Olympic hopefuls Bamford ’15 and Ellefson ’09 ski different trails toward Sochi

Sylvan Ellefson ’09 and Emily Bamford ’15 share a pedigree as Bobcat skiers, but they’re taking very different trails toward their goal of skiing at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Australian alpine skier and Olympic hopeful Emily Bamford '15, photographed in October 2013 in Melbourne. (Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Olympic hopeful Emily Bamford ’15 is on leave from Bates this year as she seeks a spot on the Australian Olympic team. (Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Their paths are, quite literally, polar opposites.

An Alpine skier, Bamford is from Melbourne, Australia, and she’s been a member of the Australian national ski team since she was 16.

Ellefson is a Nordic skier from Vail, Colo. Though he did earn All-America honors as a Bates skier, he graduated with little hope of achieving success as a professional skier, and he’s never been a member of the U.S. ski team.

Emily Bamford '15 zooms past a gate in the giant slalom at the NCAA East Regional Meet in February 2013. (Photo: Cory Ransom)

Emily Bamford ’15 zooms past a gate in the giant slalom at the NCAA East Regional Meet in February 2013. (Photo: Cory Ransom)

Their paths and backgrounds differ. But, say their Bates coaches, what they share besides Bates is a decent chance at earning berths on their respective Olympic teams, both of which will be chosen in January.

On leave from Bates this winter, Bamford is training with other Aussie skiers in Colorado, where her most recent effort was a 27th, the third Australian skier, in a slalom race.

“Emily is going to be ranked either the second or third skier from Australia,” says Rogan Connell, head coach of the Bates alpine program. “If she is second, she is guaranteed to make the Olympics.”

Follow the hopefuls on Twitter: Ellefson @sylvanellefson, Bamford @embamford.

Emily Bamford '15

Emily Bamford ’15

And if she is ranked third, “she would need help,” Connell says, from complex selection criteria that can expand or limit the number of athletes a country can send to the Olympics.

Connell describes Bamford as a “talented athlete, hard worker and determined person.”

Though he’s lost a top skier for the year, Connell says it was a no-brainer when it came to offering his unconditional encouragement.

For one thing, he asks rhetorically, “How many opportunities does someone get to represent their country in the Olympics?” Second, he notes, a current Bates student earning an Olympic berth would spell gold for the Bates skiing program from a recruiting perspective.

If Bamford is something of an insider, Ellefson has been knocking at the door.

Never named to the U.S. Ski Team, he’s had to fund his training and equipment himself. He works as a property manager part-time, and gets support from 22 sponsors, big names like Fischer and L.L.Bean and hometown Vail supporters like Happy Valley Grill and Big Delicious Catering.

Olympic hopeful and former All-America Nordic skier Sylvan Ellefson '09. (Photo: Steve Fuller '81)

Olympic hopeful Sylvan Ellefson ’09. (Photo: Steve Fuller ’82)

He races under the name Team HomeGrown, an elite-level club begun in 2009 by Ellfeson and his ski buddies, part of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

However unconventional his route, Ellefson can ski, and he gets faster and faster each year.

Doing very well in Super Tour races in 2011-12 allowed him to jump to the elite World Cup circuit, and he raced in Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

“It’s super exciting,” Ellefson told the Vail Daily in a recent profile. “It’s definitely something you have to get used to, though. Every week you’re racing Saturday and Sunday and you’re traveling between 300 miles and 2,000 miles.”

His former Bates coach, Becky Flynn Woods ’89, says that World Cup experience is a big plus when it comes time for the U.S. Ski Team to select its Olympians.

Experience aside, “in reality his selection will come down to points earned in races and slots available,” the latter determined by complex selection criteria, as is the case with Bamford.

Ellefson competes at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in 2012 at Black Mountain in Rumford (Photo: Steve Fuller '81)

Ellefson competes at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in 2012 at Black Mountain in Rumford. (Photo: Steve Fuller ’82)

Ellefson has one clear route to the Olympic team: win a race at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Soldier Hollow, Utah, during the second week of January. “If he wins, he’s likely to go” to Sochi, Woods says. A win is not out of the question, as Ellefson snagged a bronze at the 2012 championships.

Racing in North America this year, Ellefson picked up points as the second American, and third skier overall, in a 15k Super Tour race at West Yellowstone, Mont., three weeks ago. He skipped a subsequent Super Tour race in Bozeman due to extreme cold weather, then finished fourth in a Rossland, British Columbia, race last weekend, Dec. 14 and 15.

Woods says that skipping Bozeman was the right thing to do. “I think he’s still in a good place, and racing in extreme cold can really compromise your immune system. Given what he has to do in the next few weeks, he can’t risk that.”