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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  For earlier entries from the Fairbanks trip (October 27-31) go to the October Journal

November 1 - Fairbanks, Alaska

A.M. Home Temperature: -5º F

Before we came to Alaska, Torbjorn had laid out a general training plan for us to follow while we are here. The main gist of it was lots of volume and technique work, a little speed & intensity, and take a rest day early in the trip. So today, with four days of skiing under my belt, I took a rest day. I feel strong, like I don't need to rest, but since I was pretty worn out last week it can't hurt to make sure I am fully rested and ready for a big volume week coming up. I took the free time as a good opportunity to prep some of my new skis. A number of my new Atomics came in just days before I left to come up here. I sent them to the stonegrinder immediately in hopes of getting them back in time for this trip. It was a bit of a rush, but I literally picked up three freshly stoneground pairs from the grinders on my way to the airport. Thus I had not done any of the post-grinding base work to get them ready to ski. When I arrived in Fairbanks I realized that, due to miscommunication, neither Erik or I had brought some necessary tools to do the job (fibertex, warm paraffin wax, base peeler). So this morning I went down to the local shops to pick up the tools. While I was in one of these shops, Beaver Sports, I was checking out their prices on the new skis when a salesman came over and asked me if I needed any help. At that moment I got the sinister idea of playing with this guy a little bit to see exactly how much he knew and to see if he would try to B.S. me at all. I played dumb and asked about the Fischer SkateCut and the carbon-fiber Peltonen Supra, both of which he had on hand. He explained to me that the sidecut on the Fischer is designed primarily to make the ski arc inward as you push off (Wrong). He also explained that the Supra is the only true cap ski on the market (Wrong). At this point I asked if he knew anything about "that new Atomic ski" which Beaver Sports does not carry. He explained that while it is a radically design, he doubts that it will work because the tip is way too wide and stiff and will plow. I immediately had the urge to jump down his throat and yell that the Beta design makes the wide tip extremely soft due to its double core, stiffness under the foot and extreme torsional rigidity, and that I had won races last year on the Beta and finished top ten in the Birkie on that ski, but instead I just nodded and said, "Interesting." While I admit that what I did was in some ways arrogant and dishonest, it did reconfirm my belief that those of us who sell skis at Nordic Equipment are some of the few people who know what they are talking about.

Anyway, after that amusing episode, I came home and waxed up the new boards. To prep my skis after grinding I do the following: shave the base lightly with a Base peeler (razor blade). Sand the edges of the tips and tails with very fine (300 grit) sandpaper. Fibertex the base and edges with gray (coarse) then white (soft) fibertex. One more pass with the base peeler, then wax three layers of paraffin wax: warm, then medium temp wax, then cold. Then put on the wax of the day and they are ready to ski. I have pretty cold grinds on the new skis I brought with me (two pairs of classic skis and one pair of Betas), so I am anxious to see how they slide. We'll see tomorrow.

November 2

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: 2º F

The day off allowed the swelling around my blister to go down and the skin has begun to turn into a callous, so I decided to be brave and go classic skiing this morning. Just to be sure, I wrapped my whole toe in a jumbo band-aid. The temperature was barely above freezing today, but all who were at the trails agreed that, for some reason, it felt like the warmest day yet. This might have had something to do with the fact that the -15 temperature at our house last night reminded us to wear a few more layers of clothes than usual. I even replaced my standard cotton T-shirt with a Terremar long underwear top for the first time all trip. I know that the first rule of winter survival and warmth is never wear cotton, but I still always ski in just a t-shirt under my jacket. This is for a number of reasons: 1) I only own three long underwear tops and I can't be doing laundry every day, 2) I always get too hot when I put an extra layer on my arms, 3) long underwear smells extremely foul after a workout and when you are in tight quarters at a training camp, it is best to reduce odor whenever possible. So I continue to break the cardinal rule and wear a cotton t-shirt. I do, however, carry an extra one to put on immediately after the workout and I always have a Terremar or polypropylene top in my pack just in case. So I classic skied for two and a half hours without any irritation from my toe.

Part of Torbjorn's plan for us this camp is lots of volume and not much intensity. This means no structured intervals. Since I have been doing nothing but distance since I arrived here, I was itching to pick it up a bit today. I was dragging a bit when I first got to Fairbanks, but the combination of training at sea-level and resting a lot between training sessions has re-energized me. You have to love it when you are skiing 4 hours a day and feeling better with every workout. I think that living at altitude is great for training in some respects, such as increasing aerobic capacity, but it also takes its toll in terms of speed and overall energy. Thats why I think it is important for me to train at sea level every few months at least. That way I get some of my speed and snap back. Because of finances and scheduling conflicts, I haven't been to sea level since last May. Much longer than I would have liked, but I made it through without getting too burned out and now I can just feel my batteries recharging. So I decided to let it hang out a bit today by doing some natural intervals - picking it up to level III or maybe IV on 8-10 uphills. This felt really good and I thoroughly enjoyed actually recovering in between each interval because of the oxygen-rich air. In all respects, this was a great workout and got me psyched for the second half of this camp.

P.M. Trailhead Temperature: 5º F

This afternoon I was able to use my newest pair of Betas for the first time. I had only put three coats of wax in them, but considering that I have had very soft (slow) wax on all my skis until this point, they seemed like they were flying. They also have a grind on them that is good in cold dry snow, so that didn't hurt either. I could actually glide on the uphills! I had almost forgotten what that was like. I was cruising around all the lighted trails (it was dark by the time we got there) and even let out a few shouts of excitement when my skis actually carved around some of the tight corners. Now thats the ski I remember from last year! This pair flexes out at just about my body weight (80 Kg), which is on the stiff side for the Betas, but they were good nonetheless. From my limited experience on these so far, it appears that you want a Beta to be about 85-95% of your body weight. And just as a bonus on this workout, my feet didn't get cold for the first skate workout all week. Probably all the adrenaline running through my body.

