Stifel U.S. cross-country ski team member Novie McCabe recently won the Gold Rush Award. This award is given to the Nordic Olympic woman who “has represented the U.S. in cross -country skiing and has demonstrated outstanding qualities of grit and grace throughout the year.”
Past recipients include Rosie Brennan, Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, Sophie Caldwell Hamilton, Jessie Diggins, and Julia Kern. The past recipients choose the next award winner, so it’s quite a prestigious field which selects the winning candidate. McCabe was chosen by those athletes as the woman who best personified those values.
McCabe had her best finish in a World Cup individual race this last winter taking 14th place in Falun, Sweden, and finishing 7th at the daunting hill climb in the Tour de Ski at Val di Fiemme, Italy.
McCabe has overcome injury and illnesses to reach these heights — obstacles which might have forced a less determined athlete to back off, or give up. But the former University of Utah skier’s resolve held firm; she soldiered on, and eventually broke through with career best performances.
FasterSkier had a chance to catch up with McCabe while she was home in the Methow Valley, Washington, where she was generous enough to talk with FasterSkier’s Ken Roth about winning the Gold Rush award, prior seasons’ difficulties, and overcoming obstacles.
(This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity)
FasterSkier: Where are you?
McCabe: I’m at home in the Methow Valley.
FasterSkier: You still consider the Methow Valley home?
McCabe: I don’t know! I’ve been living in Utah for school and I’m moving to Anchorage in a few weeks. It still feels like home since my family still lives here.
FasterSkier: Is that a permanent move; to Anchorage?
McCabe: I’m planning on being there for a long while. I’m joining APU (Alaska Pacific University Ski Team) I’m very excited about it.
FasterSkier: That’s news. Can you tell me how the decision to join APU came about?
McCabe: I spent part of last summer and the summer before training with APU and really enjoyed it. I like [Erik] Flora a lot as a coach. It’s a fun and productive vibe, which I really like, and I really like Anchorage. It also feels a little closer to home. Those were all factors. I trained with SMS T2, it was so fun also, there are many great club options in the U.S., but Anchorage felt a little closer to home than Vermont and that’s nice too.
FasterSkier: Have you graduated from University of Utah?
McCabe: I have still have some classes to take. I plan on finishing by next spring. All of the remaining courses are online, so I’ll go to school online while I’m in Alaska.
FasterSkier: The Gold Rush award you won has some pretty high benchmarks and the nominators are a prestigious group of past winners. How does it feel to be chosen by that group of women to represent the U.S. ski team by showing grit and grace?
McCabe: I’m obviously very honored to have been considered by all of them for the award, because I feel like I’m so lucky to have so many great women to look up to. Being surrounded by them…trying out World Cup for the last two years has been really inspiring for me. I always have all of these role models to show me how things are done and have given me a good idea of how I want to carry myself on hard days and on successful days of racing. I’m really proud to be part of that group of women. It’s definitely special that they chose me for the award.
FasterSkier: Do you think that the grit and grace you displayed was something you picked up on; that you were mentored by those women?
McCabe: Definitely. I don’t know if I would say that I displayed grit and grace, but…I think it’s very nice that people thought that. But those are two qualities that I see all of the time in the whole women’s team. They are really two qualities that we embody as a team, so I think that is definitely a huge part of it.
FasterSkier: Part of your backstory for the award is coming back from shoulder surgery at the beginning of last calendar year. What kind of surgery did you have?
McCabe: I had surgery to repair my labrum, and a few other things in the shoulder. I was having dislocations all of the time, so I had to get everything tightened up.
FasterSkier: Was that from a fall?
McCabe: Yes. I originally fell roller skiing and dislocated it. It was fine for about a year, then I fell again roller skiing and it was kind of fine for a little while, but then started happening a lot.
FasterSkier: So… you done with roller skiing?
McCabe: (Laughing) Not quite, although I was close to calling it there for a while.
FasterSkier: How hard was the rehab?
McCabe: It went very smoothly. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve been really lucky throughout my career, apart from that [injury], I haven’t had any major injuries to deal with. I didn’t really know what to expect, but everything went really smoothly. It definitely took a while. It was frustrating to start the training year not being able to use my arm… but I knew that’s just part of it, and everyone get’s injured. I had great P.T.s to help me the whole way and good surgeons at Utah. I feel I didn’t lose too much fitness in the summer because of it.
FasterSKier: So you made training adaptations during recovery?
McCabe: Yep. I did a lot more running, and Flora was a big help even though I wasn’t officially an athlete on APU. He was really helpful in coming up with some alternative training to do. It was a good introduction to Anchorage.
FasterSkier: What helped you stay positive post-surgery?
