Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The fever?

I don't know if I have Birkie fever, but I'm definitely getting excited. After my 23rd place finish last year, I qualified for the elite wave, so here's hoping I can pull a top-15... eek!

I leave tomorrow, and will test skis to get the fastest boards I can on Friday, then Saturday morning is the race start. Last real race of the season... time to double my prayers to the bonk-gods hoping they'll protect me from one.

Elite women.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cheri Walsh Memorial, Holderness EC finals

A good race on Saturday generally makes Sunday difficult - what are you fighting for now? To add to the feeling of "but I don't wanna race!", Holderness had about a quarter as much snow as Gunstock, and there was some serious debris mixed into what was passing for snow here. I previewed the course with the CSU girls, and we discovered that there was one hill - right out of the start - that went up for an insultingly long time. After that, it basically just rolled around and twisted and turned for another 3.5km, with one minor hill near the end. It would be a race where good skiers, who can accelerate through transitions, would excel. I made sure that all the kids were well aware of the fact that they had to go really hard on the flat parts, because it was so icy and fast that it would be easy to get lulled into a feeling of complacency - my skis are already so fast, why would I work hard to make them go faster? Because everyone else has skis just this fast!

I started third, which was a definite boon - the course was still hard and icy, and had only been skied by 30 J2 boys, so the hill out of the start was in good shape. I'd been hammering into my juniors the importance of not going too hard and blowing up on this hill, but I went and ignored that advice, doing a low-energy jump skate up much of the hill. Near the top I realized that my quads were filled with lactic acid, and my hip flexors were wicked sore from slipping yesterday, to boot. I almost couldn't stand up to get a good tall V2, but I pushed through the pain and got onto the first downhill. Unfortunately, on a fast course with lots of transitions like Holderness, the downhills aren't all that restful, and I had probably a minute or two where I wasn't getting as much out of every corner as I could have.

I got it back together though, and started working that course for all it was worth. Definitely a hard effort, I was wheezing as I came up the little hill near the end of the lap, just gradual enough that I could V2 large parts of it, then drop into a fast V1 to bring the tempo back up, and then it was all just twisting downhills to the end. It was over in 11.5 minutes, so fast. I knew that was a top-ten effort, it was a hard day but I know how to ski a technical course, after all, it was just Weston with a hill. The boys went after the girls, and I got out on course to cheer them on, as the snow slowly deteriorated into mud, I'm very glad I wasn't racing near the end of the guys' race in the sun. I ended up in 2nd, almost 30 seconds behind Corey Stock, but its ok to get beaten by a J2 if you're her coach. I'll take some credit for her massive win.

They named the JO team after the race, and CSU is sending seven kids! I'll be going as a coach, and I can't wait to see them rock it up at Presque Isle.
J2 boys:
Eli Hoenig
Hamish McEwen
J2 girls:
Corey Stock
Cate Brams
J1/OJ boys:
Chris Stock
Jackson Rich
J1/OJ girls:
Hannah Smith


Our tent explosion at Holderness. We're probably the most organized club out there these days, and all the parent volunteers know exactly what to do. Couldn't do it without them, really. The food table rocks, too.

Hannah and Corey rocking out after the race...

The hotel where Jess and I (and our respective boyfriends) stayed last night is worth a mention. The price was right, but it was painted this spectacular bright pink color, and they left the loopy bits up at the top but managed to paint all sloppily over the loopy bits, real good craftsmanship, right there. Jess is pointing out the fact that while there are two paintings on the wall over each bed, they both have the exact same painting in the frame... whoops.

High-class pre-race breakfast! Microwaved oatmeal, eaten with the end of my toothbrush, for lack of a spoon. This was supplemented with the most amazing cinnamon roll ever, which then sat in my stomach like a gut bomb for the next four hours. What do they say about not trying anything new on race mornings?

Silver Fox Trot, EC Finals

The last weekend of Eastern Cups (and JO qualifier races, if you're in that age category) is over and done, and it was a pretty successful one for CSU. Saturday was the classic race, and the waxing wasn't all that easy, just because the conditions were so variable throughout the course. The back side of the course was pure slush, but there was powder on the front side of the course. Fun! Luckily, whatever CSU was using worked great, so our juniors were killing it. Unluckily for me, I don't know my klister skis well enough yet, and so I didn't end up with a thick enough layer of klister in the zone. Totally my fault for not leaving enough time to test my skis, wax is part of the game after all.

