Thursday, March 19, 2015

You're Up Then You're Down

Just one of those days (AP photo)
Someone once told me that the difference between ski racing and "retirement" was the high of the highs and the low of the lows. Both the "athlete life" and "real life"have their share of ups and downs but the highs and lows of racing seem to tend towards the extreme...or at least feel that way. The last few weeks in Europe seemed to hint at this reality...combining the thrill of racing against top athletes in spectacular venues with the frustration of unmet expectations.

Here's a look at a few of the highs and lows of the last few weeks...

Ramsau, Austria: 
One of the best skis of the year with Annie Pokorny
Of the many places skiing has taken me, Austria might top the list. The country combines the order of Germany with the color and beauty of Italy. A break in the OPA Cup schedule after the races in Rogla gave us a few extra days of recovery and training before OPA Cup Finals in Chamonix. We packed up the ski vans (always a small adventure in and of itself) and headed straight for Ramsau, Austria...a skier's paradise that boasts endless kilometers of skiing backed by jagged peaks and Austrian hospitality.
Lex offering some "Titanic"-style serenades while we (aka Pat and the coaches) chain up the vans for a snowy drive down the mountain
Welcome to Austria....also the best place to heal from a cold
The sunshine and skiing helped heal my cold and by the time we left I was feeling back to 100%!
Awesome group of ladies to train and ski with while at OPA Cups from clubs all over

Don't mind if I do

Pretty pretty

Eisenerz, Austria:
Morning commute to the venue
After a few easy days in Ramsau we headed to Eisenerz for a 7.5km Austrian FIS race. Eisenerz was one of the more fascinating places I have ever raced with a rich and dark history. The mining town was the former site for one of the largest Nazi work camps during WWII and also the home of Joseph Goebels, the head of propaganda for the Nazi party during the war.
Exploring castle with Annie P.

Annie H. wrote a great blog about Eisenerz that is definitely worth a read. Exploring Eisenerz was like walking through a ghost town...beautiful and abandoned building and castles surrounded by the terraced mountainsides, scared by years of mining and memories of those lost during the war.
While exploring an old castle we found an old dungeon filled floor to ceiling with human bones
Valley of Eisenerz
Annie and Annie both had awesome races here along with Chelsea Holmes of APU to sweep the podium for team USA! I struggled to find my form during the race but worked my way back into racing and reinforced my need to work on double poling during the off season. Although my result was less than stellar, I loved seeing the red white and blue at the top of the results list.
Podium shots boom!

Chamonix, France...or as we fondly call it...Cham.
How could you not love this place? (AP photo)
Cham played host to OPA Cup finals this year and upon entering the valley I instantly fell in love. Between fresh baked chocolate croissants and pots of cheese fondue we ripped around ski trails in the shadow of the French Alps and the famous Mont Blanc. Over the weekend, we raced a classic prologue, skate 10km and classic 10km pursuit as part of the finals mini-tour. I was psyched to lead the Americans in the prologue with a 16th place finish!
Stars and stripes in France! Enjoying some sunshine with Goob

Cham Center
Unfortunately round two of sickness started to sweep through the OPA Cup crew and my next two races suffered while my body tried to fight off the impending cold. After a mediocre skate race, I started the classic pursuit in the mid-20s with a big group of skiers including the #Annies and Rosie Frankowski. Sometime around 8km while my face hit snow for the second time I found my low. I finished the day about where I started and a far cry from the podium I had set my sights on last year.
Cham still has some good things going for it!

