American Skiing and Snowboarding recently announced his nominations to the U.S. Ski Team for the 2022-23 season. Of the 22 athletes named to the team this season, six were not on the previous year’s roster, whether newly named or renamed: Michael Earnhart, Walker Hall, Zak Ketterson, Will Koch, Finn O’Connell and Sammy Smith.
To help fans get to know these new (more) faces, FasterSkier is conducting a series of interviews, providing insight into the factors that contributed to the development, progress and growth of these athletes last season. In this episode we talk with Will Koch following his nomination to the United States Ski Team on his D-Team.
Koch grew up in Vermont and is now a member of the University of Colorado ski team, where he will start his freshman year this fall. Son of Olympic silver medalist, Bill KochWill began his racing career in the New England program named after his father (bill koch league) and attended high school in Stratton Mountain School.
During the 2019/20 ski season, Koch qualified to compete in the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he earned a bronze medal in the 10 km classic. In 2022, the race for the Junior World Championships in Lygna, Norway, Koch finished 13th in the 10 km classic, 15th in the sprint skateand anchored the 4×5 km relay team, helping to clinch bronze for Team USA.
Ella Hall/Faster Skier: Can you introduce us a bit, where are you from? When did you start skiing? What was your relationship with skiing growing up?
Will Koch: I’m from Peru, Vermont, which is a very small town in southern Vermont, just like 80 people as a population. And I’ve lived there since I was two years old. I started skiing when I was very young, because my father was a professional skier, Bill Koch. So I started skiing before I could even walk – nine months on a beach in Hawaii was my first time riding skis. Since then, I’ve only been training.
I grew up in a very vibrant ski community: I started my youth, then Stratton Mountain School during my high school days, and now I’m at the University of Colorado at Boulder. And this is my first year on the [U.S. Ski Team]. So it’s super exciting.
FS: As the daughter of a three-time Olympian, maybe I can relate to the potential challenges of being the child of a successful skier…so recognizing that, can you talk a bit about your father’s role in your skiing career?
WK: I definitely get that question kind of like, you know, is it stressful or pressured having your dad like, Olympian and all. Honestly, I think my dad does a really good job of having no expectations for me, which is really good. My dad totally agrees that skiing is awesome and all, but there’s so much more to life than just skiing at the same time. He left the coaching a lot to my current coaches, but at the same time he is always there to give advice when I want it.
He’s obviously like, been there, done this with everything I’ve been given in terms of skiing, so I think it’s really inspiring to have someone like that always there when I need him, but it’s really great that it doesn’t. not feel like a burden. It really is an opportunity.
FS: How was the transition from high school at Stratton Mountain School (SMS) to college skiing at the University of Colorado (CU)? Both in terms of training but also life changes in general? What drew you to CU?
WK: One of the main reasons I wanted to go to college out west was because I loved the western mountains. And I also really liked the people there. I think they are super open and fun. I also think that being at a PAC 12 Conference School comes with certain advantages with regard to the resources available in the sports departments. On top of that, I think CU had a really high level Nordic team compared to some of the schools I was looking at. So these are all factors that made me want to go there, and I certainly never regretted that choice once up there. I’ve loved it since I was two years old, it’s great fun. [There’s] a really good mix in the ski team, I think, of having fun, but also being serious about training.
I would say that when it came to training, the transition from high school to college, one difference was altitude. When I first climbed to altitude in Boulder and trained up there, I really thought I could continue doing the exact same volume and workouts that I was doing in Stratton. But I put myself in a bit of a hole when I got there and then learned from that and realized it was a bit more taxing on the body. But once I called it back, as far as training went, I was able to get real benefits from the altitude for my fitness. Now that I’ve been there for two years, I was able to have a really good year of fitness last season and [make] a kind of breakthrough in my skiing. I think part of that is being at altitude and building your fitness with a really strong team.
In general, I’ve found the college schedule allows me more flexibility in terms of when I train and it’s easier to do two sessions a day in college compared to high school, simply because that you spend a little less time in class. You have a bit more flexibility in how you structure your day.
FS: According to my calculations, you have participated in five different international races, including the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). What have been some of the highlights of these experiences, particularly in terms of supporting your development and goals?
WK: Yeah, of all the international trips I’ve been on, definitely the Youth Olympics stands out as the coolest and most memorable. The YOG are quite different from the World Juniors in that they are much less intense, I would say, and more about having fun. And yet, even if it’s less intense, it’s the same level of competition, anyway, you’re up against the best people in the world.
I think that’s what I really liked about the Youth Olympics, it was fun to win the medal there and all, but it was also mostly a really cool experience. It was the first time I met people from many different countries. I still have my friends from Kazakhstan and Australia from the Youth Olympics, who I love. And, of course, this was also before COVID was really a thing, it was also a time when we could do a bit more socializing while traveling internationally.
I think those [international] travel is really crucial in development, just to really see the next level of competition you’re going to face, and to really see that every second counts. In the Youth Olympics race where I got my bronze medal, there were two seconds between me and second place, and I was about five seconds away from being back in eighth place. It was just ridiculous how tight it was. It kind of shows how much you really need to think about getting those little wins where you can, and that the rest of the competition in the world is doing the same thing.
FS: You have just been named to the US Ski Team D Team, can you reflect on how you feel and maybe what excites you the most about this opportunity?
WK: It’s certainly quite rewarding to be nominated after being on the cutting edge for a few years now. It’s exiting. At the same time, however, it’s also basically the same training group that I’ve been training with for years now that me, Walker [Hall] and Michael [Earnhart] are all on it.
Being at my first US Ski Team camp (in Bend), I was looking around a bit and was like, Hey, this really isn’t that different from NTG three years ago when we we all did this for the first time. So it’s really cool to see how we’re all progressing together. I would say teaming up is great and all, but it’s also really just another step in development that we all take together, which is really fun.
FS: What are your goals for the next ski season?
WK: I would love to make my World Cup debut if it worked out. It’s obviously a very competitive scene right now for Team USA to get there, and being picked is by no means guaranteed. I think it would be a really good next level experience to have. I would also like to be on the podium at the NCAA.
FS: Looks like you traveled to Bend for the US Ski Team’s annual spring camp there, and now you’re back texting. What does the rest of your summer/fall look like?
WK: For the rest of the summer I will be training Stratton with the SMS T2 team. It’s pretty exciting, because we should have a lot of very fast guys from the US Ski Team coming here to join our training group, which I think will be great, having grown up in Vermont, for show a group of people how we do it here. I will be here until mid-August, then I will return to Colorado and start school and training with the CU ski team.