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Fireside: A Couple that Skis Together…

by Adam W. Chase

“Since skiing and other outdoor sports are so much a part of who we are, I think it would be impossible to marry someone who didn’t have that same passion,” exclaims Tracey Cote. “Since Patrick and I like the same activities, we spend a lot of time together. We’ve solved many a relationship dilemma and solved the problems of the world together skiing, running, paddling and even biking.”

Tracey and Patrick Cote of Waterville, Maine are the golden couple of New England’s Nordic skiing community. They have earned that title by giving back to the sport that brought them up and brought them together.

Parallel Tracks

At four years old, Tracey started skiing when her father threw her family into Nordic skiing because it was so much cheaper than alpine. “My first fun race was at age six where I was the only girl,” she recalls, and then explains an annual family event: “The highlight of the year was skiing the Korteloppet (the shorter version of the American Birkebeiner in northern Wisconsin.”

At Northern Michigan University, Tracey ran collegiate cross country and trained with elite level skiers. “I had good coaching; I learned solid technique and how to train,” she says. “Although my teammates had much more impressive results and much more racing experience than I did, I was able to make the team and eventually qualified for NCAA Division of Nordic nationals.” She was also voted most valuable player of their nationally ranked cross country running team.
While attending graduate school at the University of Wyoming, Tracey raced on the Atomic Ski Team, placing second overall three years in a row at her childhood favorite, the Korteloppet, and finished 12th in U.S. Nationals in the 5 km classic race—seconds out of the top ten.

After graduate school, Tracey accepted a job coaching Nordic skiing at Maine’s Colby College. She considers coaching college skiers her greatest Nordic accomplishment. “Skiing has made such a big impact on my life and influenced its direction; now I’m a part of making that happen for other young people,” she says. “It’s amazing to see how my skiers develop as athletes throughout their four years at Colby College, but more amazing to see how they develop as people. Skiing gives them an avenue to develop physically, mentally and socially.”

Patrick’s ski background parallels Tracey’s. At age six, when his parents bought alpine equipment for a Christmas present, Patrick was too young for ski lessons at the local ski hill…so his parents traded the equipment in for Nordic gear. After participating in local youth racing for several years, Patrick opted for high school at Gould Academy, where Dick Taylor coached the team, as well as a handful of elite-level and U.S. Ski Team athletes—resulting in a fourth place Junior Nationals finish during his senior year.

Bouncing from the University of Vermont to Dartmouth, Patrick finished 17th and 22nd in the N.C.A.A. Championships. After college, he placed fourth in the Lake Placid Loppet in 2000 and 2001, tenth at the California Gold Rush, and second at the Craftsbury Marathon. Patrick then turned his energies toward serving as the Director of Programs for the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA).

Crossing Paths

The pair met first at a rollerski race, but only briefly. Four winters ago, they were both asked to instruct at a coaches’ clinic at Sugarloaf, Maine. “Patrick was skiing for a year when I was coaching, but neither of us knew the other one existed,” Tracey notes. “He is five years younger than me, but much older in maturity.”

Both Cotes trained and skied together daily until June’s arrival of their son Caden. Now they do more trading off on the training front. “He’s been especially helpful in my quest to come back from pregnancy and having our son,” she says. “I tend to not be very patient and will lean towards over training. Patrick has kept me more realistic and effective in my training by doing things like insisting I take two weeks off after delivery.” After Caden’s birth, Patrick put his own training on the back burner so Tracey could prepare for fall racing.

Waxing, though, is another game. Patrick laughs, “She’s a lot better at waxing than I am, and she takes better care of her skis. I wish that I could talk her into taking care of mine!” But Tracey is not about to do so. “I like to have everything just right; I’m much more detailed. It takes a lot of time, and it’s tough enough to spend the time doing your own,” she states. But then she admits, “If we’re at a race together, we definitely collaborate on what wax to use. Patrick approaches waxing and racing much more laid back than I do; I really admire this in him.”

In addition to ski racing, the Cotes enter adventure races together and Tracey individually at the professional level, with the 2004 United States Adventure Race Association National Championship title to her credit. She loves racing with Patrick in long races. “Whenever I do a race without him, I miss him the whole time,” she says. “It’s just so much more fun to share a long race—like 6 1/2 days of the Primal Quest—with your significant other.”

Setting Tracks in Maine

The Maine Nordic community is important to the couple. Tracey notes that the “ski racing here is so organized, high level and there are so many opportunities for people to be involved in Nordic skiing at so many levels.” And Patrick counts himself lucky to be involved intimately with the Nordic community through NENSA.
It is obvious that Caden will be raised Nordic skiing. Given Tracey and Patrick’s longing to duplicate some of the fond ski experiences they had as youngsters, Caden will be introduced to the sport early on. “I never felt so alive as on a crisp, clear, sunny day with my skis gliding over the snow. I can’t compare the feeling to anything else I’ve ever done—it’s still those days that top off all my athletic experiences,” Tracey explains. “I’m sure that if we continue to live in Maine, skiing will certainly be a big part of his life.”

Patrick soundly notes that the couple does not intend on pushing Caden into Nordic racing one way or another. “He is a very active and observant kid, so we know that he would love watching the scenery go by from a sled or from a Baby Bjorn carrier, but we want to be careful not to put our recreation and enjoyment above his comfort and safety,” he states. “I am sure he’ll own a pair of skis as soon as he can walk, but as far as competition goes, that will depend on what he wants to do. Tracey and I both found our own way into the sport with wonderful support, but no pressure from our parents, and we hope that we can follow their example.”

For this couple, skiing has enriched their lives. “We try not to get bogged down in the day-to-day politics of skiing, since we both work full-time in the sport and don’t always have the same point-of-view on skiing issues,” admits Patrick. “But we certainly have gotten to know each other really well on some of our long skis.”