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Archive for November, 2011

Snowless Davos

30.Nov.2011 by Ida Sargent

Davos, Switzerland could be a winter wonderland.  Nestled in the Swiss alps, the town is surrounded by tall mountains.  Christmas lights decorate the downtown section of the alpine village.  It’s perfect for winter sport with ski lifts on all the mountains, Nordic trails running up and down the valley, an abundance of outdoor ice rinks, and Nordic walkers galore.  The only thing missing right now is the white stuff for which Davos is famous.  There is some snow on the peaks of the highest mountains around but that’s about it.  The rest of the valley is completely dry and brown.  Luckily there is a week and a half before the town is scheduled to host a World Cup weekend as there is little skiing to be found.  There are two separate manmade loops of skiing in town.  One is about 1.4km and the other one is about half that but growing by the day.

We arrived in Davos on Monday night.  Some of the team went skiing in town yesterday morning but I had a day off which was relaxing to a level that was almost luxorious.  I definitely felt like I was on vacation!  I slept in and woke up to natural light pouring in through my window something that hadn’t happened since I was at home in Vermont!  Then I enjoyed a delicious breakfast spent sampling many varieties of Swiss cheeses, breads, jams, and bircher muesli which is muesli mixed with yogurt, fruit, and juice and left to sit overnight.  It sounds kind of gross and looks even more disgusting but tasted really good.  The highlight of my morning, though, was definitely drinking lots of strong coffee!  I couldn’t keep up with Kris Freeman who quickly put down six shots of espresso as well as some regular coffee but I still enjoyed the buzz.  Our hotel is on top of a pass outside of town and has a bus stop and train stop outside the door, providing fast and easy transport down into town throughout the day so we had a fun afternoon exploring town, drinking more coffee, and practicing our snow dances in the sun.

What Davos normally looks like at this time of the year

What Davos normally looks like at this time of the year

The Hotel Kulm where our team and the Canadian team are staying

The Hotel Kulm where our team and the Canadian team are staying

The town without any snow

The town without any snow

A little snow on top of some of the mountains

A little snow on top of some of the mountains

That weekend's racing will be a sprint and a 15/30km skate

That weekend's racing will be a sprint and a 15/30km skate

One of the main streets in town

One of the main streets in town

There were lots of busy cafes and bakeries in town

There were lots of busy cafes and bakeries in town

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Mountains on all sides of town

Mountains on all sides of town

This downtown hotel is where the Norwegians stay for the Davos World Cup.

This downtown hotel is where the Norwegians stay for the Davos World Cup.

There are a lot of stone churches in town

There are a lot of stone churches in town

The Ruka Triple

29.Nov.2011 by Ida Sargent

After a brief leave from northern Finland, I came back to race the Ruka Triple.  The Ruka Triple is a three day mini-tour of World Cup racing in Ruka, Finland, a resort town near Kuusamo.  Ruka is famous for steep and long uphills, fast downhills, darkness, and bitter cold weather.  Since winter is late in arriving to Europe this year,we arrived to find all of the above except for the frigid temperatures.  There was a little natural snow on the ground (some of the first that we’ve seen yet in Scandinavia) but the race organizers were working overtime preparing the course.  In the days leading up to the weekend’s races we were lulled to sleep by the hum of snow guns blowing snow outside our condo and woken up the next more by all kinds of heavy machinery moving the piles of snow onto the trail.  They prepared a 5km loop of manmade snowwhich was the longest loop I had skied on so far this year!

As I gain experience and race on the international circuit, I always keep my eyes open and watch what others are doing, hoping to learn some tricks of the trade.  Ruka is the perfect place to do this as we were staying in condos next to the trail.  Our living room and bedroom windows looked overlooked an out and back section of trail which was lit 24 hours a day and perfect for watching people ski by all day and into the night.  Some teams train A LOT!  The Russians train constantly, skiing in the morning before the race, in the evening after the race, and spending the rest of their time running and doing plyos and other stretching exercises. Marit Bjoergen also did her share of training outside our window as well as winning the overall for the weekend.

