Friday, April 18, 2014

Nouvelles Expériences et Perspectives

Marine recently had an opportunity to travel to a part of the world that's very different from any place she's ever been before.  She spent a week in Ambler, Alaska.  She went there to teach children how to ski, but she quickly found when she got there that ski instruction was only a small part of the experience.  Here's her story:
(And I don't want to hear any complaining or whining about not being able to understand French. If you don't already know how to read French, then it's high time you learned!  This is a major language that's spoken in large portions of Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, and Belgium.  And France, too.  So take a few night classes and then come back and read this article. It's an interesting and insightful piece; you won't regret making the effort.)

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Bonjour tout le monde,

Je vous écris ce petit email pour vous faire partager l’expérience que je viens de vivre.
J’ai décidé il y un mois de partir bénévolement au nord de l’Alaska, au nord du Cercle Polaire, à la rencontre de petits Eskimos pour leur apprendre à faire du ski.

Je peux vous dire que je ne regrette pas cet extraordinaire voyage. Cette semaine m’a réellement ouvert les yeux, jamais je n’aurai imaginé que des gens puissent vivre dans des conditions et un environnement pareil !

J’ai eu envie de vous faire partager mon expérience, car je pense que ces gens méritent d’être connus, méritent d’être soutenus et j’espère que l’association va grandir et va permettre à ces enfants de pouvoir progresser en ski, d’avoir la possibilité de faire partie un jour d’une équipe professionnelle et de voyager comme j’ai pu le faire durant ma carrière. J’espère qu’un jour, ils auront les mêmes opportunités que les autres enfants américains (car aussi surprenant que cela puisse être, ils sont bien citoyens américains, ces petits eskimos)

Cette association : « Nana Nordic » a rassemblé assez de fonds, pour acheter des skis, des carabines laser, des vêtements de ski, ainsi que tous les billets d’avion pour les bénévoles et nous permettre d’aller dans 26 différents villages.
Mon équipe et moi, avons été assignés au Village d’Ambler. Nous sommes donc partis avec 30 paires de skis, chaussures et bâtons, une carabine laser et deux caisses de nourritures !! Nous avons pris un premier vol d’une heure et demi d’Anchorage à Kotzebue (la capitale du nord de l’Alaska en quelque sorte), ce grand village compte 3000 habitants. Ensuite nous sommes montés dans un petit avion de 5 places et 45 min de vol pour enfin, atterrir à Ambler.
Comme vous pouvez l’imaginer, il est difficile d‘aller plus au nord du monde !!! Le vol était incroyable, des paysages magiques, époustouflants et effrayants à la fois.


Le Village est placé juste à coté d’un fleuve, à quelques km de belles montagnes. Il faut compter 10 heures de moto neige pour aller à Kotzebue, là où se trouve le supermarché et la station essence les plus proches... Autant vous dire, que c’est toute une expédition pour se ravitailler, enfin, c’est ce que je pensais…car pour les eskimos, c’est comme d’aller de Grenoble à Villard de Lans. 

L’été, il parait que c’est un peu plus “simple“, car il faut compter seulement 2 jours de bateau sur le fleuve !!! 


300 personnes vivent dans ce village, biensûr je n’ai vu aucune voiture, juste des Snow Machines « all over the place ». Les habitants du village d’Ambler vivent dans des petites maisons, mobile home, bungalow, ou “refuge”. Je n’arrive pas à trouver le terme exact.
Arrivés au village, nous avons été accueillis par la directrice de l’école d’Ambler. L’école est l’âme du village. C’est là, où tous les enfants passent la plus grosse partie de leurs temps. L’école fait office de maternelle, école primaire, collège et lycée. Les enfants, 70 au total, plus au moins de la même famille !

