WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. – There were several double takes in West Yellowstone, Mont., as racers and spectators realized that U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover was in attendance last week.
Grover, who usually starts his season on the World Cup in Europe, hadn’t been in West Yellowstone for Thanksgiving in nine years before he and his family drove up from their home in Hailey, Idaho, a week ago on Nov. 26.
While standing between the start and finish zones of last Friday’s freestyle sprint, Grover spoke to FasterSkier between quarterfinals. FasterSkier caught up with the USST coach again on the trails and once more at the finish of the men’s distance race on Saturday.
On Friday, Nov. 28:
FasterSkier: What is it like to be in West Yellowstone after being in Europe for so many years during this time?
Chris Grover: It’s really cool. It’s always fun to see so many U.S. cross country skiers out on the track of all ages. It’s awesome to be here and I’m really looking forward to watching these races. And I’ve seen a lot of these folks, a lot of these young athletes training in the summertime, but I haven’t gotten to see every one of them race in the wintertime, so this is my first time actually seeing the younger athletes in particular, so it’s exciting to see who’s coming up.
FS: The athletes who compete here are a lot of up-and-coming athletes as you said, so what are you looking for in these races?
CG: What’s most interesting for us in a sprint competition are qualifications because that kind of gives us a feeling in terms of who’s able to put together a qualifier that then could go on to be a fast World Junior qualifier, a fast U23 World Championship qualifier, a fast potential World Championship qualifier. So that’s the most interesting thing.
It’s fun to watch the tactics and endurance develop through the day, but the qualifier is definitely the most interesting to look at from kind of a development perspective.
[Saturday’s 10 and 15 k] will just be fun to watch, see how the races stack up. You know, endurance race, interval start, it’s the race of truth, we get to kind of see who’s bringing the form into the season. There’s always so much speculation — time-trial results and that sort of thing that happens in the fall — and once you get to this time of year, you actually get to see if people can put it together. That’s fun to watch, to see who’s able to pull in the technique refinements, who’s able to bring the fitness to the start of the season.
No one puts a ton of stock into results these first couple of weeks as everyone’s getting their feet underneath them. But it’s interesting to see how things have come together for people.
“No one puts a ton of stock into results these first couple of weeks as everyone’s getting their feet underneath them. But it’s interesting to see how things have come together for people.” — U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover on Nov. 28 in West Yellowstone
FS: Have there been any standouts in the results so far today, based on the qualifiers?
CG: I’ve just had a short look. It’s nice to see a young athlete like a Ben Saxton to be able to lead the men’s group. Of course we always are looking at who are the up-and-coming young athletes. Who are the athletes that could potentially go to World Juniors and U23s and have a big event? Who are the athletes that can ski with the more mature athletes like Dakota [Blackhorse-von Jess], for example? So that’s always fun to watch. I’m just looking forward to seeing how things develop.
After the sprint:
FS: What’s your take on the timing issue in the sprint?
CG: Whenever there is a situation where there are challenges with the timing, if they have to slow down a little bit to have accurate results throughout the progression of the day, I think that’s the absolute key. I understand we’re talking about people who don’t host a race everyday. A sprint race is a challenge from a timing perspective. It’s unlike any other athletic event, with the lucky loser format. I recognize that…
At the freestyle-distance race finish:
FS: From your perspective, how did the distance races play out and what are your thoughts on the day?
CR: It was really fun to be out on the course. I was impressed by some of the good pacing we saw out there and some of the people who put together, especially this early in the season, a really solid 10 k and were able to move up on the second lap or to put together a really good 15 k for the men.
Obviously on the women’s side, it was cool to see Rosie Brennan take the victory. She’s been fit all year. She looked fit this summer when we did our women’s camp in Alaska. It’s great for her to go out and demonstrate that fitness.
It was super exciting to have Katharine Ogden in second place, eight seconds back, and to see her ski such a mature race. That was another highlight of the women’s race.
On the guy’s side, it was fun to see some of the veterans charging and some of the young guys challenging. It’s super exciting to see Tad [Elliott] come back into some form and being able to go out there and put together a race. His bout of mono took him out for over a year so that was super exciting to see him ski with some energy. It’s great to see Patrick Caldwell out there too. Ben was just out of the top ten. It’s really great to have him in there and its fun to see some guys challenging the old guard.
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.