If you followed my blog from 2013 to 2016, you read a lot about my girlfriend-at-the-time Emilia Wint. Emilia just graduated from Westminster College. She also just published a piece of writing that, for the first time, talks about her diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa. She was diagnosed while we were dating. It is a very personal piece; I think anyone who followed my career at that time will find it interesting. (Even if you didn’t read my blog then, Emilia’s piece is worth the read.) You can find it here:
This morning I have chosen to decline my invitation to the White House as a part of Team USA to protest the Trump Administration’s lack of leadership on the issue of Climate Change and the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Today the White House is celebrating winter sport, and yet their actions to scale back the Clean Power Plan threaten to render many of the winter Olympic sports obsolete. The US and the world need strong leadership on environmental issues, the defining challenge of our generation. This administration’s policies are exacerbating an already deadly problem. They are sacrificing our future for short-term economic gain. I believe in our ability as a global community, lead by a strong United States, to overcome any threat. That optimism fuels my anger about the lack of leadership on climate issues. We can and must tackle this issue head-on, and we need strong federal leadership to do it.
Instead of spending my time at the White House this morning, I am excited to be talking to elementary school kids about climate issues and chasing dreams.
As I prepare to file my taxes for the final time as a “self-employed skier,” I have been thinking about how funding my career has been a challenge in and of itself as well as a valuable learning experience. Since I graduated high school 11 years ago, my funding model evolved into something more-or-less sustainable even without exceptional results.
This post is an overview of my yearly financial support. My hope is that up-and-coming American athletes can use my funding structure as a starting point for how they may support their own careers. Being an American Olympic athlete presents unique funding challenges and unique opportunities relative to Olympic athletes from other countries.
The biggest challenge for Americans is that, unlike almost every other country competing at the Winter Olympics, American athletes receive no governmental support. Many of our central European competitors receive salaries during their careers from governmental organizations like the police, the military or various customs agencies. Our Canadian friends get “carded,” which allows them to draw a small stipend from the federal government and/or the provincial government. Athletes from Norway and Sweden receive salaries straight from their National Ski Federations. I am in no way implying that all international skiers are fully supported and never have to worry about finances. I know for a fact that one Norwegian athlete who finished on the World Cup podium both this season and last season has to work a second job in addition to training in order to make enough money to keep his/her finances stable. I am simply saying that the funding challenges are different for American athletes than they are for athletes from other countries.
The biggest advantage of being an American athlete, when it comes to raising money, is that we have a culture of giving. Many people and organizations understand our financial challenges and want to help. My understanding is that it would be very odd, and potentially not well received, for central European athletes to ask their supporters to give them money to support their careers. The funding structure for my career has benefited from the American culture of giving.
It has been a difficult process for me to learn how to ask for money, and I still feel a sense of guilt every time somebody donates to my career. I have never squared this nagging question: Why should anybody give me money to support my privileged lifestyle of flying to posh ski resorts all over the world when there are many people who work hard and still struggle to pay for basic human necessities like housing, food and health care? The privilege and opportunities that have been defining features of my athletic career will be a motivating force for me for the rest of my life to work to give others opportunities to chase their own dreams.
The funding structure that I outline below is representative of the final 4 years of my career, from the Sochi Olympics to the PyeongChang Olympics. In order to protect my supporters, I do not always give exact dollar amounts. Instead, I will use the following ranges:
- Title level support: $7,000-$20,000/year
- Grant level support: $1,000-$7,000/year
- Sponsor level support: $200-$1,000/year
- Personal level support: $5-$200/year
As a broad generalization, it costs +/- $50,000 per year to compete at the Olympic level in cross-country skiing. Here is where that money came from for me:
- Thoughtforms Builders
- Title level support
- See my related post about Thoughtforms
- Madshus Skis
- Title level support
- I started working with Madshus when I was 16, and they stuck with me throughout my career. As a junior athlete, I didn’t have a contract with them; they simply gave me product. As an Under-23 athlete they offered me a “victory schedule” where I made sponsor level support from them based on my results. When I became a senior athlete, they offered me a retainer with title level support.
- Anonymous donor
- Title level support
- This third “title level support” is really a product of two individuals. The first is the donor himself/herself. This individual filled a large funding gap for me. The support would not have happened without another supporter consistently lobbying the donor to support me and one other athlete. Not only do you need to be well connected as an athlete, you need supporters who are well connected and who are willing to fight for you.
