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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  February 1

OK first of all, a little explanation of the different classifications of disabled athletes. There are four main categories of skiers: the Stand-up LW classes (those who don't have, or are unable to use, an arm, two arms, or leg but can still ski in normal classic or freestyle mode), the Blind classes (self explanatory), the LW Sit skiers (those unable to use both legs and who ski by sitting in a sled mounted on two skis and double poling around the course), and a fourth class of people who don't fit into any of the above. Within each of the categories, there are classes determined by the extent of the disability. In the blind class there are B1, B2, & B3. In some races, such as the first race here, everyone in a category races against everyone else and the race officials use predetermined percentages to determine the final times. These are called Super Cup Races. For instance, Rob is a B3, which means he has more vision than those people in the B2 (less sight) and B1 (no sight at all) categories. So when he races in a Super Cup, his percentage is 100. His finish time is his final time. B2's have a percentage of 97. So their finish time is multiplied by 0.97 to determine a final time. The B1's have their finish time multiplied by 0.85 (I think) to determine a final time. Thus, in a Super Cup Race, all the B classes can compete relatively fairly against each other. There is always controversy over the percentages and classifications, but when you are trying to compare people with such varying disadvantages, that is to be expected. Fortunately, the rest of the races here this week are not Super Cups, which means that Rob will only be competing against other B3s and will not have to rely on percentages to determine his finish. Your finish time is your final time, end of story. I know i's all very confusing, so I am not going to even try to explain classes like LW 6-8, and LW 5-7. I have come to the realization that no one on the team even fully understands what all the classification numbers mean, except for Rob, who explained it to all of us at dinner one day, but I can't say I understood every detail. I hope that I have conveyed the basics and you aren't too confused to enjoy my account of the second race.

Race Two - the 5K Classic. I was a bit more confident going into today's race after doing an acceptable job in the first race. I knew what to expect, and felt that I could handle most situations that we would encounter on the course. Any anxiety I was experiencing today came from the fact that the snow conditions were now transformed snow which had frozen overnight and would be warming up throughout the day, up to the 40's again. We tested a lot of waxes yesterday in similar conditions and hadn't found anything that was super. I had a pretty good idea what I would have raced on in those conditions (Rode Multigrade klister with more Red dabbed in as it warmed up), but after testing it, we determined that it wouldn't have quite enough kick for some of the guys on the team. When you only have one arm or one leg, you need to be damn sure that you're skis aren't going to slide out from underneath you. After an hour of frantic waxing and testing, we came up with a workable combination (which, to be honest with you, I don't fully remember).

As Rob and I waited in the starting pen for our time to come, he told me to be ready for a fast start. I was glad to hear this because the first K is very flat, followed by downhill, and Rob skied very well on the flat in the first race. If we could get out of the gate quickly, we might be able to ride that wave for the last few K's of the short race. Sure enough, Rob took off very quick. He was going even faster than I expected. As he caught up to where I was waiting halfway down the stadium track, it took me a few strides to adjust to his speedy pace, but soon enough we were off and flying. We were actually catching the Russian who started 30 seconds in front of us and who had been the top B3 finisher in the first race! As we approached the top of the hill at about 2K, a Finnish coach said that we were in 2nd place, with no real medal threats behind us. I yelled this info back to Rob to encourage him. On the second half of the course, which has more uphills, Rob continued to ski strong but I could sense him tiring before the top of each hill. We would be cruising up a climb together, but as I approached the top, I would glance back and see him laboring through the final few strides. But in general, I still though he was skiing very well and as we climbed up the last hill, I saw one of the foreign coaches type our split time into his computer and then frantically yell something to another coach at the top of the hill, who then frantically yelled something to a racer who was approaching the finish. I had no idea what they were saying, but it looked like we had them worried. I yelled this info back to Rob, hoping to get him fired up for the last double pole section to the finish. We finished very strong, with Rob attacking the double poling with the same ferocity that he had started with. After crossing the line, Rob took a minute to recover, then we exchanged a few comments about the race. I told him that I thought he was skiing very well and asked if he heard the info I had yelled. It turns out that he didn't, which means that I will have to yell louder next time. Part of the reason was that I also did a bunch of cheering for him along the way, so i think he just tuned me out, assuming that I was just yelling nonsense rah-rah stuff all the time. He also said that he thought he had skied well, but that his leg strength was lacking because of a back injury this fall that kept him from doing hill bounding and a lot of other leg training. This explains why he faded near the top of the hills. In all, it was a very good effort on his part, the only drawback being the fact that he finished 4th, only 5 seconds from a medal. That was a little tough to take, but without the injury in the fall, or even just with a coach on the course to give him the info that he was 5 seconds down, he would have been in the medals. All things considered, it was a good race and we took it as such. Besides, 4th place won a Swatch watch, whereas 1st through 3rd only got medals. And hey, guides got watches too. What a bonus!

