The Endurance Coach
Ryan Kerrigan jokes that he never had a choice not to ski since his father brought him along to Harwood Union High School ski practices. Now, Kerrigan shares his love of skiing with other kids (and adults) as one of the founders and coaches of Stowe’s VTXC program.
VS: How did you get to be such a strong Nordic ski racer?
RK: I started ski racing as soon as I could walk because my dad was the coach at Harwood Union High School and it was cheaper to put me on the bus with him than hire a babysitter. I would say my best racing experience growing up was during my time at Green Mountain Valley School when we traveled to Europe to race German and Italian junior national champs. At the time the European clubs seemed so much stronger than the U.S. ones, as if there was something in the water. It was encouraging to get shoulder to shoulder with some of the best in the world and realize that they ski, breathe and bleed just as I do. There was no magic; just a healthy, active lifestyle.
VS: Do you still race?
RK: I’m still racing but these days I do more trail running than skiing. Winters are becoming less and less about me and more about the athletes I work with.
VS: What is the most beautiful place you’ve travelled to for ski racing?
RK: I traveled to Norway two winters ago to witness the Birkebeiner race. I didn’t race but just watching it was amazing. [The Birkebeiner is a 54K ski race which started in 1932. It requires participants to carry a backpack weighing at least 3.5 kg. which symbolizes the weight of the infant who was carried to safety across the mountains in 1206 and later became the King of Norway]. I did do the Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland which is in the St. Moritz area. It’s a 30K skate and the scenery was really amazing.
VS: When did you get serious about trail running?
RK: I ran competitively in middle and high school until I went to GMVS and the focus became more on cross-country skiing, but running was always part of my soul. In the past there weren’t that many trail races in the area that excited me. Now there are these really cool, long events in spectacular areas. Now I know what it’s like to run for 22 hours.
VS: What Ultra races are you doing?
RK: This fall I ran the Vermont 50 for the first time. There were moments of hatred but I definitely enjoyed it and I earned the belt buckle for finishing in less than 24 hours. I just got back from Nova Scotia where I ran the Harricana which is a 125K point-to- point through the boreal forests of Quebec. It was spectacular. We started at 2 a.m. and we summited the highest mountain around 5:30 or 6 a.m. just as the sun broke a deep crimson red. I’ve never seen a red like that before. My goal is to do the Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc. I’m one point away from being able to do it but I’d need to do another 100- mile or 100K race this season and I may not be able to find one until next year.
VS: You talked about endurance sports as a lifestyle. Can you explain that?
RK: We originated as hunter gatherers. It’s in our DNA. To move, breathe and travel cross country on our own combustion is the greatest gift we have and brings us happiness. That is when we are nearest to our spirit. We don’t need to hunt animals these days but we’re always hunting something and endurance sports teach us perseverance. There will be highs and lows and we need to keep running right through them.
VS: What kind of work do you do at Trapp Family Lodge?
RK: I work at the Outdoor Center and do trail building and maintenance of both the single track mountain bike trails and the wider ski trails. I organize events like the Trapp Mountain Marathon. I also work with the equipment retail and rentals.
VS: Tell us about the Green Mountain Sherpas.
RK: That’s something I do with my father. We call it Trails to Ales. We do very casual guided tours involving backcountry skiing, snowshoeing or hiking and ending with a brewery tour at the von Trapp Brewery or the Alchemist. Right now we only work in the Stowe area but my dad would like us to expand to Sugarbush.
VS: How did you and Robyn Anderson come to start VTXC?
RK: When I was a junior racer there weren’t many training opportunities other than high school teams or racing academies. We founded VTXC in 2009 to create an opportunity for high school kids to get together to train for their fall sports. It was a program that worked o the backbone of the existing high school programs. We started small with eight kids. The running portion has grown steadily every year but the Nordic skiing has not. What has changed is we’ve added a masters program and that is growing, but on the Nordic front, people don’t run out to join skiing programs until it starts to snow.
VS: Why did you add a masters component?
RK: We wanted a broader sense of community. People thought we were running an elite training program but we’re not. There is a performance spin to it but not everyone is training for races. I work with 40 to 50 masters over the course of a winter and half of them are doing it with a race in mind but the others just want to be more comfortable on skis and have a community of people to ski with.
VS: How tough was last winter for training?
RK: It was challenging and it was emotionally very draining to keep people motivated throughout the season. I’m optimistic about this year. Sugarbush just put out a report that showed that the winters that come after bad winters are statistically better than average.
VS: Are there any up and coming stars in the VTXC program?
RK: It’s very di cult to tell. The great thing about endurance sports is that they are lifelong activities. Training and performance running or skiing—like life — isn’t a linear progression. You have ups and downs. As a coach it can be very di cult to tell who will succeed. There are some kids who are destined to do great things but you never really know because kids are full of surprises. I work with kids who want to run and ski fast and we hope to be able to provide that training, but the main goal is to teach endurance sports as a lifestyle.