Skiing Utes’ Fourth-Straight National Title Was ‘Hard Fought’

Mar 31, 2023, 12:10 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah ski team has been on a tear the past few seasons winning four-straight National Titles, but Director of Skiing Fredrik Landstedt indicated this last one was particularly “hard fought”.

Landstedt is in his fifth year running the show with the Utes and says they have seen the competition steadily increase since they have been on their run. He also discussed the interesting dynamics of running a successful college ski team and all of the moving parts that have to be navigated.

Utah Ski Overcoming Obstacles

The skiing Utes certainly are a team one would expect to be competitive in the National Title hunt year-in and year-out due to being just minutes away from the “Greatest Snow on Earth” and world-renowned slopes. With 16 total National Titles to their name and four-straight under their belt, those expectations would be correct, but are also part of what made earning the latest title a little trickier than the first three according to Landstedt.

“It was a hard fought one,” Landstedt said. “It was tough to go out there and get this one. Everyone expects us to go in and win without any problems and that’s not really how it works. Every year you are on top, the other teams are improving and working harder than they ever have. You can tell they are recruiting better, and the coaches are putting in even more time and they are all coming for us. It makes it harder every year.”

Another issue Utah and all the other competitors faced was the snow conditions back east in Lake Placid. Every year can be a little different trading from east to west snow and whatever Mother Nature decides to provide them with. 2023’s National Championships proved to be icy which was not the conditions the Utes have been blessed with most of the season with Utah experiencing an exceptional snow season.

“Going East was also tough,” Landstedt said. “The alpine hill was pure ice and of course with all of the snow out west this year we have been training mostly on softer snow for the alpine team. That was a big adjustment. Some athletes can handle that well and others can’t. It was kind of crazy to see that the west teams actually handled the ice better than Vermont, Dartmouth, and the Eastern teams. It shows how easy it is to lose a championship and not score points. Vermont was really one of the teams on paper that had the top alpine team and were in eighth place after two days of competitions.”

Finally, the Utes were also dealing with key athletes traveling back from Europe in Sophia Laukli and Sydney Palmer-Leger to compete in the National Championships this year, literally getting in just in time with no down time.

“With the Nordic team, we had two women coming directly from Europe in the cross-country championships in Slovenia,” Landstedt said. “They came to Lake Placid on Sunday and for them to be able to race at a top level a few days later is incredible stuff.”

Utah’s Journey Back To Dominance

While Utah ski has been having a moment the past few seasons, the last 20 or so years before have been rough for the squad. When Landstedt took the job in 2018, college skiing had mostly been the Denver and Colorado show with the Utes having fallen off.

“There is great history,” Landstedt said. “We’ve won a lot of titles- especially in the 80’s and 90’s, but really in 20 years before I came in 2018, Utah had only won two championships. That time was really dominated by Colorado and Denver. We’ve been incredibly fortunate since I came here. A lot of pressure coming in for sure. Everyone expects Utah to be a contender and win championships.”

Landstedt credits Utah’s quick turnaround to the coaching staff he’s assembled and of course their ability to recruit top-level talent.

“That was my goal coming in and I was able to hire some very good coaches,” Landstedt said. “I snagged Justin Johnson away from the U.S. Ski Team to become our head Alpine coach and of course he’s from Park City and skied on the World Cup Circuit as a downhill skier. He’s competed in all of the big down hills in the world. It was great to get him as the head Alpine coach.”

“Mary Joyce came in after my first year as the assistant Alpine coach,” Landstedt continued of his Alpine staff. “She has a different history. She skied for St. Michaels and grew up in New Jersey and was an ocean lifeguard. Her dad played in the NBA. Both of them have done a great job with the Alpine team.”

On the Nordic team, Landstedt looked no further than to a former Ute skier to help elevate that side of the roster.

“Miles Havlick- I hired him and he’s a former two-time NCAA champion for the Utes and after that skied professionally,” Landstedt said. “He finished his master’s degree in sports science in Norway. The coaches have been essential for Utah’s success and it’s all about working harder than anyone else. Always finding ways to improve.”

Obviously, the results in the five years Landstedt and his staff have been in place more than speak for themselves. The only National Championship Utah hasn’t won through that time was due to Covid-19 shutting down the event before it could be finished. The Utes have also only lost two regular season meets through that span while going against fellow national ski powers, Denver and Colorado.

“We have won the last four of the five and actually the other one was cancelled after two days so we didn’t get a chance to win that one,” Landstedt said. “We haven’t really lost one in these last five years- we’ve won all four that’s been on and we’ve been a really dominant program these last five years. During these five years we’ve won every single meet except two and those two we were second. We’ve really shut them out.”

Building A Team Out Of Constant Chaos

What makes college skiing particularly difficult to coach and keep at a high level is the number of athletes coming in and out of the program any given week. Unlike a lot of other college sports, ski teams often consist of athletes from all over the world who also compete for their national teams which can make building team chemistry a challenge.

“It’s a challenge training-wise because we have athletes that ski on the World Cup circuit and go to the Olympics and World Championships,” Landstedt said. “We have to change their training times a little bit in order to set them up to perform as well as possible at meets as well as the NCAA Championship. We train a little bit differently and peak at different times and then it’s a little challenge with the team as well because a few athletes are gone a lot and then they come back and forth into the team. We have to work a little harder to mold that group and encourage the comradery and support everyone needs to perform well.”

Add in the schoolwork that also comes with being a student-athlete, and you have another crazy layer to navigate through as a coach and athlete. Landstedt did say he is grateful that the university has professors that understand his athletes’ schedules and is willing to work with them.

“Lucky for us at the University of Utah they are flexible, and the professors realize that these are great students,” Landstedt said. “Our athletes have the highest GPA and perform in school. They have to make it up and miss some school but end of the day they work independently to make everything up and the professors allow them to do this.”

Moving To A New Era

Utah ski had 11 total seniors and grad students on their team this past year and Landstedt acknowledged they are beginning to cycle through the athletes that have been largely responsible for the past five-years’ worth of success. He acknowledged it won’t get easier from here, but he does seem hopeful for where Utah ski could continue to go with the new talent continuing to come in.

“We’ve been able to recruit some very good athletes and then work extremely hard to raise their level and really unite everyone as a team,” Landstedt said. “Most of these athletes have been together with us for the last four years and we’re now starting to lose some of them to graduation so it’s definitely getting tougher from here on. We’re very fortunate to have many of them be U.S. Ski Team members and top athletes on our team.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports

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Skiing Utes’ Fourth-Straight National Title Was ‘Hard Fought’