The good news was that the course was basically flat, though. It started with some super gradual (kick double pole, if that - in my case, I just double poled) climbs out of the stadium, and then started a loop around the backside of the mountain. The back loop had one climb, maybe a minute long, and then it was super flat until you zoomed back down into the stadium. Definitely a good course for me, with a lot of double poling and kick double poling.

I started out 7th, so the course was still in great condition, and it wasn't uber warm yet. I could tell my skis were rockets, but I really would have liked some more kick - I could make it work, but the other option was rock-solid-bomber skis, and I knew what I was missing. Bummer. I kept it positive, though, and tried to really work the double pole sections. Coming down the long hill by the road I zoomed past my 30-second girl, and I caught my minute girl at the top of the one climb on the backside of the course. Crazy double poling around the backside - my skis were just slippery enough that I couldn't really kick double pole at speed, and there were some gradual uphills where that would have been nice, but I just kept telling myself I could double pole the whole course, which I did.

Coming through the lap, I could see some people in front of me, and I used them as rabbits, running them down and zooming past. Out of the tracks my wax was stickier, so I used that where I had to, really pushing the transitions and the flats. I knew I was having a good race, it felt like a top-ten effort, but you can't write off a race until its done, and I'll admit that my upper body was starting to get a little tired with all this double poling. I came down the last hill into the stadium, still passing people on their first lap, and left it out there doing what I could to sprint to the finish. It was good enough for 5th place, but its frustrating to know that with better kick I probably could have been top three. Oh well, waxing is part of the game, and you have to get it right - and part of that is knowing how much wax needs to get on your skis to make them work, even if you have the right wax, if its too thick or too thin for your skis, it doesn't matter how good it was on the test skis. So, I'm satisfied with the result.

It was a pretty awesomely sunny day. I spent way too much time outside cheering for the boys' race.

The waxmeister, giving all those juniors speedy skis.

Gunstock. On a beautiful day to be outside!

The mess you get when CSU explodes their stuff. We're more organized than you'd think...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

U.S. Team Fundraiser Sprint

The last day of ski-o for me last week was the US team fundraiser sprint, at Kingdom Valley Trails in Chester, put on by Ken Walker. With Monday being a holiday, I could stay north and try to win the finish split, for which Ken was giving out the grand prize of a cowbell. His trails been hit pretty hard by the rain, so there wasn't much snow to speak of on the trails, even though he and Greg had spent six hours Sunday night shoveling. The course was pretty short, just under 3k, and mostly on a hillside, so I figured it would be fast, and that, combined with the map scale of 1:4000, would make for a pretty tough course, navigationally. (I'm sure that's a word.)

I started out and quickly realized that I was outskiing my brain. Luckily, I had planned to take this as an easy workout anyway, so I slowed down, and was able to read ahead a bit more. The first couple controls were on the flats, and the snow seemed pretty good, but once I got into the woods and started climbing, the snow was replaced with pine-needle-riddled ice. Damn. I picked my way through the rocks, pine cones, leaves, and dirt, and nailed the next couple controls on the uphill. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive of what would happen on the downhill, since I doubted I'd be able to stop quickly if I had to, but luckily the trail I took to get down had more snow on it, and I didn't add to the gouges on my dedicated ski-o skis.

After control 12, the course left the hillside and entered the pines, which meant even less snow, but more interesting route choice options. The second time I did the course (since it was a fundraiser, you could do as many runs as you wanted, you just added money to the jar each time, and the fastest time of the day got the grand prize - another cowbell), I took better routes to 13 and to 16, saving about 20 seconds on each of those. On a 40 second leg, that's significant! The first time I'd approached 13 from the bottom of the hill, and the second time I turned right after crossing the bridge and approached from the top of the hill on the big trail. 16 I'd gone around on the big trail the first time, but the second time I went straighter, on the narrow trail. I'll post the map real soon now.

20 was fun, that was a fast little narrow trail with a pretty big drop to my left, but I stayed upright, and the second time to 21 I went straighter on the narrow trail, and again saved ~20s doing that. My second run was 19:12, and the first was 20:20, so clearly the different routes were better. The finish split, unfortunately, was not fast enough to beat Scott and Greg, they were 16s and I was 17. Alas.

Here are splits from the long sprint. And here they are from the short sprint. A couple of the boxes had gotten out of synch, which is why there are some funky splits in there, but at least it was the same for everyone. The short sprint was fun, it used the same controls as the long one but out of order, and didn't go up the long hill, so the snow was a little better. The reason my finish split is so slow is that I thought I'd gone faster on previous runs, whoops.

Ed with Casey (the dog) in his sweet timing hut. Hut, porch, whatever.

