Welcome back to this, the latest installment in this year’s preview of six professional ski clubs in this country. Previously this fall: BSF preview | Sun Valley preview | SMS preview | APU new athletes. And now here’s Team Birkie:
What is the official name of this ski team? Team Birkie
Where is it located? Minneapolis, Minnesota (also: Hayward, Wisconsin)
Who’s on the coaching staff? Chad Salmela (Head Coach), Matthew Clarke (Assistant Head Coach), Erin Moening (Coach), Nichole Bathe (Coach)
Pro and Elite Team (skiers racing nationally and internationally): Zak Ketterson, Kevin Bolger, Gus Schatzlein, Amanda Kautzer. Ketterson is on the U.S. Ski Team.
Development Team (college athletes and high-level juniors): Anabel Needham, Gretta Scholz, Rose Clayton, Henry Snider
Marathon Team (retired pro skiers and college athletes whose racing focus is primarily local marathons, but who also play a mentorship role within the larger program and community): Delaney FitzPatrick, Jenna Nelson, Katie Susong, Sam Holt, Jake Stiele, Zach Nelson
Pro Athlete Ambassadors (roughly what the name sounds like, see below for more detail): Jessica Yeaton and David Norris
What’s different now from when I did this last year? There has been some turnover here. Among athletes, Renae Anderson now skis with APU. Erin Bianco now skis with BSF. Tony Mathie retired from pro skiing. Xavier Mansfield retired from pro skiing. Julie Ensrud is still affiliated with Team Birkie, but now in perhaps more of an administrative role. Andrew Millan doesn’t have an active FIS license and last did a FIS race at 2023 U.S. Nationals, so I’m calling him potentially retired.
Zak Ketterson and Gus Schatzlein return to the pro team. They are joined there this year by Kevin Bolger and Amanda Kautzer.
Among the coaching staff, assistant coach Matt Clarke returns. Caitlin Gregg and Leo Hipp have moved on. Chad Salmela, Erin Moening, and Nichole Bathe are all new.
What were some results highlights of last season?
Zak Ketterson raced nearly the entire season on the World Cup, save a February trip back home to help shake off endemic fatigue from the Tour de Ski and Period 3 races. World Cup highlights included making three sprint heats, with a 17th in the Val di Fiemme classic sprint the highwater mark. Ketterson was then 23rd in Drammen and 28th in Lahti to close out the 2022/2023 World Cup season, also both classic sprints. In distance races, top-30 finishes included 26th in the 10km skate in Lillehammer, and 28th in the 20km classic in Lahti.
Other than that, there was — and I say this as someone who loves Zak Ketterson — a lot of grinding, with results often just outside the top-30. Success in men’s World Cup distance skiing takes time, and Ketterson is out there putting in the work.
In February, Ketterson enjoyed a mid-season intermezzo back home, where he won a 20km classic mass start SuperTour at Wirth and was a narrow second in the skate sprint. He was also 14th in the Birkie.
Gus Schatzlein raced most of a full domestic season, from the Period 1 NorAm races in Canada through the Wirth SuperTour stop in February. Results highlights included three top-30 finishes in sprints: 16th in a skate sprint at Wirth, 25th in a skate sprint in Sovereign Lake, and 29th in a classic sprint in Sun Valley. A top distance result was 46th in the 10km skate in Sun Valley.
(Briefly put: while competing under the aegis of another domestic team, Kevin Bolger made three World Cup sprint heats, most notably finishing 12th in the skate sprint in Livigno in January. He was 24th in the skate sprint in Davos, and 30th in the classic sprint in Val di Fiemme. Bolger also made his third world championships team since 2019.
And Amanda Kautzer made her Biathlon World Cup debut, finishing 90th in the sprint in Antholz in February. Kautzer otherwise raced a full season on the IBU Cup, with top individual finishes of 24th in the sprint in Pokljuka, then 35th and 36th in Canmore (in the mass start and sprint, respectively) to close out the season.)
What does the coach have to say? Here comes Chad Salmela, with some detailed thoughts on estival programming for Team Birkie. I didn’t put quotation marks on every single paragraph for the rest of this section, but this is all verbatim from Salmela through the next 11 paragraphs:
Summer college program and Marathon Team
The 2023 College Summer Program included twenty-two members from Colby, Dartmouth, Michigan Tech, Middlebury, University of New Hampshire, Northern Michigan, St. Lawrence, St. Michael’s, St. Scholastica, University of Vermont, Wisconsin Green Bay, and the University of Wyoming.
The group met daily, five to six days per week, working with the coaching staff on learning and managing optimal training load, defining the role of intensity of each session, proper and adequate recovery, technical advancement, and strength development. Training sessions, based mostly out of the Theodore Wirth Trailhead in Minneapolis, also incorporated engagement with the community, donors, and sponsors.
The six-member Team Birkie Marathon Team held specific practice days each week and joined forces with the college athletes all summer, and are increasing their training sessions together over the fall months. The marathon team has been a positive and friendly presence in Birkie and Loppet summer events and has been a constant competitive presence in the Swenor XC Rollerski Cup.
Park City camp
In the past few weeks, pro Team members Kevin Bolger and Zak Ketterson met Team Birkie coaching staff for a fall high-altitude camp in Park City, Utah. It gave the coaching staff a great chance to connect with and support the new Midwest teammates in a high-quality altitude training camp.
Both athletes spent most of their summers in Scandinavia — Kevin primarily in Sweden but training with some of the best Norwegians for a camp in Norway — while Zak settled at the 2025 World Championship site, Trondheim, Norway, where he utilized Trondheim’s famed rollerski track. He even bumped into and trained with Norwegian great Johannes Klæbo.
In Park City, they were joined by Kevin’s significant other, Swedish Olympic medalist Maja Dahlqvist, and they connected again with Klæbo, who had scheduled his altitude stint at the same time in Park City. As the camp wrapped up, Kevin returned to his family home in Minocqua, Wisconsin, while Zak returned to the Twin Cities.
Both athletes are hitting their next training block in the Midwest and will feature in the CXC Swenor Rollerskiing Championships at the new rollerski loop at the American Birkebeiner start in Cable, Wisconsin, October 21st and 22nd.
Team Birkie is pioneering a new concept by identifying and connecting with the United States’ future top ski racers, bringing some of the best collegiate skiers onto our Development Team.
We are excited to have numerous commitments to the 2024/2025 Development Team, many of whom will receive Team Birkie support already this 2023/2024 season. Our Pro Team welcomed some of the new Development Team members on a conference call, launching a focus on the Pro Team athletes mentoring Development Team athletes — an idea they came up with for team continuity.
Team Birkie AmbassadorsOlympians and Birkebeiner Champions Jessica Yeaton and David Norris have signed on as Pro Athlete Ambassadors. We are thrilled to have these two elite athletes with strong ties to our namesake as past Birkie champions join Team Birkie for the 2023/2024 season. As they race across World Cup (hopefully), U.S. domestic, and U.S. marathon events, you will see them representing and being supported by Team Birkie.
David and Jessica will be involved as mentors on a consistent basis with our Development Team athletes and as coaches with Summer College Program athletes at the summer 2024 Team Birkie altitude camp.
— Gavin Kentch