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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

February 1
It has been many months since I last wrote a journal entry. It seems that when my dream of making the 2002 Olympic Team ended, I felt like there was no reason to keep sharing my story with everyone. But after quite a few months away, I am now in the middle of another winter and I have the urge to write again. Actually, I've had the urge all along - just look at all my work on my new general ski racing site, But FasterSkier, as well as my job as a website designer and maintainer, meant that this site suffered from neglect. But I now realize that all those other sites are for, and about, other skiers. This site is simply about me, with no ads to sell or website sponsors to please or censures to tell me what I can and can't say, and there is something very rewarding and therapeutic in that.

Recently I checked my this website for the first time in a few months. Man, was it sad. Not only had I not been updating it, but none of the images were working. It was like a ghost-town on the world-wide web. It really hurt to see that. So I vowed to devote a little more time to it . I couldn't bear to see it die like that. So I am back, but on a more limited basis. First I want to catch you up on what I have been doing since last winter ended. In the spring, my girlfriend and I took a road trip throughout the southwest. You can look at all the pictures in the Gallery.

Then we took another trip to find a new home. We had decided to leave Park City, we just weren't sure where we were going. You can read all about that trip on - The Search For XC Town USA. And look at the pictures in the Gallery.

During this time, I put some of my old gear up for sale, and mentioned on this website that I was moving. I even started looking for someone to take over this website. So I am sure it had crossed your mind. Cory starts selling his gear on his website, he never updates the website, and now he is looking for a replacement. You start to think, "Hmmm sounds to me like someone is giving up the ski life and moving to Maui."

Well, you'd be wrong. I was looking for someone to share these pages. I had been perpetually on the road since April, so I hadn't had much time to write during this offseason. But after a number of very good candidates applied I decided that my desire to keep this website in its pure and simple form outweighed my desire to have someone else follow in my footsteps. So instead I put some of the hopefuls to work writing for FasterSkier, so now we get it both ways.

And I did not move to Maui - just the opposite in fact. I moved north to Anchorage. I still planned to race this winter, and write about my racing and ski adventures. And I figured what better new place to be for adventure and skiing than the great white north. But it hasn't exactly gone as planned...

I should back up a minute and explain that I did not train much over the spring and summer. This was not out of laziness, it was intentional. When last winter ended, I was feeling burnt out, disappointed and frustrated. I knew I was a better skier than I have been showing over the past couple years. So my plan was to move to a new location, at a lower altitude. Then I would stay in decent shape, but not train full time. My body was feeling battered and bruised from years of abuse and I knew that it was time for me to back off - at least temporarily - or risk permanent damage. I would just do moderate exercise, jump into a few running races, maybe do a little rollerskiing here and there, etc. Then in the fall, if my body was feeling better, I would bump up the hours and focus on getting in race shape for the winter. Then I would get on snow early in Alaska and be ready for the big races this season.

Everything was going according to plan until we reached Alaska. I missed a couple weeks of solid training during October because of the move up here, but that was no big deal, because the snow was coming soon and I would get a head start on skiing. Right? But the snow did not come to Anchorage in early November as it usually does. Last year, they were skiing in town here on October 15th. This year, no snow on November 15th. Or Dec 1st. Or Dec 10th. By this time the rest of the country was skiing and I was still fighting my better judgment and taking my rollerskis out on the iced-over bike paths. I thought a couple times about leaving town to go to West Yellowstone, or Silver Star to get some skiing and racing in. But it didn't make sense. We had just moved here, we were still moving into our new apartment. I couldn't turn around and leave. Plus I had not skied yet, so there is no way the races would have gone well. So I decided to save the $700 it would have cost me and wait out the weather here in Anchorage.

Finally on December 11, it snowed and we were able to ski in town. I began skiing like a madman - trying desperately to get in shape for US Nationals. After the holidays, I went to nationals in Rumford. I had done a time trial in Anchorage just before leaving and got my butt spanked by everyone, so I had very low hopes for Nationals. But I also knew that I was in good shape, I just needed to race more. I just wanted to improve in every race and feel decent by the end of the week. In the first race, the 30K classic, I finished 63rd. Not quite the same as last time I was in Rumford for Nationals in 1999 and finished 6th, 4th, 10th, and 6th. But for not training specifically, its not too bad. In the 10K freestyle I thought I skied really well, so I was a bit disappointed with my 59th place. But at least I moved up - even with 80 more people in the race. In the 10K Classic I was 37th. Not bad out of 200 people. This was especially surprising given that I did not feel very fast during the race. This gave me confidence that I was getting somewhere.

