Elite Team Preview: APU

Gavin KentchNovember 25, 2021
The APU Elite Team gathers for morning practice on the Hillside trails, Anchorage, Nov. 12, 2021. (photo: courtesy APUNSC)

Team name and location: Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center (APU, or APUNSC); Anchorage, Alaska

Coaches: Erik Flora (head coach/director), Jack Novak (assistant coach)

Current roster: Penny Smyth, APUNSC Marketing & Communications, writes:

“Women’s Team: Rosie Brennan (USSS A Team), Hailey Swirbul (USSS A Team), Hannah Halvorsen (USSS D Team), Rosie Frankowski (World Cup Alternate), Becca Rorabaugh, Anna Darnell, Annie Gonzales, Marit Flora, Lily Pannkuk, Zoe Noble

“Men’s Team: Logan Hanneman (USSS B Team), Scott Patterson (USSS B Team), David Norris (World Cup Start), Hunter Wonders (USSS D Team), Zanden McMullen (USSS D Team), Luke Jager (USSS D Team), Tyler Kornfield, Michael Earnhart, Thomas O’Harra, Forrest Mahlen, Garrett Butts, Ari Endestad, Karl Danielson, Bjorn Halvorsen, Chip Schoff”

A total of nine APU athletes will be starting Period 1 World Cup races this season, though as we approach the Ruka opener later this week Smyth advises, “Scott [Patterson] won’t be joining the team until Lillehammer,” the season’s second race weekend, “due to hand injury.”

Who’s new or who’s moved on: Smyth writes, “Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, a two-time Olympian and World Cup skier, retired after last year. We have some new skiers that have grown up through the APU Nordic program join the Elite Team, including Marit Flora and Lily Pannkuk. New to the men’s team is Bjorn Halvorsen, younger brother of Hannah Halvorsen!”

Who’s still on this team, or otherwise involved in American skiing, from when we did this in 2012: Rosie Brennan, Becca Rorabaugh, Forrest Mahlen (athletes); Jack Novak (APU assistant coach); Greta Anderson (USST D-Team coach); Dylan Watts (Mt. Bachelor Ski Education Foundation head nordic coach); Kikkan Randall (Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage Executive Director)

Hailey Swirbul (left, third overall) and Rosie Brennan (first, wearing the yellow bib as World Cup overall leader) after the women’s 10 k skate in Davos, December 20202. (photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

Top results last season: Brennan was fourth in both the overall World Cup and distance standings, and for one magical weekend in December was the best skier in the world, winning back-to-back races in Davos. She became the second American woman ever to wear the yellow bib, after Maubet Bjornsen, and kept it for roughly a month. It was a well-deserved coming-out party for the longtime APU athlete (note that she was also on this team nine years ago) currently in her third separate stint on the U.S. Ski Team, after most recently being cut in 2018 after she raced poorly in PyeongChang while unknowingly suffering from mono.

Behind her, Swirbul finished the season ranked 23rd overall in the World Cup (21st for distance) and 4th in the U23 standings, picking up her first World Cup podium along the way, which she shared with Brennan. Maubet Bjornsen stayed home in Anchorage for the first half of the season, placed 10th in her first World Cup race in a year after returning to Europe, then at World Championships came within a combined 3.17 seconds of coming home from Oberstdorf with two medals.

Swirbul, Maubet Bjornsen, and Brennan formed the first three-fourths of the American women’s relay team at World Champs, which came 0.8 seconds away from medaling. Norris recovered from Covid to post some of his best results yet, including 16th and 17th at World Champs, and Patterson had his best season in years, highlighted by a 10th in the World Champs 50 km; the two of them formed half of the American men’s relay team in Oberstdorf. (The team sent seven athletes total to World Championships.) Jager was a tantalizing 0.09 seconds out of the heats in his World Cup debut. Hanneman made three World Cup heats and finished the year ranked 29th in the Sprint Cup standings. Halvorsen returned from a year of grueling rehab from a car accident to finish 23rd in her first race back in two seasons – which was not an OPA Cup or a local citizens race but rather the World Cup sprint in Dresden.

Hunter Wonders races at Government Peak Recreation Area, Palmer, Alaska, Nov. 14, 2021, in the season-opening Race to the Outhouse #1. David Norris is behind him. (photo: Eric Strabel for APUNSC)

Domestically, Jager, Wonders, and Maubet Bjornsen won the December Anchorage JOQ races that were the unofficial U.S. Nationals west (also on a podium in these races: McMullen, Mahlen, and Frankowski), and Frankowski and Kornfield picked up a combined four podium finishes at the American Birkebeiner, including Frankowski’s win in the classic race.

Smyth adds, “Locally, races happened for the rest of the elite team, where we had numerous podium sweeps and a Tour of Anchorage podium sweep in the women’s 50K with Rosie Frankowski (1) Becca Rorabaugh (2) and Anna Darnell (3) and then in the men’s 50K Tyler Kornfield (1) and Thomas O’Harra (2).”

APU head coach Erik Flora, Independence Mine, October 2021. (photo: courtesy APUNSC)

Coach’s comments: “The APU Elite team is more than 25 skiers strong. We had a great summer of training with a majority of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard D-Team joining us. U.S. Ski and Snowboard coaches joined the Elite team in July for training sessions, which was positive for the team! This brought some young energy to the daily grind along with a fun group to work with. October brought early snow in Hatcher Pass to finally get on skis for training with early November snow in town to follow. We feel ready for the race season to happen and are excited to see what the races bring moving into an Olympic year!”

Hailey Swirbul (second from right, pink elbow sleeves) tags off to Sadie Maubet Bjornsen (far right) after the opening leg in the women’s 4 x 5 km relay at FIS nordic world ski championships, Oberstdorf, March 2021. (photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

Related coverage: Rosie Brennan profile; Sadie Maubet Bjornsen retirement piece; Erik Flora profile from 2017; Ben Lustgarten op-ed on David Norris’s non-selection to the U.S. Ski Team

Previously in this series: BSF | SMS | Team Birkie | Sun Valley

Disclaimer: I live in Anchorage, and have trained with the APUNSC Masters program for eight seasons and counting. On the one hand, the Masters group has been an important part of my personal and athletic life for many years now; on the other hand, on a day-to-day basis the Masters team has basically nothing to do and no overlap with the APU Elite Team, and is not coached by Elite Team coach Erik Flora. I don’t receive free gear from APU, or anything in that vein, in exchange for writing about the APU Elite Team.

Gavin Kentch

Gavin Kentch wrote for FasterSkier from 2016–2022. He has a cat named Marit.

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