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Book Review of "Trail to Gold: The Journey of 53 Women Skiers"

By: Dorcas DenHartog

The "New" Cross-Country Ski Book by John Caldwell

Trail to Gold: The Journey of 53 Women Skiers, by the U.S. Olympic Women Cross-Country Skiers 1972-2018

When I started skiing in 1982-1983,  there were no books to read about the history and who was who and how, beyond John Caldwell’s book, The NEW Cross-Country Ski Book.  Desperate for any information in that pre-digital age, I saw a photo of his daughter, Jennifer, chopping wood for the family wood stove.  He called it training. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘I do that. Maybe I can ski, too.’  Still, I was a nobody, looking in from the outside. Even as I trained the summer before college, even as I trained and raced for Middlebury College, there was always a history, always stories that everyone else knew. Since then, I have always wanted to write that history for the young girls who followed me.  

Now, we have!

Trail to Gold: The Journey of 53 Women Skiers, is a collaborative book project dreamed up during the March 2019 Cross country World Cup in Quebec City. Everyone was excited to see a World Cup finally back in North America. The Americans had been kicking some butt and getting on the podiums with historical power house countries like Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Finland.  Someone found an Airbnb for us to rent, 200 meters from the arena, and so many of us gathered for an unofficial reunion. There were Olympians I had only known of and teammates I knew dearly. For three days we shared our experiences - great memories, but also the frustrations of finances, body image, relationships, expectations, competing against better funded teams and performance-enhanced athletes. Many of us had withdrawn from the sport and gone on to other things, disappointed that our hard work had never resulted in much recognition or reward.  Together, we realized that our time on the team, in the sport, had indeed contributed significantly to the growth of the sport. 

We decided we needed to acknowledge and celebrate all the women who had brought us to this point - where we were finally cheering on U.S. World Cup, Olympic gold, and World Championship medalists, women, and teams that had accomplished our dreams.

So for the past two years, our book committee of six women, led by Sue Wemyss (Middlebury College 1983; Sarajevo Olympics 1984), brought together old interviews of past Olympians, dug up photos - personal and professional, had a crash course on writing, finding a printer, editing, copyrights, ISBN numbers, publishing, finding book reviewers, book distribution, and selling a book!  The book is yearbook-like, with an entry and photo of each of the 53 women, with chapters at the beginning of the book, each illustrating a topic or issue in the development of cross-country ski training and racing in the United States. This book won’t tell you how to train - but it will tell you the inside story of what these 53 women did - from their first 1972 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan - that built towards the first U.S. Olympic gold medal in the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

This February’s Winter Olympic Games, in Beijing, China, will mark the 50th anniversary of the first US women’s Olympic team that participated at Sapporo. It’s been a long and initially ‘ungroomed’ trail to get there. We wanted to share what it’s been like to be a part of those last 50 years. What it was like growing up an active girl, a competitive female, dreaming of being on a National and Olympic Team, dreaming of being a World Cup and Olympic medalist, and finally - gold medalists - plural! This covers U.S. women nordic Olympians from the time when it was socially inappropriate at best and downright mean and unfair at the worst to be an American, a female, a competitive cross country skier living on Power Bars and potato salad made from the mayo, salt and pepper scrounged from the condiment stand in the (Dartmouth College) Hopkins Center’s cafeteria. 

Trail to Gold by the U.S. Olympic Women Cross-Country Skiers 1972-2018 including UVRC's very own Dorcas DenHartog!

That last part was my own experience - quite a good lunch, actually, between selling shoes and stringing tennis rackets at Art Bennet’s in the ‘80s. Working retail to pay the rent, between doing the morning (bicycle) ride from the old Mary Hitchcock Hospital from 5:20 am- 7:30 am. Then rowing if I had time at the Ledyard Canoe Club. And afternoons rollerskiing or running or hill bounding at Oak Hill. 

Athletes of all ages will appreciate the stories inside. Read about my teammates - especially those of us pre- social media. Read about those who kept their teammates happy, laughing, supported, even if their results didn’t make the American media’s level of attention. 

You can buy copies at: Omer and Bob’s - they have several copies for sale or your perusal; from me - Dorcas DenHartog; or order books from Pathway Book Service, in Keene, NH. Our subject matter was outside of Pathway’s usual categories of books, but the woman who helped us had brought her son up through the Stratton-area Bill Koch League, and they wanted to give back the love! 

You’ll also find us at book signing events around New England - watch the NENSA website for the Craftsbury Marathon, January 29-30th, 2022,  and Women’s XC Ski Day - January 23rd, 2022 at the Rikert Touring Center (Ripton, VT), and more. It helps that former Bowdoin College 2014 alumna and 2018 Olympian, Kait Miller, works for NENSA. 

We live in a great place to be an athlete, be athletic, and be a fan. 


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