Just over a month ago, the American cross country ski community descended upon the small town of Hayward, Wisconsin. Skies were clear, the snow was cold and firm, and lycra was everywhere. But one set of race suits stood out, both because of the noteworthy athletes wearing them and for their bold neon colors. It was the MountainFLOW Eco Wax race team of Simi and Sophie Hamilton, Sylvan Ellefson, Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, Erik Bjornsen, Matt Gelso, and Liz Stephen.
While most reading FasterSkier will recognize these names without introduction, this is a “band” of retirees who have each, at minimum, raced on the World Cup. Five are Olympians, and one has a collection of top-10 results in World Championship and Olympic sprint results. In short, they’re good skiers who also happen to be good friends.
Racing the Birkie wasn’t about stacking a fast team; leading into the event, mountainFLOW founder Peter Arlein said it would be “super fun, and maybe not super serious.” As the photos suggest, a lot of fun was had, but some fast racing – on skis waxed with mountainFLOW products – happened too.
“A trip down memory lane,” wrote Erik Bjornsen after the race. “Super fun to get a crew together and pretend to be athletes again. We are all at different fitness levels, one thing in common though: far from our best. It was fun to try and forget that for a weekend, and go live the athlete lifestyle. It’s been a busy winter in the retail industry, so it was nice to have a little break from work and hang out with friends. No beers were consumed… nothing but business at the mountainFlow house.”
(Side note: they may have been spotted at the Moccasin Bar post race.)
As he alluded, there was a range of fitness levels and race objectives, but the prominent theme seemed to be that becoming some of the best American cross country skiers of their generation correlates strongly with good technique and a high level of residual fitness.
Taking the top result was Sadie Maubet-Bjornsen, who finished fifth in the women’s race, just over two minutes behind winner Alayna Sonnesyn. Erik Bjornsen was the top male racer in 9th (+2:59.05), with Simi Hamilton finishing roughly four minutes behind in 16th. The remaining skiers finished in pairs, with Sylvan Ellefson crossing with Matt Gelso in 121st in the men’s division, and Sophie Hamilton finishing alongside Liz Stephen in 123rd and 124th.
“It was amazing to get the band back together!” wrote Maubet-Bjornsen. “My husband’s family is from Hayward, so after visiting them this summer, we were already committed to doing the Birkie simply to be considered valid members of the Berrard family. When Simi mentioned he was forming a fun team with some of my favorite previous teammates, I was all in. Having jumped full force into this new life, preparing for a 50k couldn’t have been more different than it would have looked in the past. My new way of exercising is waking up at 5:30AM, and hitting the ski trails from my doorstep from 6-7AM.
“Two weeks [before the race], I called in Rosie Brennan to give me some last minute interval workouts to train my brain to accept physical pain again. Four interval sessions later, I showed up and joined the dance. It was pretty fun to ski with the girls, and just witness the gift of fitness that comes out of all those years of hard work. As the top ladies skied away about 35 k in, I no longer could fake the fitness anymore, but still enjoyed every second of skiing it home.”
Adding to the message that more so than lingering fitness, these athletes have maintained a love of the sport and the friendships made through their time immersed in it, Maubet-Bjornsen continued, “I look forward to many more years ahead of joining various classic American races throughout the country that I never had the chance to participate in [while racing on the World Cup]. I feel lucky that my ‘band’ and family that I created in the past ten years is just as excited to jump into a 50 k race, despite the fact we are no longer the pro athletes we were before.”
“For me, cross country ski racing transcends so much more than competition,” wrote Ellefson post-race. “I’ve formed my family and life around the experiences I’ve had and the friends I’ve made along the way. To me the Birkebeiner is an event that encapsulates this cross country ski culture in the US. The people racing at the Birkebeiner are truly the backbone of the ski community and I think for them to see former World Cup and Olympic level skiers helps affirm that in the US, this sport is one giant family.”
Commenting on the mountainFLOW products and ethos, Ellefson added, “Our waxes were fantastic and I’ve loved using something other than what we’ve been accustomed to using for so long. I’ve tested a couple out now and they truly are not just a great wax, but also a great brand. Getting to spend time with Peter and Brian showed me the culture mountainFlow is trying to create in a space in the industry that is much needed.”
More to come, as the coach of non-affiliated French athlete Celine Chopard-Lallier, who took sixth in the women’s race, shares his review of mountainFLOW products, on which Chopard-Lallier also raced at the Birkie. Note that this content is not sponsored by mountainFLOW.
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