In the spring of 2020, the Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) launched a new professional racing team, led by Andy Newell, who spent nearly two decades on the U.S. Ski Team as a staple and leader of the American men’s program. Launching early in the pandemic, the BSF Pro Team had few opportunities to show their strength in the first race season, but they came on strong in 2021-22. During U.S. Nationals in Soldier Hollow in January, the BSF Pro Team had at least one athlete in the top-10 in each race, except the men’s 30 k skate, with podium performances by Mariah Bredal in the 10-kilometer classic (3rd) and Logan Diekmann (2nd) in the 1.3 k skate sprint.
After growing up in Vermont and developing as a skier at the Stratton Mountain School, and later training with the SMS T2 elite team through most of his professional career, Newell moved to Bozeman, MT in 2018 with his wife and former SMS T2 teammate Erika Flowers, who had grown up in Bozeman and taken a job there. Both at a transitional point in their ski careers, Newell would continue to pursue World Cup skiing for another two seasons, while Flowers continued to train with her sights more focused on domestic racing.
Over the last four years, this transition has seen Newell race his final World Cup events and officially leave professional ski racing behind, only to launch and support the thriving BSF Pro Team, alongside his online coaching business, Nordic Team Solutions. In this interview, which took place on Friday, June 3rd, Newell provides insights into this transition from athlete to coach, while also adding behind-the-scenes details of getting the Pro Team off the ground. He also speaks to the challenges of elite training groups, their role in supporting the trajectory of U.S. skiing at the international level, and what’s in store for the BSF crew this summer.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
FasterSkier/Rachel Perkins: Starting with the timeline, in the spring of 2018, both you and Erika started to transition to ‘retirement-lite‘. And at that point, you were already talking about doing some coaching and working in athlete development. Is that when you guys moved to Bozeman? And from there, what was the evolution of your relationship with the BSF program?
Andy Newell: Well, I was actually still on the U.S. Ski Team in 2018, but we did move to Bozeman that year. I was still racing essentially full time, but at that time I started a business, Nordic Team Solutions, and with that, I launched a summer training program where I was coaching college kids, so summer of 2019 was my first year where I was kind of stepping more into a formal coaching role. Which for me felt natural because I’ve always kind of participated in and loved the whole training camp vibe.
Growing up at Stratton, Sverre [Caldwell] always had these amazing summer camps for juniors that I participated in my entire life. And then, as I became an older athlete and a U.S. Ski Team athlete, I would actually help with some of these training camps as well. And then in my years with the U.S. Ski Team, I had this program that I started calling “speed camps,” which a lot of people might remember. We would host these free clinics around the country that would coincide with the U.S. Ski Team training camp. Basically we would reach out and have a bunch of juniors come and join us for an afternoon of rollerskiing and agility courses and fun stuff like that.
So to me, it felt like a natural progression to take that a step further – once I launched the Nordic Team Solutions business, where I was running the website, to then pair that with a summer college training group. So my first year here in Bozeman, I actually ran that group independently from BSF… so I was actually not part of BSF in that first year of 2019. I was planning to race some World Cups, did race some World Cups in 2019-20, and then COVID put a quick end to our season when we were getting ready to race in Quebec and Minneapolis.
I had planned on those being my final World Cup races as a professional, to go out racing in Quebec and in Minneapolis and had spent all year preparing for those specific races. And sure enough, they were canceled. So it was like, ‘Surprise! You’re officially retired now.’ And at that point is when I signed on with Bridger Ski Foundation to be the elite team coach.
FS: The announcement of your hiring went out in April 2020 – which kind of feels like a lifetime ago, but it also seems like it would have been a somewhat challenging time to launch a new elite team. Was the foundation already there with the BSF program or was this the onset of the elite team program?
AN: There was an elite team in 2018, but it disbanded because the coach, Rogan Brown, went on to [coach at Denver University], and there were only a handful of athletes here in Bozeman at the time. So in 2019, there was no elite team tied in with BSF, and then in 2020 when I was hired, it was essentially my job to kind of relaunch this program, and to make it a successful program.
There’s no reason why BSF should not have a successful elite team. The Bridger Ski Foundation has been around for over 70 years. It’s very well established here in Bozeman; we have a great pool of young athletes that participate in the youth skiing program – hundreds of athletes.
