By Peggy Shinn
When the 2014 Olympic Winter Games open in Sochi, Russia, on February 7, more than a dozen Vermonters will likely be on the US Olympic roster, including Olympic gold medalists, world champions, and two skiers who could help the United States win its first ever Olympic medal in women’s cross-country skiing. When asked what it was about Vermont that helped get them where they are in their ski or snowboard careers, they credit everything from great access to terrain to maple syrup—and to a community of people who helped fuel their passion.
2012 junior world champion, downhill and combined
The son of 1972 slalom Olympic gold medalist Barbara Ann Cochran, Ryan Cochran-Siegle grew up under mom’s watchful eye, chasing his cousins around Cochran’s Ski Area. The youngest of the second generation Cochrans, Ryan has been on the ski team for four years. Last February at the World Championships, he tore his ACL, but is back racing this year.
What was it about growing up in Vermont that led to his success? “The affordability,” he said. “Having small local ski hills around the area provided an inexpensive opportunity to be active with my family while enjoying the beautiful outdoors of Vermont. The great skiing conditions during the winter also helped.”
2012 national champion, giant slalom
Like Ryan, cousin Robby Kelley grew up on the slopes of Cochran’s, coached by mom Lindy. “My mom would pick my siblings, cousins and me up from school at 3 o’clock, drive the 20 minutes to the ski area, and we’d put our stuff on as fast as we could and ski until it was dark,” he said. “It was always fun and never forced, it’s just what we all wanted to do.” Three years ago, he followed his older siblings, Jessica and Tim, onto the US Ski Team. Last season was his first on the World Cup, and he scored points in one GS.
Growing up at a small hill in Vermont made him fall in love with skiing. “It was just all about the skiing,” he said. “No big fancy lodges, slopeside condominiums, or big crowds, just a couple little trails in the beautiful Green Mountains and the freedom to run gates, build jumps, ski through the woods or to do whatever else we felt like doing. I’ve traveled the world skiing, and to me, there’s still no place like Vermont.”
2011 Kranjska Gora World Cup slalom, 2nd place; 2011 Europa Cup overall slalom champion; 2010 Olympian
Burke Mountain Academy grad Nolan Kasper moved to Vermont when he was 11. But he started training and racing in the state long before: at Jay Peak, Sugarbush, Stowe, Lyndon Outing Club, then finally, Burke. Senior year, Kasper made a deal with his dad: make the US Ski Team or go to straight to college. He made the US Development Team in 2007 and deferred enrolling at Dartmouth. Two years later, he was a Junior World bronze medalist in slalom, and two years after that, he took second in a World Cup.
“It was definitely helpful for me as a slalom skier [to grow up in Vermont] because we tend to get icier conditions,” he said. “You have to grow up with good fundamentals to ski fast in those conditions.”
Three World Cup podiums; two-time Olympian (2006 & 2010)
Andy Newell grew up on the trails of Prospect Mountain and was competing in the Bill Koch League lollipop races by age 5. Stratton Mountain School’s cross-country program helped him become a world-class sprinter. In 2006, he became the first US cross-country skier to stand on a World Cup podium since Bill Koch and Tim Caldwell (both Vermonters) in 1983. He now trains with SMS’s Elite T2 program.
Growing up in Vermont fueled his career because the state is a cross-country skiing mecca. “But it’s more than that,” he added. “There’s a lot of cross-country skiing history in Vermont. When I was a young skier, I always looked up to guys like Bill Koch and Mike Gallagher. You’d hear all these legendary stories about Tim Caldwell and Koch while they were training for the Olympics, like going for six-hour runs over the mountains with no water. They probably weren’t even true, [but it fueled] this idea of these rugged hard-core Vermonters training for the Olympics. That kind of rugged Vermont style is something that, as a male cross-country skier, I idolized when I was a kid.”
2013 World Championships, 5th (10K freestyle); World Cup podium, 4 x 5K relay; 2010 Olympian
Hometown: East Montpelier
A promising Alpine skier and runner, Liz Stephen enrolled at Burke Mountain Academy and switched to skinny skis her sophomore year. It was the right move for the petite Stephen. Four years later, she was national 5K freestyle champion, tying with Olympian Kikkan Randall. In 2008, she finished third at World U23 Championships. Now she regularly scores points on the World Cup and helped the United States to its first World Cup podium in a 4 x 5K relay last November. Now based in Park City, Utah, Stephen loves to ski Morse Farm’s “old school” trails—and eat their maple creemees—when she’s home.
Vermont’s ski culture helped her get where she is in her career. “Growing up in a state where skiing is such a main pastime really got me excited to be playing in winter and supported by the community,” she said. “I have never been a part of a community as wonderful as the one in Vermont. People are so excited to hear about my life and to support me in any way they can. I feel really lucky to have grown up in Vermont.”
2013 World Cup, five top-10 finishes
Ida Sargent grew up chasing older sibs Eben and Elsa around the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s trails. Her group of ski friends quickly grew to include Susan Dunklee and Hannah Dreissigacker, now both 2014 Olympic biathlon hopefuls and her future teammates at Dartmouth. Sargent still trains with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project when she isn’t with the US Ski Team. She earned World Cup points her first year on the circuit and helped the US women to their best ever relay finish (5th) in 2012.
What was it about growing up in Vermont that led to her success? “We’re used to all kinds of weather conditions, from cold to warm to rainy to snowy, icy; we’ve seen it all,” she said. “How to ski on any of those conditions on any of those days makes you a lot tougher and makes you appreciate the sunny, blue days, which sometimes people take for granted.”
