Monday, August 8, 2011

Just another reason to be an XC skier in Alaska!

Summer glacier skiing can make the front page of the SUNDAY Anchorage Daily News! Check it out here:

Marc Lester, ADN photographer came up and joined us for the first night of our glacier camp. When he wasn't taking pictures he even joined us in the kitchen and assisted our cook crew. (Thanks Marc!) Check out this awesome six minute video that he made about us:

Eagle Glacier Training Camp from Marc Lester on Vimeo.

Here is the text of the article in case the link isn't working for you:

Mountaintop training leads to medals podiums

EAGLE GLACIER -- It's always winter at Eagle Glacier, perhaps never more so than in the summer. June, July and August mark the cross-country ski season at the Thomas Training Center, the facility that sits high on a ridge above Girdwood in the Chugach Mountains.
This is where the best skiers in Alaska come to get better. Sometimes, like at a recent training camp that featured an Olympic gold medalist from Canada and a World Championship silver medalist from Alaska, it's where the best skiers on the continent come to get better.
Here, skiers find an endless winter -- even when skiing in shorts and T-shirts under a blazing summer sun -- that is helping them gain ground in a sport long dominated by Europeans.
"We kind of went across the world and looked at all the different programs that were having high-level success and looked for the different things they used in their training," said Erik Flora, head coach of the Alaska Pacific University nordic ski program, which runs the Thomas Training Center. "The first thing that became apparent is that as a country, we didn't ski as much as the rest of the world. The world leaders, that is."
APU didn't need to search the world for a solution to that shortcoming. It needed only to look up.
A mile high in the mountains and about a 10-minute helicopter ride from Girdwood, Eagle Glacier has long drawn skiers jonesing for snow during an Alaska summer.
A photo album in the two-story training center shows scenes from the 1980s, when Olympic skiers Jim Galanes and Bill Spencer used a wall tent for a base camp while glacier training. Even before that, in the 1960s, Lowell Thomas Jr., the famed Alaska bush pilot and former lieutenant governor who donated $1 million to the APU nordic program in 1999, brought his kids here to ski in the summer.
These days, skiers usually arrive in an Alpine Air helicopter and can look forward to hot food and warm beds after long days of glacier skiing. They sleep in bunk beds, cook meals together and hang clothes -- some damp with sweat, some damp with the rain that occasionally pelts the glacier -- on indoor clotheslines that become colorful displays of gloves, hats and socks.
At the end of July, the training center was the scene of a week-long slumber party for some of the world's top women. Among the 14 skiers from the United States and Canada who shared close quarters -- and maybe some training secrets -- were Chandra Crawford, an Olympic champion from Canada, and Kikkan Randall, a World Championship silver medalist from Anchorage.
"We're geographically isolated from our competitors, so it's really great to have the Canadians up here," said APU skier Holly Brooks, a 2010 Olympian who will compete for the U.S. Ski Team at the first series of World Cup races this winter. "They can bring in their strengths and their ideas, and what they've seen from the international field.
"I think that we've realized that in order to get better and to improve, we have to work together. We have to share some of our ideas and some of our quote-unquote trade secrets."
Not that all of the sharing involves skiing.
Crawford, who won the sprint race at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, spent some of her downtime playing the guitar, teaching chords and organizing a three-part-harmony sing-along with APU skiers Becca Rorabaugh and Kinsey Loan.
At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, after posting the then-best finish in history by an American woman, Anchorage's Nina Kemppel paid tribute to Eagle Glacier. She had skied to 15th place in the women's 30-kilometer classic, a race made messy and difficult by wet, falling snow and 33-degree temperatures.
"Thank you, Jim Galanes, for making me ski on all of those horrible, ucky days with no kick wax up at Eagle Glacier," she said.
At a 2007 sprint race in Rybinsk, Russia, after becoming the first American woman to win a World Cup medal, Randall gave credit to the glacier. She had placed third on a sprint course pieced together with crushed ice.
"Conditions were what you might see on a glacier in Alaska during the summer," she said. "I've asked myself (at Eagle Glacier), 'When am I ever gonna race on this?' It was good today to have that experience."
At last season's national championships in Maine, the APU ski team turned heads with its domination of the awards podium -- and again the glacier earned praise.
"Eagle Glacier is a critical component in that we're able to come up here once a month and ski for seven days," Flora said. "And so you never lose that snow feel."
Because this is a glacier, there are hazards.
Crevasses are a concern, so tracks are set in areas with low probability of crevasses and the course is marked by wands.
The two-story building is bolted to an outcrop of rocks between the glacier and a cliff. The cliff features a nearly vertical drop and yellow tape warns people to keep their distance. If anyone is caught beyond the yellow tape, a helicopter is called and the person is kicked out of the camp.
A staff of three, including Flora, runs the center but athletes are expected to pitch in. The staff is in charge of setting and grooming trails -- a job made more pleasant this summer with the arrival of a new PistenBully -- but athletes help with maintenance and by taking care of the cooking.
Meals served at the recent women's camp can best be described as heaping: a mound of food for every plate, with appetites to match -- the result of two long workouts a day.
"We're expecting them to ski a whole lot," Flora said. "We use this camp to build endurance. One of the ways to build endurance is to ski a lot. Ski a lot, a lot, a lot of miles."
Flora estimated skiers at the women's camp put in 60 to 75 kilometers a day on an 8-kilometer loop. For the entire week, that added up to about 25 hours of skiing.
Between workouts and in the evening, athletes enjoy living arrangements that are communal but quite civilized.
There are composting toilets and a supply of water from a nearby pond. There's a dresser filled with old VHS tapes and newer DVDs and a television to watch them on. There's a big freezer stocked with food and an exercise room equipped with a stationary bicycle -- and decorated with a poster of four-time Olympian Kemppel.
"I love it," Randall said. "It's a great chance to eat, sleep and train. And the good camaraderie of everybody just working hard and suffering through some tough conditions and also celebrating some just absolutely beautiful days. We laugh a lot. We have fun a lot."
And best of all, the glacier is just an hour away from Anchorage, a trip that includes a quick helicopter ride to the training center.
"This is a huge advantage," Randall said. "I mean, it's almost ridiculous when you can be at your house one minute and an hour later you're up here skiing on the glacier. It's an incredible facility, really."

