Mike Walsh | Powder Report: Vermont's Sophie Caldwell talks growth of cross-country skiing

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All work and no powder makes Mike a dull boy. All work and no powder makes Mike a dull boy.

Here's snow season!

Welcome back, everyone, to Season 2 of the Powder Report.

It's been a long, grueling and occasionally spoice-less offseason, but with Killington sporadically opening recently and ski sales happening across the Berkshires, it's about time to melt off that storage wax and hit the slopes.

Make some room next to the golf clubs and take inventory of your equipment needs — those Gorilla Glue-fashioned boots may need replacing — because opening day is around the corner.

Since we New England-bound folks are still in the preparation stages of the winter season, I had the opportunity to chat with a former local who spent part of her summer training in New Zealand with the U.S. cross-country ski team ahead of their World Cup season.

Sophie Caldwell is a native of Peru, Vt., who can be seen in our area's true powder-season kickoff event: Warren Miller's Face of Winter showing at the Colonial Theatre on Thursday.

This will be the first time a Warren Miller film will take a look at the sport of cross-country skiing, and the series of events that led to its inclusion, could possibly be traced back to Caldwell's performances while competing for the good old red, white and blue.

After placing sixth in a sprint final during her first Olympics in Sochi in 2014, Caldwell won a World Cup race last year just before the Olympics. Wahconah's own Matt Whitcomb mentioned it when we chatted last season after the Pyeongchang Games.

"That was a big confidence-booster for the team," Caldwell told me on the phone from her place in Vermont. "We knew the team was in a good place, had paired well, and were set up to perform well at the Olympics."

You probably remember what happened next. Caldwell's teammates — Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall — won the first ever women's cross-country Olympic gold. As Whitcomb said, though, that was just the beginning of a drive to increase the sport's popularity in America.

"When they follow cross-country skiing, it is every four years when they tune into the Olympics," said Caldwell. "It's cool that hopefully this puts it more on the map.

"Hopefully we have a bigger following, and people can follow the World Cup. We've had one of the best teams in the world for a while now, and now people back home are starting to realize that, and that is more motivation for us to keep going, building on that success."

That process continued this summer in New Zealand, where Warren Miller Entertainment sent out a film crew to chronicle Team USA's preparations for the World Cup circuit.

"The story they wanted to portray in the film was genuine, and show what we actual do for training," said Caldwell. "They were really cool to work with and talk to.

"The rough draft of the film that I saw looked really cool and I thought they did a good job of showing what our sport was about, and I was really proud."

The Berkshires mourned Miller's death last season, so getting to see one of the first ski films produced since his passing locally is pretty cool. The film will air at the Colonial in Pittsfield at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8. Tickets are $19.50, with a bunch of sweet perks attached.

"I think the Olympics definitely helped with that. There had been talk of it for a while, but now that we have that gold medal just this past year, I think they have a big story to build on," said Caldwell. "It's awesome that its finally being included in one of those films. I hope people will get excited to see something new."

Caldwell's local roots run deep. She's the third Olympian in a family that now has four with her cousin, Patrick, joining her in South Korea. Her uncle was a four-time Olympian and her grandfather also competed.

"Our whole family is really close and skiing is a big part of us. We talk a lot of skiing, and the family legacy in the sport is something I've always been really proud of," she said. "When I made the Olympics, my grandpa, my dad and my uncle were all really proud. I always get little emails from my grandpa throughout the season asking how things are going and giving me his opinion. It's a really big part of all of our lives."

She was joined by Diggins on a trip to her old stomping grounds in last month at Prospect Mountain, where she skied while competing for Stratton Mountain School and then Dartmouth College.

"They had a little fundraiser/get together to celebrate the new ownership, so Jessie and I went down and spoke and did some signing and hung out with the community there," said Caldwell. "We would have races there several times a winter. I have fond memories of Prospect. We're gone most of the winter, but if it's a good winter and they keep snow there late, I can go down for a ski."

As for any other youngsters with dreams of making it from Prospect to New Zealand to the Olympics, Caldwell is a proponent of trying a variety of sports, before and even while focusing on the one you love. If that sport happens to be cross-country skiing, well...

"It's a very individual sport, so figuring out what works for you, and listening to your body is the key to success," said Caldwell. "We train together as much as possible, but what works for Jessie may not work for me. What works for me, may not necessarily work for Sadie [Bjornsen]. There's a huge range of hours and intensities and strengths we do. Individualize it, and make sure you're enjoying it. It's really easy to get burned out on something you don't enjoy."

Which brings us full circle to the OG ski bum Warren Miller. Skiing and riding are about pure enjoyment, and nobody knew that better than Miller, and apparently, Caldwell's father.

Before her sixth-place finish in Sochi, Caldwell got an email from her dad that told her: "Remember, you always ski the fastest when you're having fun."

"As cliche as it sounds, I always ski the fastest when I'm having fun and enjoying it," she told me. "There was no reason I should've been sixth in the world that day, but I genuinely believe it was just because I was enjoying the experience so much."

So while you're waxing your ride or screwing on the car rack this month, be sure to take a minute and smile. It's going to be a good season.

Keep your tips up and stay spoice,

Mike Walsh is an urchin snowboarder who can be reached in the local lift line or at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com.


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