November 3

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: 1º F

It occurred to me during my workout this morning that many of you may have the wrong impression of the actual training that goes on at a "training camp" such as this one. If you say the words "training camp" to the average joe on the street, he/she probably pictures basketball players running drills or football players pushing blocking sleds. And if you say those same words to a skier who has attended a clinic or paid to have gone to a camp to receive coaching, they probably picture a lot of standing around listening to a coach talk and maybe skiing a little bit. For the most part, none of this goes on at a camp like this one in Fairbanks. There are four of us here who ride to the trails together every day: Scott Loomis, Andrew Johnson, Erik Stange, and me. But once we arrive at the warming hut and put our ski boots on, we rarely see each other until we pack up to go home two or three hours later. For the most part, we all just go out and ski on our own. This has always fascinated me. When we are running, rollerskiing or biking, we almost always stay as a group, enjoying each other's company, laughing and conversing the whole way. Why is it that when we put on skis our habits suddenly change and we become so antisocial? It is not just this training group either. Every group I have trained with, from my high school team to my college team to the present, has been the same way. I gave this quite a bit of thought today while I was skiing. I threw out a number of theories (wanting to ski at different speeds, a variety of trails to choose from) based on the fact that the same variables are involved with other sports that we use for training. I finally settle on this: Being in the woods in the winter, with everything covered in a blanket of snow, is possibly the most peaceful, serene setting to be found anywhere. Without leaves on the trees to rustle or branches to crack under your feet, it is incredibly still and silent except for your own breathing and schussing skis. It offers the perfect opportunity to relax the mind and think about anything you wish or nothing at all. Almost instinctively we all set out in different directions to find our own secluded space to get in some quality private time. I was very excited when I thought of this on my ski this morning (which was 2:00 of distance by the way). It is something that has kind of been floating around in my mind for a long time now, but this was the first time I was able to put a finger on it. But, as excited as I was when I was thinking of all this, I had no desire to find anyone else to discuss it with them. That would have ruined my serenity.

P.M. Trailhead Temperature: -2º F

After all that new-age sensitive stuff going on this morning, my competitive side was itching to act up this afternoon. After all, I've been on snow now for a week and I haven't done anything really hard yet. Erik and I were supposed to meet our host, Jeffrey, at the trailhead to ski together at 5:15, but due to a video analysis session that ran overtime due to a very entertaining segment on the Austrian blue-legged yellow puffball (ask Miles Minson to show you the video if you ever get the chance - it is hilarious), we did not get to the trail until almost six. This had me even more jacked-up, because I hated to keep Jeffrey waiting. So when I finally got my skis on, I blasted out of the gate, in an effort to find Jeffrey quickly and blow off some steam at the same time. Erik had the bad luck of trying to ski with me at this point. For the first two kilometers or so, I was going what felt like almost race speed, but I was hardly working hard. So I picked it up a notch. Now I was going at a decent race pace, but still feeling strong. I picked it up again and I was really flying and enjoying the feeling of my body working hard but not getting tired. I began surprising a few unsuspecting masters skiers as I flew by at ridiculously fast speeds. After about fifteen minutes of this we found Jeffrey and began to ski as a threesome. I took the lead and tried to slow down, but I was just too wired. I felt great, my Betas were flying, and no amount of self control could slow me down. Despite my best efforts, I dropped Jeffrey pretty quickly. We waited for him to catch up , then Erik took the lead and I stayed in back to unwind a bit. We skied together for about half an hour. Then I took off on my own and pretty much ran myself into the ground for the next forty minutes, but had a blast doing it. I skied for a total of 1:30, but it was the fastest 1:30 I have done in a long time.

November 4

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -7º F

So last night the temperature dropped down to a chilly -25 F in town. It was slightly warmer in the hills where we were skiing, but still the coldest day yet. But funny thing, yesterday and today I have been warmer than I have been all week. Maybe it is because I am figuring out how to dress for winter again, maybe all of my extremities have already gone numb from cold, or maybe my body is just adapting to winter. No matter which it is (unless its that numb thing), it is great to be skiing in -7 degree weather and feel more invigorated than cold. If you aren't really awake yet when you walk out the door, you will be once you go down that first hill at 30 miles an hour. I had planned to skate this morning, but due to the cold I put on the classic gear instead. Skating gets extremely hard in these conditions because you don't get much glide. Plus, your feet don't flex at all in skate boots and they tend to get cold in a hurry. Most people have insulated overboots to prevent this, but I like to think of overboots as a weakness I don't have. That is, until I finally breakdown and get a pair and discover how wonderful and warm they really are. But it hasn't happened yet. I skied for 2:30 without getting too cold, which I considered a major achievement in this weather.

P.M. Trailhead Temperature: -3º F

Well, we didn't quite break zero today, but tomorrow is supposed to be warmer. Despite the cold, the skating wasn't half bad this afternoon. Some sections were dog-slow, but most of the lighted loop was skied in well enough to make it fast. As a side note, about seven kilometers of trails at Birch Hill have lights on them, because otherwise, the locals could only ski for a few hours each day in December and January. It only takes about 20-30 minutes to ski the lighted loop, so I did three laps tonight, then a little no poles skiing. I skied pretty hard tonight, like I did last night, but tonight I died a little earlier. After an hour I was dragging. The past couple days of harder training is finally setting in the way I expected it to. I finished up at about 1:30 and went home for dinner. I will sleep well tonight.

November 5

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -3º F

This morning I had planned to just take it easy. I was still feeling a little tired from last night's workout and I had also planned to classic ski for 2 and a half hours. I started out at a slow pace and working much to hard to maintain it. I was walking the uphills and milking the glide for all it was worth on the downs. After about an hour of this, I decided that I needed to do something to get my energy back. In the past I have found that doing short speed (about 6-10 reps of 15 seconds all out) is a good way of shaking the lead out of my legs. So over the next 5K I did speed wherever the terrain encouraged it. I did 10 total and felt better with each one. By the end, I was skiing smoothly at a decent training pace. I finished the workout strong, feeling much better than I did when I started.

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -1º F

Tonight I was feeling a little run down, so I just went for a jog instead of skiing. I think its good to do this once in a while at a training camp. It not only gives your muscles a chance to do something different and recover from skiing, but it is also good just for the variation it provides. It shakes up your routine a bit. I ran for about an hour at an easy pace.