Tuesday morning I got up early to help Ed set controls over at Grafton Ponds, but I couldn't stay for the race, had to go to work. It was a fun "week" of events, and I really enjoyed having Ed make everything run so smoothly. Can't wait until next year!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

US Ski-o championships: Long Distance

I will admit, I was more worried about the Long race than the middle - the long would involve much more skiing and much less navigating than Saturday, and Ali is a really fast skier, even after her three-year hiatus from ski racing. She's been tearing it up running, after all, its not like she isn't fit, its just that England doesn't have snowy winters. So, I was a little nervous. I was less nervous about Erin because I know she hasn't been skiing as much, and there would be less navigating. There was a little bit of stress surrounding this event since the guy who was redoing the map doesn't like reading emails, so wasn't necessarily on the same page as everyone else, but luckily things went off relatively smoothly - the start was only delayed twice because the courses weren't set yet. We got there early, since Ed had to set up his O-truck, and I helped where I could and then headed out on warmup #1. Kent Shaw was out taking pictures in the blizzard, and took some of me warming up.

Then they delayed the race for the first time, so I took a break, and then it was back on, so warmup #2 got underway.

I started third, four minutes behind Ali. This gave me a definite advantage, since I'd be chasing, and thats just easier, mentally. I started pretty conservatively, because I knew it would be long - the advertised length was 11.3km, but it ended up being ~18km for actual skiing distance, which made for a long slog in falling snow. Pretty, but not fast. I was clean to 1 and 2, going around to the right for both of those, and 3 was also clean, although I was debating about the route to 4. I ended up going with the lefthand route, staying down by the marsh to avoid extra climb and then going up the snowmobile trail to get to the control. I saw Ali coming down as I headed up, so I knew I was closing, and the advantage of being the chaser kicked in. I took the groomed trail to the corner and cut across the marsh on the dotted trail, then went to my left to get to 5 - After crossing the road, I saw Ali again, and I knew that I had gotten even closer. Now I just had to keep skiing this hard and not make mistakes!

A relaxed start.

I decided to take my skis off and run up the road, to the right, to get to 6. I don't think this was very fast, although my splits don't regard it as a mistake, but I think the better route would have been to go around on the lake, in retrospect. Ali made a mistake on her way to 6, and I could tell I was the first one there, since there were no tracks in the fresh snow. YES! I took the route along the lake to get to 7, and crossed the road at the last possible point, again just looking to not gain any elevation, and trying to ski as hard as I could. I kept telling myself to remember to use my abs, since my arms were a little tired with all this V2, and that worked to make me go even faster. 8 was the map exchange, a little confusing since it wasn't marked as a finish circle, but I figured it out. I grabbed a cup of sports drink to go, and zoomed off to 9, but I found that my motivation was waning now that I had passed Ali (and put 4 minutes on her, since I started 4min back). 10-12 were a little slower, but I was able to rein in my increasing desire to lie down and rally for the last two controls, posting the fastest finish split of the day (and we all know that is what counts), even beating all the boys. My splits claim that I made no mistakes, which is really rare for an orienteering race, but it basically means I put together an almost-perfect race - super hard effort, and clean on the navigation front! Long distance champion!

Full results

More important than the US championships, however, was the Valentine's day couples' cup. I bullied Ed into racing, and he did admirably, second place on the green course, so we took home a box of chocolates as champions of the sweethearts.
He couldn't race the M21+ class because he'd seen the course already from hanging controls, which is why he just did an open green course.

Lori came up for the weekend, with Presto, and figured she'd give ski-o a try. She managed to not be last on Saturday, but Sunday was a bit long for someone who hasn't done much skiing...
I tried to get Presto to pull me, but he wasn't having any of it. I guess if I were 15 pounds, I wouldn't want to pull a human, either.

CSU won the club competition!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

U.S. Ski-orienteering championships: Middle distance

This might get long. I have a lot to say. There are pictures below if you don't feel like reading...

Ski-o has creative names for their races, like "middle distance" and "long distance". At least it tells you what to expect, more or less. The middle distance race was held at Beaver Brook Farm, in Marshfield VT, and it was 5.8km (straight-line) for the women's elite class. This is a ski area run by Vivian and Mike Fritz, which happens to be mapped to A-meet standards and maintained for ski-o through creative logging, and it is sheer awesomeness. When Ed and I pulled into their driveway after Sunday's race, I just sighed, "ahhh, back to paradise". They have a massive barn, that sent Ed into spasms of envy, with so much room for so much crap and all these tools of every sort - I guess Mike does a fair bit of woodworking, but he is also the regional rep for some snowmobile grooming company, so he has all the up-to-date grooming stuff, although I'd be lying if I said I could remember anything he said about that. Vivian is an amazing cook, who managed the whole refreshments deal during the ski-o race, as well as dinner for all the volunteers who were staying there each night. She is one of the most organized people I have ever met, and that, combined with Mike's uncanny ability to turn two inches of ice into a skiable surface, made for a truly well-run event.

