Last winter was a difficult one for Simi Hamilton. After a 2012 season filled with multiple appearances in the heats on the World Cup, including two-top tens, 2013 held the promise of further progress for the 25-year-old as a world-class sprinter. He certainly showed signs of taking that bigger step forward once the season got going — he posted an impressive split in the team sprint in Sochi, Russia, and had a top-five qualifier in the Davos, Switzerland, classic sprint directly before World Championships.
But after several bouts with respiratory illness throughout the year, including a cold right before going to Val di Fiemme, Hamilton was left feeling largely disappointed with his season.
“To fall victim to a chest cold two days before the classic technique sprint at World Champs was like a dagger in my heart,” he wrote in the Aspen Times in February. “So much preparation, so much investment, so many days of pushing my body and mind to their absolute limits; but seemingly all for nothing.”
Hamilton’s last race in the books was in the Drammen, Norway, where he was 59th in the sprint right before World Cup Finals. Since returning to the U.S. the spring has been a season of change for him. He skipped SuperTour Finals in April and is currently recovering from tonsil surgery, which he hopes will resolve his issues with sickness in the future. He recently found out he would be back on the U.S. Ski Team B-team next season after a year on the A-team, a development he says he saw coming after falling out of the Red Group.
And on Monday, the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 team announced that Hamilton is one of two new additions to its elite team roster, the other being Annie Pokorny, which makes the southern Vermont program one of the most stacked men’s programs in the country for the coming year. In leaving his domestic team of the past few years at the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, Hamilton joins fellow USST sprinter Andy Newell at SMS T2 along with Skyler Davis and Eric Packer. Nineteen-year-old Ben Saxton, who raced for F.A.S.T. Performance Training last season, is also joining the training group as a post-graduate athlete.
For Hamilton, the move back east is a natural one. In a phone interview from his home in Aspen, Colo., on Tuesday afternoon, he said SMS T2 will be an optimal training environment for the summer and fall leading into the 2014 Winter Olympics. Pre-Sochi, Hamilton wants to be training as much as he can with Newell, and the Stratton group presents him with the ideal opportunity to do so.
“I think the biggest thing for me right now, going into an Olympic year, are being able to train with Newell and have him push me on a daily basis as well as push him during key workouts, and then also to train at low altitude and really focus on improving my quickness and speed,” Hamilton said.
On a personal level, Hamilton added that a “big factor” in his decision to return to Vermont, where he attended Middlebury College until 2009, was that it would bring him closer to longtime girlfriend Kate Barton, who currently coaches at Burke Mountain Academy.
“That’ll be really good for both of us after a few years of seeing each other seldom throughout the year,” Hamilton said.
From SMS T2 head coach Gus Kaeding’s perspective, Hamilton was a no-brainer addition to his team. Newell just completed one of the best seasons of his career — he ended up as the fifth-ranked sprinter on the World Cup and made a step forward in his distance skiing, as well. Kaeding thinks the inclusion of Hamilton in a training group that also contains Davis, Packer and now Saxton will be a beneficial development for each of them.
“It’s hard to ignore that Andy had a good year last year, and I attribute a lot of that to being in a pretty stable situation,” Kaeding said. “I think from my point of view, adding Simi to the group will only enhance that. Obviously he’s a pretty speedy guy and can help Andy and Skyler push those speeds to another level, and the piece that got me salivating is [Hamilton is] an excellent distance skier, too. He didn’t have a ton of opportunity this year but he can have good results and help push Andy to another level there. And obviously that’s reciprocated; having those guys pushing each other is exciting to think about.”
Leaving SVSEF was a difficult choice for Hamilton, but he believes the move will be beneficial for him overall.
“It was a really hard decision for me,” he said. “Sun Valley and Rick [Kapala] and Colin [Rodgers] — they’ve really believed in me over the years and have become really a second family to me. I haven’t been out there the last couple of years but they’ve been by my side and supported me. But at this point it just came down to really needing to train alongside a teammate like Newell and the other guys on the Stratton team, so I can really be pushed on a daily basis and also contribute as well.”
Aside from the training partners Stratton provides him, Hamilton also sees Vermont as the ideal place to work on his speed and quickness at sea level while adding more rollerskiing into his off-season training than there has been in the past, which was another factor in his decision to move there.
“One of the biggest components that’s been missing in my training is a lot of rollerskiing,” Hamilton said. “I think living so close to New York State and having such good roads around Stratton will be a huge advantage to get out on good rollerski terrain and just focus on the skiing specifics I need to be focusing on.”
Other than location and the amount of rollerskiing in his training, Kaeding doesn’t plan to revolutionize Hamilton’s current program. USST coaches Jason Cork and Chris Grover will continue to write most of Hamilton’s plan, he said, while Kaeding only expects to “add a few things here, add a few stimuli there.”
“My job is putting together a good group that can push each other and learn from each other and then stepping back as much as possible,” Kaeding explained. “Let them learn on their own and figure things out.”
Hamilton will travel to Stratton after he attends the upcoming USST training camp in Bend, Ore., this month and goes to Park City, Utah, for physical testing at the Center of Excellence. When he arrives in Vermont in early June, his goal is to get into “a good training rhythm out there with the whole crew” and spend most of the summer there.
When Hamilton adds up all the positives of joining SMS T2 at this particular time, he’s excited about the approaching season.
“I’m excited and honored to be starting a new relationship out east with the Stratton crew and their sponsors and supporters,” he said. “I think it’ll be a really good thing. I’m really psyched with all of that.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.