Aspen’s John Callahan to coach U.S. at junior worlds |

Aspen’s John Callahan to coach U.S. at junior worlds

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Published: John Callahan leads by example while coaching his Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club nordic team charges. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

ASPEN ” Noah Hoffman is looking forward to saving on phone bills.

Aspen coach John Callahan is excited about the prospect of returning to nordic skiing’s “major leagues,” if only for a few weeks.

Both student and teacher eagerly anticipate a reunion at one of the sport’s most prominant events.

Hoffman, the former Aspen High standout who trains with the Sun Valley, Idaho-based Olympic Development Team, has already secured a spot on a U.S. squad that will compete in the World Junior Championships in France in late January and early February. Callahan, nordic program director for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and a former Olympian, will also make the trip to Le Praz de Lys, as a member of the U.S. coaching staff.

After years spent turning down scores of similar offers, Callahan said the timing was right and this opportunity too enticing to pass up.

“I’ve known for a couple of years that I wanted to do this, but it’s hard to pull the trigger,” said Callahan, an Aspen native who is in his fifth year at AVSC. “With my family and my job here, it’s hard to pull away in the winter for two weeks. … But if there ever was a good time to do it, now is the perfect time.”

“It was just a matter of him making a decision ” there was no way they wouldn’t accept him,” Hoffman added. “There’s no better option.”

Hoffman has been working with Callahan since his sophomore year at Aspen High. That was when Hoffman said he began seriously pursuing a nordic career after years spent participating in multiple sports.

In the years since, Hoffman has distinguished himself as the country’s top junior skier. That success was capped with a victory in the Owl Creek Chase last winter and his selection to the U.S. Ski Team in May.

To this day, even as he regularly confers with several Sun Valley, Continental Cup and U.S. Ski Team instructors, Hoffman refers to Callahan as his “main coach.” He and Callahan make all final decisions with regard to training and competition schedules.

“If not daily, we talk at least five times a week,” Callahan said last Wednesday. “Just last night, we talked about race strategy.”

“He’s definitely gotten good at knowing how I’m feeling and what I need,” Hoffman added. “He knows me so well. His coaching philosophy and training philosophy that we’ve used so far has seemed to work out really well. … I trust him. Absolutely.”

So does current AVSC star Scott Lacy. So much in fact, that the 17-year-old, who has visions of nabbing a spot on the country’s junior worlds team (he’d be the first Aspen High student to do so while enrolled, he said), opted for one-on-one training with Callahan this fall instead of running cross country.

“That quality of training goes beyond anything I could get right now with the whole team,” said the high school senior, who was recently accepted to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “Working one-one-one was extremely beneficial. … We’ve gotten to a level where we understand each other. If I’m having a bad day, I don’t really have to tell him. He’ll see it. … A couple hundred hours spent together in rain, snow, wind and all that will help build a good relationship.”

With a strong result at the National Championships in Anchorage, Alaska, in the first week of January ” the J1 skier will be lining up against 19- and 20-year-olds ” Lacy could nab one of five remaining male spots on the country’s junior worlds team. He’ll have a better idea about where he stands this weekend when he travels to Steamboat Springs for a Junior Olympic qualifier, a race in which United States Ski and Snowboard Association points will also be up for grabs. Hoffman and other top skiers are expected to be in the field.

Should events unfold as planned in the coming weeks, Callahan could join as many as three AVSC skiers, past and present, overseas. Simi Hamilton, currently skiing for Middlebury College (Vt.), is expected to be in Le Praz de Lys to compete in U23 races, which run concurrently with world juniors.

“The possibility that three AVSC guys will be there this year, I might never have a chance like that again,” Callahan said.

After receiving backing from his family and the club, Callahan decided now is the time to return to France. He was a member of the U.S. Ski Team from 1990 through 1994 and made his only Olympic appearance in 1992 in Albertville. The Winter Games’ nordic venue, Les Saisies, is only about 60 kilometers from Le Praz de Lys.

“If I get a day off, I’d love to go over there and ski the trails again,” he said. “It’ll definitely bring back some memories.”

The trip will be his first to Europe in nearly 15 years. He coached with the U.S. Disabled Team in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994, and traveled to Spain as part of the country’s world university team staff one year later.

“This is my 12th year as a coach, and it’s a nice perk to get back over to Europe, get back to the major leagues, I guess,” Callahan said. “Even though I’m not competing, I’m totally excited about getting back to that arena again.”

Lacy and Hoffman are thrilled that they will see a familiar face when they enter unfamiliar territory.

“We’ll be in a foreign country with a foreign language and 50 teams from other countries will be there, so it will do a lot especially to have a coach there, not just a friend,” Lacy said. “You trust the skis, trust the warm-up and trust the advice you’re getting from him. … He’ll definitely make things easier to deal with.”

“It’ll be great to have him there,” added Hoffman, who will be making his second world juniors appearance. “It’s going to be really fun. … He’s obviously very qualified for the job, one of the most qualified coaches in the country.”

While he contends his strength is in waxing, Callahan said he is willing to take on any job ” from shuttling the van to handing out water on the course.

He’s prepared to do whatever it takes to make the most of this opportunity, one he contends is a “one-time deal.”

“I really love coaching high-school-age kids and running the program here at AVSC. I have no designs on changing that,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for me to go over there and see the best juniors ” see their techniques and learn from their coaches. I’m hoping to pick up stuff from other teams and nations that I can bring back here to AVSC. That’s a huge bonus for me personally and for the club.”

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