Friday, January 23, 2015

Get in the 'Boat

We have a new freshman on the team from Sweden who goes by the name of Hanna. Hanna was kind enough to send me some photos she took during her first three days of her first UAA Ski Team road trip - to Colorado and New Mexico. It's always interesting to see the world through the eyes of a freshman.
Here's Etienne catching a few rays.
Murder victim?  Or just pooped out?
Get on the bus!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Press

Of course you know that you can get all the information you need about the UAA Nordic Ski Team from this UAA Nordic Ski Team blog. You know this because you're a rabid follower of the blog, and you have personally experienced the vast enrichment of your life that this blog provides. You know that the blog provides all the information you need to keep you thoroughly entertained and to help you make informed decisions about the world that surrounds you.

But some people don't know about the UAA Nordic Ski Team blog. Perhaps nobody has told them about blogs, or maybe they lost their computer or their dog ate their mouse.

Recently, a group of people who don't know about the UAA Nordic Ski Team blog wanted to know more about the UAA Nordic Ski Team. Of course, it's natural to want to know more about the team. But, as these people don't have computers, they needed to arrange a special meeting with the team so they could ask questions and find the answers that they desperately needed. These people traveled to the University and set up a bunch of microphones and cameras so they could keep detailed records of the whole meeting. The people asking the questions call themselves "The Press" and the people doing the answering call themselves "Andrew" and "Mackenzie". They called their meeting a "Press Conference".

By the look of things, everyone had a swell time.

They were kind enough to share their press conference on the interwebs with the rest of us, and I strongly urge you to CHECK IT OUT HERE.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wildcard LadyPop

We've all made it back home to Anchorage, despite the best efforts of "The Rock" to extend the ski trip by breaking his seat belt on the Seattle to Anchorage flight segment. Our results in the Utah Invitational RMISA results were a mixed bag, but there was some positive stuff happening over the weekend, and we're in good position as we get into the heart of the racing season.

Mackenzie and Kathi.
Mackenzie second in the skate race. This was her best college result yet.
The skis-to-skier ratio is very high on this team.
Kathi was in charge of this meal, but she had help.
Coaches Andrew and Sara in their natural habitat. How do you wax an entire garage full of skis? One ski at a time.
OK, the garage was not warm.  But it wasn't as cold as Kathi is making it out to be.
The daily team meeting. Here's a confession: it's one of my favorite parts of each day. (Along with team-stretching.)
After seven years with the US Biathlon Team, Coach Sara has become a seasoned traveler who has learned how to find a calm, peaceful island of calm anywhere, away from the noise and commotion of the team. Sometimes she would disappear for hours, and it was hopeless to try to find her. John Farr The Freshman certainly proved himself on his first RMISA road trip, scoring points for the team in his first weekend of racing, engineering the tie-down of the ski bags in the truck, and generally making himself useful around the house to the extent that at one point I heard Coach Andrew tell him, "John, stop washing dishes and let someone else do some work around here..." Anyway, we sent John on a mission to find Sara, and look where he found her hiding out - in the kitchen cupboards! Who knew?

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Head Coach Andrew flew in last night from Michigan with his crew of Brandon, John, Mackenzie and Smiley to join us here in Utah. It's good to have the whole team back together under one roof. We race tomorrow - 5k skating for the women and 10k skating for the men - our first RMISA race of the year. We are looking forward to finding out how we stack up against the rest of the RMISA!

Go toward the light! We met the UAA alpine skiers last night at a World Cup moguls event in Park City.
Manon (barely visible), Etienne, Marion, Clement, Bella
Moguls World Cup.
Coaches Sara and Andrew. Calculating and scheming.
Okay, it's not the Norwegian wax truck, but there should be no mistake about who waxes their skis here.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Leisure Sports

This team eats well.  And we eat well because our skiers are good chefs. Anyone who knows me knows that I can survive just fine on some old bread crumbs and the occasional chunk of moldy cheese. But when I travel with the UAA Ski Team, there's no end to the epicurean delights on hand! And being the international squad that we are, we are international cuisine tourists, as each skier takes their turn in the kitchen. We've eaten our share of Alaska salmon and moose stew, but I also still remember Pati's hörnliauflauf from last year in Utah.  Yesterday we enjoyed some of Kathi's apfelbrot on the deck. And Étienne never goes on the road without his beloved sirop d’érable.

