Back in December of 2010, 15-year-old Patrick “Paddy” Caldwell was racing amongst grown men. He finished 17th in an International Ski Federation (FIS) classic sprint held in Craftsbury, Vt. Today, at 23, Caldwell skis for the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) Elite Team and is a newly minted U.S. Ski Team (USST) B-team member. To put things in perspective, during that 2010 Craftsbury sprint, Patrick O’Brien, Caldwell’s current primary coach and head of the SMS Elite Team, was nearly 23 at the time and placed fourth in the race.
The USST has a well-established development pipeline. Here’s the basic philosophy: have skiers find success at each rung of the ladder before exposing themselves to deeper competition as they progress towards more rarefied races. From local and regional events to junior nationals, OPA Cup trips, NCAAs, senior nationals, to Junior and U23 World Championships, Caldwell has paid his dues, notched benchmark performances, and maintained the grind to find success at each incremental step.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Caldwell embodies the spirit of a USST development model where skiers can remain in school, meet conflicting demands, and with a big dose of hard work and a smidge of luck, make progress as a skier.
From D to B
Initially, Caldwell was named to the U.S. D (development) team for the 2014/2015 season. He maintained D-team status until this spring when he was officially nominated to the B-team. (His cousin, Sophie Caldwell, remains on the A-team.)
In a phone interview two weeks ago, the Lyme, N.H., native explained that making the jump to the B-team wasn’t an explicit goal.
“I don’t think I officially wrote that down in a goal section or something like that in the beginning of the year,” Caldwell said while finishing up spring classes at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. “By looking at it as sort of progression, it definitely has been a goal of mine. My goal was to be a competitive World Cup skier and that is a step that needs to happen.”
Caldwell’s 2016/2017 objectives highlighted U23 World Championships at Soldier Hollow outside Midway, Utah.
“I was really focused trying to peak for those events and put up the best results that I could in that field,” he explained.
At U23 worlds, he earned two top 10s, placing ninth in both the 15-kilometer skate and 30 k skiathlon.
Caldwell was granted starts for the World Cup’s closing weekend, a three-race mini tour in Quebec City. He placed 46th overall at World Cup Finals, but turned heads with a 25th-best time of day on the final-stage 15 k skate pursuit.
In the near term, despite his promotion, it’s life as usual for Caldwell. There’s school to finish up and training hours to log. (Caldwell returned recently to Hanover from the USST’s first on-snow camp of the year in Bend, Ore.)
“I think that is very much in the air,” Caldwell said when asked if he’d be racing a full World Cup schedule. “And it depends on a lot of things — foremost if I am skiing well. And those are plans I am still working out. I don’t know exactly what opportunities will be there. Those are things, discussions we’ll have later in the year.”
Caldwell will remain under the guidance of O’Brien at SMS. And from a funding standpoint, Caldwell said he won’t see a bump in USST funding.
“Not in terms of support from the U.S. Ski Team,” Caldwell said when asked if his B-team status came with greater financial support. “The last few years I have been really fortunate to be successful fundraising through the local community here in the Upper Valley in New Hampshire and Vermont. So I am really thankful for the support from local people in both the ski community and outside the skiing community. I think absolutely if I end up racing in Europe more, it will be a bigger expense, and those are things I am not completely dialed on yet.”
Caldwell is officially a senior at Dartmouth, having earned 32 of 35 credits for his bachelor’s degree while studying geography and economics. In 2015, he won the 10 k skate at NCAA Skiing Championships.
“I feel really fortunate to go to Dartmouth College and be able to balance skiing and education,” he said. “One of my goals, I’ve always been aimed at finishing an undergraduate degree in a timely manner. I’m really thankful to be at Dartmouth where there is a flexible quarter system. I’ve taken off most fall terms since I have started at Dartmouth as well as winter and been able to go in the spring and summer fairly consistently.”
As a discretionary pick for the USST, Caldwell has jumped a significant pipeline-hurdle. Domestically, his peers have been skiing in a tight pack — on this year’s SuperTour, the men’s side had several different standout performances.
“I think there is an aspect of added pressure,” Caldwell said of his new B-team status. “But I also think that that is an inherent part of our sport. At the end of the day, it comes down to racing fast. That pressure is going to be there no matter what team you are on. It is something that I try not to focus on and just see it as an opportunity to keep growing as a skier and not as a target on my back, because I think it is easy to see it that way. Absolutely there will be some pressure from that, it’s also not something that I am unfamiliar with. I think it’s part of the sport. You have to, at least for me, just focus on trying to achieve results for my own growth as a skier and not focusing on the stuff going on around me.”
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.