Friday, March 22, 2013

Scenes from Stockholm: Royal Palace Sprint

The story of the Royal Palace Sprint goes back ten editions. I first heard back in 2004 (my first Stockholm Palace Sprint) that the King of Sweden had a keen eye for nordic skiing, but was dissuaded from the pursuit in his earlier days. His interest in ski racing has burned brightly through the years, though. Having the best ski racers in the world racing around his Palace is apparently a treat for the Swedish King and his Family.

The Palace grounds sit on some incredible real estate. It's an island with the Atlantic Ocean all around. Copper and gold, bridges and pavilions pocket the venue. All the while, gargoyles and golden crowns and impressive carved lions like this keep a watchful eye out on the old town.

The Stockholm weather was... brisk. It was definitely the coldest, most blustery -5 celsius weather I've been in. This dried out the machine-made snow, leaving it sugary and unable to set up properly. Double poling the course on the men's side was prominent. 

The view from the King's Castle. The Vasa Museum and other city attractions lay in this neighborhood of the city.

The girl's team taking in the last warm sunny rays of their winterlong European ski racing adventure.

Until next time, from Falun.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Scenes from the Road: Holmenkollen 50km

At the 2011 World Championships, I finally got the chance to race on the Holmenkollen trails just outside Oslo, Norway. Yesterday, on my first time back since, I got another bucketlist experience - joining Kjell-Erik Kristiansen in announcing the Holmenkollen 50km.  Kjell-Erik is a true pro, and one of those special characters cross-country skiing has - a personality for the sport not unlike Dick Vitale and college basketball.  Kjell-Erik understands skiing in-and-out, and probably has a better grasp on its demands better than most athletes. While announcing, Kjell-Erik switches seamlessly between Finnish to Swedish to German to Norwegian to English. He does this to converse with the international crowds at ski races, and to cheer on the athletes in their native tongue. I was most impressed, though, how he could recognize the athletes. From a country mile away Kjell-Erik could pick out Italy's Dietmar Noeckler or Norway's Snorri Einarsson just by their technique within a pack of competitors. 

If you're up in Holmenkollen, the ski jump acts as the north star. For three days it's nonstop action, both in the air and on the trails. For ski jumpers and nordic combined, these are the concluding competitions of the season.

This jump is far from some of the rickety-old wooden ski jumps I've seen in my day. From Oslo's new opera house to the ski jump, it seems like nordic architecture is enjoying a renaissance.

This man is responsible for mixing the stadium music for every World Cup. Especially distance skiers will talk about how they come through the stadium for another lap of the race and certain songs playing at that time get stuck in their minds for the rest of the race. For better and for worse, this man makes that happen.

As many of you know, skiing is a pretty big deal in Norway. I think this picture captures a sense of this. The King is always in the house when the World Cup comes to Holmenkollen. Next Wednesday, I will race around the King of Sweden's Castle. The Swedish Royal Family will be in attendance. Looking forward to it, Princess Madeleine.

For days on end the woods of Holmenkollen are filled with people camping out alongside the race course. It is quite that party and revelry. Someday I'll have to go back and get this experience from the race. This year, Canada's Dasha Gaiazova couldn't wait. The race organizer gave her a tent. She found a thermorest and a sleeping bag somewhere else. She looked tired when I saw her the next day, though maybe much fresher in the mind.

And Norwegian boller! 

Next stop: Stockholm, Sweden for the World Cup Finals mini-tour. Until the next time. -Torin

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Scenes from the Road: Drammen, Norway Edition

On the World Cup, early morning race starts are a rarity. On the morning of Drammen race day, I went out for about an hour trot jogging and walking and photo-taking in the Fornebu neighborhood of Oslo. The site of Oslo's old airport, the arena beside the Atlantic is being transformed into the Norway's version of Redmond, Washington or Silicon Valley.

Where old and new work in unison. 

It's an interesting mix of new meets old, where hand-laid stone lighthouses and such mix with sleek,  futuristic buildings that play host to many Norwegian tech startups and firms. 

An old forgotten skiff rests as a reminder: don't forget your roots.

As always, the crowds were out in force in Dramman. Norwegians love their cross country skiers. This is something as an athlete you can easily feel.

Head-to-head World Cup racing. Here I follow Kalle Lassila of Finland, sitting in second place with Anssi Pensinnen(FIN), Eirik Brandsdahl (NOR), Ola Vigen Hattestad (NOR) and G.L. Cologna (SUI) stalking behind. [Photo stolen from Das Hoff].

Here I am with the men of Team Sjusjoen after the race. John Anders Gaustad (red jacket) was a longtime top Norwegian skater, and now works for the National Federation. Petter Hagen is the team leader of Team Sjusjoen, my Norwegian race team. He gives great advice and is one of those positive influencers that you need in your life. It was really cool to share the experience of getting back in the points with Mr. Haugen. 

