Eagle is a small town where big things happen as quietly as wheels rolling across the bike path.For example: Some members of the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team spent part of the summer training in Eagle Ranch before leaving for World Cup racing in Europe on Saturday.People may have noticed guys on roller skis with poles gliding vigorously around the area in recent weeks but few residents knew the elite athletes were here.The Enterprise found out about it by a Facebook post:“Go U.S. Ski Team!! We love seeing the Cross-Country Team take off each morning for your training. We have your coffee and breakfast sandwiches for you!” reads a post on the Facebook page of HP's Provisions.Olympic hopeful, 26-year-old Sylvan Ellefson, said it's a great place for workouts.“Eagle Ranch has prime terrain for roller skiing. We train there about four times a week,” Sylvan said last week before he joined the U.S. Team in Finland over the weekend. Sylvan is an Edwards resident, Vail Mountain School graduate and a full-time athlete with the 2014 Sochi, Russia Olympics in his sights. He is partly responsible for bringing the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team members to the area. That story began about 15 years ago.
Sylvan was 11 and his younger brother, Kjell, was 7 when their dad died in the mountains of Italy.“Their dad ran races around the world with a group called the Sky Runners,” said Tashina, Sylvan and Kjell's mom. “They ran long distances at high altitude. They once ran a marathon at the base camp of Mount Everest — 17,000 feet.”Lyndon Ellefson died in 1998 when a snow bridge collapsed under him as he ran over a deep crevasse.“It was really important to me for the boys to have male role models,” Tashina said. “Someone recommended the Vail Mountain School but we couldn't afford it.”The boys got scholarships to VMS. They had been skiers since they were babies — Lyndon worked on Vail Mountain, where Tashina met him — but the VMS made a difference, especially for Sylvan, who returned to the valley after college as an athlete for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Kjell is now finishing school at the University of Colorado at Boulder and working as a photographer for a telemark ski magazine. “I was a downhill racer until I was 15,” Sylvan said. “Some friends got me to try cross-country skiing. I did both for a while and then decided I liked cross-country better. Maybe part of that decision was because I was getting better results at Nordic skiing.”Sylvan went to Bates College, a small private school in Maine. He continued Nordic racing there and was an All American while earning a bachelor's degree in psychology. He also met his future wife during that time — through the intermingling of NCAA ski programs. They were married Aug. 11.“After college, I decided to commit to a skiing career for at least four years,” Sylvan said. “I definitely have used my experience with my father's death as a gate to show that there is only so much time in our lives and that it's not the amount of years in a life that count, it's how much life is in those years. I believe that is a quote by Abraham Lincoln, but is most importantly a derivation of my father's favorite saying, ‘Carpe diem' (‘seize the moment').”
Since returning to the valley, Sylvan is back with his old coach, Dan Weiland, and coach Eric Pepper. With Weiland and a few others, Sylvan started the Elite Nordic Program at SSCV three years ago.“It was a push to get a little higher level racing based out of Vail,” Sylvan said. “We worked with Ski Club Vail and dubbed ourselves Team HomeGrown.”Last year, the Team HomeGrown invited other high-caliber athletes to join. Noah Hoffman, of Aspen, and Tad Elliott, of Durango, accepted the invitation. Hoffman and Elliott are U.S. Ski Team members. Other members of this year's Team HomeGrown include Ryan Scott, Max Scrimgeour and Christian Shanley.“It's pretty cool that half of Team HomeGrown is represented in the World Cup this year,” Sylvan said.Weiland said an additional member is joining the team for U.S. Nationals in early January — Tony Ryerson, a Harvard skier and former SSCV junior athlete.Sylvan will compete in 12 races between now and Dec. 26.“After the break, depending on how well I race, I'll either go back to Europe for more World Cup racing or continue racing here in the states,” he said.Weiland said this is the most important season in the club's history.“World Championships and Olympics next year — our goal is to have four athletes representing the U.S. and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail at both events!” he said.
Since dedicating himself to skiing, Sylvan has been making steady progress in his career.“I finished the 2010-2011 season ranking 12th in distance skiing and 16th overall in the U.S.,” he said. “This ranking was nine places up from where I was at the end of the season before. I finished the national SuperTour Circuit with an eighth-place standing. I also racked up six wins and 15 Top-15 finishes, including my races in Europe on the OPA Cup Circuit. The 2011-2012 season came to be a breakout season for me, having a fourth National Sprint ranking and a sixth National Distance ranking. I had 11 Continental Cup podiums and 12 World Cup Starts. I also was crowned 2012 SuperTour Champion (best overall results from the Continental Cup domestic season).”A typical day for him starts with training. Then he goes to a variety of odd jobs that include helping with Vail Mountain School programs, assisting teachers at Red Sandstone Elementary — where he went to school as a kid — and a property management job. He finishes the day with more training.“I do a lot of running, biking and roller skiing,” he said. “It's a full-body sport, maybe the only other sport that compares is swimming. I'm always trying to perfect my technique and it never ends.”While Sylvan scrapes by for a living here — he has some house-sitting jobs that help a lot, too — his wife is finishing a doctorate degree on the Front Range.Sylvan also helps middle school skiers at SSCV when he's around, which he might pursue as a career later on.“I would like to work with them when I'm done ski racing,” he said. “If I had started cross-country skiing when I was in middle school, I would be so much faster!”
Sylvan said Nordic skiing is much more popular among all demographics in Europe but it is growing in the U.S.“The Ski and Snowboard Club built 7.5 kilometers of cross-country trails and has improved the facilities at Maloit Park a lot, which I think helps,” he said.The town of Eagle has encouraged cross-country skiing as well. The Eagle Valley Nordic Council was formed in 2008 and managed to get some key pieces of equipment in 2010 for grooming a trail in Eagle Ranch when there is sufficient snowfall. Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell even coached cross-country skiing for a while at Eagle Valley High School. Sean Kerrigan coaches the EVHS team now.“I think it's becoming more popular,” said Kerrigan who has coached at EVHS since 2008. “There are four teams in the valley — EVHS, Battle Mountain, Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, and VMS — all with about 15 kids. I had about 19 skiers last year. This year looks like we'll have 12, and they're talented. We have some potentially fast skiers.”Kerrigan said his team started dry-land practice last week.“The drop in numbers from last year is due to a large graduating class and small incoming freshman class,” he said.
“It says a lot about the valley that great skiers are here training,” Tashina said. “It might encourage more kids.”The mountain area here was obviously a huge benefit for Sylvan and Kjell.“I always set my goals high,” Sylvan said. “There was a time when I dreamed of racing World Cups. Now I'm doing that and I want a World Championship … The Olympics are the goal for next year.”Tashina currently lives in Fort Collins. She hasn't been able to ski for 10 years due to health reasons but she has a goal of her own.“I hope to ski again next year!” she said. “I give a lot of credit to the boys. I'm so proud of them.”