Since the race was short and I still had a little energy to burn, I decided to go alpine skiing this afternoon. I took Jean Claude and Marco Zermatten up on their offer to give me rentals and hit the mountain. A word of advice for those who might venture to Switzerland and do a little of the downhill stuff - don't try to cover a mountain like Crans-Montana in one afternoon. The place is ridiculously huge, but I still tried to cover as much of it as I could. I hadn't put on downhill equipment in two years (I did do some telemark and snowboarding last year though), but I still headed straight for the top of the mountain, forgetting that I might not be the same downhill terror I was when I was 13. It took about 4 lifts to actually get to the top, so I spent the first hour just waiting for that first run. When it came, it was worth the wait. I dropped into a bowl, kind of on the back side of the mountain. This little stash of snow was protected from the sun and was the only place on the mountain that still had powder. I did a few short jump turns on the steeps to get warmed up and then did a few floaters through the powder. When I reached the lift below, I was all excited to do it again. But this is when I realized the major design flaw of the resort. It is like trying to drive in Northern New England - " Ya cahn't git theya from heeya." In order to get back to the powder patch, it would require another three lifts. Deciding that it wasn't worth it on such a limited schedule, I spent the rest of my day on the lower part of the mountain. The rest of the skiing wasn't that great, because they don't really groom many trails, it is all bowls and powder field. This would be amazing territory on a powder day, but since the sun had been melting it for a couple days now, it was heavy, wet, and crusty. Better to stay on the few groomed trails. I got in a good few hours of lazy man's skiing, reaffirmed my disdain for chairlifts, and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for the Awards Ceremony for today's race.

February 2

Since the last race isn't until Friday, a bunch of us were itching to do a little exploring today and ski somewhere new. So after breakfast, some of the athletes: Bob (Balk), Willie (Stewart), Crennie (Mike Crenshaw), and Cookie (Steve Cook); two of the coaches: Petie and Zeke, and myself jumped into the van and headed down to the valley. Rob decided not to go since the weather looked questionable and we didn't really know what we would find on our little adventure. We passed through the town of Sion, the center of commerce for this area, and headed up into the mountains on the other side of the valley. The drive, though very sketchy with steep switchbacks and narrow roads, gave us a good look at Swiss life in non-resort towns. We saw many small villages scattered throughout the mountains, some on such steep slopes that it looked like one false step out the back door would result in a 2000 foot drop. It was simply amazing some of the places they build houses and roads. After a good hour of climbing we reached the end of the road, at a small ski area called Arolla that we had set as our goal for the day. We were well up in the mountains at this point and could see glaciers right above us on the peaks. We quickly geared up with our skating stuff and hit the trail that headed towards the base of one of the glaciers. We couldn't get close enough to touch the glacier, but the views, both up and down, were breathtaking. It wasn't a particularly clear day, but nothing could cloud the magnificence of the mountains around us. We skied for almost an hour on the trails, checking out a couple of scenic view points, then decided to see if we could ride the Poma rope-tow up the alpine slope at Arolla and get it a few turns on our skinny skis. We were headed to the ticket window when someone in an official-looking jacket stopped us and explained in broken English "the Nordic trails back that way." We explained that we had done those, now we wanted to try the downhill stuff. He laughed, then eagerly motioned for us to follow him. He went into the ticket office and came out a minute later and said, "It is good." and motioned for us to follow him onto the lift. He had gotten us in for free! As we headed up the Poma, we began to laugh nervously at what we were getting into. The slope was getting steeper and the Poma kept going, a lot further than we expected. In some points the lift track was so steep and icy that we were barely able to stay upright, even while clinging on with two hands. When we finally reached the end of the lift, we had risen probably 1500 vertical feet. This would have been a great run by itself, but as we got off, our newfound guide directed us towards another Poma which would take us even higher. As we regrouped before jumping on the next lift, our guide introduced himself as Michael, the Director of Skiing at the resort. We couldn't believe our good fortune to have stumbled across such friendly man who ran the whole place! We were shaking our heads in amazement as we once again followed him up the mountain. At this point, I began to realize that Michael was probably not doing this all just to be nice. I think he was clearly amused at what we were trying to do and he was looking forward to some great entertainment as we tried to make our way down the mountain. Looking at the terrain around us, , I thought to myself that it would probably be a good show. As we were pulled up the slope, we were all looking around in wonder at the snowy paradise. We were now well above treeline and the slope we were ascending was surrounded on all sides by rocky cliffs covered with snow. There were a number of chutes through the cliffs that, on another day with better equipment. would have made for spectacular backcountry skiing. We rode this lift up another 1500 vertical feet, until we were just about at the top of what was easily a 3000 meter peak. There was a small cabin at the top where they had a tiny snack bar. we decided to stop in for a minute to collect ourselves before the trip down. Once inside, we were counting up the small number of Swiss Francs we had with us to see if we could buy a few snacks. When Michael came in, he quickly motioned for us to put our money away saying, "It's no good here," with a big smile. We continued to shake our heads at our ridiculously cool situation, while he gave us a round of a hot cider-like Swiss specialty drink. There we were at the top of the Swiss Alps, surrounded by peaks, glaciers, and tons of fresh powder, enjoying the views and a hot drink with our new friend, all for free! We took some pictures, finished our drinks, and hit the slopes.

