Monday, August 9, 2010

Last week: 25 hours on snow!

"It's amazing how bad one must feel in order to feel good"

I've thought about this quote or idea a couple of times in the last month. As athletes we spend an amazing amount of energy training and pushing our bodies and minds. The end goal is to be strong, fit, and preform at a high level. In order to cross that finish line first in December I must be so tired that taking out the garbage in August feels like a major endeavor. There is a saying that skiers are made in the summer and those are the hours and efforts I am feeling today as I type this blog.

The Thomas Training Center which sits on the edge of Eagle Glacier, over looking Girdwood

I just returned from a week-long on-snow camp on Eagle glacier where I trained 25 hours last week. Life was simple and it was great to be in a place where skiing was the focus - and the only focus. At Eagle cell reception is poor at best and there is no Internet. Days are spent skiing twice, resting, fueling the body (eating) performing camp chores, taking care of equipment, and spending valuable time watching and assessing videos of ourselves skiing in past training sessions. It's restful in the sense that there are few distractions and tiring in the sense that the training is hard. Eagle glacier sits at 5500 feet so there is a slight altitude effect but perhaps the bigger factor is that the snow is often extremely slow due to the high moisture content. (This is a nice way of saying that it rains a lot!) The living accommodations are plush - we have good food, hot showers, and endless pots of coffee but there isn't a lot of living space. Twenty five people share one building: one kitchen, two toilets, and sleep in bunk beds. If you're the claustrophobic type, Eagle Glacier is not for you. Besides skiing at designated times there is no where to go. One night I got antsy and resorted to walking laps around the building to stretch my legs in a non-ski specific way.

Here are a couple of pictures to tell the story of the past week:

Athletes fly rather than hike the 5,000 feet to the glacier to optimize training for the week

Keith taking us up valley

We had four guest skiers attend August camp, visiting from other top programs in the country.  Here Brian Gregg, a childhood friend from Winthrop, Washington is psyched about the first day of skiing!

Not bad for the first ski of the week..... 

This picture is a personal favorite and also my computer desktop right now.  The black dots you see near the horizon are skiers.  When Eagle Glacier is nice, it's heaven on earth - or heaven in Alaska!

Erik Flora took this picture of Bart. He did NOT use photo shop. Personally I think it's worthy of being in the next Swix catalog!

APU Girls team plus Nicole Deyong. Left to right: Greta, Katie, Nicole, Kalysta, myself, Taz, Sadie, Becca, Fitz, and Morgan!

Don't let Eagle Glacier fool you.  For every blue-bird t-shirt wearing ski we had we had two or three skis in complete fog, wind, rain, or a combination of the three.  Eagle glacier never lets you forget what it is - that is, a true, live and active glacier.  The weather can change in five minutes and sometimes the visibility is non-existent.  I've skied laps of our 6 kilometer course based on memory of the turns and guided by the orange wands that are every couple hundred of feet.

Due to conditions like the picture you see above the drying room is an ESSENTIAL element of the training facility. Basic protocol is to step inside the building after a ski and strip all the wet layers off to hang (and theoretically dry) for the next workout.  It's not unusual to see teammates leave the drying room wearing only wool underwear - stop to get a granola bar from the kitchen, and retreat to their rooms to change into dry sweatpants.... 

In the week that we were on Eagle the snow changed considerably.  August is often the last month that the glacier doesn't get considerable amounts of new snow. Therefore, by the last day of camp the snow is dirty.  Here's a close up of the snow directly off the ski trail.  Every day and every ski there was more snow algae and what could possibly be leftover volcanic ash from last year's explosion of Redoubt?

Here Katie and Morgan cut peppers for Fajita night.  Athletes are divided up into work crews and have camp chores every day.  Group dinners are often a team highlight

Erik and Casey work hard at these camps to ensure that everything goes smoothly for the athletes.  I know this first hand as I am one of the few athletes who has been on Eagle to work and has also been on Eagle to train.  They groom during the night so we have good skiing in the morning and spend the days setting tracks, taking video at sessions, completely endless hours of technique review with athletes - all of this on top of making sure all of our remote systems are in working order.  It's impressive.

In the photo above Erik demonstrates the end of a skate motion to Jack, one of our top junior athletes that came to his second glacier camp of the summer!  Erik has an amazing eye for technique detail and can dissect your every movement.  He has concrete suggestions for improvement and is happy to show you example after example in World Cup and Olympic footage.  He doesn't mess around.

Here Erik and Casey get to enjoy a rare ski (they are often too busy to put on skis themselves!)

Not bad..... 

At the end of the week most athletes opt to hike down from the glacier.... it's a good experience and saves the cost of an additional helicopter ride.  You can expect to be sore from the 5000 foot decent. I am.

Alpine flowers

The hike involves some sensory overload, especially with the vibrant colors of the foliage.  The wildflowers and lush nature of the vegetation are always a welcome sight!

All in all, the camp was incredibly productive. The training was great, I received tons of valuable feedback and technique adaptations from Erik, and I feel as though I put some serious "money in the bank."  (Meaning, the work from the last week will pay dividends come winter race season.)  Now it's time to make sure that I get the proper recovery before jumping back on the horse.  It's difficult while work, emails, and phone calls have piled up but I'm doing my best to prioritize rest.  That said, if I haven't returned your call yet, I will soon! Thanks for being patient!

Thanks for reading.... more to come,
Holly :)