Then I came back to Alaska. The first weekend back was the Pia's classic race - one of the big races here in town. I knew that the best skiers would be doing the 30K, but I had already done three races in the previous seven days, plus spent two days traveling back from the east (I got stuck in Minneapolis for a night). So I decided to just do the 15K instead. I won this race by quite a bit. I tried to ski fast, but with no one to chase me I was also able to relax and ski smooth. I was also interested to see that if I had doubled my time, I would have won the 30K by about 1:40. I am pretty sure I could have kept that pace up for another 15. So that was good news. Results for all these races will be on the results page, by the way.

The next weekend I went south to Soldotna, Alaska for a couple of Besh Cup races. Besh Cup is the Premier Alaskan race series, also used as Junior National Qualifier races. Saturday was the sprint, which was just what I needed. I hadn't been doing many intervals, so this was a good way to get some of the cobwebs out of my fast-twitch muscles. Sure enough, I was very sluggish. I knew that I should be able to ski faster, but I just couldn't make it go. I ended up just missing making it to the finals, and finishing 6th. Not bad, but it always hurts to get beat by Masters (Adam Verrier) and Juniors. In the 7.5K Skate the next day I skied very well. It was a very fast, easy course so there was no way to make up time on people. I finished third, 10 seconds behind John Angst and 0.2 seconds behind Adam Verrier. Another step in the right direction.

Two weeks later were Besh Cup races in Fairbanks. I thought long and hard about making the six hour drive to do the races, but I decided that a weekend at home with a couple of long training skis would do me more good - plus I had a lot of work to catch up on. Most of my races from here on out will be marathons, and I haven't done many long skis, so I decided to stay home and go for an OD ski on Friday and another on Sunday.

So there, that is the highly abridged version of the last nine months of my life. Now that I am back on track, I can't promise daily updates, but I think once a week I should be able to update you on the life of a (not-yet-retired) ski racer.

February 2
Some recent warm weather has made the skiing in Anchorage rock hard. Yesterday Scott McArt and I tried to do intervals at Kincaid Park and it was quite humorous. Scott led them all because he was looking for a level 4 workout and I wanted to keep it below threshold. It was so icy that if you tired to muscle it, or get a good leg push at all, your ski would slip right out from under you. It was kind of funny to watch Scott flail all over the place, except that I was doing the same. Every time he would get a little gap on me, I would instinctively try to throw in a few quick powerful strides to catch up. But every time I did this, I would lose my footing and slide across the trail. It was funny and frustrating at the same time.

Anyway, today we decided that instead of going ice skating with our skis on again, we would explore a Eklutna Lake in Chugach State Park. Neither one of us had ever skied there, but Eklutna supposedly had a ski trail that paralleled this 6 mile long glacier-fed lake. But we knew all too well what State Park trails are like: they are narrow, skied in backcountry trails that maybe get dragged by a snowmobile every month or so. We were just hoping that the crusty snow on the lake ice would be hard enough for us to skate on. Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find a perfectly groomed skating trail, as wide as a road paralleling the lake for miles! It was beautiful.

A beautiful track by Eklutna Lake

We skied past the lake and kept going. The trail went for 13 miles! The last few were pretty icy, but no matter, we just jumped down onto the riverbed, which had a great crust on it and kept skiing up.

Great crust cruising

Less than a mile from the Eklutna Glacier, the trail ended and the river got too narrow to ski. Not wanting to turn around before we got a good look at the glacier, we quickly scurried up a small ridge next to the river. The ascent was steep, rocky and icy and probably extremely unsafe in ski boots, but we charged up anyway and got a look.

the glacier peeks between the peaks

Scott (left)and Cory celebrate their destination (and no we don't always dress the same - only on special occasions)

Having reached the end of the line, we turned around and hiked back down a slightly safer route, which still involved some slipping and sliding to get over the obstacles.

Scott slides down one of the pitches


On our way back, the crust was so good on the river that we stayed on the river all the way to the lake. Then we bushwhacked for a few minutes to find the trail and return home. It was an epic 4 hour adventure that was just what we both needed to get us excited about skiing in Alaska.