Ed was taking care of all the epunching for the weekend (and the events that bookended the weekend - Thursday at Morse Farm on a half-finished map - don't get me started on that rant, and I wasn't even there - and monday and tuesday in southern VT), so he drove up Wednesday night to help set things up. Basically, he had a mobile O-truck traveling around, with the printer (giant laser printer thing, couldn't a little inkjet do the trick?), all the tripods for the controls, all the epunch units, the boards to which the epunch units were secured, flags, boxes of rental mapholders, other boxes of random registration supplies, and pretty much anything else you can think of that would go into running a ski orienteering event in a really professional manner. I was impressed. Whenever Ed is in charge it makes for a really smoothly-run event, which is a nice change from some past orienteering experiences we've had...

Anyway, I showed up Friday night, and Saturday morning was sunny and gorgeous, and since I was one of the last starters, I had plenty of time to hang around and be social, because as it happens, I know EVERYONE who does ski-o. I guess its not a big group, but we had 72 starts, so it was more than we expected. The M21+ class, the elites, were pretty competitive as always, but most exciting was the fact that we had three serious competitors in the F21+ class - myself, Ali Crocker (skier extraodinaire who almost made the olympics in 2006), and Erin Nielson (nee Olafson, skied for UNH and is one of the best summer orienteers in the country). This was going to be fun! There were a bunch of other people, too, but the competition was going to come from Ali and Erin.

Due to the low snow conditions (remember all that rain we got in mid-January? Yeah, we haven't gotten any snow since then), the trails were pretty narrow, and really bumpy - the snow hugged every contour of the trail, which made for pretty old-school skiing. You had to be on your game to balance on that at any sort of speed on a gliding ski. The course notes talked about a couple spots where there wasn't any snow coverage, but for the most part, the trails were in good conditions, with some tree droppings but no rocks. I went out pretty much last, which meant all the downhills had been snowplowed down to glare ice, but thats good, because it makes them faster. Or something like that. Below is the red course map - 14 controls, and some really interesting route choices. We weren't given any time with the map before starting, so it was a little hard at first trying to read ahead while still moving fast and in the right direction, but by the time I got to 2, I had figured out my routes for the first half of the course and was concentrating on skiing fast. I navigated cleanly through #5, and then I decided that I wanted to take the high route to 6 - the one that goes to the skier's right. However, I thought I was moving faster than I actually was, and I turned left at the first junction, instead of the second one, sending me down to the marsh and losing about 2 minutes on that leg.

I took a slightly less than ideal route to 7, also, but then 8-10 were clean, and I felt like I got back into my groove, but not so fast. Looking at my route to 11, I thought I was on the lower trail by the lake, instead of up on the upper trail, so I planned to go around the south end of the lake - plus, that looked flatter, and this place had a lot of hills. However, I was actually on the upper trail. I realized this quickly enough, but at that point I'd already started down the trail, so I cut across the corner of that field by #8, and started skiing down the hill. There wasn't much snow, and I was bushwhacking on race skis, so this was bound to end badly. I managed to stay upright, but about halfway down the hill I realized how stupid I was being, and somehow managed to come to a successful stop without breaking anything. I whipped off my skis and bounded down the rest of the hill, which was much easier running than skiing, and then got my skis on quickly and zoomed around to the control, but that was another minute lost. The rest of the course was clean, although I took a shortcut from 13-14 across the field, which had a big open area on the far side of a hill that I didn't see until I hit it - luckily, my reflexes kicked in, and I was able to run across it quickly before falling on my face. Doesn't matter what the wax is, skis don't glide too well on grass!

I ended up beating Ali by 2:52, which is darn close in a ski-o race, but luckily she made some mistakes as well. Erin was another 3:20 behind Ali, with a couple mistakes on the last controls. It was a close race, and we were all excited to have some competition. You can see the splits on attackpoint - hover your mouse over the usernames and you'll see actual names. Those are splits for the entire red course, which also includes the M-18, M40+, and M55+ classes, although the top three girls were top five overall, only getting beat by the 18yo boys, rather than the old guys. Splits.

Yup, thats a three-story barn.

Ed's registration area.

The awards and social were on the third floor of the barn.

Remnants of the feast Vivian prepared for after the race (there were two more tables like this, but with even more different types of food. heaven!)

