There is perhaps no more fitting honor to acknowledge Sverre Caldwell’s contribution to the US Skiing than to be recognized with an award that is named after his father. This award annually recognizes a single individual, or entity, which embodies the spirit, dedication, innovation and pride in our Nordic community that the founder of NENSA exhibited.
Sverre grew up in Putney while his father was crafting the Cross-Country Ski Book, coaching the US Ski Team, teaching at the Putney School and raising a family with his wife Hep. John describes his sons arrival to coaching, “Sver loved sports from day one,” and found challenge growing up as the middle brother of four exceptionally athletic siblings. “And so the question is, how did Sver survive in this atmosphere? I dunno, but Hep and I paid a lot of attention to all our kids and maybe it paid off.”
“Somehow, Sver was always the most organized, the most with-it, and the most accommodating! And it’s clear to me, at least, that he carried these characteristics over into his coaching.”
And did he ever – it would be nearly impossible to list the athletes and coaches Sverre Caldwell has influenced over forty years of coaching at the Stratton Mountain School – quite simply because he has directly mentored or worked with skiers from all corners of the United States. Rick Kapala, the Director of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Nordic Program describes Sverre and the Stratton Mountain School as the “Gold Standard,” that other programs measure their success against. Kapala goes on to say, “as I was beginning my coaching I would read John’s books cover to cover – and how was I supposed to compete with the Sverre who was literally in the book!” The professionalism of US coaching was effectively established on the shoulders of Sverre and the coaches of his generation. It was the friendly competition between programs like Sun Valley and Stratton that created the environment of greatness we see today in US Skiing.
Stratton and US Ski Team alum, Andrew Newell, was mentored by Sverre and now carries his own coaching torch with his start-up program, Nordic Team Solutions. “Sverre’s coaching style is perfect for young athletes… always upbeat and consistent in demeanor he always strikes a balance between pushing you incredibly hard while still keeping it fun. The perfect combination. He always understood the value of a cohesive team, and how we can all improve by pushing one another. He’s one of the easiest people to talk to, I think as athletes we’ve all strived to make him proud.”
The inclusive culture Caldwell developed during his forty years at the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) produced tens of Olympians and National Champions as well as inspiring the next generation of coaches and program leaders. Sverre always said he wouldn’t retire until we won an Olympic Gold medal – it might have taken a few years longer than he wanted – but that box was checked when Jesse Diggins (SMS T2) and Kikkan Randall (APU) struck gold in PyeongChang, South Korea. Of course there are many other statistics that a program needs to meet before the highest stage. For the past 24 years, the SMS program has boasted at least one Junior National Champion and at least one member of the US Junior World Championship Team per year. Attending SMS Bill Koch and Junior Camps is a rite of passage for many athletes from New England, New York and beyond – it often serves as a launching pad for these campers, either by inspiring them to train harder when they go home or deciding that the environment at Stratton is the perfect place to spend a few years in their training pursuits.
As Sverre moves aside from his position at the helm of the SMS Nordic Program, he leaves behind a legacy of one of the finest junior programs in the world. Caldwell is also responsible for creating and securing the funding needed to support the Stratton T2 Elite Team – the success of this program is undeniable with both US Ski Team athletes and coaches taking up residence during the summer months in Southern Vermont. Like his father Sverre has nurtured his own exceptional family including Sophie, who is respected as one of the top sprinters in the world along with twins, Isabel and Austin – Isabel currently teaches at the Burr & Burton Outdoor Program where she mentors youth in the classroom and coaches their ski team in the winter – Austin recently took the assistant coaching position at the University of Colorado after a tenure at the Bridger Ski Foundation. Perhaps Sverre’s best attribute is how he balances his passion for cross country skiing while being a loving father and husband – in the past few years he and his wife Lilly have traveled the world both recreationally and also to watch their children and current and former athletes compete on the international stage.
The world is simply a better place because of the mark the Sverre Caldwell has left on hundreds of exceptional human beings – luckily for US Skiing he continues to share his expertise and inspiration via local training groups (that include international stars), outreach to coaches and work on NENSA committees.
Matt Boobar, the current Nordic Program Director at SMS leaves us with this: “Sverre touched so many in skiing and beyond. While the performances on snow speak for themselves it was Sverre’s overall approach to each student athlete as an entire person that really speaks volumes. He fully embraced the part of SMS’s mission to help create and establish strong personal values. He proves that nice people do finish first! While Sverre is retired from his full-time responsibilities at Stratton Mountain School he will continue to promote and build nordic skiing at all levels. Sverre is clearly a deserving recipient of any award in Nordic skiing, even the one named after his dad!”