David Norris Does it All: Steamboat Springs Coach Heads to World Championships Fresh Off Birkie Win

Ben TheyerlMarch 1, 2023
David Norris (USA) crosses the finish line to win his second American Birkebeiner. Norris now heads to Planica, Slovenia to participate in the World Championships this week. (Photo: American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation).

The coaching staff for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC) huddled around a tinny iPhone speaker set out on a wax bench. It was the last Rocky Mountain Junior National Qualifier of the season in Aspen, Colorado, but there was no illusion about where the main event in North American skiing was last Saturday. On the American Birkebeiner live stream, Adam Verrier and Dennis Kruse delivered the news that one of the coaches usually found at the Steamboat benches this season, David Norris, had broken away on the Powerlines—four kilometers into the 50 k race. The Steamboat coaches turned the speaker off as Norris ducked into the Wisconsin woods 8 k into the race, confident in the conclusion. They, after all, had kick wax to test. In Wisconsin though, Norris was on his way to holding his move all the way to Hayward, winning the second Birkie of his career.

A Birkie win has traditionally served as a cap on the season for American skiers. For Norris though, the next stop after crossing the finish line on Main Street wasn’t the Birkie Bash or the Sawmill Saloon. Instead, he was bound for a flight to Planica, Slovenia, where he is expected to start in this weekend’s World Championship 50 k Classic for the United States. 

There have been World Championship skiers who have won the Birkie, and Birkie winners who have competed at World Championships, but never have the two categories been traversed in the same season, or same calendar week. For David Norris, it’s a unique accomplishment that captures the essence of a unique chapter in his skiing journey.

That journey has been a whirlwind through all the different registers of the sport. After a heart-breaking near miss on an Olympic bid last year, the details of which Norris covered with FasterSkier’s Rachel Bachman-Perkins last March, Norris announced his intention to retire from international racing last spring. He decamped to Bozeman, Montana with his partner Jessica Yeaton and her family, where he hopped into and won fixtures of the western citizen race circuit, taking first in Sun Valley’s Boulder and Bozeman’s Crosscut 30 k. The step back gave Norris a moment of clarity, “I just realized that I ski because I love it not because of one single goal or because I’m trying to prove anything to anyone or, you know, make one person proud. It was good, just to ski and enjoy it” he told Bachman-Perkins last spring.

When Yeaton’s clinical rotations brought the couple to Colorado last summer, Norris quickly reached an agreement to join the coaching staff at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, a position that he wrote to FasterSkier felt like it would allow him to reach his new “big goal” in skiing, “ensure that training never compromised work, family events, and fun stuff with friends.” Still, Norris had plans to continue racing in some capacity, “I hoped to race at Nationals and the Birkie when I took the position in Steamboat.”

David Norris (USA) and his partner Jessica Yeaton (AUS), both won the 2022 Tour of Anchorage last spring. (Photo: Instagram @jjyeaton)

With his new job, Norris adjusted to a new type of training lifestyle, “[mainly] exercising with Jessica before and after each work day—I knew that would allow me to stay in solid shape this winter.” He also adjusted to a new kind of rewarding experience in the sport; coaching. “It has been an incredibly positive experience” he wrote. “It’s so cool to be invested in all these athletes’ results more than my own and to think about their training and well-being.”

Norris sat on the sidelines for the early part of this season, fully leaning into his new role. When Nationals came to Houghton though, he hopped back into the race. In the opening 10 k skate in Houghton, he finished third overall, and was two seconds off a National Championship. He followed it up by taking second in the 20 k classic later that week. In retirement, it turned out, Norris hadn’t missed a beat.

David Norris (USA) on his way to winning the Alley Loop, in full attire, in Crested Butte, Colorado earlier this month. (Photo: Xavi Fane/Crested Butte Nordic)

Still, Norris remained focused on coaching, and on finding the kind of fun he had doing citizen races at the tail-end of last season. In early February, he hopped in on a western collegiate race when the circuit came to Steamboat Springs, and took third place in a close 20 k classic. Immediately after, he and Jess Yeaton drove five hours south to Crested Butte, Colorado, where they both won the 42 k Alley Loop the next day, fully decked out in a customary Alley Loop costume. 

Days later, the announcement came from USSS that Norris was nominated to his third consecutive World Championship team, after having scored top 20 results at both Seefeld 2019, and Oberstdorf 2021. In a season where Norris had shifted to doing everything, and racing, the results still spoke for themselves. Plans didn’t stray from the fun-searching attitude that had got him there, though, and so last weekend, Norris still lined up for the Birkie. Now, he was using it as a final tune-up before the World Championships.

“I [was] really grateful to the [Steamboat Springs] Winter Sports Club for giving me the time off work to compete still,” and the Birkie win was “really meaningful to me” Norris wrote to FasterSkier. 

David Norris (USA) skied to 16th overall in the men’s 50 k Classic at the 2021 World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany. (Photo: NordicFocus)

As for Planica, Norris is in the same mindset. “I’m excited for it all!” he wrote. “I thought I was done competing in Europe so now that I have these opportunities I am going to race as hard as I can and no matter what I’m committed to enjoying the experience.” With his historic pedigree as one of the United States best long distance racers, Norris is expected to start the 50 k marathon that closes out World Championships later this week.

Even with the best in the world on the horizon this week though, Norris still has an eye ahead to using the opportunity to participate, and enjoy, the many different unique experiences that the sport of skiing, and life more generally, has to offer, “I’ll be racing Holmenkollen and hopefully a few events at SuperTour Finals when we take some athletes to [Craftsbury] Vermont. After that, I’ll try to make a smooth transition to running and begin a busy summer racing calendar if everything works out. I’m taking some spring business classes that I’m really excited about as well.”

In short, then, David Norris’ retirement plans: doing it all, and enjoying it too.

David Norris (USA) sips champagne atop the American Birkebeiner podium last Saturday. Norris heads to World Championships this week. (Photo: (c) 2023 American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation)

Ben Theyerl

Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing and skiing while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.

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