Last year I raced my first individual World Cup in Ruka and had good races here so I was excited to return and improve on those results.  The first day was a classic sprint and after rainy and warm temperatures the day before the race and then cold temperatures at night, the course was icy and fast!  The race was over before I knew it!  The times were very tight and after just missing the heats, it was hard to not look back and think of all the places where I could have easily gained time.  Still I skied much better than I did a couple weeks ago in the sprint in Muonio so I was very pleased to feel to have felt that improvement.  It was awesome to watch Kikkan, the lone American woman in the heats, ski to a fourth place finish!  Each heat, she skied over the top of the big hill so powerfully, building momentum into the finish, and passing girls who were slowing down.  It was fun to watch!

The next day was a 5km skate race on a very hilly course.  The hills in Ruka are huge!  After last weekend’s race I must admit my confidence in my skating was not high so my goals were only to ski smoothly and efficiently and hang with anyone who caught me.   During the race I was surprised but pleased to see myself catching the girl who started in front of me.  I got excited and started pushing harder, watching the gap shrink.  Then I hit the final hill of the course, a steep grind back into the stadium, and really hit the wall.  Despite my best attempts to ski smoothly, my arms and legs could no longer coordinate movements and it may have been better to just take off my skis and walk or run up the hill.  I crossed the line in 47th but the times were tight and I was less than 15 seconds out of the top 30 and was happy with how I had skied until the final hill.  It was also my first race here where I felt like I could ski with these girls and hold my own which is a huge confidence booster in such a competitive and large field.

Finally Sunday’s race was a 10km classic pursuit seeded based on the results from the past two day’s races.  The race was 4 laps of 2.5km course that basically consolidated the hills on the already really hard 5km course.  It was going to be a fun race as I was starting in the middle of the pack and very close to my teammates Sadie and Liz and Chandra and Perianne from Canada.  There were three tracks around the whole course so looking ahead, staying on your toes, and finding openings to pass was important.  The big uphills and fast downhills on the course made it feel a lot like doing intervals as I skied hard up the hills and then tried to recover the best I could on the downs.  Liz and I worked together and moved up through the pack.   Going into the finishing lanes I was not nearly as aggressive as the German girl next to me and I found myself bodychecked out of my lane and left without a hope for winning the sprint finish.  It ended up being my best distance finish at 37th for the day and moving up fourteen places from where I started.  Kikkan had another great finish holding onto 6th place for the tour and Holly also finished in the top 30!

We skied once more this morning in Ruka and it actually felt cold.  Kuusamo’s cold fog had finally settled in overnight and I was quite unprepared for the sting of the temperatures and soon found my hands and feet frozen.   Brrr….winter can be chilly! Good thing we are on our way to Davos, Switzerland where the latest reports showed green grass sun and another short manmade loop of snow!

Sorry I don’t have any race photos but here are some of Ruka pictures.

This picture doesn't do the hills here justice.  This one is a steep wall where we got to practice our herringbone in the pursuit despite having awesome classic skis!

This picture doesn't do the hills here justice. This one is a steep wall where we got to practice our herringbone in the pursuit despite having awesome classic skis!

Our condos were in the far building in the middle and the ski trail is right in front of them.

Our condos were in the far building in the middle and the ski trail is right in front of them.

Not only were we challenged by the big hills on the ski trails but also during our walk to meals.  It was a steep uphill trek to to town which became a bit sketchy during some of the weekend's freeze/thaw/rain/snow weather.

Not only were we challenged by the big hills on the ski trails but also during our walk to meals. It was a steep uphill trek to to town which became a bit sketchy during some of the weekend's freeze/thaw/rain/snow weather.

Ruka is a resort village that hosts Nordic, Nordic combined, ski jumping, and freestyle World Cups every November and December.

Ruka is a resort village that hosts Nordic, Nordic combined, ski jumping, and freestyle World Cups every November and December.

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The alpine trails and ski jump are built into the mountain behind town. Ruka's close proximity to the Russian border make it a popular destination for Russian tourists.

