Friday, December 30, 2011

New Article: The Sweet Science of Skiing

Penned for SkiTrax Magazine: Visit SkiTrax Here

Riding the cable car up, up, up high into the high Austrian air to the Dachstein Glacier for the first time, I get the feeling Garrison Keillor echoes on his News from Lake Wobegon when he says “All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Packed six tight into the tiny aluminum tin, you can’t help but look around and think all the young women around you are strong and good-looking and above average. Here, though, this isn’t some Lake Wobegon effect – our universal, natural tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities. Rather on that first ride up to the Dachstein Glacier, you know this is the big leagues. For good reason. Standing shoulder to shoulder to Axel Teichmann, Timmy Tschanke, or Justyna Kowalczyk, one gets the very real sense they are no longer skiing in the sandlot.

As a sometime writer, mornings begin with my mind wondering off to write stories about the people I meet. One morning it’s about the fifteen-year-old Finnish girl with her father and the improbably tall Thomas Algaard. It’s then when it hits me: the three of us – all of us, really – are writing our own unique chapters to the same book on our love affair with skiing. That same morning, the clouds and the setting and the sunrise are just perfect. Fortunately, I have my Canon G9 camera tucked away in the backpack with the change of clothes, Bartlett pear and thermos full of chalky chocolate flavored recovery drink. I snap the picture and send it off to the world.

When I get back to the hotel just over two hours later, former American World Cupper Dan Simoneau (World Cup Best: 2nd; 7th 1983 World Cup Overall) has left a message. Simoneau’s terse prose reads like poetry. “Great photo, Torin. I'm jealous that you are skiing on snow that has so many drops of gold medal sweat. Rub it well. Throw some over your shoulder. Burn some to the Gods. But most importantly, melt it with hard work, focus, and determination. I believe.” Reading these words the first time sends a shiver down my spine. I know what Dan says is true.

I’ve been to the area many times before, though only in the heart of winter. The Ramsau trails wind through valley, canyon and race loops from the 1999 World Championships for a total of 180 kilometers. I could easily work for the town’s media department: I wouldn’t trade one day of skiing Ramsau for anywhere else.

And yet somehow, coming to Ramsau in October is even more special. Maybe it’s because for most, October is the toughest time of the training year. You are still putting in big hours. You are a little sick of the dryland. There really isn’t any good or consistent skiing yet. As a racer you have the itch – and a little bit of anxious anticipation – to get on with the season, and visit with those friends for whom you only seem to meet up with along the trails.

Getting into Ramsau, I flew to Munich then took the train to a tiny town in Germany where I meet up with Swiss National Teamers Mauro Gruber, Eligious Tambornino, and Martin Jaeger, sprint specialists all. Over the next two weeks, I will meet up with the Swiss athletes from time to time, though rarely for the same on-snow workout. This can be chalked up to the sweet science of cross-country ski training. The Swiss athlete’s are in specific race sharpening training for the race season’s start, coming in two week’s time. The Swiss athletes also don’t believe in doing anything except low intensity long distance training on the glacier, due to its altitude 2700M (8,370ft). Instead, they distance ski in the mornings on Dachstein, then do intensity or strength or speed in the valley below. What they miss out on in real-snow feel they feel they make up in spades with the faster movements of speedy Marwe rollerskis with the low resistance zero wheels.

For Ramsau, I’m joining up with a Norwegian team comprised from the seven small towns that border the hills around Lillehammer. These Norwegians from Team Sjusjoen are more distance-oriented and believe in getting on-snow twice a day. Unlike the Swiss or the Germans, they believe in the trade-off of doing controlled threshold intensity at this high altitude. Most days I ski with the young up-and-comer Simen Sveen. You haven’t heard of him before, but you will soon enough. As a twenty-two year old in med school, Simen was 3rd in the Norwegian Cup Series and 4th at the Norwegian National 50 kilometer.

Simen’s motivation is the kind you rarely see. The young up and comer has just tasted success. He can only see himself getting better and achieving more in the ski tracks. The longer someone can keep this feeling burning bright inside their emotional engine can say more than technique or tactics or V02 max test scores. Right now, all are headed up, up, up for Mr. Simen. It is a wordless spectacle in itself. Like all extreme but perishable actions, watching skier find their inspiration, excites the writer. It also burnishes his instinct to bear witness.

