I don’t think it’s offensive to anyone racing in the new Kappa stars and stripes to suggest that Ben Ogden was the top American male on the World Cup circuit last season. Judging by season-long performances, for example, Ogden finished tenth in the sprint standings for the 2022/2023 World Cup season, and eighth in the overall; no one else from this country finished higher than 21st on the men’s side (Scott Patterson, Distance Cup).
So Ogden was the standout, but who was the best American male racing on the World Cup last season in the non–Ben Ogden division? That’s where things get interesting. Voting here was notably even, both closer and more evenly distributed than for any of the other five categories. This feels like a good problem to have, right, insofar as it speaks to the general breadth of American men’s World Cup skiing at present (*when promising athletes with top-11 distance finishes do not leave the sport at age 24).
Anyway, enough burying the lede: JC Schoonmaker led the voting for the 2023 Nordic Insights Readers’ Choice Award for the Best American Male World Cup Skier Not Named Ben Ogden, with 33 percent of the vote.
David Norris, the people’s champ no matter the race circuit, was second, with 26 percent of the vote. Just behind him, receiving 25 percent of the vote, was Scott Patterson, Norris’s doppelgänger for the role of “30-plus longtime APU athlete skiing on Rossi who trains monstrous hours and is more steady and soft-spoken than flashy or demonstrative, then shows up at a global championship and has his best races of the season.”
Zak Ketterson got 7 percent of the vote, and Gus Schumacher and Hunter Wonders 3 percent each. Kevin Bolger got a few votes. There were also a handful of write-ins for each of Adam Witkowski, Luke Jager, and “worst beanie ever.” I’m not sure if this final one was misfiled here, as it is more properly represented as a Ben Ogden performance, or if the beanie itself is so significant as to be like unto a male skier in its own right, but either way, lol.
JC Schoonmaker had a slightly up and down time of things on the World Cup sprint circuit last year. He was 33rd, 34th, and 37th in three sprint quals near the end of the season, which I mention not to hate on the man in any way whatsoever but rather just to underscore that the margins in top-level men’s sprinting are thisclose — find him a combined 2.61 seconds in qualifying and Schoonmaker makes three additional sprint heats within a two-week span in March, at which point anything can happen.
When he did make the heats, Schoonmaker showed that he is capable of skiing with the best sprinters in the world. He was seventh in the finals in Val di Fiemme in January. He was eighth in the finals in Lillehammer in December. Notably, the seventh place was in a classic sprint, and the eighth place in skate; Schoonmaker has world-class potential in both disciplines. He, and Ben Ogden, and everyone else in this cohort, are still waiting for that first post–Simi Hamilton men’s sprint final appearance (Hamilton had eight in his career, all in skate; half of them ended in podium appearances), but they are consistently knocking on the door while they do so.
Oh and by the way Schoonmaker was also ninth at World Champs, even on a day that was not his best. It’s a process, to be sure, but Schoonmaker, who raced last season for Sugar Bowl Ski Team & Academy and is now affiliated with APU, is also putting in the work.
Off of the World Cup circuit, Schoonmaker flew all the way back to North America to contest the classic sprint at U23 World Cross Country Championships in Whistler in January. In a race where he had to have been classed among the pre-race favorites across the entire field, as well as on paper one of the Americans’ strongest chances for a medal that week (see also: Gus Schumacher in distance races; Sophia Laukli in the distance skate race), Schoonmaker suffered a fall and a broken pole at the absolute worst possible moment in the qualifier, and ended up not even making the heats.
Here’s what Schoonmaker had to say after what by any objective measure was a hugely disappointing day in a race for which he had traveled across continents:
“When you get the results list from the coaches and find out that you’re outside the heats it’s quite a bit tougher because I think there’s so many different ways you can take it from there. Obviously I could’ve pouted and been pissed off the rest of the day and don’t get me wrong I definitely did a little bit of that. But you can also pour all of the energy you had for your own heats into cheering on your teammates and being there for them. I ended up going out on course and cheering and I made sure to bring some spare poles with me just in case. 😉 At the end of the day the race didn’t go my way but you can’t win them all so might as well enjoy the Whistler sun on an exciting sprint day.”
A few months later, Schoonmaker ended the race season by defending his title in the NordicX ski cross race in Anchorage, then called the repeat win “probably the best moment in my season so far. … It’s been a lot of ups and downs and I’m pretty hyped to secure the back to back [wins] here. So that’s really nice.” In conclusion, Schoonmaker raced broadly last season, and was gracious in both victory and defeat.
David Norris is the people’s champ, for reasons discussed last week in his citation for being the top male domestic skier. Norris came close to ranking as the top male World Cup skier, too; this reflects both the fact that Norris is a great guy with a great story, and also the fact that Fairbanks is proud of their own, and that I suspect there was robust voting on his behalf from fans and supporters at Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks. No one should apologize for being loved by his hometown fans.
Norris raced precisely two World Cup races in all of last season. (Okay, even more precisely he raced in one World Cup race and one World Championships race.) They were both mass start 50km’s; they were both high-stakes, high-pressure races; and they were both held within the same week. Norris showed up for both of them.
On a Sunday, Norris finished 22nd in the 50km classic in Planica, ranking as the second American in the field after taking time off from his day job coaching juniors with Steamboat to jump into literally world championships after spending the rest of the season racing SuperTours domestically. The following Saturday, Norris was 17th, the top American, in the 50km skate in a small race called Holmenkollen. Within days he was back in the states, back to work with his junior athletes at Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC). The legend of Grandmaster Norris grows.
Scott Patterson is, in fact, a different athlete than David Norris, though you would not be the first to mistake them if you did. They now ski for different teams following Norris’s move from the blue of APU to the blue of SSWSC, although they were teammates in Alaska for roughly a decade before that, and first raced each other in the last frontier nearly 20 years ago. As noted above, both men are notorious for training obscene hours; I truly don’t know which athlete trains more, but I have no doubt that the total annual training load for each of them starts with a “1,000.”
“Tough training builds tough people and I think David and I epitomize that. It may be a bit of an APU thing to really embrace the grit and grind of big volume and hard training,” as Patterson told this website in March.
“That, plus sometimes some non-optimal conditions in Alaska really breed the determination,” Patterson added. “Our APU coach, Erik Flora, always likes to bring up the moniker of ‘championship day,’ which basically means being ready for anything, even awful conditions, and still going out and laying it all down.”
(Disclaimer, I am currently starting my tenth season of training and racing with APU Masters, though on a day-to-day basis I have effectively nothing to do with the APU Elite Team, and have not received coaching from Flora since an Eagle Glacier masters camp in summer 2019.)
When Patterson went out and laid it down last season, he frequently delivered. He was in the top-30 in a World Cup distance race ten times, including seven times in the top-20, with a best result of 12th in the 20k mass start classic in Les Rousses. And he was 15th, 16th, and 19th in the distance races in Planica, which was somehow his worst finish at a global championship in several years.
Patterson ended the season ranked 21st in the World Cup distance standings, the best overall or discipline finish of any American athlete not named Ben Ogden. He celebrated by returning to Alaska following World Cup Finals in Lahti and, I assume, training 120 hours in April. And that might not even be hyperbole. What counts is k’s.
Previously in 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards:
— Gavin Kentch