Annie Hart has been hanging out with the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team for a couple months now, but don’t get it wrong, she’s still a Dartmouth skier.
A 20-year-old junior, Hart spent most of the summer studying and training at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. That way, come late August, she could take the fall off.
In an email from Park City, Utah, where she’s been training with the U.S. Ski Team (USST) for the last week, Hart explained she’s taking advantage of Dartmouth’s D-Plan. Typically, it allows sophomore or juniors to take one term off after attending summer classes.
“I decided to take the fall off, which works great with skiing because the fall is a super important time to work on technique and fitness and going fast,” Hart wrote.
Once she made her decision, which her parents and college coach Cami Thompson fully supported, Hart needed a team to train with. A Minnesota native, she was familiar with Vermont’s new SMS elite team since her former teammates Sophie Caldwell and Erika Flowers were on it.
“I figured it would be an easy transition, given that I’d spent the past two years training and racing with Soph and Erika and thought this would be a good way to spend the fall,” Hart wrote. “One of the things that is sort of scary with taking a fall off to focus solely on skiing is the very good possibility of overtraining.”
She knew Stratton’s nordic program director, Sverre Caldwell, and worked with its head coach, Gus Kaeding, with Central Cross Country (CXC) last summer in the Midwest. Given her past experiences with those them, as well as her college teammates, Hart chose Stratton without giving much thought to other programs.
Still on the university racing circuit, she had to keep the arrangement training-based without being a member. Kaeding said on the phone from Park City that he didn’t hesitate to invite her to join workouts and USST camp trips (Hart also went to Lake Placid, N.Y.), but she paid her own way.
“I thought it would be good to have one more good skier around that fits in well with the group,” Kaeding said. “She’s an excellent cook, which makes up for my inability there. So she’s been with us and she’s not officially on the team. We’ve given her a few of the shirts and stuff, but she pays for everything on her own.”
On Wednesday, Hart will travel to Canada with the team for the USST on-snow camp at Frozen Thunder in Canmore, Alberta, through Oct. 27. She’ll stick with Stratton through the SuperTour races in Bozeman, Mont., Dec. 1-2.
Last summer, Kaeding said Hart proved she was at another level while training with CXC. She went on to finish fourth at NCAA Championships in the 15-kilometer classic and was eighth at the SuperTour Finals in the 10 k classic.
“I think she got in a lot better shape last summer,” Kaeding said. “I’d like to think that was some of the reason she improved her results last year.”
Hart explained her time spent with Kaeding and Jessie Diggins (SMS/USST) at CXC made the decision even easier.
“He obviously knows his stuff, and seeing him work with Jessie and then watching her progression to being completely and totally amazing also helped me make my decision,” she wrote.
Regarding her thought process in taking this fall semester off, Hart had a couple of reasons.
“One of them is to sort of test drive what my future beyond college skiing will look like,” she wrote. “I like having a lot to do and one of my biggest worries is that if I didn’t have anything to do besides ski I would go crazy and not in a good way. So by taking off this fall, I could sort of practice what it would be like to do nothing but ski. And so far so good! I don’t find myself rotting away in a basement or just waiting for training sessions to happen.
“What helps this is that I really love the SMS team and we all keep each other busy,” she added. “The other main reason is that last year I had a pretty good season, and I would like to see what I could do if I didn’t have school as a distraction in the fall. I’ve come to realize how much time school can take up, and how it definitely plays a limiting factor. That said, I think that by having to deal with school and skiing at the same time, I have proven to myself that I can do it (both school and skiing), and that I really do love school and I have no regrets about going to Dartmouth.”
At the same time, it’s nice taking a break from homework, she wrote. This winter, she’s going in with some high expectations coming off several personal bests last season. No. 1: she wants to make the U23 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic. Also, she wants to improve her performances at NCAAs.
“Once I get back to Dartmouth and on the carnival circuit, I want to help our team to some team carnival victories, and then hopefully carry that on to NCAAs,” she wrote. “In terms of measuring progress, I just go by how I’m feeling. I understand that there are ups and downs in training, but as long as the general trend in terms of feeling good is at an upward slope, then all systems go.”
Extras: USSA photos from Oct. 7 Fast and Female event in Park City, which Hart participated in.
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.