AVSC’s Hoffman, Maple nab spots on U.S. Ski Team | AspenTimes.com

AVSC’s Hoffman, Maple nab spots on U.S. Ski Team

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
AP | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Several people advised Noah Hoffman not to get emotionally invested.

While coaches openly expressed interest in the nordic skiing phenom, many warned the 19-year-old not to be discouraged if the U.S. Ski Team didn’t come calling this spring.

Easier said than done, the Aspenite said Monday.

“I’m not good at that kind of stuff,” Hoffman said. “I couldn’t act like this wasn’t a big deal.”

After a winter in which he routinely distinguished himself as the country’s top junior nordic skier, Hoffman finally got a call Saturday. Continental Cup Team coach Pat Casey left a telephone message informing Hoffman he had nabbed one of the national team’s coveted spots.

A familiar face will be joining him. Friend and fellow Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) standout Wiley Maple was named to the U.S. Ski Team’s alpine development squad. Maple is the club’s first alpine skier to make the U.S. squad since Jake Zamansky accomplished the feat nearly a decade ago.

The duo joins U.S. Snowboarding Team rider Jordan Karlinski of Snowmass Village as AVSC athletes who have risen to elite levels in their respective disciplines.

“This is one of those good news days,” said Alan Cole, the club’s director of marketing and development. “We’re thrilled with the success of both athletes.”

Hoffman, who couldn’t find his charger after his phone died Saturday, received Casey’s message Sunday morning. His parents were by his side.

“Looking back a year or two, if you had told me I’d make the U.S. team with one year left as a junior, I might not have believed it,” he said. “I’m psyched at how fast things have gone. … It’s an honor to be named.”

One year ago, Hoffman decided to defer from Dartmouth College to focus on training with the Sun Valley, Idaho-based Olympic Development Team.

It paid instant dividends. Hoffman held the lead through 4 kilometers in the 10K freestyle at the U.S. Cross Country Championships on New Year’s Day in Houghton, Mich., pacing a field of the sport’s most decorated athletes. His eighth-place finish is believed to be the best ever by a junior.

One month later, he humbled the field in the Owl Creek Chase and finished third in a U.S. SuperTour freestyle on the AVSC course. His season included wins in International Ski Federation-sanctioned events in Crested Butte and Winter Park, plus a seventh-place finish at the World Junior Championships in Poland.

Ski Racing magazine took notice, naming Hoffman the junior nordic skier of the year. So, too, did U.S. coaches, who approached the young skier at March’s United States Ski and Snowboard Association’s National Distance Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Little more than a month later, they invited Hoffman to join their team. The last AVSC nordic skier to make the U.S. team was current club nordic director John Callahan ” Hoffman’s coach. Callahan, who has been out of the country and could not be reached for comment, competed for the U.S. from 1991 to 1993 and participated in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

“I always ask my mom to legitimize what I’m doing. … Now I have something to tell strangers,” Hoffman joked. “When they ask if I go to school, I can say, ‘No, but I’m on the U.S. Ski Team.’

“I don’t think it has hit home yet.”

At the beginning of the season, Maple compiled a list of goals he hoped to accomplish. Among them was a spot on the U.S. Junior World Championship team. Maple made the squad and traveled to Formigal, Spain, where he posted a 15th-place finish in the super G.

Then came a top-15 finish in the final NorAm standings, a goal he also nailed.

Tops on the list was making the development team. In an interview with The Aspen Times in late March, a few weeks after his impressive win in an International Ski Federation-sanctioned national junior downhill on Aspen Mountain, Maple said he felt confident he would earn a spot.

That sentiment was further strengthened two weeks ago when, in talking to AVSC alpine coach Kent Towlerton, Maple found out he was on a short list of potential candidates.

Towlerton delivered the final word Friday.

“We played to his strength by choosing events and allowing to focus on his speed while developing his tech skills in slalom and giant slalom,” Towlerton said in an AVSC news release. “It was our plan all along and it’s nice that the plan worked.”

The list was complete.

“I checked them off one by one,” Maple said. “It’s a relief, but it’s also made me more excited. … I get the coat. Now it’s real.”

If the weight of the accomplishment has not yet hit home for Hoffman and Maple, it soon will. Next week, Maple will head to California for training camps in Mammoth Lakes and San Diego. He’ll fly home in time to participate in graduation before hitting the road once more.

The West Coast trip begins a whirlwind summer in which Maple plans to attend a camp in Mount Hood, Ore., and then spend the entire month of August in Chile.

Hoffman, too, will be racking up frequent-flyer miles. He’ll be splitting time between Sun Valley and U.S. team headquarters in Park City, Utah, and plans on visiting Oregon, the 2010 Winter Olympics venue in British Columbia and New Zealand this summer.

After a year in which his father defrayed many of the costs of traveling, Hoffman is eagerly anticipating financial security. The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation has already offered to pay half of Hoffman’s costs this year, and the U.S. Ski Team will likely pick up the balance.

“It makes me less dependent on my dad. He’s psyched,” he said. “The whole situation is really good … I’m really looking forward to this year.”

Last year Maple and Hoffman helped the Aspen High School ski team lock up an eighth state title. Now, they’ll compete for the U.S.

Sharing the experience makes things extra special, the friends said.

“It’s going to be fun to see how far we can go in this,” Hoffman said.