Tonight, it was Clément's turn at the oven, with Manon as sous-chef, which means quiche was on the menu, and I'm not talking about that frozen stuff you get at Costco.  I'm talking about the real thing, just the way they make it back home in Beaufort!

I'm talkin' about quiche!
Here's an interesting piece of info you wouldn't know unless you lived here: Those two slices of toast came out of the toaster Tuesday morning and have been sitting in that spot ever since. 
Leisure sports. We're a team of many talents. Pool is not one of them.
We ski in the mornings, and we do some light exercise in the afternoon. Usually that means a short jog and some strength. This afternoon, conditions allowed for a game of volleyball in the yard behind our team house.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Utah Paradox

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I raced for the University of Wyoming Ski Team which was, at that time, an NCAA Division 1 program.  Each year, we drove west on Interstate 80 in January for the University of Utah Invitational races. I-80 parallels the Union Pacific railroad line all the way from Laramie to Park City. When I was a freshman, as we were nearing the Wyoming/Utah border on I-80, we passed a westbound train loaded with car after car of military equipment: tanks, troop carriers, artillery guns. One of my older teammates said, “I’m so glad we’ve finally done it – the USA has declared war on Utah!”

We were listening to The Mountain Life on the local public radio station on our way to ski practice this morning, and they had a psychiatry professor on the show named Perry Renshaw. He used to be a Harvard guy but is now a Utah guy and he was describing all kinds of contradictory research findings from studies he's been involved in. He told us that surveys indicate that people who live in Utah are the happiest people in the USA.  That sounds reasonable enough.  Then he went on to say that Utah has the highest suicide rate in the USA. Obviously, something was not adding up.

At 5,000 feet of altitude, there's 15% less oxygen available to us. According to Dr. Renshaw, it might be the high altitude living and the low-pressure ambient air that's causing all this depression... and all this happiness.  Of course this makes pretty good sense to me - it would take more than just my own fingers and toes to count all the times ski racing at high altitude has made me depressed.  I can think of many times at the 2km mark of high-altitude ski races where I've thought, "I'm in trouble. This is not going to end well. What a bummer."

But of course the high altitude makes us happy, too.  Where else could we come home from a morning of skiing in January and eat lunch on the deck in shorts? I haven't seen any frowning faces around the team so far this week.

But according to Dr. Renshaw, it's not as simple as that.  If I understood him correctly, according to his theory the thin air at high altitude makes it more difficult for our bodies to produce serotonin.  This lack of adequate serotonin production has been linked to depression, which is of course linked to high suicide rates. Bingo! Mystery solved. (Of course, I could have gotten it wrong. We were laughing hysterically at Dr. Renshaw's Darth Vader breathing.)

But what about all the happiness reported in Utah?  As it turns out, despite the thin air, people around here like to charge out into the mountains every chance they get. Dopamine is the juice that makes us feel good when we're out exercising in the mountains. All this playing in the mountains makes our bodies produce lots of dopamine. All this extra go-juice flowing around in our systems makes us feel extra happy - until the lack of serotonin catches up with us and we go for our guns. And speaking of guns, Utah's got more guns than any other state in the union, which is another factor that Dr. Renshaw mentioned when talking about the high suicide rate here. Apparently it's easier to shoot yourself if you've got a gun handy. As a side note, I will mention here that Utah is the only state in which I've laid my grimy little hands on an AR-15 Bushmaster assault rifle, the choice of school shooters everywhere.

