This past summer Jennie Bender returned to the Bridger Ski Foundation in a new role: as a coach, working with both the Nordic Comp and Devo teams. After a career as a professional Nordic skier, including several years with the BSF Elite team, we were getting used to having her around.
Alas, we’re having to say a quick goodbye to Jennie. She recently accepted a position as the assistant ski coach at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. And while we’re sad to see her go, we’re incredibly proud and psyched for her to have this opportunity. She’ll be part of the only all-female coaching staff ski team on the NCAA circuit. At a time when the cross country ski industry is starting to recognize the lack of females in coaching roles, this seems like an important step for Jennie and the sport.
“I’m very excited to take a leadership role,” says Jennie.
While she has coached part-time throughout her career, specializing in clinics and individual coaching, this past summer and fall, she helped guide a young crop of BSF skiers—hiking, biking, roller skiing, and training in the mountains. “It’s been fun with the kids this summer. They’re all really willing to learn. Whether they’re there for the performance goal or the social aspect, it’s just a really great group of kids.”
Jennie earned a degree in exercise physiology at the University of Vermont, and then skied professionally for CXC and BSF, as well as competing in biathlon events. A four-time U.S. National Sprint Champion, she competed in World Cup events and had nine U.S. National podiums to her name.
She says she’s fallen into coaching easily. “I’ve had so much encouragement from mentors and a support network over the years, that despite my career not going as planned, I feel like I can give back to the community through coaching.”
Because of the way Alaska funds collegiate sports, Jennie has a 6-month contract in Alaska, and she’ll have to wait and see what next season brings. But she admits Bozeman will always feel like home. She’ll also be back for three weeks in March, when MSU hosts regions and the NCAA championships.
In a parting note to BSF athletes, Jennie wrote:
“I love the BSF community and the inspiration I’ve gained as both an athlete and coach with the program. I will be back here and there throughout the winter, and please feel free to email me with any individual training questions while in Alaska! I still mentor many athletes from afar. Thanks for working hard and being awesome. I’m rooting for you guys!”
Jennie offers a few bits of advice for skiers coming up through BSF:
1. Enjoy and absorb the time you have with a team that supports each other and likes to push hard.
2. Know that everything you take from training will help outside of sport; you’re building confidence and character without even knowing it. Nordic skiing is such a good background going into anything as you get older.
3. It’s important for the athlete to monitor their own successes and failures and what works for them, as their environment is always changing. Because of how many different teams or coaches you might have over a career, it’s good to have a grasp on your process.
4. Keep asking questions.