Jessie Diggins Feeds the Stoke for World Cup Racing at Wirth in February 2024


Jessie Diggins is excited and inspired, and wants you to be, too. The cross-country skiing megastar, famously a product of Afton, Minnesota (pictured below), on Saturday morning returned to Theodore Wirth Park, in central Minneapolis, to talk about the pair of World Cup races that will be held there in mid-February 2024. Speaking with reporters and members of the local ski community roughly 30 miles west of her childhood training grounds, Diggins discussed what the chance to race at home means to her, and what she hopes that attendees will get out of the (notably free) event.

This is a selection of remarks from the press conference. Everything written in this article is transcribed accurately, but this is not the entirety of what was said on Saturday; with all due respect to Claire Wilson, leader of the Loppet Foundation, I prioritized Diggins’s thoughts here over anything else.

Read on to the very bottom for a bonus question separate from the press conference that USSS press graciously asked on my behalf.

Again, the races will be held at Wirth Park on Presidents’ Day weekend in February 2024. Presumably one sprint and one distance race, but no one can officially confirm that for sure yet. There will also be four races held at Canmore, in western Canada, the week prior.

The official World Cup schedule for the 2023/2024 season should be announced later this month. Until then, here are some fine photos of the press conference from Bruce Adelsman with SkinnySki to tide you over.

Claire Wilson, left, and Jessie Diggins (photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard)

Introductory remarks from Diggins:

I have loved racing at Wirth my whole career. And so it carries a lot of special memories for me. And every single volunteer, every single person, every single partner who’s making this event happen is making lifelong, career-long dreams come true. Not just for me and the national team, but for all the kids and families who are finally going to get a chance to experience a World Cup live and in person.

I would have given anything to see a World Cup live. And in order to watch World Cups when I was growing up, I watched VHS tapes in the basement with my dad, of races that had finished two years earlier. And I remember going, “I wonder who’s gonna win!” Like, this happened years ago.

This is so, so exciting, to get to share that inspiration, to grow the sport, to make it accessible to everyone in partnership with Share Winter. That’s incredible. …

It’s going to inspire so many people. It’s going to change lives. People are going to be inspired to learn how to ski, to get outside in the winter in this awesome state and states all across the country. It’s going to inspire people for the rest of their life.

So it’s hard to know exactly how far those ripples are going to spread. But I can say that, having gone to a World Cup, it has touched me. It’s changed my life. It’s changed the lives of all the people I know who have gotten a chance to experience that magic and excitement. So it’s really going to make a difference. 

photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

In response to a question about what’s noteworthy about the event:

What’s so cool about this event is the fact that it’s free and open to the public, thanks to Share Winter. I mean, imagine getting to see the best athletes in the world in a sport we love, getting close enough to reach out and touch them as they’re racing.

So in a sport like this, you have the opportunity to line the course with fans. There’s so many places to stand all around the course where you can — right on the side of the trail, like a front-row seat to the action. And then the fact that the day afterwards, you can go ski the trail yourself.

I mean, I liken it to if you go see a baseball game, and afterwards, they’re like, Hey, go throw around some balls on the field, why don’t you come down? That doesn’t happen in a lot of sports. It’s not that accessible, but it is here. And I think that’s so unique and special.

And so I think that’s one of the amazing things that we’re going to be able to bring to people is a chance to get inspired and use it as an opportunity to get involved in the sport. There’s so many awesome places all around the Twin Cities, starting right here with the Loppet Foundation, where you can learn to ski and get access to trails. And so I hope that a lot of people see this as an opportunity to feel inspired to get involved in the sport and sign the whole family up for lessons, join the youth ski league. I think it’s a really cool opportunity.

photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

In response to a question about, roughly, this being the first World Cup in the U.S. in 20 years:

Well, selfishly, I’ve always wanted to bring it back here to the community that raised me and gave me all these opportunities. Because I feel like I owe everything in my ski career to Minnesota and the incredible — just the welcoming, inclusive environment around cross-country skiing that has always made me feel so happy.

And I always say, my favorite thing about this sport is the people. It just makes you excited to get out there every day, even when it’s rainy and windy, you just get out there and you go train, and you just feel better afterwards for it. So the chance to have it here, and to kind of give that back to this incredible community full of such passionate people, that makes me really, really excited.

