University of Vermont

University Communications

Trails of Success

Patterson rules Nordic races

Caitlin Patterson led teammates Lucy Garrec and Amy Glen to a sweep of the top three spots in the women's classic race at the UVM Ski Carnival in early February. (Photo: Dennis Curran)

UVM Nordic skier Caitlin Patterson has put together a remarkable string of victories on the Eastern ski carnival circuit this season, winning seven races. Patrick Weaver, head coach on the Nordic side of things for the Catamount ski team, doesn’t ponder long when asked for the key to Patterson’s success this year.

“She just has an incredibly hard work ethic,” says Weaver, a two-time U.S. national champion and Olympian. When it comes to her leadership on a Nordic squad that has combined with the alpine team to sweep the first four carnivals of the season by wide margins, Weaver says Patterson is more of the quiet type. “She leads by example. Caitlin is dedicated to the training and does all of the little things that matter.”

The coach has also seen the academic work ethic that drives Patterson — a National Merit Scholar, member of UVM’s Honors College, and civil engineering major. If there is a spare half-hour on a road trip, says Weaver, Patterson is likely going to crack open a text and use that time to study.

The UVM junior smiles when asked about balancing a demanding course load and varsity athletics. “It’s intense. They say there are the three S’s — school, sports, and social life — and you have to sacrifice one. So I don’t party and don’t have much free time at all,” she says. “It’s just a matter of time management, remembering where my priorities are.” As Patterson looks to her senior year, she’s beginning to shape the direction of her honors thesis proposal, which will build on past research experience with Professor Britt Holmen focused on vehicle emission testing.

Caitlin and her brother Scott, a freshman on the men’s Nordic team who won the 10K freestyle at the UVM Carnival to make for a double-Patterson podium, grew up in McCall, Idaho (population 2,554) in their younger years. The family moved to Anchorage, Alaska when they were teens. Their father, Steve Patterson, a silviculturist for the U.S. Forest Service, and mother, Margaret Hillhouse, made it a priority to get their family outdoors, hard to imagine otherwise given their surroundings. Caitlin credits her mom, who was one of her first coaches, for getting the kids on skis and making sure it was fun from the beginning. It was more about games than races, and the young Pattersons tested their skinny skis in the western powder with rides up the t-bar at the local hill.

A mile race in which she outpaced her classmates, boys included, in third grade P.E. was the first suggestion that there might be something to these endurance sports for Caitlin. She ran cross-country through middle school, then focused exclusively on skiing in high school. When it came time for college, she considered schools in the West, but the sheer time commitment of travel to competitions put her off. She couldn’t imagine giving up nearly a half-week of classes before a race. “I have very high standards, but if I can make my life just a little easier to achieve those high standards… then that helps a lot,” she says. New England’s smaller scale, UVM’s academics, scholarship support, and the good reports she heard about the fun of competition in the EISA carnivals prevailed.

Looking back, Weaver says that Patterson may have been overlooked as an athlete by some who didn’t anticipate her continuing rise in college competition. For her part, Patterson cites many elements for her excellent 2011 season—coaches, teammates, a solid summer of intense workouts, a little bit of luck. Also key, she says, has been learning that tenuous balance between pushing training hard enough to improve, but not so hard to tempt illness and injury. “Experience—in the sense that I know when to rest if I feel tired, how best to prepare for races, and how to minimize stress and its impact on me,” she says.