With the 2014/2015 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S. and Canada, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review.
Rosie Brennan, USST B-team, Alaska Pacific University
While Brennan’s success at the international (World Cup and World Championships) level earned her the accolade of Breakthrough Skier of the Year last week, the 26-year-old Park City, Utah, native racked up her second-straight FS award — this time in the Continental Cup category.
The word “dominant” got a bit overused when it came to Brennan early last season and right up through U.S. nationals before she headed overseas to Europe. Her performances required a stronger adjective.
The Alaska Pacific University (APU) skier reached the podium seven times in the first two months of racing, winning three out of four SuperTours and three straight races at nationals. Her streak, culminating in Houghton, Mich., made her the winning-most skier at a U.S. nationals since her teammate and U.S. Ski Team veteran Kikkan Randall won all four races at the 2010 championships in Anchorage, Alaska.
“I’m so happy that I can make my weakness a strength and to be able to get three titles, that’s huge for me,” Brennan said after winning the freestyle sprint in Houghton for her fifth-career national title. “It’s by far the best week of racing I’ve ever had in my life.”
Of the first eight races of the season (including nationals), Brennan won six and finished fifth in the skate-sprint SuperTour opener in West Yellowstone, Mont., and third in the 10-kilometer skate in Houghton.
“I’m just the happiest when I’m with [my team] racing,” she said at nationals, about four months after her father passed away. “… Of course, I wish my dad could be here to see it — he would be ecstatic.”
Before nationals, her results throughout the first two SuperTour weekends punched her ticket to the World Cup for Period 2, starting in Otepää, Estonia, a week after nationals. She subsequently qualified for World Championships, finished the season as the SuperTour leader and was named to the U.S. Ski Team’s B-team this month.
Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, Bend Endurance Academy
Another Dartmouth grad and one of the most recognizable skiers on the U.S. circuit, the 29-year-old Blackhorse-von Jess, sometimes known as “Von Ballcap” for his affinity for racing with a backwards baseball hat, is our men’s Continental Skier of the Year.
The 2014/2015 SuperTour sprint winner, Blackhorse-von Jess finished the domestic season third overall behind Kris Freeman (Team Freebird) and Lex Treinen (APU), respectively. Both he and Freeman made it to World Championships in February, where Blackhorse-von Jess earned the last qualifying spot in the classic sprint and went on to place 30th overall.
In his first-ever World Championships race, Blackhorse-von Jess briefly led his quarterfinal up the first of two hills.
“I didn’t really mean to take the lead up the first hill, but I wanted to be in the top few coming down the hill,” he recalled. “The first thought in my head was, ‘Damnit!’ … I thought somebody was moving on the outside and I was hoping they would hammer around and take the lead. They didn’t do that.”
He finished less than three seconds behind the winner of that heat and described his World Championships debut as “incredibly fun.”
But before Blackhorse-von Jess made it to the World Cup and then World Championships, he established himself as the man to beat on the SuperTour circuit — winning both the classic and skate sprints at U.S. nationals. He started the season with a skate-sprint win in West Yellowstone, and placed fifth the next weekend in the classic sprint in Bozeman, Mont.
In Houghton, Blackhorse-von Jess wore the burden of bib No. 1 in the classic-sprint qualifier and plowed through more than half a foot of fresh snow. He qualified second and went on to win the final by six seconds over U.S. Ski Team D-teamer Ben Saxton.
A few days later, he topped the skate-sprint qualifier at nationals by 3 1/2 seconds and edged APU’s Tyler Kornfield in the final by just over a second.
Regardless of whether Blackhorse-von Jess made the World Championships team, he emphasized that his season revolved around his sport’s essence and camaraderie.
“There was a great photo that [Zach] Caldwell took of Sylvan [Ellefson] and I after he won his 30 k championship [in 2014]. Looking at that photo, that’s what ski racing is,” he said in Houghton. “That’s what kept me in the sport for so long and that’s why I’m still here.”
Chelsea Holmes, Alaska Pacific University
After leaving Sun Valley, Idaho, to return to her home state of Alaska, Holmes kicked off the 2014/2015 season with two straight SuperTour distance podiums.
Third in the West Yellowstone opening distance race — the 10 k skate — behind Brennan (her APU teammate) and Stratton’s Katharine Ogden, respectively, Holmes finished second to Brennan in the 10 k classic mass start one weekend later in Bozeman.
The Girdwood, Alaska, native went on to notch silver in the U.S. nationals 10 k freestyle, 12 seconds behind winner Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg) and less than a second ahead of Brennan. Also in Houghton, Holmes finished fourth in the 20 k classic mass start and fourth again in the skate sprint for her career-best sprint at nationals.
Holmes, 28, finished the season as the SuperTour distance leader and was second overall after Brennan.
Michael Somppi, formerly of the Alberta World Cup Academy/Canadian Senior National Team
The top-ranked male Canadian distance skier who didn’t go to World Championships, Somppi, 26, consistently put himself at or near the top of the NorAm podium this season, winning both the skate sprint and skate mass start at Western Canadian Championships.
At the following Eastern Canadian Championships, he won the skate sprint, and placed second in the 15 k skate and third in the 15 k classic mass start behind his teammate Kevin Sandau, who won both races.
Somppi then jetted to Sweden for a World Cup start in Östersund and raced the Scandinavian Cup circuit in Latvia and Estonia (with a top result of 21st in a 30 k skate mass start) before returning to the World Cup in Lahti, Finland.
“The take home message for me was racing against Norway is really hard and I need to continue to improve my fitness if I want to be finishing in the top 10 in Scandinavian Cups and top 30 in World Cups in the near future,” Somppi wrote on his blog.
He wrapped up the season at Canadian Nationals on his home course in Thunder Bay, Ontario, racking up three wins and claiming the overall NorAm crown.
“Without question it was the most consistently strong racing season of my life,” Somppi wrote.