The light was very flat due to the high clouds and without any trees to judge distance, everything was a giant carpet of white. We had no depth perception and couldn't really see which way the slope went. Every once in a while, the trail would just fall out from underneath me and I would find myself at a much greater speed than I cared for. But each time it would eventually level out and since I couldn't see it coming, this would cause my knees to shoot up into my chest while pulling what felt like a couple G's. But it was all a blast. The powder and packed powder was perfect and with my Beta's on, I was able to carve some great tele turns. The entire run down took about 30-45 minutes and we were hooting, hollering, and yodeling (it is Switzerland after all) the whole way down. At the bottom, we all wanted to take another run, but most people were exhausted and we felt lucky to have not broken any equipment the first time, so we decided not to push our luck. The rest of the group wanted to check out the tiny Swiss village at the base of the ski hill. I had already seen a bit of the town since I took a winding trail near the bottom of the alpine run that dropped me right on to Main Street. So I decided to explore some of the x-c trails that headed down towards the valley, and they said they would pick me up down the hill in about 30 minutes. I had seen trails all over the place on most of the drive up, so I was hoping that I might get a spectacular cruise down a few thousand feet. But to my disappointment, all the trails were not connected, due to a steep cliff about 5K down trail. I had to turn around here, so I just skied on the upper trails until the van came along to pick me up. I jumped in and we headed home, still not quite believing the incredible day we had all just had.

February 3

I have to say that after the last two days, today was not very exciting. This was good thing because I needed a day to recover and rest for the last race tomorrow. It is a 20K skate, so even though I will guiding and won't be racing all out, I need to be rested just to make it that far at Rob's pace. Rob tested some skate skis in the speed trap this morning, then we skied two laps of the 5K loop that we have been racing all week. Then it was lunch in the tent and home for a nap. I was just about to fall asleep when coverage from yesterday's World Cup XC race in Trondheim came on Eurosport. It had been on live yesterday, but I missed it because we were out ripping up the slopes in Arolla. That pretty much sums up why the U.S. doesn't compete with European nations in xc skiing. Here, the races are on TV live in the middle of the day. In the U.S., there is never any coverage on at anytime. Meanwhile, the entire US population tunes in for the Super Bowl, while I have to stay up until 4 am to see the game here. Lets just say that I don't think Switzerland will be producing a team to challenge the St. Louis Rams anytime soon. Anyway, I managed to fight off a nap that was coming on hard just long enough to see Mika Myllyla edge out Per Ellofsen and some Italian guy for the win. I caught a glimpse of Marcus Nash in one shot, but the Euros didn't seem too interested in covering the Americans. It goes back to the point I just made I guess.

February 4

The final race - 20K skate. All along, I have had the impression that the last race was kind of an afterthought to Rob. He really wanted to do well in the classic races and possibly win a medal there. But after being so close to a medal in the 5K, I think he approached the 20K with more focus and drive that he might have initially planned. Because of his injury in the fall, skating on a fairly hilly course like this was not Rob's forte, but he was ready to give it his all anyway. The course today was really fast and icy. The race organizers had done a good job of grooming so that it wouldn't be too dangerous, but a few downhills still had me nervous. In fact yesterday, in similar conditions I had gone flying off the course on a downhill turn and had to spend a good couple minutes recovering all my gear and digging myself out of a hole in the ground. If I was having trouble with the course, I couldn't imagine being in Rob's position. But as he usually does, Rob flew down all the hills without any spills or major causes for concern, in fact I think we skied the flats and downhills as well as anyone out there. We had to weave our way through skier pileups and other carnage on more than one occasion today. But, just like the other day, the uphills were more of a struggle. After skiing much of the first two laps in 4th place, the hills began to take their toll on the third and fourth laps and we dropped back to 5th place. With about 2Ks left in the race, a US coach gave us a split that we were a minute thirty behind fourth place, a huge gap this late in the race. This bewildered both Rob and I. Did he think we could make up all that time? Was he suggesting that we just pull over and give up? Or was he just talking to be heard, as he often did? We had no idea, but we skied hard into the finish, ending up in 5th place.

Well still no medal, but we did get cool miniature Swiss Army knives for fifth. Despite the fact that we go home with no hardware, I am very proud of Rob's performances here in Switzerland and I get the sense that he is satisfied as well. Because of his fall injury and the subsequent lack of training, Rob came into the season at a severe disadvantage. He had not skied particularly well at Nationals in January and did not know what to expect from the World Championships. But, with three top five finishes in his class, he proved that he is still one of the best skiers in the world in his class, even without the proper training. And had he not been injured, I am sure we would have at least a medal or two to our names right now. But hey, we got a knife and a watch, which are both more useful than a medal any day. In all, it was a wonderful trip for me and I can't thank Rob enough for giving me this opportunity.