Andrew Morehouse was signed on as the new nordic director in 2019, and then I came on in 2020. And we shared a vision that, in order [for BSF] to be a premier club, we should have an elite team. And then basically, I had free reign to kind of do what I wanted, which I’m super grateful for – that BSF has kind of given me the ability to choose the team makeup the way I see is best, and to choose how I run the program.
We work closely with the juniors and Andrew Morehouse and the youth programs in town, so I very much have taken the model that I learned growing up at Stratton and tried to implement that here in Bozeman.
At that point [in 2020], I basically just got on the phone and started calling some different athletes that I had met or worked with through NTG camps. The US Ski Team in 2018 and 2019 would hire me to come to NTG camps or development team camps – that was part of my business as well – so I started reaching out to different athletes and mentioning to them that we were going to start a new team here in Bozeman. So I was able to recruit nine athletes initially to come to the team, which was great.
Here’s a preview of the 2021-22 BSF Pro Team. Note that one of the original 2020-21 athletes, Leah Lange, stepped back from her racing career after the team’s first season to begin coaching in Big Sky, MT.
FS: Can you say more about getting the team off the ground?
AN: So we launched [the Pro Team] in 2020 in the midst of COVID, which – there were so many unknowns and unique circumstances to try to convince these athletes to move to Bozeman and train here in the midst of all that was going on. And we essentially only had very unofficial racing our first season of 2020-21. Kind of a mismash of some official races, some non-official. But in hindsight, it was a nice opportunity for us to just build a team and spend a lot of time training with one another.
When you name a team like this as a coach, you have no idea what type of team culture or team vibe there’s going to be – you’re bringing all these different athletes from different colleges or different programs around the country. You want to create a team that really acts and feels like a team and you have no idea what type of form that’s going to take. So in hindsight, to have that COVID year where we just spent a lot of time training with one another, building the team here in Bozeman, was nice to lay that foundation so that we could have what was a very successful season last year in 2021-22.
FS: You’ve still got Nordic Team Solutions going on also. Has your work there shifted in any way and how do you balance your time between both of those?
AN: It has shifted in that, my first few years with NTS, I would actually hire [myself] out and go to more training camps. As I mentioned, I would help the U.S. Ski Team out with some of their NTG camps, or I would be hired by a club to go do a two or three-day training camp with them. And that has pretty much stopped, because my priority time-wise is with the BSF Pro Team. So I don’t travel so much for any other coaching duties, I mostly just travel to training camps with the BSF Team and work with them here in Bozeman.
But I do still run the website, which is a great resource for training information for ski clubs, high school coaches, college coaches, or any individual that’s looking to learn more about training. I still run that [program] on a weekly basis and in published training plans and right strength plans for various individuals.
FS: In terms of Bozeman: you spent most of your career based in Vermont, though Erika has roots in Bozeman. How have you found that setting for leading this Pro Team and what are your thoughts on the training environment there?
AN: The environment for training is fantastic here in Bozeman; we have access to mountains, access to a long season of skiing. We’re just an hour and a half away from West Yellowstone where we often have early FIS races, or we’re within driving distance of Sun Valley, Canmore, all these other places that historically have early-season racing. The rollerskiing is quite good here and there’s already a great support network within the Bridger Ski Foundation community.
What is tough, with any elite team, is the fundraising aspect. I actually rebranded it as a Pro Team for a reason, because I want these athletes to be not scraping by, but to be actually making money while pursuing their dreams of being an Olympic-level racer. I think they deserve that, and I think that’s what all professional skiers deserve in the U.S.
But it’s taken us some time to get there, and we’re not there yet. Fundraising is a huge part of my job on a yearly basis; we essentially have to fundraise from scratch all the money that it’s going to cost to travel around the country, or travel to Europe with these athletes who are making World Cup or World Championships. All the wax, all the hotels, all the logistics – all of that falls on a single program budget, basically.
And I think there’s a huge potential for that in Bozeman. Bozeman is one of the fastest-growing towns in the U.S. and there are a lot of new businesses here, so I think our fundraising potential is huge. But given the fact that we started in COVID, and we’ve only been here for two years, we’re still trying to figure that piece out. And so that’s a place where we still have room to grow.
