In West Yellowstone it is easy to remember why cross country skiing is awesome. People flock from all around the country (although perhaps disproportionally so from the Midwest) for early season skiing and socializing. There are all ages and abilities, and it is a great reminder that the cross country community is unlike any other. I’ve met so many people who are so enthused and supportive of what I’m trying to do, all ready and willing to assist in whatever ways they can. My mom skied with Lori Steinbach (a 27 time Birkie skier) who has read every one of these blogs, and was hoping I would feature Jacque Lindskoog, the first woman to complete (and win!) the Birkie for week L. While I was already committed to featuring Loppet Nordic Racing, I now have a great idea for week “W.” I’ll be featuring women of the Birkie, so keep reading and you won’t be disappointed.
In the spirit of West Yellowstone and Midwest junior skiing, I thought a feature on the blossoming Loppet Nordic Racing would be fitting. I had the chance to sit down with Piotr Bednarski and some of the other LNR coaches, and here are some highlights from our conversation!
Where did the idea for Loppet Nordic Skiing originate, and how did the idea progress into what the program is now?
I’ve been involved in the Loppet every year in terms of the actual race or the board of directors since the beginning. Both Reid Lutter and I were running clubs, which wasn’t a very good organizational way to run a ski training program. It was basically the “Piotr Club,” and the “Reid Club.” Neither of us had an attachment to a venue, no non-profit, no feeder, and no bigger mission– there were a lot of pieces missing. I definitely saw this, and so did Reid. The Loppet Foundation was at a point where it was organizationally big enough that it could absorb this kind of program. The Loppet is very well suited to accessing volunteers and sponsors, and I was looking for a way to keep both Reid’s and my mission in terms of developing athletes going. It was the natural progression, a good fit, and it happened pretty quickly.
What are the goals of LNR?
There are really two elements. One is to help athletes reach their potential, whatever that potential is. Two, to help athletes compete nationally and internationally. If competing internationally is an athlete’s goal, then we want to give them that possibility. We are trying to provide a European style club racing program from a young age, all the way to adults.
How have you seen LNR grow, and where do you see room for growth?
Currently in West Yellowstone we have 80 junior skiers, and 20 Fast kids aged 8-12. During the summer our junior programs are up to about 180 athletes, and our Fast kids at home in the fall and winter have about 75 participants. My goal is to see the Fast kids program get bigger- we want our “age pyramid” to actually look like a pyramid. As far as the junior programming goes, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Hopefully we can do a better job working with those kids that really want to go for it. We could also work to do a better job with coaches education. We are already acting as a regional club to a certain degree. We have athletes from other places than the twin cities participate in training camps, and sometimes daily training. The only other long term goal is we’d like to have a kind of PG/U23 type program at some point. We aren’t in a hurry with that– it’s a huge funding piece.
Where do you see growth for Midwest skiing?
Big picture for the Midwest, our weakness has never been in numbers of junior skiers. Our weakness has been in numbers of U10, U12, U14 skiers, and we are aiming to change that in a big way. And then everybody’s in trouble. Basically my goal is to make sure that we have athletes in the pipeline, always, and aren’t struggling to find U16 skiers who know how to ski. We’ve been working with CXC and having meetings to encourage clubs that already exist around Minnesota and Wisconsin to start programs like this. We’ve been pushing the Midwest Junior Championships for U10, 12, 14, and 16 skiers, and are trying to make that a big deal. It takes place the same time as JNs in Minneapolis, but eventually we’d like to see it move around the Midwest. We want these younger kids to have a goal to their racing season, and something big to work towards.
Thanks Piotr, and thanks for reading! I’ll have a special edition of Annie’s Birkie Countdown to celebrate Thanksgiving coming out tomorrow, so be sure to check in then- and make sure your turkeys are defrosting. Gobble gobble!