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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  January 1, 2000

Over the past couple of years I have developed a reputation for being one of the best at racing after a wild night on the town. It started a few years ago in Bend, OR at Nationals. I had been skiing poorly all week and as a result, was bumped from TUNA's first relay team. A bunch of my former teammates from Dartmouth were not even doing the relay and were going to go out partying the night before. Since my relay leg wasn't that important and I really couldn't ski much worse, I went out with them. The next morning I was very hungover, but I forced my way through the relay and actually had my best race of the week, by far! A similar thing happened at the relay last year, where I stayed within a few seconds of Justin Wadsworth on the first leg. I'm not sure if this is somethig to be proud of or if it means that my preparation for other races is just really poor.

Today I put that reputation on the line. Nothing like doing a 15K race the morning after the biggest New Year's of the last 1000 years. At about 8:00 this morning I dragged myself off of Scott Loomis's floor to start getting ready to race. By the time the race started at 11:00, I was feeling a bit better, but my stomach was still queasy. Fortunately, nobody really wanted to push the pace. Zach Simons lead the first lap at a comfortably fast pace, followed by a pack that included John Aalberg, Torry Kraftson, Barry Makerawicz, Scott Loomis, Erik Stange, and myself. About halfway around the second 5K loop, I was feeling strong so I made a break. I got about 10 meters ahead, but then I just died. My energy reserves just weren't there. I knew I didn't have enough energy to stay ahead of the pack for 7 more K's. I slowed down and waited for the pack. This move did manage to spread things out a bit though, so now it was down to just John, Torry, Scott and myself. We skied the next lap at a fast, but not too hard, pace. I was feeling good and ready for a sprint as we approached 1K to go with Scott leading, me second and John third. With about 500 meters left, I put my move on. I got a little bit of a gap, just what I needed, and crossed the finish line three seconds ahead of John.

Even though I felt a bit tired during this race, I am very encouraged by it. I felt like the pace was very reasonable the whole way. I got the impression that I was cruising a lot more than the other skiers were. They just looked like they were working harder. I felt much better than I did in Canada a couple weeks ago and I think that another week to rest and polish up my weaknesses is just what I need befre Nationals start. And as a bonus, my infamous reputation lives on . . .

Results Here.

January 2

I am amazed at how many people are already in town preparing for Nationals. Usually people arrive two or three days early, but this year it seems like most people came in almost a week beforehand. I think this is for two reasons. First of all, the trails are right at the ceiling of FIS-legal altitude. The 5,500 foot elevation here in Midway will be a factor for those coming from sea level. So by coming in a week or so early, they hope to acclimate. Second, since the trails are completely new to everyone, the
more days of skiing you get on them before racing the better. By coming in really early, you get a chance to do intervals, or maybe even a race, to see exactly how it will feel. And from experience, I can tell you that on these trails, it won't feel too easy. The trails are fairly hard and the altitude
makes them harder. But I love them. The uphills are challenging, but skiable and not too long, and every single downhill is fast and fun. I am really looking forward to racing here and training here even more in the next couple of years.
But back to the fact that everyone is here early. For some reason, even though everyone showed up early, no one made any accommodation arrangements until the day before the races start. Hmm, I can't believe that these people would show up without any clue where they are staying. I think everyone expected that because there is a fairly big nordic community in these parts now, that they would just crash somewhere. But there are many more people crashing than was expected. And it seems like since our house is a) the closest to the trails, b) the biggest and c) the coolest, we have had the most people hitting us up for a place to stay. We finally had to start turning people
away when we hit double digits. By my estimation, by the time people finally move into their own places on Thursday or Friday, we will have had twelve people sleep at least one night in our house! Which is fine. It's nice to catch up with old friends and as long as I keep my own bed, I enjoy it. But when the racing starts, everyone gets a little more uptight and needs more space, so we will be kicking everyone out. But for now, it's kind of fun to have everyone around.

January 4
Just an easy ski today. I was a bit tired, but not too bad. That is to be expected when skiing on these trails. There is going to be a college race on the trails tomorrow, so there were a ton of skiers and coaches out there today. Our house is fast becoming the social center of the week. Since we are about a mile from the trails, everyone stops on their way by. Today Ruff and a few of the current Dartmouth boys stopped by (those who aren't staying here already anyway). It was good to see the coach and it will be fun to catch up with him more this week.

January 5
Tomorrow we will be kicking all the freeloaders out of our house. It has been nice to have them around for a while, but now that the races are about to start, we all need our space. No matter how much you like someone, if they cramp your style even a little bit on race day, it can lead to a major blowup. They all have places to go anyway now that their respective teams are in town.

As for skiing today, I did classic intervals with Torbjorn, Scott and Erik. Since we are getting close to race time, the intervals get shorter and faster. But I think I went a little too long and too hard today. We did a 5K pace at level 2-3, which was OK, then about 10x 20 to 40 seconds really fast. Normally this is a good workout as a tune-up for racing, but on these courses, it was very, very hard. I was exhausted when it was over. My initial thought when we finished was that this was too hard, so close to racing at this altitude, on these trails, but I will reserve final judgment for after I have raced.

