When Montana State University (MSU) started a national search for a new nordic head coach, little did they know that their final pick would come from their own backyard.
The university announced last Friday that Bozeman, Mont., native Kristina Trygstad-Saari will take the place of former head coach Grethe-Lise Hagensen, whose contract was not renewed in May.
This is the second job announcement in recent months for Trygstad-Saari as she was reported to be the new elite/post-graduate coach of the Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) in May. She has since resigned from the position.
“The job opened up later than is ideal for ski coaches and I was already working for BSF doing the elite team,” Trygstad-Saari explained in a phone interview. “Growing up in Bozeman I’ve always watched that position as something that could be a potential career position so when it opened up I decided to apply and see what happened.”
Trygstad-Saari was one of four finalists for the post, including former MSU assistant coaches, Chad Andersen and Dan Campbell, and current University of New Hampshire assistant coach Stephen Monsulick.
“We’re fortunate to live in one of the best ski towns in the United States,” MSU Athletics Director Peter Fields said in a press release. “And to be able to tap into our local community for our Nordic ski coach is exciting. Coach Trygstad-Saari has competed at the highest levels, raced and coached collegiately at Dartmouth, and knows the challenges of being a student-athlete. We feel she is a great fit for our program and look forward to her taking over the reins of the Bobcat Nordic program.”
Returning member of the MSU ski team and former BSF racer Cambria McDermott also expressed her excitement to have Trygstad-Saari at the helm of the university’s nordic program.
“Kristina is a great choice for our new head coach. She has had so much success as an athlete and, more recently, as a coach. Besides her knowledge and experience, I think she will bring a new, focused energy to our team,” McDermott wrote in an email.
The decision to leave Bridger shortly after her hire was difficult for Trygstad-Sarri, who was one of the program’s most successful skiers as a junior. While content with her position at BSF, she had always wanted to coach collegiate-level skiing and knew the position at the university was an opportunity she had to take.
“I would say that this has been a really tough decision for me for a lot of reasons. I have always been supportive of and supported by BSF. I am really loyal to the organization and I was very happy with my position there at the elite team,” she said. “I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to coach college eventually. It seemed like one of those opportunities that I just needed to go for and if it ended up working out, I knew I might need to take that step.”
“When I found out that I got the job, I took some time to think about all sides of the situation and it’s definitely challenging to leave something that’s really good. I had really great coworkers, Dragan [Danevski] has always been super supportive of me. I look forward to the new position but it has been challenging for sure.”
BSF Head Coach and Program Director Dragan Danevski had no comment about the departure of Trygstad-Saari but said that the program was currently searching for her replacement.
Without Trygstad-Saari, the club’s elite and post-graduate team is currently without a coach and with several skiers joining the program in the fall, a new hire will be necessary in the coming weeks.
When asked whether she was open with BSF about her college-coaching aspirations, Trygstad-Saari said she had communicated with the club prior to her acceptance of the job.
“I was pretty open part way through the process. Initially I applied not knowing what would happen and just did that on my own,” she explained. “I’ve been pretty open about the process and trying to communicate things well with people. I know it’s a hard decision that affects a lot of people and I hope that in the end it works out for everybody.”
Despite the tough choices that Trygstad-Saari has made, she is ready to lead the MSU ski team into a new era.
“I’m really excited to be working with collegiate athletes. It’s an interesting and exciting time for skiers,” she said. “I look back on my college skiing experience and I really value that. I really looked up to my coach at that time so I’m really excited to step into that role and lead these athletes through their college experience.”
Trygstad-Saari, 29, intends to use her depth of knowledge as both a ski racer and coach to push her athletes to the next level. A nine-time junior national champion, she placed sixth in the 2002 Junior World Championships, and was named 2002 National Junior Skier of the Year.
At Dartmouth, she skied two seasons for the Big Green. Since then he has been both racing and coaching, culminating in her position as interim men’s coach at Dartmouth where she lead the team to fifth place at the 2013 NCAA Championships in Middlebury, Vt.
In terms of goals for the MSU ski team, Trygstad-Saari is focused on making her transition into the program easy for her athletes. Once that is accomplished she plans to bring the team to its full potential.
“My priority right now is making a smooth transition for the athletes individually and the program as a whole,” she said. “I know it’s hard to transition between coaches so it’s going to take some time to get to know everybody. I’ve been watching this team grow over the last 10 years and I see a lot of potential. There is no reason that we can’t be in the top three teams collegiate circuit and I hope to take the team to that level.”
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.