CANMORE, ALBERTA — Jack Young’s home in Vermont is two miles from the Canadian border. So it makes sense that he skied like he was right at home in Canada on Saturday, in a smoking fast finish in his first-ever race on the World Cup—the top-level circuit that saw him lining up against a bevy of Olympic medalists.
Young, 21, placed 11th in the qualifying round of Saturday’s sprint race in Canmore, and 23rd in the final. His qualifier made him the second-fastest American, slotted him ahead of Norwegian stars like Erik Valnes, Even Northug and Harald Østberg Amundsen and earned him the adulation of his U.S. teammates.
“It was a lot of hugs, a lot of expletives,” Young said afterward. “It was a pretty fun, happy scene.”
His U.S. teammates were much more emphatic.
“That was insane,” said Murphy Kimball, a 17-year-old Alaskan who also made his World Cup debut Saturday.
“I was speechless to see that,” said Ben Ogden, a fellow Vermonter and sprinter. “Jack Young is crazy,” added Gus Schumacher, another proven American talent. “So sick to see a truly legit sprint result.”
“Oh, my God. Unbelievably stoked,” said Julia Kern, a veteran U.S. sprinter. “Popping off an 11th is just unreal.”
Young, a junior at Colby College in Maine, grew up in northern Vermont and was a football quarterback through high school.
He began skiing in a youth program called the Bill Koch League. In junior high school, he started training with the club at Vermont’s Craftsbury Outdoor Center—where coaches, he said, once helped motivate him through a long run by dangling gummy bears out a window of a team van.
His results have picked up in the past three years, he said, and early this season, he won a qualifying round at a national level SuperTour sprint race in Anchorage, which he called a huge confidence boost.
“Just knowing that I can be the best in the U.S. on a day—meaning that I can hopefully mix it up here,” he said after Saturday’s race.
At the World Cup, Young said he wasn’t expecting to make the heats, which required him to place in the top 30 in the qualifier. “But I knew I could do it,” he added.
Once he made it into the heats, Young got a little advice from Ogden, who shared some tactical insights from his own race.
Young’s heat included heavy hitters like Chappaz, Amundsen—who’s the leader of the overall World Cup standings—and Switzerland’s Janik Riebli, all of whom had slower qualifying times. He was waiting for those competitors to line up at the starting gates until he discovered that as the fastest qualifier, he was supposed to go first.
“I was just standing there,” Young said. “And someone was like, ‘Come on, Jack, get your skis on.’”
The racing itself, he added, felt much more normal.
His heat, like many others, started slow, with participants waiting until the top of the last hill to make their moves. Young finished fifth out of six, but he said he felt “in the mix.”
“It’s just a real validation,” he said. “I always have been looking at World Cup result, curious, like, ‘If I were to get this start, where would I be?’ And now, I know that I can mix it up with these guys.”
Kern, the veteran U.S. sprinter, said Young’s result is impressive not just on its own, but also underscores the level of skiing in her home country—and the value of bringing the World Cup circuit to North America, which provides opportunities to new U.S. talents.
“I think there’s a lot of people who, if they were given the chance—that can really just bolster your confidence and help you make that jump,” she said. “It’s so cool to see that the depth is there in the U.S.”
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.