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Skiing

17-year-old is among 8 Alaskans named to national ski, snowboard teams

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: May 25
  • Published May 24

Gus Schumacher, of Service High, skis through the stadium in the second leg during the CIC Cross Country Ski Championship relays at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

Gus Schumacher, who graduated last week from Service High, has decided not to give cross-country skiing the old college try.

One of the nation's emerging talents, Schumacher said he has turned down offers to ski in college and will remain in Anchorage next winter to train with the Alaska Winter Stars, the club he has belonged to since the fourth grade.

"It was a really hard decision," he said. "I spent a lot of time thinking about it and talking to coaches and mentors.

"Ultimately it was the idea of not knowing how I would respond to different training. Eventually that sort of has to happen, but I didn't want a huge change right now – a new city, new living spaces, totally different people. Not having your mom making you eat spinach and stuff."

Schumacher's "eventually" is sort of already happening.

He is one of eight Alaskans — including five Winter Olympians — who this week were named to national teams by U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

Schumacher, 17, was named to the men's development team. He's  among six cross-country skiers named to the U.S. team. Others include:

— Sadie Bjornsen, a two-time Olympian who in 2017-18 bookended her best season ever with World Cup podium finishes. She had four podium finishes in all and placed sixth in the World Cup overall standings. She was named to the women's A team.

— Erik Bjornsen, a two-time Olympian who last season enjoyed his first individual top-10 finish in a World Cup race. He was named to the men's B team.

— Scott Patterson, who shined in his Olympic debut by placing in the top 21 in all three of his individual races, including an 11th-place showing in the 50-kilometer race. He was named to the men's B team.

— Hailey Swirbul, who won two medals – one silver, one bronze – at last season's World Junior Championships and was on the podium twice for UAA at this year's NCAA championships. She was named to the women's development team.

— Hannah Halvorsen, who along with Swirbul won a bronze medal in the relay at the 2017 World Junior Championships and placed eighth in the sprint at this year's World Juniors. She was named to the women's development team.

All but Schumacher are members of the Alaska Pacific University nordic ski team. Swirbul skied for Seawolves this season but recently left UAA to join the APU team, which does not compete collegiately.

Two other Alaskans were named to the U.S. Freeski team:

— Ryan Stassel, a two-time Olympian who placed 26th in big air and 35th in slopestyle at the Pyeongchang Olympics. He is the 2015 world champion in slopestyle.

— Rosie Mancari, a member of the 2018 Olympic team in snowboardcross. She had a season-best eighth-place finish in a World Cup race right before the Olympics, but wasn't able to race in Pyeongchang because she was injured during training.

Schumacher is the youngest of the Alaskans named to national teams this week.

"When I got the call I was super-happy," he said. "To be given that opportunity is great, especially leaving the stability of high school."

Schumacher made the national team on the basis of a strong showing at the U.S. senior national championships early this year in Anchorage and a superb performance at the World Junior Championships later in the season.

At the national championships, he placed sixth in the 10K freestyle, 16th in the 30K classic and made the senior men's heats in both sprints. At the World Juniors, his anchor leg lifted the U.S. relay team to the silver medal, the first medal for American boys in the history of the championships.

Schumacher was one of three Anchorage skiers on the medal-winning relay team at World Juniors. Hunter Wonders and Luke Jager both train with APU, which will allow Schumacher to work out with them and other APU skiers.

"I'll start to collaborate with that group a little more," he said. "I generally train alone, or close to it, but I will do some stuff with that group. Obviously, there's the benefit of skiing with Olympians."

Schumacher's decision to forgo NCAA skiing – he will attend UAA part-time, he said, but he won't ski for the Seawolves – will allow him to continue to work with Jan Buron, his longtime Alaska Winter Stars coach.

"It's a lot easier when I'm close to him," Schumacher said. "All of his athletes, he'll pay attention to them after they leave for college, but there's only so much he can do when they are 4,000 miles away."

Schumacher, Jager and Wonders are among America's up-and-coming skiers, as are Swirbul and Halvorsen. They are beginning to emerge on the international stage just as one of the nation's all-time greats is retiring — Anchorage's Kikkan Randall, a five-time Olympian who ended her career with a gold medal — American's first in cross-country — in the team sprint at Pyeongchang.

"We'll do our best to fill Kikkan's shoes," Schumacher said, "but it's gonna be tough."

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