As The Para Nordic Skiing Season Kicks Off, U.S. Skiers See Opportunity To Improve
by Alex Abrams
Dani Aravich competes during the women's sprint free technique standing semifinals at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 9, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
Now is a good time for the top U.S. Para Nordic skiers to examine the way they do things and make any changes they’d like, whether big or small.
Eileen Carey, director of U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, said athletes have more freedom this upcoming season to “break things a part” and try some new things that could help them become more efficient skiers.
A year ago, members of the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing national and development teams were focused on preparing for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. They don’t have that same pressure heading into this season.
With the Paralympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026 four years away, American sit skiers, standing skiers and visually impaired skiers are being encouraged to experiment this season with how they approach their training and racing.
“As a program, we really lean into being able to focus on different things in different years of the quad,” Carey said, referring to the four-year preparations for the Winter Paralympics. “I think the first year of the quad is a really good opportunity for individual athletes to kind of reassess where they are and maybe if there’s some sort of bigger change that they’re hoping to make or something that they’re curious about trying, whether it’s a different training location or changing up some of the way they’re doing their training planning or equipment.”
“This is a really good opportunity to dive a little deeper into experimenting with things without the pressure of the Games.”
U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing will bring a roster filled with proven medalists and promising newcomers to its first world cup competition as a team in Planica, Slovenia, starting Jan. 11. The 2023 Para Nordic World Championships are scheduled to begin less than two weeks later on Jan. 21 in Ostersund, Sweden.
Four of the seven athletes named to the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team in June — Jake Adicoff, Kendall Gretsch, Oksana Masters and Sydney Peterson — combined to earn 14 medals in Beijing earlier this year.
Masters captured three golds and four silvers in Beijing to become the most decorated U.S. Winter Paralympian of all time with 14 career medals. The multi-sport star has also won two Paralympic golds in cycling and a bronze in rowing.
In September, to help prepare for the upcoming season, Masters took part in a training camp in Sweden with fellow national team member Dani Aravich and two development team members in Lera Doederlein and Erin Martin.
The training camp offered a glimpse at the mix of well-established skiers and talented up-and-comers who’ll compete for the U.S. this season.
While Masters is a six-time Paralympian and one of the biggest names in Para Nordic skiing, Aravich, Doederlein and Martin are relative newcomers to the sport. The three rising stars are coming off their first Winter Paralympics in Beijing.
Oksana Masters competes during the women's individual sitting biathlon at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 11, 2022 in Beijing.
For them and the other newcomers on U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing’s roster, Carey said the focus of this season is to develop as skiers. She’s not as concerned with their results during the world cup schedule.
“For the athletes that are developing, we are always kind of in that space where we’re not putting a lot of pressure on performances in the short term because it does take a long time to get to being really world-class,” Carey said. “So I think our philosophy as a program is to really put the emphasis on that development rather than on the performance in that space.”
Aravich said she has embraced the team’s philosophy of using this season to take a look at every aspect of how she trains and races.
The biggest change she has made so far is deciding to step away from track and field after competing as a sprinter at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 to devote herself entirely to Nordic skiing.
“I think to a certain extent there is some room to maybe experiment and try some different things in my training. And this is the first time now since I started skiing that I’m only skiing and not running track and field as well,” Aravich said.
“So to have all my attention on skiing, I think we have some room to definitely play around with my training and with my technique. And while seemingly there might not be as much pressure because it’s not a Games year, I still feel like every time I race, I have something to prove and I have to prove that I deserve to be there despite being new.”
The Americans will wrap up their world cup season in early March at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah, a location they know very well from training and racing there over the years.
They’ll have a homefield advantage at Soldier Hollow.
“It’s always really fun to be on home snow in a place we’re really familiar with,” Carey said. “I think that’s pretty exciting.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.