November 6

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: 1º F

I had a dream last night that I tried to use my check card at the sports shop here in town and it was declined because I only had $8 in my bank account. I remember saying in the dream, "Hmm, this doesn't usually happen until January." I think the reason for this dream is that yesterday I bought my ticket to Silver Star, British Columbia for Thanksgiving week. As I have mentioned before, I always go to West Yellowstone for Thanksgiving, which usually means skipping the first part of the Continental Cup Series in Canada. Each of the past two years I have regretted this decision later because it gives other skiers a leg up on me in the points standings. This year I was determined to go to the Canadian races and not let this happen again. It took some convincing to get Torbjorn to go along with this trip, since Yellowstone is one of the only times of the year that we are on the same trails at the same time for an extended period. But he understood my concerns about getting the racing season going, especially without any races in Fairbanks. This trip will be more expensive than Yellowstone, due to airfare and a longer stay, which prompted my financial worries in my dream. So this morning I spent most of the ski balancing my check book in my head. I should be all right for a little while, thanks mostly to a donation from Littleton Orthopedics, run by Dr. Lon Howard in my hometown. It is a natural sponsorship since Dr. Howard has put me back together numerous times: broken wrist, compound fracture of both forearm bones, back spasms, etc. After assuring myself that I would be able to afford to make it home, I began to plot ways of affording a trip to Canmore, Alberta in December. . .

P.M. Trailhead Temperature: -2º F

All week I have had a goal of gliding in a tuck from the top of the Tower Loop (the highest point on the Birch Hill trails) to the far end of the Rollercoaster Loop, This is a net downhill, but it involves 4 hairpin turns and a number of quick ups and downs (hence "Rollercoaster") over the course of about a kilometer and a half. I started doing this when I first sensed that I was becoming a little bored with the trails at Birch Hill. The trails are very nice and the skiing couldn't be better, but with only about 25K of trails to choose from, you start to get a little bored after a week. So I created this little goal of mine as a way to spice up the descent from the Tower Loop. I allow myself to skate up to speed before the first corner and to skate without poles around corners, but otherwise I must be in a tuck the whole time. Each time I have been foiled on the last uphill, the closest I have come is about 2 meters from the top. The main problem is that the fourth turn has a gradual uphill coming into it which saps all my speed. I put in a few good skates around the corner, but it is not enough to make it over the final bump before my goal. But tonight the snow was fast and I was determined to make it. After I had been skiing for about an hour and fifteen minutes I made my first approach up the Tower Loop, plotting strategy along the way. In all my previous attempts, I have sprinted up to maximum speed before the first turn, only to lose most of the speed in the second corner, a nasty U-turn. This time I thought I would start a little slower and try to carry more speed through the second turn. It didn't work. I started a bit slower and came out of turn 2 even slower and ended up with my worst showing yet. Refusing to concede defeat, I turned around and headed right back up to do it again. On my way up I ran into Scott Loomis and told him of my progress (or lack thereof). I figured that maybe I could do it with a little help. As we started down the hill, I hung behind Scott and then made a slingshot move around him on the first corner. I flew through turns 2&3, but it was still not enough to overcome the final hill. It was a good effort, but still not enough. So I headed back up to try yet again. This time, I ran into Andrew Johnson and informed him that this was my final run at glory. We devised a plan and tweaked the rules a little bit. This time it was legal to skate without poles on any downhills. At the top of the hill Andrew took the lead and I followed behind in an all-out sprint. We rounded turn 1 at a very fast pace and quickly dropped into tucks. I stayed in his draft until a split second before turn 2. He pulled off and I went flying around the turn, barely hanging on to the trail at such high speed. Turn three was faster than ever, and I put in a few quality skates after coming out of turn four before dropping into a tuck for the final ups and downs. I made it up to the top of the final hill, to the point where my skis were just starting to point downward, - and I came to a dead stop. I let out a yell of frustration at coming so close, but when Andrew caught up to me he reminded me that I was technically on a downhill and according to the new rules, could now skate. So I put in one skate stride and cruised past my goal. So maybe I had bent the rules a bit, but when the temperature is below zero, you need to give yourself a little advantage because the glide is so slow. It was a hollow victory, but a victory nonetheless.

November 7

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: 0º F

All week long, we had been looking at the weather forecasts and almost salivating over the 20 degree weather predicted for the weekend. Well, as you can see from yesterday and today's temperatures, it never happened. We were cruelly tricked. When I got up this morning and saw that the temperature at the house was -10 F, I was extremely disappointed. The only thing I could do at that point was crawl back into bed for an extra hour. Once I did get up and going, we arranged to meet our hosts at the trailhead for the first part of our planned 3 hour OD. We met Jeffrey and Alyssa at about 10:00 and headed out to brave the cold one last time. As we headed out of the stadium, we noticed two men just finishing the "Blue Loop." As they were about to enter the stadium area, one of the men collapsed to his knees and put his head down on his skis. His friend quickly motioned us over, and we rushed to them. The standing man explained that his friend had just switched antibiotics a few days ago and was now extremely cold and fighting to maintain consciousness. The four of us, Jeffrey, Erik, the man's friend, and I, picked him up and carried him the 400 meters back to the warming hut while Alyssa called 911. We put the man, named Bob, on the hut floor and covered him with literally every jacket in the building. He remained conscious the whole time, but was clearly in pain and very close to blacking out. The ambulance arrived within minutes and took him to the hospital. By this time it appeared that he was going to be ok, but it was a scary episode that had me shaken for the rest of the ski. What if he had been skiing alone, or had been further out on the trail? We gathered from his friend that they had only been out about 15 minutes and that Bob was in very good shape. How does this happen out of the blue. It wasn't a heart attack or anything, but it was a potentially fatal situation if help had not been nearby. I skied for about two and a half hours after the ambulance left, thinking about lucky he was and also about all the times that I ski alone. Makes me kind of rethink that solitary peacefulness I was talking about the other day. It turns out that Bob is the husband of Jeffrey's daughter's school teacher so tonight Jeffrey called their house to make sure Bob was OK. He was tired and still a bit shaken, but feeling better. The scary part is that the hospital did not have any explanation other than it was not caused by the antibiotics.

