Sunday, March 31, 2013

Norpine Challenge

When I was growing up, the New Hampshire high school sports association (or whatever they called themselves) had a Skimeister competition as part of the high school state skiing championships.  In those days, you skied a slalom on Friday morning, a giant slalom in the afternoon, a cross-country race Saturday morning and ski jumping under the lights in the evening. I remember being real proud that I was pretty good at all four events.  But as the skiing disciplines have become more specialized over the years, it's gotten so the cross-country skiers aren't strong enough or skilled enough to compete with the alpiners, the alpiners aren't fit enough to keep up with the cross-country skiers, and nobody's skinny enough to fly like the ski jumpers. And with the specialization of our sport into its different disciplines, you rarely see a skimeister competition any more.

But for us on the UAA Ski Team it's that time of year again. The college racing season is over, the "spring skiing" season is just beginning, and it's time again to find out who's the best overall skier on the UAA Ski Team - UAA's "Skimeister".  Of course, the biggest challenge of all is for the coaches to figure out the appropriate time penalty from the slalom to determine start times for the pursuit-start cross-country race.  This year the coaches included algebra, trigonometry, and even a little multiple-regression analysis into their calculations to come up with the cross-country start times. And after the event, they were already talking about new and improved math techniques for next year's calculations.

This year, there was all kinds of drama in the snow as Lukas crashed headfirst through the slalom course's final gate during his practice run. Last year's winner, Lasse, didn't know the starting wand didn't work so he waited about five seconds after the starter's "GO" before starting his run.  That didn't help his alpine time any.  Anna found out the hard way that the heels aren't locked down on cross-country skis, which provided a pretty entertaining ragdoll crash. And Cedric started bonking and wondering if he was almost at the finish line when he was just 100 meters into the cross-country race.

Anyway, here are some pictures that Viktor's sister, Elin (visiting from Sweden this week) took during the event.  Thanks, Elin!

Moments earlier, that red panel in Niko's hand was hanging properly on that red slalom gate.  Hey Lukas - you're supposed to go AROUND the gate, not THROUGH it!

Nobody told Etienne that you're allowed to get closer to the gate than that.  Nice high line, though.

Anna Berecz demonstrating how it's done.

Earlier, I had a caption here that said this is Lasse.  This isn't Lasse. It's Viktor.  But Lasse's a good alpiner too.

Sean Alexander trying to squeeze more speed out of a flat course.

Patricia.  All kids in Switzerland need to be able to ski the Lauberhorn downhill course in less than five minutes in order to graduate from high school. Pati's obviously pretty comfortable on any pair of skis.

Niko.  He skated the first half of the slalom course.


Coach Andrew.  The bad thing about twin-tip telemark skis is they don't arc turns like a race ski. The good thing, though, is you can skate any damn time you want.

Davis.  A thin man on fat skis.  Aggressive as always. I love the intensity!

Hey Cedric, that's not really how we do it.

Sean in his element, coming off a downhill with speed.  Yeah, he's right at home here...
He might have been more at home with a couple slalom gates on the downhills.

There are no words...

Here's Coach Andrew passing Lukas on a downhill. Lukas, you had to know this picture was going on the blog...

This is before Vanessa took off her skis and walked.

It was a warm afternoon.  Too hot for Davis.  Or was he trying to go "camo".  He blends in well with the white snowy landscape.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


First things first:  Viktor won the Sonot Kkaazoot last weekend in Fairbanks! It's always fun to win the last race of the year.  But it leaves Viktor wondering why the racing season should end now, when there's still so much good skiing to be done.  Congratulations, Viktor! 
2013 Sonot Kkaazoot
20 frigid meters to victory on the Chena River.
Around this time of year, people start talking about "spring skiing".  The races are over and people want to go "crust skiing"; they want to put on their skate skis and explore all those parts of Alaska that are covered in impenetrable brush, alders, and devil's club during the summer and are too dark and cold during the winter to be much fun.  And I start thinking about spring crust skiing too, until I remember that it's only March 26 and the "spring skiing" season is still many weeks away.  Our best spring skiing starts in May and ends in June. For now, it's still winter.