January 8
The time is upon us. The most important races of the year are here. Today were the sprints. This morning we did an individual start race around the very hard 1.6K loop to determine seeding order for the 24 men who would advance to the afternoon heats. Usually at sprints like this, it is no problem to qualify for the afternoon. There are usually about 40-50 men competing for 32 slots. It's kind of like making the playoffs in hockey, they'll let almost anyone in as long as you don't stink up the joint. But today was a different story. With the two hundred best skiers in North America competing for 24 slots, you had to ski damn fast just to make it to the afternoon. After my qualifying run, I was sure that I hadn't made it. I felt sluggish and got beat by Scott Loomis, who I can usually outsprint, by a couple seconds. In a race like that, a couple seconds could move you back 10-15 places. I went home feeling pretty sure that I would be a spectator in the afternoon. After eating lunch and resting for an hour or so, I checked the web to see if times had been posted yet. They had, and I squeaked in at 21st position - only a second from not making it. Since I had not been planning on racing, it took me a while to get my motivation back up. But by the time I hit the start line I was ready to go. In the afternoon, heats of six skiers would start at once, with three skiers moving on. I was the slowest qualifier in my heat, which also included Justin Wadsworth, Petro Broginni of Italy, Dave Chamberlain, Chad Geise, and Justin Beckwith, so I knew I would have to hammer all out to have any hope of advancing. I got a decent start when the gun went off and by the top of the first long hill, I was in 4th, behind Chamberlain, who tried to win the race in the first 300 meters, Broginni, and Wadsworth. I was happy with my position because I was right behind Justin and we had a slight break ahead of Chad and Justin Beckwith. But going down the hill, my skis just didn't have it. The first three got away, and Chad glided by me as well. I decided not to put fluorocarbon on my skis because they felt good before the race, but since then it had started snowing, and my skis were not very good in the new snow. As we approached the last uphill before the stadium, I hammered my brains out to catch back up with the four in front of me. I caught up, but as we headed down the hill into the stadium, my skis couldn't keep up again, and I was dropped. There was one last gradual uphill to the finish, and I was gaining on everybody as I gave it everything I had. I was able to pass Chamberlain, but Giese just had too big a lead for me to overcome. I finished a disappointing 4th, not good enough to move on. I was bummed out, but I was encouraged that I felt better than I had in the morning, and that I would have moved on if I had comparable skis.

In the finals, Phil Villeneuve (who qualified 23rd!) took the lead up the first hill, but as they approached the stadium, Marcus Nash put on a clinic and dusted the field. In the women's Beckie Scott controlled the entire day from start to finish. The finals were as follows.

1 2 Marcus NASH
3 4 Justin WADSWORTH
4 5 Petro BROGGINI
5 9 Carl SWENSON
6 11 Kris FREEMAN
1 1 Beckie SCOTT
2 2 Sara RENNER
3 3 Jaime FORTIER
4 5 Nina KEMPPEL
5 6 Amanda FORTIER
6 8 Rebecca QUINN

January 10
Yesterday Justin Wadsworth told me that today's classic course was the toughest 30K he had ever seen. This surprised me a bit because I thought it was hard, but not that hard. Certainly not in the league of Nagano (where Justin raced) or the Lake Placid 30k at the Gold Cup two years ago. It also encouraged me because I thought that if the course intimidated everyone else, I could do better. But after today's race, I agree wholeheartedly with Justin. That race was damn hard. To make it even worse, it was very tricky waxing. Over the course of the race, we saw sun, snow, rain, wind, and sometimes all at once. I decided to go with hairies (when you just rough up the kick zone with coarse sandpaper), which were pretty fast, but not great kick. But the skis were the least of my problems. The course was full of hard uphills, followed by fast downhills that allowed for no recovery. In many places I was going so slow that I was embarrassed to be out there, almost walking, - only to look up and realize I was passing people. I knew I wasn't having a good race though. The splits I was hearing said anywhere from 10th to 15th, with many fast skiers still behind me. When I reached the stadium after one 15K lap, the thought of having to do another one was almost inconceivable. It turns out that for many it was just plain impossible. Approximately a third of the 120 people who started ended up dropping out - many as they started the second lap. Many big names, such as Justin Wadsworth and Justin Freeman packed it in. But I reluctantly did both laps and struggled through the finish, only half conscious of the abuse I had just put myself through.

It was a disappointing race for me. Being a very good classic skier, I was looking to this race to get me on a roll. But it didn't happen. The best thing I can do now is forget about it and focus on the 10K on Wednesday.

January 12
Yesterday I didn't ski at all. I was too tired and I thought that an easy run and stretching might be a better way to loosen up for the 10K today. When I started warming up today, I felt OK, but I still had soreness in my legs from Monday. I took solace in the fact that everyone else felt the same way. The course was hard and fast, a good skate course for me. Torbjorn's advice for this race was to not respect the course. In other words, don't be afraid of it. Go out and ski hard and see what happens. This strategy worked wonders until the race actually started and I was exhausted up the first hill. At the 1K mark, Torbjorn told me that I was 6 seconds behind Donald Farley, Monday's winner, and two behind Loomis. But I kept thinking "Don't respect the course." I kept trying to pick up the pace a little more and actually skied pretty well for the last 5 K or so. But by then it was too late. The times were so close that my slow start really cost me. I finished way back place-wise, but at least there are a lot of people right in front of me for the classic pursuit tomorrow.

For the past couple weeks, many well meaning friends and supporters have been asking me how I was feeling coming into Nationals. I always gave the standard response of, "Well, December wasn't so good, but I think I am feeling better and am now ready to go." This was not really the truth because I have had very few indications that I am feeling better. But it was a necessity that I convince myself and the people around me that I was ready to go. So much of any sport is mental and if you believe that you are feeling good and ready to race fast, it will help you overcome any minor tiredness or other setbacks.