Not really the way I wanted to end the camp, but I am ready to head home nonetheless. It has been a great eleven days of skiing and our hosts have been exceptional, but I am ready to go home for a few days. I trained pretty hard the last week and I was dragging out there today. The only drawback to going home is that it has been warm and sunny in Utah without a trace of snow. Looks like I might have to dig those rollerskis out again. At least I can take solace in the fact that at this point I have skied more than almost anyone on the continent so far this season.

November 8

Coming back to Utah today was kind of like going back in time. Usually when I am flying back to Salt Lake from a ski trip, the Utah mountains are covered in snow and the air in Salt Lake is cool, if not cold. But today, as I flew in I could see the mountain bike trails on Antelope Island and the boats on the Great Salt Lake, but there wasn't a single flake of snow visible on the mountains. When I stepped out of the airport, it was downright warm. I was standing outside in just a t-shirt. A far cry from the -10º temperature this morning. It was like having a flashback to September. Once I convinced myself that I hadn't set my clock back a couple months by accident, it made the whole Fairbanks trip seem surreal. Was it just a dream? It will be kind of hard to go back to dryland training, but right now I am enjoying the warm, sunny weather.

November 11

There is a slight sense of panic starting to set in here in Utah. The mountains around Park City are usually covered in snow by the end of September, but there are currently still dry. We have had a number of people call Nordic Equipment hoping for reassuring words for the Yellowstone Camp, but we have had none to offer. It has been in the 70's in Bozeman, MT all week. There is supposed to be a World Cup alpine race next week in Park City but they decided today to either cancel it or move it. Everyone keeps mentioning the fact that there is no snow skiable snow anywhere else in the lower 48, as if that is some consolation. For me, it is not a big deal just yet. I have had a week and a half of great skiing and I am relishing the warm temperatures right now. In a few days I will be itching to ski, but I leave for Silver Star a week from today and they at least have skiable snow. I am praying for snow just like everyone else, but I am also happy to be able to go where the snow is. If there is still no snow when I come back to Utah on December 1, I might take a certain ski rep's suggestion and sacrifice a Norwegian virgin to the snow gods. I hope it doesn't come to that.

November 12

As you may have read earlier, Nordic Equipment was supposed to put on a ski clinic in Grand Mesa, Colorado this weekend. But since they are like the rest of snow country right now and have bare ground, those plans have been altered. We are still doing a clinic, but it is going to be on rollerskis. We have no idea if anyone will actually show up for this, but we are going to Colorado regardless. So Torbjorn, Erik, and I loaded up the van and headed southeast early this morning. When we arrived at the Mesa in early afternoon, we encountered some serious obstacles to our plan. For one, there are not many roads to ski on. For another, the few roads we found were covered in spots of ice. Not really ideal when you are trying to teach someone to rollerski. After hunting for an hour or so, we found the perfect set-up for our camp. We went to the Powderhorn downhill resort and discovered three huge parking lots that will work well for rollerski technique work and a spiffy condo for us to stay in. Now all we needed was a good trail to do skiwalking & bounding on. So after checking in, we changed quickly into workout clothes and headed up the ski trails to see what we could find. We ski-walked up the access road to the top of the resort, which is on the Mesa and then found a great trail that traversed the ridge to the far end of the ski area. It was a great trail for running and reminded me of the Appalachian Trail near Hanover, NH in a lot of ways. The only problem was that it started to get dark while we were still on the ridge. Torbjorn was leading and I noticed that our pace picked up considerable when he noticed that it was getting harder to see where to put your feet down. By the time we made it to the far end of the ridge it could have been considered dark. We made our way back down the ski slopes, with every step being a leap of faith. We made it back without incidence and plan on taking the clinic participants up there tomorrow. But next time we will start before 4:30 pm.

November 13

This morning we headed up to the Visitor Center on top of the Mesa to see if anyone would show up for our dryland camp. We had a lot of people cancel, but we were optomistic that we could at least have enough people to make it worthwhile. We tried to guess how many people would show up and we had predictions ranging from 3 to 26 people. We ended up somewhere in the middle, as 10 people showed up to do some rollerskiing. We had a wide range of abilities, from people who had never been on rollerskis before to people who usually start in the first wave of the Birkie. The common thread among all participants was the desire to improve their technique, whether on rollerskis or snow. After getting everyone together, we headed back down to Powderhorn to start rollerskiing. We divided the participants into three groups and Erik, Torbjorn, and I each took a group to work with for the morning. I had four people in my group to work on classic technique. We spent about an hour and a half working on double pole and double pole with kick, focusing on such points as good arm follow through, using the stomach muscles as much as possible, and using the kick to help get you up and over the gliding ski. Everyone was eager to learn more and try new suggestions. Since I am primarily a racer, I am used to being critiqued rather than being the one critiquing. I was a little nervous about how I would do in the "coach" position, but once we got started I found that almost all of the technique flaws I saw were things that I had worked on in my own technique at one time or another and I was able to draw from what my coaches had told me. (I think a collective shiver just went down the spine of all Dartmouth skiers as they envisioned me retelling one of Ruff's infamous technique lectures.) It was really cool to be able to work with a few skiers and see progress in technique in such a short amount of time. I think every one was skiing better by the end of the morning session.

After lunch, the entire group came over to our condo where we did a presentation on various aspects of the sport. I talked about the new ski and boot/binding models and why they are so much better than previous designs. Then Erik did a wax clinic before Torbjorn discussed the extensive process of stonegrinding. We then moved on to a short video session on technique. I pointed out some of the finer elements of classic technique using Oddvar Bro and Elena Vaelbe as examples and then Erik showed a few brief moments of the Relay at the 99 World Championships to get us in the mood to go skate. We then moved outside to do a short skate rollerski session. Since we were on a flat parking lot, we focused mainly on V2 and V2 alternate. This was probably a good decision because it quickly became apparent that this is the area most people needed to work on. We spent most of the time resolving issues of timing the kick with the leg with the proper arm motion.

Since neither of these technique sessions was particularly tiring, we then did a hike up the ski area like we had yesterday. Near the top, Torbjorn had us pick up the pace a little bit in order to give the "students" a feel for the different training levels. When we got to the top, it was already starting to get dark so instead of continuing along the ridge, we headed back down the same way we came up. Even so, we ended up doing the last part in the dark again. Damn the lack of daylight savings!