The men's podium - Greg Walker (CSU, 2nd place), Adrian Owens (GMOC, 1st), and Nikolay Nachev (COC, 3rd).

Presto came too, but didn't do so well on skis...

Monday, February 15, 2010

National Champion!

*Edit* - Adrian Owens won the sprint on Monday, not Scott Pleban.

The national championships in ski orienteering just wrapped up with a US Team fundraiser sprint today, with a lot of good competition (rare for ski-o) and some great venues. I pulled off a double win, both in the middle distance and in the long distance, with Ali Crocker in second both days, and Erin Nielson in third both days. I'll write about my race later, but here is what was sent to NENSA...

U.S. Ski Orienteering National Championships

The national championships in ski orienteering wrapped up this Monday with a U.S. Team fundraiser sprint, after two days of intense racing in Northern VT. Saturday was the middle distance, 5.8km for the elite women and 7.2km for the elite men, designed by Ernst Linder at Beaver Brook Farm, a ski area maintained specifically for orienteering and ski orienteering by Mike and Vivian Fritz. Their massive barn served as race headquarters and space for the social after the races, and despite the low snow conditions, the race went off without a hitch. The courses were very technical, both physically and mentally. Due to the low snow conditions, the trails were pretty bumpy, and required very good balance to ski fast. Because the area is maintained for orienteering, there were many tricky trail junctions and an interesting series of snowshoe-width mazes in the woods. This made for a great event that left most competitors smiling.

This is the map from the female elite course. As you can see there were many decisions to make on the fly.

In the elite classes, the men’s race was won by Adrian Owens, a skier on the U.S. Ski-Orienteering team from Green Mountain Orienteering Club, who won in 45:54, 32 seconds ahead of Greg Walker, from the Cambridge Sports Union, also on the U.S. team, with Nikolay Nachev, from Cascade Orienteering Club, another 36 seconds back. In the women’s race, Alex Jospe from the Cambridge Sports Union and the U.S. Ski-O team won in 42:42, 2:52 ahead of teammate Alison Crocker (CSU) and another 3:20 ahead of Erin Nielson, of Up North Orienteers. Full results can be found on the website:

Sunday’s race was the long distance, 19km for the women and almost 30km for the men, at the Craftsbury Outdoors Center, with courses designed by Adrian Owens and Krum Sergiev. It was snowing all day, which made the skiing quite slow. The course featured some long climbs and less technical orienteering than Saturday’s course, favoring good skiers. In the elite classes, the women’s podium remained the same. Alex Jospe (CSU and U.S. Ski-O team) took the win again, in 1:23:07, 5:12 ahead of Alison Crocker (CSU). Erin Nielson was another 12:49 back. The men were led by Scott Pleban (Quanitco Orienteering Club and the U.S. Ski-O team) in 2:00:58, followed by Greg Walker (CSU and U.S. Ski-O team) 2:20 back, and Nikolay Nachev (COC) another 1:07 back. The competition on the men’s course was fierce through the whole 30km, and there were many other guys in close contention until near the end. Splits from each control are available for each race, where you can see how the lead changed three times during the men’s race, as some people made mistakes and others made better route choices.

The men raced on the blue course, and the women races on the red course:

Ali Crocker starting the long course in the snow.

The most important competition of the day was the Valentine’s day couple’s cup – statistics were used to normalize age classes with fewer skiers, and in the end, Alex Jospe and Ed Despard took first place, Pavlina and Joe Brautigam took second, and Janet Findlay and David Hunter took third. The Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) took first place in the club competition, with Up North Orienteers (UNO) in second and New England Orienteering Club (NEOC) in third.

This year’s U.S. Championships concluded with a team fundraiser sprint on Monday in Chester, VT. Competitors could ski the course as many times as they would like, paying the team for each extra run they did, and the fastest overall time of the day took home the grand prize of a cowbell. Trails were narrow, icy, and fast, with a series of snowmobile mazes to make things really interesting. Adrian Owens took the overall fastest time (although course setter Greg Walker had almost a minute on him, his time couldn’t count because he already knew the course) in 17:10, and Alex Jospe took the fastest time for the women with 19:12. Scott Pleban and Greg Walker tied for the fastest finish split, which is naturally the most important split of the day!