Later this week, we'll begin testing ski waxes in preparation for our upcoming races (Sunday and Monday). It's been very warm and sunny. Obviously, the yellow and red warm-snow waxes will be the fastest in our testing, right?  Wrong. This is Utah. As my local wax-expert friend says, at Soldier Hollow the rules go out the window. The snow tends to sublimate here; it goes directly from solid (snow) to vapor. It doesn't tend to melt to liquid first before evaporating. Thus, we use super cold weather wax while skiing in short-sleeve shirts - another Utah paradox.

The M's. Testing the Trabs

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Learning to Breathe

As always happens in mid-December, the team scatters to the ends of the earth during the holidays, to reunite in the beginning of January for the first RMISA college races of the season in Utah.  Head coach Andrew is in winter’s icy grip in Michigan at the US National Championships with David, Mackenzie, Smiley, John and Brandon. 

Manon flew in to Utah from France yesterday.  Mario flew in from Italy. Etienne, Kathi, and Pati have been in Park City, and Clement has been in Salt Lake City. Davis and I flew in from Alaska with assistant coach Sara. 

Our first RMISA races of the season will be Sunday and Monday. 
That's all I have to say for now. 
Here are some pictures:

This is what I saw on TV at the rental car agency in Salt Lake City.
In the team house.
Kathi and Manon
Pati, Kathi, Manon
Lunch on the deck at our team house
An afternoon run
Mario training his lungs

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Québécois Superstar!

I'm sure by now you know who our UAA Ski Team media darling is. It's Étienne, of course. He's been getting big air time in Québéc for years - all over the radio, television, and print media. His has been a household name in the eastern half of Canada for as far back as I can remember, and you can't hardly cross the border without hearing "Étienne this" and "Étienne that"...  My sister called me just the other day from her home in northern Vermont to ask me "Who is this Étienne character and why do I keep hearing about him every time I turn on the damn radio in my car?" I even heard a rumor that during the UAA Ski Team's recent afternoon of filming and interviews with our local news media in Anchorage, at least one journalist asked, "Can we keep interviewing Étienne for the rest of the afternoon, and then can we take him back to our TV studio?"

Like any big celebrity, Étienne would like some private time once in a while.  He'd like to escape the prying eyes of the press and paparazzi, even if just for a week or so.  That's why he traveled home to the Gaspésie during the holiday break to spend some quiet time with his family before our ski racing season really gets underway. But of course there's no escape from the media for a man like Étienne.  

Check out CBC's latest Étienne Richard Television Special here!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Friends and Family

A few days ago, UAA hosted the annual Friends and Family Relay race at Kincaid Park. It's one of my favorite races of the year because of its relaxed, Olde Tyme vibe and because it's a night race. And I've always loved night races.

I don't know who won.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Seal Goes Ow Ow Ow

A long time ago, I lived in Sweden for a short period of time. My teammates and I loved watching rally car racing on Eurosport when we lived there. We also loved watching Swedish MTV. As I recall, it looked a lot like this.

Monday, December 22, 2014


There are many reasons to like Bob Arnold. I'm not going to take the space in this blog to list all the reasons here - I don't have enough space.

Perhaps the most trivial reason to like Bob is he makes great videos of our races, and then he puts them into the series of tubes where we don't even have to pay to watch them! You'd be doing yourself a favor if you check them out for yourself at Bob Arnold's Videos.

There's already a video of yesterday's race, and it only happened yesterday! Be sure to look for the UAA skiers in the videos. They'll be the ones wearing the zoot suits that say "UAA".

Friday, December 19, 2014

Rhymin' and Glidin'

Hey Homies!

Just like everyone else, I love hip-hop. Who doesn't?!  And just like everyone else, I know that the epicenter of urban style and culture is Vermiglio, Trentino. That's why I go there every chance I get.

But I like skiing, too.

