Cross-Country SkiingNews

Cross-Country Skier Benjamin Barbier Is All About The Team Headed Into The Youth Olympics

by Bob Reinert

Benjamin Barbier competes during the men's sprint free qualification at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 on Jan. 29, 2024 in Gangwon, South Korea. (Photo by OIS/Jonathan Nackstrand)

Winning an individual cross-country ski race on the international stage is one thing, but taking home a gold medal with teammates in a relay is really something special. Just ask Grey “Benjamin” Barbier.

This past February, Barbier joined teammates Fin Bailey and Tabor Greenberg in winning the U18 men’s relay at the Nordic Nations Cup in Jyvaskyla, Finland. Their performance marked the first U.S. win in the men’s relay at the prestigious international youth competition.

“That was the last race of the week, so we had all done our individual races,” recalled Barbier, who skied the second leg of the race. “It was crazy to see all these super-high-level athletes just going all out, mass start.”

Barbier had done relay races before in his hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but nothing like this on the international stage.

“You’re really motivated to try to be there for your team, and it makes you push harder than maybe you would in an individual race,” he said. “I watched my teammate Fin go out first. And he was right with the lead pack.

“So, he tagged off to me, and I was right off the back of a group of skiers. So, I caught up with them. It was snowing, so it was pretty hard to pass that day.”

Despite that, Barbier moved up a few spots trying to put the U.S. team in position for a spot on the podium.

“I knew Tabor was super strong, would do the best he could,” he said. “I fought as hard as I could. When I tagged off to Tabor, I think we were in, maybe, fourth.”

Barbier and Bailey cheered Greenberg on but couldn’t see much of the course from their vantage point in the stadium.

“When he came back, he was battling for first,” Barbier said. “He was right behind the first-place guy. And we were just amazed. He had made up like 30 seconds.

“He passed him right around the last corner. It was pretty amazing to see what we could do. I mean, I’ve never raced people from other countries. Just (a) really high-level event, and being able to perform well was really motivating.”

Benjamin Barbier competes during the men's sprint free qualification at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 on Jan. 29, 2024 in Gangwon, South Korea. (Photo by OIS/Jonathan Nackstrand)

The 17-year-old Barbier gets another chance to taste victory in a big international event this month at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024, which run Jan. 19-Feb. 1 in Gangwon, South Korea. The quadrennial competition for athletes ages 15 to 18 is expected to feature 1,900 athletes from more than 80 nations, providing the teens with an Olympic-like experience, including an athletes’ village and opening and closing ceremonies. This year’s event also utilizes many of the venues from the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

“I want to be racing as fast as I can for these races,” said Barbier, adding that Gangwon is “definitely the biggest event I’ve ever been to. It’s definitely going to have a really cool atmosphere around it.”

Barbier was nominated to the U.S. team in November, but after contracting COVID-19 on Christmas Day he was unsure if he would be ready in time to compete.

“I wasn’t able to race as well at the nationals,” he said of the Jan. 2-7 event. “I only did two of the four races.”

Yet, Barbier has bounced back and has been training six days a week in preparation for the Games.

“I’ve just been trying to build back up into my normal routine,” he said. “Muscles haven’t felt as good, but they’re getting better every day. We’ve been lucky to have a ton of snow.”

Barbier, who has been skiing since he was a toddler, is the son of U.S. U14 coach Ben Barbier.

“He always took me out skiing,” the younger Barbier said. “He was my coach for probably three or four years. He was my teacher for two years. I’ve had only positive experiences. It’s been great.

“I just love the sport of skiing. Love pushing myself hard, seeing what I can do.”

Proof of that came two years ago, when Barbier did a 100-mile ski in 10 hours. And more challenges lie ahead.

“I’m super excited to be able to race on the college circuit,” he said. “I think it would be great to race even higher than that, maybe make a world cup or something. But I’d say I just take it race by race and just train hard, race hard.”

Barbier will do just that in Gangwon. He’s expecting to race in a freestyle sprint on Jan. 29 and a distance classic race the next day. If all goes as planned, he’ll wrap up on Feb. 1 — his 18th birthday — with another relay race.

“It’s a mixed relay,” said Barbier, “so there’s going to be men and women on the same team, which will be super cool.”