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Welcome! My name is Michael Somppi and I'm a competitive cross-country skier. I developed this blog so sponsors, family, friends and fans can keep up to date with my life as a full-time athlete. You can expect regular blog posts about racing, training, and life in general. Check out other sections of my blog by clicking on the tabs above.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Making Memories

Say goodbye to summer and hello to the autumn months!  My favourite time of year is here.  Crisp cool mornings and warm afternoons.  Snow in the mountain peaks (or just everywhere in Canmore) and hues of yellow, orange, and red in the leaves.  Football season is upon us and my fantasy team has been drafted!  Not feeling overly confident with my roster this year…

Training has gone about as smoothly as I could hope for with limited sickness and injury.  I spent June in Canmore building fitness, making progress in the gym with a new strength program and learning the basics of climbing at the indoor climbing wall.  July was a busy month of training in Canmore with plenty of quality intensity sessions and routine strength sessions combined with solid volume.  I was a lucky guy to have Britt visit me for the month of July.  The hot weather had us making regular nighttime visits to the quarry for a cool off swim before bed.  Before the month was out we took a short road trip to Vernon accompanied by our friend, Jack Carlyle, to visit the resident banger Dudley Coulter.  A good time was had by all: soaking in some Okanagan Valley rays and shredding the mountain bike trails at Kal Park (well, let’s be honest, getting shredded up by the trails…).

Britt and I travelled home to Thunder Bay near the beginning of August for my sister’s much anticipated wedding!  It was great to visit family and meet my new brother-in-law’s relatives.  I can vividly recall my sister walking down the aisle with my father, an acoustic rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” being plucked in the background, looking beautiful, all grown up, and full of joy.  It was an emotional moment.  All in all it was a joyous celebration and I was bummed I had to jet out of town so quickly after the wedding.  Fortunately before the wedding I had enough time to spend a weekend at Britt’s camp on Lake Superior, catch up with a few friends, catch a few fish with Andrew (the groom) and his two best buds, and face off with the local NDC guys in a couple running races.  I’m happy to report I am now the record holder of the Lappe 3km Uphill Running Time Trial, being the first person to crack 11 minutes!  Who knows how long this will stand, but it was good for the ol’ confidence to dust my previous best time by over 30 seconds.

The reason I had to rush back to Canmore was our team’s Haig Glacier training camp.  The first few days were a little bumpy for me as I had to fend off an upset stomach, mild fever and loss of appetite, but I was able to push through it without missing much.  The focus was volume and volume was accomplished with roughly 50 hours of training in two weeks.  It’s always nice to strap on the skinny skis and train on real snow in the summer months.  I capped off the training block with a maximal effort on the roller ski treadmill, then enjoyed a few days of rest and recovery, hence the writing of a blog post haha.

The summer months were awesome and I’m looking forward to more good times this fall.  I’m super stoked on my schedule!  I travelled to Thunder Bay yesterday to spend the rest of September living with Britt and training in my old stomping grounds.  Then I’ve got a flight to Salt Lake City at the end of the month for a two week training camp in Park City, Utah where the warmer weather will be a welcome treat in October.  A long drive back to Canmore post-training camp and a week of recovery will bring me to skiing on Frozen Thunder and the first local races of the season.  From there it’s only a couple weeks of training in November and the competition season begins!

This is all starting to get a bit wordy so I’ll leave you with a bunch of photos because I know that’s the real reason you clicked on this post.

Top: Patrick and Kevin making their way up Powderface Mountain
Bottom: Seb and Kevin at the summit of Mt. Allan (2819m) 

Backflip central at the Calgary Stampede
Top and Bottom: Britt hanging out on Wind Ridge

Can you guess what we're about to do?
Top: Look Ma, I'm Flying!!!
Bottom: Britt taking over the parachute controls like a boss

WOOHOO!  Mission accomplished.
Top: The boys out in Kal Park, Vernon
Bottom: Jack and I goofing around on a run near Mara Lake

Top: The wedding party looking bright and summery.  Congrats Krista and Andrew!
Bottom: Britt and I dancing the night away

The best day of our glacier camp caught on camera by my awesome roommate, Russell!  It's easy to take the Haig Glacier for granted as I've been up there a number of times now, but it really is an incredible place.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Another Day Another Dollar, Another Year Another 365 Dollars?

The 2014-15 season is well under way now but before I get into what’s going on right now I’m going to jump back and do a quick recap to wrap up last year.  National Championships were a great event again this year with Corner Brook and Blow Me Down Ski Club playing host.  Thank you to the organizing committee and all the volunteers!  We had a mix of weather conditions as to be expected in March, but thankfully nothing too extreme.  I had the chance to ski some of the rec trails on a blue bird training day and was impressed with the trail system.  Some really nice stuff further out!  As a whole my Nationals were mediocre with a few highlights.

After a crash and broken pole off the start line of the Team Sprint Final, Andy and I clawed ourselves back to a 4th place finish.  It would have been great to see where we could have finished if we hadn’t had the crash… hopefully we can find redemption at the 2015 Nationals.  I won a bronze medal after a really good effort in the 15km Skate event.  I also qualified 3rd place in the sprint race, but unfortunately missed out on the A-final by 2 hundredths of a second.