But now I can't deny it any longer. I am not feeling in top form and it is very frustrating. At this point I have to accept that I am not racing at the level I am capable of. I have been struggling for a month now and just haven't been in a rhythm since the end of November. This is by no means an acceptance of defeat. It's just that I have to realize that even though I am not in top form, I still need to go out there, put my head down and give it everything I have for the next two races. I can't worry about results. These are the most important races of the year and even if I don't place where I want to be, there is still valuable training to be had and lessons to be learned from doing my current best in these races. It might not happen this week, but at some point I will come around and race like I know I can. And when that time comes, the experiences from this week will make me hungrier and faster.

January 13
You know you are having a rough week when after the first day of a pursuit event your coach says, "Just go home and have a beer." I think the reason Torbjorn recommended this to me yesterday afternoon was twofold. First, beer does have ingredients which make it a decent recovery drink. But probably more importantly, I think he was saying, "Just relax, forget about today." So I did. I went home, cracked open a bottle of Utah's finest 3.2% beer and kicked back. Which leads me to today's race. . .

FINALLY!! After making you suffer through depressing accounts of my miserable races so far this week, I am pleased to be able to bring you a positive story. Today was the 15K classic pursuit. In this race, you start based on your finish time from the previous day and the first person to cross the line is the winner of the two-day event. Unfortunately for me, that meant I had to claw my way out of the huge hole I dug for myself yesterday. The bad news is that I started 1:38 behind the leader, Marcus Nash. The good news is that I had 15 people within 40 seconds ahead of me. My ultimate goal for the race was to pass half the people ahead of me and finish in the top fifteen. A pretty lofty goal considering the way I had been skiing, but one that would be achievable if I had a great race. More immediate goals were to a) not let anyone pass me and b) make it into the top 10 Americans c) top 20 overall.

The scene at the start line was chaotic. Over two hundred men needed to be started individually over less than nine minutes. We were herded like sheep up to the start line, where, one by one, we were released by the starter and instantly turned into wolves hunting down the sheep in front of us. I was fired up right from the start. I figured that if I was going to have any chance of doing anything in this race I needed to go out really hard and pick people off immediately. I shot out of the start gate and by the top of the hill, I had already moved up to 25th place. I was flying and feeling strong. By two K, I caught Kurt Wulff, who is my teammate and, in this race, my first target. He, George Grey (Canada) , Jesse Downs and I all started within 12 seconds of each other and now the four of us were skiing together and picking people off fast. By the end of the first lap we had moved up to twentieth place with me leading the way. But about one K into the second 7.5 K lap, I started to die. On one small hill, I just lost it and started to walk a few steps. I was exhausted. Kurt, Jesse, and George all went by me and got about a 5 seconds lead. I struggled over the top of the hill and tried to recover as I tucked down the other side. Fortunately, my skis were fast and I was able to keep the three ahead of me insight. Meanwhile, even though I was struggling, I still managed to pick off a few more people and was now in 19th place. On the second to last big hill, I began to feel a bit stronger and closed the gap with Kurt. On the last big hill, I got away from him a bit and was closing in on Jesse. But on the downhill towards the stadium, Kurt used a draft to catch back up. I knew it would be a sprint to the finish and I also knew that Kurt is one of the best sprinters in the country. I let him take the lead as we glided down into the stadium before our 100 meter mad dash to the finish. I was hoping to use the draft and shoot out around him on the corner before the sprint. As we rounded the corner my strategy paid off when Kurt stumbled a bit, just enough for me to get a couple feet ahead of him. We each took our separate lanes and the frantic sprint ensued. We both double poled as fast as we possibily could. I managed to hold on to the miniscule lead I got coming around the turn and beat him out by a couple boot-lengths. In the process we almost picked off Jeese Downs, but there wasn't quite enough track left.

The more I look at the results of this race, the happier I am. At first I thought that it was just a small step in the right direction, but actually it was a clear 180 degrees from just a day earlier. I didn't make the top 15 overall, but with another K or two, I would have. I finished the day in 18th place, but was the 9th American. My classic leg time was the 5th fastest for Americans. It was clearly my best classic race of the year so far. So even though I won't get FIS points for it and my overall result is dragged down by my poor skate race, at least I have something positive to take out of this week.

January 15
The legendary 50K. People have been talking about this race for months. At first , they talked about how it would be exciting since it would be a mass-start event. But more recently, as people started to get a look at the course, they all started talking about how hard it would be. I know a lot of people who decided not to race based solely on how tough the 30K classic was on Monday. On top of the already demanding course, there was also a chance for a foot of new snow and warm temperatures. That could have turned the race into a death march. But fortunately for all of us, the snow didn't materialize and the track stayed fast and firm, for the first 30K anyway. From the start, you could tell that this course commanded everyone's respect. The pace was quick, but not fast, everyone was just trying to stay controlled so that when things got interesting later in the race they would still have some energy left. The early favorites did most of the leading on the first of 3 16.7K loops. Marcus Nash, Carl Swenson, Justin Wadsworth, and Marc Gilbertson all took turns pulling while most of the younger guns - myself, Andrew Johnson, Justin Freeman, and Dave Chamberlain stayed at the back of the lead pack. As we ended the first lap, the lead pack had about 15 people in it and I remember thinking, "Hey, I feel pretty good. I think I can ski with these guys for quite a while. Not a minute later, I was drifting off the back of the pack, along with Dave, Justin, Andrew and Pete Vordenberg. This is the amazing thing about racing at altitude, you can feel like a million bucks one minute and then want to die the next. I did my best to bridge the gap, but I just didn't have it. As soon as I knew I was dropped for good, the negative thoughts started taking over in my head. I seriously considered dropping out. I have never dropped out of a race before, but for a while I was sure that today would be the first. When you feel exhausted and you still have 30K to go, it's hard to keep your motivation up. But I managed to press on, telling myself, "Just see what you feel like in 5K." For most of the second lap I was skiing with or near Dave Chamberlain and Pete Vordenberg. Every once in a while one of us would get the notion of making a break, but that would quickly die, along with our energy, about 15 seconds into the move. So for a few K's we worked together, trying to reel in Justin Freeman, who was about 20 seconds ahead. On the last hill of lap two, I died my second death of the day. As I struggled to maintain form up the hill, Pete and Dave pulled away. I was now all by myself. The only consoling thought was that there was no one within two minutes behind me, so I could just cruise from here and not lose any places. But even cruising, when you have already raced 35K, is tough. I worked just hard enough to keep the next skier back out of site and staggared over the finish line in 13th place, 11th American. Backing up about 7 minutes, the lead pack finish was spectacular. Though I hadn't finished at that point (obviously) I did have a great view of the stadium from where I was climbing the next to last hill on the course. Carl busted a big move just before entering the stadium and used his fast skis and sprinting speed to maintain his small lead over the finish line, with Marcus and Justin right on his tails.

