Technique takes practice. Race tactics take practice. What about podiums?
U.S. Ski Team (USST) member Noah Hoffman — currently competing for his club team, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV), at the U.S. SuperTour Finals in Craftsbury, Vt. — views the process of winning a race, equally important to the win itself.
“Honestly, it’s nice to get to win a race every once in awhile,” Hoffman, the winner of the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle individual start race on Monday in Craftsbury, said in a post-race phone interview. “I mean, it’s been a long time since I’ve won a ski race outright and I think there’s something to be said for learning how to win.”
The last time the 26-year-old Colorado native won a race was two years ago at 2014 SuperTour Finals in Anchorage, Alaska. There, he won the opening 15 k freestyle as well.
Now, with another victory under his belt, Hoffman is all for practicing how to win as an individual as well as a group.
“It’s not a secret that we’re lagging behind on U.S. men’s distance [racing],” he said. “We have a long way to go as a group … but I have a lot of faith in the athletes that are skiing right now and I think we can all work together to try to improve.”
Following the end of the World Cup season two weeks ago at the Ski Tour Canada (STC), Hoffman sees value for both himself and the USST by racing this last set of races on the U.S. circuit.
“I think my teammates and I all prioritize these races,” Hoffman said. “We’re not just doing this for the domestic scene. I think there’s a lot of value for us as well.”
The term “us” can be applied to both the USST members, as well as athletes watching or racing experienced skiers like Hoffman at SuperTour Finals.
“It’s really fun for me to be here with the Vail club,” Hoffman said. “We [SSCV] have a couple of juniors here, plus we’re part of the Rocky Mountain crew, and there’s a junior from Aspen where I grew up and there’s some Steamboat kids. So being a part of this crew and being on a team with these athletes is really fun for all of us here.”
Hoffman Holds Off Patterson’s ‘Fight for the Win’
Finishing just six-tenths of a second behind Hoffman’s winning time of 31:14.3, was Scott Patterson, skiing for Alaska Pacific University (APU), in second place.
“It’s kind of fun getting back to the domestic racing and actually being able to fight for the win instead of getting blown out of the race,” Patterson, who made his World Cup debut this season, said on the phone. “Obviously I would have like it a little more if I had found 0.6 seconds, but I’m happy with [the race].”
As the last A-seeded male in bib 20, Patterson led both the first and third laps of the four x 3.75 k course skiing with APU teammates Tyler Kornfield and Eric Packer.
“Packer started 30 seconds in front of me and I caught him,” Patterson explained. “And then Tyler left the start line right as Packer and I were passing through. So we had a good group … always nice to have a couple people to ski with.”
While the APU trio made their way through the final lap, Patterson pinpointed another cause for his seconds lost on Hoffman.
“I got a split that I was 12 seconds up on the last uphill, so I probably held back a little bit in the finish,” Patterson said.
Still, coming off of the STC and two stages of World Cup racing, Patterson was happy to be back in the fight for the top spot.
“I’m sure we’ll have fun in the 50 k with racing in the front instead of having other people control it and trying to hang on,” Patterson said of the men’s 50 k classic mass start, part of U.S. Distance Nationals, on Saturday. “These races are fun because they kind of bring everyone together at the end of the season.”
Hoffman who started in bib 15, said despite his hot off the start pace, he managed to hold on for the win with the help of Northern Michigan University skier Adam Martin.
“I was pretty aggressive on the first lap, which I intended to do,” Hoffman said. “But I definitely paid for that at the end of the race. I was lucky I had some help, I caught Adam Martin after a lap … He showed me the pace all the way from there to the finish, the last 3 k or so. That was very helpful for me, having not paced it well. I needed that little boost of somebody to follow.”
While both Hoffman and Patterson found the help of other racers on course, Paddy Caldwell, skied the course solo for third place overall.
“I was flying solo for the day, but that was all right,” Caldwell said on the phone.
Caldwell, who skis for Dartmouth College and is also a member of the Stratton Mountain School and the USST development (“D”) team, was the top U23 athlete, finishing 11.4 seconds behind Hoffman
“I’m definitely really excited with the result and it was fun to be so close to a teammate, who I for sure look up to as distance skier and overall guy,” Caldwell said, referring to Hoffman. “And same with Patterson. Those two have really been nailing the distance skiing this year so I’m for psyched to be close and I think, within striking range today.”
With the broad conglomerate of athletes and clubs showing up to the final week of SuperTour racing in the U.S., Caldwell is feeding off the energy of others, while also pushing a competitive energy of his own.
“It’s just awesome to have the whole ski community here,” Caldwell said. “All the World Cup guys — whoever is healthy — it’s great to have everyone here. And I think the World Cup skiers bring some of that energy here which is always fun to see. It’s definitely a relaxed setting, but it’s fun because the competition is definitely high.”
Racing continues Tuesday with the men’s and women’s 1.5 k classic sprints.
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.