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Fun and Games

Courtesy New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA)

This piece originally appeared in Cross Country Skier’s 2019 Photo Annual (Winter 2019) as the Editor’s Note.

Even though my racing career has ended—or at least been paused—I try to keep in touch with the people who influenced my development as a skier. It could be because, in so many ways personal and professional, skiing has helped shaped my life. Justin Beckwith is one of these people. He was my Nordic coach at Green Mountain Valley School, where I spent my junior and senior year of high school as a day student. Beyond our coach/athlete relationship, we traveled together, raced together. He’d give me advice on topics from essays, to summer jobs and even college applications. Now, 10 years later, every once in a while, we grab a beer together.

After nine years at the school he is now the Competitive Program Director for the New England Nordic Ski Association, or, NENSA.

Last summer, over a couple of those beers at the Mad River Barn in Waitsfield, Vermont, Justin and I were discussing the United States’ recent Olympic success, the rise and occasional fall of elite ski programs across the country and what the future of skiing held. In spite of his career at high-level, bigger programs, his take is that the key to U.S. Nordic success will remain in small, family-organized and homegrown programs.

“It’s always been dedicated individuals—who create exceptional and often tight knit clubs—that have produced athletes with the drive to follow their dreams,” he said. He praised community members like John Ogden in Southern Vermont for developing young skiers who go on to have national and international success. “At best,” he continued, “most children aren’t paying attention to much detail, but just chasing fun and trying to move fast. There is plenty of time for them to get serious later. But the fundamentals come from these kids and neighborhood teams—and they are vital to the success we are having on the international stage.” Small programs make big success. Makes sense to me.

And, today, I’m finding my own chance to follow in his tracks, coaching Bill Koch League this year. Fatherhood will also be a new experience for me this spring. Surprisingly, the Cross Country Skier ski test last spring provided a taste of what coaching could entail. As a dozen testers and I were waiting for a photographer to show up in front of the Rikert Nordic Center, we all, very instinctively, reverted to what we’d all done when we were coming up: We played a game of sharks and minnows. It’s still as fun as it was when I was 10 years old. And, hopefully, when my kids—my own or the ones I coach—grow up, they’ll remember the fun, and maybe their coach.