The skiers arrived in Austria this afternoon, Monday September 8th, after leaving Craftsbury on the morning of the 7th. While we’re undoubtedly jet-lagged, sunshine and astoundingly beautiful scenery helped keep our spirits high throughout the day and helped us fight the temptation to nap. Everyone headed out for a jog at some point during the afternoon, and here are a few photos from the first glance at the town and area. More to come soon – tomorrow morning we head to the Dachstein glacier for our first on-snow session of the season!
This is the second year we’ve had chickens at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, raised by the GRP for their eggs. Most athletes are known for eating rather large quantities of eggs, an easy and tasty source of protein, but not everyone is as intimately involved in the egg-making process as we are here. For quite a few people, especially in rural VT like we are, raising chickens isn’t particularly unusual; however I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have the facilities to raise chickens, and to know so conclusively where their eggs come from.
New this year, the chickens are in residence in a field at Elinor’s, the skier house. I can’t say I saw much of the chickens last year, when they lived near one of the rower houses, but I’m getting well acquainted with this year’s chickens as one of their caretakers. It’s fun, I like chickens! They’re pretty silly, sometimes annoying, often voraciously hungry and thirsty, but friendly and talk(sqawk)ative. And softly feathery – I’ve been trying to help them acclimate to people, which will make them easier to be around and handle, so I pet them every day! Don’t worry, you can laugh, my teammates have been laughing and giving me a hard time about petting the chickens too…
Alex Howe, who’s had significant experience with animals and crops at his family’s farm, and a few other of the athletes got the chicken coop all set up last year. That was the hard part of the process – the feeding, watering, and daily egg collecting is pretty straightforward. The coop is right next to the ski trails and the main route between our house and the Center, so I can check on them as I run or bike past for workouts and commutes to the Center. As long as I keep them well supplied with water and food, the chickens are pretty content and the number of eggs keeps going up. Right now we’re getting 42-48 eggs a day, which should go up to closer to 65 soon, equal to the number of chickens.
The chickens are always eager to see me walking up to their coop, and they gather inside the solar-powered electric fence expectantly. One of my favorite parts of the process right now is walking up to the chicken coop at twilight to shut them inside for the night – the fireflies are out in great numbers, adding their sparkle to the fields, and the chickens are softly clucking and settling down for the night.
Once the eggs are in the kitchen, more fun begins, as we turn them into breakfasts, or snacks. I have pictures of a few egg-creations, but not nearly all of them, because it’s often hard to remember to take pictures before something is devoured, by myself or others. We eat lunch and dinner at the Outdoor Center dining hall, but breakfast at Elinor’s is a good opportunity to cook whatever we’d like. Recent favorites include: fried eggs on toast with jam and melted cheddar cheese (several of my skier teammates eat this often, and it’s great! I hadn’t tried the combo until a few weeks ago and it’s now solidly in my repertoire of breakfast options – highly recommended!), scrambled eggs, waffles, egg-banana pancakes and more. A few nights ago we had an evening gathering and invited the rowers to our house, and I made deviled eggs for a snack.
Fueled by all of these nutritious eggs, and the rest of the fabulous food at the COC dining hall, we skiers are deep into summer training, with lots of running, rollerskiing, strength, etc.
NANANordic is an amazing program that brings skiing to remote villages in Alaska, with volunteer coaches from among the ranks of elite athletes, coaches from all levels, and essentially anyone who skis and wants to share their passion for the sport. Last year I visited the village of Selawik, and based on the positive experiences I had there, I decided to sign up for a 2-village segment this year. It’s exhausting, often trying, and very-little-down-time experience, but completely worth it for the chance to share skiing with so many enthusiastic young people and bring them outside to play on the snow. I also find that the outlook of being a coach – being the one in charge, who people come to with problems, or who the 5-year-olds want to hold the hand of when they’re scared of the downhills – is a refreshing change in perspective after being the “athlete” all year.
To start the trip, I flew from Anchorage to Kotzebue, spent a few hours in Kotzebue, and then continued on a small airplane to Noatak. See the map below for the location of Noatak and Kivalina.