Since we were having a snowstorm this weekend, Sunday seemed a perfect day for a Winner Creek ski tour near Girdwood:

No, the camera is not tilted sideways. We were crossing the bottom of an avalanche runout zone.

I grew up in a rural area of northern New Hampshire, and there weren't any groomed ski trails near my house.  But there were snowmachine trails.  I was too young to drive, so I did most of my skiing on those snowmachine trails.  That trail network covered the entire area of northern New England, so I always had to turn around long before I really got a chance to explore very far down the trail. Every time I had to turn around and ski back home, I was always curious about what was around the next bend on the trail.  Even though the skiing wasn't the greatest on those snowmachine trails (which were always rutted and bumpy) they did leave me with a lasting curiosity about what was "around the next bend".
Thirty years later, I'm still skiing on snowmachine trails.  Yesterday I needed to fly out to Dillingham to look at some houses.  I love working in Dillingham at this time of year because there's always lots of snow and I'm usually "stuck" there for ten hours or so, with only a few hours' worth of work to do.  With no rush to get back to the airport to catch a flight home, I can ski to work.  The network of "sno-go" trails extends for thousands of miles, all around western Alaska.  I only need 20 miles or so.

Pick a direction - any direction - and you can go forever.

The Wood Mountains
I was back in town today.  Lasse invited me skiing at Hillside with himself, Lukas, Marine and Viktor.

Friday, March 22, 2013


The ski racing continues this week for some of us, as Lasse, Viktor, Marine and Lukas have driven to Fairbanks in Lasse's car to race in the Sonot Kkaazoot 50k marathon this weekend.  It'll be their last race of the year.  I hope they have fun. 

For those of us who stayed in town, we have some great skiing at Kincaid Park.  Here are a few pictures from yesterday morning when all the coaches ganged up on Patricia (who was the only one brave enough to go skiing with us) and made her ski without poles on the Lekisch Trail.  Snow conditions couldn't have been better, though.
Front to back:  Andrew, Pati, Tor.

In the afternoon, I flew down to Kodiak Island to inspect some homes.  It's always an adventure.
I always call "shotgun" when we're in the Islander. I'm good with the fire extinguisher.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's been a whirlwind...

Okay, so it's been a while since this blog has been updated.  I'm usually pretty good about updating it, but the past week or so has been so busy for me that I simply haven't had a chance until now, during my one day in Anchorage between trips.  Here are the basics of what has happened around here since ten days ago when I last updated the blog:

NCAA's final day:  15km skate mass-start for the women and 20km for the men.  It was a beautiful warm sunny day and the spectators were out in force.  Lasse made the comment that "...the A-climb out there was louder than the World Championships last week!"

The women skied solid races.  Marine was in a group of three leaders who got away from the rest of the field, and in the end Marine was on the podium again in third place which means that both of her NCAA Nationals races ended with her on the podium. Very impressive!

The race course was relatively flat and easy, but there were a lot of twists and turns and very few straight stretches, which meant that in the men's race it was not easy at all to pass, and there were 25 guys in the front pack all the way through the first three of four laps around the 5k loop.  Viktor took frequent turns in the lead through the first 15km, but the pack broke up in the last lap and all three of our men ended up a little bit off the pace by the time they came around to the finish line. 

In the end, we ended up in seventh in the overall team score.
Results for all races are here:
Photos are here:
and here:

Marine on the podium (as usual).

Junior Nationals in Fairbanks:  The team flew back from the east coast on Sunday evening, and we were a little late arriving in Anchorage, around 2am+/- if I remember correctly.  I had made a commitment to be the race announcer for the junior national championships, and the first race started at 10am on Monday, which meant I needed to be on a 6am flight out of Anchorage to make it on time.  I had to unpack my NCAA bags and re-pack my "announcing" bags.  I had been optimistically hoping for a couple hours of sleep, but when I finally got to bed and set my alarm, I realized I had 47 minutes before I had to get up and get to the airport.  It was a tough way to start a busy week (but it wasn't until Friday afternoon that I came down with a short bout of exhaustion, with fever and dizziness - but when I woke up Saturday morning, I was feeling just fine again.)  UAA had two skiers at Junior Nationals: Brandon Brewster and Sarah Freistone.  Both made significant improvements in 2013 and skied faster this season than ever before.  Brandon had a solid week of racing and Sarah found herself on the podium on a regular basis at Junior Nationals. 
Compete results are here:
Photos are here:
I don't remember much from this part of the week...