Top: Good feelings to be on the podium at Nationals.
Bottom: Made it big in the local paper!

 Post-Nationals I headed back to Canmore for a little over a week.  Had an awesome day downhill skiing in fresh pow at Sunshine, raced Sharkfest (3rd and 2nd place finishes) and partied in Banff.

Spring-time fun in the mountains!

 And finally it was time to go home.  Feeling worn out I boarded the plane with a sigh of relief.  Through April I enjoyed some low key days and spending time with my girlfriend, family and friends.  Snow was still prevalent so I did some skiing when I felt like it.  I competed in a few fun events (Run & Ski, Orienteering, Biathalon Balloon Toss) and joined NDC TBay for a 5-day volume skiing camp.  I felt like I was getting back to my skiing roots and I think I needed to rediscover that.

Last Big Snowfall of the Year in TBay
Beginning of May I travelled to Canmore to kick off the new season.  It was hard to leave home behind once again, but I got into the regular training routines with our first training camp right away and morning skis at Sunshine were spectacular.  Conditions were like mid-winter with fresh powder the first few days and we had some unbelievable crust skiing days as well.  Things were a little up in the air with a new coaching system being put into action, however the camp went smoothly and things started to fall into place pretty quickly after the camp.

It’s one week into June now and I’m feeling like I’m on the right track.  I had a solid month of training in May.  I’ve been able to implement my training strategies.  So far the changes in the system I’m working under have been positive.  I’ve been doing this ski thing for some time now and like any other career or job there are days when I wish I was doing something else, but the majority of the time I can’t believe how lucky I am to be living this life.  I love training, being outside breathing in fresh air, and working towards a big goal alongside likeminded people.

Top: Andy in a snow covered gondola on our way up to Sunshine and skiing!
Bottom: The TBay guys getting their skis ready for another blue bird ski day.

The photo speaks enough words on its own. 
Top: Summit of Heart Mountain
Bottom: Jana further up the ridge closing in on Grant MacEwan Peak

The Heart Mountain Horseshoe ridgeline

Saturday, 8 March 2014

European Tour

Everything went smoothly the first few days, training and adjusting to the 9-hour time difference.  It was odd to be in Europe in February and not see any snow on the ground, but I was there to race and they had a few kms of man-made snow loops everywhere we went so although it wasn’t ideal, there would still be races.  I competed in a 10km classic at Latvian National Championships as a warm-up race, and felt off.  I was frustrated, yet it was easy to write it off as my first race in Europe and I must simply not be completely adjusted, that’s all.

The next day I felt ill with stomach pains.  I wound up suffering from stomach issues all week and missed all 4 Scandinavian Cup races.  Actually, I was so desperate to race I tried doing one of the sprint qualifiers, but I had nothing.  Tough to travel all that way, then sit on the sidelines and be a spectator.

Cheering Kevin on in a Scandinavian Cup race.  Don't be fooled by all the white, it happened to snow a couple cms during the race, but there was nothing on the ground beforehand.
After a week of stomachaches and low energy I started to feel a little better and got out skiing on Monday.  Thankfully it went ok and I was able to get back to training leading into the Lahti World Cup.  Things went well the rest of the week and I started to feel surprisingly good.  I did the sprint on Saturday not expecting much, mostly just hoping to get over any World Cup jitters before Sunday.  My focus event of the entire trip was Sunday’s 15km skate and if I had a good race it would salvage my entire European tour.

It was one of the most challenging 15km races I’ve ever done.  The course in Lahti is tough to begin with, which I like, however because there was no real snow, the 5km loop we were racing on was an icy hard man-made base with loose sugar snow on top.  This meant steep climbs broke down into deep sugar mush and many parts of the course were icy, meaning hard pushes with your legs would result in your skis skidding out.  It was difficult conditions to ski in, but it was the same for everyone.  I pushed myself to that familiar redline edge and did my best to keep myself red-lined to the finish without fading too much.  My body was moving pretty well and my skis were running well.  That didn’t stop it from hurting though.  I actually clearly remember thinking “this is a b#$**” while I was cresting over the top of one of the bigger climbs in the final kilometers.

My goal was top 30.  I finished 58th place out of 92 racers, +2:46.5 behind the winning time.  Although my result came up short, it was still the closest I’ve been to the winning time in a 15km World Cup.  I’m not thrilled with the result, however I am satisfied I had a solid race after being ill and it was nice to not be at the bottom of the results sheet in a very competitive World Cup field.  The top 30 goal still stands.

Next up is National Championships in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.  The first event, the team sprint, is on Saturday, March 15th and I’m looking forward to teaming up with my former training center teammate and fellow Lappe skier, Andy Shields, for what is shaping up to be a real battle for club supremacy.
Lahti World Cup 15km (Photo Credit: Nordic Focus)
With a long layover at Heathrow Airport we cabbed it to Windsor Castle to see a bit of London.   I was shocked at how accurately my idea of England matched the real thing... pretty cool place!  Windsor Castle is expansive!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Finding Myself on Skis

This past weekend I competed at the Eastern Canadian Championships hosted by the Nakkertok Ski Club and I started to find myself on skis.  I didn’t crush any of the races, but I did ski consistently well, something that has eluded me so far this season.  I managed to podium in every race finishing 3rd twice and 2nd once. 

