Speaking at a press conference this February in advance of 2023 World Championships in Planica, longtime APU and U.S. Ski Team athlete Rosie Brennan observed, in discussing the logistics involved in high-level American ski training, “Our team is for the most part split between Alaska and Vermont, which couldn’t be farther apart in our country.”
While national-team athletes do not live or train exclusively in those two states — Zak Ketterson (Team Birkie) trains domestically in the Midwest, Sophia Laukli (Team Aker Dæhlie) is based in Norway, and Walker Hall hails from the Methow and trains with Utah, for example — there is also a fairly stark bicoastal distribution going on these days for athletes on the A-, B-, and D-Teams.
By my math, of the 23 athletes nominated to the national team for the 2023/2024 season, nine of them are currently based in Alaska (all with APU), and eight in New England (five with SMS, two at Dartmouth, one at UVM). That leaves only six athletes for the entire rest of the country, and/or Norway.
All of which is to say that three more U.S. Ski Team athletes, Novie McCabe, JC Schoonmaker, and Gus Schumacher, have recently joined Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center, more broadly known as APU, along with top domestic skier Renae Anderson.
McCabe recently graduated from and skied for the University of Utah; Schoonmaker skied collegiately for the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and had long trained with his hometown club of Sugar Bowl Ski Team & Academy; Schumacher attends classes at UAA and had long been affiliated with local club Alaska Winter Stars; Anderson had previously skied for Team Birkie for a year after skiing at Bowdoin. All are now wearing APU navy blue, at least when not wearing the azure–pink ombré of this winter’s World Cup suit.
Finally, before I talk about APU skiers for an entire article, a brief but necessary disclosure: I am currently in my tenth season of training with APU Masters; this program is a large part of my personal and athletic life, and I have raced extensively in an APU club suit, both domestically and internationally, over the past decade. So on the one hand, I am hardly a neutral observer here. But on the other hand, I do think that these moves are newsworthy, and that not reporting them doesn’t feel like a great solution, either. Finally, do keep in mind that APU Masters really has nothing to do with the APU Elite Team on a daily basis; I like these athletes, and they’re nice to me when I see them on our local trails, but I am hardly out there training with them.
Bottom line, please believe me that I am, truly, simply trying to report news here, rather than to engage in pro-Alaska propaganda or factional tribalism. As APU Nordic Ski Center commented on Schumacher’s official announcement post, “Welcome to the squad! At the end of the day we’re all on the same team though 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸.”
Here’s that post, from Anchorage kid turned 23-year-old pro skier Gus Schumacher. The post largely speaks for itself, as Schumacher underscores that the decision hardly marks a permanent goodbye from the program that has been a part of his life for well over half his life now. (Seriously though, click through to the final three photos in the above post for some #wholesome historic content; two of them feature Alaska Winter Stars doyen Jan Buron, who remains the coach there.)
Schumacher sounded similar notes when asked for any additional thoughts on the move.
“I would definitely like to reiterate that this was a hard decision because I do really appreciate AWS,” or Alaska Winter Stars, Schumacher wrote in a recent email to Nordic Insights, “and everything Jan has done for/with me. However, I’m growing up, and feel like having fast people around me is becoming more important as I try to find ways to make the next step in my skiing, and APU is obviously a super good option for anyone looking for that. I’m actually looking forward to being more involved with APU because they are a big part of Anchorage skiing, but will also never not have Winter Stars as a part of who I am.”
Novie McCabe, 21, is at a slightly earlier stage of her life and ski career; she grew up skiing in the Methow, then spent the last several years racing for the University of Utah (also on the World Cup, at World Juniors and U23 Championships, at the 2022 Winter Olympics, and so on). Here are her thoughts, via email to Nordic Insights, on what drew her north to APU as her time in Park City came to a close:
“I was able to spend part of the past two summers training in Anchorage, and I think that helped a lot when it came to making a decision about where to go this year because I was pretty confident that the team would be a good fit. The team atmosphere and coaching at APU are both super great, and I had experienced that coming in which was reassuring.
“It really felt like I was going somewhere where I would be happy and improve my skiing which seemed like a win–win. I also just thought Anchorage was a cool place and wanted to check it out! I love the mountains here and it seems that there are lots of fun things to do outside. And I don’t feel too far from home in Washington which is quite nice.”
I didn’t separately ask JC Schoonmaker, 23, for comment, since the two posts embedded above really say it all, and I am
lazy respectful of athletes’ time. But in all seriousness, that’s about what you need to know: Heartfelt appreciation on both sides, as coach Will Sweetser (Sugar Bowl) begets coach Trond Flagstad (UAA) begets coach Erik Flora (APU). No one gets where they are in skiing without a strong team behind them; those coaches are all part of Schoonmaker’s.
“While we will miss him here in Tahoe,” Sweetser wrote in his post, “we are so excited to see what he can do in the blue of [APUNSC]. This is the right move at the right time for a true class act in the Nordic world. … Go get em Schoon!”
Finally, Renae Anderson, who turned 25 last week, is the relatively rare Midwestern athlete to travel west to APU. Anderson, who is on the far right in the above picture (Toko gloves, Madshus boots), skied for Team Birkie in the 2022/2023 season, and for Bowdoin College for several years before that. Here’s her welcome post (yes the snow has a lot of debris on it, but also it was May at sea level):
Anderson expanded on her first five months with the team in a recent email to Nordic Insights.
“I was drawn to APU because I knew it would offer a new training stimulus and push my comfort zone to be in the mountains after growing up in Minnesota,” she wrote, “and because of how highly the current athletes spoke about Erik Flora and the program as a whole. APU has certainly lived up to the hype and I feel so fortunate to be a part of this group every day.”
A longer preview of all athletes on the APU team is coming later this fall. Full team previews start up tomorrow with SMS, allowing me to valorize athletes’ accomplishments without the caveat that I wear the same domestic race suit as them; stay tuned.
— Gavin Kentch