Monday, February 27, 2012

Winter came on a Saturday

Wahoo! Winter! (Tony is sliding down the road in his sneakers, behind me - slippery!)

Checking the forecast for the Middlebury carnival, which had been moved to Trapps due to low snow, some snow was due to fall. What accuweather failed to mention was the ferocity with which it was going to storm. Snow started to fall lightly on Friday night, and by Saturday morning, winter had arrived, and was very definitely still in the process of coming through the door. 20+ mph winds just added to the fun!

The joy of waxing when it is around 30 degrees and snowing, is that there is a point at which wax no longer works - it isn't sticky enough to get kick, but it is too sticky for the falling snow, so you get "icing" - snow sticking to the bottoms of your skis. The solution to this is to use a no-wax ski that is not a fishscale base, but has a section of the base that is just roughed up with sandpaper. They actually make a special ski for this, called a "zero" ski - for use around zero degrees centigrade when it's snowing. We were sort of hoping it would be zeroes weather, because then we could just send people out on their zeroes, but it stayed 1-2 degrees too cold for that, necessitating kick wax. The good news is that means it's easy kick waxing, just some sort of blue hardwax. Rode superblue, in fact.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. The morning started when Chris, Tony, and I attempted to drive the equipment van up the mountain to Trapps. They hadn't plowed in an hour or so, and the snow was warm enough that it was greasy and slick. The equipment van don't got no snowtires, so basically, we couldn't get up to the venue. Thankfully, one of the parents drives a subaru, and he came down the hill to bail us out and get Tony and I up to the venue to start testing waxes.

Someone come help us! We don't have that much stuff... just four massive ski bags, two wax tables, and three waxboxes!

Loading Jim's car to the roof. We managed to get everything in there, but it was pretty tight.

The other joy of snowstorms at 20+mph winds is that it's really hard to get the wax to stick to the ski, when you're applying it, if there are snowflakes landing on the ski. So, we attempted to set up the Harvard tent, but when it's blowing that hard, pop-up tents like to catch the wind and blow away and generally crumple upon landing. So, we lashed the tent down to three separate vehicles, and bungeed a heavy toolbox to the center, to dampen some of the shaking. This was mostly effective; at the very least we didn't lose the tent.

So then the joy of applying the wax - it was basically impossible to do this on your own. It took both coaches tag-teaming a ski - one person attempts to shield the ski from the snow with their body, while aiming the heatgun at the ski to melt the snowflakes, and the other person frantically applies the wax. This was neither fast nor pretty, but it got the job done. After that, it's out into the storm to watch the races. I don't think racing was all that much fun today, either. The wind and snow obliterated the tracks, but as far as I know, we didn't lose any skiers.

Taking advantage of the wet sticky snow and rolling a snowball.

By the end of the day, my car had about 2' of snow on it, but this was really a storm centered on Stowe - within a half hour, the roads were clear. Winter happened on a Saturday this year, and it only happened in Stowe.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More ski racing!

Last weekend was the Williams carnival, shortened to one day and moved to Craftsbury, the same day as the Saturday Eastern Cup (on the same courses). This was great for me, because it meant that after coaching for Harvard, I could just switch camps and start coaching for CSU. The work started Friday before departure, when Chris and I made a call on the fluoro, and prepped all the skis in the waxroom at Harvard. I kept trying to take a photo of the fluoro smoke coming off the iron and ski, because it looked really cool in front of the window, but it didn't work.

So then we drove north, and I realized, for the zillionth time, that I'm sick of driving everywhere this winter. What a stupid sport, so dependent on the climate doing what it's supposed to, and then going around driving hundreds of miles to ski on petrochemical waxes on loops of man-made snow. Sigh. My passion and my profession clash in my head.

Of course, staying at Craftsbury means delicious meals, which is wonderful, but testing kick after eating a massive breakfast is hard. We had a bunch of different combinations set up to test, and eventually settled on a good one, solid kick and good glide, and our skiers looked very comfortable out there - great! As the men's race wrapped up, I switched camps, feeling all sorts of awkward, and jumped into the wax army assembly line. With CSU we were basically using the same wax, only of the Toko variety, and Rob, Jamie, Amie and I were getting the sticky klister on the skis, with the rest of the army doing the fluoros and rills. By now the tracks were squirrely, gnarly, and pretty tough to ski, but the juniors managed just fine, and we had a lot of skiers step it up and post some spectacular results. Seeing the sloppy mess of snow out there, I was glad that I had decided not to race on Saturday.

