How will the athletes of the USSA be celebrating the holidays this year? Some, including the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, will be preparing for Olympic Trials. (Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team)
For the athletes of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the holidays are often a busy time of year. It’s the middle of competition season and, especially during an Olympic year, there is a lot to prepare for. Whether overseas or at home, though, they find a way to celebrate with their loved ones and teammates during the holiday season.
“As a team that spends so much time together, we're practically like a family,” cross country skier Kikkan Randall said, “We get together and do a little gift giving, maybe some baking if we can find a kitchen and share the time together.”
Because the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team has races in Europe immediately following Christmas, they typically do not have the opportunity to come back to the families in the USA. Still, the team makes sure to celebrate the season as best they can. Randall brought one of her family’s traditions along to inject some humor into the holidays.
“My family has this tradition where we all draw names out of a hat and then write a poem about that person and get them a small gift,” she explained, “Then, the person has to read the poem written about them before they try and guess who wrote it—a kind of secret Santa with a twist! We've brought this tradition to the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team for the last few seasons and we usually have the poem night a couple weekends before Christmas. It's quite the riot!”
“It makes for a pretty funny night,” cross country skier Andy Newell said, “Some are short, simple haikus, while others are long songs and always pretty embarrassing.”
For some athletes, despite the busy Olympic year schedules, this season comes with the opportunity to go home for the holidays for the first time in years.
“I'm thankful I have gotten to be with family for Christmas almost every year,” moguls athlete Heather McPhie said, “The previous two Olympic cycles, I was grateful that my family could travel to me as we had Gold Cup right after Christmas, but this year we actually have two weeks off for Christmas.”
While others get to spend the holidays stateside, it does not mean that there is a break from training. For ski jumping and nordic combined athletes, Olympic Trials take place in Park City, UT, only days after Christmas.
“This holiday season, we will be getting ready for the Olympic Trials in Park City on January 28th,” nordic combined athlete Taylor Fletcher said, “I would like to see everyone out there to watch the top athletes in the nation fight for the automatic berth to the Olympics. I hope to be in the fight for that so I can take the pressure off and let myself perform!”
Fletcher’s teammate and Olympic Champion Billy Demong will also be hoping to earn an Olympic berth at Trials, but Demong returned to Park City a week earlier for another competition, the FIS Nordic Combined Continental Cup at Soldier Hollow and Utah Olympic Park. Demong won two of days of competition and placed second in another, earning the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team an additional World Cup spot.
“Part of my reasoning for coming home was not only to help earn a spot for the next period of World Cup, but also to be with my family,” Demong explained, “I’m based here in Park City, so now I’m looking forward to being able to be home and take a few days to go skiing with my family and just enjoy the holidays stateside. I’m looking forward to kicking back a little bit and then ramping up again for Olympic Trials and the next period of World Cup.”
Whether in Europe or at home, the athletes of the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Snowboarding and U.S. Freeskiing have found a way to celebrate their favorite parts of the holiday season.
“My main tradition around the holiday is to be with people I love and take a break from the often crazy travel schedule that is our December through March,” McPhie said.
“I love to make cookies for Santa,” halfpipe snowboarder Arielle Gold said, “You can never be too old for that!”
“The only tradition I try to bring with me is my Denver Broncos jersey, a good attitude and hard work for the competition season,” Fletcher said, “With all these combined, a good time will be had!”
Ultimately, despite their busy schedules, the holidays are a time to relax and spend time with loved ones—even for Olympic Champions.
“I’ve spent one Thanksgiving in the United States since 1998 and I’ve spent one Christmas in Europe,” Demong said, “Christmas has always been a priority to be home whether it was years ago with my parents in Lake Placid or now home with my family in Park City. It’s a good time to take a break.”