And the fact that we’re right next to a huge international airport; it’s in the middle of the country. It gets people from the east coast, the west coast, from Alaska, coming up from the south, it’s a meeting point right in the middle of the country. So what an awesome place for people to have access to this World Cup from all over.

photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

On what first-time spectators can expect from in-person World Cup racing, and what’s it like when there are so many fans out lining the course:

I love talking about this. My first World Cup experience: I was 19 years old; it was in Norway. I think there were like 20,000 fans, which I think we absolutely can have here. So I think it can be a very similar experience.

And I just remember thinking there was a wall of sound. Skiing around the course, the course was lined with spectators. There was yelling in many different languages. I remember smelling waffles, and hotdogs, and cook fires, and smoke, and food trucks, and hearing cowbells ringing. Which as we know is such a unique thing to cross-country skiing — for people who don’t know, we have this thing where we like to ring cowbells to encourage people. It’s a positive thing. And it’s so cool. There’s this sound of clanking, of yelling, of people cheering.

And I just think that’s part of the cool atmosphere, that feel and the music, the vibe — honestly, it’s electric. And it just — I left that day feeling like, I gotta go run up a mountain or something, like I need to go do something with this energy, I feel so pumped up and so motivated and inspired.

And I hope that’s what people feel. When they leave, I hope they feel like, I’ve got to go sign up for ski lessons, I’m going to learn this, I’m going to try this, I’m going to get involved with this. And it really has a festival atmosphere, too, which I think is very, very fun.

*   *   *

Spring skiing in Alaska, April 29. (photo: Gavin Kentch)

Disclosure, I did not log onto Saturday morning’s press conference Zoom because I was skiing out of my family cabin in Alaska’s upper Susitna Valley at the time, technically within marginal cell coverage but far out of range of live video bandwidth. I therefore submitted a separate question to Leann Bentley with U.S. Ski & Snowboard to ask if she had a chance. My question was, “Please complete this sentence: The Minneapolis World Cup stop will be a success if ____.”

Bentley graciously put this question to Jessie Diggins at some point within the weekend. Diggins was jogging the course at Wirth at the time. Her response is transcribed below, but here is the original audio as well if you would like the full Gesamtkunstwerk of the thing. Which is not, actually, German for “here’s what true conversation pace sounds like for a world class athlete,” but that does feel like a telling takeaway here, too.

Anyway, here’s Diggins once more:

“I think success — at least for me; I can’t speak for the Loppet and the organizers, I’m not them. But for me, I think: tons of people come. And the tickets are free thanks to Share Winter, and they have this opportunity to be *so* inspired. Because I remember what it felt like for me, the first time I was at a World Cup. I remember just thinking, like, Oh my god, this energy, like, I want to go out and hammer some intervals. I just remember feeling just lit up by the experience of it. And I want everyone to have a chance to feel that and be inspired and think, Okay, I’m gonna go sign my kids up for Minnesota Youth Ski League. …

“They learn about Share Winter and the mission of getting kids who otherwise would never have an opportunity to learn a snow sport on snow for the first time. So people hear about this and they go, Oh, you know what? I could start something like that where I live, or, Oh, you know, there is a learn to ski program. I have Tuesday nights free; I could volunteer.

“And that mission of increasing accessibility of snow sports to everyone kind of gets pushed forward, and people feel so inspired that they want to go do that in their hometowns, in their communities.

“I think it’s kind of twofold. I want people to be inspired themselves, and to — because, you know, we’re biased, but skiing is such a healthy, wonderful, lifelong sport, and a great way to be outside in winter. And I want people to feel inspired to share that with other people.”

*   *   *

Far left: Jessie Diggins, not fragile; far right: globes, fragile (photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard)

Back inside the trailhead building on Saturday morning, Wilson, the Loppet Foundation director, in her closing remarks announced a quick break and then time for the meet-and-greet portion of the festivities. In reference to Diggins’s noteworthy, but also notably fragile, literally crystal globes (for World Cup overall and distance titles), Wilson sensibly implored attendees to “look at the beautiful crystal globes, but don’t touch them or get too close to them right now.”

Diggins added, before the press conference audio cuts off, “But you can pick up the Olympic medals. Please do. The medals you can pick up.”

— Gavin Kentch

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