At the end of this week, twelve skiers under the age of eighteen return home to the U.S. from racing in Trondheim, Norway, against the fastest of their peers in the world. The American experience at the J1 Scando Cup is generally highlighted by a few decent results here and there. Last Friday through Sunday the girls’ team set a new standard, putting two individuals in the top 10, skiing to a second-place finish in the 3 x 3 k relay and giving a few European coaches a good scare.
Heidi Halvorsen (Green Mountain Valley School) and Katharine Ogden (Stratton Mountain School) headlined the team’s individual performances on Friday and Saturday to set the team up for success in the relay. The championships began on Friday with a classic sprint under the lights, in which Halvorsen posted the second-fastest qualifier, made it to the A-final and fnished fifth overall. For Halvorsen, the result was an important step towards gaining confidence internationally and putting a series of frustrating results from U.S. Nationals firmly in the past.
“Going into the races in Norway I was a little frustrated, and discouraged,” Halvorsen in an email. “I hoped that I would be able to improve on my results from last year, but at the same time I was also strongly doubting that happening. However, after qualifying second in the classic sprint the first night I gained a little confidence in the possibility that I could actually get some good results.
With a fifth in the classic sprint, twelfth in the 4 k freestyle and silver medal from the relay now under her belt, she’s feeling better about the rest of the season as the season transitions to February.
“Coming out of this week I’m happy that I was able to prove that I did in fact deserve to come to this trip,” Halvorsen said. “It’s a little bit of a much needed confidence booster, after Sr. Nats, to see that you really are in the running for the top spots, and that you can actually compete against the other countries’ best girls.”
GMVS coach Justin Beckwith says Halvorsen’s recent results have been a long time coming.
“She’s been showing a lot of promise on race days and in training, great things have been in the works for a while,” Beckwith said. “She had a great sprint at nationals and the distance races were a little interesting, so it’s neat to see it all come together for her.”
Halvorsen wasn’t the only one to have a great weekened in Trondheim. Stratton Mountain School J2 Katharine Ogden was sixth in the freestyle race, 30 seconds by the winning time from Tiril Weng (NOR). Ogden and Halvorsen teamed up with Julia Kern (Cambridge Sports Union) on the final day of racing to put together the best relay finish the U.S. has ever had on the trip.
“The highlight of my trip was definitely the relay,” Halvorsen said.
Kern scrambled for the Americans and tagged off to Ogden in fourth place in a small pack. Odgen maintained the position so that when Halvorsen got the tag to anchor, she could see the podium in front of her.
“At that point I knew that I had to bring us to at least third, so that we could all podium,” Halvorsen said.
With Norway’s first two teams and and a skier from Finland in front of her, Halvorsen picked off two places on the course’s major hill. She even started to gain on the Norwegian girl in the lead, but in the end there wasn’t enough trail left to make up the gap. She brought the U.S. home in second, 8.8 seconds behind Norway I and 8.1 seconds ahead of Norway II in third.
“It was a really fun race and we were really excited to make it up on the podium,” Halvorsen said.
Adam St. Pierre, one of the American coaches on the J1 trip, said that after Ogden’s and Halvorsen’s individual results from the first two days they had hoping for a podium, but second place was an added bonus.
“We would have been psyched with a third, but a second in a pretty convincing fashion was awesome,” he said. “We had a Norwegian friend helping us this week, mostly translating and teaching us where to park, and he was talking with the Norwegian coaches and they were legitimately worried about our girls, which was kind of cool.”
Halvorsen says she’s already internalized the lessons from the international racing experience. This is not her first J1 Scando trip, but her results from this week have instilled a new kind of confidence in her skiing.
“I think the biggest thing I learned was just to ski well and try and be confident.,” she said. “Last year I had no expectations going into it, and I was intimidated by all the Scandinavians, who I thought all looked stronger and faster than me. Also Finland’s matching hats, polos, t-shirts, sweatshirts, warmups, puff coats, and snow pants seemed to add to the intimidation I already felt. But this year I knew that it’s the same as any other race, just with many more spectators speaking many more languages.
“We can compete with them. If you ski like you know how to ski in America, you can still do well in Europe.
According to St. Pierre, many athletes on the trip have already started to absorb the lessons of the international experience.
“I think it’s definitely an eye-opener for a lot of the kids,” he said. “These kids are used to being the top in the country. They win races; they get on the podiums… So a lot of the boys have been talking already, like, ‘What are we going to do, what are they doing that we’re not,’ you know, ‘What’s it going to take for us to compete with these guys.’ And I think for a lot of these guys that ends up being the big benefit of this trip.”
The twelve U.S. athletes on the trip stayed in Norway for a few days after the last race to train together on the Trondheim trails.
“The true measure of success will be whether these kids continue to train, continue to get better and eventually find themselves at an even higher level of competition,” St. Pierre said. “I think we’re already starting to see some positive effects from the J2 camp, from REG camps where these kids know each other. They’ve trained together before at a national level, pushing each other to get better. So hopefully they can go home and be pleased but not satisfied, and keep working hard.”
Girls Classic Sprint
5. Heidi Halvorsen (GMVS)
20. Hailey Swirbul (Aspen Valley SSC)
23. Nichole Bathe (Central Cross Country)
26. Julia Kern (CSU)
32. Katharine Ogden (SMS)
47. Gretchen Burkholder (Steamboat Springs WSC)
Boys Classic Sprint
13. Cully Brown (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail)
40. Evan Weinman (SSWSC)
43. Haakon Sigurslid (Durango Nordic)
54. Hamish McEwan (SMS)
59. Keegan Swirbul (Aspen Valy SSC)
61. Cal Deline (SSCV)
Girls 4 k Freestyle
6. Katharine Ogden 12:24
12. Heidi Halvorsen 12:33
23. Julia Kern 12:46
30. Gretchen Burkholder 13:05
33. Nichole Bathe 13:17
34. Hailey Swirbul 13:18
Boys 5 k freestyle
44. Keegan Swirbul 21:38
46. Cal Deline 21:38
48. Cully Brown 21:46
51. Evan Weinman 21:48
58. Hamish McEwan 22:12
59. Haakon Sigurslid 22:15
Girls 3 x 3 k relay
2. USA I (Julia Kern, Katharine Ogden, Heidi Halvorsen) 21:38
11. USA II (Nichole Bathe, Gretchen Burkholder, Hailey Swirbul) 22:48
Boys 3 x 5 k relay
8. USA I (Cal Deline, Keegan Swirbul, Cully Brown) 32:21
15. USA II (Evan Weinman, Hamish McEwan, Haakon Sigurslid) 32:59
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.