Aspen skiers up the ante on the Upper Peninsula |

Aspen skiers up the ante on the Upper Peninsula


HOUGHTON, Mich. Leave it to Noah Hoffman to make one strong impression.Last year, the cross country skiing phenom distinguished himself as one of Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s and Aspen High School’s most prolific athletes. Hoffman, the top skier in the country for his age, has won state championships (he swept both state Nordic races in 2006 and 2007 and took first in the cross country running title his senior year for good measure), traveled the world and garnered national acclaim. The 18-year-old, who deferred from Dartmouth this fall to focus on training with the Sun Valley, Idaho-based Olympic Development Team, collected another accolade on New Year’s Day. Hoffman, still just a junior skier, took on the sport’s upper-echelon athletes on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – and gave them quite a scare in the process.

Through 4 kilometers of the 10K freestyle at the U.S. Cross Country Championship in Houghton, Hoffman outpaced all of the Americans in the field; he trailed only Russian Olympian Ivan Babikov, and by less than 5 seconds.While he couldn’t maintain the advantage and wound up eighth, Hoffman took one more step toward his goal of earning a spot on the U.S. Ski Team’s developmental squad. And he had coaches throughout the country buzzing.”Me and the coaches were talking, and they never remember a junior placing this high,” AVSC Nordic program director John Callahan said Tuesday. “For him to be skiing that fast, it was an exceptional result. He was leading for most of the first lap, and it was fun giving him the splits. … He’s not far off from being able to lead wire to wire.”The result even made the perpetually-humble Hoffman pause. “I continue to improve and have stayed healthy so far this season,” said Hoffman, whose results helped him secure an invite to both the World Junior Championships in Poland and to the upcoming World Cup distance events in Alberta, Canada. “I started fast, maybe a little too fast, but held on pretty well. It was certainly the best result for a junior in the last 10 years at least, and that is good.”Hoffman’s finish was hardly the lone bright spot during a week in which AVSC cross country skiing’s past and present collided at the Michigan Tech Nordic Training Center.

Simi Hamilton, 20, a former AVSC standout and current student at Middlebury College in Vermont, took fourth in the freestyle sprint; he was third among U.S. finishers. Aspen High School junior Scott Lacy was fifth in his age group in the 10K skate in his first trip to nationals.”He’s such a good athlete that I’m never surprised when he skis well,” Callahan said of Hamilton. With Hamilton and Hoffman, AVSC nordic skiers have ranked first in the country for the past four years. “He had an off year last year. He was focusing on his studies, and this year he’s really figured out how to balance everything and is getting back into ski racing again. … Then he pops a race like that.”Sure, Lacy said he’s been to bigger events, but never had there been so much at stake. “It was amazing to ski next to the U.S. Ski Team, all the reps, all the big guys,” he said. “You get to see the shear top of the sport all the way down to juniors. It was quite an experience. It motivates you to train, and psyches you up to ski fast.”I definitely cut it close making the international team because of some bad results.”Lacy was well positioned after his top-five finish in the skate. He struggled to get acclimated to racing at sea level, however, and, to make matters worse, developed a cold. Two mediocre results in his final two races cast doubt on Lacy’s hopes of earning a spot on the Scandinavia Cup team – only six male and six female J1s in the country receive the honor.

In the end, he was the final skier chosen to represent the U.S. next month in Estonia.”It hasn’t quite hit me yet, but I’m glad it worked out,” Lacy said. “At the team naming ceremony, when they call you up, you’re standing in front of the other top athletes from college and the U.S. Ski Team. To get recognized as one of the up-and-coming athletes is quite a feeling of accomplishment.”As it turns out, I was the last American. I don’t plan on leaving [Estonia] as the last American.” AVSC was anything but last in Michigan. “It was fun to go up there,” Callahan said. “Having all three AVSC kids doing well really makes it a worthwhile trip.”

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