January 05, 2011 (Rumford, Maine) – I have always loved sports writing, and especially Nordic journalism over the course of over thirty plus years. In recent times I am no longer coaching or traveling to JOs, or going to every ski national, or announcing at many local races.
There are so many wonderful new faces on the scene which fills me with boundless hope and encouragement about skiing and our potential in the global community. There was a time when I knew just about everyone in the sport by name, but now realize there are fewer skiers from the latest generation that I’ve actually come to know well. I find this so encouraging as it demonstrates that the programs across the USA are bigger than ever and I wish I could know each and every one of them.
With that in mind, I tracked down Aspen, Colorado’s Noah Hoffman for a sit down interview in his motel during the 2011 US XC Ski Nationals – one down, 500 skiers to go.
As he readies for the serious task at hand of racing at the 2011 US Cross-country Championships in Rumford, Maine, Noah Hoffman seems remarkably calm and collected. This Aspen skier, who hails from Evergreen, CO, is at once both calm and confident when it comes to racing. His eyes, looking directly at me, are bright and youthful.
The “Hoff” skis out of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and is coached by former US Olympian John Callahan.
At 21, he’s already a veteran of the World Juniors and U23 Championships and is ready to meet the challenges of this week, while embracing all the possibilities that loom before him.
Bitten by the Bug
Hoffman started xc skiing in the seventh grade in Aspen. He was a multi-sport athlete and enjoyed the wonderful diversity sport engenders.
“I always felt like I had more talent for endurance sports, despite the fact that I love soccer a lot and tennis, too. I could have seen myself as a competitive tennis player. So I was bummed when I gave it up.
“I didn’t really focus on skiing over running until my later years in high school. I guess it was first running and then skiing.”
Now despite all his training for cross-country skiing, Hoffman loves to cycle (road and MTB), alpine ski and still hits a mean tennis ball, I’m told. Running came naturally to him.
On the Virtue of Patience
“I would say patience is something that I have struggled with for sure it’s something that I have tried to learn, and I am still learning. Kikkan [Randall], along with [Andy] Newell and Bird [Kris Freeman] are all so good at that. So patient. So relaxed. Taking everything in stride. I think there a lot of lessons to be learned from them. Last year was a pretty frustrating year for me and I struggled to take it well.”
On Last Season
Hoffman figures he didn’t ski up to his potential last year, and naturally it bothered him.
“I think mostly it was changes in my training that didn’t necessarily give me the gains I was looking for. My technique focus was not at the same place – or as good a place – as it is this year. I am on a brand new program this year working with Zach Caldwell… and that has been awesome. I really feel like the focus is on maximizing my speed for the length of time I need to ski fast. How do you ski fast over 15, 30 or 50km, as opposed to being able to produce speed over 100 or 200 meters and at what cost? I’m also doing way less intensity training than I did last year and really focusing on energy management, and volume, and having a base – and having something that I will be confident in … my aerobic fitness.”
“Almost once a moth this summer I went down to Boulder to work with Zach for three or four days at a time – and got to work with him. We would do six sessions in a row, morning and afternoon, and then I would go home. In those six sessions I felt like I made tremendous gains and was able to solidify some of those gains over the month I was home. I think it worked really well for me. I am really happy with the way that all turned out.
“Now I am skiing more fluid and, well… it’s all about skiing without tension, without pulling on any one muscle group and all while being relaxed. The whole goal this year was being able to get into my aerobic capacity. Last year I felt like my fitness wasn’t that far off, but I was not able to utilize it all. I would get so tense. So the goal this year is ‘how do I ski, without getting in my own way?’ For me it’s all about feeling. Watching a video of myself does nothing for me,” he said with a grin.”
On Being on the European World Cup This Year
The pace, the travel, the crowds, perhaps even the hero worshipping can make the first several trips to Europe a daunting experience, so we wondered what he’d learned.
“I guess I’m learning to relax, and treat a World Cup race like any other. The pace is the biggest thing. I mean in the US there’s a bigger gap. Depending on where you fall on the seed list you can blow by the four people in front of you, and still not have a fantastic race, and not win it. Whereas, over there, if you catch your 30-second man you’re probably going pretty fast, because nobody is slow over there.
“So even in an individual start race and especially in a mass start race just it takes getting used to how fast everyone is and how fit everyone is. You just can’t ski away from people, which is a completely different mental deal. In all the races, especially earlier in the trip at Gallivare and Kuusamo, I felt like I was flying but I was just going the speed of everyone else. It’s kinda tough mentally to say ‘why am I not passing people, I am going so fast.’ It’s something you have to get used to.
He’s also keen on seeing new places and all the travel the sport affords him.
“I have spent so much time looking up to him and I’ve really taken a lot of his ideas and worked them through with Zach – he has a lot of experience working with Kris so it helps. I have never beaten Kris, though I hope I can someday and he is racing so well right now. He’s a role model for me.”
“I love to train and I love feeling like I am out working hard, even though this year I’ve had much more rest than last year. Sometimes in the past I’ve over done it – you need to rest. I haven’t really trained at all since I came back from Europe and now I feel super recovered and super ready to go. Hope it translates into some fast skiing on Wed. and the next days here at Nationals.”
Looking at his computer he adds, “I have trained 594 hours so far.” Noting that he really has no specific number in mind to meet.
Hoffman and fellow Colorado skier Tadd Elliott have already pre-qualified for the USA’s U23 Worlds team, and he’d like to make the USA Nordic World’s team as well. It looks like it will be a busy winter for him.
When asked about the Sochi 2014 Olympics he said, “Yes, I want to be on that team, but it’s not just about being on the team – I have performance as my goal.”
Hoffman would like to go to college and perhaps even ski on the circuit. “I think my dad will be happy to hear that,” he added with a large smile.
Life in the world of skiing has already been on a pretty fast track for this young man from Aspen, and one thing’s for certain – he’s enjoying the ride.