2012 Biathlon World Championships, 5th (individual race)
The daughter of UVM hall-of-famer and two-time Olympian Stan Dunklee, Susan Dunklee grew up cross-country skiing at Craftsbury. After skiing for Dartmouth and helping the Big Green win their first NCAA team title in 31 years, she wasn’t ready to stop skiing. So she switched to biathlon and has quickly become one of the top biathletes in the world. When she’s home, she trains with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project.
“Community is one of the most important things,” she said. “The people here are great. They’re very encouraging. They love to ski, they love to bike, they love to do all this other stuff. They’re very active people, not just physically but involved in reaching out to people around them and helping out with things. There’s a lot of creative people here, and I find that very inspiring to be around.”
2013 World Championship team member
Like Dunklee and Sargent, Hannah Dreissigacker grew up skiing through farmers’ fields, flying downhill through sugar bushes, and passing villages around Craftsbury. It really became her home in 2008 when her parents’ foundation purchased the Craftsbury Outdoor Center and turned it into a world-class training center. After Dreissigacker graduated from Dartmouth in 2009, she took up biathlon and mastered it quickly. She now trains with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project. An Olympic hopeful, she won’t be the first in her family to compete in the Games. Both her parents were Olympic rowers.
What was it about growing up in Vermont that led to her success? “Snow, for one, and a culture of skiing that my parents had become a part of, and they dragged me along,” she half joked. “But what really did it was that in Vermont we reached a magical density female Nordic skiers where not only did we have really great training partners, but we also had great competition as well. Together, we all brought each other to the highest level of our sport.
2010 Olympic gold medalist; two-time world champion; two-time overall World Cup champion
Hannah Kearney grew up in Norwich but spent most of her time skiing in New Hampshire. The two-time Olympian, who has won more World Cup events than any other skier, including Ingemar Stenmark, would like to become the first woman to defend her Olympic gold medal in moguls. Her competitive mogul career began at Waterville Valley when she was 9 on a double black diamond called True Grit. It remains her “favorite trail in the whole world.”
2012 junior world champion (slopestyle); three-time Winter X Games medalist
Hometown: West Dover
Devin Logan grew up chasing her two older brothers around Mount Snow and credits them for her success. “I think my brothers wanted a little brother, so they treated me that way. If they didn’t push me the way they did, I don’t think I’d be at the level I’m at right now.” A Mount Snow Academy grad, she soon found the park and pipes at Carinthia and made her Winter X Games debut in 2011.
“If you can ski in Vermont, you can really ski anywhere,” she said. “It was a great place to grow up, on a small hill (Carinthia), which is now growing enormously with their new whole park scene. Getting to ski every day definitely helped progress my skiing faster than it would if I was just another weekend warrior. I’m real happy coming from Vermont.”
Coming back from a knee injury, she won the 2014 season’s first half-pipe World Cup, and she’s aiming to qualify for the Sochi Games in both half-pipe and slopestyle.
Two-time Olympic medalist (gold, 2006; silver, 2010)
Like Logan, Hannah Teter grew up chasing her three brothers on a snowboard. She took her first lesson at Okemo and won the junior world half-pipe title in 2002. After winning gold in her Olympic debut in 2006, she began selling Hannah’s Gold maple syrup, raising nearly $200,000 for numerous projects in Kirindon, Kenya. “Sweeten the world one bottle at a time” is the motto of Hannah’s Gold.
Teter credits her Vermont upbringing with making her tough. “The half-pipes were always really icy and not perfect,” she said. “So growing up on Vermont snow made me appreciate really good half-pipes when I started competing. It made everything seem easier—that and eating maple syrup. My family made maple syrup my whole life, and it’s in my blood.”
Two-time Olympic medalist (gold, 2002; bronze, 2010), 60 career wins
Hometown: West Dover
Kelly Clark’s long career started on a plastic K-Mart Mobile Monster snowboard on a snowbank, then progressed to Mount Snow. Since her first junior world half-pipe title in 2000, she has won more competitions (60) than any other snowboarder, male or female, including eight X Games gold medals. She continues to push the sport—completing the first 1080 (three revolutions) in women’s competition—and says the steep Sochi half-pipe suits her style.
Clark wouldn’t trade growing up in Vermont for anywhere else. “We’ve seen some of the best snowboarders ever come out of Vermont,” she said. “I had access to amazing mountains and resorts and great parks and pipes. The resorts commit to that sort of undertaking and making world-class training available, so we’re going to continue to see great riders come out of Vermont.”
Olympic silver medalist; three-time world champion; seven-time X Games gold medalist
Big brother “Benny” introduced “Lucky” Lindsey to snowboarding in 1996 (Ben competed in World Cup boardercross until 2008). She honed her boardercross skills on the snow at the Stratton Mountain School and by 2006 was both an Olympic silver medalist and a world champion. A dominant force in boardercoss, she has won the X Games boardercross gold more than anyone else and nearly half of the FIS World Cup races she has entered. She tore her ACL while practicing for the 2012 Winter X Games and underwent two subsequent surgeries, but is back on the road to Sochi.
“I owe a lot of my success and start in snowboarding to Vermont and Stratton Mountain,” she said. “Ever since I was little, it has just been an amazing place to be. I have fond memories of riding with my parents and following my brother Ben down the hill all day just trying to keep up. I will always make my way back to Vermont and Stratton as it is still an amazing place to be with my longtime friends and family.”
A senior contributor at teamusa.org, Peggy Shinn has covered two Olympic Games and will be heading to Sochi in February. She lives in Rutland.