Ambler, Alaska


La directrice nous a fait visiter l’école, le gymnase, nous sommes allés manger ensuite avec les enfants dans la cafeteria. Tous supers excités à l’idée d’aller skier, mais aussi très heureux de voir que des gens étaient là juste pour s’occuper d’eux.
Je pensais aller là-bas pour leur apprendre à faire du ski et je me suis vite rendu compte que ce n’était pas la priorité. Le plus important, c’est l’aventure humaine derrière tout cela.  Pas grand chose ne se passe dans ces villages et le fait d’être là, avec ces enfants, de s’intéresser à eux, de passer les journées à discuter et de leur faire ressentir la réelle raison de notre présence.
 Apres avoir passé un peu de temps à discuter et échanger avec eux, nous avons mis en place le matériel et nous sommes partis skier avec l’une des classes.
C’est ce que nous avons fait pendant une semaine. Skier avec les enfants de 9H00 à 20H00. L’école dure de 9:00 à 15:30, donc nous avons organisé des séances d’1 heure pour skier au moins une fois par jour avec toutes les classes. A la fin de la journée tous les enfants réclamaient encore de skier et puisque à 20:00 du soir là-bas il fait jour comme à 15:00 de l’après-midi en France, nous sommes restés avec eux !

Kotzebue, Alaska

Ces enfants sont incroyables. Supers courageux, débrouillards comme personne.

Je n’ai jamais entendu un seul enfant se plaindre, ils sont supers heureux, très ouverts et leur rythme de progression est inégalable. Le premier jour, ils apprenaient à fermer leurs fixations, à tenir debout sur des skis, le dernier jour, nous avons parcouru 5 Km et ils skiaient tous comme des benjamins du comité du Dauphiné !!




Il faisait en moyenne entre -15 et -20 degrés à Ambler, les enfants skient sans gant, moi, j’avais l’onglé, mais je n’ai jamais osé me plaindre pour une fois ! Je me rappellerai toujours ces enfants criant : « Hey, French girl, are you cold ?!!!! »


C’était également très intéressant d’observer leurs manières de vivre.
Ils vivent de chasse et pêche, comme le faisaient leurs ancêtres. Paradoxalement, en même temps, tous les enfants à partir de 6 ans possèdent un iPhone, sont connectés à Facebook et Instagram. Ils portent des bonnets en peau de loup et des lunettes de soleil Guess ! Ce mélange est spécial et intrigant. Je me suis souvent demandée si pour ces gens la modernité était une bonne chose.


J’ai aussi rencontré des gens géniaux. Un des professeurs habite à Ambler depuis 15 ans, il est tombé amoureux du village, des enfants. Il est le prof de Basket, de Volley, de Math, de Bio et de Physique… Lui et sa famille, originaires de l’Etat de Washington affrontent des hivers noirs et arides (il fait nuit noire 24h/24 pendant 2 mois et parfois jusqu'à -50°en hiver) pour aider à faire évoluer ce village. C’est assez inspirant de rencontrer des personnes comme ça.


Bien sûr, je vous raconte les bons cotés du village, mais il y aussi un « Dark Side ».
Il y a un taux d‘alcoolisme extrêmement élevé, les gens ne font pas grand chose. Les enfants commencent à fumer et boire très tôt. J’ai vu des enfants jouer dehors à minuit, fumer du cannabis. J’ai vu une fille de 10 ans vomir pendant le ski car elle avait bu la veille. La vente d’alcool est interdite dans les Villages d’Eskimo, donc l’alcool se vend au marché noir à des prix faramineux (400 dollars la bouteille), la vente de sucre est extrêmement surveillée pour éviter que les gens ne produisent trop d’alcool, mais c’est extrêmement difficile de réguler tous ces problèmes. J’ai vu des enfants dormir dans des maisons sans fenêtre. Les filles sont en général enceinte autour de 16 ans et ne finissent pas le lycée. Les garçons ne finissent pas non plus et passent la plus part de leurs temps à se droguer. Comme vous l’imaginez, il n’y a pas de police dans les villages et personne aux 500km à la ronde !