February 6

OK, suppose that two days ago you did a 20K race in Switzerland to cap off a week of racing. Then, suppose that you had to get up at 2:00 AM the next morning to begin 24 hours of traveling back to the states. During those twenty four hours you did not get any significant sleep and spent the eight hours of the transatlantic flight crammed between two larger than average people, fighting a throbbing headache and upset stomach, and starved because what the airline called lunch took exactly two bites to eat. When you landed back on US soil in Boston, you discovered that the airline had lost one of your bags which contained, among other things, your ski boots, race wax, ski pole straps, winter jacket, and all your hats and gloves. Now suppose that at this point, you had two options: either go home to Littleton to rest and recover from the racing and a nightmare travel day, or you could go directly to another race in Vermont. Which would you choose? It seems to me that any reasonable human being would go home to relax. Which is probably why I found myself at Stratton Mountain this morning, signing up for a race. After getting to Boston, I took a bus to Hanover, slept on a futon in the room of a couple Dartmouth skiers (Matt Cleveland and Erik Schoern, then rode over to Stratton with the Dartmouth team this morning. Back when I was planning this logistical nightmare in Switzerland , it didn't seem too bad - fly home Saturday, race Sunday - no big deal. But when I got to the start line for today's race, using borrowed boots, ski straps, wax, hat and gloves, I was already exhausted. Not that it was a big deal. The race meant nothing as far as my season was concerned. But I did feel a certain amount of pressure because it was my first race in the east this year and there were a lot of friends and colleagues at the race who would be routing for me and clearly expected me to win. I did not want to disappoint the crowds, but I knew it would be a tough day. The main race was a 7.5 K mass start freestyle. But in order to seed the start, they had us do a 1 kilometer sprint in the morning and then lined us up at the start according to our sprint times. My spring was less than spectacular, as I finished fourth behind a junior named Andy Newell, Chad Geise, and Patrick Cote, but at least I would be on the front line of the mass start. I felt horrible after the sprint and had to lay down for about 45 minutes before I decided that I could still do the race.

The conditions for the race were miserable. It was cold and very windy on the golf course where we were racing. Many parts of the course had snow drifts over a foot deep on them. In some places you couldn't even see which way the course was supposed to go, except for a few bamboo poles in the snow. In this weather, I knew I did not want to be leading out of the start. I needed someone in front of me to block the wind and show me where the course went. When the gun went off (actually I they just yelled go) I got out quick and could have taken the early lead. Instead I eased up just enough to let Chad get in front of me and then quickly stepping into second place. This was exactly where I wanted to be. For the first two Ks I was on Chad's heels as we got a small gap on the rest of the field. But as we began to climb a long gradual uphill directly into the wind, my tired legs just couldn't keep pace, even though Chad was blocking the wind for me. Chad pulled away quickly, and I began to focus on staying ahead of Pat Cote and Ethan Foster, who were closing in. Just before the 5K mark, I kind of gave up. My main reason for doing this race was to get back in the racing groove after a two week semi-vacation. I began to reason that I had already done that and by pushing myself harder when I was already exhausted would just bury me and make it harder to recover for the important races next weekend in Rumford. So when Ethan Foster went by, I made no attempt to stay with him. Instead I focused my energy on having enough left at the finish to outsprint Pat Cote for third. But for some reason, between the 6 and 7K marks, I dropped Pat and began to reel in Ethan. I didn't think I had picked up the pace, but I was clearly moving faster than those around me. I caught Ethan on the last uphill and made a dramatic move to pull away and take second place, 23 seconds behind Chad.

So I didn't win, but all things considered, it was a good race. I finished strong without completely putting myself under for the next week and got back into the racing mindset. While I would have liked to have rewarded all spectators who were rooting for me with a win, I consider the race a success anyway.

Men's Results | Women's Results

February 11

Rumford Continental Cup Finals

After a recovery week at home, I traveled to Rumford today in preparation for the Nor/Am Continental Cup Finals this weekend. I took two rest days this week, Monday and Thursday, and when I was skiing today, I felt good and rested. I skied two laps with Frosty Whitworth and Chris Klein and felt really strong. I had to hold myself back and not charge up all the hills today, knowing that I would need that energy in tomorrow's 10K classic. This is the way I usually feel heading in to big races, but it is the first time this season I have felt it. For the early Continental Cups, I was still training quite a bit, so I was a little tired then. And before Nationals, I was also feeling down, though I tried to deny it. So as I left the trails today, it was easy for me to get fired up for tomorrow's race. I finally felt great and ready to go. "It's about time I set the world on fire," I thought to myself.

There are a lot of very good international skiers here because of the Goodwill Games in Lake Placid next week. The German, Canadian, Norwegian, and Swedish teams are all here to get warmed up for the Goodwill races. It will be a good chance to lower my FIS points. Since I skied so poorly at Nationals, these races take on added importance for me. First, I need to get some good points races so I can improve my national ranking. Second, I need to prove to the ski world, and Ski Team coaches in particular, that I am still a contender for the US Ski Team and that I am still improving (basically show that I am not all washed up for the season). That's a lot to prove in one weekend, but a couple good races, or even one really good race could accomplish both goals. Tomorrow is the 10K classic, which is my favorite race. I am going into tomorrow's race with the outlook that it is the most important race of the year for me. If I can pull off a good one tomorrow, and I am feeling ready to do just that, it will help propel me into the second half of the season and give me new hope for the season as a whole.

February 12

I am staying with Paul Stone, a Dartmouth teammate of mine who now lives near Bethel, ME, for the races this weekend. He is also racing, so this morning we got up at 7:00, ate our oatmeal, and headed off to the trails. We received a few inches of new snow yesterday and the temperature was close to zero last night, making the track firm. Because of the kind weather, the kick waxing today was fairly easy. After a bit of experimenting, I put on a few layers of Rode Super Blue, covered it with Toko Bright Blue and headed to the start.

