Monday, November 24, 2014

Arctic Training

Sunrise today was at 10:21am and a mere three hours and forty-one minutes later at 2:02pm, the sun officially set.  And between those times there was not a lot of daylight as the sun barely rises above the horizon and never shines over the mountain behind the ski area.  Muonio is over 250km north of the Arctic Circle in Finland and close to the Swedish border.  The darkness could sound depressing but it hasn't felt that way yet.  Just as a rainy day can makes a sunny day feel extra special, the darkness enhances the light here.  Sunrises last all day, slowly morphing into a sunset which eases out over the hours of dusk.  This is my fourth trip to Muonio and I'm probably in the minority for skiers, but I really like it here.  It's simple and relaxing.  We stay in cabins on the ski trails and just a short walk from meals.  There isn't anything to do but ski, eat and sleep so it's the perfect place to recover from the jetlag of international travel and prepare for the upcoming ski season.  Despite the darkness it is surprisingly beautiful here, the Arctic light reflecting on the snow in a unique way.  There isn't a lot of natural snow but there are 6km of manmade tracks which have been excellent, providing more than enough terrain for great training.  Tomorrow we are driving to Ruka, Finland and the World Cup season opens this weekend!

Muonio on the map.  Head north and keep going!
Arctic light
Sunrise or sunset?
An ice fog settled in and we even got some new snow this morning.  This photo almost looks like it is taken in black and white but it's full color today
Northern lights over our condos one evening.  It was incredible!  (Matt Whitcomb photo)
Kikkan is psyched to go back to school!  We visited the Muonio elementary school which was a tradition started by my GRP teammate Clare Egan during a Craftsbury trip to Muonio.  We shared videos of our team training and racing and the kids were excited to meet us.  Finnish school seemed pretty similar to American except everyone takes off their shoes before coming inside.
The beginning of the season means lots of new skis to test.  Here is my fleet of Fischers as well as Matt's coat rack.  On top of being the women's team coach, Matt is my wax tech.  He has done an awesome job preparing skis, cleaning skis and helping me test.  It's important to have skis for every snow condition and course profile but too many skis can be overwhelming so we have put in a lot of work testing and getting to know the different skis in the fleet.  Thanks Matt!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last Days at Home

My last week in the US was a frantic and busy week.  I balanced packing, cleaning, training, and running the last minute errands necessary before leaving the country for over four months with also wanting to spend as much time as possible with friends and family who I wouldn't see over the winter. It felt surprisingly relaxing to sink into my airplane seat for a 28 hour travel day from northern VT to northern Finland after all the craziness of getting ready to leave.  Leaving was bittersweet with a mix of saying goodbyes and enjoying the last few nights in my own bed played against the excitement to be back on the road at the start of the season.  Here are some pictures from my last week or so at home.

A frosty early morning in Craftsbury on Little Hosmer Pond
Sunrise at home! The shorter days have provided some wonderful sunrises and sunsets!
A little snow before I left was the perfect transition to winter.  The Craftsbury Outdoor Center turned on the snow guns as well to stockpiling even more than the natural dustings.

It's always fun to wake up to a white blanket outside! 
The breakfast nook in my cottage.  Coffee, yogurt, and views of snow are the perfect way to start the day!
GRP girls dinner before we head our separate ways to Finland, Norway, West Yellowstone, and Canmore.  We missed Clare but it was a great chance to get the rest of the team together.
Snow on the side of the road (and a little in the road too) for our last rollerski of the year
Eben came home for hunting season and luckily our paths crossed for one day!  It was fun to share stories of recent adventures and travels.
That's a lot of stuff!  Two ski bags, a duffel bag, and a big backpack for the winter travels.
It took about 28 hours from to get from Barton, Vermont to our little cabins in Muonio, Finland which is about 250km north of the Arctic Circle.  It was surprisingly sunny for our ski this morning and fun to ski under the lights this afternoon.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Frozen Thunder!

