WHITEFISH – Stella Holt apparently doesn’t believe in boredom, nor does she succumb to the great modern teenage temptation of sedentary living. She gets out and goes. On skis. On foot. Onward.
In the past several years, Holt has been a junior national champion Nordic skier, a four-time Junior Olympic participant and one of the top runners in Class A cross country. Mixed in with all of those accomplishments was a harrowing fall while hiking in Glacier National Park. She had to be airlifted out by helicopter; then she wrote about the experience in a respected literary journal.
Now she’s going to Sweden to participate in a prestigious Nordic ski competition. She is a busy 17-year-old.
Holt, a senior at Whitefish High School, qualified for the U.S. J1 Scandinavian Cup team after a sterling performance at the Senior Nationals in Maine earlier this month. Holt is one of six girls and six boys, ages 16-17, on the J1 “Scando Cup” team. Jack Steele, also a Whitefish senior, raced at nationals but did not advance.
Holt, a member of the competitive Glacier Nordic Ski Team, leaves for Ostersund, Sweden on Wednesday and returns Feb. 8. Last week, she was raising money in preparation for the trip. The races are held in Ornskoldsvik.
“This is definitely the biggest (competition) I’ve qualified for,” Holt said. “It’s really cool to be on a team like this. To get any kind of international racing experience is great.”
The Scando Cup has long been a goal of Holt’s, though injuries and sickness over the past two years have impeded her quest.
“Finally everything came together this year and I was able to ski well (in Maine),” Holt said.
Holt is adept in classic cross country and skate skiing, both long distance and sprinting. She says she’s best at skate sprinting, which is generally 1.2-1.5 kilometers for girls, compared to the 5K and 10K distance events.
But at the Maine nationals, there was no skate sprinting. Yet she still managed to qualify for the J1 team with her best two out of three events, a demonstration of her comprehensive skill set.
Holt skis six days a week with the Whitefish-based Glacier Nordic Ski Team. Her younger brother Henry is also in the program. Head coach Robin Brooks said Holt “is a leader for the rest of the team.”
“She’s really exactly the skier you want to be working with,” Brooks said. “She’s very dedicated. She never backs down and she’s always out there to give it 100 percent. She always has a great attitude.”
Brooks said the Scando Cup will be an opportunity for Holt to race against foreign competition. Nordic skiing in certain parts of Europe, particularly Scandinavia, is quite literally a way of life.
Up until now, Holt has had a lot of competitive experience in the U.S., including four appearances in the Junior Olympics, but no international experience. Later this year, Holt will head to the Junior Olympics again.
“They have incredibly strong skiers over there (in Scandinavia),” Brooks said. “It will give her an idea of what she’ll need to do to continue at a higher level. Also, she’s going to be traveling with some really great coaches.”
She added: “It’s very exciting. Not many juniors get to go on these international trips. It’s a big honor for her.”
Holt began competitive ski racing in eighth grade though she had already been skiing recreationally for years. She also runs cross country and was an integral part of the Lady Bulldogs’ fourth straight Class A state title in the fall. But skiing is where her heart is. Long-distance running, strength training and all other athletic endeavors are designed to give her a boost when she puts her skis on in the winter.
“I’m definitely built like a skier, not like a runner,” she said.
Holt is considering several colleges, including Vermont’s Middlebury College, New Hampshire and Colorado, all for skiing on scholarship. She is weighing the option of taking a year off from school after graduation, but she’s unsure if she’ll choose that path.
Brooks said “a lot of coaches have been paying attention” to Holt, including the coach from Alaska Pacific University, which has “arguably the best” women’s Nordic program in the nation.
“At the level she’s at, she could definitely ski on the majority of the teams in this country,” Brooks said.
Before college, however, Holt has business to attend to, in Sweden, in the Flathead and wherever else her competitive adventures take her. She wants to see just how good she can be.
“I still have a lot of exploring left with my potential,” she said.
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