Sometimes in life we need to make tough decisions.  You can't always have your hip-hop and your skiing at the same time and same place. Sometimes these two things are mutually exclusive. But not at Passo del Tonale, just up the street from Vermiglio. If you go to Passo del Tonale, you're going to see and hear some things you've never experienced before. The words "artistic expression" will never mean quite the same thing to you again. Our friend Mario Roncador is a true master of urban style, grace, athleticism and freeform rap. Here's how Mario combines art and sport:


For Mario, this ain't nothin' but a thing.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Snow Machines

For skiers, perception of snow adequacy is relative. Growing up in New England, I remember a race where a kid from the Oregon (where they typically skied on ten feet or so of "base") asked "So what kind of base do you usually get around here?" We all laughed at this absurd question. Base?! We were happy if we just had some snow to scratch around on between clods of dirt and cow poop. "Firm snow conditions" and "frozen granular" are New England terms for "ice you can see through" - usually down to the granite underneath. And anything whiter or fluffier than that is considered a bonus.

When I first moved to Alaska 22 years ago, I remember going skiing at Kincaid Park on what I considered perfect, heavenly snow conditions and hearing locals describe it as not worth skiing on until conditions improved. Gradually, over time I'm afraid I've also adopted higher and higher standards for what I consider decent skiing here in town. A few weeks ago, after we'd been skiing on thin snow for a month, I was apologizing on behalf of all Alaskans to Kathrin Schratt for our meager snow conditions and she responded, "These conditions are fine. We never ski this early at home. I think the skiing's good here." It made me remember when I first moved here and had the same perspective. It made me want to recapture it. And this year it's not so hard to do; all you need to do is look around the interwebs to see that we've got it pretty good here. 

I was reading Viktor Brannmark's blog recently where he was describing a good race course on perfect snow conditions in northern Sweden. Then I looked at the photos and saw good man-made snow on the 3km race course loop.  It was pretty brown everywhere else. Then I read a report from an old friend from my old Lillehammer Skiklub, reporting that they were having lots of good races in town because all the races from around southcentral Norway were being moved to Lillehammer's Olympic Stadium because it was the only snow around. And I've followed Lukas Ebner's travels around Europe looking for snow to train and race on. I've seen that it was a lack of snow that cancelled the La Clusaz World Cup races. And here in the USA, they held a nordic combined continental cup race on the tubing hill last weekend because it was the only place in Utah that had some snow. 

It all made me feel pretty good about the conditions at Kincaid this morning, where we skied all over the trail system, and finished off the workout with a lap around the snowmaking loop. 

Kathi and Pati
Kathi and Pati
Kathi and Pati
Kathi and Pati
Kathi and Pati
Kathi and Pati (and Brandon)
Kathi and Pati
Kathi and Pati

Who do you think?

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Photo Essay

After a week's worth of "intensity" training and a race yesterday, Coach Andrew thought the team might find a little change of scenery refreshing, so we joined forces with the UAA alpiners to go backcountry skiing today at the UAA Ski Team's secret backcountry skiing spot. After seeing the weather report, I'll admit that I thought it was unlikely that we'd even put skis on our feet because it was pouring rain near sea level with heavy snow up high. I figured we'd have a washout / avalanche situation. But I'm usually game for a nice ride in the team van, so I was happy to come along.

Steady rain at the parking lot at 1,000 feet elevation. Many times I've seen this sign completely buried under snow. Not today.
The biggest challenges of the day involved boot packing up ice and slush over rock. 
And bushwhacking.
But we did reach snow eventually. By the way, those aren't ski tracks in the snow; they're rain runnels. This stuff was heavy!
Things looked better the higher we climbed...
And better...
Removing the climbing skins.
The heavy new snow provided soft landings for Davis and me.
The Black Knight in his natural habitat.
Smiles all around.
The heavy wet snow kept us off the steeps and kept the speed low. But Kathi wasn't afraid to huck some major air off this rollover in the trees.
UAA skiers don't walk if they can ski instead.
But sometimes walking is unavoidable.

No avalanches.  No drownings. A successful outing.