- Rocky Mountain Nordic Angel (RMNA)
- Title level support (or hundreds of donations of personal level support)
- This organization was founded in 2010 to help Colorado athletes cover the new funding gap that was created when the U.S. Ski Team stopped funding B Team athletes. RMNA raises money from personal donors at yearly fundraisers in Colorado, via online donations and from direct solicitations. Along with the NNF, RMNA covered all of my expenses that were previously covered by the U.S. Ski Team including airfare and room and board costs directly associated with international racing or U.S. Ski Team camps. In total, RMNA covered +/-$15,000/year.
- National Nordic Foundation (NNF)
- Title level support (or thousands of donations of personal level support)
- The NNF raises money from the ski community to support American cross-country skiers at all levels of the development pipeline. The NNF has given me up to $8,000/year towards U.S. Ski Team related expenses.
- John Callahan and Zach Caldwell/Caldwell Sport
- Title level support
- This amount is not included in the $50,000/year estimate of costs to compete at the international level. My personal coaches, John and Zach, in addition to Zach’s company Caldwell Sport, have donated thousands of hours to my ski career. Besides coaching, they have both travelled internationally numerous times to support me. Zach, via Caldwell Sport, has also managed my ski fleet, waxed and ground hundreds of pairs of my skis and picked most of my skis from the factory in Norway.
- Host families
- Grant level support
- Host families have been a huge part of the funding for my career. The Adams in Park City, and before that the Sinnotts in Sun Valley, plus other families around the country, have given me free rent (in-kind support of approximately $500/month x 7 months/year = $3500/year) plus food (in-kind support of approximately $100/week x +/-25weeks/year = $2500/year) for a total of around $6000/year of in-kind support
- Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV)
- Grant level support
- SSCV has provided me in-kind support via waxing and logistics at domestic races and camps
- Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club/Coldwell Banker Mason Morse Grant
- Grant level support
- The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) and realty firm Coldwell Banker Mason Morse have teamed up to offer yearly, grant-level support to international level alumni of AVSC.
- USOC direct athlete support/ Marolt Athlete Endowment/William E. Simon Olympic Endowment
- Grant level support
- On some years, the US Olympic Committee gives athletes direct financial support. Three or four times during my career I have received between $2,000 and $4,000 from the USOC. The USOC also administers the William E. Simon Olympic Endowment, which an athlete can receive once during his or her career. I received the Simon Grant before the Sochi Olympics. The US Ski and Snowboard Administration administers the Marolt Athlete Endowment, which I received twice during my career.
- Not all athletes are eligible for these grants, and there are numerous other grants which target specific demographic groups or geographic areas that weren’t available to me but could be to others.
- USOC Elite Athlete Health Insurance
- Grant level support
- While I was on the US Ski Team, I received health insurance through the US Olympic Committee valued at around $5,000/year
- My parents
- Grant level support
- First and obviously, my parents provided me with way more than grant level support throughout my career. However, since this outline is focused on the final four years of my career, the direct support that I received from my parents included my cell phone and phone plan and health insurance until I was 26 and was no longer eligible to be on their plan. It was important to me that I did not take cash support from my parents in the latter part of my career.
- Julbo Eyewear
- Sponsor level support
- I have had a great relationship with Julbo over the past 4 years and received sponsor level support in my contract with them.
- Toko gloves
- Sponsor level support
- I have worked with Toko since the US Ski Team stopped having a team-wide glove sponsorship, and they have supported me at the sponsor level each year.
- Personal donations
- Personal level to grant level support
- Besides supporting my career through RMNA and NNF, many people have given directly to me, solicited or not.
This outline is not comprehensive. It does not include every dollar that I have received throughout my career. It is merely meant to demonstrate what it took to fund my Olympic ski career. Of course, simply saying thank you to all of you for your support and for giving me the opportunity to chase my dreams feels completely inadequate. I will never forget the community that made it all possible. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. All of the giving that I have received has energized me and reinforced my desire to give back.