Noatak is inland, surrounded by lakes and small rivers, with a population of 514. The school principal picked us up at the airstrip, drove us to the school, and showed us our accommodations for the next 5 days – the Napaaqtugmiut school library! We spent the afternoon organizing equipment, and then took an evening loop around town on skis to check out our surroundings and figure out where we’d be taking the kids to ski the next day.
I’m going to try not to swamp this post with too many photos, but here are a few. (Additional photos from my trip can be found at my just-released personal blog www.caitlinpatterson.blogspot.com.)
The following morning, after a brief scheduling meeting with the teachers, it was time to ski! Each class rotated through to ski once during the day, from kindergarten to high school, and we usually had two classes at once, sometimes such diverse groups as 1st graders with 11th graders. The older students are actually great with helping the little ones, plus they could go off on longer skis with their teachers or play games. On one of the last days all of us coaches played basketball on skis with some of the high-schoolers and it was extremely fun – the high-schoolers playing had gotten good enough at skiing, and they’re extremely good at basketball, so that the coaches could go all-out and not hold back any speed or agility during the game. Needless to say we were pretty tired after 45 minutes of intense games…
Each day we skied with the kids for anywhere between 4 and 8 hours, and on a few of the mornings a few of us coaches went for pre-sunrise crust skis too. The kids of all ages were great, and our most difficult times during the day were always when it was time to get everyone back inside, because they wanted to keep skiing!
After 5 days in Noatak, when our coaching there wrapped up, a group of three of us – Sam, Marcus, and myself – chose to ski from Noatak to Kivalina. The ski was 50 miles along a snow-machine trail between the villages, which is called the “stake trail” because of the wooden stakes posted every 50-100 feet marking the route. Marcus chose to take the trip through an NNF auction and he was a great addition to our group for coaching the kids as well as our village-to-village ski. The ski started off with gradually rolling terrain, soon becoming larger hills as we climbed up towards a pass over low hills (by Alaska standards, hardly even a pass, in not-really-mountains). From mile 20 through 45, the terrain was close to entirely flat, with very gently rolling hills of tundra grasses. The last few miles were along riverbanks and over a frozen marshland to the peninsula where the village of Kivalina is built. While the first half of the ski had good snow coverage, the 2nd half involved some pretty low snow, including one short section where we just walked across the grass on our skis, and many miles of stepping around grass tussocks, unavoidable agility training. Luckily the weather was fairly mild, other than a bit of wind on the higher terrain, and it was sunny and nice all day. We carried all of our own food and water, and did not have any snowmachine support, which is not exactly ideal, but the person we had hoped could follow us was not available that day.
The most memorable experience of the ski involved a bit of a mix-up with the GPS distance measurements from Marcus’s watch. We knew we had about 50 miles, which is 80 kilometers, to ski. Throughout most of the ski it seemed like we were making slow progress, and after 5 hours of skiing, the watch told us we had reached 40 kilometers (we believed), so the halfway point. We tried to keep our outlooks positive, but 5 more hours of skiing sounded brutal, having calculated before leaving that it ought to take 7-8 hours to ski the trail. A little while further along, we saw a plane landing in the distance, which gave us a spark of hope, and then about 30 minutes of skiing later, we could just make out a few buildings on the horizon. Kivalina! And thus Marcus realized that his watch distance units must have been in miles, not kilometers, so at the 40 mark we had been 4/5ths of the way through our ski instead of half. You have no idea how easy a 7 hr 20 minute ski (start to stop, including short breaks) feels after believing from about hour 4 through hour 6 that it would be a 10-11 hr day!
Kivalina was my next village for coach-volunteering, so after the long ski I stayed in Kivalina for another 6 days and met another set of awesome young skiers. Kivalina was in the mainstream news a few years ago because it is a village that is at risk from rising sea levels, and there is a relocation project under study. It’s a small town of 374 people, and the entire town is built compactly on a small section of a spit on the edge of the ocean. The first 24 hours in Kivalina we had some down time to recover, as we waited for the rest of the Kivalina coaches to arrive. It was Easter weekend, and the community of Kivalina welcomed many visitors to join their Easter celebrations, which included “singspirations”, church services, and community meals and pot-lucks. We visited the community center and joined several of the meals, in which our hosts supplied us with muktuk (uncooked whale blubber) to try, as well as delicious caribou stew, cranberry sauce, and several more mainstream foods like potato salad and chicken soup. An elder by the name of Joe regaled us with whaling stories during one of the meals, and then our coaching group was lucky enough to be able to watch two whaling boats getting launched later in the week.