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Friday, August 5, 2011


"NAWTA".... yep, you read it, "North American Women's Training Alliance!!!!"  We recently finished our two week camp here in AK and it was awesome. My previous post chronicled some of our dryland activities and the second week we took our non-Alaskan friends to "Eagle," our glacier training facility just outside of Girdwood.  I can't tell you how cool it is to have a world class facility less than an hour away from where we live - at our disposal! It was great to get to share it with other girls from around the country - not forgetting Canada too.  They seemed to think it was a special place as well :) 

We love our friends at Alpine Air!

The skiing last week couldn't have been much better.  First of all, the weather cooperated.  If you know anything about glacial weather systems or Eagle in particular - we hit the jackpot.  I didn't have a single ski where it felt like I was continuously getting shot in the face with a pellet gun. The coaches didn't have to spend 5 hours in the middle of the night fixing the Pisten Bully (Groomer) ...why? Because after years and years of fundraising we got a new one!  And finally, the last thing that made this camp unique is that there were no boys to complain about the plethora of vegetables or immense amounts of salad we made at meal times! Because, with the exception of the coaches, this was an all-girl's camp! 

I could write about the training detail of the camp but I what I think is more notable is the "NAWTA" Alliance aspect of the camp. This camp represented all the top girls in North America coming together for one, okay, maybe TWO causes.  To work on skiing faster and to have a GOOD time. We had girls from many different teams..... we are certainly friends but when the gun goes off, we are also fierce competitors - both with each other but more importantly, with the rest of the world.  The unifying factor in the girls that attended this camp is that we all have one thing in common - to improve our results on the International circuit.  Yes, it's true that in the past, the World Cup has been dominated by Europeans, particularly Scandinavians.  They enjoy the luxury of living in a society that embraces our sport; they are the NFL players of Sweden or Norway.  The girls over there have role models with Olympic Gold Medals around their necks, strong teams, and even stronger infrastructure to be a cross country (ski) athlete.  An example of this is a story that Kikkan told about her recent trip to Sweden to train with Anna Haag.......apparently many of the restaurants in their town "Sponsor" the athletes such that after long training sessions, athletes can simply stop at a restaurant and eat/re-fuel, free of charge! 

Anyways, the cool part about this camp and this group of ladies is that (I think) we all realize that we need to come together, and work together if we're going to be able to compete against the European girls. They have a geographic advantage - they enjoy short travel to races, going home on weekends or when they're sick. Racing each other throughout the summer and fall. Meanwhile, we're thousands of miles away in North America. 

The first night's cook crew - check out Liz (on the left!) 

