This ‘Pros of Tomorrow’ series, brought to you by the generous support of Fischer Sports, aims to highlight some of the most notable up-and-coming athletes around the world. If you have an idea for a top-notch skier you’d like to read more about, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Pros of Tomorrow. We’re also looking for stories about intriguing juniors, collegiate skiers, or lesser-known athletes; please email us with names — subject line: From the Pack.
When Anja Gruber didn’t make the Junior World Championships during her last year of high school in Leutkirch, Germany, she knew that her heart was no longer in the sport and she was ready to move on. Her plan was to apply to school in Germany and see where a life without skiing took her — even after making the German junior national team in 2009.
But then she received a call from Patrick Weaver, head nordic coach at the University of Vermont (UVM).
Gruber knew of Germans who had gone to school and skied in the U.S., but many of them went to Alaska, which didn’t exactly appeal to her. She also wasn’t sure she wanted to continue with her higher education in the U.S.
However, after talking with Weaver, or “Weav” as she now calls him, a move to the states sounded more and more tempting.
“I had never really heard of Vermont before,” Gruber, 23, explained in a phone interview. “But somehow he made it sound really good. Then I decided I was going to come.”
Gruber began school at the UVM in the spring of 2011, but was still not sold on college skiing in the U.S.
“When I started at UVM I wasn’t super excited about skiing,” she said. “It was more of an opportunity for me to go to school without paying full tuition. I also had this misperception that college skiing wasn’t that great.”
Her experiences in Vermont soon dispelled those notions, as she realized that her fellow competitors were strong skiers extremely committed to the sport. Her freshman year was filled with some ups and downs, but overall she described her skiing as mediocre.
Reenergized and determined to rise to the level of the other women on the college circuit, Gruber went home to Germany and trained with more focus and intent.
She returned her sophomore year to a team that was one of the strongest women’s nordic squads in UVM history. While she was unable to qualify for the 2012 NCAA Championships in Bozeman, Mont., she was inspired by her teammates’ 1-3-5 finish in the classic mass start.
Whether it was her renewed training, team inspiration or a rekindling of a love for the sport, Gruber returned to the collegiate racing with a vengeance her junior and senior years. In 2013 and 2014, she won back-to-back NCAA titles in the 5 k classic and in 2014, she placed fourth in the U.S. nationals 10 k classic.
Since graduating from UVM this spring, Gruber has nothing but appreciation and admiration of college skiing in America.
“I just think college skiing is such a good way to develop as a skier,” she said. “It’s such a great opportunity; you get all the support you need with a little bit less pressure.”
“I just think college skiing is such a good way to develop as a skier. … You get all the support you need with a little bit less pressure.” — Anja Gruber, 23, former UVM skier and two-time NCAA champion from Germany
She explained the fun-natured environment of the college circuit taught her how to love the sport again.
“I think college skiing is the best thing you can do,” she added. “I wish I could keep doing it.”
Gruber was also successful in her endeavors in UVM’s classrooms. Upon graduating in 2014, she was named valedictorian of the UVM Business School.
When asked how she was able to be both successful in school and skiing, Gruber pointed to her organized nature. She also said that the environment on the UVM ski team was one where academics were of the utmost importance.
“It makes it so much easier to do a good job if your teammates are trying to do the same thing,” she said.
After graduating UVM, Gruber had initially planned to stop racing because of her imminent return to Germany. However, she couldn’t imagine a life without the sport and started to look around the U.S. for an elite team to join.
In the end she decided to join the Far West Elite Team. Gruber said her choice was an easy one, as she had spent several summers training in Truckee, Calif., in the later half of her college career and liked the coaching style of Martin Benes.
As far as future goals, Gruber has a unique plan for the upcoming ski season.
She will continue to train with Far West this summer, fall and early winter. After competing in the SuperTour in West Yellowstone, Mont., Gruber plans to travel home to Germany where she will compete in several OPA Cups.
While Gruber has competed in several international races in her career, they have always been after a challenging finals schedule and draining travel. This year, she’s excited to see her results now that she can fully rest and avoid other outside stress.
Gruber’s ultimate goal is to ski fast enough to earn a spot on the German World Cup Team. While she is not sure of the exact criteria, her best plan at the moment “to get really fast and then go to Europe and blow them away.”
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.