In addition to outlining my funding structure for the final four years of my career, I want to share a piece about my partnership with Thoughtforms Builders. I feel incredibly lucky that Mark and Thoughtforms came into my life, and I hope that all athletes can have as rewarding a relationship with their sponsors as I have had with Thoughtforms. For me, the money that came from the sponsorship provided a great deal of financial stability for my career. More importantly, I have gained a lifelong friendship with Mark and his family, and I have learned about corporate responsibility which has shaped my ideas about what I want to do in the future.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) regulates the size and the number of advertisements that can be displayed on an athlete’s race suit. Of the advertising spots that we are allotted, the US Ski Team sells all but one of them to corporate, team-wide sponsors. Each athlete is left with the one remaining spot to sell to a personal sponsor. We call this personal sponsor our title sponsor because the allocated spot is on our hat or headband, either above or directly adjacent to the US Ski Team shield. Our title sponsor logo can be up to 50cm2.
(Not every National Governing Body (NGB) leaves the title sponsor spot for the athletes to sell individually, and there has been talk within the US ski community that it might be easier and/or financially advantageous to lesser-known athletes to sell the entire team’s title sponsor spot as a group.)
This title sponsor position can be extremely valuable and extremely stressful for athletes. Because we are only allotted one spot, there is pressure to get a substantial amount of money for it. Of course the space on your forehead is extremely obvious, making it valuable but also making it a clear indicator of whether someone believes in you enough to fill that space. Cross-country skiing is not the most popular sport in the US, and it can sometimes be hard to find any sponsor at all to buy your title sponsor position. Several current US Ski Team athletes do not get any money, or get very little, for their title sponsor spot.
For the first six years of my professional ski career, I failed to find a title sponsor. Instead of getting paid for the valuable spot on my hat or headband, I put the National Nordic Foundation (NNF) or Caldwell Sport logo in that position. Both the NNF and Caldwell sport were giving me valuable support, but neither organization gave me additional funds for putting their logo on my hat.
I spent a lot of time and energy looking for a title sponsor. I went before the city council in Aspen, without success, to try to get the city to allocate marketing dollars for the Aspen Nordic Trail System (city owned and operated) that they could spend on my title sponsorship (and other Nordic marketing efforts). I approached numerous companies, to no avail, trying to sell my marketability as an up and coming Olympian. Older athletes with valuable title sponsors kept telling me that the best sponsors are the ones that come to you, not vice versa. Of course, when you are in need of a sponsor, that is a completely useless piece of advice.
Then, in the spring before the Sochi Olympics, I got an email out of the blue from Mark Doughty, president of Thoughtforms Builders. Thoughtforms builds high-end custom homes and is based in the Boston, Massachusetts area. I had never met Mark or heard of Thoughtforms, but in his note, he told me that he was a close friend of Austin Weiss, one of my high school cross-country ski coaches, and that he had become friends with Zach Caldwell, one of my current coaches. He said that Thoughtforms may be able to come on board as my title sponsor.
Of course, I was pleasantly surprised to receive Mark’s note, but I was also skeptical. What justification could a Boston-based home builder use to support a Colorado cross-country skier living in Utah? I was encouraged that Mark had already talked to Austin and to Zach about me, but it was also important to me that my title sponsor get something in return for supporting me. I was not looking for charity; I was looking for a mutually beneficial partnership.
Mark and I started talking, and as I learned more about Thoughtforms, the more impressed I was with the company. Thoughtforms expertly constructs unique, complex and incredibly cool structures, many of which only they could build. (I’ve had the privilege of touring some of the homes they built.) The company is also serious about its corporate responsibility to be a positive part of the community. It is a leader in sustainable construction and promotes healthy, active and community-based lifestyles.
Mark raced road bikes professionally in his 20s. After years away from endurance sport, he found cross-country skiing through Austin and another friend in Norway. Reaching out to me with an offer to be a title sponsor was his way of giving back to the sport. He and I devised a plan for me to add value to Thoughtforms’ marketing efforts. I would be a model of the active and healthy lifestyle they promote. In addition, I would come to Boston once or twice a year to connect with the Nordic community and to visit schools to talk about the perseverance, hard work and goal setting that helped me be successful in chasing my dreams.
My relationship with Thoughtforms became an integral part of my professional career. Not only has the company supported me as a title sponsor for the remainder of my career, Mark, his wife Pilar, his son Nathan and his daughter Anneka have become like a second family to me. The Nordic community in Boston has supported me as one of their own, and with the outlet to give back, I was able to find more purpose to my skiing than just focusing on results.