This race was kind of a downer, but it is hard to be negative after a 50K. No matter how bad you do, you have worked so hard and accomplished so much just by finishing the damn thing that the results are almost secondary. Sure I wish I would've had more spring in my legs, but that was kind of my story for the whole week. Somewhere along the way my preparations for these Nationals were not what they should have been. Right now I am not sure what it was, though I have some ideas (the short trip back to Utah between races in Canada in December or the intervals only three days before the first race, etc.). I'll have to examine my training log for a more complete answer. Right now I have to put it behind me and focus on making the most of the second half of the season.

January 16
As is customary after the last race at Nationals, everyone summons whatever energy they have left and hits the town. So last night everyone who was still in town checked out the scene (or made a scene, depending on how you look at it) in Park City. Over the course of the evening, I found out that a couple friends of mine, Mike Carey and Abi Holt (who hadn't been racing), were going to do a race the next day (today) called the Wasatch Overland. This race starts in the parking lot of Brighton ski area and ends on the golf course in Park City. You can use any route and any human powered method to get from point A to point B. The only thing that stands between the start and finish is a lot of backcountry and the Park City Ski Area. For a month or so, I had been talking big about how anyone who was a real man would race the 50K, party all night, then do the Overland the next day. So when I found out that other people were going, the gauntlet was thrown down and I had no choice but to back up my big talk and race the next day. When I finally made it to bed at 2:00 am, I was not looking forward to the alarm going off at 6:30. . .

. . .But off it went anyway, and after about 15 minutes of groaning and agonizing, I climbed out of bed and started to get ready. It was a good thing that we all stayed at Abi's last night or else we never would have made it this morning. The main problem now was not my pounding head or dry throat, it was that I was in Park City and all my ski equipment was down in Midway. So I made a trip down to Scott Loomis and Erik Stange's condo to pilfer some gear. For some reason they were a little confused as to exactly why I insisted on waking them up and why needed their ski equipment at 7:00 am the day after a 50K and a big party, but they hooked me up anyway. I left their apartment with Erik's rock skis and skate boots (which were a full size too small), Chris Klein's poles, and Scott's race suit (also a size too small). Then Abi, Mike, Pat Cote and I all climbed into Abi's car and drove to the start. Pat, practicing up for Spring Series I think, was also attempting to complete the triathlon of 50K, party, Overland.

The weather at the start was miserable - howling winds, snow and limited visibility. There were all sorts of participants gearing up - some with x-c skis with skins on, others on tele gear, snowshoers, even two guys on bikes that had skis instead of wheels. Upon talking with race officials were found out the low-down on the route. Though you can take any route you want, there is one fastest route that everyone takes. It is a snowmobile trail up to the top of Park City Ski Area, then you hop on the downhill resort trails which take you right down to the golf course. It is essentially 600 ft of climbing followed by 2400 feet of descent. They also explained that the downhill trails were going to ski at the top of the mountain weren't open today due to 70 mph winds. Yeehaw. We were also told that the snowmobile trail was groomed, so Patrick and I weren't too concerned about the fact that we were the only two guys there in skating gear without skins. Many race veterans gave us some peculiar looks because of this, but it was too late to change gear now. At the start line we were all talking smack, even though we had no idea what we were in store for. At one point we heard that there would be kegs at the finish. After last night that was the last thing some of us needed to hear. But just to raise the stakes, I turned to Pat and told him that I would chug my first beer before he crossed the finish line.

