That guy rollerskiing around Utah by himself? Yeah: it’s 5x Olympic champ Johannes Klæbo

Nathaniel HerzSeptember 20, 2023


Johannes Klæbo trains Saturday in Park City. (Nathaniel Herz/FasterSkier)

PARK CITY, UTAH — Five-time Olympic champion Johannes Høsflot Klæbo could be cross-country skiing’s answer to Michael Jordan — a bona fide sports superstar in his home nation of Norway, where photographers and fans tail him after events.

But to the up-and-coming ski racers in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, and their parents? Klæbo is just another dude on the local trails.

“The novelty has, sort of, worn off,” said Silvester Williams, a junior athlete who trains at the former Utah Olympic venue at Soldier Hollow, outside Park City. He added: “Not in a bad way. But it’s like, he’s been accepted into our community in a way where people just forget to care.”

In the past year, Williams, 16, has been chased by Klæbo in a sprint workout and labored to keep up as the nine-time world champion let youngsters tag along on an “easy” workout. His mom is friendly with Klæbo’s dad, Haakon, and knows all about the extra-athletic pursuits of Johannes’ siblings.

The reason? Klæbo has adopted Park City as a home away from home.

The Norwegian paid his first visit to the ski resort town in 2022, and has been drawn back for two more trips this year for a host of reasons: the benefits from training at Park City’s 7,000-foot elevation; its forgiving weather and trails; its chill vibes; and a local physical therapist who’s become a key year-round support.

“I like being here,” Klæbo said in an interview Saturday, sitting at the dining room table of the expansive Park City home he’d occupied for much of September. “It’s just quiet and easy.”

Listen to our podcast interview with Klæbo:

The affection is mutual: Klæbo and his dad seem to have made a positive impression on just about everyone he’s encountered in the U.S. — particularly the junior skiers and parents in and around Park City. He’s held clinics at Soldier Hollow where, a local news outlet reported, he “signed every poster, t-shirt, roller-ski, baseball hat, ski boot, ski helmet, and water bottle handed to him, and then posed for individual photos with every single participant.”

And even as a Norwegian, he’s also had an open door at the U.S. Ski Team’s own training center in Park City.

Those who have met them in Utah say the two Klæbos are disarmingly normal, and genuine.

Johannes Klæbo stands with his father, Haakon, during a water break on a rollerski workout Saturday. (Nathaniel Herz/FasterSkier)

“They’re great people,” said Amanda Williams, Silvester’s mom. “And they ingratiate themselves into whatever community they’re in.”

Park City has long been a destination for top ski racers, and this month, Canadian national team members and top Swedish and Finnish athletes are all holding camps here.

But Klæbo brings an extra dose of star power.

The 26-year-old has seven Olympic medals to his name, and is already described by some of his peers as one of the greatest cross-country skiers of all time. Klæbo has 435,000 followers on Instagram, an endorsement deal with a professional cycling team, shoes branded for him and his own line of hair styling products available for purchase by anyone aspiring to mimic his famously immaculate locks.

Klæbo’s business makes roughly $1 million a year, according to its annual reports. But his Park City setup is more family ski weekend than international sports sensation.

His posse, when he arrived in Utah, was just one guy: Haakon, a former telecommunications marketing consultant who is now Klæbo’s manager. And driver. And chef. And publicist. Klæbo’s girlfriend, Pernille Døsvik, joined them midway through the camp.

On Saturday, as his son finished a rollerski workout, Haakon juggled all those roles, heating up leftovers for Klæbo’s breakfast — chicken and potatoes — on the stove while on hold with a rental car agency sorting out changes to a reservation.

The house was rented, Haakon said, noting that they got a good deal. He’s responsible for the grocery shopping, which involves navigating Klæbo’s allergies to gluten, milk, and eggs — though the duo came supplied, by Klæbo’s grandmother, with eight loaves of gluten-free bread she baked.

“We’ve just been this normal family,” Haakon said.

After finishing his workout Saturday, Klæbo jumped in the shower and ate a quick breakfast while Døsvik went into town to shop for clothes for a quick trip the couple planned to Las Vegas.

At the dining room table afterward, he said he first planned a training trip to Utah in 2020, before the coronavirus intervened. He knew it was at high altitude — a staple of Klæbo’s training plan — and he was ready to try “something else.”

The autumn weather is good, warm and dry, and the terrain is varied, making it easy to schedule both challenging and easy workouts. And there are few distractions. In Norway, Klæbo can barely go to the store or walk down the street, Haakon said; in Utah, beyond the die-hard skiers at Soldier Hollow, he’s essentially anonymous.

Johannes Klæbo, U.S. skier Kevin Bolger and Swedish skier Maja Dahlqvist rollerski through downtown Park City on Saturday. (Nathaniel Herz/FasterSkier)

Park City is eight time zones behind Norway, so once Klæbo’s friends go to bed in the middle of the day in Utah, “it’s not many people to talk to,” he said.

“You just kind of be in your own bubble, and you do the things you need to do. I like that part, as well,” Klæbo said. “After being here last year for the first time, I said, ‘This is going to be my place for altitude training.’”

A bonus for Klæbo comes in the form of Megan Rowlands Stowe, a physical therapist from Wisconsin who, a few years ago, sold her clinic and retired from a career working with NBA basketball stars.

She now lives near Soldier Hollow and, after offering to help Klæbo with a leg injury during his Utah stint last year, has been flying back and forth to Europe to treat him.

There are also local elite athletes that Klæbo can train and mingle with. Last summer, University of Utah cross-country skiers hosted him for a barbecue, then took him to a college football game.

They also supplied him with GPS maps of some of the best rollerskiing routes in the area, said Luke Jager, who graduated from the university this year.

“We all got around the table and we were arguing about which turns you’d make on the bike path,” Jager said.

Now, at the end of his third trip to Utah, Klæbo no longer needs the maps: On his afternoon rollerski Saturday, an easy workout with American Kevin Bolger and Swede Maja Dahlqvist, Klæbo led them around Park City’s roads and bike paths like a local.

“It’s impressive, his knowledge of where to go — the loops and the shortcuts,” Bolger said afterward.

Johannes Klæbo and Kevin Bolger rollerski together during an easy workout Saturday. (Nathaniel Herz/FasterSkier)

The irony of Klæbo’s warm welcome in Park City is that he’s in a very different situation in Norway.

Amid a dispute with the national ski federation there, he’s declined to re-join Norway’s national team this year. That means he’s locked out of the country’s Olympic training facilities — even though he’s expected to be one of Norway’s top athletes at the 2026 games in Italy.

“If an athlete has not signed an agreement with the Norwegian Ski Federation on representing a national team, the athlete will unfortunately not have the opportunity to train at Olympic Top Sports Centers in Norway,” Espen Bjervig, the federation’s cross-country skiing director, said in a prepared statement.

In Park City, meanwhile, the American ski association has allowed Klæbo to exercise at its own Olympic training center, which both he and his father were quick to point out.

An association spokesperson, Courtney Harkins, said in a statement that the organization has a history of hosting elite athletes outside of its teams at the training center, “whether from the NBA, NFL, other Olympic sports and more.”

“We were happy to host Klæbo while he was in Park City and have him train alongside our athletes,” Harkins said.

Klæbo said he appreciates how kind and helpful Americans have been during his visit.

“That’s why I keep coming back,” he said. “I love the place.”

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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