There were two other races bookending the championships races, and you can see results from those races and find more information on ski orienteering in general on the website:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Maps from the Sierra Ski-o champs

I've finally got around to scanning the remaining maps from the Sierras. These were the interesting ones, so its worth taking a look.
The first map from the Auburn Ski Club day - we were handed three maps on the start line, stapled together. Supposedly, the trick to this is to rip apart the maps (no more staples), put the second and third maps back to back in the map case, and the first map on top of that. Then put that whole bundle into your map holder. In theory, this is a good idea, but in practice, the map holder's snaps cannot snap through three pieces of paper and a thick plastic bag. I got two of the snaps closed in the minute I had to get all this done, and the third one sort of just flapped around, causing me to lose my map when I bit it on an ill-timed shortcut from 3-4 (I wanted to see how it was to cut through the woods. It was never a good idea, there, fifteen feet of Sierra cement will bury you quite quickly).

Anyway, this is what it looked like as I tried to get my maps into place - poles off, completely not ready to start, and never got a chance to look at the map before skiing. Given how slowly I went on that day, it didn't matter that I wasn't ready to blast off at the start, but still. Gotta at least try to look good at the start...

Check out the route from 3-4. That snowshoe trail was NOT there. Which left me a wide open hillside to attempt to carve some turns on skinny skis. At least that time I didn't break my binding, like I did at Tahoe-Donner. Also check out how many trail junctions there are! Thats what I mean by interesting, lots of decisions to make, all the while slogging along through deep snow at altitude. Oops, I mean, while zooming along racing fast.

I didn't get around to scanning the third map (rather, I scanned it, but the file corrupted itself), but thats ok, because it was super short, not sure why they felt it necessary to have three maps. At least on the World Cup when they do map exchanges, there is a place you ski through (the lap, basically) where you drop the old map and pick up the new one. None of this attempting to snap your mapholder through three pieces of paper and a plastic bag.

This is the course from Tahoe XC - the beautiful sunny day. Greg and Ken snowmobiled all the dashed trails, so that they were super hard and easy to pole on, and except for #11 (that pointless climb to the top of a mountain), the course was nice and flat, which is good for when you're already tired from a week of racing at altitude. Results are finally up from the week, as well as splits, and on this last day, I won 7 splits out of 16. I bet if my fluoros hadn't worn off I would have won the entire thing, although I guess if the other guys had used fluoros it would have been a fairer race.

And you can have even more photos!

While we're talking about ski-o, I should mention that the results are up from the first two days (which actually were just one course, offered over two days for people who couldn't make it the first day - don't ask) of competitions in the Ski-o festival going on this weekend in Vermont. We'll try to get some maps and splits posted next, but first things first, results!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

In case you have nothing planned...

The U.S. Ski Orienteering Championships are being held this weekend, up in Vermont. Website. This event is going to be awesome, and you should come, especially if you happen to be a skier. There are five days of races, starting today, which I'm obviously skipping, the champs are over the weekend, and there are two more races on Monday and Tuesday.

Its gonna be sweet. Don't miss it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Last couple days of the Sierra Ski-o

The Sierra Ski-o festival wrapped up with two days of more technical orienteering - Saturday was at Auburn Ski Club, which has lots of trail junctions over a pretty small area, and Sunday was at Tahoe XC, down by the lake, and Greg and Ken did the extra small-trail-grooming for that one, so it involved a little more thinking than the other days. It was snowing all day for Saturday's race, with maybe four inches of freshies on the tracks. This, combined with the fifth day at altitude, made for a very tough race for me. I felt like I was just slogging along, barely moving, and placed a little further down the results than usual, getting beaten by Randy, Scott, Donatas, Raffael, Greg, and Smokey, my friend from Colby who I roped into coming to a ski-o =).

I made Greg take a picture of me starting, because I knew I wouldn't take any pictures otherwise. You can see how deep the snow is even where everyone has skied over it. It was a long slog of a day. I decided to fly the club colors that day, representing for CSU! (which happens to be my orienteering club, as well as skiing).

The interesting part was a downhill cut, that, while possible to ski around on trails, was really set up to make people ski straight down the side of a mountain on skinny skis in deep Sierra cement. During the race, it wasn't all that much fun, but later on, I went to pick up controls and picked up the ones out there in the field, and things were a lot more fun when I felt like I had the leisure time to take some turns down the hill. Still not metal edges, but it was fun.

I felt pretty trashed that night, but I rallied, put jetstream on my skis, and got myself to the start line on Sunday. It was a beautiful day, at least forty degrees and bright and sunny, which meant that my wet snow based Peltonens were rocking fast. The fluoros wore off around control 13, which got me most of the way around the course, but it was shocking how much slower my skis got once they no longer had pure fluoros on them.

