I hope you didn’t forget about this, because it’s time to hand out season-ending-ish hardware: presenting the First Annual Nordic Insights Readers’ Choice Awards! One of the single most prestigious awards bestowed by an English-language cross-country ski news website anywhere!
I covered the methodology for these awards in the intro piece last month. Briefly put, I compiled multiple candidates in each of several categories, then presented them for public consideration. (Later, I walked back my initially announced plans that I would let people vote on the best American male and female junior skiers as the final category, since it seemed like a bad idea, actually, to invite folks to publicly pass judgment on high school athletes as soon as I gave it a moment’s thought.) I pledged to unambiguously reflect the inclinations of the vox populi, and to write about whoever got the most votes in each category.
I’m not sure whether I’m disappointed or not that my readers are sufficiently mature that I am here writing about David Norris rather than about, like, Skier McSkierface (reference, which is apparently seven years old now oof), but there you have it. That said, there were a not-zero number of write-in votes for various of Ben Ogden’s sartorial choices when it came to the standout Ogden performance, which I will treat in the relevant writeup next week.
Anyway: presenting your 2023 Nordic Insights Readers’ Choice American Male Domestic Skier of the Year, David Norris!
David Norris is the people’s champ. He won the quintessential citizens race, the American Birkebeiner, in an all-time solo breakaway this February, dropping a well-credentialed lead pack at roughly the powerlines and never looking back for the following 47 kilometers.
He had a training schedule of, well, Masters medium a lot of the time — “I’ve probably done what I shouldn’t do, where a lot of the year I did L2, L3 — that middle ground that they tell you not to do,” he candidly told this website mid-season — and not really bothering to log his time. #relatable He worked full-time as a junior coach for Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, getting off his feet just long enough to log seven podium finishes in seven distance races at the SuperTour/U.S. Nationals level.
When these results led to a pair of starts in the season’s two biggest 50km races, classic at World Champs in Planica and skate at literally Holmenkollen, Norris flew across the pond and raced those. He was the second American in Planica, behind only longtime USST member and former mega-hours teammate at APU Scott Patterson, and was the top American in Holmenkollen. Six days later. Not bad for someone who was saving money by not having an active FIS license until the eve of U.S. Nationals, when he finally signed up so as to be eligible for prize money. And promptly placed second in both distance races.
For all of this, and so much more, Norris, who turned 32 midway through this season and has described himself as “quasi-retired” from pro ski racing, was the overwhelming favorite, receiving 51 percent of the vote. Congratulations.
John Steel Hagenbuch was a healthy second, with 36 percent of the vote. Steel Hagenbuch, who is a member of the U.S. Ski Team and competes domestically for Dartmouth, raced broadly last year, to put it mildly.
There he was in SuperTour Period 1 in the western U.S. and Canada, picking up three podiums. There he was in Houghton in January with his first ever national championship. There he was at Spring Series in March with his second ever national championship. There he was in Whistler in February, racing at U23 Championships. There he was collecting two victories at FIS University Games in Lake Placid. There he was notching two silvers at NCAA Championships, again in Lake Placid. Dude did a lot of racing last year.
Third in the polls was Zanden McMullen, with six percent of the vote. McMullen skied well all year, and in fact placed slightly ahead of Steel Hagenbuch in the season-long SuperTour standings to claim Period 1 start rights next fall as the top-ranking American; Steel Hagenbuch was second. I don’t know enough about technology to trace IP addresses of who voted, plus that would be sort of creepy to do anyway, but I strongly suspect that Norris got the bulk of the Alaska factionalism votes, leading to McMullen’s relatively slight showing here.
Also receiving a single-digit percentage of votes were Peter Wolter (third American in the SuperTour standings) and Finn O’Connell (fifth American in the SuperTour standings; leader after Period 1 to gain COC start rights for the Tour de Ski).
Finally, in an instance of humorous write-in vote padding that I frankly respect, a statistically significant share of votes went to write-ins for, quote, “Walker Hall (Basher TT July 2023).” Unless this is in reference to rollerskiing up Basher Drive in east Anchorage I’m frankly unclear on the specifics here, but Walker, it sounds like your friends have high hopes for you two months hence. No pressure.
Coming soon: top American female domestic skier. I’m going to be out for most of tomorrow, serving as a chaperone for each of my kid’s orienteering fieldtrips seriatim, which will both allow me to be a present and involved parent but also keep me on site for basically all of the work day between kid dropoff and pickup, so that writeup may not follow till Monday to be honest. Stay tuned.
— Gavin Kentch