French macarons...noms

Breakfast crepes with Chelsea and Paige
The reality is that no matter how great I feel after a good race or how frustrated I feel after a bad race I'm still out there ski racing and thats pretty sweet :) The lows may feel low but they make the highs that much better and I prefer the excitement of the roller coaster ride to the safety of the spinning teacups any day. Also a HUGE thank you to the NNF for making the OPA Cup Trip possible. Here is a link to their site and a blog I wrote about the trip and what it means to wear the tights.
Pretty lucky to share this whole trip with my teammates :) (Reese Hanneman Photo)

Next up Spring Series in Sun Valley with the whole SMS T2 crew reunited!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Benchwarmer

Skiers take on many different roles during a season from travel agent to teacher, but last week, I was the benchwarmer. Somewhere between Switzerland and Slovenia I picked up a rather nasty cold that forced me to trade skiing for sleeping and racing for rest. And I hate rest. I am not good at doing nothing and quickly lose my patience. Once I realized that the tickle in my throat was more than a nagging tortilla chip, I moved to a single room (to avoid infecting others) and begrudgingly started the long journey back to health. I am not going to give on advice on this because I still don't really think I am good at dealing with illness on the road but being sick in Europe did offer a slightly different perspective on racing.

Six observations from the sidelines of Slovenia...

1. Slovenia is beautiful.
Small vineyards hid behind houses just waiting to turn into wine

Exploring a walking path in the hills
The race venue in Rogla sits at the top of a windy mountain road where winter seemed to be in full force last week. The blowing snow and piles of white were a stark contrast to the springlike temperatures in the valley. As the token sick person, I spent most of my time in our hotel at the base of the mountain. Rather than exploring the snowy ski trails I explored the hiking paths around the valley. Springlike temperatures and sunshine made for pleasant walking across green hillsides and between brightly colored houses. The scene reminded me of a disney fairytale.
My goat friend Sophie

Springtime sunshine looks like the setting for Beauty and the Beast

Spotting some baby sheep along my walk

2. Taking good action shots of nordic skiing is not easy

Despite my best efforts to rest during the week, my cold refused to go away and I eventually had to give up my hopes for racing and turn my energy elsewhere. I was on photographer duty for the skate sprint on Saturday and I was determined to be the best sideline photographer and cheerer out there! Turns out I have a lot to learn about photography but I had fun playing around with Annie's fancy camera and yelling as loudly as I could as my teammates whizzed by me during the sprint heats.
Probably the best and only "post-able" picture I took all day...Go Goob!

3. Everyone hurts
The U.S. Ladies hammering around a challenging 15km course
From the leader to last place, if you are trying you are hurting.  During the 15km classic race on Sunday, Paige and I helped give feeds for the other U.S. girls. We watched the leaders hammer by on the the first lap followed closely by some of our girls and others desperately chasing the leaders. I watched Caitlin and Becca fight there way to within reach of the top ten and Annie and Chelsea work to catch every person in front of them. I also watched the race leaders fight just as hard and hammer from start to finish.
Waiting for the racers to emerge through the morning fog
Annie Hart with a good fighting face
3b. Paige and I are preettyy good at giving feeds....I think we nailed every feed for every girl during the 15km
Our supplies

Paige ready to go

Dynamic duo 

4. But the staff works harder than anyone 
Pat O'Brien, Colin Rodgers, Bryan Fish, Mike Matteson and Tim Baucom are all here taking care of the details so that we can focus on racing fast
Seriously. Thank you for doing everything you can to give us the fastest boards out there.
Colin Rodgers: Can't Stop Won't Stop

5. Slovenia has really great pizza
A taste of home
Last year in Rogla, I found myself tripped up by the hotdog salad and aggressive elbowing tactics of the Slovenian-style buffet line. This year I was prepared and honestly, the food seemed a little better and the hot plates easier to navigate. A few afternoons on my own meant I got to explore the dining options and turns out Slovenian pizza is a must-try. Think Little Ceaser's style with extra toppings.

