Nordic Teams Amass 16 State Championship Titles

SAHS Nordi ski team at the state meet this past winter.

These past months while the weather’s been warm in the St. Croix Valley, Olympic medalist Jessie Diggins has been training for the upcoming Nordic ski season. In fact, dozens of Nordic skiers from Stillwater Area High School (SAHS), Diggins’ alma mater, have been finding ways to stay fit for the frosty weather to come. Like Diggins, the SAHS girls’ Nordic team has a championship title to defend and the boys’ team is right up there as Minnesota’s 2018 second place state championship finisher. SAHS is known for its prowess in cross-country skiing, and we wanted to know where it all began.

Enter Bill Simpson who moved to Marine on St. Croix in 1970. “There was a ski shop above the general store,” Simpson says. “So the town started skiing.” Simpson began teaching cross-country skiing (now known as Nordic skiing in high school athletics so as not to be confused with cross-country running) in 1973 and was one of only a few local instructors. “In the beginning, there were 22 skiers [on the team],” Simpson says. “Fifteen of them were boys.” Title 9  would help the sport expand with more female athletes and Marine Elementary School had skis so even young students could try out the activity. Things started quickly out of the gate. The boys’ team would take first place in the state during its first three years when Nordic ski was also combined with ski jumping. Ski jumping would later fall by the wayside but the Nordic ski team would go on to grow exponentially. Combined, the boys and girls Nordic team now has over 100 athletes in grades 7–12.

Coach Kris Hansen came on board 22 years ago. “My Nordic career started on the Stillwater team for Bill when I was in eighth grade,” Hansen says. “I learned to ski on the team and became part of a championship team when I was in high school.” Simpson would later ask Hansen to join him as a coach, and she says it’s been a great partnership.

Hansen’s is a skiing family. She taught her husband to cross-country ski when they met and their twins were part of this year’s accomplished SAHS teams. “When I started out with Bill, the program was already successful,” Hansen says. “What’s cool is that when I was in high school, I was part of a four-year run of winning the state title.” The girls’ team has now won four state titles under Hansen’s watch. “To be part of that same level of success 20 years later is cool,” she says.

This past year, coach Christian Brekke joined the staff. Hansen coaches the varsity girls. Brekke coaches the varsity boys, and Simpson works with the younger and less experienced athletes to help them feel comfortable and take the mystery out the sport for beginners. Each speaks highly of the other.

“Bill was my first coach,” Brekke says. “Kris started as a coach when I was a sophomore [at SAHS]." Bill is all about participation and making sure everyone has a good experience. Kris brings the competitive element that still exists today. Brekke views coaching as a way to give back to the community. He can’t think of a better way to spend the end of each day than to ski around with these athletes.

This past season may be difficult to top. Hansen—who was Diggins’ high school ski coach and remains her good friend and occasional training partner—says, “This season was really special in part because my kids were seniors and both teams performed superbly. In the same week [as the Minnesota State High School League championship], Jessie won her gold medal. I’m so proud of all of the skiing success that happened in that seven day period.”

A Winning Tradition

The SAHS girls Nordic team has 10 state titles, 2018 being the latest since 2010.

The SAHS boys Nordic team has six state titles. The latest was in 1997.

For families interested in more Nordic skiing info and opportunities, check out the Loppet Foundation at the website here, and also the St. Croix Valley Ski Club on Facebook.