I’VE SKIED ALMOST AS LONG AS I COULD WALK
I didn’t really choose skiing; it’s been a part of my lifestyle for as long as I can remember. I live in Vermont where skiing is a standard after-school activity for most kids so I started from a really early age and by the time I was 5/6 years old I was already racing. After that, my high school was also a ski academy – that’s how I was able to train full time – and since then it’s been all eyes on the Olympics.
SOLO SPORT + TEAM MENTALITY = PERFECT BALANCE
Most people don’t realize this but, even though it’s a solo sport and we’re all in competition with each other, cross-country skiing is such a powerful team event. There’s so much banter, enthusiasm and drive – the energy is incredible. I think it’s that, along with the constant adventure and freedom of being surrounded by pure, unaffected nature that makes it so addictive.
ON HOW QUICKLY THE SPORT'S GROWING...
When you’re training, you get so much support along the way and it just keeps growing. When I joined Team USA in 2003, the ski team consisted of 6 people; now we have 20 athletes alone. As a country, we’ve improved so much over the past 2 decades. It’s incredible but the biggest factor is that we’ve learned to work together. In summer, the men’s and women’s teams train together and we’ve realized that by doing that and having each other’s backs, we can push each other as teammates and help each other to improve. The better they become, the better I’ll have to become to compete against them so it creates a really positive cycle. Plus, by improving as a team and knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses, it gives us an advantage over the international teams too.
'As international athletes, we spend 6-7 months of the year on coaches travelling around Europe chasing the snow and competitions so you become very close. It can be intense but we're lucky because we've been together for so long, it's like being in a big family and we’ve learned to make the most of that relationship so having that support is nice.'
IF YOU’RE DOING IT BECAUSE YOU LOVE SKIING, NOT JUST FOR MEDALS, I’D PICK THE WORLD CUP RACES OVER THE OLYMPICS ANY DAY
I always wanted to compete in the Olympics but honestly, when you go there, without sounding jaded, it is exciting but it’s so different from all of the other events we compete at throughout the year. You have to travel so far to get there, and there’s so much hype and pressure surrounding it that, as an athlete, it almost feels like it’s been built up for no reason and you kind of wonder ‘Why?’ What surprised me is that, actually, the terrain and competition isn’t as challenging as when we race the World Cups. Most of it is artificially created for the event, whereas, when we race the World Cups we’re surrounded by nature in its purest form, there’s a huge variety of different terrains – each with their own challenges – and the number of athletes competing is much larger too. It’s really exciting, whereas only 4 athletes can represent each country in the Olympics so, often, really great athletes miss out on going simply because of statistics.
‘Maybe the reason why people love it so much is because all of the teams come together, with all the different cool and quirky sports and personalities – it’s a whole new vibe - so it becomes almost like camp.’ Yes, definitely. It’s really cool and one of the things I appreciate most about it. It’s that one time of the year when your whole country comes together and you feel like you're part of a big team. Everyone starts caring and learning about curling and the cool, weird sports like that, and when you get there and see the massive crowds, all of the national teams and different sports coming together from across the world, you can’t help but be swept away by it and feel stoked to be there... the atmosphere, the drive of the athletes, the excitement of the crowd, how everyone unites on such an enormous scale… It’s pretty special to be a part of.
‘The most difficult terrain is in Italy, at the end of the Tour De Ski – it’s like the Tour De France for skiing. We race straight uphill for 6km on an alpine slope. It’s pretty hard.’
CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING VS DOWNHILL SKIING
Downhill skiing is such a popular sport today but people forget that cross-country skiing is the original snow sport – one of the first forms of winter transport ever! – and as well as being a great workout, it’s a lot of fun – mentally and physically challenging - too. When racing, we ski uphill, downhill, around corners and through different snow conditions. You need to be able to spontaneously navigate and conquer many types of terrain – nature changes so you never know what’s going to be ahead of you – as fast as possible and, out there in the cold, there’s no transport to save you; it’s up to you.
DID YOU KNOW… Cross-country skiing was the first type of skiing the Vikings did in historic Scandinavia? They’d scooch along in the snow with one big pole and glide on handmade wooden skis to fight battles, hunt and more.
DON’T BE INTIMIDATED BY CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
It still surprises me how many people want to try cross-country skiing but are put off; imagining it to be such a tough thing to do physically but they’re really missing out. They think that going cross-country skiing means going for a workout but I’d encourage them to look at it the other way around: as a way to have fun with your friends and family, get away from technology and enjoy nature. If you do that, you’ll have so much fun that you probably won’t even realise that you’re getting a great workout at the same time. Over time, your fitness will improve and you can use it that way but, to begin with, if you focus too much on the fact that it’s a challenging physical activity, you may never get out of the door.
INSIDER TIP: TO BECOME A BETTER SKIER, TRAIN WITH ROLLER SKIS
Roller skis are a brilliant tool to train with, especially in the summer or if you’re located far from snow. They resemble long roller blades and you can use the same poles and boots you ski with. We use them a lot and often have roller ski races – they’re a lot of fun but a bit dangerous because, with the wheels and the smooth pavement, you can go really fast. It’s absolutely crazy but if you love adrenalin sports, you’ll have a blast.