When the race started, I took off as fast as I run. Oh yeah - one other race detail - it was a LeMans start, meaning that you run with your skis for about half a mile before you reach the skiable snow. I took off sprinting mainly as a joke, because everyone around me knew how bad I felt. But a funny thing happened - even after the joke was over I stayed ahead. I thought I was just jogging, but no one was catching up, except for some guy carrying snowshoes and I knew he would be no competition once we hit the downhill. I quickly realized that there were no ringers in the field, except me and Pat I guess. The only problem with leading was that I had no idea where the trail was. At one point, when I was sure I should have hit the trail already, I heard a yell from behind, "Cory!" It was Pat telling me that I missed the turn. I made a quick U-turn and rejoined the pack of racers. As is turns out, the local definition of a "groomed" snowmobile trail is one snowmobile going over the trail three days before the race. Not good for skating, especially since the trail goes straight uphill. The snowshoer took off and got a good lead. Pat and I were next, but we slowed way down to a walking herringbone technique as soon as we hit the hill. We got passed by a couple skiers with skins on their racing skis. I fully expected a train of skin-clad skiers to come trucking by at this point. But surprisingly, we were herringboning up faster than the others were skiing. Soon the trail got narrower and steeper, too technical to even herringbone. After getting stuck for a few seconds and having another skier go by, I took off my skis and started hiking. Pat, who was now about 30 meters behind me, was having the same problem and followed my lead. The total climb to the top took about 25 minutes, which for me involved double-poling and marathon skating whenever I wasn't hiking. I managed to make it to the top in third place. The snowshoer was way ahead, but the first skier was still in sight. As I took off down the other side, it was steep and icy, and with the wind blowing the snow around, I couldn't see the ground at all. But I figured that if I wanted to catch the skier ahead of me, I needed to go all out. Even if I crashed a few times, it would still be faster than snowplowing (unless of course I broke a leg or something). On the steepest part of the course, I threw in a few turns to check my speed and promptly caught an edge and had a yard sale wipeout. I got up instantly, covered in snow, and took off again. I soon passed the snowshoer, who was cruising, but no match for my gravity-driven skis. He yelled that the leader was right ahead and said, "Go get 'em." Around the next corner, I saw him up ahead. He was on a fairly easy section and was snowplowing. "That's it," I thought. "He's toast." I skated up to top speed and flew by him. I think I demoralized him because his snowplow got wider after I went by. At this point, I knew I would win, so I just enjoyed the rest of the downhill. As I approached the golf course, there was a road crossing. I had heard that people in the past had skied right across the road in order to pick up time, but since they weren't my skis and I had a big lead, I took off my skis and ran. The road was completely ice and I almost fell about six times running across it. But I survived and cruised through the finish. I looked around for the beer in order to back up my big talk, but the kegs were not yet tapped. (Thank god.).

Once again another victory after a night out. I think I need to discuss my training plan with Torbjorn. We had also planned to go tele-skiing in the afternoon, but for some reason, I couldn't get anyone to go after the race. They used some lame excuse about being tired after a long weekend. So instead, we all went back to Abi's and fell asleep watching the Vikings lose to the Rams. I was going strong until this point, but as soon as I hit the couch, I was out. What a weekend. I am going to need a week off.

January 20

Many people have told me that in order to race successfully in Europe, you need to go there a few times before you can expect great results. This is not due to the increased competition, but rather to the cultural and logistical barriers. The foreign food, languages and transportation systems can all make for a lot of hassles before you even hit the ski trails. Having heard all this, but not experienced it firsthand, I have been anxious to get to Europe, more to experience the unknowns than to actually race. So when Rob Walsh approached me last fall about being his guide for the 2000 World Disabled Ski Championships in Crans-Montana Switzerland, I saw it as a great opportunity to get my feet wet with minimal expense. Rob has limited vision, so my job would consist of skiing a stride or two in front of him on the course. This gives him someone to follow and also allows gives him the bonus of being able to draft and be "pulled along" by another skier, which apparently is not only legal but encouraged. I would get to experience Europe and do plenty of skiing without putting any expectations of race results on myself. So after my first few races this year went well and I realized that I would only miss the Boulder Mountain Tour by going, I eagerly accepted the job. Now after a disappointing Nationals, I am even more glad to be heading to Europe for a "mini-vacation." The next week or two are kind of the break between the first half of the race season and the second. Since I ended the first on a down note, I think I really need about a week off and then a week or two of quality training before I race again. This trip is perfect in that respect. I get to take off to an exciting new place, have fun, relax, and do some serious skiing. So after flying from Salt Lake City to Boston yesterday, today I am on my way to Switzerland.

January 21

The trip from Boston to Geneva was very smooth. Rob and I left Boston at 5:00 last night and arrived in Geneva at 9:30 this morning with a stop in Frankfurt, Germany on the way. The only problem was that we had expected to meet up with the rest of our group in Frankfurt, but no one had showed. So after proceeding through customs, we took a seat in the nearest chairs and waited. And waited. And waited. Every couple of hours a flight would come in from Frankfurt, and we would get our hopes up, but no one familiar came out the Customs door. By about 4p.m., I was miserable. We had been waiting there for six hours, I hadn't slept in 26 hours and other than the tiny meals they give you on the plane, I hadn't eaten since then either. So this is the logistical nightmares of Europe. It wasn't until 8 p.m. that our group finally arrived, and then we still had a two hour drive to Crans-Montana.

As soon as I got in the van, I passed out and slept the whole van trip. It was dark anyway, so I would have to save the sightseeing for another day. When we arrived at our hotel, a typical, small, family-run Swiss hotel that is quiant but nice at the same time, the owner whipped up some sandwiches before we went to our rooms and fell asleep.

January 22

When we were told last night that breakfast would be at 7:00, I thought it would be a rough morning considering how tired I was and the fact that due to the time change that would be 11:00pm Salt Lake time. But after Rob woke me up at 6:55, I was surprisingly alert and ready to check out this little slice of Switzerland. We ate breakfast ( cereal, croissants, yogurt, ham, cheese, rolls, etc.) until 8:00 but we weren't going to ski until 9:30, so I took it to be a good opportunity for a nap. I really haven't had a chance to get absurd amounts of sleep since Silver Star in November, so I have been looking forward to doing plenty of it here. I slept for another hour, then got ready to ski.