McCabe: I came home after surgery and spent time with my family which I love to spend time with. I was bummed to miss out on Bend camp two years ago, its definitely sad to not be with your team and not be training hard, but I think it was helpful to be a little removed from it, to be in the Methow [valley] doing my own training and I feel that helped me feel confident in what I was doing. My mom also had the same surgery along with a lot of people in my family. Maybe it’s a bit of a genetic thing? She had good advice for me. I think I had it a little easier than some other people with that surgery. I feel it was a pretty quick rehab.
FasterSkier: Isn’t that similar surgery which kept Lyn Svahn out for so long? Were you ever worried that would be the road you were going down, being out for a long time?
McCabe: I knew going in what the timeline was, I feel they gave me an accurate timeline. I was planning on being back to roller skiing in the summer. It was disappointing when it was June, and I couldn’t roller ski yet. In the grand scheme of things, I think it was early enough in the summer where it really didn’t matter that much.
FasterSkier: So, is the injury completely behind you?
McCabe: I haven’t had any trouble other than I’ve lost a lot of mobility. So, I’ve had to work on getting that back. I’ve decided this summer I want to work on getting all that back again. I don’t think I still struggle with anything major from the injury.
FasterSkier: You also had to deal with illness this last winter. Can you talk about that?
McCabe: Maybe I don’t have the best immune system. Illness has definitely been one of my biggest roadblocks. I struggle with what seems like getting sick constantly, and it’s a bit frustrating. I feel like I’m getting sick all the time but realize that seen from the outside people probably think I’m sick a normal amount. This last season I got sick a few times, and the timing wasn’t ideal. I was struggling with staying motivated when I had to keep resetting my training, missing competitions, and not having good lead ups to races. That was definitely a bit frustrating. It’s part of skiing; but it was a bit more than usual.
FasterSkier: Was it Covid related?
McCabe: I had Covid in the summer and fully recovered. There were other lingering colds that were hard to recover from mid-season. I was at the World Cup for the first month and been sick before we left for Europe. I raced in Finland, then got sick, then was sick for Lillehammer, then raced Beitostolen, then got sick, and then I decided to go home and race nationals. It was a bit annoying (laughing), I couldn’t really figure out what was going on. I also got sick before U23s, that was also frustrating. After that I stayed healthy for the rest of the season, then my shape got better as I had some more consistent training behind me.
FasterSkier: Were the U.S. nationals your first racing since the initial illness?
McCabe: Yes, it was my first racing since Beitostolen.
FasterSkier: You had some really good finishes at the U.S. Nationals. What do you see as the biggest challenge in translating high level finishes at the U.S. Nationals into high level finishes at the World Cup?
McCabe: I think it sometimes translates easier than we tend to think in the U.S. When you’re in good shape…you’re in good shape! In World Cups you start so fast, you’re red line from the beginning and that’s shocking for sure. It’s maybe a different style of racing, but I think if you’re racing well and in good shape in the U.S. that you can go over there and be in good shape as well, which I didn’t think before this year. The style of racing is different and more aggressive for sure, all of that comes with practice and time on the World Cup.
FasterSkier: Does the level of competition impact things?
McCabe: It is in terms of competitions. But I think in terms of feeling good, feeling confident, and racing fast, I think that you can be racing well in SuperTour, go over to the World Cup, and have some really good results. I think people in the U.S. are totally capable of doing well at [the World Cup] if they’re doing well at SuperTour. People are racing at a high level in the U.S. too.
FasterSkier: What’s the biggest adjustment in going from domestic racing and joining the World Cup?
McCabe: Everything is way more official and feels like a way bigger deal. There are more nerves involved, at least for me. It feels like a bigger undertaking… and there’s pressure, especially if you’re not there all the time, and you have one chance to perform. I like to think that it’s still fun and a cool experience in the same way that racing SuperTour is. There’s such a cool culture surrounding SuperTour in the U.S. and our domestic circuit and skiing in general. I feel the U.S. team carries a lot of that into Europe and into the World Cup. Every time I’ve gone over there, they’re always so welcoming and help people integrate, so it’s not the most stressful and shocking thing in the world.
FasterSkier: Is it possible to have fun everyday when you’re racing the World Cup circuit?
McCabe: Definitely not, but it’s not possible to have fun every day when you’re racing the circuit in the U.S. either. There are going to be really tough days, you’re not always going to feel good, but I think you can have fun the majority of days. It gets mentally tiring when you feel like you’re not performing the way you expect yourself to. I’ve had a lot of fun taking each race as a new opportunity and trying to get slightly better. I’ve had a lot of fun with that. Yesterday I was 40th and today I’m trying to be 35th or make a lot of process goals. There are more opportunities for growth in that way which makes it kind of fun.
FasterSkier: Can you share your goals for this coming winter?