Malgré tout, ces enfants sont joyeux, très respectueux, et hyper attachants. Je peux vous dire que mon voyage au nord de l’Alaska a était une expérience de vie incroyable, cela valait le coup de rester dehors à -20 degrés, de manger des pommes de terre toute la semaine et de dormir sur la moquette de la bibliothèque de l’école.
J’espère que mon aventure vous a inspiré. Il y a tant de chose que je voudrais raconter de ce voyage, mais les mots me manquent…
A bientôt pour de nouvelles aventures.
Bises de l’Alaska

Marine

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Now you might think this story has reached its conclusion, but it hasn't.  Not by a long shot.  There's a video that goes with it (thanks Charlie Renfro!) and you'll get to watch it if you simply follow this link.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Just Plane Fun

Did you see how I misused the word "plane" in the title of this blog post?  Did you catch that?  I bet you think I'm some kind of moron and meant to write "plain" but got confused and used the wrong word instead.  But I know what I'm doing.  What I did in the title was some kind of pun or something. (Link to Grammar Lesson) Just read on and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Davis Dunlap and his dad Russ spend all their time in the high country. They're real mountain men. And when these men travel in the mountains, they prefer to use airplanes.  Russ flies those Alaska Airlines jets that I like so much, and Davis has spent almost four years of college mastering the art of aviation at UAA. (Or is it science?)  So when word came down thru Étienne, Antoine and François that there was a seat available on Russ' airplane for a little high country skiing action, I wasted no time in shirking my responsibilities at the office. 

Russ knew about this little place in the Chugach Mountains called Punchbowl Glacier. (And truthfully I knew the place too because I'd been there before, though I didn't recognize it with so little snow; I figured it out later when I Google-Earthed it.)  

Here's a message to Russ and Davis:   All of us - Étienne, Bella, Antoine, François and I thank you for an absolutely unforgettable day of sunshine and powder snow in the Chugach Mountains.  And the blog readers who weren't there thank you too, because this blog post brightens their day.

Étienne looking down on Russ' magical flying machine.

Bella

The essence of this photo is not Étienne, nor is it the powder snow.  It's the look on Bella's face. She was speechless for a moment or two.

Antoine (I think the alpiners call that "leaning in")

Given the choice between airplane and chairlift, I'll choose airplane every time.

Bella, Russ, and François

Glaciation in action.

Antoine

Étienne dropping in on the "François line"

This is an inside joke.  If you weren't there, you don't know why this is funny.  Sorry.


François and lunch. (Note the presence of condiments like ketchup and mustard in the background.  These are not the kinds of things you bring when you're hoofing it.)

This hill is tracked out. Time to go home.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Norpine Challenge

Every year at around this time, the UAA Ski Team conducts research to find out who among us is the best all-around skier.  This research is called the “Norpine Challenge” and it is comprised of two stages – slalom and cross-country.  Can the alpine skiers win the slalom by a big enough margin so that they can get to the finish line before being caught by the Nordic skiers?  Can the uphillers show enough proficiency bashing plastic so that they won’t have to start too many minutes behind the downhillers?  These are compelling questions that demand answers.

Unfortunately for you, the reader of this blog, the official event photographer flaked out on us and we were too busy racing to stand around taking pictures of each other, so all I have to show you is this one photo that I took five minutes before the start of Lucky, Viktor, Mackenzie and Pati as they got fired up and talked strategy at the top of the slalom hill:


But I can tell you about the results.  Patricia demonstrated the all-round skiing prowess that the Swiss are known for with a masterful win in the women’s race, while the writer of this blog managed to win the men’s race.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Distractions

One thing that we talk a lot about on this team is “focus”.  It is our belief that if we really focus on what we’re doing, we usually do it better. For example, if we focus on schoolwork when we’re in class, we’ll get better grades, and if we focus on good training at our workouts, we’ll become better skiers. The same goes for ski races.  The three coaches of this ski team are in unanimous agreement that if we focus on fast skiing during races, we’ll make fewer tactical errors and we’ll get better results.  There really isn’t much to disagree about when it comes to this topic.

But sometimes we get distracted by other thoughts during races.  Sometimes we might fall on a downhill because we’re daydreaming about how good a fried bologna sandwich would taste.  Or we ski slower on an uphill than we ought to because we’re trying to guess the depth of the snow beneath our skis.  It’s not always easy to stay focused.  We’re only human, after all.  But with practice, we can get better at maintaining our focus.

