Senior Spring: Lauren Jortberg to ski professionally after success on collegiate and national levels

by Kirby Phares and Matt Krivan | 6/2/20 2:05am

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Source: Courtesy of Lauren Jortberg

Since joining the Big Green ahead of the 2017 season, Lauren Jortberg ’20 has been one of the best collegiate Nordic skiers in the nation. The Nordic skiing co-captain earned spots on the All-East First Team and All-America Second Team in each of her first three years at Dartmouth. After an injury-plagued senior season, Jortberg is looking forward to getting back on her feet and achieving her childhood dream of skiing professionally.

Jortberg grew up in Boulder, Colorado and discovered her passion for skiing at a young age.

“I knew that skiing was going to be something I would do seriously around age 10,” Jortberg said. “I just had such a love for it. When I was young, I always had Olympic aspirations.”

Jortberg said that her family loves spending time outdoors, and skiing runs in the family. Her older sister, Jessica, skied for the University of Denver Nordic team. 

“I was chasing my sister around, and I wanted to do whatever she did,” Jortberg said.

Jortberg parlayed her love for skiing into competitive success, beginning with the Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team. After a disappointing skiing season as a freshman in high school, she quit playing soccer to turn her full attention to ski racing. That move paid off, and Jortberg earned a spot on the U.S. U-18 Scandinavian Cup Ski Team and competed in Sweden in 2015. 

She took a postgraduate year after high school to train at Stratton Mountain School in Stratton, Vermont, less than 100 miles from Hanover. Still, Jortberg said that she had her eyes set on the University of Denver, the University of Utah and the University of Vermont before speaking with Dartmouth director of skiing and women’s Nordic head coach Cami Thompson Graves.

“[Thompson Graves] said, ‘I want you to be on this team,’ and everyone wants to be wanted,” Jortberg said. “That was a huge component in my decision; I think a coach makes or breaks a program. It was the best decision of my life.” 

Despite the strong recruitment pitch, Thompson Graves said that she did not realize the full impact that Jortberg would have on the team.

“She was performing at a higher level than I thought before she came [to Dartmouth],” Thompson Graves said.

Jortberg immediately became one of the Big Green’s stars as a freshman, but she had to balance her time between Dartmouth carnivals and non-collegiate events. She credited her teammates and Thompson Graves for supporting her as she traveled around the world to compete for the U.S. Ski Team. Thompson Graves said that these commitments did not compromise Jortberg’s performance for the Big Green, nor her role as a team player. 

“When she is racing with us, she is with us 100 percent,” Thompson Graves said.

Thompson Graves said that she gave Jortberg the flexibility to choose which Dartmouth races to participate in. Jortberg said that this flexibility helped her stay healthy and race her best when it mattered most. 

“I never wanted to jeopardize my NCAA performance by adding travel and stress going to [compete in] Europe, but I also feel like they were really good experiences,” Jortberg said. “It was the best of both worlds because I didn’t have to feel bad missing carnivals for the team.”

Jortberg excelled at the NCAA level in a Dartmouth uniform. One of her fondest memories at Dartmouth was the 2017 NCAA Eastern Regional hosted by Bates College, where both she and the Big Green placed first. She also cited her strong finish at the 2019 Dartmouth Carnival, with her alpine teammates and friends cheering her on down the stretch, as a particularly memorable moment.

Conditions during Nordic races are often unpredictable, but Jortberg did not let challenging conditions get in the way of her success on the collegiate and national stages. Thompson Graves said that Jortberg’s ability to adjust assured the team that it could always count on her. Jortberg’s teammates echoed that sentiment.

“I’ve always really admired [Jortberg] because she is extremely focused in skiing and has an ability to let things roll off of her,” co-captain Leah Brams ’20 said. “That is really important because Nordic skiing is a brutal, aerobic sport.”

After three years of consistently stellar performances, Jortberg had a rocky senior season. She broke her ankle in October and suffered a herniated disc after a hard fall at the Big Green’s November training camp in Canada. 

When an X-ray came back clear, Jortberg decided to push through the pain and try racing, surrendering the possibility of competing elsewhere for a fifth year. Thompson Graves said that the injuries were challenging for Jortberg to navigate.

“She kept believing that it would get better if she tried harder and fought through it, and that definitely made it challenging,” Thompson Graves said. “Sometimes you just have to admit you have an issue and get help.”

Jortberg continued practicing and weightlifting with the team. Brams praised Jortberg for the “sheer willpower” she put into getting back on the slopes.

Jortberg battled back, garnering three top-10 individual finishes before a back spasm at the Vermont Carnival put an end to her comeback. She said that she is still waiting to have surgery on her ankle and back because elective procedures have been restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she hopes to have the operations done this month. 

Jortberg plans to rehabilitate from her surgeries in Bozeman, Montana to prepare for a professional skiing career. She will join the Bridger Ski Foundation’s Elite Team, competing in the North America SuperTour with the goal of qualifying for races in Europe. 

Thompson Graves believes that Jortberg’s confidence contributed to her success at Dartmouth and opened doors for her to pursue professional skiing.

“She just knew what she wanted, and she went after it,” Thompson Graves said. “She knew that she could race at a high level and took those opportunities and ran with them.”

Jortberg also hopes to volunteer for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which pushes government officials to support policies to combat climate change. She is excited to keep her mind busy while pursuing her Olympic aspirations.

“Dartmouth has been so great and so fun academically that I’m definitely excited to not just be an athlete and do something else,” Jortberg said. “I don’t want to just be a skier.”