McCabe: I would love to podium at U-23s. Honestly one of my goals is to wear the green jersey on the World Cup for a while (best under 23 years old) or do my best to win that. It’s definitely a bit of a reach, but I was very inspired by Ben Ogden doing that this year. With smaller nations we might have a bit of an advantage because we get younger people on World Cup consistently because there isn’t such a massive battle for starts all of the time. I would also love to be more consistent on World Cup, be in the top 20 sometimes, and just learn things…figure out training, figure out racing, and figure out staying healthy.
FasterSkier: How’s your training going so far this spring, anything new?
McCabe: One of the main things is I’m just trying to be consistent —that’s kind of general, but instead of having really massive weeks, and then really low weeks to recover. I hope that will help me stay healthy and absorb more training. Paying attention to the simpler things…recovery, and that I absorb all the training that I do, going into every session with intent. I’m also really excited to train with such a good group in Alaska, that will make me really motivated for this summer and fall.
FasterSkier: It’s early in your career, but what would your highlight race be so far?
McCabe: Oh man, that’s hard.
FasterSkier: So, let’s make it multiple choice. You were 18th in a race in the Olympics, top 15 in World Cup in Falun, and seventh in Val Di Fiemme at the Tour de Ski, which one of those are you most satisfied about when you look back?
McCabe: I think out of those three maybe the top 15 in Falun. The Olympics were amazing… but Falun, because it was a Classic race and I haven’t historically considered myself a good Classic skier, and it came together for me there. I also had just come from NCAA championships where I was racing a strong field of girls, and it was cool to come from that and realize that we’re racing at a high level at the NCAAs also. It felt good to pull off a good result on the World Cup because I hadn’t before. I was stoked to prove to myself that I could be top 20, and it left me feeling really excited.
FasterSkier: What do think about your performance at Val Di Fiemme that was able to propel you into the top ten?
McCabe: I kind of always considered that type of skiing as one of my strengths. I really like just being able to settle in. In some ways it’s easier than skiing a transitioning course because you just settle in and go as high as your body will let you. We kind of do a lot of that kind of thing in training also. I also had really good skis, and Sophia [Laukli] shot up to the front when we first started climbing, and I thought, ‘I’m gonna try and do that too.’ I was very inspired by that. It was a good day for me, and a good discipline and it all worked out. That was so cool, especially for Sophia to have a good day too (Laukli finished third on the day).
FasterSkier: Earlier you mentioned that your mom had similar surgery. Your mother, (Laura), was an Olympic Cross-Country skier as well. Has she given you any advice which has stuck with you?
McCabe: She was my coach for quite a while growing up; which was great. But I feel like these days she gives me advice when I ask for it, but otherwise she kind of stays off it and is my mom— which I appreciate too. She shows up to races and is there as my mom, and I really love that. Through the way she goes about things and lives her life, I feel I’ve learned a lot about skiing, she’s such a positive person and enjoys everything all of the time, and I think she was the same with skiing. She really loves skiing and I think that’s why I fell in love with it growing up. Her approach to skiing and being outside, enjoying life, just being very resilient in general, has taught me a lot that applies to skiing as well.
FasterSkier: How old were you the first time you were on cross-country skis?
McCabe: Oh gosh, I honestly… have not idea, maybe two or three. When can kids walk? It would be then.
FasterSkier: Your age group at the World Cup will be the first wave of female athletes to go most of your careers under the equal distance format. Any thoughts on equal distance? Are you surprised it took this long to get there?
McCabe: I’m a big supporter of it. I think it’s really cool that we finally have gotten there, and I think that we should have gotten there a long time ago. It’s great that we’re there now, and I think that the first year of it was a massive success. For the most part people had really good things to say about it. I’m really excited for that to be part of my career going forward.
FasterSkier: Did any of the distances that you might not have skied often before present difficulties?
McCabe: I really enjoy 20-ks. It really didn’t feel much different. It was honestly really fun and pretty entertaining. It’s enough time for things to get strung out, but it still keeps it exciting.
FasterSkier: What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about being on the road?
McCabe: My favorite thing is probably being with my teammates. Everyone on the team is so great and so supportive. I feel very lucky to have that—maybe not lucky because people work very hard to create that. Least favorite; is getting sick, being isolated, it’s kind of tough, but it happens to everyone!
FasterSkier: On your bio on the U.S. team’s page, it says that you have a fondness for Trader Joe’s snacks. What’s your favorite?
McCabe: Oh… it’s chili lime tortilla chips. They’re super good. They’re like Takis (rolled corn tortilla chips), but the Trader Joe’s version. I’m going to struggle without those in Anchorage.
FasterSkier: No Trader Joe’s in Alaska?
McCabe: No, they don’t, it’s awful (laughing). I might have to have some shipped.
FasterSkier: Thank you so much. It has been a delight speaking with you.
FasterSkier would like to thank Novie McCabe for taking the time to speak with us, and thanks to the Stifel Cross-Country team for facilitating this interview.