Sunday morning dawned colder, and a lot of our juniors were pretty nervous - this was the last race used to decide on the New England Junior National team, and we had ten skiers "on the bubble", in the various age classes. In the end, they all fought hard, even more apparent in mass start races, and we got six of those ten onto the team! Combined with the five we'd already qualified, CSU is now sending 11 athletes to Junior Nationals! This is a new record for us, and it is even more than Stratton Mountain School is sending - also a new record! The skiers and coaches alike were pretty ecstatic, especially those bubble kids whose fates had been unknown until the 11th hour. I won't be going to Soldier Hollow this year, but Rob will be there, as will a slew of other competent coaches - the kids should be just fine.

I did do the mass start race on Sunday, and it was certainly fun. I'm glad Craftsbury was able to run their full loop, with all the awesome downhills, rather than just a tiny loop of manmade snow. Unfortunately my legs felt pretty flat, pretty heavy, but I had rockets under my feet, so I could fake it pretty well. I tried to ski with Maria Stuber for a hill, and quickly determined that was not a good plan, as my shin was cramping up, so had to back off. From there on out, I was in a small pack, including Olivia, one of my J1s, and it was really fun to play around that course, although the uphills were fairly painful. I ended up being dropped from that pack on the last uphill, my legs just weren't responding to my brain's constant requests for more power, and finished in 7th, about 8 seconds down on the pack, and 45 seconds down to Maria. It was a fun race, and I wish I'd been feeling a little fresher, but there were plenty of reasons for the fatigue.

From Craftsbury, CSU headed east, to Bretton Woods, for our annual president's day training camp. I could only stay one day, because of commitments in the southlands, but I had a good day on Monday skiing with the team. Monday afternoon, I set up a ski orienteering event, and sent the skiers out in teams of two. They all seemed to have a really good time, and only two or three teams got drastically lost. I skied around the course backwards, so got to see them all/check up on them all, this looked like a really fun event - we'll do it again next year, for sure!

Now back to the grind for a bit - not like I ever left the grind, really, there's no escaping work when it lives in your computer. The goal is to sneak away back to Bretton Woods for a day before the Middlebury Carnival this weekend, but I need to get some more of that to-do list crossed out first.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Headcam video

The last day of the ski-o tour, I wore Ed's GoPro headcam, and then we uploaded the video to attackpoint so you can see it alongside the map. Technology is so cool. The video is here, although I have to warn you that the language (interspersed with the heavy breathing) is not exactly pg13. Not much oxygen up at 7000ft, and Ed was referring to controls 6-8 as the "wheeze train".

My body has been pretty slow to recover from the six days of racing in seven days. At altitude, with a cold. The cold still lingers, and my legs are feeling tired and heavy for the first time this season. Combined with a lack of snow down south, it could be depressing, but I had a truly lovely time skiing around on the frozen granular up at Trapps last weekend, despite feeling like I was hauling a fully laden sled behind me. I can't wait to be done with my 500-miles-a-week driving diet...

Eastern Cup finals are this weekend, and I'll race at least Sunday. Saturday I get to coach both teams, and I'm not sure body wants two races in a row yet. This "self restraint" thing is a strange concept, I'm not sure I like it. But you gotta try a new thing every once in a while!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sierra World Cup wrap-up

Ali and I are sitting in the Sacramento airport, waiting for our redeye home, having just completed six races in seven days. Ali claims to not be tired, but I'm feeling pretty wiped. Having the first weekend of races moved back meant that the rest days were eliminated, and that makes for a tough schedule. It was a successful week, though - I'm now ranked 36th in the world based on ranking points, and Ali is 24th. This is by far the best any Americans have ever been ranked in orienteering, so we're pretty pumped. Based on World Cup points, Ali is in 6th, and I'm in 13th. In the world! I think we'll lose out because neither of us are going to the World Cups in Kazakhstan, but hopefully we'll move back up through the field in Sweden this March. It's an exciting time to be on the US ski-o team!

Map from the World Cup sprint race, at Auburn Ski Club.

After the middle distance race on Thursday, we had a mixed-gender team sprint on Friday. Ali and Adrian were USA Team #1, and Nikolay and I were team #2. Carl and Chelsea were team #3, but unfortunately ended up mis-punching, disqualifying themselves. The men mass-started, and Adrian ended up making a pretty substantial mistake on the first leg, along with half the men's field, so Nikolay was the first American to the tag zone. I went out next, and quickly found myself immersed in a complex maze of narrow trails. Panic! Each leg on the relay was only 6 minutes winning time, so you really didn't want to make a 30 second (or more!) mistake. I managed to bumble my way around that loop, but not cleanly, and Ali caught up the distance to bring team #1 back to the front.

Russia leading out the mass start in the relay.

