With the 2016/2017 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., Canada, and Europe, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This set of honors goes to breakthrough U.S. skiers.
Previous categories: Junior Skiers of the Year | Collegiate Skiers of the Year | Canadian Continental Skiers of the Year | U.S. Continental Skiers of the Year | Nordic Combined Athlete of the Year | Biathletes of the Year | Para-Nordic Skiers of the Year | Canadian Breakthrough Skiers of the Year
Chelsea Holmes, Alaska Pacific University
Domestically and internationally, the U.S. women have been on a tear. And waking up on winter weekend mornings, most fans of the sport scroll to the top of the World Cup results list looking for U.S. podiums. Breaking into that scene can be tough with both a top-loaded international women’s program and several skiers based stateside ready to make the European jump.
“Peak when it matters and ski like you mean it,” may as well have been 30-year-old Chelsea Holmes’s mantra this year. The Alaska Pacific University (APU) skier and Girdwood, Alaska, native won the overall SuperTour (granting her World Cup starts for next year’s first World Cup period), and won the U.S. nationals 20 k classic mass start in January at Soldier Hollow (SoHo) near Midway, Utah. Three days before that, Holmes initially made her championship presence felt as she placed second in the 10 k skate at nationals, finishing just 2.2 seconds behind the winner, Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg).
En route to her 20 k classic win, Holmes pushed hard from the start and withered chasers, including U.S. Ski D-Team member Katharine Ogden, who ultimately placed second.
Along SoHo’s terraced trails, Holmes’s blue-and-white APU suit remained in front, charging. After the race, Holmes was asked if she was concerned about bonking late in the race, a possible consequence of her steamrolling pace.
“It’s a waste to think about that,” Holmes said. “If I blow up, I blow up. I have to believe that I blow up less than everyone else.”
Those are the words of an athlete peaking and knowing full well they should have the confidence to take the “I might blow up” risk. Those risks brought reward: Holmes was named to the U.S. team for 2017 World Championships in Lahti, Finland.
Actually racing in Lahti was another story. Regarding the World Championships selection criteria, U.S. Ski Team (USST) Head Coach Chris Grover explained that selection would partially be based on “who we would start in which races in Lahti, because we absolutely want to fill every start spot, and we want to be able to have an alternate there in most cases as well, and that makes for some tough choices. Who’s skiing well domestically, who’s skiing well on the World Cup; it’s occasionally challenging to figure out which athletes are faster when they have the Atlantic Ocean between them.”
Holmes did get a Lahti start. But that start wasn’t guaranteed. Jessie Diggins (USST) was slated to start, as was Gregg, both former World Championship medalists. According to Grover, the remaining spot was offered to Sadie Bjornsen (USST) and then Kikkan Randall (USST), both of whom declined.
Score one for Holmes. On a tough Lahti course, Holmes looked like a 30 k start shoe-in. She finished 13th in the World Championships 30 k freestyle mass start, 1 minute and 28 seconds behind the winner, Norway’s Marit Bjørgen. It was her first top-20 result in a World Cup level race, in her World Championships debut.
Scott Patterson, Alaska Pacific University
Like his APU teammate, Holmes, Patterson also won the overall SuperTour and will be offered U.S. starts for Period 1 of the 2017/2018 World Cup.
Patterson’s breakout season was more of a prolonged emergence than a “here I am” statement. Certainly he was for real early on, but so were a dozen other skiers. In late November, he won a season-opening 10 k classic International Ski Federation (FIS) race in West Yellowstone, Mont.
A week later, the 25 year old from Anchorage, Alaska, placed third in the SuperTour’s opening distance, a 15 k classic also in West Yellowstone. Patterson followed that up with a win in the 15 k freestyle at the Sovereign Lake NorAm in British Columbia.
That’s a pattern and the beginnings of a breakout.
Patterson entered U.S. nationals in SoHo with low energy. Although his results were solid, they did not earn him a World Champs selection. His best result was a fourth place in the 30 k classic.
Illness-free, Patterson was later given a chance on the World Cup in early February. In PyeongChang, South Korea, he scored his first individual World Cup points, placing ninth in the 30 k skiathlon.
The week after World Championships, Patterson once again tackled a time-zone shift and Holmenkollen’s hefty course in Oslo, Norway. He emerged as the top American, once again in the points, placing 28th in the 50 k classic mass start.
Officially, we’ll call that a breakthrough, a big one.
Patterson maintained his form for the remainder of the season, proving in the domestic distance events he’ll willingly set the tempo and position himself for more international opportunities.
At the recently concluded U.S. Distance Nationals in Fairbanks, Alaska, Patterson took the crown in the 50 k freestyle mass start. He started the season-ending SuperTour Finals series with a win in the 20k skiathlon.
APU Head Coach Erik Flora noted both Patterson and Holmes were deserving of their 2016/2017 achievements.
“It was good to see Chelsea and Scott have strong international results this season,” Flora wrote in an email. “With more World Cup experience I see both being able to climb even further up the results. It is extremely hard to travel from the US to the Scandinavian or European World Cups and produce good results in only a few weekends of racing. The results are a testament to their hard work and dedication, plus it shows the level and depth in US skiing is continuing to build. All good things for the future.”
Honorable Mention: Joanne Reid (US Biathlon)
Here’s the response 24-year-old Joanne Reid gave for question 16 of FasterSkier’s 17 Questions for 2017: In 5 years, I’ll be ____?
“In the mountains somewhere, smiling at the sky. It’s actually pretty rare for me to know what I’m doing next month, let alone five years from now.”
Certainly five years is a long way out, but the Colorado-based skier should be myopic when it comes to the next few years. She’ll most likely be traveling the World Cup.
The new-to-biathlon NCAA champion earned her first individual World Cup top 30 this year, skiing to a career-best 29th in the 15 k in Östersund, Sweden. Turning 25 next month, Reid learned to shoot a rifle at age 23.
Honorable Mention: Jake Adicoff (U.S. Paralympics Nordic)
Jake Adicoff, 21, is a visually impaired skier on the U.S. Paralympics Nordic B-team. He finished the season ranked fourth in the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Nordic Skiing World Cup standings.
March brought several podiums for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) alumni. He won his first World Cup race, the 20 k freestyle, in PyeongChang, South Korea, where next year’s 2018 Winter Paralympics will be held. He went on to win the sprint in PyeongChang, then finished his season with another win (in the 5 k classic) and a silver (in the 10 k) at World Cup Finals in Sapporo, Japan.