After a few seasons at Colorado University, Arnaud Du Pasquier felt the pull of home: he went back to his native Switzerland to do a year of military service.
“Every man has to do military service, it’s still obligatory in Switzerland,” Du Pasquier explained after finishing the 15 k classic World Cup race in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday. “So I got called in. There are two reasons you can stop your studies: if you’re pregnant – and I’m not going for that! – or if you have to do military duty.”
So how did he end up ski racing on the World Cup? There are many ways to fulfill your military service requirement in Switzerland. Many young men actually participate in the army; men and women alike also spend a year doing civilian service. Du Paquier, who hails from Pontresina, just down the road from St. Moritz, is fulfilling his by skiing in the military sports program.
“Now I’m just racing,” he said. “I raced pretty well last week. The home country gets ten extra start spots, so I raced well last week and that’s how I qualified.”
Since he didn’t qualify through, and isn’t on, the national team, Du Pasquier showed up to race in his CU Buffaloes suit.
With this coming weekend’s races in La Clusaz, France, moved to Davos, Du Pasquier will likely get another crack at it, too.
At CU, he was “basically a walk-on”, head cross-country coach Bruce Cranmer wrote in an e-mail. Du Pasquier snagged a pair of top-tens, including at 2013 RMISA Championships, and considers himself a distance specialist.
In 2013 he also made the NCAA Division I All-Academic Team while majoring in physics, and received the Buffs’ “Most Improved Student-Athlete Award”. His online bio explains that one reason he chose CU was because of the university’s five nobel laureates in Physics.
In 2014, he placed 19th in the 10 k classic and 36th in the 20 k freestyle at NCAA Championships, helping CU to fourth place overall.
“Arnaud has been a very hard worker and has had a full plate taking physics and math while trying to compete at a high level,” Cranmer wrote.
Du Pasquier hopes that the experience of spending a full year racing in Switzerland and getting some World Cup starts – he finished 82nd – will make him faster when he returns to CU as a senior next season.
“I don’t think it will change the way I race, but I think I would be able to be more on top,” he said. “Before, usually top 10, that was my goal at the races. I hope that now I can come back and be top three, or something like that. I think that will be way more fun, to be in front in college races.”
On Saturday, though, he had way more practical worries.
“I was pretty nervous, for sure,” he laughed. “I was mainly nervous because of my gear. I’m not on the national team so I have to take care of that myself.”
Dario Cologna’s ski prep, this was not.
“Luckily I had a guy helping me who was pretty good,” Du Pasquier said. “After I knew that I had okay skis, I was just having fun. I didn’t race as well as last week. I think my skis were just a tiny bit slow, compared to the other guys. But it was fun and I think it’s a really good experience.”
“I think a year in Switzerland, doing some military service and racing some World Cups will be a great experience for Arnaud and give him an idea of what it take to compete at the highest level,” he wrote. “Arnaud is a very upbeat and optimistic person so he strongly believes that he can not only improve but be a top level skier.”
That infectious enthusiasm certainly was apparent, even in the finish pen of a race where he got pummeled.
“I hope I can make some guys nervous,” Du Pasquier said. “The guys who saw me on TV, I hope they are getting nervous for next year.”
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.