As the first flakes have fallen here in Craftsbury,  winter is just around the corner.  I was lucky to already have a little taste of winter in the form of a 2km ribbon of snow saved from last winter in Canmore, Alberta.  Every year the Canmore Nordic Center buries a pile of snow under a mound of wood chips and digs it up in mid-October to spread around a loop, aptly named Frozen Thunder.  The 2km track takes anywhere from 6-8 minutes to ski depending on how fast the snow conditions are that day.  Since we would usually ski for two to three hours every morning, it was important to find technique or pacing cues to focus on or a good friend to chat with, anything to keep the mind active and distracted from counting laps or looking at your watch as we skied round and round.  In years past we have had colder weather and have had some natural snow or at least new manmade snow added to freshen the track.  This year, though, the temperatures were warm and it rained a few days so many days Frozen Thunder was not very frozen. Over the eight days that we were there, the depth of the snow decreased noticeably and certain sections of the track were much less elevated from the ground than they were at the start.  But a huge thank you needs to go out to the grooming staff for an awesome job maintaining the snow and the ski conditions were awesome all week despite the unseasonably warm weather.

Since I had skied in September in Ramsau, Austria with my Craftsbury teammates, the transition back to snow was remarkably easy.  I was very grateful to have had the glacier skiing just a month earlier because skiing felt natural almost instantly in Canmore, rather than having the normal few days spent trying to navigate the awkward skis which feel helplessly long compared to rollerskis.  Most of the skiing we did in Canmore was just distance training but Cross Country Canada also organized a couple races  which were a really fun opportunity to put on a bib and go hard.  The lung burn and tired legs were a quick reminder of what racing actually feels like but made me more excited than ever for the World Cup season to start at the end of the month!

I didn’t take any pictures this week so I stole some from Noah’s blog.  Thanks Hoff J!  I have a couple weeks of training in Craftsbury now before leaving for Europe so I’m taking advantage of my last bit of time at home before hitting the road!  Happy trails and don’t forget to do your snow dances!
Sunrise at the Canmore Nordic Center

Canmore is one of my favorite places to train and race!

Noah got artsy with his skiing shots and I think this is a cool image of me skiing over the top of the hill

Some one pole skiing to work on technique early in the season.  

I had a great time hanging out with my Canadian friends!  We had dinner at the homes of Chandra and Perianne who both live in town and each of the evenings was a highlight of the camp.  Here's a picture of dinner at Chandra's house where she cooked a delicious feast of four lasganas, two giant salads and a couple amazing carrot cakes.

Since we will be in northern Finland for Thanksgiving probably eating fish and reindeer, we celebrated early and cooked a Thanksgiving feast except with chickens instead of turkeys as we couldn't find turkeys at the store.  It took all the stoves and ovens from the four different team apartments with tiny kitchenettes to create the feast as well as several hours of chopping and prep but was worth the effort for the fun evening with the team.

Racing!  The Classic Sprint was organized in the King's Court format so everyone did all four rounds and moved up or down in the seeding based on their placing in the previous heat.  The other fun twist was that guys and girls were combined so I raced most of my heats with guys but had fun skiing one of the rounds with Peri.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Drive for 25

Like my teammate, Erik Bjornsen pictured above, I am one of those skiers who must fund a majority of my own World Cup racing expenses at a cost of over $20,000 per year.  The National Nordic Foundation is stepping up again to help close this gap.  Their support of XC development has helped transform our country into a skiing nation. The NNF has funded many racing and training trips which I have attended over the years, supporting my development from a junior racer to an Olympian.  They are a huge contributor to our team and our ski community.

Development doesn’t happen overnight but instead involves year after year of cumulative training and racing experience. This process is a journey that takes time and hard work.    Each race weekend and each season is a learning experience which helps me prepare for the next adventure.  Every goal that I reach launches me forward to new goals and higher aspirations.  Two weeks in Europe for World Juniors used to feel like a long trip and now I’m spending four months racing in Europe and I couldn’t imagine returning home after a couple weeks.  Toeing the starting line with powerful European racers used to be incredibly intimidating but now I am close friends with many of these ladies and have realized that they are also chasing similar goals through racing and training. This is also not a solo process.  I have had incredible teammates along my side the entire way as well as support from organizations like the NNF.  Here are a few pictures highlighting my development from a junior racer to a World Cup skier.  The NNF has funded many of these racing trips and I am grateful for their support. 

Please support the NNF through the Drive for 25.  My fundraising page can be found here. Thank you for the generosity! 

