A Week in the Life of Retired U.S. Ski & Snowboard Athletes at the Mammoth Lakes Crib
Jul 13, 2021
Five-time U.S. Ski Team member Jess Breda pulls a perfectly golden loaf of freshly baked bread out of the oven and flips it over adroitly onto a cooling rack in the kitchen of The Crib, Mammoth Lakes’ high altitude training crash pad.
She’s flanked by Olympians Noah Hoffman and Ty Walker, who, respectively, drain a pot of spaghetti and assemble an enormous salad.
“This is our retired life!” says Walker, who, at 21, is the youngest of the three athletes, all of whom are transitioning from their pro careers into civilian existence. It’s early January in Mammoth Lakes, and they’re all enjoying a weeklong stay at The Crib. It’s just started snowing for real. They’re discussing the next day’s plans.
“Can we get buttermilk pancakes?” asks Hoffman, helping himself to the first of about four heaping servings of spaghetti.
“I’m an endurance athlete!” he says, leaning back in his chair and grinning after he’s finished his meal. “This is what I do!”
Life After Going Pro
Hoffman is a two-time Olympian and former World Cup Gold Medalist who, at 29, just began his first year at Brown University. He retired from his cross country skiing career in March of 2018.
“I’m just a 29-year-old freshman, trying to figure out what’s next,” he says with a sardonic grin.
“My parents were supportive of me taking 11 years off to just ski,” he said. “Now, I’m having a totally different experience.”
Walker, who competed in the 2014 Sochi Olympics in slopestyle snowboarding, is also at Brown. She’s 8 years younger than Hoffman but two years ahead of him in school—a Junior studying biology and aiming for a career in medicine.
Prior to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, slopestyle freeskier Breda, now 23, sustained a career-ending concussion. She’s currently applying to grad school programs in neuroscience.
Mammoth Lakes in a New Light
They’re just three college students hanging out in a condo in Mammoth, but they’ve got this weird thing in common—they were all fiercely competing to “be the best in the world” (Hoffman’s words) at one point in their young lives. They spent years doing almost nothing but training. Now they’re transitioning into whatever this approximation of “normal” is. Like making spaghetti on a Friday night or getting stoked about just taking some runs on the hill, like any other college kid.
Walker and Breda spent a good couple months each in training camps in Mammoth Lakes over the course of their pro careers. But they’re excited to just get some bear claws at Schat’s Bakery, or maybe set foot on a frozen lake during their visit. These are little joys that they never got to experience when their whole lives were about hucking jumps, or, in Hoffman’s case, blitzing a 15 km freestyle.
“I can’t tell you how many places all over the world I’ve been and only seen the cross country ski trails,” says Hoffman. “The idea of taking a full week to come relax is ludicrous during your ski career.”
Hence the buttermilk pancakes (the trio were stoked to try out the Warming Hut, Mammoth Lakes’ newest breakfast joint).
“One of the coolest things about being here [as a retired athlete] is doing all the things you don’t necessarily get to do when you’re here for training,” says Walker.
When she visited Mammoth Lakes during her career heyday, “I ate with the team, I trained with the team, I stayed in the condos with the team. It’s not like I was going snowmobiling or going to the cross country track for fun.”
When Walker speaks about her plans for the upcoming week in Mammoth Lakes, they’re pretty much the antithesis of training camp.
“It’d be great to go up and ride the park a bit,” she says uncommittedly, twirling pasta on her fork, “or maybe go touring.”
Local photographer and backcountry enthusiast Miles Weaver had taken Hoffman ski touring up the Sherwins earlier that day, and Walker feels like she could get down on that. Or not, because hey, they’re just in Mammoth Lakes for a visit.
Breda mulls the idea of climbing in Bishop—she’s casually looking for her next sport, and she likes climbing because the aforementioned concussion was “vision-based, so the world going by you can be pretty disruptive. Climbing is a slow, cerebral sport” which she’s been digging.
She also likes cycling, wisecracking when someone mentions elite runner Mary Cain, (their roommate during their stay at The Crib): “The thing about running is… you could bike instead.”
For someone who watched her career end before a shot at the Olympics, Breda is enviably chill about it all.
“I don’t really have a desire to do what they do anymore,” she says of pro athletes. “I almost feel relieved not to have to show up on those days… it’s been really refreshing to not be looking at the weather and wind… to just show up and enjoy it and not always be trying to perform.”
“Just three washed-up old athletes,” jokes Hoffman, drying dishes. He’s being modest. He’s still got some street cred.
“I got to go out with both the [Mammoth Lakes] middle school and high school cross country ski teams,” at Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center, says Hoffman, who made sure to hand props to Olympian Stacey Cook for arranging the outing.
“One of the athletes had a poster of me in his room,” said Hoffman, helping himself to a fifth piece of crusty bread slathered with vegan butter (presumably left over from the last athletes to inhabit the condo). “That was pretty cool to hear.”