After a strong winter season on the snow, summer will be no time to relax for Jonny Saldin and Adrik Kraftson.

The Stillwater Area High School sophomores were invited to participate in the U.S. Ski & Snowboard National U16 Camp in Sun Valley, Idaho on July 18-25. The selections were based on their performances at Junior Nationals in March.

The U16 Camp is reserved for the top 20 racers in the nation in their age group.

“It’s nice. That’s quite an honor to get invited to that,” Adrik said. “That’s super cool seeing both of our hard work pay off and race so well and get invited to this camp.”

Junior Nationals were cut short due to COVID-19 and there’s a chance the virus could impact whether the U16 Camp is held.

“The Junior Nationals was really fun,” Jonny said. “It was a bummer the last two races were canceled and we did go home a day early, but was excited to see that I was invited to that summer camp and I’m hoping that will happen. That would be a really good training opportunity so I hope it happens, but a lot of stuff is uncertain right now.”

Junior Nationals capped a long and successful season of racing for the duo. In addition to finishing as the top performers for the Ponies at state, Kraftson and Saldin competed in a total of 25 races this season, including several trips to northern Minnesota, in addition to Michigan and even California.

Both skiers joined the tradition-rich Stillwater program in seventh grade, but their introduction to the sport occurred long before then.

Kraftson’s older siblings Shad Kraftson (UW-Green Bay) and Rana Kraftson (St. Scholastica) were standout skiers for the Ponies and are currently competing in college programs. Their father, Torry Kraftson, was a three-time individual state champion in Nordic skiing for Hastings in 1989, 1990 and 1991 — and the cross country running gold medalist at state in 1990.

As an infant, Adrik was pulled around on a “ski bike”, which was a trailer with skis mounted on. He was on his own skis in the yard by the time he was three or four years old.

“I started when I was really little with the ski club in Willow River,” Adrik said. “I definitely came into the sport because my entire family does it. It also means I have really good role models to look up to.”

It was a similar story for Jonny, whose father Paul was an accomplished skier at Bloomington Jefferson High School and an All-American at Michigan Tech. Jonny was also a part of the Willow River Ski Club as a youngster before focusing on soccer for a few years. He recommitted to cross country skiing when he joined the Stillwater program and hasn’t looked back.

“I played soccer for a while, but I was ready to try something new,” Jonny said. “I tried my seventh grade year and I really liked it. That was the first time I picked up the sport again.”

The connection for Jonny and Adrik, however, goes back even further.

Torry and Paul became friends while attending the University of Utah, where Torry ran cross country and competed in cross country skiing. After graduating from Michigan Tech, Paul also attended Utah, where he met Torry while pursuing his Master’s Degree.

They lost contact for about 10 years, but both ended up settling in the St. Croix Valley. Both families were out for ice cream at a shop in Liberty Village in 2007 when the unexpected reunion occurred.

“Torry and Paul kind of looked at each other and the light bulbs came on and we connected from there,” matriarch Rebecca Kraftson said. “It was a pretty easy connection.”

The families have been close ever since.

“Yeah, we’ve been skiing together since we were very small,” Adrik said.

“Really as long as I can remember I’ve known him,” Johnny added.

That connection has helped both develop as top-level skiers.

“He’s been like the closest training partner in terms of skill and training for me,” Jonny said. “I’d say it happens most during workouts and races, too. If we have a hard interval you have somebody pretty close to the same speed to be able to measure off. In the varsity training group, a lot of people have somebody close to their speed level that helps them, and it does make a difference.

“He’s definitely pushed me in the past and I’m betting I have pushed him before, too.”

Adrik has earned all-state honors for the Ponies the past two seasons. Jonny improved 44 places from his state debut in 2019 while climbing up to 31st this past year.

Their training together extends throughout the summer and fall.

“He runs cross country and so do I, so we train together every fall and winter and then do a lot of days in the spring and summer,” Adrik said. “We’re just always pushing each other and helping each other out. I think we’ve helped each other a lot. We train together quite often and push each other to be the best athletes and be as fast as we can.”

The coronavirus has cut into that physical support system, but they got together earlier this week for a long bike ride.

“We haven’t worked out for a while together, but it was nice to get out and workout with someone,” Jonny said.

“I think it’s nice to have someone you can go out and train with and it’s fun in times like these where you can’t see that many people or run or bike or roller ski together,” Adrik said.

Jonny and Adrik were each voted to serve as captains for next year’s team as juniors. After placing fourth in 2019, the Ponies finished 11th with a lot of new faces this past season.

“I think me and Jonny want to get a lot faster,” Adrik said. “I think we can also help more of our teammates get a lot faster, too, and maybe even podium at state next year or our senior year as a team, which would be really cool to see.”

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