While Sarah and Brandon were racing in Fairbanks, the rest of the team were on Spring Break.  Lukas was traveling around the east coast with his dad while most of the rest of the team was out alpine skiing and backcountry skiing during a perfect week of sunshine and blue skies.  A lot of the team raced the Oosik Classic race - a 50km classic race this weekend in Talkeetna.  And several skiers plan to travel to Fairbanks this coming weekend for their last race of the year - the 50km Sonot Kkaazoot skate race.

Meanwhile, as soon as I got back to Anchorage from Fairbanks, I got right back on a plane and flew to Cordova for a work trip.  ....Or was it a ski trip?  At this time of year, sometimes it's hard to tell.  Cordova has some of the best backcountry skiing in the world, and anytime I travel there for work without my skis, I feel kind of guilty for not taking advantage of the great untracked mountain ranges there.  But this time I made sure to carve out a few hours in the evening for myself so I could enjoy about eight inches of dry, fluffy powder!  Unfortunately, I came out of a chute a little hot in choppy snow and my Dynafit setup apparently couldn't handle the g-forces; the binding connection ripped out of my boot.  But fortunately, I was at the bottom of the mountain at that point and headed back to the car anyway.
(all smiles pre-binding failure in Cordova)

The mountains and ocean are in close proximity in Cordova
Eagle Glacier.  If you know where to look, you can still see the Pisten Bully tracks from last summer's glacier training camps.

And that brings us to today:  Today, the UAA Ski Team visited Lake Hood Elementary School to ski with the kids (third to sixth grade) just as we did last year.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and we made a lot of new friends. 
Carnage on the sledding hill

Maya and friends.

Lasse spent 45 minutes dealing with this situation.

Viktor's new biggest fan.
As the racing season comes to a close, the backcountry crust-skiing season begins, and will run into June.  Stay tuned this spring for lots of reports and photos of the best time of year to be in Alaska - springtime!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Visitors (Part 2)

The mens' and womens' slalom were held today.  Our plan was to test skis and then go up to the slalom hill to cheer on our alpine teams. But unfortunately the weather was changing and our on-snow testing was indicating that the best waxing solutions at 10am (women's start time tomorrow) were no longer the best waxing solutions at noon (men's start time).  So we needed to stay and focus our attention on our jobs at the nordic site and we were unable to make it to the alpine hill to support our alpine team. 

Going into our final day of racing tomorrow, the UAA Ski Team is in eighth place.  With a really good day tomorrow, we could move up a couple of spots in the overall rankings.  The team is focused and ready.  It's going to be a great day for both spectating and racing - the weather is predicted to be 45 degrees F and sunny.  With all the spectators that will come out to watch and cheer, it's going to be an exciting day!  Go UAA!

Having NCAA's on the east coast makes it easier for some of our athletes' parents to be able to visit and watch the races.  Earlier this week, Marine's parents and Lukas' dad arrived in Vermont, and we have all enjoyed meeting them and visiting with them this week.  I think their presence has only added to the good vibe around "Camp UAA" this week, and their support has helped our skiers acheive the good results they've had so far this week.

Dieter Ebner

Bruno and Chantelle Dusser

Nevio and Tor hard at play in the wax shack.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Money Players

When I was in eighth grade, a kid named Mike moved in next door to me. Mike liked basketball, and he referred to basketball players like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as "money players".  I didn't know what he meant, and when I asked him he replied: The "money player" is the guy who they give the basketball to when there's five seconds left in the game and he needs to make the shot to win the championship, so they always give him the ball because he always makes the shot under pressure.  This afternoon, I looked up "money player" on the internet and I found this:
money player n. An athlete, especially a team member, who performs exceptionally well at crucial times.

Over the course of this season, we've had our better races and our worse races. That's the way competition goes, but in the grand scheme of things, the regular season races are mostly just preparation for the big championships events - the ones that really matter.  Like today's race.

Today, we got our NCAA Championships off to a good start. I think it started last night at dinner. 