I was fired up in the start. I know that I am ready to give it absolutely everything when I get goosebumps as I race out of the start gate. I get a very focused, menacing expression on my face and it sends shivers throughout my body. It's my version of being in "the zone." You can't force it to happen, it just does it on it's own. Sometimes it also happens in the middle of a race, when a cheering group of spectators hits the right chord and really motivates me. I love this feeling and it gives me a quick surge of adrenaline to get me on my way. I had that feeling today as I double poled out of the start. I had intended to go out as fast as I possible could from the start, and with the extra adrenaline pumping through my veins, this was not a problem. The first two kilometers were primarily downhill, but I still went as hard as I possibly could whenever I had the slightest opportunity. Then I hit the uphills and I continued to attack. My tempo was faster than it has been all year and I was really happy with the way I was skiing. When I reached the 4K point, Miles Minson, the US Ski Team development coach told me that I was in 11th place, only seconds from 10th. This was mixed news for me. I knew that there were at least 10 Euros in the race who could potentially be very good, but I also knew that the Euros would not beat all the Americans, so if I wanted to be one of the top three Americans I would have to keep hammering. On the second lap, I felt like I was dropping off the pace a bit. I was still skiing smooth and taking nice long strides, but I didn't feel like my tempo was as high as the first lap. "Just hang in there, it's only 10K," I was telling myself. When I passed Miles on the second lap, I was surprised to hear that I had moved up to 10th and was one second ahead of Justin Freeman. I was actually moving up a little bit! This helped me push through the last kilometer to the finish. If I could just finish ahead of Justin I could possibly be the second American behind Marcus Nash.

When the results were posted, I finished 10th. I did indeed hold off Justin, but Dave Chamberlain managed to nip me by three seconds, so I was the third American. I was a minute behind Marcus and 1:15 behind the winner. Because of all the Euros in the top five, it was also my best classical points race of the year, which will help my national ranking. This was a good race for me, but I can't help but think it could have been better. On the second lap, I felt like I was skiing slower, but I was actually moving up. Perhaps because I was tired, I was actually skiing smoother (not as frantic) and being more efficient. Maybe if I could have started the race skiing that smooth, I could have cut up to 15 seconds off which would have moved me up to around 5th place. This thought was reinforced by a comment from Paul after the race. I passed him at about 2K during the race, but he said afterward that he stuck with me for a short time because I was working too hard, trying to muscle up the hills with arm strength and tempo rather than glide.

So overall it was a good day. I had a very good result, my best in a couple months, but I also walk away knowing what I have to do to improve next time. You can't ask for much more than that. Maybe I didn't light the world on fire, but the match just might be lit.

February 13

After my analysis of yesterday's race, I decided to focus on trying to ski smooth for today's 15K skate race. Long glide and big steps up the hill were my goals. I think I have a tendency to flail in my skate technique and make my strides too short. So for today I wanted to ski fast, but smooth. On the first lap I thought I was doing just that. Due to the winding course, I could calculate my own splits off skiers in front of me. At about 2K, I was even with Justin Freeman, then at about 6K I was even with Dave Chamberlain. In addition, two of the top Norwegians started right behind me and there was no sign of them on the first lap. This was encouraging because I still felt strong and I thought that if I could just continue to ski smooth and let the glide work for me, I could have a pretty good race. On the second lap, I still skied the flats and gradual hills pretty well, but I started to struggle on the steep hills. At 10K, the two Norwegians, skiing together, flew past me. I managed to keep them in sight for a couple K, but on another steep hill, they blew me away. I tried to keep my glide and tempo up as best I could and I came through the finish thinking that I was probably pretty close to Justin and Dave, which would have been a pretty good skate race for me. But what I found out soon afterwards was that those guys decided to pick it up on the second lap, but no one had given me that memo. Justin caught up to Dave, who started 30 seconds in front of him, and they flew on the second lap working together. Meanwhile I thought I was skiing well, but I was actually getting my doors blown off. I ended up finishing 16th, 6th American, over a minute behind both Justin and Dave. Looking at the results, I couldn't help but think that there were a lot of people about a minute faster than me who I think I should be able to ski with. This was disappointing. Unlike yesterday, when I thought I was dropping on the second lap and was actually moving up, today I was dropping when I thought I was doing well. That bummed me out quite a bit.

After a little bit of time to digest both races, it was still a successful weekend for me. I had one race that proved to myself that I can still compete. I may not be completely back to where I want to be, but I am on the way up. When I put these races in the context of Nationals and the Canmore Continental Cups, it actually looks pretty good. Skating is still a problem on tough courses like today, but most of the upcoming races are skate races, which will give me ample opportunity to improve. So I didn't find any quick fix to my recent racing woes, but I think I made my first steps toward racing fast again.

February 16

Lexus Sprint Tour

Last year the most exciting new event to hit the ski circuit was the Lexus Nordic Sprint Tour. This was a series of six events held around the country, each of which consisted of a series of fast and furious elimination sprint. It turned out to be a major success for two reasons: 1) It provided spectators with the opportunity to witness an exciting cross country ski race and 2) they gave out a lot of prize money to the winners. I was fortunate enough to take home one of the $1000 winner's checks.

