The Long Distance Ski Championship

FasterSkier’s U.S. Breakthroughs: Kevin Bolger and Rosie Frankowski

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FasterSkier

Kevin Bolger (l) of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) and Rosie Frankowski of Alaska Pacific University are FasterSkier’s 2018 U.S. Breakthrough Skiers of the Year. (Photos: Fischer/NordicFocus & FasterSkier)

With the 2017/2018 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This set of honors goes to the U.S. Breakthrough Skiers of the Year.

Previous categories: Junior Skiers of the Year | Collegiate Skiers of the Year | Biathletes of the YearPara-Nordic Skiers of the YearNordic Combined Skier of the Year | Canadian Breakthrough Skiers of the Year

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Kevin Bolger, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation

By placing 11th in the freestyle sprint in Lahti, Sun Valley’s Kevin Bolger won some Gruyere cheese for being the top-ranked Continental Cup skier of the day. (Photo: Matt Whitcomb)

It wasn’t until he looked at the live-timing board that Sun Valley XC Gold Team member Kevin Bolger understood where he finished. In his debut World Cup race — a freestyle-sprint qualifier on March 3 in Lahti, Finland — the 25 year old qualified in the top 20, just 0.92 seconds out of the top 10.

I remember some official telling me I was 16th, but I did not think he was talking to me,” Bolger told FasterSkier after that race. 

He soon discovered that the communication was not misdirected. Qualified in 16th, Bolger felt both a rush of adrenaline and relief.

“A lot of emotion kicked in,” Bolger said. “The hard part was over, now it was time to have some fun.”

Bolger advanced through the rounds, ultimately finishing the day as the top American man in 11th place. Few American skiers, beyond Olympian Garrott Kuzzy, can compete with such debutant bragging rights (Kuzzy opened his first World Cup weekend with a ninth place in a 2008 skate sprint).

But it is not just Bolger’s first World Cup race that makes him FasterSkier’s American male “Breakthrough Skier of the Year”. Two weeks later, he competed at World Cup Finals in Falun, Sweden, and once again advanced to the rounds in a freestyle sprint, this time in 29th. He finished the day in 30th overall.

“It couldn’t have been written any better,” Bolger wrote in an email to FasterSkier of his transition to World Cup racing. “Was I surprised, yes of course, but deep down going into those World Cups I knew what I was capable of doing, so I went out and did it. I wanted to capitalize on my opportunity and show that I have what it takes to be skiing on the World Cup and be competing with the best in the world and I think I did that.”

Overall this season, Bolger, a former University of Utah skier who graduated in 2017, placed second in the season-long SuperTour standings, just 15 points behind David Norris of Alaska Pacific University (APU) in first. Bolger raced to second place in the skate sprint at U.S. nationals in Anchorage, Alaska, then achieved back-to-back podiums in the classic sprint and 10-kilometer freestyle at the Craftsbury SuperTour in late January (he was third in both races).

In February, before heading over to race the last World Cup period in Europe, Bolger won a SuperTour skate sprint and finished second in the 20 k freestyle mass start in Ishpeming, Michigan. While fighting illness upon his return to the states last last month, he competed at U.S. SuperTour Finals in Craftsbury, qualifying for the classic sprint in ninth and closing out that race in 14th.

“As I reflect back on my season I don’t think it could have gone better,” Bolger wrote.

“I’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to be skiing on the World Cup and skiing against the best in the World,” Bolger continued. “That has shown me that I still have a lot of work to do ‘a lot of work’, of course I’ve had some good results but I want more. I want to be able to not only ski with those guys on the World Cup, but I want to be compete against them. I haven’t been more motivated and excited for another year to start.

Bolger plans to continue to work with Sun Valley XC Gold Team coach Chris Mallory and is certainly a name to look out for next winter on both the domestic and international circuits.

“I’m excited for what is to come!” Bolger wrote.

Rosie Frankowski, Alaska Pacific University

Rosie Frankowski (l) leading her American teammate Caitlin Patterson during the women’s 30 k classic mass start on Sunday at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. In Frankowski’s first Olympic race, she placed 21st. (Photo: Scott Patterson)

In the last women’s cross-country race of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, there were a number of skiers to note. However, one in particular stood out. Not just because of her size — off skis, Rosie Frankowski barely skims 5 feet 2 inches — but the ferocity with which she chased every climb and doggedly double poled through the flats of the 30 k classic mass start.

“Literally, most of my competitors weigh at least 40 pounds more than me,” Frankowski, a 26-year-old APU skier, previously told FasterSkier. “My strategy when racing is literally to pass as many people in every uphill; hope that no one passes me on the downhills.”

But there are more reasons that Frankowski is the female recipient of FasterSkier’s U.S. Breakthrough Skier of the Year. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Frankowski qualified for the Olympics and in her first and only Olympic start, she finished 21st in that 30 k. She had never skied a World Cup race before the Olympics.

“It was crazy. I didn’t expect, honestly, to feel that good and just keep jamming and going,” Frankowski told FasterSkier that day in PyeongChang. “My one goal for the whole day was just to finish smiling.