We then headed into the hopping town of Mesa for dinner with four of the camp participants. It was a good time to share ski stories and ask questions. Then we headed home and I relished the feeling of climbing into bed before 10 pm for probably the first time in years.

November 14

Since I am coaching this weekend, it has been a bit hard to get in any significant workout. So this morning, Erik and I headed out the door at 7:30 to get in a little rollerski before the clinic started. We skied from Powderhorn up towards the top of the Mesa. Since this is all uphill, we were not going that dfast, but the unforgiving terrain made it a pretty intense distance workout anyway. After about 45 minutes, Torbjorn arrived to take a few pictures and bring us back in time to coach at 9:00. We met the clinic group at 9 for some more skate work. This morning we skated again, but first Torbjorn lead the entire group through some skate motions on foot, while Erik and I wandered around giving (hopefully) helpful suggestions. Then we broke into smaller groups and rollerskied for about an hour or so. It was really cool to see that everyone had made significant progress since yesterday. For some that meant refining their technique and for others it meant making it from one end of the parking lot to the other without crashing.

After lunch, I gave a short lecture on training, specifically on what kind of training we do at what times of the year and gave a few examples of the more extreme workouts I have done. Which all of you already know about. I then answered questions on everything from how much sleep I get at night to the tactics involved in a sprint race. In a lot of ways I felt like I was just giving a summary of all the information that can be found on this website.

For the PM session, we did some skiwalking and bounding, both with poles and without. The purpose of this session was twofold: to expose the campers to a great way to train for skiing and to get them a little tired at the end of the clinic. We accomplished this second goal by having them do six repeats of 20 seconds hillbounding. Apparently it waasn't hard enough though as most actually did seven or eight. At the end of this session,Torbjorn said a few words to close out the camp. Even though we did not have any snow, I think that everyone who showed up was happy they did and learned some valuable information that they can use to become a better skier. It would have been nice to ski, but the clinic was a success regardless.

November 18

Well, it did snow in Park City last night. It was an amazing thing to watch. I rollerskied yesterday morning in a t-shirt, but by the end of the workout, the winds were picking up and the air was cooling rapidly. Throughout the rest of the day, the winds got stiffer and clouds started to creep over the Wasatch mountains. At first the clouds were white and fluffy, but they began to change so that by about 4 pm, the clouds were dark and threatening. The way the storm moved in reminded me of the alien spaceships in "Independence Day." It was as if it was going to take a storm of epic proportions to blow away the high pressure area that had been sitting over Utah for about two months straight, and this was finally the storm that was up to the task. About 5pm, the clouds let loose with rain that quickly turned to snow. When all was said and done, we had about two inches on the ground. Usually that is nothing to get excited about, but since we had all been waiting for over a month for the first sign of winter, everyone was excited. When the entire town economy depends on good snow, everyone gets a little nervous this time of year. It was like a huge weight was lifted off the entire town. But despite the euphoria, there was still not enough snow to ski. So this morning I caught my flight to Silver Star, British Columbia hoping that mother nature had been a little kinder to Canada than she has been to the lower 48 so far. Silver Star is a mountain resort above the town of Vernon, BC. I have never been here before, but the reports I had heard from my skiing buddies made it sound like a trip I must take. And since the first FIS races of the year will take place here next week, I figured this was as good a time as any to check it out. When I arrived in town, I could tell right away that I was going to like this place. In many ways, it reminds me of Waterville Valley. Its a ski town out in the middle of nowhere, with a quaint little village center where you can get from a restaurant to the ticket window to the chairlift all without taking your skis off. What separates Silver Star from other resorts is it's affection for colorful housing. No brown condo complexes here. Supposedly there is a zoning law that states that all houses must have at least 4 colors on the exterior. Note the picture above, specifically the yellow house on the left. This is the norm.

The place we are staying is incredible. As a skiracer, I am usually condemned to stay in the cheapest, smallest, most basic accommodations available. But every once in a while, I am rewarded with a castle like this one. I am staying in the Grand View Suites (right), which on the outside looks like a medieval palace with a 70's paint job (complete with an open air hottub in one of the "towers"), and on the inside is a very nice condominium. Since it is still considered "offseason" here and the Canadian dollar is worth slightly more than Monopoly money, we managed to snag a great deal. I am staying here with Scott Loomis and Chris Klein, both of whom have been here before and knew how to snag the best housing. And believe me, when we get the opportunity to life the high life for a little while, we take advantage.

From my initial glances, I cannot imagine that there is skiing here. The ground is white, but just barely. I have heard that we might need to take a chairlift to the top of the alpine ski area in order to access the higher xc trails. We'll find out tomorrow...

November 19

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -4º CENTIGRADE (We're in Canada now!)

AWe did indeed have to take the chairlift this morning. It was one of the most miserable experiences I have had on a chairlift since I was 12 and got stuck on a lift that broke down and they had to rescue each of us individually with ropes. But thats another story. Today they insisted that they stop the lift every time someone got on or off the lift. And since all the xc skiers were lined up when the lift opened at 8:30, that meant a 45 minute of stop and go to climb about 1000'. I made up my mind at that point that no matter how bad the skiing was down below, I was NOT taking the chair again. When we finally got skiing, Scott gave me a tour of the open trails. We skied for 2:20 and only had to retrace a few of our tracks. (The photo on the left is another one I stole from the official Silver Star website.) The skiing was very good, I used good skis and never had to worry about hitting rock, that is until we skied down. After about two hours of skiing, Scott and I decided that we would try to ski to the bottom on a groomed access road rather than sit on a cold chairlift and freeze to death. We managed to ski all the way to the town square, and it was all good snow except for one small hill that put a few dings in my skis. No worries though, because I am convinced that skis get faster with a few scratches in them. I have no proof on this of course, but it helps ease the pain of damaged bases.

