Bend’s location in the high desert has made it an incubator for athletes to train for the Winter Olympics.
Bend’s proximity to a world-class mountain with an extended season has made it a hotbed for competitive as well as recreational skiers. And while there is no magic formula for producing Olympians, let alone the next Shaun White or Lindsey Vonn, the Bend ski community led by Mount Bachelor Sports Education Foundation (MBSEF) has been developing and refining its athlete development model for more than half a century.
If the 2017/2018 season is any indication, Bend continues to be a breeding ground for elite snowsports athletes hoping to make their own Olympic mark. Quality ski terrain is a key factor in what attracts, and cultivates, aspiring skiers and snowboarders. “We have a world-class mountain,” said Nils Eriksson, the Swedish-born alpine director of MBSEF, who is approaching thirty years of coaching for the junior development program. “We have terrain well suited to learning the ‘touch’ of the snow.”
Among the 600 youth enrolled in MBSEF programs this winter, some thirty are full-time athletes that train on the mountain five days each week. Many in this select group have dreams of competing on the world’s biggest stage. MBSEF executive director John Schiemer said that every year a small number of young athletes in their program move seasonally to Bend for the opportunity to be close to the mountain and to hone their skills with expert coaches and other top athletes.
Teegan Lowe, a 17-year-old alpine racer, made the decision with her family last year to relocate from Monroe, Washington to Bend for the ski season. With hopes of one day competing in the Olympics, she knew she needed to leave home.
“The amazing coaching staff [at MBSEF] and the ability to train even more days is something I decided would hopefully enable me to move to the next level as a competitor,” said Teegan, a ski racer since she was five who is now in her second season with the program. “It ended up being one of the best decisions my parents and I have ever made.”
While Bend is not home to any current Olympians in the Nordic events, there are Bend-based athletes still vying for the last remaining spots on the Men’s Nordic Team. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, a world-class sprinter and former junior national champion, narrowly missed qualifying for Sochi in 2014 and is attempting to qualify for 2018 at National Finals in January. Bend Endurance Academy teammate Akeo Maifeld-Carucci is another elite men’s Nordic competitor skiing down to the qualifying wire.
Even for Nordic skiers based elsewhere in the United States, Bend and Mt. Bachelor are virtually household names. Nearly all of the members of the Canadian Olympic teams, including biathlon and Nordic combined, trained at Mt. Bachelor some time in the last year.
“Mt. Bachelor is as good as it gets anywhere in the world in the spring,” said Justin Wadsworth, who lived and trained during the run-up to his three Olympic appearances. “I’d safely say that there’s no better place to cross-country ski train that time of year.”
After he retired from racing, Wadsworth would go on to hold head coaching positions with the U.S. and Canadian cross-country ski teams, both of which he brought to Mt. Bachelor for annual spring training camps.
Now living in Canmore, Alberta with his wife, Olympic gold-medal winning Nordic skier Beckie Scott, Wadsworth said variety in Bend is a key benefit that develops stronger and healthier athletes.
“Cross-country skiers do a lot of roller skiing and running,” he said. “The roads in Bend are amazing, and obviously the trails for running and biking. Those are all aspects that were really ideal for Beckie and me when we lived there.”
But at the end of the day, one of the reasons Bend lays claim to a reputation as an incubator for elite athletes is the proverbial rising tide. In other words, elite athletes beget more elite athletes.
“It’s super important to have people to motivate you,” said Dave Cieslowski, a former national level Nordic skier and current head coach of the U.S. Nordic Combined team. “Whether you’re a high-level racer, or an up-and-comer, to be able to train and compete against those people elevates everyone.”