Sun Valley cross-country ski trainer Rick Kapala is familiar with race day routine: wake up and hit the trail at dawn, then start testing different waxes and previewing the course. .
But it’s also when he sees longtime Park City coach and close friend Gordon Lange, whose race-day energy is unmatched, even when it’s barely light.
Even at the age of 63, 64, 65, Gordon on race morning, you would think he literally drank 10 cups of coffee because he would be so excited every race morning just because he loves the race day coaching process, “said Rick Kapala, cross-country trainer and close friend of Sun Valley, who has coached against Gordon for years.” It’s just funny because we’re all very interested, if you will, but this guy loves race day. We were always like, ‘Calm down, Gordon, we have a long day ahead of us’, but he would just be thrilled. “
Lange calls it a career after 43 years of training, including over 20 years of working with junior Nordic skiers at Park City.
âI think my happiest days as a coach were for sure coaching the juniors here at Park City,â said Lange. “It was absolutely the most rewarding, it was absolutely my most productive coaching.”
Lange started out as a cross-country skier for the University of Colorado in the 1970s, and the Buffaloes won three national championships during his time there. After graduation, he coached in Colorado before moving to a coaching position in Wyoming and later becoming a program director. There he helped win a national championship in 1985, one of three national titles Wyoming won in all sports.
Walt Evans met Lange on a visit to Wyoming while working with the US Ski and Snowboard Association (now known as US Ski and Snowboard).
âHe’s a calm but determined man,â Evans said. âHe’s more of a collaborative style leader in that he wants to motivate these athletes to aspire to excellence on their own. He doesn’t want to lead this, but he wants to cultivate this quality.
Lange’s coaching career reached the international stage when he was appointed head coach of the United States cross-country ski team in the 1992 season. He guided the United States team through the Games. winter of 1994 and 1998 before retiring in 1998. The United States has never been a cross-country powerhouse – Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall’s gold medal in the team sprint event at the Olympic Games. 2018 was the first in American history – but Lange’s tenure was the start of progress for the program.
âIt started with Bill Koch, he was sort of an early pioneer of American cross country, then after Bill Koch, you know, Kikkan Randall came along and some of these amazing athletes, and now these girls are the best in the world. , “said Evans. âGordon has been part of their evolution and development and has helped establish great fundamentals as young skiers, as well as that passion. He just has a huge passion.
Lange moved to Park City in 1990 and helped build Soldier Hollow, which hosted the cross-country skiing events for the 2002 Olympics. After resigning from the national team, he was unsure of what remained for him to do as a coach until he started working with future silver medalist and Nordic combined skier Brett Camarota and his twin brother Eric as well as other skiers juniors. This rekindled a passion for Lange.
âI had a lot of fun coaching juniors, whom I had never coached before,â said Lange. âI had been a coach for over 20 years at the time and thought I had it all done. But when I started coaching these juniors and being so enthusiastic and stuff, it kind of kick-started my coaching juice. “
Coaching junior skiers rather than established veterans had its own challenges, but it was a welcome change of pace.
âThe learning curve for kids is so steep, and they’re like sponges,â he said. âThey don’t try to analyze too much or think too much, they believe what you are saying is the truth, and then they try and they get better. And, you know, you can see the progress every day and just witness the progress daily, and I love that.
Lange began coaching at Park City Ski & Snowboard in the early 2000s, when it was known as the National Sports Foundation, looking after an entire generation of Park City skiers. Rosie Brennan, who won back-to-back World Cup races in 2020, is one of many local athletes who made their debut under Lange’s watchful eye.
âRosie will be one of the dearest people I have ever coached,â said Lange. “She was one of those juniors who was like a sponge and went all the time.”
Lange started coaching her when she was in her second year in high school and was still somewhat new to the sport as she had only been skiing for two years at that time. After coaching Brennan for a year, Lange saw her promising abilities and sat her down to have a conversation. He told her that if she kept that pace she would make the national team before she graduated from high school, and her prediction was correct.
âI think it was because he knew exactly what I needed to do and could get me there with just my commitment to follow his advice, so it had a huge impact on me,â said Brennan.
But every skier was important to Lange, regardless of their skill.
“If I can grow a kid up to run in a Wasatch Citizens (Series) race when he or she is 55 or 65, that’s just as important as having someone successful on the international stage, honestly.” , did he declare.
For now, âGordoâ is returning to his hometown of Jackson, Wyoming, but is considering competing in ski racing. Kapala is quick to point out that the one thing Lange enjoys as much as training is fly fishing. But for Lange-trained skiers like Brennan, it’s a bit bittersweet.
“It’s honestly sad, he’s such a good coach and, yes, he’s brought so much to my career, it’s sad not to think about doing that to him for more athletes along the way,” he said. Brennan said. âBut it’s also great to recognize everything he gave to the sport and everything he gave to me and so many other athletes who participated in the program.
“I feel so lucky to have had him as a coach and to have those two or three years with him that have been instrumental in my development, so I hope he has a good retirement and that he can one way or another stay involved in the sport. “