The key to finding myself was allowing my body to rest and listening to what my body was telling me as I gradually increased my training load back to more normal hours.  I have pushed my limits in training all season and after the Trials races it was time to step back and give my body a chance to reset.  Everything actually went very smoothly in this process until I caught a head cold only a few days before Eastern Champs.  I got past the worst of it before the races and although the cold lingered through the races, my more rested body was better able to deal with it and still perform well.

With three podium finishes to add to my NorAm points I am now sitting in 2nd place in the NorAm series, qualifying me for a CCC European Tour where I will be racing several Scandinavian Cup events and finishing the trip with the Lahti World Cup.  I’m really excited to have this opportunity; it will help me grow as an athlete.  My goal is to not just ski well in Europe, but to crush a few of the races while I’m there.

Following Graham Nishikawa in the 20km classic with teammate Chris Hamilton in bib #4.
Photo Credit: Bernard Pigeon
Narrowly beating out teammate Chris Hamilton in a photo finish lunge for 2nd place.  We really had a great battle in the last few kms!
20km Classic Mass Start Podium (my best finish of the season to date in 2nd place)
Photo Credit: Rob Smith

Friday, 24 January 2014

No, I'm not going to the Olympics.

Yes, I am on the National Ski Team.  Juxtaposition much?  Maybe I should extend my title; I am on the National Development Ski Team, commonly referred to as the B-Team.  I race mostly on Canada’s domestic circuit and have had some opportunities to race internationally including several World Cup starts.  I did have a chance to qualify for the Canadian 2014 Olympic Team at recent Trials races, however by no means was I a shoe in with only 2 available spots and all of Canada’s best domestic skiers vying to fill them.

It took me some time to sit down and write this because I needed some perspective after racing below my personal expectations and missing out on qualifying for the Games.  I’ve heard others say it’s the journey that counts and makes it all worthwhile.  I agree, the journey is where the vast majority of your time is spent when you’re trying to reach a goal as big as representing your country on the World’s biggest sporting stage.  But no matter how good the journey is, no one is going to complain when they reach the end of their journey to find ice cream with a cherry on top.  And no matter how good the journey is, it doesn’t make it any less disappointing to reach the end only to find nothing there.

For me though, the story line is a little different.  My journey doesn’t end here.  I am still a developing, improving skier who has yet to reach the peak of his athletic career.  At 25 years old I am only just beginning to enter my best years as a ski racer.  The real disappointment for me is not that I am not headed to Sochi, it’s that I did not perform to the best of my current abilities.  My body has not been responding as well as I know it can in races.  As a full-time athlete whose sole focus is to make sure my body is at it’s best when I hit the start line, it is incredibly frustrating to perform below my best.

It wasn’t all bad.  There were good moments to take away from the Trials races.  I had one of the better sprint qualifiers of my skiing career and had some great feelings in my heats.  I was able to focus on myself and execute my race plan to a tee in the classic race.  I felt exceptionally relaxed skiing the classic portion of the pursuit race and had a really strong finishing kick at the end of the race to claim 3rd place and step onto the podium for the first time this season.  I finished the week with a 5th place, 8th place and 3rd place, decent for Canadian Olympic Trials races.  But I’m not doing this to have decent races.  I’m doing this to have exceptional races and I expect nothing less from myself.  I know I am capable of better performances and that is precisely what I will be aiming for the rest of the season.  I’ve analyzed my training to date, pursued advice, and worked with my coach to tweak my training plan and try to find my top form for the next set of races.

As a friend and fellow skier recently said to me, “the low points and struggle this sport provides only make the high points more rewarding”.

Pursuit Podium (l-r): Jesse Cockney, Graeme Killick, Me, Chris Hamilton.
(Photo Cred. Russell Kennedy)
Start of the 30km Pursuit.  I was lucky enough to start at the front of the chevron with bib #1 and be the front skier for this awesome photo taken by Pav!  (Photo Cred. Pavlina Sudrich)
Leading the group up a hill during the skate portion of the pursuit.
(Photo Cred. David Greer)
Going head to head with teammate Jesse Cockney in the finishing stretch.
(Photo Cred. David Greer)

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Holiday Montage

Christmas was a little different this year, staying in Canmore rather than being home in Thunder Bay.  Lucky for me, I had visitors throughout the holidays to keep me company.
Skating on the picturesque Lake Louise with my girl.
Looking over the Lake Louise Fairmont Hotel.  Went for a fun snowshoe with mama bear over the holidays.
Christmas Eve Czech/Canadian Dinner!  We had a big Christmas meal with a combination of Czech traditional foods and Canadian traditional foods.  From left to right: Jana, Britt, Me, Russell, Jana, Zeke, Jan, and Voigta.