“I honestly can’t tell you, when I came down that downhill on the last lap, it was so cool,” Frankowski continued. “That feeling, and when you’re hyped to have done a 30 k, and to know like you just raced in the Olympics and no matter what your result is, that’s just incredible. I can’t describe that feeling.”

She went on to race to 31st in the Holmenkollen 30 k freestyle mass start in Oslo, Norway — her first World Cup event. Frankowski competed at World Cup Finals in Falun and ended the season in Craftsbury, where she placed fourth in the 10 k freestyle mass start and sixth in the 30 k classic mass start at SuperTour Finals. Overall, she finished the season in third in the SuperTour standings (behind Kaitlynn Miller and Caitlin Patterson, both of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, respectively). And Frankowski leads the 2017/2018 SuperTour Distance standings.

Earlier this season, she placed second in the 10 k freestyle at the NorAm opener at Sovereign Lake, British Columbia. At U.S. nationals in early January, she raced to third in the 20 k classic mass start and fourth in the 10 k freestyle. She was second in the 5 k freestyle at the Craftsbury SuperTour in January and won the SuperTour/NorAm mini tour the next weekend with back-to-back wins (in the 10 k freestyle and 10 k classic pursuit) in Gatineau, Quebec.

After PyeongChang, Frankowski placed first in two Alpen Cup races in Cogne, Italy: a 10 k classic and 15 k freestyle pursuit. 

Honorable Mention: Scott Patterson, Alaska Pacific University/U.S. Ski Team

Scott Patterson (Alaska Pacific University/U.S. Ski Team) racing to Scott Patterson (APU/USST) racing to a 55-second win in the men’s 15 k freestyle individual start at 2018 U.S. Cross Country Championships in Anchorage, Alaska.

Scott Patterson was another serious contender for Breakthrough Skier of the Year — with four top-21 results in four Olympic races — but it should be noted that Patterson, who was named to the U.S. Ski Team last spring, was our U.S. Breakthrough Skier last year.

It appears his breakthrough, or rather his ascension, is ongoing. Patterson, 26, spent most of last season on the World Cup, posting the 31st-fastest time of the day in the 15 k freestyle pursuit at the World Cup opener in Kuusamo, Finland. But it got a lot better than that for the APU skier.

In early January, he returned home to Anchorage for U.S. nationals, where he won the 15 k freestyle and essentially punched his ticket to the Olympics. He also finished eighth in an all-out sprint finish in the 30 k classic mass start at nationals.

He scored his first World Cup top 30 of the season the weekend before the Olympics in Seefeld, Austria, placing 27th in the 15 k freestyle mass start. At the Olympics was where he really broke through: placing 18th in the 30 k skiathlon, then 21st in the 15 k skate, then 14th with the men’s 4 x 10 k relay, and finally, 11th in the 50 k classic mass start.

In the world-famous Holmenkollen 50 k freestyle mass start in March, he led the U.S. men in 16th.

“It’s all just about staying relaxed,” Patterson told FasterSkier at the time. “Kind of felt like five pretty easy laps and then one real hard one out there. … Actually I struggled  a little bit on the third lap, my skis slowed down quite a bit and was able to switch on the fourth [lap] and then really had some rockets out there.

At SuperTour Finals in Craftsbury, Patterson ended the season with three top 10’s: third in the 50 k classic mass start, fourth in the 15 k skate and 10th in the classic sprint. That put him sixth in the SuperTour Distance standings.

Honorable Mention: Sadie Bjornsen, Alaska Pacific University/U.S. Ski Team  

American Sadie Bjornsen (r) en route to third in the women’s 1.3-kilometer classic sprint at the World Cup in Lillehammer, Norway. (Photo: Henrik Hunnes)

Another American who spends her offseason training with APU out of Anchorage, Sadie Bjornsen, of the U.S. Ski Team’s A-team, turned a lot of heads this season. She had been on the World Cup podium in a non-relay race before — in January 2017 after placing third in a 5 k freestyle in Toblach, Italy — sharing that podium with U.S. teammate Jessie Diggins, who won that day. But Bjornsen started the 2017/2018 World Cup season with her first sprint podium — second in a classic sprint — three days after her 28th birthday in Kuusamo, Finland.

The next weekend, Bjornsen placed third in another World Cup classic sprint in Lillehammer, Norway. She went on to place third in the 10 k classic stage of the Tour de Ski in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, and notably third in the 10 k freestyle pursuit at World Cup Finals in Falun, right behind her teammate, Diggins, in second. Bjornsen was also a member of the U.S. women’s relay team that finished fifth at the Olympics.

“I think the step I made this year is one step closer to being in a place where Jessie is racing right now,” Bjornsen told FasterSkier in Falun.  “To have a teammate who is just pushing the bar just every single day and making me believe that in order to be the best racer in the world, you have to have no fear. Jessie is a great example of that and it is certainly contagious.”

And she did all that by overcoming chronic foot injuries and other setbacks leading into the season. She finished the winter with two second-place finishes at SuperTour Finals, in the 10 k freestyle and 30 k classic mass starts, and fourth place in the classic sprint in Craftsbury. And for the first time in her career, she landed in the top 10 in the season-long World Cup standings, clinching sixth overall, eighth in the sprint standings and 10th in the distance standings.

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