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Skiing

International Ingelfinger

Whitefish senior Maeve Ingelfinger is on a meteoric trajectory as a Nordic skier and will represent the U.S. at a series of races in Sweden next week

By Micah Drew
Maeve Ingelfinger competes in the Glacier Glide 10k skate ski race in Whitefish on Jan. 7, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On Thursday afternoon in Whitefish, temperatures were plummeting to the negatives, bolstered by high winds that prompted school, business and ski resort closures.

Warnings for motorists to stay off the roads and for pedestrians to avoid exposure to the arctic air circulated but didn’t hold much sway for 17-year-old Maeve Ingelfinger.

The Whitefish High School senior stepped into Folklore Coffee after school to escape the bitter cold for a moment before continuing on her way to the Whitefish Golf Course, where the Glacier Nordic Club grooms trails for cross country skiing. Despite the Nordic Club, and all other high school athletics, canceling practices for the day, Ingelfinger was headed out to train.

“We’ll see how long I last,” she said, though she hoped to get between 30 and 45 minutes of skiing in. “My hands might get a little cold by the end.”

Ingelfinger wanted one last training session, regardless of the weather, before embarking on her first overseas trip to represent the United States at the 2024 U18 Nordic Nations Cup in Falun, Sweden. The competition will include three days of racing from Jan. 19 to Jan 21.

“I’m looking forward to getting the competitive experience and seeing what international racing is like so that I can prepare myself for future international competitions,” Ingelfinger said.

Ingelfinger never imagined skiing would become part of her daily DNA when she first glided through the snow in elementary school during a family vacation.

“We started out just, like, strapping on the skis that you put on with your big muck boots and, like, shuffling around,” she recalled. “I remember liking it but didn’t think it was something I wanted to do after school every day.”

When her family moved from the east coast to Whitefish, her dad signed both her and her older brother up for the Glacier Nordic Club (GNC). The two youths were hooked and quickly advanced from the Junior Jets program to the Prep Team and then the Competition Team.

It was two winters ago, as a sophomore, that Ingelfinger realized she had a real talent for the sport. She began to see some success as she rose through the standings at local and then regional competitions until she was on the cusp of qualifying for U.S. Junior Nationals (JNs).

“That’s when I first realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I might go to nationals,’ but I still thought I was a pretty average skier,” she said. Then she earned a trip to U.S. Junior Nationals in the U16 division, and “knocked it out of the park,” according to Jennie Bender, GNC’s executive director.

“Ingelfinger scripted a textbook week of racing, delivering a clinic in grace-under-pressure competition as she repeatedly demonstrated her patience and prowess. With fire in her eyes, Ingelfinger attacked heat after heat on the sprint day and, through elimination rounds, lunged to secure second place nationally for the U16 girls. On the day of the classic mass start, Ingelfinger skied powerfully to stay ahead of the 5k mob to place third for yet another podium,” reported the Beacon.

That performance served as a catalyst for the high school phenom, inspiring a summer of motivated training and a junior-year season that culminated another trip to JN’s, this time as a more experienced and competitive skier.

“Every year she’s a new athlete,” Bender said. “She’s smarter about her training, she’s focused and has a lot of maturity to her approach to the sport, which is recognized by other athletes as well as a lot of coaches on the circuit.”

At JNs last March, Ingelfinger raced to a third-place finish in the 7.5k classic race on the first day of competition before powering past all opponents on day two during the skate sprint final to earn her first national title. Once again, she found herself buoyed by her success, and hungry for more.  

“After the level of success she had at junior nats last year, she’s just had a different level of focus at each training session,” GNC head competition coach Logan Mowry said. “As a coach we love to see that hyper focus, while keeping it in perspective since she’s so young. She’s the type of athlete where if you put her on the right path, she’s just going to soar.”

Whitefish’s Maeve Ingelfinger tops the podium at the 2023 Junior Nationals Cross Country Ski Championships Skate Sprint Races at Birch Hill Recreation Area in Fairbanks, Alaska Tuesday, March 14, 2023. Courtesy photo by Eric Engman

Ingelfinger’s competitive path this winter has propelled her into a higher class of racing than in previous seasons. During the first week of January, she competed at the U.S. Senior XC Nationals, which mixed the top junior athletes against college and professional skiers.

In the series of skate and classic races, Ingelfinger was the top junior in the skate and classic sprints, finishing 13th in a junior-only 10k skate and 54th in the classic 10k against all competitors.

“I’ve really found my competitive spirit this year,” Ingelfinger said. “And I would really say I’m individually competitive. I’m not so much trying to compete with my competitors because I know most of them as friends. I’m more trying to push myself to see how well I can do.”

“I don’t mind losing to them if it’s been my best effort. But if I’m not putting it all out there and then I have a bad race, it’s something to improve upon and learn from,” she added.

Her top-caliber performance at senior nationals earned her the spot to represent the United States in Sweden.  

Ingelfinger has raced internationally in Canada before, but this is her first time leaving the continent. Coincidentally, she’ll be competing at the same race where GNC Executive Director Jennie Bender made her own international debut, kicking off a 12-year career as a professional athlete.

“It’s super cool to see Maeve on a similar path that I was on. It’s given me a lot of really funny flashbacks,” Bender said. “I’ve been able to give her some guidance on what to expect and how to prepare for this race which has been fun.”

Since she began focusing on the sport two winters ago, Ingelfinger has continued to set her eyes on loftier goals, and representing the country is another check off her list.

“Getting to represent the U.S. is really cool, especially because I’ve gotten to see the U.S. have more success at the international level in recent years,” Ingelfinger said, alluding to sensational national talents like Jesse Diggins, who helped bring Nordic skiing closer to the forefront of American sporting vernacular. “I used to think we were just an ‘ok’ nation that could never be competitive with the Scandinavian countries, so it’s great to see the national teams have success and that shows that the US is getting better in terms of their Nordic development program and that what they’re doing is working.”

“And that’s especially fun because now I can go to Sweden and hopefully expect to not get pummeled by the Swedish racers.”

You can track Ingelfinger’s performance at the Nordic Nations Cup here.

Maeve Ingelfinger competes in the Glacier Glide 10k skate ski race in Whitefish on Jan. 7, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

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