P.M. Trailhead Temperature: -3º C

This afternoon, damaged bases were not a problem because snow had started to fall and had covered up all the potentially hazardous rocks. Instead the main hazard was darkness. I was taken by surprise when I headed out for my second workout at 4pm and the sun had already gone down. Add to that that fact that the area was enveloped in clouds and it was snowing quite heavily and it was getting dark quickly. I had my headlamp with me, but I didn't really think I was going to need it. I put it on anyway and headed up the access road (skiing) towards the trails on top. After about 30 minutes, it was pretty dark so I turned on the headlamp. But no light came out. "Hmm, this could be trouble," I thought. But I kept going. The bright snow helped keep me on track and out of the trees. Soon, I ran into (not literally) Chris Klein who was on his way back with Pat Weaver. Since he was almost done, I borrowed his headlamp. I didn't need it on the way up, but I was glad to have it for the ski back down. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about the "Hyperspace" effect of falling snow. You've all had it happen while driving - you can see OK with the low beams on in a snowstorm, but as soon as you put on the high beams, you can't see anything but the snowflakes whizzing by. Its like making the jump to lightspeed. This is all I could see with the light on. So I turned it off and left my fate in the hands of my own instincts as I started my descent in the darkness. Every once in a while I would startle a skier who was approaching me with a headlamp on. Due to the snow, they couldn't see me until I was right next to them. I also had a few close calls on a couple corners, but I made it out of the woods in one piece. I had classic skied for about 1:40, which was enough for me.

November 20

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -4º C

I have always thought that Yellowstone was the biggest scene in the nordic ski world. Everyone is there: from high school teams to elite racers to Masters skiers, it is the place to be to kick off the season. I thought I was really going to miss that atmosphere this year, but that is not the case. For one thing, we are skiing on great snow here - we got another 3-4 inches last night and the skiing is great- while West Yellowstone has virtually nothing. For another, we've got quite the scene here too. Because there are great races here this week and the lack of snow in the states, there are even more people here than usual. In fact, I have run into a lot of people I usually seen in Yellowstone. It is almost hard to ski continuously for over an hour because I am constantly running into people that I haven't seen since the snow melted last spring. Just seeing all the regulars on the "tour" makes me anxious to start racing again. This morning I classic skied for two hours on beautiful snow. It was during this ski that I realized that there really is life outside Montana in November. I am becoming a big fan of this place.

This afternoon, I started skiing a little earlier than yesterday for a couple of reasons. I wanted to ski in daylight for a little while longer than yesterday and we had planned a little get-together (read: party) at our house this evening. Now I should mention that this is highly unusual. We take our training and racing very seriously, and usually only cut loose in the spring. But, like I mentioned this morning, there are so many familiar faces in town and we all have a lot of catching up to do, so we decided to throw a little party to celebrate the opening of the new season ( and the opening of the Silver Star Saloon for the season). So I skated for two hours, feeling strong, and then headed home to clean up the place. The turnout for the party was very impressive and most people remained civil and relatively subdued, knowing that this is an important week of the season and there is no need to go overboard before the season even starts. Most had a good time but still were in bed at a reasonable hour. Apparently, there were a few people who managed to cut loose and make quite a scene at the Saloon, but those people shall remain nameless and they were all spotted skiing the next day, so things couldn't have been too crazy. With a few notable exceptions of course. In all, it was a great way to kick off a new ski season.

November 21

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -3º C

We got about 4 inches of snow last night, enabling the groomer to open a few more trails. This was perfect because I skied for three hours this morning and I didn't have to retrace my steps until I was 2.5 hours into the ski. The skiing was a bit soft due to the new snow, which made the skating a bit tough. I was feeling a bit tired from last night, but I was so psyched to be skiing in such good conditions that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole ski. By the time the ski was over, I was really tired, but that was fine with me. Nothing to do for the rest of the day except watch football, go for a short run, and get ready for a big day of nothing tomorrow.

November 22

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: I have no idea.

Ahh, a day off. Scott took a day off yesterday, and Chris and I are taking today off. I've skied three solid days since getting here and the first race is two days away, so today seemed like the best day for rest. Chris was saying this morning that he hates rest days at training camps because he gets bored. I don't have that problem. I feel like I am always running around doing things, so when I get the chance I relish the opportunity to sit around and do absolutely nothing. In fact, one of my goals in life is to spend a whole day in bed. Hasn't happened yet, but I'll get to it someday. Today I did get up, albeit a bit late, but I never left the condo. I spent most of the day catching up on some website work, took a hot tub, and relaxed. It was beautiful.

November 23

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -2º C

Today is a minor crisis for me. Nothing to do with skiing mind you, that couldn't be better at this point. What is bothering me is that because I am up here on this mountain, about 25 kilometers away from the nearest town, I cannot buy the new soundtrack to the movie "Man on the Moon" which was scored by R.E.M. This is the first time in almost 10 years that I haven't bought an R.E.M. release on it's first day. So instead I consoled myself by listening to "The Great Beyond" and the new Metallica album over the internet. And oh yeah, I also started preparing for tomorrow's race.

There are so many little things to be done the day before a race in order to adequately prepare for a race. I need to ski the course, do some sort speedwork, stretch, wax, make sure equipment is trouble free (pole straps, baskets, bindings, etc), register, check the start list, etc., etc. It is all pretty common sense stuff, but when I haven't done it for six months I always have the feeling I am forgetting something. This morning I skied the course, which is going to start in the town square and do three loops of a fairly flat 5K. I did the loop twice. The first time was just easy, getting a feel for what waxes will work well tomorrow. On the second lap I did 8 accelerations to help kick out the sluggishness from a day off. The course is very easy and will be primarily double poling. This should be good for me, but I would like a course that is a little more technical and more interesting.

After skiing, I just laid low for the rest of the day. I waxed my skis, checked out my equipment, registered, etc. Usually I look forward to races with a lot of excitement and a little bit of dread. I am excited to race, but I know in the back of my mind that it is going to hurt a lot. Today I was excited, but not a hint of dread. maybe it has just been too long since I really hurt.