The course was super fun, with lots of decisions to be made on the fly, constantly thinking and constantly in contact with my map - no more of these long slogs up a hill with no thinking required. Now THIS is how ski-o should be! I had an almost-perfect run, making a 15 second error when I almost missed a junction because I was reading too far ahead from 8-9. The narrow trails were really well packed, and I definitely chose some routes to stay on narrow trails just because it was fun. In the end, I was second, about a minute and a half behind Donatas, and beating the rest of the boys (although to their credit, Greg and Ken were not racing Sunday, since they set the courses). This was a good enough result to put me into fifth place overall on the men's course, which was a nice little ego boost.

Pretty much everyone rushed out of there afterwards, trying to catch planes and avoid the ski mountain traffic, so I went out with Greg afterwards to collect the controls. The one at the top of the mountain sure hurt going up a second time, but the view was worth it, and I remembered my camera. Hopefully, the idea of grooming some narrow trails to add intricacy to the map catches on, it seemed that some of the other course setters from earlier in the week really liked the course today.

Some of the trails were narrow.

Some were wide.

Control pickup.

Maps are coming. I'm currently in the Reno airport, and while they do have free wireless, they don't seem to have free scanners...


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sierra Ski-o: Day 3, Royal Gorge

The third day of ski-o rolled around, and today it was billed as a long course, 12km straight-line distance (16 shortest-skiable route) and 400m of climb - definitely going to be a long grind. I was feeling ready to tackle some intensity, so decided to see what would happen when I started cranking. Last time I was at Royal Gorge was for the Gold Rush marathon, I went out too hard and paid for it dearly, so today I did a warmup and skied into the race. The first control was up a hillside, with pretty trivial navigation, so I planned out most of the first half of the course as I was climbing. The control was where I expected, which is always a great feeling, and I had decided to bushwhack down to the second control. It looked like a short drop, and downhill bushwhacks are always fun. I found Scott Pleban's tracks (he'd been the first starter on Blue, I was second), and since they were going in the right direction, I followed them. It felt like a long time before I hit the trail, but I came out right where I'd expected. I started skiing up the trail, and then I saw Scott, who looked pissed.

Scott said there was no control, he'd been back and forth here five times, and the control just wasn't here. Its always dangerous to believe what people tell you in races, but Scott wouldn't lie, and hes a good ski orienteer, so I figured I'd ski to my left down to the trail junction, and then turn around, just to have the entire trail covered, even though from where I was, I was sure that the control was to my right, if it were there. I went down to the junction, no control, then turned around and came back up. I should mention that the contour lines at Royal Gorge are 40ft contours, so there might not be many of them, but when you do see one, cry. Anyway, on my way up, I found the control, in the wrong place, but there, and I passed a guy who'd been doing the course on classic skis, who chuckled at me and said "missed that one, eh". This just served to make me really mad. I'd just made a mistake because I hadn't trusted myself, and while a misplaced control is truly obnoxious, it was still in the direction I'd originally started, so if I'd just done what I started doing, I would have been there three minutes earlier. Arrgh!

It was mostly downhill to the valley, and then back up the other side to 3. The downhill part was great, but then I hit the trail that 7 is on, and it hadn't been groomed yet. I could see Scott's tracks ahead of me, it looked like he'd been skating, but every time I tried to skate, my tips would get caught under the crust, and I'd get totally spun backwards, cursing at the top of my lungs that Royal Gorge couldn't be bothered to groom all their trails on a day when there is a race. Its one thing if its soft fluffy powder, this was heavy crust, and I was starting to fear that this entire side of the valley wouldn't be groomed when I finally made it to the trail junction, and a groomed trail. I was annoyed, it felt like things were conspiring against me, but at least everyone else would have to deal with an ungroomed trail too, although it would get faster as more people skied it. I would just change my route choices to avoid that trail for the rest of the course.

Well, unlucky for me and Scott, but the groomer came through shortly thereafter. The winner's time was 5:15 on that leg, my time was 10:30. I was almost matching the winner for most other legs. That means I lost 4-5 minutes on that leg, on top of the 2-3 minutes I'd just lost on 2. I was not a happy camper at this point, especially as 3 was at the top of the T-bar, which wasn't running (I don't know if it would have been cheating to take the T-bar, but I sure would have tried), at the top of that open area. After breaking trail for a km, that climb nearly broke me, and I ended up coach-skating most of it. Things went more smoothly after that. The rest of the controls were in the right location, although overlaying a GPS track (not mine, mine died on the starting line), the trails are vastly different than what is marked on the map.

