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Katie Feldman-‘You Have to Show Up’
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Monday, January 3, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Katie Feldman never had to look far for a role model. Her father Richard Feldman, a professional bicycle racer, has provided a consistent demonstration of how to train day-in day-out even as he bikes Highway 75 in winter conditions.

Feldman appears to have learned well. The 25-year-old on the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s elite Gold Team took second in the 2019 Boulder Mountain Tour. And last winter she took third-place in a grueling 45-kilometer classic ski race in a blizzard at the American Birkebeiner—America’s top ski race.

She took fourth in the American Birkebeiner’s 45-kilometer skate ski race, the day before.

This week she and two other women with Sun Valley connections—fellow Gold Team member Sarah Goble and U.S. Ski Team member Sydney Palmer-Leger--have an opportunity to land a spot on the U.S.  Olympic Nordic team. But it won’t come easy as they compete against hundreds of ski racers at the U.S. National Championships at Utah’s Soldier Hollow.

“What an amazing opportunity,” said Feldman. “My obligation is to go out and ski my best. It’s not an opportunity I will have all my life.”

Growing up in Sun Valley, Feldman’s parents strapped skis to her feet as soon as she could walk. She skied on both the alpine team and the cross-country team through middle school. But she was forced to choose between the two come high school as both required practice five days a week.

“I picked the cross-country team because I could travel with my friends. I would have had to travel with my parents had I been on the alpine team,” she said “And I wasn’t as competitive at alpine—I didn’t like crashing at high speeds.”

Feldman continued to race at Middlebury College where she got a bachelor’s degree in art history, criticism and conservation. 

“We had to use a lot more klister in Vermont,” she said of the gooey ski wax. “But being part of the team was amazing.”

After college, she returned to Sun Valley, taking a job with Kneeland Gallery while joining eight other skiers on the SVSEF Gold Team.

“I didn’t want to turn 30 not having given ski racing a try,” she said. “It’s made me such a part of the community. People at every sports shop, every restaurant, are so supportive. Everyone says, ‘We’re rooting for you.’ ”

Rick Kapala, the SVSEF head coach, also makes it easy, she said, encouraging skiers to get out of their heads when they hit a rough patch.

“He says getting good at something is never a quick and easy process but it is rewarding because the process is what’s beneficial to our development,” she said. “One of the reasons cross country skiing is so cool is that you have to keep showing up. That means skiing through bad weather because you don’t know when the sun is going to pop through and going up against intimidating competition because you never know when you’re going to have a breakthrough race.”

That sounds exactly like her father’s admonishments to bike in bad weather as well as fair weather because you never know when you’re going to show up for a race in a blizzard or cold rain.

“My dad’s respectful of the fact that I have my own coaches, but he’s always there when I need him. And, if I ever need a training partner, he’s there. Last year he skied the virtual Boulder Mountain Tour with me. He helped me push the pace.”

Feldman, who is versed in Spanish, French and German, was set to compete at her first World Cup race at Quebec City in Canada when it was abruptly cancelled by the pandemic in March 2020. In the months following, she was a ski racer with no races.

When she did finally race in the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin, it took 10 days to recover from the two 45-kilometer races.

“It snowed a foot in one hour during the classic race. I’ve never been as cold and wet during a race,” she said.

Feldman spent the summer in Sun Valley, running as many as 20 miles at a time on the trails, mountain biking and practicing pole planting techniques while rollerskiiing.

“I’ve gotten my share of skinned knees, but it’s nice to have the bike path. So many of my friends have to rollerski on roads so it’s nice not to have cars going 45 miles an hour past me,” she said.

“It was also great to be able to ski on the treadmill at Sagewillow Barn when there was smoke in the air. It was fun because we could do it in shorts and the coaches control the speed so they push us when they think we need it. But there’s no downhill on the treadmill so there’s no recovery time.”

Performance Coach Johnny Michael rounded out her workout with strength training and stretching, individualizing her plan to get her to drive her knee over her ankle for more ankle flex while climbing hills.

She trained at Lake Placid in September and at Park City in October. Then she spent 10 days on manmade snow Canadians had stored over the summer in Canmore in early November.

The spectre of COVID still hangs over the Beijing Olympics in February. But Feldman is excited to race again since there were so few races last year.

“I haven’t seen most of the other racers for a year so it will be fun to see them again,” she said. “And, while the stakes are pretty high with the Olympics, I would like to think I’m one of the ones to watch. If I don’t make the team, I will have a lot of cool opportunities to race on the World Cup, to  represent my country, not just my team.”

Feldman said it’s an exciting time to be part of U.S. skiing.

“When Jessie Diggins won the overall World Cup title, that’d never happened for a U.S. skier. There’s been a shift—more commitment from coaches and more investing in the development of young athletes. When Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins won America’s first gold in Nordic skiing in 2018, it showed American athletes of all ages that anything is possible.”


 

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