We start college as freshmen, and after three years’ worth of practice, we become seniors.  Seniors, with their wealth of experience, are usually better at remaining focused on the task at hand.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean seniors are always faster skiers.  They just tend to be better at maintaining focus.

I know some of the University of New Mexico skiers had heard rumors that we didn’t have much snow in Anchorage in the days leading up to the Super Tour Finals and National Championships. I know they were wondering about the snow because their coach, Fredrik Landstedt, had told me during NCAAs that he was excited to bring his team to Anchorage but was wondering about the snow conditions.  Of course we had plenty of snow as you can see if you look at any photographs from the races. But apparently there must have been some lingering doubts.

The University of New Mexico Ski Team has some fast skiers.  One of their fastest is a freshman who goes by the name of Eva Sever Rus.  We know she’s fast because she won the NCAA Championships last month. But Eva isn’t the only fast skier around.  We have some fast skiers on the UAA Ski Team, too.  And the University of Northern Michigan skiers are no slouches, either.  They have a senior on their team named Rosie Frankowski.  Rosie finished second at NCAA’s, just a few seconds behind Eva.  The US National 30k Championship race in Anchorage last Friday provided an opportunity for these two to go head-to-head in an epic rematch, and everyone wondered how the battle would play out.  Would the Slovenian freshman once again prove too tough to match in the final kilometers of the race?  Or would Rosie, the wily veteran with her four years of college racing plus her U23 Championship experience, be able to outsmart her competitors?

As the race progressed, the two were neck and neck. It was a seesaw battle in which neither would yield. Neither would concede an inch, and they raced side by side, trading punches.  But suddenly, Eva’s lack of focus was revealed. As the two climbed to the top of Spencer Loop, the biggest hill on the race trail, those old questions and nagging doubts crept back into Eva’s mind:  How deep is the snow?  Do we really have enough to ski on?  Shee’d heard there wasn’t any snow here, yet the ski conditions seemed wonderful…  

And she just couldn’t help herself; she simply had to stop and check the snow depth with her ski pole. Meanwhile, observe the intense, laser-like look of focus and concentration on the visage of Rosie Frankowski as she pounced like a snow leopard.  It was only a moment of distraction for Eva, but it proved to be the turning point of the race.  Rosie went on to win the battle.  

Let this be a lesson.





Monday, April 14, 2014

Slushmester’n

Everybody loves the Slush Cup!  Some people are willing travel halfway around the world just to immerse themselves in those soothing aquamarine waters.  Current members of the UAA Ski Team were green with envy on Saturday as we watched our former teammate from Sweden slip gently into Lake Girdwood.

V-style:  Viktor Brännmark = Jan Boklöv**

Is that a telemark turn?


**since I know you kids don't know what I'm talking about when I write about stuff that happened before you were born, here's a link:  Educate yourself about Jan Boklöv (Remember how we like to talk about thinking outside the box in this blog? That's what Boklöv did.)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Week(+) in Pictures

It was a week of sunshine.  A week of competition. A week of travel.

Calisa Kastning

Christian Otto of University of New Mexico was kind enough to take me backcountry skiing last Monday.  Turns out Christian's a good alpine skier, but his rented BC skis with a DIN-setting of 5 made for a couple of hilarious double-pre-release crashes.
Nicole in the midst of  the final day of waxing in our UAA Ski Room, the night before the US Nationals 30k / 50k races.  All future waxing will be done in our new ski room.
Here's our new ski room, with that delicious new ski room smell.
Lukas Ebner mid-way through Friday's 50k national championship in Anchorage.

Lucky in action.

This photo was not staged. 

But this one was staged. 

Not staged.

Here's Pati, Max Olex (from UAF), and Natalia Müller at the the hot tub beside Friday's 50k race course.  Don't worry, the microphone was out of range of the reciever, so nobody except the four of us heard what Max had to say.

A little backcountry action on Pastoral Peak.

The view from Pastoral.

The day after the 50k race, I needed to travel to Petersburg in Southeast for work.  But a coworker loaned me her kayak at the end of the day for an evening paddle among the icebergs in Frederick Sound.

Near Petersburg.

Ice from the LeConte Glacier.