For this year the series is back, with four events and the same prize values. $1000 for first, $500 for second, $300 for third, and $100 for fourth. The first was last week in Mora, MN where I believe Carl Swenson took the win over Scott Loomis. Today was the second event, at Killington, VT. Being only two hours away from Killington, I decided to make the trip over and see if I could make an easy payday. I knew there would be some very good skiers there besides me (Marcus Nash, Kris Freeman, Justin Freeman, Marc Gilbertson, and Frosty Whitworth to name a few) but I had a feeling that with my bad luck in sprints so far this year I was bound to break through at some point. Why not today?

Sure enough, all the people I mentioned above showed up, as did most of the guys on the Stratton team. The field was only about 10 people, which was good because it meant fewer elimination rounds. But, as it turned out, the rounds really didn't matter because the course was so short. Each heat was two times around a 30 second oval. The course climbed very gradually out of the start and around the first two turns, then it took a turn down a fast hill and into a hard left-hand corner that was getting very treacherous even in warm-ups. Then a short uphill to the finish. In the first round, I was lucky with my seeding. I was in a heat with Marc Gilbertson and three Stratton kids. Since two would move on, I figured it would be pretty easy. I drew a good start lane, Lane 1 on the inside corner and got a quick start. I took the lead and never looked back. One thing that became very clear is that it would be very hard to pass. No one challenged me and I cruised through to the semifinals along with Ethan Foster, who just edged out Marc Gilbertson. In the other first round, Marcus also drew lane 1 and cruised to a victory, followed by Kris Freeman. Justin Freeman and Frosty Whitworth got tangled up and crashed early in the heat. In the semifinals, I drew lane 1 again and got to the first turn in the lead. Marcus was second, then Kris and Ethan. Three out of the four of us would move on to the finals. As long as I wasn't last, I was OK. I skied hard, kept the lead and Marcus and I moved on easily. Kris wasn't so lucky. On the last treacherous turn, he lost in and crashed into the snow fence (no harm done). Ethan sneaked by and into the finals. All was not lost for Kris though, as he then went into the consolation bracket. From this bracket, one person would earn a place in the finals. Kris made the most of this chance and won the heat. This meant that the finals would be a rematch of our semifinal heat. The other point to consider here is that up until this point, no one had won from a lane other than 1 or 4. These two lanes were on the inside and outside respectively, giving the person there more room to skate off the line and get ahead. Draw would be crucial in the final. I wasn't as lucky this time, drawing lane 2, right smack in the middle of everything. Ethan drew lane 1, Kris lane 3, and Marcus lane 4. Marcus would be tough to beat in that position. Right off the start, sure enough, Kris and I got a little tangled. Not too bad, but enough that Marcus took the lead and Ethan was second, then Kris, then me. On a number of short straighways I pulled out to pass Kris, but he was trying to get around Ethan at the same time and there just wasn't room to do both. Finally as we approached the big downhill the second time, I thought to myself, I'm in fourth, even if I crash I can't do any worse than this. So I made a move to the inside, almost off the course. At the same time, Kris made a move to the outside of Ethan. As we came into the corner, we were three abreast in an area barely wide enough for one person! "Someone is going down, " I thought to myself. Kris, on the outside, had a faster line and got into the corner just before me. Ethan, fearing for his life I think, backed off a bit and settled in behind me. As I came out of the turn I was gearing up for a last ditch effort to overtake Kris. Just then, in a split second, Kris couldn't hold the turn and again went into the fence. I went by and finished second, almost in disbelief. Only about 5 seconds earlier I was sure I would wind up in fourth. I was really wired after such an exciting race. Not only was it one of the most exciting races I've done, but I also won $500! I had to ski a couple laps just to calm back down.

Of all the sprints I have done, this course was my favorite. Nice and short, as opposed to those 4 minute monsters that some race organizers call "sprints." And the course meant anything could happen. It really needed more passing opportunities, but other than that it was perfect. Well worth the trip and a great way to make a week's paycheck.

February 19

This week has been amazing. It has snowed every single day I have been home I think. The skiing is unreal. I can't remember the last time the skiing in the east was so good. Most people I talk to say that when the snow is good, the trails in the east can't be beat. Now they are finally getting to prove that. We received almost a foot of snow last night. A veritable blizzard by eastern standards. So today, even though I was supposed to rest for my race tomorrow, I just couldn't bear to spend the whole day inside. What I really wanted to do is go snowboarding. Despite my love of cross country skiing, when there is a foot of fresh, light powder on the ground, there is nothing I want to do more than float through it on a snowboard. But since the only board I have here at home is a fifteen year old Burton Woody and it is a Saturday, there is no way I was going to pay for a lift ticket just to wait in line all day. So instead I got creative. My parents were going over to Bretton Woods to go cross country skiing. I went with them and brought along my skis, my snowboard and a backpack. When we arrived, I strapped my snowboard to my backpack, waxed up my classic skis and set out.

My plan was to ski up Mountain Road, which is a groomed x-c trail that climbs to the top of the Bretton Woods downhill area. Just below reaching the top, I would cross over a gladed area, which is Bretton Woods' little powder stash. Here I would take off the skis and attach them to my pack, strap on the snowboard and surf the white wave back to the bottom of the mountain. The climb up took 50 minutes, which was longer than expected (funny it only took 40 minutes the other day when I skied up, Mental Note: do not race with a snowboard strapped to your back). But I made it with daylight to spare and even though it was late afternoon by this time, there were still plenty of freshies to be had on the downhill run. I strapped my classic cross country boots into my snowboard bindings and took off. My control was a little shaky, what with skis towering 3 feet over my head, two xc poles in my left hand and my feet sliding around in the bindings, but it was a great ride nonetheless. The trip down only took ten minutes or so, but it was well worth the trip. It was so much fun that I immediately started thinking of places in Utah where I could try this more often. My mind started racing with visions of snowmobile trails winding up into vast, open hillsides. Maybe once the race season is over . . .

