Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Darkness in Lapland

The opening World Cups are just days away and as my excitement levels rise, I'm also feeling prepared and ready to go.  This year I had the opportunity to come over two weeks early with my Craftsbury GRP coach Pepa Miloucheva and my teammate Caitlin Patterson.  We flew over in advance of the rest of the US Ski Team, giving us time to recover from the long travel (almost 30 hours from door to door) adjust to the time change, get my skiing legs underneath us again, and even put in a bib and jump into a few races.

We started our trip in Muonio, Finland which is 250km north of the Arctic Circle and close to the Swedish border.  It was a big shock to arrive in cold wintery conditions and not much daylight.  That cold darkness combined with arriving on election day led to a harsh wakeup call the first day, but luckily I quickly learned to embrace any light I could find (including some fun night skis on the trails) and then wear lots of clothes!  I was happy to see that winter does still exist, even if I had to ski in a LLBean down jacket for the first few days.  Even that far north, there wasn't much natural snow on the ground but luckily in Muonio they saved massive piles of snow from last winter under the cover of wood chips and then rolled it out at the end of October for a 5km loop of skiing.  We raced in the FIS races in Muonio right after we arrived so my body was still feeling the effects of the long travel but a great opportunity to throw a bib on and try to remember how to race or at least to not leave my jacket in the start area!

From Muonio we traveled even farther north into the darkness to Saariselka, Finland, which claims to be the northernmost travel destination in the EU.  While there we were losing 12 minutes of daylight each day and on our last day sunrise was at 10:02 and sunset at 1:54!  Luckily there were kilometers and kilometers of lit ski trails!  There was more natural snow there as well which gave us an opportunity to explore off the manmade loop on distance days.  We raced in Saariselka twice and had some very tricky waxing conditions with warmer temperatures hovering around freezing, but I was happy to have my body feeling great again and pushing to the limit.  The Russian and German National teams were also racing there so it was a great confidence boost leading up to the World Cup to be skiing hard and fast alongside those ladies.  

Now I'm reunited with all my US Ski Team teammates in Ruka, Finland, the site of the first World Cups.  We are just south of the Arctic Circle now and have actually gained over an hour of daylight since leaving Saariselka!  I love the courses in Ruka with big uphills and fast downhills so I'm excited for the weekend racing here!

Happy Trails!  Thanks for reading and thanks to Craftsbury and Pepa for a dark but productive training camp!

A map of Northern Finland with dots in Muonio, Saariselka, and Ruka for a geographic view of the area.

Not one or two but five heavy tags later and all my skis, poles, boots, and stuff made it to northern Finland! Packing for a winter in Europe is challenging but thanks to United for letting me sneak (though not very secretly) a few extra pounds in each bag!

We didn't miss a beat and jumped into racing only a couple days after flying to Europe!  It was crazy to be rollerskiing at home one day and putting a bib on in mid-winter conditions several days later but it was definitely a great way to beat the jetlag! (Caitlin Patterson photo)

Sprinting in Muonio! (Caitlin Patterson photo)

Caitlin racing in the 10km skate in Muonio
A Finnish sauna I ran by on an afternoon jog in the dark

We stayed in a cabin in Muonio and a condo in Saariselka which was a welcomed last chance to cook our own food and choose what we wanted to eat before transitioning to meal plans for most of the winter.  Grocery shopping in a foreign country can be a bit of an adventure.  Usually everything in Europe is smaller but not the case for the sweet potatoes!!

Using Google translate to decipher cooking instructions!

We made a Finnish feast of reindeer steak, blood sausage, lingonberry sauce, brussel sprouts and roasted root vegetables....YUM!

One of the many reindeer we saw on the snowy northern roads

Happy to be skiing on natural snow and exploring new trails in Saariselka

Looks like a black and white photograph but actually the wintery and low light landscape north of the Arctic Circle.

Striding it out on the race course in Saariselka (Pepa photo)

Looking down on the stadium and the base of the alpine area in Saariselka.  Steep downhills, with narrow trails and tight turns made for some exciting sprint racing in this venue and was a good opportunity to remember some sprint tactics leading into the World Cup!
Cruising across the line in a sprint heat Saariselka

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