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Not Quite Winter in Sweden

26.Nov.2011 by Susan Dunklee

A month after the rest of the GRP left for Finland, I finally found myself on a plane getting ready to start my biathlon race season.  A week ago, I arrived in Ostersund, Sweden for US Biathlon’s first on-snow camp of the winter.   With temperatures in the 40s (Farenheit), rain pouring down, and more of the same in the forecast, we felt very lucky that  the Ostersund staff had the foresight to stockpile a tremendous amount of snow last spring (under a thick layer of sawdust).  They saved enough to cover a 4 km race trail 6 m wide and still have some in reserve.  Tomorrow, Sunday, we will compete in our first race of the season: an IBU Cup sprint.  Following that, some of us will remain in Ostersund for the first World Cup next weekend, and some of us will travel to IBU races in Austria and Italy

This is my first visit to Scandanavia and my biggest adjustment has been adapting to the short amount of daylight.  Although it gets light around 8:00, we don’t get that soft golden yellow light that I typically associate with early morning until around 10:30.  The sun starts to set around 2:30 and by 3:30, it feels like nighttime.   One of my favorite moments so far came one evening as I was walking through town under some street lamps.  I was feeling a little bummed about the darkness until I noticed tiny ice crystals on the sidewalk catching the light just right and sparkling in the dark.  As I walked, I felt like I was passing through a shimmering tunnel.

We are staying in some cabins at the race venue, along with the French and Japanese.   We share a common dinning room where we are served buffet style.  During meals, there is often a giant projection screen set-up with Eurosport TV.  We’ve been able to watch XC World Cups (including Kikkan’s 4th place finish in the classic sprint) and our Lake Placid luge friends competing in Innsbruck.

The race course following a midday rainstorm.

The race course following a midday rainstorm.

One of our favorite pastimes is watching people ski by out our window.

One of our favorite pastimes is watching people ski by out our window.

Me, out enjoying an easy classic ski. Photo: Sara Studebaker

Me, out enjoying an easy classic ski. Photo: Sara Studebaker

My goofy teammates, heading out for an afternoon jog.

My goofy teammates, heading out for an afternoon jog.

With limited ski trails open, we've had the opportunity to explore a lot of the single track biking and running trails. The venue sits at the edge of a large spruce and pine forest. A lush carpet of spaghnum moss covers the forest floor. Blueberry bushes and lingonberries seem to be the other common ground plants.

With limited ski trails open, we've had the opportunity to explore a lot of the single track biking and running trails. The venue sits at the edge of a large spruce and pine forest. A lush carpet of spaghnum moss covers the forest floor. Blueberry bushes and lingonberries seem to be the other common ground plants.

The weight rooms that we train at have lots of ping pong tables. Ping pong is the team's 2nd favorite sport. Our European coaching staff are especially good at it. Here you can see Lowell and Leif taking on coaches Per and Armin.

The weight rooms that we train at have lots of ping pong tables. Ping pong is the team's 2nd favorite sport. Our European coaching staff are especially good at it. Here you can see Lowell and Leif taking on coaches Per and Armin.

Coach Armin shaving down my rifle stock. Some of the modifications I made to it got in the way of the race sponsor stickers, so the material control officers wouldn't pass my rifle until it was fixed.

Coach Armin shaving down my rifle stock. Some of the modifications I made to it got in the way of the race sponsor stickers, so the material control officers wouldn't pass my rifle until it was fixed.

The Norwegians have gotten a lot of attention the last couple years because of their giant mobile waxing facilites on the World Cup circuit. Apparently the trend is growing.

The Norwegians have gotten a lot of attention the last couple years because of their giant mobile waxing facilites on the World Cup circuit. Apparently the trend is growing.

Hot dog anyone? We've been eating lots of fish, potatoes and pasta, but this caught us by surprise the other day.

Hot dog anyone? We've been eating lots of fish, potatoes and pasta, but this caught us by surprise the other day.