It turns out that we will be racing on a golf course in the middle of Crans (There are two small villages, Crans and Montana, about a kilometer apart, that make up the Crans-Montana area). When I pictured skiing in Switzerland, I sure didn't have any golf courses in mind. There's enough of that in Park City. But I challenge anyone to find a more scenic golf course than this one. On all sides are spectacular jagged peaks of the Alps, some decorated with alpine ski lifts. And the golf course itself, centered right in the middle of town serves as a center for town activity, with rope tows for sledding and skiing, numerous walking paths and a skating rink. There are two five K loops with a few more K's nestled in the woods. It is actually very nice terrain and a fun place to ski, despite the whole golf course stigma that it comes with. We skied easy for about an hour and a half. I am looking forward to training a lot here, but due to jet lag and the fact that this is the first time I have put on skis since the Overland race last Sunday, I think I will ease into it.

January 23

I am really looking forward to wandering around the town here, seeing the sites, and maybe (hopefully) doing some downhill skiing. But not just yet. Right now I am all too happy sleeping. Again today I took an hour nap after breakfast. Then after another hour and a half ski and lunch, I thought I might head into town. But before I knew it, I was waking up from a two hour nap. Some people on the Disabled Team have been complaining about not being able to sleep at night or waking up at 3:00 AM and not falling back to sleep, but not me. Even with all my naps, I am still sleeping 9 hour a night. If I do wake up in the night, I promptly zonk right out again. This is just what I needed. A lot of R & R. My hope is that I can get a lot of this out of the way, so that starting tomorrow, Monday, I can start doing more training and sightseeing. But for now, my bed is my best friend. Nothing like traveling halfway around the world to sleep the whole time.

January 24

Today we went down to the city of Sion to register for the races and get credentials. A number of people on the American team also had to be reclassified. This basically means that they had to do a complete a test to determine the extent of their disability, so that they can be put in a certain category of racers. The whole disabled results are based on percentages. The more restricted you are, the smaller your percentage. This is the method they use to compare people with extremely varied handicaps. Depending on the race, sometimes they race only against their own class, but in other races they compete against more classes, based on percentages. The whole process of registering, classifying took about two hours. It was much longer than we had expected, but the bonus of the trip was the sightseeing on the way down and back. The hillsides here are covered with vineyards, and down in the valley there were a couple of small castles on high cliffs. Very impressive. After arriving back in Crans-Montana and getting lunch, we headed out skiing. Rob and I skied for an hour and a half, then I skied some more on my own, exploring all of the 13K trail network. Nothing too exciting, but good trails for a golf course. Then it was back home for a nap before dinner.

January 25

I finally got out and about today. We did out usual breakfast, nap, ski, lunch routine, but then after lunch Rob and I decided to explore the Montana side of Crans-Montana. Since we ski in Crans, we have seen a lot of that village, but I hadn't seen Montana since we came through on our way into town last Friday. We walked around for an hour and a half, buying postcards and chocolate and looking at cuckoo (sp?) clocks and cowbells. When I was little, the two places in Europe I always wanted to go were Switzerland and Austria. At that point I was primarily a downhill skier and I had dreams of skiing the Alps and exploring the small villages nestled in the valleys. A few years later, those thoughts were replaced by exploring Norway on cross country skis, but I still had a great desire to experience life in the Alps. Today I was thinking that the scene in town was just like I had pictured Switzerland when I was younger, albeit a little more developed. There were people walking around in ski boots, fresh off the slopes

January 26

Today was, just maybe, the most beautiful day in the history of the world. Not a cloud dared show it's face from dawn til dusk. The temperature never climbed above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but the sun was so intense that it felt like a day on the beach in Maui. Nothing like getting a tan while skiing on blue multigrade hard wax. We had hoped to do some glide testing of Rob's skis today, so after breakfast we headed to the waxroom, picked up the skis and hit the "piste." By the time we got to the right section of trail, one of the coaches ahd already set up the electronic speed trap. We did five runs with each pair of skis, so slicken up both the track and the skis, then we were ready to start testing. The only problem was that the timing system, which had worked so flawlessly during the test runs, stopped working on the first actual trial. Now this was very bad news, but it was hard to make myself believe that as I laid down and sunned myself while the coaches tried to fix it. After a good 20 minutes, we gave up hope and just went to ski. Maybe the battery was dead, we'll try again tomorrow. Since Rob's first race is two days away, we skied very easy, and analyzed a couple of the trickier downhill sections. The downhills are where a guide earns his free trip to Europe. The trick is to stay head of the racer, but close enough that the racer can draft and rest while still going fast. Sometimes this means frantic double poling or skating on the part of the guide, as well as numerous glances over his shoulder on fast, turny downhills. Today we had one major screw-up that almost sent Rob hurtling through the snowfence and a condominium window, but he made a spectacular recovery. Hopefully I am getting all the kinks out of my guiding technique. After Rob was done skiing, I did some training of my own. Since very little of my skiing this week will be all-out (at least that what I think), I did a few very hard intervals today. 2x5minutes and 2x3 minutes, all level IV. It felt good to go hard again after a week and a half of easy training. I had to stop and take some pictures along the way, as well, because the scenery today was unbelievable. After skiing, the sun was so intense that we lounged on our balcony in shorts and t-shirts for hours, just taking in the amazing views without the slightest chill in the 20 degree air.

