Longtime coach Gordon Lange, who developed young Nordic skiers in Park City for 2 decades, calls it a career
‘I think my happiest days coaching were for sure coaching the juniors here in Park City,’ he says
Sun Valley cross-country ski coach Rick Kapala knows the race day routine well: Wake up and make it to the track at the crack of dawn and then start testing different waxes and previewing the course.
But that’s also when he sees longtime Park City coach and close friend Gordon Lange, whose energy on race day is unmatched, even when it’s barely light out.
“Even at the age of 63, 64, 65 years old, Gordon on race morning, you’d think he’d literally have had 10 cups of coffee because he would be so amped on every race morning just because he loves the process of coaching on race day,” Sun Valley cross-country ski coach and close friend Rick Kapala, who has coached against Gordon for years, said. “It’s just funny because all of us are pretty into it, if you will, but that guy loves race day. We always would just be like, ‘Calm down, Gordon, we have a long day ahead of us,’ but he’d just be stoked.”
Lange is calling it a career after 43 years of coaching, including more than 20 years of working with junior Nordic skiers in Park City.
“I think my happiest days coaching were for sure coaching the juniors here in Park City,” Lange said. “It was absolutely the most rewarding, it was absolutely my most productive coaching.”
Lange started off 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 graduating, he coached at Colorado before taking a coaching position at Wyoming and later becoming program director. There, he helped bring home a national championship in 1985, one of three national titles that Wyoming has won across all sports.
Walt Evans met Lange on a visit to Wyoming while working with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (now known as U.S. Ski and Snowboard).
“He’s kind of a quiet but driven man,” Evans said. “He’s more of a collaborative style leader in that he wants to motivate those athletes to aspire to excellence on their own. He doesn’t want to drive that, but he wants to nurture that quality.”
Lange’s coaching career made it to the international stage when he was named head coach of the U.S. cross-country ski team during the 1992 season. He guided the American team through the 1994 and 1998 Winter Games before stepping down in 1998. The U.S. has never been a cross-country skiing powerhouse — Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall’s gold medal in the team sprint event at the 2018 Games was the first in American history — but Lange’s tenure was the beginning of progress for the program.
“It started with Bill Koch, he was kind of a first pioneer for U.S. cross-country, and then after Bill Koch, you know, Kikkan Randall came along and some of these outstanding athletes, and now these girls are best in the world,” Evans said. “Gordon was part of their evolution and their development and helping establish great fundamentals as young skiers, as well as that passion. He has just tremendous passion.”
Lange moved to Park City in 1990, and he was involved in the buildout of Soldier Hollow, which hosted the cross-country skiing events for the 2002 Olympics. After resigning from the national team, he wasn’t sure what else there was left to do in coaching until he started working with future silver medalist and Nordic combined skier Brett Camarota and his twin brother, Eric, along with other junior skiers. That reignited a passion for Lange.
“I just had a blast coaching juniors, who I’d never coached before,” Lange said. “I’d been coaching for over 20 years at that point and thought I had done everything. But when I started coaching these juniors and being so enthusiastic and everything, it kind of sparked my coaching juices again.”
Coaching junior skiers instead of established veterans came with its own challenges, but it was a welcome change of pace.
“The learning curve that the kids have is so steep, and they’re just like sponges,” he said. “They don’t try to overanalyze or overthink, they believe what you say is truth and then they try and they get better. And, you know, you can see the progress every single day and just daily witnessing of progress, and I love that.”
Lange started coaching at Park City Ski & Snowboard in the early 2000s back when it was known as the National Sports Foundation, watching over 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 got their start under Lange’s watchful eye.
“Rosie will be one of my just absolute fondest people I’ve ever coached,” Lange said. “She was one of these juniors that was just like a sponge and just would go for it all the time.”
Lange started coaching her when she was a sophomore in high school and still somewhat new to the sport, as she had only been skiing for two years at that point. After coaching Brennan for a year, Lange saw promise in her abilities and sat her down to have a conversation. He told her that if she kept at that pace, she would make the national team before she graduated high school, and his prediction was spot-on.
“I think that’s because he knew exactly what I needed to do and could get me there with just my commitment to follow his guidance, so that was hugely impactful to me,” Brennan said.
But every skier was important to Lange, regardless of skill.
“If I can have a kid grow up to jump in a Wasatch Citizens (Series) race when he or she is 55 or 65 years old, that’s just as important as having somebody be successful on an international stage, honestly,” he said.
For now, “Gordo” is heading back to his hometown of Jackson, Wyoming, but he does plan to be involved in ski racing. Kapala is quick to point out that the only thing Lange loves as much as coaching is fly-fishing. But for the skiers who were coached by Lange, like Brennan, it feels a little bittersweet.
“It’s sad honestly, he’s such a great coach and, yeah, he brought so much to my career, it’s sad not to think of him doing that for more athletes along the way,” Brennan said. “But it’s also great to acknowledge all that he did give to the sport and all that he’s given to me and to so many other athletes that came through the program.
“I feel so lucky to have had him as a coach and to have those two or three years with him that were pivotal in my development, so I hope he has a good retirement and can somehow stay involved in the sport.”
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The Miners kicked off their summer offseason program to gear up for the new challenge that awaits them in Class 5A.