Norway provides an opportunity for Steamboat Springs skier to travel, improve | SteamboatToday.com

Norway provides an opportunity for Steamboat Springs skier to travel, improve

Noel Keeffe, right, leads a pack of skiers at the U.S. Senior National Championships in Michigan.

— After spending 10 days eating a diet of potatoes, fish and lots of other bland food, cross-country skier Noel Keeffe is happy to be back home in Steamboat Springs, but he's not complaining about his adventures in Norway late last month.

"It was quite an honor," Keeffe said of his invitation to participate in a Scandinavian ski trip that included some of the United States most promising young athletes. "It's really fun to race against top international competition, and it's super awesome to travel to different places and to get to meet a lot of other top athletes."

The top-six men and top-six women under the age of 18 were invited on the trip based on their results at the senior nationals a few weeks ago. The athletes spent 10 days traveling across Norway and being exposed to that country's long tradition of Nordic skiing.

"Cross-country skiing is like their football," Keeffe said. "It seemed like everyday they had a different World Cup skier on the front page of their papers.”

He admits that the food was a little different, but it wasn’t bad. He said the people in Norway were truly interested in the American skiers, where they were from and how they trained. He said it was hard to go anywhere without somebody asking them about Donald Trump and the elections in the U.S. However, he said the conversation normally drifted back to skiing.

The trip was designed to help develop the young skiers during 10 intense days of training and competition. This is the second year in a row Keeffe has been invited to participate.

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The trip also offered an opportunity to ski against some great European competition. Keeffe said the trip gave the American skiers a chance to see how they matched up against other top skiers from around the world in two individual competitions and a mixed relay event.

Keeffe said his best result came in the classic sprint event where he qualified 15th and then moved up to 12th in the final standings. He also competed in a 10K skate race where he finished 22nd and the 5K mixed relay where his team finished ninth.

Last year, Keeffe said the trip was eye-opening, and he came back ready to train harder and to push his physical limits.

"I think I skied better this year, but I can still see areas for improvement in my training," he said. "I think it is awesome to race against those other top skiers, and it makes me realize that with some hard work, I could be right there with some of the best skiers in the world."

The trip is only offered to skiers under the age of 18, and this was the Steamboat Springs High School junior’s final shot. Now, he is clearly focused on qualifying for next year's Junior World Championships and beyond.

"The level of skiing on our team (the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club) just keeps getting better," Keeffe said. “When I first joined this team, there were maybe 10 or 11 people on the team. Now we are between 15 to 25, and it continues to grow and get stronger every year."

Keeffe isn't surprised by the team's recent success, including his teammate Wyatt Gephardt’s two top-20 results at last week's Junior World Championships in Park City.

"I think the atmosphere on our team helps create strong skiers," Keeffe said. “We push each other, we make each other better and it's a really fun group of kids to ski with."

Keeffe said he was inspired by his experience in Norway and he’s hoping that will fuel his skiing in the final stretch of the season.

"The trip was a huge confidence builder," Keeffe said.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966