Everyone was extremely friendly and inviting, and the kids especially in Kivalina loved to climb all over us, hold hands while skiing, watch Reese Hanneman and anyone else doing tricks, and have us watch them skiing down the hills or trying tricks.
These trips are experiences I’ll never forget, and I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for skiing with so many inspiring kids and to take a little peak at life in the Arctic.
Our team’s skiers and biathletes were involved in all sorts of races this past weekend, in Norway, Slovenia and here in Vermont. On Sunday March 9th, a particularly unusual race was held at Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond, VT – a Nordic Cross race! I heard about the race a few weeks ago and decided that I simply had to go compete, it sounded like too much fun to miss, even though I didn’t really know what it would entail. Race description: “Uphill, downhill, slalom gates, jumps, and obstacles, all on one pair of skis” – sign me up! I tried to get my GRP teammates to join me for the race, but everyone had something else to do, apparently… Luckily Callie, Jack, and Quincy, some of our Craftsbury BKL/junior skiers, also were at the race, so I had company representing Craftsbury in the green suit – we all finished on the podiums of our age groups too!
Cochran’s is a small family-run alpine mountain, and they did an absolutely fantastic job of setting up this race, with a creative and challenging course, prizes for age group top 3, and a pancake feed after the race. Nordic cross isn’t exactly a standardized race type, in fact this was probably the first one ever in New England. For this event though, heats of 5 people left the start each minute on cross country skis, so the skiers were racing the clock for overall placing (but of course racing the people in their heat also).
The course had all the advertised components to provide everyone with plenty of a challenge. The adult course started at the top of Cochran’s, and included: about 6 definitive steep uphill segments as well as a working gradual uphill, many downhills with a variety of gates from slalom to farther apart GS-type gates, some small jumps as well as a few larger jumps, a drop, banked corners, ungroomed sections through the woods, and carved-out bumps on the groomed area. The path of the course was marked throughout with spray paint guide-lines and arrows, which was crucial for figuring out where to turn next. An added challenge was the iciness of the hill, which hadn’t softened much in the sun by the start – the first morning of daylight savings, combined with cold temperatures overnight, meant that quite a bit of the hill was a sheet of ice underneath a little bit of softer groomed snow. So of course it was scraped down to that ice on all of the corners, leading to even more skidding and lack of traction on our metal-edge-less cross country skis. It’s safe to say that EVERYONE racing snowplowed and skidded the corners, it was just a matter of how much snowplowing could be avoided to pick up a little extra time.
The winning men’s time was 9:32 (Eli Enman), and I was the first women with a time of 10:53, 12th overall. (Results: http://www.cochranskiarea.com/images/pdf/rank2.pdf) My heat included 3 men and 2 women so it was a great challenge to stay ahead of a few of the guys. Kids 12 and under did a shorter version of the course, starting lower on the hill, and they were completing their course in as little as 6 minutes. The race was really well attended for a first-time event – several dozen kids raced and 118 adults, including some skiers who had been at JNs in Stowe this past week, various high school and college students, masters and citizen’s racers, ski coaches, and at least one “professional ski racer” (that would be me!).
It was a serious adrenaline rush, kind of scary, and also awesome and exactly what I was looking for! There’s nothing better than this type of event to reinvigorate for the last bit of the season, to remember how cool skiing is and how much fun it is to be able to go off jumps and take sketchy turns on ice, and to burn the lungs with a few uphill sprints. Yes, in my future races I may be wishing for jumps, but I truly love racing uphill too, so I know I’m in the right sport, Nordic cross was just a great diversion for the day! Pictures don’t really do the event justice in terms of the intensity of the course, but here are a few from the day. Thanks to Meredith Young for many of these pictures. And thanks to Cochran’s for hosting an amazing event!!