Our plane touched down on the runway in Vancouver as I peered out the small window at green grass. I felt a mixture of excitement and nerves as butterflies did Varial McTwists and Misty Flips in my stomach. I was almost there. The drive along the Sea to Sky Highway was spectacular. In the distance white coated mountains loomed, and towards them is where we headed in our two crammed rental vehicles. After a homemade style meatloaf dinner at a cozy restaurant in Squamish, which reeked of Tabasco sauce as a consequence of a team member accidentally knocking a bottle onto the carpeted floor, we completed the drive to Whistler. That’s right Whistler…booyah!
This was going to be the perfect Nationals. Racing at the 2010 Olympic site in Callaghan Valley where there would certainly be no lack of snow. I felt great and had prepared the best I possibly could for these races (as stated in my previous article). I was ready to take on Canada…or I should say North America as many top skiers from the States made the trip to Whistler to check out the future Olympic site.
The first race at Nationals is always a team race where no individual points can be attained and everyone races for bragging rights and club points. Timo Puiras and I teamed up to ski for our club, Lappe Nordic in this 1.2km Team Sprint event. We both skied strong in our first heat finishing 2nd behind a world class team consisting of two Senior National Team members. We also had the 2nd fastest heat time of the day. This qualified us to race in the final…oh boy. The final heat consisted of 15 tough teams. Unfortunately Timo had some difficulty with his grip in the first leg and handed off to me in last place. Unable to reel in the pack, we finished 14th. Just making the final was great, but Timo and I were both a little disappointed we didn’t at least put in a fight. Nevertheless, I felt awesome. I skied extremely well, my technique was solid, and my skis were running well. It was a great start to the week and I felt nothing could go wrong.
Two days later was the race I put the most focus into, the 10km classic individual start. I had yet to finish a good 10km classic race this year and I wanted so badly to put in a good result. With fresh snow and warm weather a last minute decision to make hairy skis (no grip is used, roughing the grip zone with sandpaper is supposed to provide grip) threw my focus off. The night before I meticulously made a race and warm-up plan for the following day. These plans were now gone. I didn’t have soft enough skis at the race site to make hairies with, I wasn’t able to test them before the race, and I had no grip on my warm-up skis so I was forced to do a less than adequate double pole warm-up. I started the race with butterflies in my stomach…not due to excitement, but rather nervousness. The first climb out of the stadium I had barely any grip. I immediately knew this was going to be another brutal 10km classic race. After herring-boning and double poling as hard as I could I crossed the finish line 16th place in Junior Men. Brutal. It seemed the only skis working consistently well were chemical base hairies, a type of ski I do not have the fortune of owning. After putting so much focus into this race and feeling so strong physically, only to have another bad classic day my confidence took a huge hit.
The following day was a 15km skate individual start race. In the past this type of race has been my specialty. Mentally I was not prepared for this race. I was trying to forget the day before, but negative feelings still lingered. I started at an okay pace in the blizzard conditions. The trail was difficult to ski on as slow, heavy snow had built up on the edges of a single skied in slippery track. Ruts and random holes covered the course like landmines just waiting to claim their next victim. On top of all this, many skiers on their 2nd or 3rd lap were in the way and with only one track to ski on, passing was a difficult task. While flying around a 180 degree corner on my first lap I was forced into the new heavy snow by some skiers I had caught up to. With shaky legs from trying to balance on the greasy skied in surface I couldn’t keep my balance and crashed. Mentally I was broken. I just crashed on a big hill with a long tucking stretch, how could I possibly make up the time I lost? I got up half-heartedly and continued “racing”.
Noah Hoffman, arguably the fastest junior American skate distance skier passed me (he started 30 seconds behind me). This is where my race changed. Noah blew by me in Silver Star earlier this year and I wasn’t going to let him do it again. I gritted my teeth and latched on for the ride of my life. It was tough, but I regained the desire to perform. My mental toughness was back. I followed Noah right into the finish stretch of the race where he promptly face-planted 20 meters from the finish line and unable to avoid it, I skied right through him somehow managing to stay upright. I ended up 7th place in Junior Men (6th Canadian) and only about 8.5 seconds out of 5th place. Looking back, maybe if I hadn’t fallen I would have been able to grab 5th place, but 7th place is still a solid result from me.
By the time sprint day rolled around I was starting to feel the effects the hard efforts of the past three races had on my body. However I was determined to overcome any tiredness I felt and throw down a good performance. I did exactly that. I skied the best qualifier of my life, finishing 6th in Junior Men (5th Canadian). With tired legs I was unable to use a powerful one-skate on the more gradual climbs and instead opted for a high tempo offset. My technique choice seemed to bode well.
Again during the heats I employed this high tempo tactic. It seemed to work well as I skied into 1st place in my quarterfinal by the top of the first long climb. While tucking around the tight 180 degree corner I caught an edge of my ski and nearly crashed. Suddenly I was in 4th with little time left to regain a top two position and move on to the semis. Panic. I started sprinting as hard as I could and miraculously I was in 2nd within the next 200m. I skied the final downhill poorly and was passed by distance specialist Kevin Sandau. Coming down the finish stretch I put in a final desperate push and squeaked out a narrow 2nd place finish. What a heat! The rest of the heats were a little less eventful for me as I just didn’t have the energy to make the A-Final. I finished 2nd in the B-Final, 8th overall and still the 5th Canadian.
Now it was time to put the classic skis on again and race a 30km mass start. After the last classic race my confidence was severely lacking and an ongoing battle between positive and negative thoughts took place in my head. I tested klister skis and hairy skis owned by a past Lappe teammate. With confidence in my coach’s positive comments towards our klister, hard wax combo I decided to use my own skis. Once again I had very little grip. I was able to find some kick here and there, but it was difficult with the stiff klister skis I was using. Limited grip coupled with limited energy seemed to get the better of me. I tried skiing with higher tempo and short strides, I tried skiing with slow tempo and long gliding strides. Nothing seemed to make me go any faster. Near the end of my first lap the klister began to pick up fresh snow until soon I was skiing on platforms. After double poling down the normal tucking hill into the stadium I made the decision I never wanted to ever make in my career as an athlete. I decided to drop out. It was the first time I’ve ever dropped out of a ski race and only the 2nd time I’ve not finished a race that I started (the first being a bike race I had mechanical issues in). Not the way I had envisioned ending my racing season. And again, the chemical base hairies prevailed.
To sum up my 2008 Nationals, I had solid skate races, an amazing team sprint, and two terrible classic races. I guess you have to take the good with the bad. It wasn’t the perfect Nationals, but hey, there’s always another year. Skiing at the future Olympic site was nothing short of amazing. I even got the opportunity to watch four Swedish National Team members duke it out with North America’s top sprinters in the skate sprints.
The following week I had the opportunity to stay for a week in Whistler with my teammates and shred some pow in the slopes of Blackcomb and Whistler Mountain. I got in 4 days of mind blowing downhill skiing that made Mount McKay here in Thunder Bay seem like child’s play. It was the perfect way to celebrate the season and get cross-country off the mind for a while. If you ever get the opportunity to ski/snowboard at Whistler I highly recommend you don’t hesitate to take advantage of it.
A big thank you to my sponsors for supporting me and to everyone who has been involved in NTDC Thunder Bay over the past year for providing me with the tools for success.
Me on top of the world at Blackcomb.
Lenny and his brand spankin' new green helmet.
Cam Moore looking good and enjoying the tele skiing at Whistler.
Lenny shredding some pow down the Purple Haze at Blackcomb.
Harry Seaton finishing off a big day of tele skiing on the mountain. All that's left is a 15 minute hike home...