Through the Craftsbury Green Racing Project’s (GRP) exchange with the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, Caitlin Patterson is able to put her civil engineering degree to use assisting with site planning and sustainable energy use projects. She’s also well read on a variety of topics and enjoys gardening and sharing her skiing knowledge with youngsters at Bill Koch League camps.
Patterson, 23, is also ranked eleventh among American women on the latest International Ski Federation (FIS) distance points list entering the first Olympic year since she graduated from the University of Vermont in 2012. The rankings are a reference to fill Olympic quota spots.
“Like anyone in high-level racing of a sport that’s in the Olympics, it’s certainly on my mind,” Patterson said in a phone interview. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily a defining factor of anything in my life right now. It’s just one more little step of motivation to be the best I can be.”
She earned a spot on the United States U23 World Championships team in 2011 and 2013, World Junior Championships team in 2010 and a World Cup debut last December in Canmore, Alberta, where she finished 66th in the sprint qualifier, 50th in the 10 kilometer classic and 44th in the skiathlon in a “rocky”, but valuable, learning opportunity.
“(Canmore) was an amazing experience and certainly a step I needed to take to move up in the skiing world,” Patterson said. “I learned a lot about how I react to that sort of pressure situation.”
Patterson and her GRP teammates spent the past week and a half in Lake Placid, N.Y., training alongside the U.S. Ski Team (USST). All of their rollerski workouts have lined up and will culminate with tomorrow’s Climb to the Castle rollerski race. It’s an up-close look at what Patterson hopes to be the next step in her progression as a professional skier.
“I think it’s within reach,” Patterson said. “But I can only control what I am doing with my training and be the best I can be at racing.”
Patterson was the top American in the 10 k skate and skiathlon at U23’s last year, placing 14th and 19th overall, respectively. A month later she finished third in the 52 k American Birkebeiner, her first race longer than 30 k.
She has been working on her strength and skating technique this summer, aiming to bring her sprinting closer to on par with her endurance. If Patterson is to make the Olympics this time around, she figures her best chance is in a longer event.
“I don’t think I can be unhappy with myself if it doesn’t happen this year,” Patterson said. “Especially considering the competition and the success the entire women’s team has been having.”
Close behind Patterson in the distance races at U23’s was U.S. teammate Sophie Caldwell, also 23, who made the most of her first career World Cup starts last year, reaching the quarterfinals of the Quebec City sprint and finishing as the second American in the classic sprint at the World Championships. Caldwell earned her first nomination to the USST this year.
“It’s been inspiring seeing Sophie’s progression,” Patterson said of her friend and frequent college competitor.
Utah will host U.S. Nationals in January as it did last year, when Patterson raced at Soldier Hollow for the first time since a young age. She finished fifth in both the 10 k skate and 20 k classic. She said her racing experiences over the past few years have improved her confidence in competing at altitude. The Olympic courses in Sochi, Russia, are also surrounded by thin air.
The GRP will spend three weeks in October living and training in the Park City, Utah, area. The first two weeks will align with the USST’s altitude camp.
Raised in the mountains of Idaho and spending her high school years in Anchorage, Alaska, Patterson has been on skis since about the time she learned to walk. But unlike the kids who imagine themselves throwing a touchdown in the Superbowl or hitting a home run in the World Series, she didn’t dream that far in advance. She appreciates the process of her development, wherever it may take her.
“It wasn’t like there was some point in my childhood when I said ‘I want to be an Olympian’,” Patterson said. “For me it’s always been sort of a process of stepping stones. Not so much just a top level goal that I’ve always dreamed of, but at this point realizing that anything is possible.”
Steven McCarthy discovered a passion for sportswriting in the classrooms of the University of Maine school of journalism. He earned his Bachelor's degree in 2010, while complementing his studies covering two years of UMaine sports and summer college baseball on Cape Cod. He resides in southern Maine and works in a private school for kids with autism. In his spare time he's training for his next marathon (running or skiing) or coaching at a local high school.