This picture was taken during my first European racing trip when I was fifteen years old.  We competed in the U18 Scandinavian Cup Championships in Otepaa, Estonia.  Simi and Liz were my teammates on the NNF (then NCCSEF) funded team as well as Hannah Dreissigacker who is an Olympian in biathlon.
Skiing in Italy with my buddies Sophie and Sadie at World Junior Championships
Sprint awards at the U23 World Championships in Hinterzarten, Germany.  I just missed the podium after racing against some of the ladies I continue to race against on the World Cup including from left to right, Denise Herrmann, Mari Laukkanen, and Katherine Harsem.

2011 World Championships in Oslo.  This was my first senior level Championships and the first time we raced together as a team! Pictured from bottom to top, Liz, me, Kikkan, Holly, Sadie, Jessie, Morgan
Training in Bend in 2011
Celebrating a 5th place World Cup relay finish in 2012 which was a breakthrough performance as a team.

Olympic rookies psyched for Sochi!
Kikkan, Sadie, Liz, and I practicing starts last week in Park City

Thank you for reading and thanks for the support!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fall Colors!

I may be a ski racer but fall is my fall is my favorite season.  There is nothing that makes me happier at this time of they year than seeing the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows or shuffling through the crackling fallen leaves.  We returned from Austria to peak foliage.  After returning home after dark, it was wonderful to wake up the next morning to all the fall colors.  I sat in the Adirondack chairs for a long time that morning eating breakfast, drinking coffee, enjoying the foliage and watching the stray leaf fall from the tree.  Later that day I had a nice foliage walk with my dad and snapped a few pictures of the peak conditions.

It can't be fall without apple picking and the GRP made a trip to an orchard in Hardwick

Liz with the foliage behind her
Climbing trees was not allowed so John grew a few inches with the help of Pete to reach the perfect apples on the highest branches

It's past peak now which means there are more leaves on the ground to shuffle through listening to the crackles of the dry leaves.  

Lost Nation Road yesterday morning
And don't forget the other fall color which is PINK! October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a time to stand strong with women everywhere.  Pink is of course the unofficial USST Women's Team color.  Our last team training camp of year starts next week in Park City, UT.  I'm looking forward to proudly wear my pink while training hard alongside my favorite ladies!  Stay tuned for updates from Team Pink!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Strength and Serenity

We have had a lot of incredible conditions on the glacier.  Sunny days with firm skiing and sleeves rolled up when I've had to pinch myself to see if it is real.   So it probably isn't fair to complain about the wrath of force that Mother Nature unleashed on us this morning.  Even on the tram ride up to the glacier, I knew it was going to be a mental toughness day as the tram car swayed in the wind and the rain pelted from all the sides.  Out on the glacier at 2800 meters the temperatures were below freezing so the raindrops had turned to ice pellets which even with my face covered with my buff and hands, they whipped at your cheeks, stinging on contact.  The wind swirled across the snow and I tried to ski compact to keep my poles from being blown to the side.  With each switchback I skied away from the tramhouse the wind and sleet accelerated and the fog lowered.  I focused on finding the feel of the ski across the snow trying, stripping skiing back to the basics of the push and glide, to enhance those sensations during the vertigo of the whiteout conditions.  When a worry of being blown off the trail arose in my mind, a bigger gust would pummel toward me, displacing any calm I had found with flashing terrors of being obliterated into a crevasse.  But every time I thought I had hit rock bottom, the clouds would lift just enough to unveil some of the other nearby switch backs and I saw my teammates and fellow World Cup competitors surrounding me and remembered that we were all in this together.  This glimpse provided me with enough strength to get up the next hill and the serenity to find the quiet flow as I skied through the storm.  Today the goal might just be finishing the workout but another day the challenge could be a lot harder.  Facing every obstacle with strength and serenity will be positive force that allows me to appreciate the tailwinds and the headwinds, the uphills and the downhills because I know there are a lot more of both of them ahead. 

Sometimes you have your feet up drinking lattes in the sun.  Here's Pepa on our off day in town.

Feeling fast and invincible

The view from the trail looks like this!

And other days the same view looks like this.  The camera doesn't even show the sleet, hail, and snow

Gotta keep climbing!  I'm the little pink dot skating up the trail.

And if all else fails just make sure to look good.  Cheers to Elsa as she gathers her own strength and serenity this fall!
Thanks Nick Brown for the photos!