And I would encourage anyone out there who’s reading this to realize the importance of these pro teams that we have in the country… We have Stratton, we have Craftsbury, we now have the Birkie Team, we have Sun Valley. And these clubs are essentially responsible for the development of the US Ski Team. This is the club model that we have adopted. Now, you know, it’s now been 30 years since we’ve, more or less, adopted this model. And we’re not getting any money from the U.S. Ski Team to develop these athletes. These clubs are and are all self-funded. APU is a little different since it’s tied in with the university.
Unless you have a massive endowment or some other amazing bankroll that I am not familiar with, these pro teams and elite teams are fundraising their entire budgets on a yearly basis. Every single year, you have to raise the amount of money to send these [athletes] to these races. And that’s challenging, but it’s a hugely important piece of our development, because we wouldn’t have the U.S. Ski Team that we have now – we wouldn’t have the depth or the success on the U.S. Ski Team level – if we didn’t have these clubs as feeder programs. So I think it’s important that people help support these teams.
FS: Looking back over the last few years, what are some of the indicators of success that you look at in identifying what’s going well for the program? And what are some of your objectives in terms of heading into the next few seasons?
AN: That’s a great question. The goal we have here with the Pro Team is international success, and that means I don’t bring someone onto the BSF pro team [whose only] ambitions are racing SuperTour and winning the Birkie, although those are amazing achievements. Those are, for sure, stepping stones in our development. But my goal is to put people on the U.S. Ski Team, and to qualify people for World Championships and Olympics.
So international success is what we strive for, and that’s how we measure our season, and how folks are doing. Last year alone, we had three athletes achieve their first ever national podiums in Soldier Hollow. We actually qualified four different athletes for World Cup, although two of them – Finn O’Connell and Mariah Bredal – did not get to start there because they were canceled. But both Logan Diekmann and Lauren Jortberg started their first ever World Cups, which is great. We finished the year with Logan Diekmann as the overall sprint champion on the SuperTour. Finn O’Connell was the second best ranked distance skier on the SuperTour, and he also qualified for the U.S. Ski Team [as a B-Team member]. So for us, that was a solid year, and I was very proud of the way the team performed and much of the team, if not half the team, was able to have personal bests and be called up for some type of international racing, whether that was through World Cup or Opa Cup, and that’s exactly what you know I want to do. That’s my mission: to get these kids into those big international races and have them perform well.
FS: Can you speak a little bit about the depth of the team, too? Momentum seems like an important thing with elite or pro teams. Just having that critical mass of athletes that are on the same level, or have similar objectives. Is that something that you’re seeing with the BSF crew?
AN: Yeah, absolutely. I think the phrase ‘critical mass’ is for sure something that you see with these pro teams. I mean, it’s hard to deny the Jessie Diggins/Julia Kern effect that Stratton has right now. That’s a huge draw to their program.
I think, for us, considering we started with zero members of the U.S. Ski Team on our pro team, and now we have one B-Team member – I’ve just been really excited with our success so far and how the team has stayed driven and motivated and helps push one another. That’s why I do this job – I love the team environment. That’s what I lived in my entire life; I was on the U.S. Ski Team from when I was 18 years old until I was almost 36 years old.
So the concept, the feeling of being part of a team, where people are genuinely supportive of one another you share in the training process and learning process, and you’re pushing one another, that’s the most valuable and successful scenario you can have. So I’ve been glad that we’ve somehow been able to find that nice mix of motivated individuals that genuinely get along and have fun with one another, and are able to travel the country and have put together successful race weekends.
FS: Last program question: what’s new and what’s on deck for this summer? You mentioned that you guys are heading to Norway. What other summer/fall camps or projects are you guys working?
AN: [Starting with the team roster:] so far this year, we’ve added Sarah Goble to our squad squad. She’ll be a new athlete with us next year. We also have her brother Reid Goble on the team, who has been great. I think those two have a ton of potential.
We did lose Lauren [Jortberg] to Stratton – and you know how these clubs work, it’s a very friendly exchange. I’m sure we’ll find ways to collaborate, and that’s honestly what I find a lot of value in is elite teams collaborating with one another. Last year, we did a bunch of training camps with Sun Valley [Gold Team]. We joined Stratton and Sun Valley in Lake Placid training camp. We did some camps in the Midwest where we’ve had overlap with some Birkie athletes. And so I’ll continue to do that this year.
