Liz Stephen | Reader Athlete Feb-Mar 2012

Photo by Pete Vordenberg.

Liz Stephen
Age: 25
Residence: East Montpelier
Family: Parents, Mark and Susan Stephen; brother, Andy; dog, Charlie
Occupation: Professional skier
Primary sport: Nordic skiing

Vermont Sports caught up with Olympic skier Liz Stephen by phone as she was training in Davos, Switzerland. Stephen grew up an Alpine racer but switched to Nordic during her sophomore year at Burke Mountain Academy. She has twice been a member of the US World Championship team and represented the US at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

VS: Tell us about your trip to the Olympics.
LS: It was very cool. I think for anyone who goes to the Olympics, it has to be on their top-five list, no matter what they’ve done in their life. I didn’t have the races I was hoping to have, but the experience was unbeatable. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

VS: Was there one thing that really stood out?
LS: There were a few high points, but the one that really sticks out and will probably never be topped is the feeling of walking out for the opening ceremony. It was really emotional. I get goose bumps just talking to you about it. It was the first opening ceremony to be held indoors. Polo Ralph Lauren had dressed us in thick wool sweaters, hats, and jackets, and it was so hot. The hallway where we waited was only two door-lengths wide, and we stood there with no idea when we’d get in. Every 15 minutes we’d sprint ahead when another team went inside, but you couldn’t see how far back you were, so you’d do this 100-meter sprint thinking it was your turn, only to wait some more. Honestly, I can see why the serious athletes sometimes skip it because it takes so much energy. But when it was finally our turn, there was this eruption of people and lights and fake snow. It was just unbelievable to be there with the whole world watching.

My results were disappointing, and it was tough because I sat out some events I had expected to race, but that meant I got to spend more time with my parents, see a lot of other events, and take in the experience, so now I can focus on next time. I’d like to do at least one more Olympics, maybe even two, depending on whether I still love it.

Liz in the FIS World Cup Cross-Country Women's 10K. Photo courtesy Nordic Focus USBA.

VS: You started as an Alpine racer before switching to Nordic. How difficult was the transition?
LS: There were parts that were difficult for sure, but it was a pretty smooth switch. I’d gone to Burke Mountain Academy as an Alpine skier and did that for two years, but when I was a sophomore, I fell out of love with Alpine. I’ve been a runner my whole life and felt I was more gifted as an endurance athlete and more interested in that aspect of sports. Alpine racing no longer suited me as a person as I got older.

VS: This year you were featured in a Rossignol ad. How did that feel?
LS: Rossi is my sponsor. They had already made a poster for me, and this year they wanted to make an ad featuring US skiers so Americans could learn more about us, and I was one of the featured athletes. I’ve never been in an ad before, so it was really cool.

VS: What was your most memorable race?
LS: That would be my first World Championship in the Czech Republic in 2009. It was a breakthrough for me. I had been on the World Cup tour off and on for a few years without much success. I had never cracked the top 30. I had had a horrible race the weekend before, finishing third from last, and felt completely out of my league, but I was in really good shape, and I came in 15th in the 15K pursuit. It had been really tough getting my butt kicked every weekend, but this was a huge confidence builder that made me feel like I finally belonged on the World Cup. A breakthrough like that keeps you going.

VS: I understand you’re involved in a nonprofit called Fast and Female. Tell us about that.
LS: Fast and Female was started by Canadian Olympian Chandra Crawford to empower girls through sports. We work with girls ages nine to 19 and set up different events across the United States and Canada. I led my first one this summer in Park City with 60 to 70 girls. It was a really great event, and I’d like to become more involved in the organization.

VS: How are you spending this ski season?
LS: I’m in Europe for the winter. We left in early November, and we’ll come back at the end of March. Right after Christmas, I’ll do something called the Tour de Ski, which is nine races in 11 days. It’s been a tough snow year here, so we’ve been chasing snow and mostly skiing on monotonous 1.5K man-made loops. Otherwise, most of my training is in Park City, Utah, although I do get back to Vermont for a bit at the end of the season. I’ve tried to take some classes in Utah, but so far I’ve only managed four courses. Training is a full-time job, so school will have to come later.

VS: Do you miss Vermont?
LS: Absolutely. I love Park City, and right now it’s a better place to train, but I can’t wait for the day when I can come back and live in Vermont. I haven’t found a community like the one I had in Vermont. I miss that, but I know one day I’ll come back home. I’ve been really lucky. I don’t think I’d still be doing this if I didn’t have the support and love from so many people and so many sources. I’ve had awesome coaches, and my parents have supported me from day one. I’m really grateful; I’m a super-lucky person.

—Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”

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