About a year and a half after leaving his post as nordic director at the Green Mountain Valley School (GMVS), Justin Beckwith is once again involved with New England skiing at full throttle as competitive program director for the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA).
The news came from NENSA early last month in an announcement that stated Beckwith would be filling in for Amie Smith, the association’s high-performance director for the last two years, who was promoted to executive director.
Beckwith, of Warren, Vt., spent nine years from 2006 to 2015 building the GMVS program. When he left in the fall of 2015, he decided to go back to building houses, yet he remained involved with nordic as a wax tech for New England juniors and U.S. skiers at both national and international races, like last season’s OPA Cup Finals.
Right around that time, in late March when NENSA posted the job opening, Beckwith knew he was ready to return to a full-time position in skiing.
“It was just sort of, ‘OK, that’s it. That’s what I need to do,’ ” he told FasterSkier last month.
After graduating from Middlebury College, Beckwith, now 37, spent one year living out west before taking the job at GMVS in Waitsfield, Vt. During his tenure there, he was also a coach for the U.S. Ski Team’s U18 Trip and Junior World Championships as well as the head wax tech for Junior Nationals and Junior Worlds.
Stepping away from the sport as a coach allowed him to view it in a way he hadn’t before.
“I went back to Junior Nationals after not being there for a couple years, now being able to watch, coming from the outside and see how our coaches, athletes and organizers are acting and performing, and what a unique perspective it is,” he said. “It is so much different than when you have your own athletes in the race, or you’re supporting your division or whatever your job is. … I am really excited to start to using all my contacts and resources and just bring energy that I think coaches understand what I am all about.”
FasterSkier: What made you decide to return to skiing full time?
Justin Beckwith: When I left GMVS to be a carpenter, I knew I wanted to come back to skiing, but on my own terms and do the piece of the skiing that I absolutely love and am so passionate about. That allowed me to be open to do that, whether or not the bank account reflected that, I just needed to be a carpenter, but I also had the ability to start making relationships with international people, coaches from other nations that are so impressed with what we are doing now in the U.S., and that started happening three or four years ago. Coaches started saying, “Wow, you guys are doing really well down to the national level now.” Then I got to start working with some of our manufacturers and suppliers, like Start Ski Wax specifically, a bunch more this year. I went back to Junior Nationals after not being there for a couple years now being able to watch coming from the outside and see how our coaches, athletes and organizers are acting and performing, and what a unique perspective it is.
So bringing to the present day, I think this [NENSA] position came up one time while I was involved at a certain amount of professional level with skiing. Amie [Smith] took on the job a few years ago, but I was deeply immersed my GMVS culture at that time and I also think that probably was not the perfect fit for me. Just before my wife and I left for our trip to Norway [this year], the job was posted [again]. It was just sort of, ‘OK, that’s it, that’s what I need to do.’ I am really excited to start to working with my contacts and resources and just bring energy that I think coaches understand what I am all about. I have also been able to make that connection with a lot of the young athletes over these last few years.
FS: What drew you to the NENSA position?
JB: With this position with NENSA and also what I have been able to do the last couple years, I am not using the microscope anymore, I am using a telescope. It’s totally different, but at the same time, it’s the same. I am going to be able to support GMVS in a great way. I love working with [GMVS Nordic Director] Colin Rodgers. GMVS went through some transitions. I am staying in the Mad River Valley, which is amazing; another great part of the job is that I get to stay where I am and sort of create some of that vision and move it in a way. It’s a pretty cool job, it’s a very cool lifestyle, it’s something that I am so passionate about. I was just talking to [Dartmouth men’s nordic coach] Brayton Osgood, he said he’s so glad to have [me] officially back in skiing. That is the coolest thing, to have those relationships.
We are going through a transition within the U.S., there is a changing of the guard within our coaches and in our whole community, and we need to hold on to the history. That’s why people like Peter Graves are so interesting. We absolutely need to hold on to that history, but we have so many, because of all the awesome work that Dick Dreissigacker and Judy Geer at Craftsbury, or Sverre at Stratton, Rick Kapala at Sun Valley, or Gordon Lange in Park City, because of what all these people did, they inspired the next generation of not only athletes but coaches. It’s a really exciting time for U.S. skiing that we have such great venues, coaches and organizations. It’s a really cool time and a lot of energy is coming back into it right now.
