JC Schoonmaker is changing ski affiliations, but two other things haven’t changed: he’s staying in Anchorage and he remains the top Nordic ski sprinter in the country.
Schoonmaker was among nine racers affiliated with Alaska to be nominated to the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team on Wednesday — and he comprises half the men’s squad named to the A Team that receives the most funding and support (Ben Ogden of Vermont is the other).
Schoonmaker skied for the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves for four years while juggling studies, World Cup races and a trip to the 2022 Winter Olympics. Now 22, he’s a new member of the powerhouse Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center squad.
And he’s got plenty of company on APU’s “Blue Train.”
There are six B Team members of the 2023-24 and four hail from Anchorage: Scott Patterson (who was demoted from the A Team he represented last year); Gus Schumacher, a former individual World Junior Championships gold medalist; Luke Jager, who is back in Anchorage after completing studies at the University of Utah; and Zanden McMullen, who’s been promoted from the Development Team.
Along with D Teamers Michael Earnhart, a 20-year-old Eagle River native, and 19-year-old Derek “Buster” Richardson, they form a core of young and talented skiers — all are age 23 or younger except for the 31-year-old Patterson — that breed optimism for the future.
And with the exception of Schumacher (Alaska Winter Stars), all of them represent APU.
“I feel like (APU) has everything one needs to be an elite skier so I wanted to stick around here,” said Schoonmaker, a native of Tahoe City, Calif. “APU has a great group of guys my age at the moment so the opportunity to train with them every day is super exciting and I couldn’t pass that up.”
The men’s team did take one hit with the surprising retirement of Anchorage’s Hunter Wonders, who at age 24 was coming off a breakthrough season that included two Top-20 World Cup distance results.
An official announcement of the 2023-24 team, which rarely includes changes from those nominated, will occur in early fall, according to US Ski & Snowboard.
Three coaches with Alaskan ties remain on staff: Chris Grover, the Cross Country Program Director formerly of Anchorage; World Cup Coach Jason Cork, who grew up in North Pole; and Development Teach Coach Greta Anderson, formerly of Anchorage.
Meanwhile, the women’s team sports a single Alaskan, but she’s among the best skiers in the world. Rosie Brennan finished the 2023 World Cup overall in fourth place and the 34-year-old Utah native and longtime Anchorage resident has had an amazing resurgence after getting dropped from the U.S. Ski Team twice in her career. Her spot on the A Team is now very secure.
A newcomer at APU alongside Brennan is 2022 Olympian Novie McCabe. The 21-year-old from Winthrop, Wash., skied alongside Jager at the University of Utah and now will help provide depth to an APU women’s squad that is seeking to reload after the retirements in recent years of Olympians Kikkan Randall, Sadie Bjornsen, Hannah Halvorsen, Rosie Frankowski and most recently Hailey Swirbul.
McCabe, the daughter of past Olympian Laura McCabe, plans to move to Anchorage in mid-June.
“I have spent a couple of summers in Anchorage training with APU and have really enjoyed my time there, so APU was definitely at the top of my list when deciding what team to join this year,” McCabe said by text. “There are so many people on the team that inspire me and make me very excited about racing and training in general.”
Joining APU includes one other major perk for McCabe.
“The opportunity to work with (head coach Erik) Flora was also of course a major draw,” she said.
McCabe is one of three U.S. B Team members while Brennan is joined on the A Team by Julia Kern of Massachusetts and the team’s star, Olympic and World Championship gold medalist Jessie Diggins of Minnesota.
Speaking of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota will be the center of Nordic skiing in February 2023 when Minneapolis hosts a pair of World Cup races, the first in the U.S. in two decades.
Schoonmaker, for one, can’t wait.
“I’m super stoked for some US World Cups next winter,” Schoonmaker said. “I’ve been on the World Cup for about three years now and we’ve only raced over in Europe so the chance to get to come home and race in front of an American crowd is going to be a really great feeling. I hope it can inspire people and grow our sport in the U.S.”