Aspen’s Olympic Nordic skiers eye Sochi | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s Olympic Nordic skiers eye Sochi

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Count the days.

February is not far away; nor is the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The official kickoff for the Winter Games in Sochi will be Feb. 7.

Aspen's early kickoff to the Olympic year and the World Cup ski season was held Saturday evening at the Limelight Hotel. The Countdown to Sochi program highlighted three Aspen Nordic racers as they begin the quest to represent the United States in Russia this winter.

Noah Hoffman, Simi Hamilton and Michael Ward — all three with deep ties to Aspen — will be competing for Olympic spots on the U.S. Ski Team. Hamilton, who competed in Vancouver, is bidding to make his second Olympic team.

Hoffman, coming off a strong season a year ago, also will be in the field when the U.S. Nordic skiers head to Russia.

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He and Hamilton are Nordic ski racers; Ward is bidding in the Nordic Combined discipline, which includes ski jumping.

They met with their Aspen supporters and fans in a benefit Saturday evening at the Limelight that included a movie featuring the three Aspen Nordic ski racers.

A silent auction also helped raise money for the trio's upcoming season through the Rocky Mountain Nordic Angels program, designed to support Nordic ski racers.

"The finanaciail support we get from Rocky Mountain Nordic Angels … they allow us to do what we do," Hoffman said Saturday night. "The U.S. Ski Team can't support all of our needs. This is an expensive sport, and with traveling all over the globe, organizations like Rocky Mountain Nordic Angels step in and help."

But there's more than the dollars, Hoffman said, surrounded by Aspen's enthusiastic band of Olympic supporters.

"The emotional support and the feedback we get from Aspen, the Roaring Fork Valley, the whole state of Colorado is just incredible," Hoffman said. "We are so fortunate to live in a place like this. These people are truly involved, truly invested in my success and my teammates' success."

Hoffman is a six-year veteran of the U.S. Ski Team coming off a strong season.

After a top-10 finish at the World Cup in Canada, Hoffman posted two top-15 results in the world championships.

Hoffman, competing in his second world championships, logged points in the 4x10K relay and the 15K freestyle race.

The Aspen Nordic skier also won his second national title last year in the 15K classic pursuit.

He's also coming off shoulder surgery to correct a troublesome condition that bothered him last year and in 2012, when he won his first national title. Hoffman also won a silver medal that year at the U23 world championships in Turkey.

Hamilton, who went from the Aspen Valley Ski Club racing program to Middlebury College, will ski on his second Olympic team. A three-time collegiate All-American, Hamilton finished 29th in the men's sprint at the Vancouver Olympics. He also was 64th in the men's 15-kilometer race. He teamed to take 13th in the men's 4x10K relay.

Hamilton, an Aspen native, is a former U.S. sprint champion (freestyle). He's also collected World Cup points in freestyle and classic. He scored five times in 2013 with a high finish of seventh place.

Hamilton also has a U.S. national title and nine junior national titles.

He's trained in Sun Valley and Park City with the U.S. Ski Team.

Michael Ward also honed his skills early with the Aspen Valley Ski/Snowboard Club. His father Craig Ward was on the U.S. Ski Team as a cross country racer for eight years.

Craig Ward also was the Nordic captain at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

After he was exposed to Nordic Combined at the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002, Michael Ward said he was hooked on jumping.

He started jumping with AVSC and eventually graduated to the big hill jumping program at Steamboat Springs. Ward was named to the U.S. Nordic Combined B Team last year.

He's hoping to step up to the A team and eventually the Olympics.

For Hoffman, the pressure of making the Olympic team is gone.

"I'm fortunate where I can look past just making the team," Hoffman said. "My goal is to be a top-10 skier this year in the Olympics. I'm excited for my first Olympic Games."

dstrode@aspentimes.com

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