Sophie Caldwell On World Cup Win: Messy Conditions 'A Lot Like What I Grew Up' On

Jan 8, 2016

Vermont native Sophie Caldwell won a World Cup in Germany on Tuesday, becoming the first U.S. woman in history to win a World Cup in the cross-country skiing classic sprint.

Caldwell narrowly edged out the other two skiers in the final, and her New England roots might have been the deciding factor in the race. 

Caldwell is used to skiing in less-than-perfect conditions.

She grew up in Peru, Vermont, in a family that includes a former coach for the U.S. Olympic cross country ski team.

So regardless of the conditions, if there was any snow on the ground, she and her family would be out bombing through the woods in southern Vermont.

When she woke up on the day of the World Cup race in Germany, there was a lot of talk about the conditions of the course. It's been unseasonably warm in Europe and the snow was slushy and soft.

A few of the athletes even fell the prior day during practice. But Caldwell says she took one look at the course and felt right at home.

"Conditions for the sprint were pretty sloppy," she says. "A light rain started to fall at the end of the day. It was pretty warm out. The tracks weren't super stable, and it was just a lot like what I grew up skiing in."

The classic sprint, which includes up and downhill skiing through the woods, along with a flat stretch, is not Caldwell's strongest race.

But as she made her way through the qualifying rounds, ripping by other skiers who were playing it a little more conservatively on the soft course, Caldwell says she began to feel that it was going to be a special day.

"Conditions for the sprint were pretty sloppy ... The tracks weren't super stable, and it was just a lot like what I grew up skiing in." - Sophie Caldwell

"I definitely wasn't expecting to win that race when I woke up in the morning," she says. "But I felt great in the morning qualifying, and qualified a lot higher than I had ever qualified in a classic sprint before, and carried that momentum into the rounds."

Sverre Caldwell, Sophie's dad, is director of  the Nordic program at the Stratton Mountain School. He was in Michigan with the school's team at a competition.

He and the team were watching the race from the team's hotel, and he says he noticed how some of the European skiiers were snowplowing in the soft snow while Sophie was letting it rip.

"Kind of halfway through the finals, after they went down the bigger hill that was kind of hairy," he says. "She was in second or third and we're all going, 'Oh my God. We're looking at a podium here.' And we're all jumping up and down."

Sverre Caldwell's father John, wrote The Cross-Country Ski Book in 1964. The book introduced the sport to the United States and Sverre's brother Tim competed in four Winter Olympics.

So Sverre says Sophie has been training most of her life for this week's World Cup race.

Sophie Caldwell raced in her first competition when she was 3 years old.
Credit Lilly Caldwell

"She was born in March, so she didn't start skiing until she was 10 months old probably," he says. "Kind of when we had snow, we'd just put her on these little skis and she'd slide down a hill and she thought it was pretty cool."

The final race was a nail biter, with Sophie skiing on the Vermont-like snow with two of the fastest Norwegian racers in the world over.

She beat both of them by less than one second.