‘‘When the archer hits the bull, it takes him completely by surprise’ Definitely the best advice for life.’
I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME SOONER…
Appreciate the process of being a professional athlete and all of the amazing experiences that come with it – good and bad. When you’re young (early 20’s/teens), you think you’re invincible and all that matters is winning but as you get older you realise that if all that matters is winning medals, then that’s just one fun day for every 364 days a year. To be a happy athlete, you have to really love the sport itself – enjoy the training, the travel, the lumps and bumps, meeting new people and trying quirky new things… lots of things other than just winning and to embrace the athlete lifestyle.
Although to be fair, maybe they tried to but that’s part of growing up. You need to experience it for yourself to understand how important it is… One of my early ski coaches always said ‘When the archer hits the bull’s eye, it takes him completely by surprise.’ It took me a while to realise what that meant as an athlete but, essentially, he was saying that ‘If you’re focusing too much on the end result, you’re going to get distracted so when you succeed you almost want it to take you by surprise because you want to be so engaged in the process of achieving victory and not victory itself.’ I think that’s really important to remember: set yourself mini goals and enjoy all the things you’re achieving and discovering along the way. That way, win or not, you’d have had a great experience and known you did everything you could to accomplish that end goal.
I LOVE COMPETING AGAINST… THE NORWEGIANS
They’re so dominant in our sport right now that to go to Norway and win a World Cup would be like an Englishman going to America and winning the Super Bowl as a quarterback. You’re going to their backyard and their turf so to be able to beat them there would be an incredible accomplishment.
ON CAMPAIGNING AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE…
As an athlete, especially a winter sports athlete, I’m fortunate to travel to remote and beautiful places around the world chasing the snow. I love the sense of freedom and experiencing nature in its purest glory. It’s so changeable and unpredictable – that’s one of the things that makes cross-country skiing so enjoyably addictive. There are constantly new terrains to navigate, which is something very special, something to protect. I’ve always loved nature and been keen to protect the environment but, even being so aware of its changes, I never truly understood the effects of climate change or the impact that the global governments have on it until the years leading up to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. That was a huge surprise for me and was when I decided to become more active in campaigning to protect out environment.
The Olympics is an incredible thing but with that enormity and influence comes responsibility, not just to the temporary effects of hosting the event, the athletes and public etc., but importantly to minimise the long-term costs to the environment and nature. In their quest to host an amazing event, and also because both they and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) needed to make a profit, the Russians and the IOC ‘forgot’ this and they (and other governments) approved some very controversial (and perhaps borderline illegal) changes to the environment to facilitate the events. In my opinion, the Olympics should never have been hosted there. The problems essentially existed from the offset. The Russian Olympic Committee has no solid infrastructure in place to begin with, which put the organizers under immense pressure to find solid solutions to build the facilities to host the event – all thoughts of the environment were dismissed as long as the event was a success. They destroyed wetlands to build the Olympic villages, destroyed their National Forests to build the alpine ski areas and the cross-country ski trails, and caused much more devastation to the natural landscape – some visible, some not but all contributing to a devastating long-term environmental impact. It’s a perfect example of how bad decisions were made by people in power that knowingly put profit above common sense and environmental needs.
‘Forests destroyed in just a few days will take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to grow again and for the land to become fertile and nourished. People just see the lack of trees but that’s superficial. The true cost to the environment is much vaster… less pure oxygenation in the air doesn’t just impact the cleanliness of our environment or breathing, it has a direct impact on the rest of nature too. Birds, bugs, wildlife… they all play an important part in the cycle of life and protecting the environment; the o-zone layer grows weaker; and global warming continues to take an increasingly strong grip on the world, melting the natural snow, changing the weather and more… changes that will combine to create a monumentally devastating planetary change, affecting ALL OF US, IF we don’t work together to look after it NOW.’
Since then, I’ve become increasingly active in campaigning against climate change, working with Bill McKibbon (Founder of 350.org), a fellow cross-country skier and environmental activist, Protect Our Winters and other athletes to raise awareness and hopefully make sure that we don’t have stupid decisions like the Sochi Olympics happening over and over again.
‘Most people, especially those who live in the USA, live in their own little bubble. They go to work everyday and either don’t necessarily realize that so many of these big political decisions are happening without them knowing, or they’re too busy to realize what’s going on with the environment. However, as a skier, you’re outside in the environment every single day so you experience the impact first hand. The environment is changing so much, so quickly that now it’s got to the point that, as a professional skier, you’re racing on artificial snow 80% of the time. That’s shocking! Especially since, 20-30-40-years ago in Central Europe, many of the same areas held vast amounts of natural snow. Now they really struggle to hold any, especially the lower elevation venues.’
I feel like it’s my responsibility as a skiing athlete to make sure it’s vocalized and keep people involved. Let’s do it!