When Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess shows up at a race, he’s hard to miss. If his backward baseball cap doesn’t give him away, his bubbly personality, bearded face or black, red and white-striped spandex will.
One of the staples of Bend Endurance Academy’s nordic program, the 26-year-old Blackhorse-von Jess grew up in Bend, Ore., and skied for Dartmouth College before returning to his native state – and town.
Back in Bend, Blackhorse-von Jess trains mostly with his coach, Ben Husaby, and the three-man BEA elite team (including Reitler Hodgert and Lars Ellefson), while joining the Methow Olympic Development (MOD) program for workouts.
Known as a sprinter on the U.S. domestic circuit, the short-statured Blackhorse-von Jess typically uses his aggressive style to blast through the heats and into the finals. He captured silver at the U.S. nationals skate sprint last season and was the runner-up at the SuperTour classic sprint in Madison, Wis.
The next day at the skate sprint in Madison on Feb. 19, Blackhorse-von Jess failed to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time that he could remember in his pro-racing career. It was a blow that set him back in the last SuperTour sprint of the season and one he attributed to missing the wax while prepping his own skis.
Moving on, he planned to race at the SuperTour Finals in Craftsbury, Vt., but come late March, health issues kept him from it. The Madison sprint ended up being his last race of the season.
Overall, Blackhorse-von Jess finished 24th in the SuperTour standings and fifth in the sprint category for his best career ranking. Still, the man with the three-part, four-syllable last name wanted more and he’s been working all summer to achieve it.
FasterSkier recently emailed Blackhorse-von Jess after he tweeted about paddleboarding with the musician Michael Franti. Turns out, he didn’t actually hang out with Franti, but saw him from a unique vantage point.
FasterSkier: Please explain this tweet: “Paddle boarding and Michael Franti? Yeah. That happened. And it was awesome.”
Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess: Ha, not actually paddleboarding WITH Franti (although a friend of mine who teaches lessons did actually give him a lesson), but I’ll explain: The big concert venue in Bend is right along the river. My roommate came home … and said “hey – I’m headed down to the river to paddleboard, I hear Franti is playing. Wanna go?” so we grabbed some boards and paddled around and listened (and actually got to watch) the concert. Pretty fun times, but it’s sort of a reference you have to understand Bend to get right away.
FS: How has the rest of your summer been?
DBVJ: Great. The camps were awesome, training is going well, I’ve been working my a** off so I can pay for ski racing this winter, and I even managed to have some awesome surf days during our PNSA/Far West training camp in NorCal. Getting ready for fall though … I think everyone is looking forward to West [Yellowstone, the SuperTour opener in November], especially since that’s the next time I get to see all my college friends that have taken off for school already.
FS: Whom have you mostly trained with?
DBVJ: As of Monday, a week ago most of our college/older kids went back to school or are taking a couple weeks at home (technically the program is on “vacation” for two weeks) so it’s just me and Reitler Hodgert for the moment, but Lars Ellefson will be back soon, and our high school and post grads will be filling the van up once we get back on normal schedule. The fall is the loneliest time here, but it’s also hands down the best time for training and it works better in a small group. I’m psyched.
Our summer group was fantastic, as always. Keep your eyes on Bella Smith (now skiing for MSU). I predict she’s gonna make some waves. But it’s definitely a big void with all of them gone: we have 8 or 9 skiers from our summer group back off to college and a bunch more going back to high school, so instead of two vans going to training, we could take a single car … It’s different for sure. But it means less fighting over surfboards at the coast camps!
FS: What have you been focusing on?
DBVJ: The focus this summer has been, as it has been for the last couple years, on developing my aerobic base. Logging some hours. This year we’ve done a little more intensity work than last summer and have tried some cool new training methodologies (especially after the success the MoD Squad demonstrated using them last year) that we think are going to show some pretty neat results this fall. But the focus is definitely on continuing to build on my biggest weakness: a lack of years and years of base training.
FS: How does your training plan compare to last year?
DBJV: The biggest difference between this year and last year is the amount of non-ski work I’ve done. If things go well, I’ll be dropping some serious dough on travel and racing. So … saving up for that while having all the normal expenses of an adult living on his own with student loans and training full time has actually been the biggest focus of the summer. Training isn’t very hard – managing the rest of life so that it doesn’t impact training is the hard part.
FS: What are some of your goals?
DBJV: Goals for the coming season are pretty straightforward (and I expect a lot of people have this same list): first is to qualify for the world cups. Then, and more significantly, is to score some World Cup points in Quebec/Canmore. Second, I want to win a national championship.
If things go as planned, hopefully I’ll wind up at World Champs and maybe get to race some of the regular season European World Cups. But the plan is to do what I need to do so I can qualify for the World Cups in West and Bozeman, and then really be hitting high gear for the World Cups and US Nationals. It’s hard to know what’s gonna happen after that.
FS: How did you feel last season went?
DBJV: Last season was, like it seems all my seasons are, both up and down. I did more racing last season than usual (which was awesome), but learned some hard lessons it would have been awesome to have figured out years ago. Madison especially was a tough end to the season (although I didn’t know at the time it would be my last race).
FS: You mentioned financial struggles, which most skiers face. How do you manage to support yourself?
DBJV: I have an incredible support network here in Bend: somebody always knows somebody who needs some work done. I’ve done so many different jobs over the years and I own enough tools (or know people with tools) that I can do a really wide array of things. That helps a lot. Periodically I pick up web programming gigs, and I’ve been working super part-time as the systems administrator for a local dental office for something like 8 years. Odd jobs, 🙂
The amazing part is that everyone I work for is super respectful of my training schedule and actually wants to help me succeed in ski racing. It’s not that I don’t work a lot, because I do, but I get to be really flexible with it. There aren’t very many hours in the day when you pack all that stuff in, but it really makes you appreciate your days off (when I try to stay on top of the rest of my life … like laundry and mowing the lawn).
The takeaway is that people care a lot and WANT to help me out – I’m not unemployed or working minimum wage somewhere awful. Yeah, I don’t have money for, well, anything other than the basics and ski racing, but really? I’m living the dream. Who else gets to legitimately justify playing in the mountains?
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.