I have decided that my afternoon workouts are going to be adventures. I could just go back to the track and ski the same 13 kilometers over and over, but I really want to explore this place as much as I can, and yesterday's run was so much fun, that I decided to something similar this afternoon. I had noticed the other day as I looked at an alpine trail map that it looked like there was a cross country trail that traversed along the entire length of the ski area, about a third of the way up the mountain. The map was not too interested in this trail, so details were sketchy, but it looked to me like it was a real trail and was about 10 Km long. So this afternoon, I walked down to our wax hut, grabbed my classic skis and poles and began the hike up to the west end of the trail. I didn't really know where it started, but it looked like if I followed a windy road up towards "Plans Mayens" I would reach it eventually. It turns out that "Eventually" was the key word there. It was a good 40 minute hike up before I found the trail, but I had been moving fast so that in itself was a good workout. The trail, to my pleasant surprise was well marked and perfectly groomed with two classic tracks. I eagerly put on my boots and zipped off down the trail. Since it took so long to get up tot he trail, I only had about 45 minutes to ski before I had to be back, so I knew I couldn't do the whole trail in both directions. I skied out for about half an hour, going up, down, and across alpine trails along the way. I got a few funny looks from snowboarders as I cruised by, but probably more out of jealousy than anything. After all, they were the ones who took a wrong turn and ended up on an "uphill" trail with both feet locked onto one board. I merely smiled and said "Bonjour!" as I went by. Most of the trail was in the woods, but a few lookouts and trail crossing afforded some of the best views I've ever seen from a ski trail. After half an hour I reluctantly turned around and headed back, looking for an alpine trail that would take me back to the area of my hotel. I found one soon enough and took pleasure in passing a number of metal-edged skiers on my way down. I came out about 400 meters from the hotel and walked home. I can't wait to try the whole trail.

Tonight was our "cultural exchange" night. A number of local residents had organized a night out for all the athletes were we would go to a local house for dinner. It was not mandatory and I have to admit that, due to the language barrier, I was very nervous about the whole thing. But Rob and I were to be going together, so thinking that we had strength in numbers, we accepted the invitation. When our host picked us up, the organizers explained that he was a prominent local businessman and head of the Chamber of Commerce. As we drove away, Rob tried to apologize for our tardiness (no one told us what time to be ready), but our host, Marco, just shook his head, showing us that he did not understand much english. "This could be a long night," I thought. Fortunately, on the way to his house, he picked up his brother, Jean Claude, from the ski shop that he owns. Jean Claude could speak english fairly well and acted as a translator as we sat in Marco's basement and had drinks, while his wife cooked dinner. Things were going great - the four of us were all laughing and sharing our perspectives on the others' country - when Jean Claude announced that he had to leave for a previous engagement. "Oh no," I thought. Marco ahd shown some knowledge of english, certainly better than my french, but it would still be a task to communicate. The biggest bonus of the evening was when Jean Claude said on his way out that if we want to go alpine skiing, just stop by the shop and he can give us equipment! I promised him I would definitely be stopping in. The conversation died quickly when Jean Claude left, so we went upstairs for dinner. But once we all sat down, Marco, his wife Rosemary, Rob and myself, the conversation picked up quite well. With a combination of my french, Marco's english and a lot of handwaving, we made it through the whole meal without any major language barriers. It was a very enjoyable dinner and when it ended they gave us embroidered Crans-Montana t-shirts and Rob gave them US Ski Team pins as small tokens of our thanks. With a lot of "Merci beaucoup" and "Au Revoir" we left, very full from dinner and very relieved that the night was such a success.

January 27

I take it all back - TODAY was the most beautiful day in the history of the world. Just like yesterday, but about 5 degrees warmer. It was downright hot in the sun, but the tracks were firm and fast with Extra blue kick wax. After another failed attempt at testing skis, Rob and I skied two 5K laps. We analyzed the course pretty closely this time, Rob telling me where he wanted me on all the downhills and when I should change lanes, etc. For me, the whole race is about being in the right places at the right times. I think I am getting the hang of it, but I am a little nervous about the first race tomorrow since we haven't done a lot of fast pace skiing. I'm not really sure exactly how fast we will be skiing or how hard it will be to maintain the proper distance. We'll find it all out tomorrow I guess.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent relaxing and resting for tomorrow.

January 28

The first race. I have to admit that I was probably more nervous for this race than I am for most of my own. Yesterday while we were doing speed work, I had a few problems staying the right distance ahead of Rob. On downhills, he was riding up on my tails and on uphills, I was pulling away too quickly. I tried to tell myself that this was because of the uneven pace of doing short speeds followed by slow skiing, but I wasn't really sure. Would things be better today when we are at a more constant pace or would the fact that the pace is faster the whole time make it even harder? I had no idea. I didn't really want to ask Rob, because I felt that he had to have confidence in me and I didn't want to do or say anything that might make him lose faith. I think I was also nervous because Rob's actual finish in the race was ultimately out of my hands. In the end, it would be Rob who determined the outcome of "our" race. I tend to get more nervous when things that effect me are out of my hands. Its kind of like the way that I get really nervous before football games, I really want my team to win, but I can't do anything about it. Today I really wanted to help Rob ski his best, but I knew that my role was small compared to his. I couldn't really win the race for him, but if I screwed up, I could lose it for him. When I race, I am much more confident because I know that my race result is up to me, and me only. I don't like to rely on other people for my own success, which I guess helps explain why I chose such an individual sport (that and the fact that I was a pathetic baseball player). As I lined up at the start, I put all the negative thoughts out of my mind and got ready to race.