November 24

FIS Continental Cup Race: 15K Classic

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -3º C

The basic rule of race day is this: if everything goes smoothly, you are in real trouble. I have never had everything go according to plan before a race and I am sure that if this ever does happen, it will mean bad news out on the race course. This mindset keeps me from getting too worked up when things are a little hectic. For instance this morning, I went to scrape the fluorocarbons off my skis and all our wax benches in our waxroom were gone. Other people had already taken them down to the start to begin kickwaxing. The only bench left wa being used by a high school kid who was waxing about three pairs of skis. I managed to get the job done without a bench and headed down to the start. It snowed another 4 inches last night but it was now in the process of changing over to freezing rain. Not easy waxing conditions. Most of the Americans set up waxing shop in the same area and we began trying different combinations. To my surprise, even with the crazy weather conditions, simple waxes like Extra Blue and Multigrade Violet were working well. In most spots they were great, but in a few places the wax was slick and in others it iced up (collected snow under the foot) a bit. Plus I just had a feeling that with the track getting slicker and the freezing rain still coming down, it could change at any minute. As start time approached, a couple other Americans mentioned that Start's "Black Magic" wax was running well. I had never used the stuff before, but I decided to put a couple layers over my extra blue and see what happened. It was pretty good and I didn't have time to re-wax so I went with it. The race went ok considering that I felt a little out of sync. It had been so long since I raced and even longer since I did a 15K, so I had no idea how hard to start. I thought I started pretty hard but after one lap, Robin McKeever from Canada who started 30 seconds in front of me had already picked up another 20 seconds. I knew I wasn't doing badly though, because on the second lap I passed Phil Bowen and Chris Klein who started a couple minutes ahead of me. After the second lap, I had not lost any more time to Robin and at this point I heard that he was in third place. "Not bad," I thought, "Now one last hard lap." I tried to really push the last lap, but my wax was starting to slip and I was getting pretty tired. I thought I might be able to make up some time on Robin, but I never saw him again. I think I ended up in 5th place, second American after Kris Freeman. Here are the top five. Click here for full results.

  1. Donald Farley (CAN)
  2. Kris Freeman (USA)
  3. Phil Villaneuve (CAN)
  4. Robin McKeever (CAN)
  5. Cory Smith (USA)

A good result to start the season on. The most encouraging part is that I placed well despite feeling a little slow and out of synch. I'll take it.

November 25

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -4º C

Happy Thanksgiving!! While it is hard to be away from home on Thanksgiving, we did have a pretty good day here. This morning, we popped the turkey in the oven and then went out to ski. After a two hour ski, we came back and started the rest of the preparations. We had invited most of the Americans who are here without teams to join us. We expected to have about 15 people or so. We took care of the turkey and everyone else brought something different. We set up a big table and had quite a fancy spread. When everyone had arrived, we had ourselves a sit-down feast. People who attended were: me, Scott Loomis, Chris Klein, Phil Bowen, Andrew Wood, Andrew Johnson, Kris Freeman, Jesse Gallagher, Tessa Beniot, Pat Weaver, Coreen Woodbury, Carl Swenson, Miles Minson, Glen Bond (Canadian), and Phil Villeneuve (Canadian). With all these people, we had a ridiculous amount of food; turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, wine, pumpkin pie, you name it. We all ate ourselves sick and then headed outside for a game of tackle football in the town square. A good old fashioned American Thanksgiving in Canada.

November 26

Sprint Races

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -7º C

To this point I have not done any interval sessions on snow this year. In Fairbanks, we did mostly distance training and I only did some short speed stuff before the first race here in Silver Star. So today's sprints would be a bit of a trial by fire to see if I have much quickness in my stride. The preliminary heats were scheduled for three o'clock this afternoon. Each person would run the 750 meter course individually and the top 32 racers from the prelim's would advance to the head-to-head elimination heats this evening at 7pm. This kind of schedule is really a pain. You end up sitting around doing nothing all day, just to do a few 2 minutes sprints. I probably shouldn't have skied this morning in order to save energy, but I just couldn't stand waiting around. So I skied for 1:45 nice and easy. Then I went home, ate lunch, and began waiting. When 3:00 finally came I went down to the stadium for the prelims. I had heard that they were running the women first, so I figured that I had plenty of time. Nope. I got there about 5 minutes before I had to start. I quickly put on my boots, ran around for about two minutes, tried to see where the course went, and then started my heat. The course wound around an area the size of a football field, with a few U-turns and concentric loops. They also had included a series of four wavelike bumps. Now this makes no sense to me. It was impossible to ski over the bumps, you just had to double pole and glide over them. They had no bearing on the outcome of the race, except that a few people fell and others broke skis. This is no way to determine who is a better sprinter. If you want to include bumps, at least make them a safe distance apart. Ski equipment is too valuable to risk on a stupid novelty that has no bearing on the race. Anyway, back to the course. About 200 meters before the finish, there was a good climb, followed by a downhill into the final 50 meter sprint. I thought my heat went well, but not great. I was moving pretty quick, but I felt like I could have gone faster if I had been warmed up. I waited around to see where I would be seeded for the night heats, but when they hadn't posted any results after twenty minutes I gave up and went home, assuming that I would be racing again tonight. Waiting around for the night heats was the worst. I had 3 hours where I couldn't do anything except wait. Couldn't sleep - I'd be sluggish. Couldn't eat dinner - I get stomach cramps. Couldn't ski - I'd get tired. All I could do was sit and dread the upcoming sprints. Not the best mindset going into a race, but I couldn't help it. When I finally made my way down to the race area, I was surprised to see that I had qualified 3rd for the elimination sprints! Even without a warm-up, only two people - Robin McKeever and Andrew Johnson - beat me. Because of my good position, my first two rounds were pretty easy. I took the lead from the start and just skied away from the other guy. In the third round, I was up against the #6 qualifier, Stephan Kuhn. Again I took the lead from the start. Stephan hung tough, but I sensed that I could get a bit of a gap on him on the flat straight-aways, but not enough to breakaway. I was also a bit afraid of him drafting me down the hill and using the draft to outsprint me. So I made a split second decision to use a tactical trick. As I reached the top of the hill, I stopped quickly and then started a furious sprint. The idea here is to cause the person behind you to get stood up and loose his rhythm while you sprint away down the hill. It works well when you are leading a big group, but I thought I would try it here. If it didn't work, I was pretty sure I could still outsprint him. As I started to sprint after stopping, my left pole got stuck behind me. When Stephan glided up on my tails, he ended up on my pole basket! My stuck pole caused me to be pulled off the trail to the left. On the side of the trail were small wooden barriers with a "/\" shape and about six feet long. As luck would have it, my ski went right up underneath one of the barrier. This spun me around and pulled the barrier out into the middle of the trail. Stephan got by on the outside and cruised down the hill. I righted myself and took off in a frantic sprint. But it was too late. My little trickery had cost me the race. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and I should have just out-sprinted the guy, but I don't regret trying that move. In most instances, it would have worked or at least allowed the race to come down to a sprint. Better luck next time.

