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photo of Leslie Hall, head coach of the Methow Valley Nordic Team stands next to the team van, which is covered with ads for local sponsors.

For the Team
Behind Methow Valley Nordic

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a valley full of dedicated and talented adults to raise a ski team. The more-than-100 members of this year’s Methow Valley Nordic Team have a cadre of coaches, including two former Olympians, and a host of volunteers and organizations making it all happen.

The team is open to all young people between the ages of 6 and 18. And whether they’re skiing for fun or aspiring to world-class competition, they’ll find support, according to program leaders. Here’s a mid-season look at some of what it takes to run a ski team.

Leslie Thompson Hall

Head coach and program director Leslie Thompson Hall, who assumed her role in July, oversees five paid and about 10 volunteer coaches.

Hall brings a hefty resume to her post. The Vermont native is a three-time Olympian and five-time world championship team member. She started downhill skiing as a child before switching to cross country in sixth grade.

She was inspired to pursue Nordic excellence by her dad’s reaction to another Vermont native, Bill Koch, who won a silver medal for the U.S. at the 1976 Olympics. “My dad was so excited,” Hall said. “I thought, I’m going to win a gold medal and make my dad that excited.”

Hall didn’t win Olympic gold, although she gathered numerous medals by becoming an 11-time national champion and international competitor. She was on the U.S. Olympic team in 1988, 1992 and 1994.

She moved to the Methow Valley in 1996 with her husband, Alex Hall, owner of Hall Construction. She started coaching with the local junior ski program the following year.

photoCoach Laura McCabe and her 10-year-old daughter, Novie, wax skis upstairs at Winthrop Mountain Sports. Volunteer help gets more than 300 pairs of skis ready to distribute to team members in November.

Passionate about her sport, and always looking to get more young skiers involved, Hall will be in Soldier Hollow, Utah, this weekend (Feb. 1-3) at the Junior National Qualifying races for skiers 14-years-old and older.

“We have a great group coming along,” she said of the skiers on this year’s competitive team. “If they continue, they could be the next ones [to achieve at the highest level of the sport].

Laura McCabe

Two-time Olympian Laura McCabe, who has been a Methow Valley Nordic Team coach for 15 years, is coaching that “great group” of six young competitive skiers who hope to qualify for the Junior National Championships scheduled for March 11-16 in Fairbanks. She will be in Soldier Hollow with the team, Hall and local parent Lottie Ekblad, who is doubling as cook.

McCabe was head coach of the MV Nordic Team for six years before becoming the mother of two daughters with her late husband, Sean.

The McCabes and Halls are longtime friends. Laura and Leslie were both on the 1994 U.S. Olympic team. McCabe was on the Olympic team again in 1998.

A runner before she took up competitive Nordic skiing in her early 20s, McCabe has won numerous ski races and marathons, including the American Birkebiner.

Rita Kenny

Co-owner of Winthrop Mountain Sports, Rita Kenny’s name pops up in any conversation about community ski team support. That’s because every year she immerses herself in wrangling and fitting more than 300 pairs of skis, 200 or more pairs of boots and at least 200 sets of poles for Nordic team members.

photoRita Kenny measures 12-year-old Simon Studen for poles. This is Simon’s second year on the team although he’s skied recreationally with his family since he was about four, according to his mom, Becky Studen. “My kids ski better than I do,” she said, referring to the results of their ski-team training.

“When Diane [Childs] and I bought the business [in 1997], the team had skis but no rental program,” Kenny told Grist. So the new owners started one, which spares parents the expense of constantly buying equipment for their growing children.

Kenny explains that many of the kids need both classic and skate skis, two pairs of poles, and the older kids need two pairs of boots. All that equipment is distributed by about the end of November, before the tourist ski rental and sales season begins.

“We did [gear for] 150 kids last year,” Kenny said, adding that she also outfits the three- to five-year-olds on the “pre-ski team” started by Laura McCabe “so siblings could ski with their moms while the older kids were skiing with the team.”

Kenny grew up in Pittsburgh in a family that was “not outdoorsy at all” and attended a poor Catholic high school with no sports programs for girls. She moved west, took a mountain climbing course, became a runner at the Seattle Track Club and became the local program director for Outward Bound.

By the early ’90s Kenny owned a house in Winthrop and started working for Tom Kimbrell, the former owner of Winthrop Mountain Sports whose wife, Linda, a teacher and skier, founded the Methow Valley Nordic Team.


Pete Dickinson

There is no way to calculate the time local physical therapist Pete Dickinson donates to the valley’s young athletes. His free, twice weekly, early morning “Power Camps” are open to all local high school students. He said the goal of the intense strength-training sessions is “to foster a year around commitment to fitness.”

“I like working with the programs that have good coaches,” Dickinson added. “The ski program has great coaches.” He also praised the valley’s young skiers, saying, “They tend to be the most dedicated kids in the whole school.”

photoPete Dickinson, co-owner of Winthrop Fitness and Physical Therapy, devotes countless hours to free, twice-weekly “power camps.” The early morning strength-building workouts are open to all high school students, including ski-team members.

Dickinson, who moved to the valley from Park City, Utah, has worked with the U.S. Ski Team. He and his wife, Janice, own Winthrop Fitness and Physical Therapy.

Hall said Dickinson occasionally videotapes the local ski team’s summer workouts at the high school track giving them same-day feedback via computer. “That’s such a great opportunity for them,” Hall said.

As for the time he gives to the valley’s athletes -- which extends well beyond what he does for youngsters -- Dickinson says, “You get so much more back than you give.”

Coach Hall also cites internationally known stone-grinder Mark Waechter, owner of Nordic Ultratune in Winthrop, as a local adult among the ski team’s heroes. That’s because he “takes care of everybody’s skis who goes to junior nationals.”

And she added skier Sam Naney and longtime coach Scott Johnston of Methow Olympic Development to her list of supportive adults. They work during the summer with members of the ski team who want to pursue serious competition.

Because all families can’t afford ski team participation, the Methow Valley Nordic Club provides scholarships. Hall says it costs each team member about $300 per year for equipment rental and coaching fees. And if the Nordic Club’s assistance falls short, she encourages parents to come talk with her. “Anyone who wants to join, we’ll make it possible.”

Hall also cites the annual fund-raising auction as vital to the non-profit ski team’s coffers, as well as the local businesses that lend support.

And speaking of money, the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association changed its trail-pass policy this year so that everyone age 17 and under skis free. In years past, ski team members only received a discount.

“It’s great to be in this area where there’s all the opportunity,” Hall says. “We have the facilities. We have the staff.” So what’s left to do? Hall’s goal is to increase the number of kids on the team and generate even more excitement about Nordic skiing.


Have a comment? >>

Wow-- what a great group of people! They are outstanding role models, passionate about youth and commited to providing the opportunity for all to learn, prepare, compete and develop their skills, strategy, strength, edurance and plan. Our valley children are so blessed to have the support and knowledge of these wonderful people. There are not enough words to express how grateful I am for all they do for our community, the sport of skiing and for our children. Thank you Leslie, Laura, Rita, Pete, Mark, Scott and Sam.

Cindy Button
Twisp, WA

Great article on some of the role models and key supporters in the Methow Ski Community. Thanks Rita, Pete, Laura, and Leslie! You guys are awesome!

Erik Bjornsen
Mazama, WA / Anchorage, AK

You are all amazing. So happy to have an opportunity to support you. Good luck this year! Hannah

Hannah Kettler