Editor’s Note: This is an ongoing series on junior and collegiate racers in the U.S. and beyond. While nordic sports are certainly not the largest, there are still thousands of great stories that most of us are not familiar with. We will be picking athletes out of this pack to feature in future stories; nominations for outstanding or interesting nordic skiers can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “From The Pack.” We are looking for unique stories, not necessarily the fastest skiers. Nominations should include a brief explanation of why we should profile the athlete.
Much of Kyle Bratrud’s skiing career has been greatly influenced by his coaches.
First it was his Eden Prairie High School coach, Doug Boonstra, who pressured the cross-country runner to join the ski team.
“My ski coach (Boonstra) came to my classroom one day and pulled me out of class because he was doing that with a couple of the top younger runners,” Bratrud said in a phone interview. “He basically more-or-less intimidated me into doing it.”
Bratrud soon joined the nordic ski team under the guidance of Boonstra several weeks after the season started and found that he enjoyed the sport. As Bratrud continued to ski, he became aware of junior national qualifiers through teammate Erik Fagerstrom. By the time his senior year rolled around, Bratrud placed 15th in the 15 k classic mass start at Junior Nationals.
When Bratrud began looking at colleges, the University of Northern Michigan appealed to him not only because of the university’s history of producing quality athletes, but also because of the coaching staff.
After visiting the university, the nordic ski team’s head coach Sten Fjeldheim, the 2014 National Collegiate coach of the year, convinced Bratrud to come to Northern Michigan.
Bratrud entered the college circuit with good results, but felt that he had a lot of ground to cover to ski at the level of his teammates.
According to Bratrud, Fjeldheim is the one who got him there. The rising senior credits Fjeldheim for much the success he the university, including a trip to the 2013 Junior World Championships, receiving an all-American honor in the 2013 NCAA Championships, and finishing as the top American in the 2014 NCAA 15 k classic.
“I think Sten is one of the better coaches in the country. He won national collegiate coach of the year so I’m not the only one who feels that way,” Bratrud said.
“He’s the kind of coach that if you put in the time and effort he’ll put it in back. I don’t know if I would be as fast if I hadn’t had Sten as a coach. I contribute a lot of my success to him.”
In the upcoming year, Bratrud has impressive goals. He wishes to return to Europe to race in the 2015 U23 World Championships and gain a podium at the NCAA Championships in Lake Placid.
After college, Bratrud has his eyes on a program that boasts another nationally recognized coach. While the decision to go professional after school will be made later in the school year, the Minnesota native pictures himself skiing for Alaska Pacific University under the U.S. Olympic Committee’s 2014 National Coach of the Year, Erik Flora.
Bratrud is currently in Alaska training under Flora with the APU team for the summer and is excited about the future prospects.
“Since coming here [to Alaska] I obviously have met Erik Flora and I think he’s a really great coach; probably the best coach that the country has,” he said. “Since being here my eyes have been open a little further to where I can go.”
Despite long-term goals of making the U.S. Ski Team and possibly the Olympics, Bratrud is taking his skiing “one day at a time.” One thing is certain however. Whatever success Bratrud may find in skiing, he will always remember the influence of his coaches.
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.