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For this world champion cross-country skier, team and family are one and the same

Before she could walk, Jessie could ski. Now considered one of the world’s top cross-country skiers, she’s putting the sport in the spotlight like never before – and squeezing in camping trips with her boyfriend between training sessions and trips to the top of the winner’s podium.

L.L.Bean: Growing up, how did your family influence and encourage your outdoor lifestyle, and lead you to the success you’re experiencing as an outdoor athlete today?

Jessie: I feel so fortunate to have parents who love every part of the outdoors. They got our family out of the house nearly every weekend for a camping trip or ski day at a new trail system. We would take weeklong canoe trips above the Boundary Waters where you’d spend a week without seeing anyone else, but we also loved a quick weekend getaway in our camper. When I was a kid, I grew up learning how to ski through the Minnesota Youth Ski League, and every Sunday afternoon was dedicated to skiing then sledding and hot chocolate parties.

All this time outdoors led me to try many sports, develop a deep love and appreciation for being outdoors, and motivate me to become a professional athlete so I could spend every day outside! I truly enjoy all the hard work and training that goes into the sport of cross-country skiing, because I can also appreciate the beauty of the trail system I’m on.

L.L.Bean: You’ve taken home your share of individual accolades, but how did it feel to share your success with your teammate, Kikkan Randall, on the big stage in 2018?

Jessie: To me, winning as a team was everything. It meant so much more than any individual medal could, simply because we do everything together, as one! We push each other to train harder and smarter, encourage one another, and help each other through our individual struggles. The strength of the team brings out the best in every individual athlete, and it meant so much to me that we were able to celebrate our success as a nation.

L.L.Bean: Your team seems like a second family. What kind of things do you do together outside of training and competing?

Jessie: It seems cliche, but we really are a “ski family!” We travel together, room together, cook together and encourage each other through crazy training sessions. We also play music on the road as a few of our wax techs are extremely talented musicians, so we enjoy music nights in between races. We’ll play a lot of card games in hotel lobbies, and we find any excuse to get together and celebrate as a team, so team birthdays are a big deal on the road.

L.L.Bean: You and your boyfriend Wade also spend a lot of time outside together. What do you love to do and what have you taught one other along the way?

Jessie: I’m proud to say I got him into camping, but now he’s the one leading the charge in looking up new parks to explore and places to hike in and camp! We both love quick one-day getaways since it’s so easy to throw everything into the car and car camp, but we’ve also really enjoyed planning a route and hiking in somewhere you can only go by foot. Our favorite way to end the night (after cooking s’mores over a fire, of course) is playing card games in the tent.

L.L.Bean: We heard you and Wade went out and bought an L.L.Bean tent as a Christmas present for each other.

Jessie: We did! It was our first tent together, and we were so excited that we set it up in the living room and “camped” in it that first night!

L.L.Bean: Any favorite things to cook around the campfire?

Jessie: S’mores, of course! But I also love a good hot dog and corn cooked over the fire.

L.L.Bean: What would you tell someone who’s intimidated by putting on cross-country skis for the first time?

Jessie: I would say it’s one of the most satisfying sports to learn, because the learning curve is so steep! Once you take a one-hour lesson, you’re able to ski around. There aren’t many winter sports that are this risk free, low injury and family friendly, but cross country is so low impact that you can do it for life! It’s definitely worth the moment of awkwardness as you learn to put on skis for the first time.

L.L.Bean: How are you using the spotlight to introduce your sport to the next generation of cross-country skiers?

Jessie: It’s been so wonderful, seeing the ripple effects from [me and Kikkan’s] historic team sprint championship spread to all corners of the ski community! Many new chapters of the Minnesota Youth Ski League have opened and so many more families are getting into this awesome sport.

I do a lot of guest appearances at ski camps and clinics for kids, and in the summer my club team, SMST2, hosts a weekly open roller-ski coaching session where young skiers can come ski alongside professional athletes and learn from them. I’m proud to be an ambassador for Fast and Female, an organization that empowers young women to stay in sport. I’m also on the board of Share Winter, a grant-making organization dedicated to getting more kids the opportunity to get on snow and learn a new sport.

And I’m so excited to have helped get the FIS World Cup to host a race in my home state, in Minneapolis, so we can finally bring the excitement and inspiration of the World Cup back to the US for the first time in 19 years!

L.L.Bean: Cross-country skiing has allowed you to travel to some of the best ski spots in the world. What are three of your favorites and why?

Jessie: It’s hard to choose, because there are so many places! But skiing in Seiser Alm, Italy, up in the Dolomite mountains, has to be one of my all-time favorite spots. There are hundreds of kilometers of trails that wind up around the edge of the mountain, with little wood cabins sprinkled through the field. The sunsets are breathtaking there!

I’ve also had some incredible sunny skis with my family and Wade in Seefeld, Austria. You can easily ski from town to town on the network of trails that swoop through the woods, and we had a lot of fun skiing to a little pretzel hut and stopping for a snack before skiing home.

My other favorite place to train is Sjusjøen, Norway, because it’s one of those places where skiing is so embedded in the culture and history that people ski to church, to the grocery store, and town to town. You’ll see professional athletes skiing past little old ladies with their waffle and jam sandwiches packed in their pockets, and the atmosphere is so calm and laid back with everyone living in little wooden cabins.

@jessiediggins

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