The 2015/2016 awards continue this week, chosen by the FasterSkier staff based on performances from last season. While not scientific, these points of recognition are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review.
American Breakthrough Skiers (Canadian award winners will follow)
Kaitlynn Miller, Craftsbury Green Racing Project
If Craftsbury’s Kaitlynn Miller had been told at the beginning of last season that she’d be spending some her last few races on the World Cup at the Ski Tour Canada (STC), she might not have believed them.
By the end of the 2016 season, Miller had pushed any doubt aside. The 24-year-old Elmore, Vt., native not only qualified for the STC in March, but also left 2016 U.S. nationals in January in Houghton, Mich., with a string of personal bests.
Prior to this year, she had never reached the podium at nationals. In her second season as a CGRP athlete, Miller podiumed twice in Houghton — first in the women’s 10 k classic individual start and again in the classic sprint — the latter of which she won for her first national title. She finished the week within the top 10 in every race. Last season, her best result at U.S. nationals was 13th in last year’s 20 k classic mass start.
“To come away from Nationals with two podium finishes, including a national championship, was incredibly exciting, a bit overwhelming, and definitely unexpected,” Miller wrote on her blog after nationals.
Along with breakthrough performances in Houghton, Miller raced to her best-ever SuperTour result earlier last season in Sun Valley, Idaho, finishing second in a classic sprint in December.
She also finished sixth in the Sun Valley 10 k classic and second in another 10 k classic SuperTour race in Lake Placid N.Y., fifth in the 30 k classic at U.S. Distance Nationals in Craftsbury, Vt., and 41st in her first World Cup multi-stage tour.
“I’ve never raced a World Cup before, or even an international race for that matter (unless you count North American Midget Championships),” Miller blogged after the initial stages of the STC. “With each race I finish I have more confidence in myself and I’m very grateful to have this amazing opportunity to compete against the fastest women in the world.”
David Norris, Alaska Pacific University
Even after back-to-back victories in two SuperTour races this season, it was the third time at the top of the podium that left David Norris of Alaska Pacific University (APU) without words.
For 25-year-old Norris, of Fairbanks, Alaska, some wins can only be summed up with a whoop.
That included his victory in this year’s American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wis., in his first-ever Birkie. Norris’ breakthrough result also made him the first American male to win the Birkie since Tad Elliott did so in 2012.
“Crossing the line Saturday was the first time in my life where I threw up my hands and screamed in excitement!” Norris wrote on his blog after winning the 51 k Birkie skate race. “Taking the win, having the confidence to lead the last 800 meters of the race, and to pull it all off was an incredible feeling.”
Leading the last 800 meters of the race for Norris included holding off France’s Ivan Perrillat Boiteux, of team Houte-Savoie, Frenchman Benoit Chauvet, Frenchman Adrien Mougel, Switzerland’s Candide Pralong (all of GEL intérim Rossignol), France’s Mathias Wibault, and the 2014 Birkie champion from Italy, Sergio Bonaldi (Team Salomon Italia).
Norris had a number of other season firsts beyond his Birkie win. He also won his first ever SuperTour races at the Lake Placid SuperTour, topping the men’s freestyle sprint and posting the fastest time in the 10 k classic individual start. He finished on the U.S. Distance Nationals podium for the first time in two years by placing third in the men’s 50 k classic mass start in Craftsbury, Vt.
“I always want more from myself when any season comes to to an end,” he added. “I don’t think my results have put me in a different position that last year but I’m going into the summer with excitement knowing that some really great results are possible for me.”
Tad Elliott, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail
Although Tad Elliott of Ski Club Vail is not a new name to the top of U.S. distance results, this past season saw a re-breakthrough for the 27 year old from Durango, Colo.
A former U.S. Ski Team member, Elliott returned to the U.S. nationals podium, winning the men’s 30 k freestyle mass start for his fourth-career national title.
“In the months leading up to the race, I could only dream of the podium,” Elliott said in an interview after his 30 k win. “Hell, I didn’t know if I was going to be healthy enough to even start, but as you know, once the gun goes off, it really is anyone’s race.”
Elliott also raced to second place in the Craftsbury SuperTour 10 k classic in February, as well as a second place in the men’s 50 k classic mass start at U.S. Distance Nationals in Craftsbury in March. Before that, he qualified for the STC World Cup races in March, finishing the tour in 51st overall.
“This season was a step in the right direction,” Elliott wrote in an email after his last race of the season. “To come off Ski Tour Canada, and a long week in Craftsbury and to ski like this after all the health issues the last two years shows that I am in a really good place. I am excited for the future.”
Annie Hart, Stratton Mountain School T2 Team
Hart is another skier that’s been a regular contender in recent years, but a few personal bests at U.S. nationals — second in both the women’s freestyle sprint and classic sprint, fifth in the 20 k freestyle mass start, and eighth in the 10 k classic — make the 23-year-old SMS T2 Team skier our pick for female honorable mention.
She won her first SuperTour race in February, posting the fastest time in the in the women’s 5 k freestyle in Craftsbury. She also placed third in the Lake Placid SuperTour freestyle sprint and competed in her first World Cup races at STC (finishing the tour in 43rd overall).
After starting in bib 1 for the first time in the 10 k freestyle individual start in Canmore, Alberta, Hart raced to 39th in Stage 7. She previously placed 36th in the Stage 5 classic sprint, narrowly missing her first World Cup points.
“With eight races in twelve days on the most elite and competitive cross country ski stage in the world, I was most certainly in for a lot of surprises,” Hart blogged after the STC. “I didn’t know what race day would bring, I didn’t know how the travel would go, and I really had no expectation results-wise. But [my strength coach Max Lipset’s] words reminded me that I could also be the surprise — it didn’t have to be other things surprising me, I could be surprising myself.