FS: How is your role at NENSA going to be different than it was with GMVS?
JB: The biggest difference is what I tried to do at GMVS is essentially I wanted to be able to do what I am going to be able to do with NENSA. I am able to work with everybody now — and not that I am trying to spread myself too thin; I will obviously be working in a different capacity — I will be in personal contact with a lot of our athletes. … I will have more communication with coaches, whether it is with [U.S. Ski Team Development Coach] Bryan Fish or our club coaches in New England, and coaches throughout the nation, and figuring out that common goal, whether you’re part of a ski academy, or a club, or even a different region at JN’s, the goal is to make U.S. skiing better, and to create that culture and create those results, so that’s the goal.
FS: How was being at the OPA Cup Finals and what were your takeaways?
JB: Probably the coolest thing going into that was the fact we were able to pull Caitlin Gregg into that, so we had this mix where we had some of our best juniors were there, we didn’t have the biggest team we’ve had, but we had a great time. And right out of the gate in the OPA Cup Finals — these are big-deal racers — on Day 1, Caitlin won the thing and Hannah Halvorsen was second. World Juniors was of course groundbreaking, but that result showed another level of depth we have in the country, and that was really inspiring to see that and be a part of. It also showed that we are a little bit better at skate skiing than in the European contemporary classic condition, basically slush. We were racing in 10 degrees [Celsius, 50 degrees Fahrenheit], and that is something we are adjusting at the developmental-team level. … That’s something we are going to try address soon. The takeaway from OPA, it shows the depth of where U.S. skiing is now, it shows what happened at World Juniors isn’t a fluke, it shows that we still have work to do, but we very much have arrived, and we are lucky as a nation that the European Nations are recognizing what we are doing and they are interested in what we are doing. We are contemporary now, and it’s pretty cool.
FS: What are some of your key initiatives moving forward and what does your five-year plan at NENSA look like?
JB: One of the things is my big initiative to make NENSA a known support structure to our clubs and to our coaches and to our athletes. We are not just putting on races, I want to make coaches’ education cool again. I want to make it popular and fun, and I just sort of want to reinvigorate that a bit. I want to help increase the participation and make it a clear thing that when you ask any coach what NENSA is doing for them, I want them to be able to give a clear answer that we are providing really cool feedback and support for their program. We are helping them coach and inspire their kids, and we are not putting on camps or other events that compete, we are helping make those better. I want to reinvigorate rollerski races. I have one that I want to start with this summer and ideally that would transfer to each state, having an event that we were able to make better for them, whether through promotion or physically bringing athletes to them, bring sponsors and suppliers in there, all part of that goal. … That’s what I want to do with this job, create that that buzz, that energy.
Another thing I am going to work on is NENSA alumni, if you will, we need to keep them involved. When you’re a junior skier: you love your coach, you love your peer group, love going to Junior Nationals. You don’t necessarily remember that it was Janice Sibilia or Zach Caldwell or NENSA that created these camps and brought you all together two or three times a year. There are so many people that brought it to where it was now. It’s cool to come back and look at it with that perspective. Some of those people are coming back to it in different ways. Kris Seymour has taken a position at running Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. Kris Seymour was Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke’s high-school coach; he inspired those guys, he helped to inspire me, now he is at a position where he can do wonderful things not only for his venue and his job, but he can do great things for cross-country skiing. So it’s really neat to meet somebody who cannot just juggle those balls, but bring those balls together.
FS: Are you still going to be a carpenter?
JB: I do have a passion for that and creating things especially with wood. I will still be hobby-ing and doing fun projects on the side, but only in a capacity like somebody would play the guitar, not as a business. I am diving right into this as a passion. People who are involved in the country and New England are coaching for the right reasons and I share the same vision.
The enthusiasm and the support and welcome I have gotten from the staff and board of NENSA, New England and the U.S. ski community is truly humbling. It’s going to be really fun, and I am looking forward to it. I am so fortunate to be a part of it and want to get more people in the sport.
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Growing up in New England, Ian found his love for cross country skiing and running at a young age. As a lifelong lover of the sport, he fostered his connection to skiing as a coach for a local high school in Maine and a board member for the New England Nordic Ski Association. He's also a regular at the Birkie. In his free time you can find him on the running trails, ski trails, or just enjoying the New England outdoors with his son, Bear.