Scott goes freestyle on a fallen tree

A view of the river bed we skied up and down (from our turnaround point), with Eklutna Lake in the background

February 12
Two weeks ago I agonized for days about whether I should go to the Boulder Mountain Tour. I really wanted to go and I even found a great last second airfare into Boise. But in the end, it was still going to be a $500 trip and with a 30K race here in Anchorage the next weekend, I couldn't justify it. But every day since that decision, I have been wishing I had gone - it might have been the last race of the season for me. Since Feb. 3 all it has done here is rain and stay above freezing. I keep hoping it will get cold, but it doesn't. Now all our snow is gone. The 30K I was hoping to do was postponed a week and is now about to be cancelled for good. They won't even be able to hold the Tour of Anchorage - my BIG RACE for this year, if they don't get at least a foot of snow.

SO now not only have I been unable to race, I can't even ski!

So now I sit here and pray for snow, looking at race schedules across the country and airfares, hoping I can find a last minute deal to a race somewhere, anywhere. No deals for the Birkie - I keep a close eye on those.

The irony is very thick - I could have moved anywhere in the country just for skiing, and I went to the one place that has no snow in February. At least if you are stuck in New Hampshire or Minnesota or Utah with out snow, there's is a good chance that someone, somewhere within driving distance will have good skiing. Up here, if there is no snow, you have to get on an airplane for better skiing. I haven't given up on the Tour yet, but I am also looking at trying to get to a race like The Great Race iN Tahoe, or the Yellowstone Rendezvous. We'll see. For now, I will sit here and watch my winter wash away.

February 19
Just when I was on the verge of going insane, the nordic powers that be in Anchorage were able to save my sanity.

For the past two weeks I have been sitting inside watching my winter wash away. I had lost all motivation to train. I mean, why should I bother running or lifting weights if I won't be able to ski again this season? Truth be told, I did go for a great run on the Johnson Trail which parallels the coastline, and I did hit the weight room a couple of times. But the motivation was sorely lacking. Some friends and I even went down to Alyeska on Thursday to tele-ski, simply because we needed to see snow again.

Finally, on Saturday morning, I decided that it was time to break the cycle. The temperature was finally below freezing for the first time in two weeks, and I was going to ski...somewhere. I decided to head up to Glen Alps, which is a trailhead in the foothills above town at about 2500 feet elevation. It is known as a great starting point to go backcountry skiing or crust skiing in the spring. There aren't any groomed trails at Glen Alps, but I could see out my window that it was white up there. I didn't know if it was shear ice or if it was only an inch thick, all I knew was that it was white and I was going to try to ski on it before I completely lost my mind.

I was shocked to pull into the parking lot and see the place packed with nordic skiers. Were they all as crazy as I was? As I got out of the car, I ran into a couple of people I knew who were just finishing their ski. They started raving about the beautiful 12K of groomed track that had just been laid down the night before! They said the skiing was beautiful and it was groomed for both skate and classic! Apparently, the APUNSC (Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Club) had applied for a emergency grooming permit through for Glen Alps the State Parks. As soon as it was approved, the Anchorage Nordic Ski Assoc. got their piston bully up there and spent the whole night grooming.

It was dumb luck, but we had stumbled onto the only ski trail in town! So I skied for about an hour and a half. I was so excited to be skiing for the first time in ten days that I skied way too fast, and an hour and a half was wall I could take. It was amazing how much better I felt after skiing. Like a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I can ski again! Now if only I can get to do a race...

Here are a few pictures from the Glen Alps area. It may not be a lot of skiing, but the scenery is spectacular.

February 28
I have spent the last week coaching and taking Pictures at the National Masters Championships here in Anchorage. It was a wild week, but they managed to pull off all the races. It was a good experience because the race atmosphere helped me to forget about the frustration of my own race season (or lack thereof).

I was especially bummed on Wednesday when they canceled the Tour of Anchorage. Ever since deciding to move to Alaska in September I had circled this race as my main focus of the season. I even decided not to go to the Birkie the week before because I did not think my body was in top shape to handle two 50K races within a week. As the time for the Tour grew near and it became less likely that it would happen, I looked into tickets to the Birkie. But by then it was too late and I could not afford to pay $1200 for a ticket to Minneapolis.

I held out hope until the last second that the Tour would happen, but without any new snow since the middle of January it just wasn't possible. When the Tour was canceled, I did check last minute tickets to Oakland, thinking i could get to Tahoe for the Great Ski Race (one of my all-time favorites - why does it have to be the same weekend as the Tour of Anchorage?). But the airfare deals that were there a week ago were now gone.

All of this kind of hit me as soon as the Masters Races were over. I had to come to terms with the fact that it is now March and not only is the skiing very poor, but it might not improve before the season is over. It threw me into a funk that was hard to shake. But fortunately there was a weekend of activities coming up which could help lift my spirits.

Continued in March.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.