Nordic Nation: Getting to Know the Future of the U.S. Ski Team — A Conversation with Sophia Laukli, Novie McCabe, and Sydney Palmer-Leger

Rachel PerkinsJanuary 27, 2022

In this episode, we have Sydney Palmer-Leger, Sophia Laukli, and Novie McCabe. Each is a member of the U.S. Cross Country team, and they are also all teammates at the University of Utah (UU), where they are coached by Miles Havlick and Fredrik Landstedt

Utah teammates Sophia Laukli, Novie McCabe, and Sydney Palmer-Leger went 1-2-3 in the RMISA collegiate standings at the recent 5k interval start freestyle in Sun Valley. (Photo: Instagram @utahskiteam)

Laukli and McCabe were recently named to the 2022 Olympic Team and are soon headed to Beijing, while Palmer-Leger will race in the RMISA collegiate circuit for the next few weeks before flying to Norway for the FIS Junior World Championships in Lygna. Laukli and McCabe were named to the FIS U23 World Championships, but declined their spots due to scheduling conflicts between the Olympics and the NCAA championships, which will be hosted by UU in early March.

Each already accomplished in her own right, these women discuss their experiences so far as they set their sights on long-term goals for what they hope will be long careers in the sport. 

28.12.2021, Lenzerheide, Switzerland (SUI):
Sophia Laukli (USA) – FIS world cup cross-country, tour de ski, individual sprint, Lenzerheide (SUI). © Modica/NordicFocus. Every downloaded picture is fee-liable.

While each had strong performances as they progressed through high school, the trio perhaps first made their names more widely known in March 2020 when they earned a silver medal in the women’s 4 x 3.3-kilometer relay at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany with fourth teammate Kendall Kramer. This historic result improved on the 2017 bronze medal earned by a team of Julia Kern, Hannah Halvorsen, Hailey Swirbul and Katherine Ogden – not too shabby. 

The day before the relay, Laukli had taken 5th in the 15k mass start freestyle, a top individual result which she repeated in February 2021 by taking 5th in the 10k freestyle at U23s in Vuokatti, Finland. McCabe also has two top-10 finishes at World Juniors/U23s; she was 10th in the 15k classic in 2019, and 9th in the 15k free in 2020. Currently 19-years-old, this is Palmer-Leger’s final year racing at World Juniors, and she expresses her hope for peak performances during these events. (Due to positive test results on the team and subsequent quarantines for close-contacts, Palmer-Leger and McCabe were unable to compete in the 2021 World Junior Championships.)

Novie McCabe gets an early start in cross-country skiing, following in the footsteps of her two-time Olympian mother, Laura. (Photo: Instagram @novie.mccabe)

Going further back, McCabe is the daughter of two-time Olympian Laura McCabe (’94 and ’98) who maintained a competitive ski career after giving birth to two girls: Novie and her younger sister, Dashe. Bringing Novie along both for training and to sessions she was coaching instilled a love of the sport in her daughter from infancy. Growing up in the Methow with her mother and close family friend Leslie Hall, a three time Olympian (’88, ’92, and ’94), as her coaches and mentors fostered both her passion for cross country skiing and her talent, eventually leading her onto the World Cup and soon to the Olympics. (For more on the McCabe family, read this beautiful piece on integrating family into the lifestyle of a competitive skier and coach written by Laura McCabe for Enjoy Winter.) 

Laukli also grew up in a family with deep roots in the sport; her father is originally from Norway and raced for the University of Colorado Boulder, though she grew up in Yarmouth, Maine. With dual citizenship and family connections in Norway, Laukli has had the opportunity to train and race overseas, including some FIS and Norwegian National Championship racing in January, 2021 where Laukli finished 13th in the 15k skiathlon and 16th in the 10k freestyle. These results earned her World Cup starts, allowing her a whirlwind of international racing in the 2021 season which she had not foreseen when facing season cancellation and tight COVID-19 restrictions through the fall 2020 semester at Middlebury College. (Laukli transferred to UU in Fall 2021.)

Novie McCabe finishes 7th overall in the 2022 climb up the Alpe Cermis. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Perhaps their most noteworthy result this season, Laukli and McCabe were fifth and seventh, respectively, in the final stage of the Tour de Ski, the infamous hill climb up the Alpe Cermis. 

Originally from Park City, UT, Palmer-Leger was also raised in an active family, enjoying the myriad of outdoor activities available in the Park City region as a kid. Eventually, two sports moved to the forefront of Palmer-Leger’s focus: cross-country skiing and mountain biking. She found success in both through high school, earning five national titles in mountain biking before deciding to focus solely on her skiing. After racing period 1 on the World Cup, Palmer-Leger headed back to Utah to race at the U.S. Cross Country Championships, where she was third in the freestyle sprint, 7th in the 20k mass start freestyle, and 6th in the 10k interval start classic; she was the top collegiate athlete in each race. 

Sydney Palmer-Leger races the classic sprint qualifier during the opening World Cup weekend in Ruka in November, 2021. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Thanks for listening. 

Rachel Perkins

Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646

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