Note: This is the fourth preview in our series on U.S. elite teams, which we’ve dubbed the “The 12.” We asked coaches to tell us what’s new and whom to look out for in the coming season and will publish additional previews in the coming weeks in no particular order.
Team: Alaska Pacific University (APU) Nordic Ski Center
Coaches: Erik Flora (head coach/director), Eric Strabel (university and junior coach), Sam Sterling (elite-team assistant and junior coach), Mike Matteson (head wax technician), Don Haering (wax tech), Tazlina Mannix (elite team admin/physical therapist), Zuzana Rogers (physical therapist), Michael Henrich (massage therapist)
Elite roster: Erik Bjornsen (U.S. Ski Team), Reese Hanneman, Peter Kling, David Norris*, Lex Treinen, Tyler Kornfield;
Kikkan Randall (USST), Holly Brooks (USST), Sadie Bjornsen (USST), Rosie Brennan, Kate Fitzgerald, Becca Rorabaugh, Lauren Fritz
*An incoming senior at Montana State University (MSU), Norris is training with the APU Elite Team before returning to his collegiate program in the fall. In an email, he wrote that he plans to join APU full time next season.
University team: Forrest Mahlen, Jack Novak, Thomas O’Harra, David McPhetres, Garth Schulz, Andre Lovett, Fischer Gangemi;
Sarah Cresap, Celia Haering, Kinsey Loan, Greta Anderson
Who’s new: Kornfield (2013 University of Alaska-Fairbanks graduate), Treinen (UAF grad), O’Harra (former APU junior), McPhretres (Alaska Nordic Racing), Schulz (Alaska Winter Stars), Lovett, Gangemi (Whitefish Nordic).
Seven new guys joined the APU Elite Team this year, plus David Norris, who’s training with the team this summer before his senior year at MSU.
“We are excited with the level and attitude of our new men,” coach Erik Flora wrote in an email. “It is a very strong training group.”
Flora is all about keeping consistency – with the size of his team from year to year, the ratio of skiers to coaches, and the number of males and females on his elite squad.
This season, the women’s team was full (with 11 athletes between the elite and university teams, which train together), he explained in an email.
“I believe in long-term commitment,” Flora wrote. “Typically the longer the coach/athlete relationship, the more successful. … Our goal is to have good training groups. Some years we have more girls, some years more boys. The first goal is good athletes to make good training team.”
Who’s missing: Mark Iverson, 31, who’s shifted his focus to his Skinny Raven race-timing business, according to Flora. “I am so proud of Mark with the dedication it took to make an incredible performance jump last season,” Flora wrote.
Despite a back injury that took him out for much of February, Iverson placed third in the SuperTour Finals skate prologue in Soda Springs, Calif. He notched his first SuperTour victory in Minneapolis and went on to place second at the Boulder Mountain Tour.
Brent Knight made the Salomon Mountain Running Team this summer and will be focusing on that. “He will have a different approach this season,” Flora wrote. “I am sure we will see Brent fighting for top places again on the U.S. circuit.”
Dylan Watts has taken on the role of coach/athlete and will continue to compete, especially in distance events; Erin Phillips and Erika Klaar have also become APU coaches as well, with Phillips coaching the development program (12-14 year olds) and Klaar assisting the elite and junior teams. Sarah Falconer is also missing from the roster.
Top results last season: Who could forget Randall’s gold medal with fellow U.S. Ski Team member Jessie Diggins in the freestyle team sprint at World Championships in February? Randall, 30, also won her second-straight Crystal Globe in dominating the World Cup sprint rankings, and became the first U.S. woman to make the overall World Cup podium (she was third).
Brooks, 31 was promoted to the USST A-team this season in her second year on the squad. She broke through early at the World Cup in Gällivare, Sweden, where she placed fifth in the 10 k freestyle individual start.
Sadie Bjornsen, 23, cracked the World Cup top 10 when she placed ninth in a freestyle sprint in March in Lahti, Finland, and placed fifth with USST teammate Ida Sargent in the classic team sprint at the pre-Olympic World Cup in Sochi, Russia.
Her brother Erik, who turns 22 this weekend, was called up to the USST B-Team this spring after a gold and two silvers at U.S. nationals in January, a top 50 in the 15 k freestyle at World Championships, and an overall SuperTour Finals victory at the end of the season.
Brennan, 24, won the overall SuperTour to secure World Cup starts next fall, and Hanneman, Rorabaugh, Fritz and Fitzgerald all made their World Cup debuts in Canada last season.
According to Flora, Iverson, Knight, Kling, Cresap, Novak, and Celia Haering all had personal-best performances in either the SuperTour or at U.S. nationals, and Loan made steady progress. Mahlen went to Junior World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, where he placed 27th in the 10 k skate.
“I am really proud of last season,” Flora wrote. “Most important is that we watched everyone get better, from Elite World Cup athletes to Juniors team members. We had outstanding individual awards and team awards including NNF Cup and our Junior Team won the Club award at Junior National Championships.”
Coach’s Comment: Flora’s pleased with how training has started off, with two out of three or four on-snow camps in the bag. (The team recently trained on Eagle Glacier near Anchorage at the end of June, and is off to the glacier again July 22 to August 5.)
“Training is working, so we focus on making subtle adjustments,” he wrote. “We focus on individual athletes goals. I believe a goal should be what gets you out of bed in the morning and ignites a fire in the eyes. So goals are varied from performance oriented to task or preparation based. Most important is the goal brings a challenge and is fun to chase after. My goal this year is to help guide preparation, help educate athletes in learning about training, and most of all provide an environment where athletes can chase their goals. It is going to be fun!”
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.