want.
FS: What other goals do you have?
SE: I would love to get a top 30 on the World Cup. One of my goals is to win a race at U.S. nationals this year and then I guess another goal is just to rank in the top five for both sprint and distance in the U.S. at the end of next season. I think now I’m ranked fourth in the sprint, somehow, and seventh for distance.
[Note: Last year, Ellefson mostly made the top 60 in his first World Cup starts. He was third in the 15 k skate at U.S. nationals and finished the SuperTour series as the overall winner despite injuring his ankle in Sweden at the end of the season.]
FS: Looking back at the jump you made last year, what do you attribute your success to?
SE: I think my change in training and also it was kind of a change in confidence. The previous year, I had won two SuperTour races and just getting that feeling of winning a race is pretty cool. You know who you’re racing and you can beat them or you’re at that level, so you know you have the opportunity to bring yourself up to that next level.
Actually at the beginning of the [season] last year, I think it was November, I kind of changed [it] up. I never really prepped for a season like I had before last year, and I basically just did more intervals than I ever had the November before. I made sure I gave my body enough time to recover before those first races in Bozeman and West Yellowstone and I seemed to benefit [he won two SuperTour races in Bozeman and was second in two of the openers in West Yellowstone].
I’ve never skied that well early season so I was a little bit worried about U.S. nationals about how I’d be skiing there, but my body I guess … was fit and skied well. Unfortunately I got sick right after [nationals], and then went to Minnesota, skied well [he was second and third at the Minneapolis SuperTour], but got sick again after that. I was on antibiotics twice in, like, three weeks and I think it took a toll on my body before I went to Europe.
Then I had a good experience on the World Cup, and I honestly had no idea what to expect when I cam back to the U.S. I was racing every weekend, but I wasn’t able to train that much because I still wasn’t feeling 100 percent. When I came back to Vermont and I stayed with Liz Stephen, I skied, like, once, I went on a run once and then just kind of went into Spring Series without having trained that much, but I think my body held onto a lot of that fitness from the entire winter. My only goal was I really just wanted to get that World Cup spot for the fall, and I tried to race my butt off and ended up getting that spot, which I was super psyched about.
FS: And now you’re feeling good and the ankle is better?
SE: It’s great. My PT here in Vail has just done wonders for me. It’s all healed up and all that good stuff now. It’s pretty exciting for me not having to worry about that anymore.
FS: Next Monday, you wrote that you’re going back to school at Red Sandstone Elementary. What will you be doing?
SE: I’m a teacher’s assistant at my old elementary school. I go in for about 2-3 hours everyday when I am around. 4th graders. It’s super fun!
While Ellefson took care of business in Craftsbury, Vt., where he clinched the overall SuperTour title in late March, he also had some fun while staying at the home of his friend and U.S. Ski Team veteran, Liz Stephen. Her father helped film the following, and if you’re really into their music video, Ellefson said “The Bland” has another one coming soon.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.