When you have competed in the Winter Olympic Games, as the University of Utah’s Novie McCabe has, college skiing championships might not seem like that big of a deal.
But they are for the Utes junior from Winthrop, Washington, who will be racing in her third NCAA Skiing Championships this week in New York, partly due to the culture of excellence that has been established for the skiing Utes in Salt Lake City.
“College skiing is definitely more of a chilled-out vibe (than the Olympics). But it is super fun. I love being able to ski for a team, which is something you don’t really get outside of college skiing.” — Utah Nordic skier Novie McCabe
“The NCAAs are very important to us,” McCabe told the Deseret News last week.
Nordic (cross-country) races will be contested at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid and Alpine events will be contested at Whiteface Mountain, about 15 miles away.
Competition begins Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
Utah is the defending champion, having won the event last year in Park City. The Utes have emerged as the dominant force in college skiing the past few years, having also won national titles in 2019 and 2021. The Utes were leading the championships in 2020 in Montana before they were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Utes are one of the big favorites again this year, although the snow is a bit different back East and nothing can be taken for granted.
“This NCAA team is as strong as any team Utah has ever fielded. Both our Alpine and Nordic teams are in a great spot heading into the week, and with a little luck on our side with smooth travels and staying healthy, we should be fighting for the top step of the podium in every race,” said Utah Nordic coach Miles Havlick.
Because of strong coaching and outstanding performers such as McCabe, Utah has won 14 NCAA team championships and 15 overall national crowns. Team skiing isn’t as competitive as most NCAA sports because there are only about a dozen Division I schools that field teams, but the Utes are proud of their accomplishments through the years.
McCabe, who competes in women’s Nordic events, won the individual NCAA championship in the 5K Classic last year at Soldier Hollow and the Utes claimed the team title. Can they do it again, away from their home snow?
“College skiing is definitely a bit different (than the Olympics or World Cup), but it is still really competitive, and intense,” McCabe said last week before the Utes left Saturday for the East Coast. “College skiing is definitely more of a chilled-out vibe. But it is super fun. I love being able to ski for a team, which is something you don’t really get outside of college skiing.”
This year’s competition will be especially meaningful for McCabe because she has decided this will be her final college competition even though she technically has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“I have kinda decided to maybe focus more on racing in Europe next year, so this will be my last year here at Utah,” said the political science major. “I am getting close (to graduating), so I will keep taking classes even when I am not skiing for my college any more.”
McCabe was seemingly born to be a Ute skier, although she says she was “open-minded” when it came time to pick a school. Her mother is Laura McCabe, who skied at the U. and then competed at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Her father, the late Sean McCabe, also attended Utah before succumbing to thyroid cancer in November 2009 at the age of 46, when Novie was 7 years old and her sister, Dashe, was 3.
Along with leaving Novie a unique first name, her parents have been her inspiration for always striving to be the best, be it in the Olympics or on the college or junior circuits, she said.
“Novie is my real name, but it is not a family name or anything,” she said. “My mom told me that she and my dad heard it on NPR and liked it. There is no other connection, other than that.”
McCabe isn’t too worried about the differences in snow, which she said is a bigger concern for her Alpine counterparts.
“I have not skied these courses. I raced at Lake Placid at Junior Nationals like five years ago, but it was on different courses,” she said. “… The course might be faster or slower depending on conditions, but it is the same for everyone and we don’t have to prepare any differently for that.”
McCabe was on the U.S. cross-country team at the Beijing Olympics, and made three starts during the Games. She finished 24th in the 10m classical, and also carried the third leg of the U.S. 4x5 kilometer relay team that finished sixth. In her final start at the Games, she placed 18th in the women’s 30 kilometer freestyle.
Utah teammate Sophia Laukli was also an Olympian.
“Our main goal is to win for the team and to do the best we can for the team. That kind of takes a bit of pressure off the individual side of things, which is nice, because you are out there doing what you can for the team and if you don’t make the individual results happen, you still have to give it your best for that team result,” McCabe said. “I think it is kind of fun to have both those things in the mix and yeah, we will see how it goes this year.”
Utah director of skiing Fredrik Landstedt has a dynasty going in Salt Lake City, and McCabe said she’s just a small part of a dynamic team.
McCabe has racked up 17 individual wins as a Ute, including eight this season. She was the 2023 Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association West Regional champion in the women’s classic and women’s freestyle this season.
“Novie has all the pieces required to be a great skier, physically and mentally,” Havlick said. “She is tougher than the rest, is incredibly driven and motivated, but also just a great person and teammate.”
Last Friday, McCabe was named a Rocky Mountain association MVP, along with three other Utes.
Utah swept the men’s Alpine MVP awards as Wilhelm Normannseth won the slalom award and Gustav Vollo won the giant slalom award. Both skiers are from Norway.
The Utes’ Luke Jager, who is from Anchorage, Alaska, won the men’s classic MVP honors.
“I am super excited for the NCAA championships,” McCabe said. “I think we all are. I feel like everyone on the team is skiing really well right now. I am excited to see some teammates (Laukli and Sydney Palmer-Leger) who have been in Europe that I haven’t seen in a while.”
Palmer-Leger is from Park City.
Other top Utah skiers to watch this week are Madison Hoffman, Michelle Kerven, Celine Mayer, Claire Timmerman, Brian Bushey, Walker Hall, Tom Mancini, Samuel Hendry, Oliver Parazette, Bjorn Brudevoll, Karianne Dengerud and Jeremy Mathers, who competes in men’s Alpine and is from Cottonwood Heights.