A quick post to share two published pieces about the end of my career. I shared both of these on Facebook as well, but if you follow my blog and missed them on Facebook, I think you will enjoy them now. One is a print piece by Austin Colbert of The Aspen Times, and the other is a podcast by Jason Albert at FasterSkier.com. Both Jason and Austin have helped tell the story of my ski career over the last decade. I am grateful to both of them for their kind words in these two pieces, and I hope you enjoy them.
Noah Hoffman retires from cross-country ski racing, readies for next phase of life, Austin Colbert, The Aspen Times
Saturday’s World Cup at the famed Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo, Norway will be the final race of my professional ski career. This decision comes with excitement and gratitude mixed with sadness and some fear. In many ways, this decision has been a long time coming, but there is also an abruptness to the ending that is unavoidable. I will wake up on Sunday morning and my identity as a cross-country ski racer, which has been my primary identity for my adult life and the better part of my adolescent life, will be gone.
There are many reasons why it is the right time for me to step away from the sport. The most important is that I now want to invest my time and energy in things other than training and racing, but I would be lying if I said that results had nothing to do with this decision. The reality is that my career was on a steady upward trajectory through the 2013-14 season, culminating in two wins in World Cup stage races and a great Olympics in Sochi. Over the past four years, I have not come close to repeating that success, let alone continuing to build on it. My coaching team and I have taken nothing for granted and have continually tried to find creative ways to break through. Unfortunately, we have not been successful in putting me back on a path towards being the best in the world. Even still, I look back on my career with nothing but pride and gratitude.
One of the reasons I know it is time for me to move on is that results are no longer as important to me as they once were. It is ironic that my signal to turn the page is also one of the greatest gifts of my career: I have learned that results do not define me nor do good results guarantee happiness. That is not to say that I won’t look back with pride upon my stage world cup wins, my silver medal at the Under-23 World Championships, or my performance in the Olympic 50k in Sochi. I do, and I will. But I doubt that any of those moments will stand out compared to the memories of laughing and crying with my teammates and friends at ski resorts all over the world.
It is a fairy tale ending to finish my career at Holmenkollen, two weeks after the conclusion of my second Olympic Games. Not only is this the most prestigious World Cup race of the season with the best fans and the hardest course, it also has particular significance to me and my career. I raced my first World Championships at Oslo 2011 and have competed here six times since. Some of the best performances of my career have come on these trails. On top of that, both my dad, Mike Hoffman, and my coach, Zach Caldwell, will be in Oslo this weekend to watch and support me.
Very few athletes are afforded the privilege of ending on their own terms. Somehow, despite less than stellar results, I raced an almost full World Cup schedule, was named to represent the US in PyeongChang and will finish in Oslo. I am so grateful to have had each of these opportunities.
Of course, I am indebted to more people than I can possibly name for making my career possible. Skiing professionally has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life, and I am overwhelmed with love, humility and appreciation when I think about all of the people who have supported me throughout my journey. You all helped me grow into the person I am today and gave me more than I could ever repay. I will forever hold you in my heart.
My future is full of uncertainty and opportunity. Most likely I will pursue a bachelor’s degree in public policy, economics or law, but I also plan to take Zach’s advice and savor the transition with patience. I will find new goals to pursue with the same dedication I committed to skiing, but I will also enjoy the moment and the unique freedom of my present situation.
Ironically, as I retire from a career as a professional athlete in an outdoor sport, one of the things that I crave most is more time in the outdoors, without a watch or a heart rate monitor or a training plan or a destination. I am also looking for more stability and less travel. I want to spend more time with the people who matter most to me in my life.
I do not know what my future online identity will be. I am grateful for the personal marketing, blogging, social media, photography, podcasting, website management and video editing skills that skiing has taught me, but I also know that my digital life is not contributing to my happiness. I will search for balance as I move forward.
Of course, I am nervous for and anxious about my uncertain future. I am grateful that I have many friends to lean on who have gone through this transition and others who are also in the midst of it. I plan to take advantage of resources available to transitioning athletes at the US Olympic Committee and US Ski Team.
My greatest fear about this transition is losing the amazing community that surrounds and supports me in everything that I do. This group includes my friends and family, coaches and teammates, supporters and fans. I do not know what my future involvement in cross-country skiing will be, but I do know that cross-country skiing is full of the most driven, successful, motivated, smart and caring people I have ever met. I hope that you will continue to consider me one of your own.