The race was individual start, which means that Rob started by himself. As he started, I waited about 50 meters down the track. As he approached, I began to pick up speed, like I was preparing for a relay hand-off, so by the time we reached the end of the stadium, we were skiing at the same pace with me about 6-8 meters ahead of him. Once the race started, I forgot all my apprehensions and focused on my job. I looked over my shoulder every few strides to make sure I was the right distance ahead. I was trying to ski fast enough that I would "pull" Rob along, without going so fast that I dropped him or demoralized him. I yelled encouragement as often as I could without being too annoying and let him know when we were approaching tricky sections. The first 5K lap went fine from my point of view. We made it through the downhills clean and I wasn't too far ahead. But I could tell that Rob was struggling a bit. It looked like he was kind of tired and working hard up the first few hills. But as we hit the flats before the stadium, he seemed to get a second wind. We used this section of double pole to get into a groove that helped us make up some time on the second lap. We dusted a skier who had just passed us and began to pick off a few skiers on the course ahead of us. Rob skied the second lap stronger and had a good sprint to the finish. Rob finished 9th overall in the "B" category and 4th in the "B3" category. (More on what that means later) Since he didn't feel all that great during the race, his fourth place finish meant that he would have a decent shot a medal in one of the next races. Third place was about 50 seconds ahead, but on a good day, it would definitely be possible. I was also relieved when Rob told me I had done a good job and said that he couldn't think of any instances where I should have done something differently. I could think of a couple instances, but they were minor and I chose to keep them to myself rather than overanalyze. The big news of the day was that Steve Cook, a Salt Lake City resident, won his division to become the first American to win a "Super Cup" race (again more on that later). This means that we now have a World Champion on our team, which is quite exciting. Especially since it has sent the Euros scurrying to find out exactly who this guy is. A decent day for Rob, a good day for me, and a great day for Steve.

January 29

Today I decided that I was going to get in an OD ski. Once the season gets going, it is hard to fit in the really long workouts. In fact I think the last work out I had that was over 2 and a half hours was in Silver Star. So I was looking forward to a long day of cruising around the tracks today. Rob and I skied together easy for an hour or so, which was enough for him to loosen up and stretch out after yesterday's race. After he finished, I kept going for another two hours. It felt so great to get really tired from the duration of the workout rather than the intensity. It was a great ski, the only drawback being that as I was skiing I watched an ominous storm front move in over the mountains. . .

January 30

. . .and move in it did. It started snowing yesterday evening and alternated between snow and rain all night. This morning the whole town was a sloppy mess of slush and very wet, heavy snow was still coming down. Rob, Steve and I reluctantly made our way down to the trails after breakfast, knowing that we would be soaked after even a short ski. The ski itself was not only wet, but very slow. We all kept pretty quite as we trudged around the trail for about an hour. A lot of skiers were taking part in a biathlon race today so they had to be out there, but I think we and a small group of Finns were the only non-racers to brave the elements today. After it was over, we all complained a little bit about being cold and wet, but then we all concurred that it was still better than being stuck inside. It reaffirmed a widespread belief (among unemployed skiers anyway) that the worst day on the trails is still better than the best day at the office. I went back to the hotel and took a nice hot bath to warm up, then crawled into bed for a nap. I guess life isn't too bad.

It's a good thing I took a nap, because I had to get up at midnight tonight to watch the Super Bowl. Rob saw an ad on TV the other day saying that it would be broadcast, which relieved my fear of missing it. But for some strange reason, no one esle wanted to watch it with me, so I spent the hours of 12-4am sitting up in bed with the lights out watching the game with the sound turned off (it was in German anyway). But everyone else missed out on a great game. After the Titans came up 6 inches short it was back to bed because 7:00 am would come all too soon.

January 31

Sure we skied today, but I've written enough about that lately, and besides, it was pretty uneventful except for the scramble to find a wax that would work in the 45 degree weather. So I thought that today I would touch on another vital aspect of this trip - the food. In terms of quality, we have done very well with the food so far. Our hotel provides us with breakfast and dinner. Breakfast is an extensive continental affair with plenty of cereal, croissants, meats, cheeses, and jams. I have to admit that by now I am craving a little eggs and sausage or even some hot oatmeal, but I continue to enjoy the offerings we have. I don't think I could eat pepperoni and brie croissants everyday, for two weeks it is a nice change of pace.

For lunch, all the athletes from all nations eat in a large tent at the race site. Lunch leaves something to be desired, especially in the meat department. I always feel like I am being fed the parts of the selected animal that no one else would buy. Words like "minced" and "shredded" are used a lot. But so far it has all been edible. And it is usually accompanied by a decent portion of potatoes or the like, vegetables, and yogurt for dessert. Not quite gourmet, but better than I would expect out of a tent operation.

Then dinner makes up for any inadequacies in lunch. We get the royal treatment at the hotel. Dinner is almost always a four course meal, and always delicious. In fact, the other night our waiter apologized to us because they were only offering three courses that night! We've had roast beef, raclette (a delicious cheese extravaganza), chicken cordon blue, etc. etc. The only drawback is that the courses are small, so I end up eating a lot of bread to fill up. I'm beginning to accept that the Swiss are not into big servings, whether it be orange juice at breakfast or lamb at dinner. It takes a bit of hunting and gathering to satisfy the appetite of an athlete over here. There is always a delicious dessert as well. The highlight of which was the night they gave us igloo flambee. Which was ice cream in a chocolate shell, which was doused in some sort of alcohol and lit on fire. Our waiter was a having a bit of trouble getting them to light, so we grabbed the candle from our table and helped out. I think the waiter got a bit nervous when we had 5 flaming desserts going at once. I thought he was about to go grab the fire extinguisher, but the threat passed and we ate the remains.

Another way I have been filling up is by making it my personal goal to determine what the best kind of Swiss chocolate is. I have tried my fair share, but I still have much more research to do before I can come to a conclusion. I'll keep you posted.

I apologize if this entry is rambling or not fully comprehensible (as if the others aren't). It's late and I need to go to bed. Maybe I'll redo it tomorrow.

Continue reading in the February Journal.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.