On my way to 7 I discovered that the stupid ungroomed trail had since been groomed, and although it was still pretty soft, it was waaaay better than before. 8 involved some cut-throughs, and I decided not to cut down to the western trail to get to 9 because I just didn't like the idea of bushwhacking on my race skis through that much terrain on an uncertain map. Turns out that was faster, by about 2 minutes (based off the splits of someone I beat, so maybe by even more), but it just hadn't seemed worth it to me. I guess I just don't like bushwhacking on skis.

I figured I was home free after 9, but it turns out you have eight contours (yes, that means 320 feet) to climb under the powerlines to 10. It was brutal, I knew Randy and Greg were close behind me, but I could see Scott, as a black figure way up ahead of me. That climb took 10:18 - that is one long climb! I was starting to feel pretty trashed, but the most important split of the race was coming up - the finish split! I got myself turned around facing the finish before I punched (I know, thats sort of lame and sort of cheating, but I really wanted that finish split), and then just gunned it. It was a gradual uphill for most of it, and I was trying to rock the V2, but eventually it got too steep and I got too tired, so I tried to rally with a fast V1. That was the longest 34 seconds of my life, I swear, but it was worth it, because I beat all the guys (including the Swiss guy and the Lithuanian guy) on that leg. I'm moving up, slowly, today I was 4th overall, but the top three were within 15 seconds of each other (Raffael, Donatas, and Greg), and I was ~12 minutes behind them. Without some of my early hardships I might have been closer, but that's racing.

Tomorrow we get a rest day, which is nice, because it'll have been my fourth day at altitude, which tends to be the worst one. I'll probably knock out a slow jog, wheezing all the way, and then try to catch up on some work... exciting. Maps are up for the other days, now.

Sierra Ski-o: day 2, Northstar

I was planning to keep today also relatively easy, L2 on the uphills, but my body felt a lot better than it did on Tuesday, so it was harder to ski easy. I managed to have another clean run, and thanks to the flatter ski area, which meant I could go faster at an easy pace, I did a lot better relative to some of the guys racing. Northstar XC area is an interesting one, you take a gondola halfway up the mountain to the XC center, which is really just a hut, and then its another 1.2km long climb up to where the start and finish of the ski-o were. Luckily, this was a flattish climb, so it wasn't too brutal, but it still required a little more thought with the logistics.

I rubbed some fluoros on my skis before the start - not that it really mattered, but I figured it would give me an advantage and I could use all the help I could get if I wasn't skiing hard. The snow was deep, and there were about 2-3 inches of freshies on top of the groomed trail. It made everything feel very soft and forgiving, although they weren't the fastest conditions I've ever skied. I started about 2 minutes behind Ken (guy on the US masters' team), 2 minutes in front of Randy (a guy on the senior team), and 4 minutes ahead of Greg (guy on the senior team, who I'm staying with here). It was a tight little pack, and I figured I'd be seeing Randy and Greg pretty soon.

The first couple controls were pretty straight forward, and with the one-minute interval of looking at your map before the start, I had most of my route for the entire course planned out before I started. Not a very technical area, mostly its all about trying to avoid climb. On my way up to 2, a long grind of a trail that at sea level I'd probably have been V2ing, I saw Ken coming down, and knew I'd be chasing him until I'd hunted him down - closing the gap using efficiency. I saw Randy going up as I headed down, so figured it wouldn't be long before I saw him, too. I bombed the downhill, skied well on the uphills, and got to 3 before anyone else had been there. Sweet, I'm in the lead! I expected to see Randy shortly, but unfortunately (for him) he broke a pole somewhere between 3-4, then made a 25 minute mistake, and used a pine branch as a ski pole for the rest of the course. Hardcore!

The course finished cleanly, Greg passed me going up to 8, making snide comments about how it didn't look like I was trying hard enough, and then I did my best to win the finish split (which I did). I figured, I wasn't going to win many other splits, but the finish split was short and flat, so I put everything I had into that 27-second sprint, and I crushed it by two seconds. Now that is how you race skis! Took me about ten minutes to stop breathing hard, though.

Doing control pickup, Ken was picking up the streamers he'd used to mark the way to the start, and figured he'd try and win the fashion award of the week.

It was another one of these days.

Most of the people who'd skied the blue course went out afterwards to pick up the controls. I went with Jonathan, and it took us 20 minutes to ski out to the caboose (where most of the controls were around), 20 minutes to make and drink hot chocolate, and 10 minutes to get the controls. We have our priorities straight. Did I mention that there is a caboose in a field that has a kettle and packets of hot chocolate? And then you sit there outside in the sun sipping hot cocoa. Its beyond heaven.

I don't think those photos need any explanation.

Northstar is very definitely a resort. Not the sort of place I could afford to stay...