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, not necessarily Fischer-sponsored skiers. 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 Lukas Ebner arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2010, it was bound to be a shock. The German had never seen a moose and had only glimpsed his home of the next four years in photos.
Traveling almost 5,000 miles, Ebner arrived in the land of The Last Frontier to attend school at the University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA).
Hailing from Furtwangen, Germany, a small town in the Black Forest, Ebner, now 24, began cross-country skiing at the age of seven. As he progressed through the ranks of German skiing, his inability to crack the ranks of the German National Team caused him to lose passion for sport. However, he wasn’t ready to end his skiing career and decided that a stint on the American college circuit was just what he needed.
Four-and-a-half years later, the university has treated him well. In addition to a diploma, Ebner graduated from UAA with four NCAA appearances, three All-American honors, and the 2014 Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association’s MVP award.
Hoping to build upon the success of his college career, Ebner is returning to his home country with the goal of making the German National Team. Before plunging into the competitive German racing circuit, Ebner caught up with FasterSkier to discuss his beginnings in skiing, his future goals and what makes Alaska so special.
FasterSkier: Tell us about yourself. How did you get involved in skiing?
Lukas Ebner: I’m from a small place called the Black Forest in Germany. It’s well known amongst people in the ski community. It’s also known for its wildlife, which is not as exciting as it is here in Alaska, but that’s as good as it gets for us in Germany.
I started skiing when I was seven or eight years old. It was primarily because of my brother, who skied at that time. My parents dragged me along and they wanted me to check it out. I started liking it and I just kept skiing. Like other Germans, I had to make a decision to pursue skiing as a serious sport or pursue soccer, which is what everybody else does at that age. Rather than quitting soccer, I decided to do both simultaneously – but then I realized that soccer was not something that I’d have success in so I became a skier.
FS: What was your skiing career like in Germany?
LE: I was never really quite good enough to make the national team … Usually if you are not in the top five or six in your age group you don’t get to race internationally. I raced mostly on the national level, which is a lot like the SuperTour. There were also a few exceptions where I got to do some continental cups.
FS: What prompted you to come to the U.S. for school and skiing?
LE: After I graduated from high school, I gave myself a year where I would only pursue my skiing. I figured that I had to give it a shot at least once in my life – to be off all the duties at school and don’t have to worry about homework. I dedicated a full year during the 2009/2010 season and I trained pretty well and hoped to make the next step to the national team. Unfortunately pretty much the opposite happened. I was slower than ever and I didn’t enjoy skiing. The national team was not even in sight anymore.
At that time I wasn’t really willing to give up skiing, but it was hopeless to continue reaching for the National Team in Germany. I heard of the opportunity to come in the U.S. and pursue an education while skiing for a college ski team and that sounded like a nice setup. I applied to pretty much all the schools in the U.S. that have a ski team and I got feedback from a bunch and I called a few coaches. UAA had a German assistant coach, and she made sure that I would choose UAA over all other schools. It was really a coincidence because all the right people were in the right place at the right time.
FS: It seems that Alaska is pretty popular with German college skiers. Other than the assistant coach, what made UAA so appealing to you?
LE: I actually didn’t really know what to expect from Alaska. I heard friends of mine say it was a super-nice place. Now that I’ve been here for four-and-a-half years, it’s definitely a place like no other. There are the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other side. You have daily encounters with moose, and hopefully not daily encounters with bears. The training opportunities are really good, so it all adds up to be a super nice location for a nordic skier.
FS: What did you take away from your experience UAA?
LE: I’m definitely super happy that I made this step abroad and I gave it a shot.
At first I had a hard time dealing with the team aspect. Obviously nordic skiing is an individual sport so I was focused on my own training and my own results. Halfway through my freshman year I realized that college skiing is especially more than doing it for yourself. Rather, the team aspect is what counts. Looking back I definitely enjoyed being part of a team. You feel like you’re part of a little family, which is important because you’re so far away from home. You have the same people around, you have coaches that are super helpful, and you grow up and get more mature as an athlete and also as a person.
FS: Now that you’ve graduated from UAA, who are you training with?
LE: I’m mostly training by myself. I jump in with the UAA team every once and a while. I have a lot of friends in town that are either still skiing or used to ski. Peter Kling, who used to ski for APU, I meet up with him and we go for rollerskis and runs. I meet up for runs and hikes with all the other APU guys in town. That makes it a lot easier for me to pursue a relatively good training plan.
I’m currently interning at the Alaska Club, which is a fitness club in Alaska. I’m doing that part-time. It gives me plenty of time to work out twice a day. I’m trying to train as much as I can.
FS: What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?
LE: My plan is to leave Alaska at the end of November — right around Thanksgiving. To make the German National Team, I need go to the national races, which are on Dec. 6 and 7. That is pretty much a qualifier to get nominated for the OPA Cups which take place in mid-December.
In the best case scenario, if everything goes according to plan, I might get a chance to race the first two or three stages of the Tour de Ski. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a chance I might go to China. There’s a Tour de Ski there, which is pretty much the same time as the World Cup one. There’s nothing decided yet.
Then the plan is to come back in January and race a few SuperTours depending on my financial situation. I will definitely do a few SuperTour races and I’m planning on doing the American Berkibeiner. Then I also hope to do the Tour of Anchorage and Spring Series in Sun Valley.
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.