DAVOS, Switzerland – This town is like a home away from home for the U.S. Ski Team, and indeed after the World Cup races finish this weekend, team members will stay to train over the Christmas break.
But despite the hominess, the altitude, the 30 k freestyle format, and the long climbs – all things that on the surface would seem to suit Noah Hoffman perfectly – today didn’t bring the fireworks that the young American was able to use in Kuusamo, Finland, earlier this month when he had the fastest time in the final pursuit of the opening World Cup mini-tour.
“It was nothing special,” Hoffman said of his 25th-place finish in the individual start competition today.
The Vail, Colorado native has had good races here before: he finished 31st in the same format in 2011, and 33rd in the 15 k freestyle last season. Having competed on the course several times, Hoffman was able to craft a strategy for these specific trails that he hoped would bring him an even better result.
“I wanted to go out really under control and focus on the downhill sections, which is where I’ve lost a lot of time in the past,” he said. Hoffman even did downhill intervals earlier in the week, practicing hitting the twisty, turny, fast descents at speed.
He didn’t fail at his goals. But he didn’t have the best race he was hoping for, either.
“I did okay,” he said. “I probably went out a little harder than I wanted to. It felt okay, but not great.”
Hoffman was in 15th place after the first 4 k of the race, but gradually slipped back. He was 21st at 15 k, 23rd at 24.5 k, and ended up finishing 1:54 behind race winner Maurice Manificat of France.
He also felt like his high-altitude origins ere only a minor help today.
“Altitude is definitely a strength for me,” he said. “I like skiing there. But I definitely felt it today. I’ve been at sea level now since early November so I don’t feel like I’m super well-acclimated right now – but nobody in the field is. But I feel like I have an advantage because I’m used to going back and forth.”
Starting in the seeded portion of the field based on his strong results so far this season, he was sandwiched between two unseeded skiers: Candide Pralong of Switzerland, and Karel Tammjarv of Estonia. He eventually caught Pralong and was able to ski together with him for the last half of the race, alternating leads.
In the beginning, though, Hoffman was on his own until he latched on to Thomas Bing of Germany, who was lapping through. A larger group eventually joined the pair, but Hoffman spent a fair amount of time setting the pace.
“I led that train a lot, but Thomas Bing was there,” he said. “He was a lap ahead of me and he skied really well, he ended up 13th or 14th I think. He led some, which was really good for me… I got a little bit of help out there, which was nice.”
Overall, Hoffman felt fine about his result and the way he has been skiing in the last few weeks.
“I’m happy with where I am,” he said. “Last week, my classic has been kind of rough, but I’ve decided to go back to basics with that, and I’m excited to classic race again. I feel like I’m in a good spot, and I have a little break before the tour.”
With a sprint and a sprint relay on the World Cup schedule in Asiago, Italy, next weekend, Hoffman is sitting out the races and will train here in Davos instead. Along with Liz Stephen and Jessie Diggins, he will live in an apartment and soak in the sun, trails, and altitude. It’s preparation for the Tour de Ski, and, eventually, one stepp in the process of training for Sochi.
“It’ll be good for sure, but we’ll go even higher for most of January,” Hoffman explained. “We’ll go to Seiser Alm, which is up to 8,000 feet, so that will be the real time to get acclimated for Sochi.”
No other American men started today’s race; Ivan Babikov was the lone entrant for Canada, finishing 47th, +4:05.4.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.