6. Resting makes you ready
Cannot WAIT to get back out there and represent the stars and stripes!!!
For the most part, I've been pretty lucky to avoid major illness or injury during the racing season so I suppose getting sick was bound to happen at some point. Although I hope to avoid it in the future, learning how to deal with it has been a valuable experience and given me a better read on my body and how to manage both energy and illness. That said, there is nothing like being stuck on the bench to make you want to get back in the game! Looking forward to an Austrian FIS race this weekend and OPA Cup Finals in less than 10 days!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Travel Tips for Smarties

When I jumped on the plane in Albany last week I was ready to enjoy my most organized and easy travel experience to date. I was headed to Europe for four weeks of OPA Cup racing and had never felt more prepared for a trip. That actually says a lot because I tend to think of my self as a preeetty organized person.
Just enough...not too much...nailed it!
I had come to think of myself as a sage travel guru, the leader people turn to when luggage is lost and itineraries need editing. Oh how wrong I was....even after countless ski trips that have built up my travel smarts I still managed to make my fair share of mistakes this time around. So for all the other smart travelers out there...a few tips...

Oh the places you'll go....Welcome to Switzerland!
Travel Tips for Smarties

1. Call your bank...and check with them twice

Following the most basic travel tip out there, I called my bank a full week before my trip to inform them of my travel plans. Like people, banks aren't perfect, and as soon as I left Vermont my money was useless. Typically the solution is an easy one...call the bank and kindly remind them that you are traveling. Turns out this minor problem becomes a much bigger one when your travel plans fall on a Sunday and President's Day Monday. My advice: more than one credit/debit card and back-up cash. This also brings me to my next tip....

2. Travel with Friends

From loaning you lunch money to helping problem solve two heads are better than one.
Reunited with my buddies :) 

3. Count your bags-write the number on your hand

This was a new one for me and probably my big mistake. I thought I was "oh so smart" for checking my boots separately from my ski bag in order to avoid overweight baggage fees. That was until I arrived in Campra, Switzerland and realized my ski boots were still sitting on the luggage carousel in the Munich airport. Enter minor hysterics and a frantic search for wifi...
Maybe the best delivery I have ever received

But really how can you be upset when you have a room like this...
A view like this...
And skiing like this!
4. Skype or Whats-App for your phone

If you don't have a phone that works in Europe, download Skype or Whats-App for your smartphone. Both work with wifi and were lifesavers as I attempted to track down my left baggage

5. Accept that you can't control everything

For travel smarties, understanding that not everything can be planned and prepared for is probably the biggest tip I have (and also the one I have the hardest time following). At some point you just have to enjoy the ride!
Chelsea of APU taking full advantage of the balcony
Fortunately, our first week in Europe was a pretty sweet ride. Imagine living in one of those picturesque postcards that your adventurous uncle sent you from his trek across the Swiss Alps and that pretty much sums up my experience in Switzerland. We were in a dreamland and loving every minute of it.
Hotel Casa Lucomagno post 18 inch snow storm
What: OPA Cup Mini-Tour (3 races). The mini tour included a skate sprint, classic 10km, and skate 10k pursuit

After a long trip across the pond, the first OPA Cup races offered a chance to get my feet under me. The races turned into a rather challenging competition between my race-ready head and my rest-weary body. However despite feeling a little jet-lagged, I was thrilled to start off the OPA trip strong with two top 10 finishes (and my best classic distance at OPAs to date)!

Summer sun to winter storms, Switzerland had it all
Who: U.S. OPA Cup Team (mix of junior/U23/senior athletes)

Annie H. starting her sprint semi-final

Tyler Kornfield, Reese Hanneman and Annie cheering for Team USA

Where: Campra, Switzerland-a tiny ski town that rests in the narrow mountain valley of Olivine in Ticino, Switzerland
Rosie and I enjoying the views during an evening run

When: Last weekend! (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
Thomas O'Harra leading his sprint heat
Why: OPA Cups are the central European equivalent of SuperTour races....except faster. This trip is one of the National Nordic Foundation's pillar projects for the development of cross-country skiing in the U.S. Learning to race in Europe and race well not only builds confidence but is key to racing successfully at the World Cup level. The trip has been an invaluable experience for me the last two years

Jennie B ripping it up in the sprint heats.
From Switzerland I travel to Slovenia and then on to Austria and France with the OPA crew. We have many more races ahead and opportunities to take some steps on that podium. Wish us luck!
Picture perfect.