It’s not altoghether different than slide down the window on the cable car, sticking your head out into the cold alpine air and breathe in the oxygen, the sights, and the opportunities that lie ahead for you. If you have the chance to ski the Dachstein, take it. Your love affair with skiing will only go stronger. Just remember that in this little corner of the world all the women really are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

World Cup Eurosport Video Links

With Universal Sports no longer showing World Cup ski videos to the U.S. intelligentsia this season, I've found a site that is. It just might be worth a look.

Subscribe to World Cup Ski Videos to get the latest action at:

Rogla Skate Sprint: Part I

Rogla Skate Sprint: Part II

Rogla Skate Sprint: Part III (Men's and Women's A Finals)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Heading Home

After the ski racing scene made a stop in British Columbia's SilverStar Mountain, I headed six hours south down the Okanogan Valley to my old stomping grounds to the Wenatchee Valley. Highway 97 might not have the most recognizable name, but traveling the two lane road takes you through some of the finest agricultural country in the west. It's always interesting to head through mostly rural, largely geographically isolated towns, like those that trade in names such as Pintecton, Oroville, Brewster or Chela, where signs from a different era and brick storefronts replace the Chevron's and Golden Arches. The locales have a little more presence, a little more personality and I suspect reflect more the life people live there.

Heading home, though, has not brought an end to the mostly snowless winter. Snow is patchy at best. The first day I hit the trails I couldn't head to my familiar haunts like the little Ski Hill in Leavenworth or trails that meander along the Wenatchee River. That first day I skied the first day in an alfalfa field, rolled with an Arctic Cat snowmobile in Plain, Washington. For the meager amount of snow, and limited terrain, the skiing wasn't more than what one could expect. Also, it's always interesting to skate and glide in some new locale. That the Plain ski venue in the alfalfa fields sits next to the only road I've ever seen the backseat of a Crown Vic for - for rollerskiing outside the fogline up Beaver Hill - brought back some remembrances.

Getting back home also gave me the chance to catch up with Mr. Peck and his 5th grade class. With Chrismas Break now upon them, and the schoolwork assignments giving way to Christmas parties, the girls have told me they think I am their lucky rabbit's foot. It's been great to get back in the classroom - especially that I finished my own finals for the university learning - to catch up with Mr. Peck and connect with the kids. Yes, the days in Pacific Northwest are the perfect place to be, even if I wouldn't mind for a few more snowflakes to fall any day yet.

Until the next time. -T*

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Park City to West Yellowstone to Bozeman, Montana

The last days have been a bit of a whirlwind. Packing up the stuff of my life into boxes and moving out of my apartment.

Right after this, the racing got under way just on the outskirts of the Yellowstone National Park, the traditional opening spot for the sport in America. It'd been since all the way back in 2005 since I'd made an appearance in West. Heading back there reminded me of some of those earlier ski racing days from the days since past.

From there, it was off to my adopted team home of Bozeman, Montana for the second installment of the US Supertour. Despite still being pretty heavy - not necessarily on the bathroom scale but in the muscles - I got the quick twitch muscles firing enough for the second 2nd place in the sprint scene following the "Sprint Showdown" in West Yellowstone. Pretty much the coolest thing about the races was the hard work the race volunteers of Bozeman put in to make the race even happen. 50 degree days leading up to the races made for some hard labor of moving snow around the course. My hat goes off to the BSF crew for making even making it possible that we could race.

After a couple more days in Montana, Leif Zimmerman and a crew of other BSF athletes will light off for SilverStar, Canada and take on the Canadians on their home soil for a change.

After all this, it'll be back to visit the family for the holidays. Looking forward to a little time back in the old country and to say hi to my 5th grade class in Leavenworth taught by Mr. Peck. Should be good times.

Finally, I have to give a bon chapeau to my girlfriend for first making her way back to the big show by winning both Swiss qualifying races in Davos last weekend, then coming up even bigger on the World Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany where she left with a 4th and 15th for the weekend's efforts. Nothing like starting the off going better than ever. Maybe I should try that sometime. Least I know who to ask! All Best. Until next time. -T*