CommunityNewsRegional / LocalElite Team Preview: SMS T2

Gavin Kentch Gavin KentchNovember 18, 2021
Jessie Diggins brought home a couple of small trophies last season. *smirk* (Photo: NordicFocus)

Team name and location: SMS T2 Team; Stratton Mountain, Vermont

Coach: Patrick O’Brien

Current roster: Jessie Diggins, Julia Kern, Katharine Ogden, Alayna Sonnesyn, Lina Sutro (women); Ian Torchia, Bill Harmeyer, Ben Ogden, Will Koch (men)

Who’s new: Lina Sutro, coming from the University of Vermont ski team

Who’s moved on: Sophie Caldwell Hamilton and Simi Hamilton, who celebrated their second wedding anniversary earlier this year, retired from pro skiing last spring and are beginning a new life together in Colorado. Ben Saxton also retired.

Who’s still on this team, or otherwise involved in American skiing, from when we did this in 2012: Jessie Diggins (athlete); Gus Kaeding (now head of analytics for the U.S. Ski Team); Andy Newell (now head coach for Bridger Ski Foundation); Erika Flowers (racing for BSF this season); then-teammates Newell and Flowers are now married

Julia Kern races in classic sprint qualification in Oberstdorf. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Top results last season: Diggins, deservedly, got the headlines, for winning the World Cup overall, the distance globe, and the Tour de Ski, all firsts for an American woman. (Bill Koch won the inaugural World Cup overall title in 1981/1982 to provide her only American competition here, though if you want to split hairs about it Koch’s World Cup season looked a little shorter than Diggins’s.)

After Diggins, Kern had a down season, by her lofty standards, but still notched an 11th and 12th in World Cup sprint finals. Ben Ogden was the top American man in the World Championships sprint, qualifying 11th and finishing 17th overall, and qualified 3rd at World U23s en route to an 11th-place finish. Katharine Ogden raced a full season of distance races on the World Cup, highlighted by 23rd overall in the Tour de Ski, and finished 38th in the distance standings for the year.

Domestically, Rochester, Minn., native Ian Torchia won the skate American Birkebeiner, then gave an all-time classic finish-line interview while slumped exhausted in the snow, interrupting his gasps to drink some chocolate milk handed to him by a concerned onlooker. Not to be outdone, Plymouth, Minn., native Sonnesyn won the skate Birkie, and was second in the classic Birkie.

Ian Torchia, far right, leads bounding intervals up Stratton Mountain in summer 2021. (photo: courtesy SMS)

Coach’s comments: Coach Pat wrote as follows:

“The dryland season has gone very well for our group. It’s hard to imagine just a few short months ago we were doing hot sweaty hill bounding and rollerski intervals in Stratton, but fall is certainly here and the winter season feels just around the corner. The air is cool and crisp, the leaves are mostly down and soon we will be seeing our first glimpse of snow at the higher elevations in the Green Mountains.

“We had a productive and steady dryland season. We kicked off the training year back in May with many athletes out in Bend, Oregon, for our startup on snow and dryland camp. From June till August we were primarily based out of Vermont with some small ‘mini camps’ and fun adventures but no major travel or camps afar. One thing we learned overall as a program from the pandemic and travel restrictions in place in Vermont last year is that while variety is the spice of life, skiers are made in the summer, and time spent traveling is time that impacts recovery and training opportunities, so with the cancelation of a July glacier camp in Alaska and the wildfire/smoke situation in the greater American West, we just put our heads down and focused on high quality but training in the Green Mountain state for June-August. Fortunately for us, aside from the ever present rain and humidity that Vermont is known for, we have incredible roller skiing, running, biking, and strength and conditioning facilities in Stratton and the greater area so we never need to go far to find high quality dryland training. 

SMS athletes in the ski tunnel (from left: Julia Kern, Jessie Diggins, Alayna Sonnesyn, Lina Sutro), Oberhof, Germany, September 2021. (photo: courtesy SMS)

“The two areas that we did make a conscious decision to target this year in addition to stable dryland blocks, were on snow time and training at altitude. Traditionally we travel to New Zealand for 2-3 weeks at the end of August and the start of September. The skiing (being wintertime in the southern hemisphere) is high quality and representative of actual ski conditions unlike glacier snow that can often be rotten, slow, and located at high altitudes. While we weren’t able to get on snow as a program last year due to the pandemic and Vermont travel restrictions, many athletes still achieved standout results last winter but we did recognize it put our athletes at a competitive disadvantage in the early season where athletes were getting their ski legs under them so we sought to find on snow training options this year. We were hoping to have New Zealand as an option but with their tight quarantine policies and lack of widespread vaccinations it became clear by July that was unlikely to change. Instead we traveled to the ski tunnel in Oberhof, Germany, to grab 10 days of high quality on snow training which turned out to be a great replacement camp. Being three months removed from skiing should make the transition to snow in Kuusamo a little easier and faster than being six months without contacting snow as we did last year. As an East Coast based team traveling to and from Europe was also a helpful reminder for the time change and travel athletes will be undergoing again shortly in a few weeks.

“The final area we did want to focus on was getting in some time and harder efforts at altitude. With the Olympic venue being at around 5500 feet we were able to practice skiing at a similar elevation out in Bend, Oregon, back in May and recently finished a great dryland camp in Park City complete with many harder efforts and time trials at Soldier Hollow which is nearly the same elevation as the Olympic venue and equally demanding terrain as what we should see this coming February. 

From left, Jessie Diggins, Katharine Ogden, Lina Sutro (partially obscured), Alayna Sonnesyn, and Julie Kern rollerskiing in Vermont in summer 2021. (photo: courtesy SMS)

“Our athletes are looking forward to the coming race season because it is shaping up to be a ‘return towards normal.’ Both the limited options for domestic racing and the strict restrictions needed for safe racing on the international level were very difficult for elite athletes last year. Certainly there will still be safety protocols in place, disruptions, and some uncertainty as we continue to navigate our way out of this pandemic, but the prospect for a complete race season both on World Cup and at a national level is very encouraging. We have all been vaccinated and many of our group have already received their booster shots so some of the uncertainty and apprehension of travel has been reduced. We can now focus on what we all love to do; ski racing with a robust national and international calendar!”

Related coverage: Sophie retirement article; Simi retirement article; Diggins overall World Cup champion article

Previously in this series: BSF

Gavin Kentch

Gavin Kentch

Gavin Kentch is a lifelong Alaskan. He skis with the Alaska Pacific University Masters team in Anchorage, plays with his two adorable daughters, and occasionally works as a solo attorney. He has a cat named Marit. He was probably on snow this year before you were.

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