February 20

Ever since my trip to Switzerland, I have felt like I am slowly getting my groove back. I know I've said it before, but I really think that trip was the best thing I could have done to save my own race season. Rob told me that his guides have traditionally skied well a week or two after guiding, and I think that it worked for me this year. Last weekend in Rumford, I skied better than I have since November, and on Wednesday I felt great in the sprints. It seems like each time I go out, I feel better than I did the day before. Today, in particular, was a very good day. Today I did a 10K classic race at the Holderness School. When I was in high school, I trained in a club program at Holderness and had some of my best races on these trails. In fact the first race I won was a JOQ on these trails 10 years ago (ah yes, the glory days . . .). That was my first race ever outside high school competition and it was then I realized that I might actually be pretty good at this sport. Given the fond memories, I try to make it back here to race whenever I can. The race I did was just a New England Junior National Qualifier, so there weren't many elite skiers over the age of 19 there, but the field did include Stephen Donahue, Pat Cote, and Frosty Whitworth, so there would be some healthy competition. The mission today was simple: WIN. Nothing helps build confidence like a victory, even if the field is less than stellar. Plus I am still a little bitter about my poor showing in the JOQ two weeks ago, so I feel like I have something to prove. There are still a lot of people who go to the races around here who follow my results and have shared my frustration over the past two months or so. There was nothing I wanted more today than to get a win for them.

Waxing was a nightmare. The temperature hovered right below freezing all morning, meaning that the snow was too slick for blue hard waxes, but still too dry for the gooey reds and yellows. All morning I was surprised at how well my initial combination of VF 50 covered with Super Blue was working. While everyone else was scrambling to find a wax, I really liked what I had. I tried some other combos that other people suggested, but kept coming back to mine. I was doing most of my waxing with the Dartmouth team and Stephen Donahue in particular. It is always fun to catch up with the old team and I really wanted to hear how Dartmouth Carnival went last week, but I think there was also another reason why Stephen and I chose to work together. We each knew that the other was our primary competition today and if one us screwed up the wax, we wanted the other to take the fall with us. Knowing Stephen I think he was thinking this just as much as I was. With about 20 minutes to go before start time, I finally waxed my race skis with the combo that was working so well for me. But as I waxed the snow changed, almost instantaneously. It is amazing when this happens, and it usually does on a day like this. As the snow warms up, the new snow crystals don't change all that much. But as soon as it hits a certain temperature and the crystals begin to melt ever so slightly, there is immediately more liquid in the snow and the crystals become more dull. This change can happen in a matter of 5 minutes and the glide wax that worked so well before would be better suited for glide afterwards. The change hit as I was waxing, so when I went to test my race skis, I got no kick at all. With only ten minutes until race, I was starting to become concerned. Stephen asked, "are we panicking yet?" I said, "No," but I wasn't really sure. We slapped on some VR60 and tried it out. Good kick, OK glide. Not great but the best I could do at this point. We skied over to the start. As we did, clouds covered the sun and it started snowing! Our skis would surely ice up (collect snow) in this weather. I pulled out the Super Blue and frantically crayoned a layer on top while Stephen hunted down a cork. With about 20 seconds to spare I took my position on the start line, just hoping my wax concoction would work. There were six people in our wave, four of whom were Dartmouth students or alumni: Pat Cote, Nick Koshnick, Brayton Osgood, and myself. They would be my primary competition in this wave, but I knew that I would have to be well out in front to win the whole race. I took off fast and had a little bit of a lead as we left the field and headed into the woods. Up the first hill, my wax actually felt very good, which was a big relief. But I noticed that Pat Cote's skis seemed very good as well and he began to inch closer. I knew my skis were fast though, so when I hit a double pole section, I kicked it up a notch and was out of sight by the three kilometer mark. I felt great. I was attacking every uphill, and using every downhill to breathe and recover for the next hill. I was skiing well. A little frantic perhaps, but still relatively smooth. I pushed the whole race, especially the last two K's, just to make sure I had a decent lead. The way the course winds, I thought that I could see Stephen Donahue behind me a couple of time, on a similar pace. This surprised me a bit even though Stephen is a very good skier. I really felt that the way I was skiing, no one on the course that day would be able to challenge me. I felt like I was in complete control. Those feelings don't come very often, but they sure are fun when they do! As it turned out, my gut feeling was more accurate that my crude on-the-fly split timing. I finished a minute ahead of Stephen, who took second place. To be fair, I also have to note that Stephen was doing his third race in three days and that he took third at Williams Carnival the day before.

So today was another step in the right direction. I think I might just have a shot at turning this season around.