There's plenty of snow and ice in Southeast.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creativity

The members of the UAA Ski Team already know this about me, so there will be no new news here for them. But for the readers of this blog who haven't spent a bunch of time at ski practices with me, I'm going to reveal to you what it is that I've been ranting to the team about for years; the topic that many a UAA skier has probably gotten tired of hearing me keep harping on, and here it is:  The best athletes and the best coaches think outside the box.

History's great skiers weren't afraid of doing it their own way. Bill Koch won the overall World Cup by committing to a full summer of skate ski training in a year when nobody else quite had the guts to go completely "waxless". Gunde Svan talked about his concept of "skiing fast, slowly". The great downhiller Bernhard Russi said, "On those old downhill skis, we found that as you went faster and faster, it got bumpier and bumpier until you were getting thrown all over the place.  But I found that after a certain point, if I went even FASTER, everything suddenly got very smooth again.  So that's what I did."

If we want to be better skate skiers, maybe we should take a look at speed skaters.  If we want to produce more explosive power, maybe we should look at baseball players or boxers or javelin throwers. If we want to be better ski waxers, maybe we should try ironing some corn flakes onto the skis just to see what happens (or maple syrup for Etienne)...  In short, we should not be afraid to try new things!

Sylvie Kastning has been featured on this blog several times in the past, and the reason I like writing about her is because this is a young woman who has her own ideas about things.  She loves ski jumping and she loves waxing skis, and she does it her own way.  She "ski jumps" in her living room, launching off whatever high piece of furniture is available into a pile of pillows and cushions on the floor. She's been doing it ever since the Olympics last month.

It's obvious she's the daughter of two ski coaches.

This is the same Sylvie who was caught applying Swix Purple hard wax to the glide zones of her skis. I had my doubts about that technique, but you have to give her credit for trying it.



And the last time we checked, Sylvie was brushing the bindings on a pair or Rossignols.  Now I like to think of myself as someone who operates within a pretty wide envelope of creativity, but I have to admit that it didn't occur to me to cork and brush the ski bindings.  It was pure brilliance on Sylvie's part, and now Andrew, Nicole and I always make sure to give the bindings a good corking and a final pass with the fine nylon brush before considering them race-ready.


As a general rule, Sylvie comes up with all the new ideas around here, and the coaches have been implementing pretty much all of her ideas in our waxing. It's always an advantage when one of the members of your waxing team is a true innovator. Having only been on God's green earth for a few short years, Sylvie sees things from a fresh perspective.  She's unfettered by tradition.  She's not stuck in the rut of using the same old methods and coming up with the same old predictable results.

But it looks as though her recent potty training has sparked new waxing ideas.  It looks like Sylvie is taking her waxing innovation and methodology to a whole 'notha level!


I will simply say this:  When I was young, I always wondered why Swix Purple didn't smell like grape and Red didn't smell like strawberries.  I always thought waxing would be more fun if kick waxes had corresponding smells.  But my thinking is evolving regarding this topic.

Friday, March 21, 2014

US Nationals and SuperTour Finals Start Tomorrow!

Tomorrow will be the first race in a week of races that will feature the strongest fields in North America this year.  Saturday and Sunday will be SuperTour Finals: A 10km / 15km individual start skate race Saturday and a classic sprint race on Sunday.  Tuesday afternoon will be the club championship 4x5km mixed relay, and Friday will be the 30k / 50k mass start national championships.  The entire national team is in town for the races, as is the entire Olympic Team minus two skiers. Virtually all of the best skiers in the country, as well as many of the best college skiers in the country will be here.  We'll be racing the first three races at Kincaid Park, and the final race will be at the Hillside trail system.  You can get all the results here (including live timing, possibly): Link to Race Results.  And you can get more information about the races here: Event Website. And you can read an article about it here: Newspaper Article.

And if that doesn't keep you busy enough, you can look at these pictures of volcanoes and mountains that I took out the window of an airplane yesterday while flying back from the Aleutian Islands:

Kenai Mountains.

Harding Icefield

Iliamna Volcano with smoke.

Shishaldin Volcano