Bringing a group of girls like this together does many things - first, it gives you a zap of energy and inspiration. It's great to compare roller ski blisters or commiserate about missing another concert with your friends or family reunion. We also have the opportunity to ski with each other, a lot.  As Erik, my coach says, "steal some of their secrets and share some of yours."  If someone else is really good at something that you need to improve, go ski 20k behind them and see what you can pick up. Then, let someone else follow you and do the same. In order to get better, we have to do this. We have to get better together, boosting each other to new heights. There are tons of other benefits... for example, getting to spend some quality time together in a low-stress environment. None of us are racing against each other tomorrow for the last spot on the Olympic team so we can do things like make cookies together or in some cases, watch a Justin Bieber movie..... (I choose ski work during this bonding opportunity)

Kikkan breaking in the new grill

Days and weeks on the road can get long and lonely and the ability to enjoy and relate to those you're traveling with is crucial. While these girls won't replace my husband or my mom or dad, after this two week period together they'll be better "Stand-Ins" than ever before!

I can't say enough good things about this experience so I think I'll just let the pictures tell the rest of the story. Enjoy!

Me and Diggins, making cookies... loads and loads of cookies... 

Core/planks, etc - even on the glacier... 

We rewarded Mikey for all his hard work and help with a big smiley-face cookie!  Mike Rocks! 

Turns out Jessie was using the cookie as a bribe for her first snow machine ride - ever.  For the ride she got to use one of the coach's sweet onesies. 

Need I say more? 

The Rhyneer Clinic, my AWESOME sponsor. Check Dr. Rhyneer out for Orthopedic needs in Anchorage - He is "old school" in his approach to personalized attention and "new school" with techniques and procedures. 


Crucial glacier equipment - the drying room

The facility is literally on the edge of the cliff, literally. One morning we actually experienced a 5. something earthquake. Funny enough, many of the Alaskans slept through it!


Me with Canadian Olympic Gold Medalist (2006, Torino) Chandra Crawford. Also, the brains and spirit behind Fast and Female!

Our best Lady GAGA or Michael Jackson Thriller pose... Fitz, Chandra, me & Kikkan with the White Out Glacier in the background

Skiing in shorts and a t-shirt - not a bad day!

Finally! Our new PB!!!! After years of fundraising and thanks to many generous gifts from the community we were able make this happen.  Good thing our coaches are all around useful dudes.... to get the PB up to the glacier they took it apart, it was flown in via 6 (?) helicopter loads, then they put it back together.  These guys have skills way beyond applying extra blue.... 

Mikey approves of the new PB

And so do we!  (Holly, Kikkan & Kinsey) 

The new PB makes awesome tracks. On Skate days the snow was as firm as it could be and we could skate two abreast. On classic interval day we had three tracks side by side!  Thanks to Casey for his hard work and long nights driving the machine! 

The facility from above. 

Liz being contemplative... 

Okay, this picture takes some explaining.... but here we are on one afternoon watching footage from World Champs in Oslo, Norway this past February. Almost the entire World Champs team was sitting in this room... we were sharing notes.  For the first week of World Champs it was so foggy that there was literally 10-50 feet of visibility for the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP races. If you look at the windows, we were experiencing the exact same conditions on Eagle that very day!  As Erik likes to say, Eagle Glacier provides us with all the conditions that we've recently found at World Champs and the Olympics: Raining, foggy, slushy - and sometimes bluebird. 

 The Alpine Air helicopter brings a re-supply of food for the "boy's camp" that started the night we left..... can you see the bacon? 

 Mikey and Casey detach the sling-load from the helicopter. Costco is our best friend! 

We spent quite some times trying to get all the freezer and refrigerator good squeezed into storage. It's amazing how much FUEL a group of hard working athletes can go through when we're skiing 4-5 hours a day, everyday. 

 Here I am on the last day, the last ski with my NUUN bottle.  These guys make some great sugar-free electrolyte fizzy drink mix. Check it out HERE. It's amazing how hydrated you have to be for optimal performance, even when you're surrounded by snow... 

The Boss :) 

Fitz and Becca excited about our new stationary bike!  It's sweet to have an alternative exercise option up there.  Your legs can get pretty stiff from the repetitive motion of only skiing - plus, if you're sick or if the weather is blowing 60 MPH, the stationary bike is a great option.  Thanks so much to the ALASKA CLUB and Robert Brewster for this generous donation!  We are eternally grateful!

On the last day of camp some folks opt to fly down while others opt to hike (Me, Jessie & Sophie)

Casey, Becca & Fitz hiking through the ferns, Fireweed, and Salmon Berries towards the end of the hike

And finally, here we are taking an "ice bath" trying to reduce the soreness from the 5,000 foot decent back into civilization! 

This week is active recovery and I'm taking the opportunity to mix it up with training - some mountain runs, time on my bike, and maybe some yoga. We'll be back up on the glacier for August camp before we know it! Thanks for reading and have an AWESOME day! 

Holly :)