The boys kept the distance between the two teams just about equal, and team #1 was still in front as Ali and I headed out for our second loop. This time Ali was doing the bumbling, and I passed her near the end, bringing team #2 back to the lead. Again the boys went out and kept the distances about the same, and now the Austrian team was in the pack as well. I headed out for my third loop being hunted, and that's never a fun feeling. Ali made contact about halfway around the loop, and I knew that was the end - we took one separate route choice, and my decision ended up being slower by about 5 seconds - enough for her to take a comfortable win between the two American teams. It was super fun to battle the whole way through, with leads changing so frequently - we ended up in 11th and 12th, which is alright, but we'd all like to improve!
Map from the WRE Middle distance race and US Championships. 2nd place for US, 9th overall.

The World Cups were over after the relay, but no rest for the weary - over the weekend we had the US Championships middle distance race and the US Championships sprint distance race (both of these were World Ranking Events, so many of the teams stayed). Saturday's middle distance didn't go so great for me, I was starting to feel pretty tired and I let it get to me. But Sunday I did enough of a warmup to really get going, and rallied a bit, ending up 5th on the day, behind Ali, two Czechs, and a Swiss. I've had a year to adapt to the idea that I'm no longer the best ski orienteer in the US, but it still sort of hurt to give up my title of reigning US champion. Of all skiers to take it though, I'm glad it was Ali!

Now, for some rest... finally!

On the start line.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

World Cup Sprint and Middle races

Wheeee! Sunshine and snow!!!

By Wednesday morning, I could make it up a flight of stairs without hanging over the railing and gasping for breath, so I figured that the race was probably going to feel a little easier. Wednesday was the sprint distance, at Auburn Ski Club, with a shortest-skiable-distance of 4.8km. With a winning time of 12 minutes, it would go by quickly.

I started behind a Finn and in front of a Czech, and watched the direction the Finn took out of the start, so I could ski a little further without too much thought. I don't know if the GPS will continue to show up at this link, but I was wearing a GPS transponder, for live tracking, along with most of the other women. Don't mess up, because everyone at home can see it! The start beeper beeped, I flipped my map, and off I went.

Despite a few less than ideal routes, my navigation ended up going really well. This may actually be one of my best navigational races I've ever done, and every control was exactly where I wanted it to be. I attacked the hills with lots of oomph, but I think I may have coasted a bit too much on the flats and downhills, and especially near the end, I didn't have much speed to show for the amount of oomph I was applying. It was a little disappointing to finish where I did given how I felt about my race, but it was still a fine result, and skiing a clean race felt wonderful.

Eddie was out taking lots of photos, all the below shots are from him.

Snot rocketing - like a pro.

Ski waxing is serious business. Not having a wax bench = not so pro. But the skis were fast!

Ski orienteering depends on competitors not knowing the terrain beforehand, and also that they don't find out information about the course from people who have already finished. Thus, they put you in a "quarantine" zone until you start, and there is no communication to the outside world from there. It is usually a very small area, which means you have to get pretty creative about your warmup. Good thing I'm a pro at ski walking!

The finish: phase I.

The finish: phase II.
Hey, did you know - it's really hard to breathe at this altitude?

Followed by much discussion of routes, splits, and and mistakes.

Thursday was a middle distance event, at Tahoe City XC area. Middle distance races are usually much more technical, in terms of the navigation, and this one promised much less climb than the long and sprint races, so I was really excited. 55% of the skiing would be on narrow trails, which usually makes for more technical skiing, in terms of staying on your feet. Basically, middle distances races are super duper fun.

I started relatively early, while the snow was still quite firm and icy. Awesome! Speed! However, I quickly found myself outskiing my brain, and messed up in multiple places. Never a huge mistake, but think of how hard it is to make up 45 seconds in a ski race - you don't want to blow that much time if you can help it. Despite making numerous small mistakes, there were large stretches of the race where I really felt in control, channeling the flow, and was just having a wonderful time out there. That was, of course, until the last control - I got confused as I came down a sweet downhill, and tried to make a shortcut to the correct trail. However, instead of ending up on top of the crust, my ski tips went under the crust, and I faceplanted, hard, in front of a bunch of guys with cameras. I'd say this was the low point of my day, because then I couldn't even see my map because it was covered in snow. Arrrgh!

In the end, I placed 13th again. I guess I'd expected to be lower in the results, given my little bobbles all over the place, but other people must also have been making mistakes. More World Cup points, and another >1000 point race, for WRE points - exciting! I'm now ranked 38th in the world, and hopefully can get even higher after two more WRE races over the weekend. Sweet stuff.

Out of the start. More Eddie Bergeron photos.

Coming into the map exchange. I hesitated before putting this up there, but everyone else was attempting to snowplow to a stop, too. Rough conditions. Definitely some rocks hidden in that snow. You can see I've already pulled out the old map, and there was some terrified volunteer waiting at the bottom of the hill with a new map.

Tomorrow is a mixed-gender sprint relay, also at Tahoe City XC, and I'm teamed up with Nikolay Nachev, one of our US Team men. Each skier does three loops, for six total laps. Should be fast and furious, I can't wait!