We celebrated Thanksgiving a couple weeks early while we were still in the States. Annelies's parent's invited us to their home in Saranac Lake, NY. I'm very grateful that we celebrated early: Thanksgiving dinner in Sweden consisted of fish and potatoes. Photo: George Cook

We celebrated Thanksgiving a couple weeks early while we were still in the States. Annelies's parent's invited us to their home in Saranac Lake, NY. I'm very grateful that we celebrated early: Thanksgiving dinner in Sweden consisted of fish and potatoes. Photo: George Cook

Mainstreet Ostersund. The city is decorated with many lights. I explored the downtown and waterfront areas last night after dinner. The stores were already closed for the day.

Mainstreet Ostersund. The city is decorated with many lights. I explored the downtown and waterfront areas last night after dinner. The stores were already closed for the day.

I think this beautiful building must be the townhall or regional government seat.

I think this beautiful building must be the townhall or regional government seat.

Ladie's movie night

Ladie's movie night

Onward and upward!

23.Nov.2011 by Ida Sargent

On the World Cup there is little room for error.  The times are so tight that being a little off is magnified greatly on the results list.  The field is so competitive and deep that save for Marit Bjoergen (who after watching her ski last weekend I’m not convinced she’s totally human) a flat race can end up being a really bad day.

This was my experience in this weekend’s World Cup opener in Sjusjoen.  After so many months of focused training I was very excited for the season to get under way.  But along the way as I had felt my body becoming fitter and stronger, I only envision the great races where the hard work comes together and I felt fast and efficient.  I definitely wasn’t dreaming of races like this past weekend.

Luckily for me it’s only November and there is a lot of racing ahead.  So instead of harboring on the negatives of this weekend, here’s a list of this weekend’s highlights.

In Saturday’s skate race I had fast skis!  They were flying!  I passed a Norwegian skier on the first downhill who had come through for a lap right before we started.  They may have had two tractor trailer trucks and a handful of smaller cabins for waxing this weekend but my skis were faster.  It was fun to be able to ski with her for the first two laps of my race although it quite possibly set me up for a much slower final lap.

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I have some fast teammates!  The US is going to turn some heads this season.  Kikkan’s 8th place and Liz’s 18th were just the start.  We are a bigger and stronger team this year and it’s inspiring to ski with these guys.

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I had a lot of TV time on Sunday which the rest of the GRP got to watch live in Finland.  As the scramble leg for the US team I started the race on the front line and got to smile and wave to the camera.  Luckily the TV cameras were not present for my falls but many of the Norwegian spectators were privy to the spectacle.  The abundance of cheering was great thought and I was loudly supported by lots of “Heia, heias” before I was back on my feet.  Here Liz and Kikkan watch the action on the big screen in the stadium which is sometimes the best viewing.

I went running with Charlotte Kalla, Anna Haag, Maria Rydquist, and Hanna Brodin…twice!  Liz and Kikkan did a training camp with Anna and the other girls in Sweden last summer.  We were staying at the same hotel as the Swedes and combined our evening team jogs.  The girls were all really nice and we may have even convinced some of them to  come to Craftsbury for SuperTour Finals and Distance Nationals this spring!

sjus3

We watched the men’s relay live first in the stadium and then out on the course.  Our Athlete bibs give us access to almost anywhere on the course and my pink snowpants which I purchased for several Euros in the thrift store in Muonio kept me warm.  Liz and I stood near one of the TV cameras and Liz’s parents, who were watching the race online, heard our voices from Vermont!  The US men hung close to the lead pack for the entire race and it was really fun to watch and cheer!  Here is Kris Freeman skiing the second leg of the relay for the US.

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Our hotel served us a Norwegian Christmas buffet for dinner.  The variety of options was unbelievable and the presentation was much above our normal standards.  Reindeer, salmon, crab, mussels, shrimp, beef, turkey, oysters, scallops, sausages, ham, caviar, and so many other kinds of fish which I wasn’t able to name.  Sadie and I picked up these guys and then remembered we couldn’t put them back.  It was alright but the consistency of the meat was not my favorite.  Photo credit Holly Brooks (http://hollyskis.blogspot.com/2011/11/sjujsoen-world-cup-opener-in-pictures.html)

sjus4We left Norway (and maybe the sun) yesterday and returned to the darkness of northern Finland.  The Ruka Triple is this weekend and I can’t wait!!