One of Washington’s outdoor secrets is producing great Olympic talent

Methow Valley was once again able to cheer on a local Olympian.

WINTHROP, Wash. — He may well become the biggest producer of Olympic talent in Washington state history, and at the same time remains one of the region’s biggest secrets.

The Methow Valley was once again able to cheer on a local Olympian, for the third consecutive Winter Games, and host another.

Novie McCabe skis for Team USA at the games in Beijing, China, advancing the story of a region that has been a training ground for world-class athletes since the late 1980s.

“It took me traveling the world to really realize what we have here in the Valley,” Erik Bjornsen, 30, said on a glorious Blue Saturday.

The two-time Olympian has returned home, part of a long line of athletes who have spent countless hours on the snow of Methow.

The story goes back to Leslie Hall, who was part of the USA Nordic Ski Team in Calgary in 1988, then at the Games in Albertville in 92 and Lillehammer in 1994.

Laura McCabe was part of Team Lillehammer and Team Nagano in 1998 – Laura and Novie are now the first mother/daughter Olympians in Methow history.

Valley native Brian Gregg represented Team USA in Sochi in 2014, and his wife Caitlin did the same in Vancouver in 2010.

Bjornsen and his sister Sadie were on the last two Olympic teams, and there have been near misses for the U.S. biathlon team as well.

Erin Martin of Winthrop will represent Team USA at the next Paralympic Games.

Not bad for a region with a full-time population of less than 2,000 people.

“It attracts a certain type of individual who likes to be outdoors, who likes to train hard all the time,” said James DeSalvo, executive director of Methow Trails, the nonprofit organization responsible for maintaining 120 miles of Nordic winter trails, which includes night grooming and environmental checks in the valley. “We also have over 200 landowners who grant permission to access their land to create a network of trails that truly weaves between everyone’s neighborhoods.

“It just creates this kind of magnet effect, even if you don’t like cross-country skiing, biking, running or anything else. You look over there and you see people s have fun and have fun and you want to do it. You want it, you want to be part of it.”

Marine Bjornsen felt it when Erik presented his wife with the idea of ​​moving here in 2020.

“I say very often, I have been to all the best places we can go for Nordic skiing. I have never seen a place like this. It is, for me, my favorite place to ski” , said the multiple champion of France. said the biathlete.

Marine and Erik now own and operate Winthrop Mountain Sports, living just outside of town.

“It looks like the large French community in Seattle, and who come here to do Nordic skiing or in the summer. I see a lot of people from Russia also who come to do Nordic skiing because it’s a national sport. I see a lot of people from everywhere, even in these small towns far from everything,” Marine said, adding, “It’s, like, bigger than most places in Europe.”

The couple are done with international competition, but that doesn’t mean they’re done with racing.

On Saturday, the duo took part in the annual Ski to the Sun marathon and relay. Erik beat all competitors by 6 minutes. Marine was the best female finalist. Then they came back and ran the store, which was very busy with foot traffic on race day.

Laura McCabe was also in the Top 20, before handing out the awards to the rest of the riders.

It’s part of the circle of life that has made the Methow so magical on the world stage.

“Hopefully I can do whatever I can to make sure we continue this tradition,” Erik said.

Naomi C. Amerson