Saturday, 4 January 2014

Adventures in Wonderland

This is part one of a two part blog on the interesting ski-events that I’ve taken part in during the last month. Part 1 is about the early season NORAM races and part 2 (which I’ll release later this week) is about my first Christmas of adventures away from my Ottawa home. Look for more pictures in part 2... I'm not very good at taking photos on race weekends. Enjoy!

Silverstar is so nice
At the end of November 2013 we (the Alberta World Cup Academy) departed for Silverstar. I was pretty excited about the trip because it was going to be my first race trip with the Academy and because, after racing in Silverstar last season, I had kinda fallen in love with the place. For those of you unfamiliar with Silverstar, it pretty much defines “winter wonderland”. The cool thing about it is that it combines a very picturesque little mountain village, alpine skiing, cross country skiing and a crazy amount of early-season snowfall into one little location. The fact that the race venue (Sovereign Lake Nordic) has held World Cup races kinda speaks for itself.
After our first few days of skiing it became apparent that it was gonna be brutally cold during the upcoming races. The lowest temperature that you’re allowed to hold a ski race in is around -20 Celsius (you can damage your lungs if you race in much colder weather than this) and the highs for the weekend were hovering right around -20.
Waking up the morning of the first race--a 15km skate interval start--we still weren’t sure  if the race was gonna go ahead. Finally, after delaying the race until closer to midday, the officials gave the nod. I was in the Lord of The Rings fan club condo (we listened to the Hobbit sound track, like, all week) so some choice motivational LOTR quotes were spoken and then it was off to the races!
Unfortunately, after the beep, beep, BEEP of the race clock signaling my start, the motivational quotes were quickly forgotten. A consequence of racing at -20 is that the snow is BRUTALLY slow. I actually looked down at my ski midway through the race because I thought something was wrong with it, the glide was so bad.
The race culminated with my teammate, Patrick, catching up to me with about 2.5km to go and the two of us having a pretty sweet sprint for the finish. After the race we learned that there were places on course where it was well below minus 20... I was thankful I had worn mittens.
The next day was a classic sprint. Again cold weather interfered and again the race wend ahead after a delay. The classic sprint was even more disappointing for me than the skate 15k. I made it through the qualifier just fine, but got tripped up and crashed right at the start of my quarter final and, thus, didn’t go through to the semi’s. On top of this, I broke a brand-new pole in the crash!!! Not my best day.
Our Condo in Silverstar

I had felt pretty stressed (for a number of reasons unrelated to skiing) and fatigued leading up to the Silverstar races and I think these things led to me not racing my best. Thankfully, after a gorgeous day of skiing the recreational trails on Silverstar mountain, we moved on to NORAM #2 in Rossland BC; another two opportunities for me to put down some solid early season races.

This was my first time in Rossland and the first thing that struck me on arrival was the grocery store. My maple syrup container AND my Olive Oil container had some how both exploded on the drive over, ruining some of the food I’d packed from Silverstar and leaving me none-to-pleased. But, when I arrived at the Rossland grocery store to replace my ruined food, my disappointment turned to wide-eyed excitement: the store here had way more selection than Canmore and it was cheaper!! It was a wondrous store to behold.
Just like in Silverstar we arrived in Rossland on Tuesday evening, so we had 3 days to ski the trails in preparation for our races. Our races in Rossland were opposites (technique-wise) of Silverstar--a skate sprint on Saturday and a 15k interval start classic on Sunday. The 5km loop that we would be using for our 15k was brand new and it looked to be one of the toughest NORAM race courses yet, with almost 200m vertical of climbing each lap. The skate course was slightly more boring with respect to its hilly-ness, guaranteeing some very tactical sprint heats. As the weekend came round I felt ready. I had prepared better in the week leading up to it; I felt more energetic than in Silverstar.
On Saturday morning I made it through the qualifier as expected. Going into the quarter final my goal was to go off super-hard at the start so as not to get tangled up and crash like at Silverstar--and I achieved this goal perfectly! I went to the start right away and led for the first 3rd of the race. Unfortunately, I think I ended up wasting a bit too much energy at the start because I died a bit at the end and didn’t make it through to the semi finals. All the same, I learned a lot more in this sprint than at Silverstar so I felt a lot better about it.
I've been keeping a journal lately, so I thought this "how-to" book on the subject (which happened to be the only book in our condo in Rossland) was pretty awesome.

Sunday dawned bright and early. In preparation for a good hard 15k we listened to Harder Than You Think, on the drive to the race site. If you’re ever looking for a solid pump-up song for workouts or exams or any performance situation, this one is it.
With most of the climbing on course being in the form of a couple REALLY steep hills, I knew that I had to have bomber grip on my skis for this race, so I went back twice, after wax testing, to get more wax put on and just made it to the start on time.
I was happy right away with my choice of tons of grip wax, but it turned out that the first hill out of the stadium was iced over whereas out on the big hills on course the snow was softer. When I hit the top of the first big hill out on course I almost fell flat on my face; snow had built up in my kick zone as a bounded up the hill and it stopped me in my tracks. “No!!” I thought, “I’m going to be walking down the hills for the next 12km!!” But after 10 meters or so of fast striding to scrape off the snow my skis were gliding again. I would’ve breathed a sigh of relief if I had enough breath.
As the race went on I continued having to “fast-stride” the snow off my skis at the top of each hill to prevent myself from having a nice face-first in the snow experience, but I looked at the positive side of things: the snow build up on my skis allowed me to pretty much run up all the steep grades on the course. 
After about 45min of suffering out on the race course, I crossed the finish line to one of my best NORAM results ever! I really felt my new higher level of fitness in this race, but I kinda under-estimated it. Looking at the lap times afterwards my 3rd lap was over 30 seconds faster than either of the laps before it!! I gotta trust myself to be able to push harder right of the start line.

Almost directly after the race we left town (goodbye amazing grocery store.... *tears*), and drove back to Canmore through an exciting snow storm. So ended my 2013/14 season of early racing... but the ski season has only just begun!

For results from the two weekends of racing check out (search: "NORAM"), and for a couple articles from the two weeks from a more team based perspective, check out my Team’s Website.

Dream Big!

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