We are scheduled to go to Norway next week for a two-week camp where we’ll be in Sjusjøen for five days, and then on Sognefjellet ski fields for five days. We’ll try to overlap with some fast foreign skiers while we’re there and try to learn from some folks over there, and we’re bringing a handful of college skiers with the Pro Team as well on that trip. After that, we’ll be back here in Bozeman for the main summer training block and that’s when we do our BSF college training group as well. That runs through the end of June and into the first week of August.
So we have a solid six-week block of training here in Bozeman, which has been the staple of the BSF program the last couple years – having this really competitive college training group. It’s been so fun to see that program grow and see the success of the college training group. The first year with BSF, we had folks like Sophia Laukli on the team, and so many talented individuals. It was great to see them develop here in Bozeman and then have such amazing seasons that winter. So we’ll continue that program where for six weeks we’ll have a team of 12 collegiate athletes that join the Pro Team on daily training all the way through August.
After the summer training group ends, we’re planning to head to the Midwest for another training camp, like we did last year. We try to get to low-altitude in August. Right now we’re looking at Marquette as our training destination, and we’ll try to collaborate with Team Birkie on some sessions out there. And then we’ll be going to Park City camp in October, like we always do, to join the many clubs from around the country and the U.S. Ski Team for their [fall] camp. And then we’ll probably get on snow early here in Montana or in BC as the snow flies.
FS: How much crossover is there between the collegiate group that you have joining in the summer and the Montana State University (MSU) program?
AN: Historically there are not many MSU kids that stay in town [over the summer]. This year I think we have two MSU kids in the college training group, so that’s great. If there are MSU athletes in town, we try to prioritize them to get them onto the team to keep them within the community. But a lot of college kids go home, whether it’s Alaska or back east or the Midwest. But we do have some good crossover and I have a good relationship with Adam St. Pierre and the university. We use their facilities all the time – we just did a round of testing on the rollerski treadmill at MSU – so it’s handy to have those types of resources nearby.
FS: I know you’ve also got the Jim Bridger Trail Run coming up this summer, and there is a new rollerski race component. Can you share more information on that?
AN: We’re doing our first ever Jim Bridger Rollerski Race at the end of July, which is paired with our annual trail run. I’ve been working with the town of Bozeman to shut down a city block behind where the MSU campus is, and we’re going to be hosting a crit-style rollerski race on the weekend in downtown Bozeman.
We have prize money for that, and we’re getting some great sponsors on board. So that’ll be a cool event.
FS: Can you also talk about how that event supports the BSF Pro Team?
Yeah, absolutely. Like I mentioned, we as a Pro Team essentially need to raise $150,000 each year just to get the [athletes] to all the races and try to cover their expenses. That is a travel budget, a wax budget, everything – and that needs to be raised on an annual basis. For us, the Jim Bridger Trail Run is one of our biggest fundraisers.
It’s an incredible amount of work. It’s a weird part of my job to be a coach, but also an event organizer. There’s a lot of weird things that go into being a ski coach. But, if we can make the Jim Bridger event big and successful, we can actually raise a lot of money for our budget. So that’s why we put so much attention and effort into it. It’s also a good chance for us to partner with local sponsors to raise money for the Pro Team, because all proceeds from these events go directly to the Pro Team.
So historically, it’s just been a trail run, but this year I wanted to add a rollerski event for a couple reasons. One: I think it’s a huge development tool for BSF. We have so many talented youth skiers in this town. I want them to kind of be exposed to this type of high-level rollerski racing that we see in Europe. We see it all over Norway and Sweden and Germany; we need to have high-level rollerski races here in the U.S. So my secondary goal is to have this be an annual thing, where people know there’s going to be a quality rollerski race that’s super exciting to watch, fun to participate in, there’s going to be prize money and sponsors, so we can make it an annual thing and have it tied in with all the different clubs throughout the West. I’m hoping teams from Sun Valley, Park City, and all over the West will bring their athletes here to compete in this rollerski race on July 30th in downtown Bozeman.
FS: And they’re staggered, right? So people could do both theoretically?
AN: Exactly. The rollerski race is on Saturday, running races are on Sunday. The running race is 10 miles, but we also have a 5k option for the younger kids. And we have U16, U18, U20 and open class for the rollerski race. Swix and Salomon are sponsors of the event, and we’ll be getting a race rollerski fleet from Swix, so these are going to be matched rollerskis for the open men and women, so it’s going to be a legit rollerski race.
We’re hoping to livestream it too. TBD on that, but check the BSF Facebook page for live streaming.
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