In the semifinals, Robin McKeever beat Kris Freeman and Andrew Johnson beat Stephan. In the final, Robin skied away from Andrew on the uphill to take the win. In the women's Beckie Scott beat Sara Renner in the final.

Results Here.

November 27

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -6º C

Not much happening today. Had a race yesterday and another one tomorrow, so today was a good day to take it easy. This worked out perfectly because it was "Spice Girls Day" on the Canadian music video channel. I skied for an hour and a half classic this morning. I was feeling a little tired from the sprints, so the whole ski was very mellow. After skiing, I waxed my skis for tomorrow and spent the rest of the day doing computer work and watching TV.

November 28

FIS Continental Cup Race: 15K Skate

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -3º C

I had a good feeling heading into today's race, but I am not sure why. I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning, I was still sore from the sprints on Friday, and I had to fix my wax job at the last minute because it was warmer than I anticipated. But yet, as I walked down to the start, I was very calm and confident. For today's race, we started two every thirty seconds. This was a format I had not seen since high school. One benefit to this format is that people are more tightly grouped on the trail, allowing you to get a better idea of how your race is going. I started with a Canadian named Lee Churchill. I really didn't know much about him, so I was not surprised when I lost him on the first hill. I felt good right from the start, but I was afraid that I might be starting too quickly since the course was three laps around a very hard 5K loop. The first 3K of the loop consisted of two sections of fast downhill followed by steep climbs. After the second big climb, the course was gradual uphill for the last 2K back to the lap/finish area. As I began my climb up the last big hill on my first loop, I could see Pat Weaver, who started 30 seconds ahead of me, up in front of me. I was about even with him, maybe gained a couple seconds. As I neared the top of the hill, Miles Minson, US Ski Team coach, gave me a split that I was in 5th, tied with Weaver and 20 seconds down to Carl Swenson who was leading. I was pretty psyched to be even with Weaver, but 20 seconds down to Carl already! That's not good. When I hit the flat/gradual uphill section, I was exhausted. I felt like I was crawling at this point, but I was still passing people at a pretty good rate. On my second lap, I determined that I had really fast skis. I know you are all sick of me raving about my Atomic Beta skis, but today I had at least two people say, "Oh my f---" as I went by them on the downhills. That's how fast my skis were. (FYI: I had a G5 grind (fine structure) waxed with Solda F-30 Violet, covered with Solda Cold and Warm Fluor powder, covered with Solda solid Fluor.) It was incredible. When I made it to the last hill on the second lap, Miles said that I had moved up to third, only 7 seconds down to Carl and 20 down to Weaver, who had taken the lead. But I also knew that there were fast skiers behind me - Donald Farley, Scott Loomis & Phil Villeneuve, so I could be as low as sixth. Once again, the flat section was the hardest part of the loop, but I tried to push through it. I didn't get any splits on my third lap, but I knew I was still skiing well, because I passed Robin McKeever and Kris Freeman. The last few K's were hard but I tried to keep my technique together just to finish it off. I hammered through the finish, confident that it had been one of my better skate races ever. This was confirmed when I saw the results, but it still hurt to miss top three by 0.3 seconds. Take a look:

  1. Pat Weaver (USA) 38:33
  2. Donald Farley (CAN) 39:30
  3. Carl Swenson (USA) 39:38.3
  4. Cory Smith (USA) 39:38.6
  5. Jesse Gallagher (USA) 40:18

This result is great news for my skating. But while I am very encouraged by my result, I have to remind myself of a few things before I get too excited: a) I had very fast skis b) I started last season with a great skate race and it ended up being the best race I had all year c) I still missed top three by mere inches (or hand timing, one or the other). So yes it was a great race for me, but I still have work to do. I can't be happy just being close to the top skiers, I need to start beating them.

In the women's race, Canada's Jamie Fortier beat Beckie Scott by seven seconds and Sara Renner was third.

Complete results will be posted when they go online.

November 29

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -4º C

Today I had a decision to make. I am scheduled to leave Silver Star tomorrow, but with great skiing here and no snow yet in Utah, I was finding it hard ot leave. It made sense to stay, but I wasn't sure I could change my airline ticket and I am supposed to be flying up to Calgary for the remaining Canadian Continental Cups on Thursday December 9th. I called the airlines and found out that it will cost me $100 to change my tickets. So in order to make it worth the expense, I would need to stay another week, but if I stay that long, I would essentially return to Utah and then fly right back up here a couple days later. After struggling with the dilemma for my morning ski, I decided to stay. This place is just too spectacular to leave just yet. I decided to fly back to Utah on Sunday, which means that I get three days at home before flying back up to Calgary for the races in Kimberly and Canmore. I skied for about two hours this morning, very easy, relishing the fact that I have a week left. I was pretty sore this morning from the race yesterday and our tackle football game last night. Today was supposed to be a recovery day anyway so I skied easy and then went home to relax.

Since I am going to be here a while longer, I thought it might be good to get off the mountain for a little break. So when a couple friends of ours who live in Silver Star decided to go into town for a movie tonight, I jumped at the chance. We saw "End of Days" (decent movie), bought groceries for the week, and made a quick stop at McDonalds (we hadn't had any junk food in a couple weeks) before heading back up to the paradise on the hill.

November 30

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: -2º C

A lot of the people I train with dread days off at training camps. They just sit around saying how bored they are, wishing they could be out skiing. I think they feel guilty for resting while others are out training. I don't have this problem. I thoroughly enjoy resting. When I am at home, a day off from training just means a longer day at work. But here, I can sleep in, and lounge around all day. Yeehaw. That's what I did all day. When evening came around, a couple of guys were headed into town to see "The World Is Not Enough." I figured I might as well go along for my second movie in two days, since I had nothing better to do. I was also hoping to go to a CD shop to get a few new CDs that I have on my list. James Bond delivered as usual, but the CD shop was closed by time we got there. Still, another trip off the mountain was good to distract me from training for a little while.

Continue reading in the December journal.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.