This week I got the chance to interview Gus Kaeding, an old coach of mine as well as a past classic Birkie winner (the same year he beat Norweigan champion Bjorn Daehlie in a sprint to the finish). In addition to skiing in college at Northern Michigan University, Gus both skied for and coached the CXC Elite Team. After 10 years in the Midwest, Gus made the move East to coach the Stratton Mountain School T2 elite team. After a successful two years there, Gus is now a wax technician for the US Ski Team while simultaneously applying to business schools. Talk about a jack of all trades! Read on for a question and answer with Gus Kaeding!
What was it like to beat Bjorn Daehlie?
It was surprising. I knew he was there the entire race right with me, and as we got to Main Street he pulled out to pass me. I expected him to blow by me, but then he just pulled even with me. The longer he was even with me, the better my chances got. I snuck a foot in front of him, and was happily surprised. Also Main Street is my favorite part of the whole course-the crowds are loud, and they really brought me home.
What motivated you to call the Midwest “home base” for 10 years?
There was a spring series in Houghton, Michigan in 2002 and on the way back East (Gus is from Vermont) I visited NMU. I ended up liking the college, skied there, and then a lot of my friends who attended NMU went on to CXC. Once I decided to make the transition from athlete to coach, I stayed at CXC until I moved back east. I always loved the local area (Hayward-Cable). I loved exploring the trails, the roads, and the golf courses.
What caused you to switch from athlete to coach?
I just knew that I didn’t want to be an athlete for the rest of my life. I wanted to be pro-active about skiing, so switched when I wanted to instead of when I had to. I think I’ve enjoyed coaching more than being an athlete, I really do like helping other people. I think I honestly get as much satisfaction when others do well as when I myself did well.
What comes to mind when you think of the Birkie?
I think of it as a race, but it has transcended way more than that. It is an event that you can make an entire weekend out of, even though the actual race only takes between 2 and 8 hours. It’s an excitement that’s not describable, you have to be there to understand it. The build up begins two months (or more) before the actual race, but when that weekend comes it is like a Holiday. And that’s one of the reasons why I think the biking and running additions to the Birkie are so cool. The Birkie is bigger than just one weekend, people talk about it all year. By adding these additional Birkie events it gives everyone an outlet to be more involved and experience the Birkie in the fall and the summer instead of just the winter.
What advice do you have for people skiing the Birkie?
If you lose two minutes in the first half actually taking feeds and eating something, that’s a good thing. You’ll save a lot of time in the second half by being fueled and hydrated. Also think about the best lines on the trails- the trail is really wide, and you can save a lot of time by taking the insides of corners and anticipating the course.
Are you ever going to do another Birkie?
Never say never!
Thanks Gus, and be sure to check in next week!