Randy Gibbs prepared mine and Rosie Brennan's race boards for the event. It's been five years since I last worked directly with Randy at a ski race, but even in tricky conditions and in the more hectic city sprint mileau, I had full control over my Rossignol's, and confidence in their preparation. Mr. Gibbs played a leading role in helping make that happen.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Scenes from the Road: Oslo 2013

Last night the U.S. Team rolled into Norway, sharing the plane with the Japanese and Russian World Cup teams. So often, the American and Canadians, Japanese and our blue track suit loving competitors from the north travel the circuit together. It's a little more difficult for us to sneak a day or two or three between race weekends.

While we might have been up in the esteemed real estate of Holmenkollen for a little stride and glide on the famous trails above Oslo, I'm pretty sure Dramman was on everyone of the sprinter's minds. Here is what awaits us in tomorrow's city sprint. It will be interesting to do this race again after several years away, and even more so because the day's temperature high is -4C. Could we really be racing on hardwax in a city sprint? That'll be a call for the wax service team.

Rosie Brennan takes in the view from our wax cabin before heading out on the morning ski.

Simi Hamilton and two Ruskies just about ready to start their workout in Holmenkollen - the cathedral of cross country skiing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lahti, Finland

I try to stay in touch with my In The Arena 5th grade class as much as possible when I'm away from the classroom. Here's my latest digital scene from the road for Mr. Peck's class at Osborn Elementary in Leavenworth, Washington.

                                                                                                                                       MARCH 9 &10

The next stop in this year’s cross-country world tour for me is Lahti, Finland. The country of Finland sits between Sweden to the west and Russia to the east. Lahti itself sits just a little outside of Finland’s biggest city, Helsinki. Finland itself, and particularly Lahti, is a place known for its forest and lake landscapes that provide a natural living environment. When I first visited Finland, I could understand better one of my favorite architects, Alvar Aalto.

Mr. Aalvo’s architectural style ranged from nordic classicism during the early years of his career, to later on a more organic modernist style. To me, Mr. Aalvo had a genius way of using a site’s available resources. His buildings and housings could arrest your eyes, but also blend into the environment and terrain where it resided. My favorite thing, though, is how he used sunlight. In Finland, especially in the winter, sunlight is a precious commodity. Mr. Aalvo knew how to capture its essence brilliantly.

It doesn’t a visitor to Lahti long to figure out the place is a winter sports city. Right on the edge of town a full compliment of ski jumps sit atop the area’s biggest hill. As an athlete, the venue is almost a metaphor telling a story. There are all sizes of jumps. Off to the ski jumper’s far right, the jump set starts with perhaps a ten meter in-run, then a half-meter jump where five or six year-olds fly through the air for maybe a half-second.  The granddaddy of them all, though, is the K-124. The athletes fly through the air for around five seconds, covering up to a football field-and-a-half on their winning jumps.

Since 1923 the town and venue has played host to the Lahti Ski Games, an annual World Cup event. Tens of thousands of spectators from near and far come here every March to watch the competitions and revel in the streets and nightclubs afterwards. It’s an energetic crowd – and energy that you can feel as a racer, especially when you are having a special day. And it’s one of these days I look to have on both Saturday in the skate sprint, and on Sunday in the 15 kilometer (9.3 mile) classic World Cup.  I have raced here in Lahti many times, though this will be my first time pulling on a racebib here for something other than an individual sprint or a sprint relay.  To new experiences, and new challenges!

SATURDAY, March 9: Skate Sprint Qualification at 11 AM
SUNDAY, March 10: Men’s 15km Classic at 11 AM

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Scenes from the Road: Davos, Switzerland Edition

Sometimes the sun out, your friends are with you, and the scene is just right. Sometimes you can have one of those days while skiing the Dischma Valley in Davos, Switzerland. Today was one of those days. Here Mauro and Bettina Gruber strike a pose where the nordic grooming ends and the off-piste skiing begins. The snow isn't quite right for crust-cruising yet, but when it is, going for a little langlaufing up-and-down the Dischma is out of this world.

Bettina getting her flowing classic stride on the bootpacked track. After yesterday's challenging double-pole only intensity session with another Swiss World Cup skier, relaxing on skis and moving with the least amount of effort as possible was the goal of the morning ski.

I think a shot like this could almost be an advertisement for Rossignol skis. A river ran through it. And I skied it. A lot. Both with rollerskiing and on-snow, I have spent more than a couple hours training up this valley this year.

Four foxes, hanging out in the sun. I think they've seen better days, though. One satiating thing about spending time in Europe is how certain means of production are still carried the old school way in the Old World.

Dry cured meat like these hunks of speck are another area where time combined with the touch of tradition produce some culinary delights.

Next stop - Lahti, Finland! I'm sure there will be a story or two to tell from the land of saunas, lakes and  ski jumps and ski trails.

And you know Pearli will be on tour with me there as well - as he comes along everywhere. Here he takes in the first light of the day in the Trentino region of Italy. While here, Pearli got to check out his orchard fruit competition from Europe. This arena of Europe is home to the most renowned apples and pears and some of the finest wines of Europe. Pearli thinks, though, that the trees back in Peshastin, and areas like that back home still are the best in the world.