Nordic Notes with Noah Hoffman: Letting skiing provide a little direction
January 10, 2018
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The second time I attended the U.S. National Championships, the tagline for the event was "Road to Torino." The Olympic quadrennial makes it easy to keep a timeline of events. Working backward, my first U.S. Nationals a year earlier, with the memorable tagline of "Licensed to Chill," must have been in 2005.
Here at the conclusion of another nationals, I have found myself relating to the hundreds of high school- and college-aged skiers swarming Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska. Each of us have different goals and are at vastly different places in our ski careers, but all of us are trying to do the same thing: put together good races that represent our hard work and preparation.
At the "Licensed to Chill" championships I was 15 years old, I had never raced at the national level, and I didn't know anyone competing besides my Aspen teammates. Consequently, when I looked at the results, I simply looked at myself compared to the names I knew. My personal results sheet consisted of approximately five names.
By the 2006 championships, when the top skiers were vying for a spot on the Olympic Team, I was highlighting all of the skiers on the results with my year of birth, 1989, next to their name. My personal results sheet had grown to 20 or 30 skiers. In the subsequent years my list continued to grow. First, it included all skiers under 18, then all under-20 skiers followed by all under-23 skiers. Eventually my horizons expanded to view the results as they are printed, no names removed.
Now when I look at the U.S. Nationals results, I try to imagine how they fit on the world stage. How would the winner have done today on the World Cup? Are we, as a country, skiing at a high level?
As I look back on my career, I realize that my expanding results sheet represents my expanding view of the world. I have grown along with my results from a self-centered teen to a big-dreaming 28-year-old trying to find my place in a large, fast-paced and unequal world. For so long I have viewed skiing as a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. I imagined my life as a long travel day with way too many layovers. Each flight has a takeoff, some time spent at cruising altitude and a landing, but each segment is completely independent from the others, besides the fact that they each (hopefully) get you a little closer to where you want to be. I thought of my ski career as the first flight of what will be a long day.
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I am now starting to see the world differently. Skiing has not been my first flight in a long series of flights, it has simply been the wheels leaving the ground on the first, and probably the only, flight of the day. I see now that this flight started long before my skiing career. The loading, taxiing and accelerating down the runway happened during my childhood in Evergreen and Aspen. Skiing got me into the air and as I go up the world is rapidly expanding beneath me, but I still have farther to climb. Skiing, like the mountains surrounding Sardy Field, has provided the necessary direction to takeoff, but as I climb above the ridges, I am realizing that my next question will be which way to head. I will stay on the current path of skiing for a little longer — I haven't cleared all of the mountains yet — but as the sky opens up, so do my possibilities.
As I look around these "Road to Pyeongchang" national championships, I am so grateful to this sport for providing me, and so many others, a little direction as we takeoff.
Editor's note: Nordic Notes is a weekly column written by Aspen-raised cross-country skiers Simi Hamilton and Noah Hoffman as they compete on the World Cup circuit ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.