February 24

On Monday I flew back to Utah for the first time in a month. While I was gone, my roommates broke the lease and moved out of our house near the Olympic Trails in Midway, which means that I spent the better part of the two days I was home (home being a generic term since I no longer have one!) scrounging up my stuff from the old house and putting it into storage. I have decided that since I will be on the road basically until early April, I will just be homeless until then. After three trips to the old house and one trip to the Police department, I finally had almost all of my stuff back. I am not going to go into details here, but let's just say that there was a misunderstanding with the house's new tenants about what was theirs. But after that fiasco, I am off again, this time to the Birkie. As if my week hadn't been bad enough already, my flight out of Salt Lake was delayed two and a half hours, meaning that I was going to be meeting my traveling companions in Minneapolis. My Dad and four other New Hampshire skiers are all coming out for the race and I was supposed to meet them in Minneapolis this evening and drive up to Cable, WI. Since I was now not going to arrive until 11:00 pm, there is no way we could make the trip tonight. This proved to be a moot point however, because when I finally arrived I learned that they had not been as lucky as I was. They were all stranded in Chicago. The fog coming into Minneapolis was too thick for them to land. Which made me wonder how I got through. . . Since they were now scheduled to arrive tomorrow morning, I caught a shuttle to the only nearby hotel for the night. On the way, the shuttle driver said that the fog had been like that for days, so I am sure many other Birkie skiers have similar horror stories.

The thought that keeps coming back to me is that this week was eerily similar to my brief return to Utah in between races in Silver Star in December. That week, of course, got me sick and tired and basically caused me to lose two months of my season. But I am trying to keep a positive attitude and look forward to the race, not back at the mishaps. On the plus side, I still feel relatively fresh, despite all the travel and moving I've done recently. I didn't train much this week, just one short ski on Wednesday. When I came back from Silver Star I tried to squeeze too much training in. I didn't want to repeat that mistake. I'm trying to think about how rested and ready I am as much as possible, in order to stay upbeat.

February 25

The next day things started out more promising. Their flight was right on time and all the luggage made it as well. So we got our rental cars and headed to Cable. Upon arriving at registration at Telemark Lodge, we, along with 7000 other skiers, were disappointed to hear that the race had been shortened to only 23 kilometers. But then we started hearing rumors that the race organizers might have to cancel the whole thing. Cancel the birkie? No way. I was sure that unless every bit of snow was gone by dinner time, they would find a way to hold a race. After all, if it was cancelled, they would have 7000 angry skiers on their hands! For the rest of the afternoon, the rumors kept flying around Telemark. It will be a criterium around the alpine hill. . .They will only run the elite wave. . . It will be a classic race. Those were just some of the gems that I heard. We debated starting our own rumor that they were going to start the race at 7:00pm that evening in order to run it while there was still snow (Hope you brought a headlamp!). But we refrained.

At about 5:30, the word came down. The Birkie had been cancelled for the first time ever. Though a lot of people sensed that it was coming, it was still hard to believe. The race organizers did their best and held out until the last possible minute, hoping that a miracle would save the race, but none came and they were forced to make a very difficult decision. The mood at Telemark changed dramatically almost immediately after the cancellation press conference. Instead of being a festive occasion, most people were now very disappointed or even angry. I was disappointed after spending all that money to get out here and resting up for a week that I could have been training. But I was more disappointed for the thousands of skiers who look at the Birkie as the defining moment of their winter, such as my Dad and his group. For me, these things happen. I go to a lot of races and Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate. It can end up being a financial disaster, but you move on to the next weekend's race and forget about it. But this isn't the case for most Birkie skiers. The Birkie isn't part of their race season, it IS their race season, everything else is done in preparation for this one race. That makes it a lot harder to take. It is the equivalent of my entire season being cancelled. I wouldn't deal very well with that. But that's enough. I'll stop at this point because if I start getting into details about time and money investments, I'll just depress all of you who were there even more.

February 26

By Saturday morning, most people had accepted the cancellation as a fact of life and were moving on. Some people had stormed out of town right after the press conference, but many stayed behind. Most people were still locked in to their airline and hotel reservations, so they figured that they might as well relax and enjoy the weekend. Even though the snow conditions were not good at all, a lot of people, myself included, decided that we had come here to ski and, dammit, we were going to ski. We skied a few of the Telemark trails and made our way out to the Birkie trail. The Birkie trail was actually decent in most areas, but most of the hills were almost completely bare or had huge bare spots. There is no way they could have held a safe race in those conditions. I think it was good for people to see that with their own eyes. Scott Loomis and I skied for an hour and a half, then went home to make the most of our free day by taking a nap.

February 27

So today, after a weekend full of hassles and disappointments, we packed up to head back home. We did ski again this morning on the Birkie trail before leaving. In case anyone was wondering, it would have done no good to postpone the race until Sunday. The trail was in even worse shape today and I managed to put a few nice gouges in my bases. The ironic thing about this weekend is that I spent more time on the Birkie trail then I would have if they had run the race. For next year I am going to know the first 13K like the back of my hand.

Now it is time to move on. Next weekend I go to Tahoe for the Great Ski Race. There is definitely more snow in Tahoe, so I don't think two cancellations in a row is a concern. But come to think of it, if there is one place that I would like to be for a cancelled race, I think it is the Tahoe/Reno area. I am looking forward to a lot more snow, sun, and fun than I had this past weekend.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.