To be honest, we seemed a little scattered yesterday.  The athletes seemed to be a little unfocused, they weren't quite ready on time and both vans left a few minutes late for the ski trails, the training and ski testing seemed a little haphazard,  I saw a few glazed looks and a some daydreaming...  But last night at dinner, things seemed to start to click and come into focus.  Nevio showed up from Italy just before dinnertime and he brought his waxing apron with him. Andrew gave his best after-dinner rah-rah sermon of his UAA coaching career to date.  The athletes went on a short team run and a team-stretching session while the skis were being waxed by the coaches.  And by the time the coaches went to bed around 2am, I think we were feeling pretty good about the direction things were heading. The vibe on the team was relaxed but focused, and we were shifting into gear.

By the time the athletes showed up at the ski stadium, the coaches had a pretty good handle on the waxing situation.  And when the men showed up, they seemed alert and focused. The men's race was first, and the early splits showed that all three of our men were among the top ten.  But it was a really tight race and a few seconds gained or lost on the second lap could make a big difference. Halfway through the second lap, though, it became clear that Viktor, Lasse and Lukas were skiing well.  In the end, we put all three of our skiers in the top ten:  Viktor skied his best race of the year, getting on the podium with a third place finish!  Lasse was eighth and Lukas was ninth, which meant all three are NCAA All-Americans, and we had the best men's team in the country today.

As soon as the men's race ended, we needed to prepare for the women's race.  Waxing conditions were changing, as the weather was gradually getting warmer and the tracks were becoming more glazed.  The women raced five kilometers, which meant it wasn't possible to give much information in the way of splits because, for example, Karina was finished before the last racer started.  But as the racers came by, one by one, it began to look like our women were also skiing well.  Karina looked strong as she came by in bib #1, and held her spot from start to finish, fending off all skiers behind her. The tracks were becoming glazed and it was clear that the conditions were giving some teams trouble.  Pati had a good race, and finished 12th.  Marine started near the end of the start list, so as she made her way around the course we were able to figure out that she was just outside the top five.  But the alpine team had come down from their training on the slalom hill and they put everything they had into cheering for our skiers.  They were going crazy out there and gave Marine the extra push she needed in the last kilometer to break onto the podium with a third place finish - her best race of the year!

Today, all our athletes were "money players".  They were very focused before and during their races, and it payed off in our universally good results. Though it's true that this is most of our skiers' first NCAA's, it's also true that every one of our skiers had their best NCAA Nationals result ever.  We were able to celebrate a little at dinner tonight. But there's more work to do tomorrow in preparation for our final college race of the year, coming up on Saturday.

The men's podium.  Good thing we brought two UAA flags to NCAA's!
University of Vermont junior Anja Gruber won the 5 k classic race at NCAA Championships on Thursday by 11.1 seconds over Dartmouth's Mary O'Connell. Marine Dusser (University of Alaska, Anchorage) took third.
Women's podium.
Here are some links for more fun reading about today's event:

Watch the entire race or just a summary recap here:!playlists/sports/skiing

Photos are here:!i=2397814191&k=Sm6HFzQ
and here:!i=2397856617&k=PwMT3RQ

Results are here:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Today was a busy day.  We started out with training on the nordic trails, as well as our final ski testing before tomorrow's classic races.  After training, we drove the five minutes up the road to watch the men's giant slalom.  By the time we got back to the house, Marine's family had arrived from France.  We had a nice visit before dinner and we're looking forward to visiting more with them in the coming days! 

When Andrew came back from this afternoon's coaches meeting, guess who was riding in the passenger seat with him after Andrew found him hanging out at Subway in downtown Middlebury?  Nevio Zeni!!  We were all excited to see Nevio again (he began his travels two days ago in Tesero, Italy), but I'm sure nobody in this house was more excited to see him than the coaches when, after dinner, Nevio pulled out his waxing apron and offered to spend the evening helping us wax the team's skis!  Thanks to Nevio, the coaches are going to get to bed before 2am tonight, which will only help us make better decisions tomorrow.

Karina and Marine


Vanessa, Anna, and Kayla
Niko, Vanessa, Kayla, Anna, Andreas, Tor

Tor and Andrew

Late night in the wax shack

(Today's blog post is dedicated to Nevio Zeni, and is sponsored by Master Wax.)