I would be remiss to end this essay without naming a few of the individuals who sacrificed the most to make my career happen. First and foremost, my parents have challenged me to justify each of my decisions, but, ultimately, they have fully and unequivocally supported me in everything that I’ve done. My sister has been my rock, always and unquestionably there for me. Zach Caldwell and John Callahan have given more of their time to my career, without pay, than any of us care to remember. Mark Doughty and Thoughtforms, the entire team at K2/Madshus, the Rocky Mountain Nordic Angel team (Mike Elliot, Craig and Becky Ward, Ruthie Brown, Dan Weiland, Dave Peterson and many, many others) and numerous other people and organizations have made my career financially possible. Last but certainly not least, the families who have taken me into their homes have shown me what true love and openness and generosity look like. Thank you all.
I will give everything I have for 50 kilometers on Saturday, and when I cross the finish line I will be proud of everything that I have given to the sport, tremendously grateful for everything the sport has given me and so very excited for the future. Thank you for being a part of my remarkable journey.
Photo Credit: flyingpointroad.com
In today’s Aspen Times’ paper, my teammate Simi Hamilton and I each have blog posts about our Olympic experiences. I focused my short essay on the seeming fruitlessness of trying to accurately share my Olympic experience through this blog. You can find both mine and Simi’s posts here.
Wow. What a ride.
I’m sitting in the lounge (Thanks Matt Whitcomb!) at the Incheon Airport in Seoul, waiting to board a flight to Moscow and then onto Helsinki.
I imagine it will take me a while to fully process these Olympics, and I’m struggling to make any grandiose statement about the entire experience. However, I know that I will cherish these memories forever. It has been an incredible privilege to be a part of Team USA, and these Olympics, more than any other event in my career, have helped me understand what it means to be an athlete. These Games offered me a fundamentally different experience from Sochi. Because I am older, because I am more social and better connected to Team USA and many international athletes, because we were living in a much larger Olympic Village, because the geopolitical tension on the Korean peninsula intersected intimately with these Games, and because the narrative of these Olympics in the US was more human and less adversarial than Sochi, these Games have helped me grasp the positive role that sport plays in society. Even though I did not have exciting results, my ski career feels more meaningful and less selfish than it ever has before.
You, the readers of this blog, have played a major role in my Olympic experience. Sharing it with you, and feeling tremendous support in return, is one of the defining features of my Games experience. Over 15,000 unique users have visited this site in the past 23 days since I arrived in Korea. I am blown away by your interest and entirely positive feedback. Thank you!
I do not plan to continue blogging daily, but I anticipate posting a couple of updates over the next two weeks while I am racing on the World Cup. I will also write about my plans for the future as they come into sharper focus. Thank you for continuing to follow along and for your continued support.
Yesterday I went to the venue to watch the final cross-country ski race of the Olympics: the women’s 30K classic.
It’s Sunday morning here in Korea. The Olympic 50K was yesterday afternoon, and I feel like I got hit by a truck.
In the race, my teammate Scott Patterson skied to an absolutely remarkable 11th place finish. This is the best ever result for the US in the Olympic 50K! The previous best was a pair of 13th place finishes from Bill Koch in 1976 and 1980. I am blown away by Scott’s performance. In all three distance races at these Olympics he has set a new personal best performance. I think he has surprised even himself with these results, and I know he is stoked. I believe this could be a breakthrough that helps him gain the confidence to consistently be one of the best skiers in the world. I am certainly excited to see how his career progresses.
(I was actually getting updates during the race of how Scott was doing. Hearing that he was fighting for a top-10 was awesome and motivating.)
Here is Scott getting interviewed by NBC after the race.
This is the third day in a row that I am going to kick off my post with news about Kikkan and/or Jessie, but that’s what happens when you win a gold medal. Today’s news: Jessie Diggins was selected as the US Flag Bearer for the Olympic Closing Ceremony on Sunday! Seven athletes were nominated for the honor, one by each of the seven winter sport national governing bodies (NGBs), though two NGBs nominated athletes from sports which they do not oversee. The seven nominees included Jessie, snowboarder Jamie Anderson, hockey player Meghan Duggan, luge athlete Chris Mazdzer, figure skater Adam Rippon, bobsled athlete Elana Meyers Taylor and Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn. All seven athletes won a medal at these Games. Every athlete on Team USA had the opportunity over the last two days to vote for one of the seven, and Jessie won the election. It is a huge honor, and I am very excited for her. Clearly she’s excited as well: