Olympic cross-country skier Noah Hoffman has fond memories of his childhood in west Jefferson County, playing behind the Hiwan Homestead Museum and at Bergen Meadow Elementary School.
Hoffman, 24, who lived in Indian Hills and then in Evergreen until he was 7, is a member of the U.S. Nordic ski team and is competing in three events in Sochi, Russia. So far, he has placed 35th in the cross-country men’s skiathlon and 31st in the cross-country men’s classic. He will compete in the 50K skate race on Feb. 23.
Hoffman’s family moved to Aspen when he was 7, yet family members still have good friends and a strong connection to Evergreen. The move had nothing to do with what would become Noah’s rise to world standing as a Nordic skier; instead, it was because of a job change for Noah’s father, Mike. Noah didn’t become a serious Nordic skiing competitor until high school.
He says he has an outside chance at a medal in the 50K skate race. However, he’s set his goals high: a gold medal at the 2018 Games in South Korea.
“(Being in Sochi) is one more step on my path to an Olympic gold medal,” Noah said in a telephone interview from Sochi. “I’m excited with my team of coaches and supporters, and I’m overwhelmed by all the outpouring of support.”
He promises that if he wins a gold medal, he will return to Evergreen to show it to everyone who wants a look.
Early days in Evergreen
Some of Hoffman’s earliest memories are of hanging out at Evergreen Gymnastics, where his sister Maggie, now 27, took lessons and his mom, Sharon, was a coach.
He learned to downhill ski at age 2, and he said the frustrating part was that everyone in the family could ski faster than he could, so he was constantly yelling for them to slow down to let him catch up.
He also remembers a hill behind Bergen Meadow Elementary where he and his friends kicked off their shoes and watched them sail to the bottom. One time, he came home with only one shoe, and that didn’t go over well with his mom.
In the summer of 1996, the family moved to Aspen, and his parents, who were runners, encouraged Hoffman to take up the sport. He joined a cross-country team in Aspen as a fifth-grader. A year later, he tried cross-country skiing, and it became a hobby.
“I became more serious about cross-country skiing as a freshman” at Aspen Valley High School,” he said. That year, he tried out for the Junior Olympics without training much and didn’t make it, but his best friend did.
“I was really bummed, and I was so jealous,” he said. “It’s a bit of an odd thing, but my competitive streak really set in, and I decided I wanted to get good at skiing.”
He went from training about 200 hours total during his freshman year to 550 hours his sophomore year; plus, he found a good coach.
In his sophomore year, Hoffman took fourth in a Nordic skiing event at the Junior Olympics. He is now a six-year veteran of the U.S. Ski Team. In 2013, for example, he placed 15th in the 15K race at the world championships.
The Sochi Olympics
“It’s astounding being here,” Hoffman said of the Olympics. “Being in the opening ceremony was a feeling like no other. It was so much fun to walk into that stadium.”
Hoffman did not stay until the end of the opening ceremony because it did not end until about 2 a.m. Sochi time, and he had an event two days later. It was more important, he said, to manage his energy to prepare for his first race.
“I’m so lucky to have multiple opportunities to compete,” he said. “I see a ton of athletes from other sports who are U.S. Olympians. For the most part, they each have one opportunity, one competition.”
His parents were not able to join him in Sochi.
“Instead, they’re getting up at 3 a.m. to watch my races,” he said. “They thought about it, but I wouldn’t have been able to see them much. Instead, they came to the (2013) World Cup races, and I had some good, quality time with them afterward.”
A lifetime of goals
Training to be a world-class athlete takes a lot of work and sacrifice.
“Persistence pays off,” he said, “I would say it takes a lot of hard work, and it certainly isn’t always fun, especially when (the training) doesn’t always seem like it’s working.
“You can’t just train hard; you must train smart.”
He said it was a difficult decision to postpone college to pursue his Nordic skiing dreams.
“I’ve made some tough decisions at times,” Hoffman said, “but it’s worth every moment, and I think it’s a really healthy lifestyle and teaching me some amazing skills that I hope to carry into the rest of my life.”
He’s learned the wisdom of trying to control only what he’s able to and not worry about the rest, and of focusing on what he does well and working to be the best at it.
After he says farewell to his Nordic skiing career, Hoffman is planning to get a college degree in public policy and economics.
But in the meantime, his focus is on skiing goals, and he’s proud to represent Colorado and the United States in the Olympics.
“For me, it has not been a solo endeavor,” he said. “My family, my coaches and my friends, plus the outpouring of support from Americans: I’ve got the greatest support in the world.”