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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Coming In To The Country

I had to miss UAA team training this morning because I'm having issues with my car.  It was a major bummer for me, but at least I got to go flying around in an airplane later in the day.  That cheered me up.  Everyone loves to fly and I'm just like everyone else, so I am happy to be spending the first four days of this week zooming around in the clouds.
The Chigmits are rugged mountains.

Exiting the mountains over the upper end of Lake Clark.



My mobile office.

Downtown Anchorage in the evening.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Winter Has Arrived In Anchorage

On this very week twelve years ago, I was the coach for Team Alaska at the Arctic Winter Games in Greenland.  As we were boarding our chartered jet for Nuuk, Greenland's capitol, the Anchorage weather forecast was calling for perhaps an inch or two of snow the following day.  But we ended up with almost two and a half feet, pretty much shutting down the city for a day. (Please review this "extended abstract" and translate it into plain American for me) I came home the next week to find my house buried under snow, but my friend Chad had come over to my house and shoveled my driveway while I was gone. I still owe you, buddy!

This afternoon, the weather service was forecasting two inches of snow for this evening.  Earlier this evening, they upped it to three to six inches.  A couple hours ago they raised it to six to eleven inches.  But I've already measured almost a foot at my house and now it's doing this:
Recognize this picture?  It's the same photo I take every damn time it snows around here.
How much more snow will we get tonight?  I don't know. Why are you asking me?  I'm not the weather man.  For all I know, I might have jinxed it with this blog post and it'll stop snowing as soon as I hit the "publish" button.  

I'm just happy to say that it looks like now we'll be able to have the SuperTour Finals at Kincaid Park as planned next week instead of moving the races across town to the Hillside trails.  Everyone was grumbling about how they didn't want the races to move to Hillside.  (editor's note:  I was probably the only one grumbling about it; I didn't actually hear anyone else complaining.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Our Nordic team had hoped for better results than what we achieved at NCAA's this year.  We were healthy (for the most part), we'd had pretty consistent results all winter, we had one of the fastest women and one of the fastest men in the RMISA in Marine and Lukas, we were coming off several weeks of racing and training at high altitude, and we felt relaxed and prepared.  But somehow the results just didn't come together the way they sometimes do, and the way we'd hoped.  All of our skiers reported that they felt a little bit "flat", or "lacking that top racing gear" and they all felt unsatisfied with results that were somewhat below what they'd achieved all year.  What was the reason?  It's hard to say.  Of course it could be a variety of things, or a combination of things.  Maybe we'll figure it out later, after the season is over, or maybe after several more years of racing, or coaching, when things become clearer in hindsight, in the context of several other similar experiences.  Or maybe we'll never quite figure it out.  That's the nature of learning and experience.

Of course, the results weren't disastrous; they just weren't as good as we were hoping for.  Lukas was All-American in both races, with his best-ever NCAA Nationals finish in the classic race.  And Marine was All-American in the skate race.  But both of them were among the favorites to win a race at NCAA's.  And Etienne and Mackenzie scored points, but both had had better results during other RMISA races.  But that's how it is with racing.  If we knew the results beforehand, we wouldn't bother racing.

The coaches arrived at Soldier Hollow around sunrise to start testing and found dreamy, firm skating conditions.

Early in the men's race.

Lukas leading the field during the first lap.

Second of four laps for the men.  Lukas in third and Etienne in around eighth.

Marine - about 1km into the women's race.

Andrew and Marine.

Pop quiz:  Which person is overdressed? (answer below)
All of us - Alpine, Nordic and coaches (except Sean and Vanessa)
Though I enjoy traveling, I also the descent back into Anchorage, when I can scope out new backcountry ski routes.

The Turnagain Pass area.
Since we returned to Anchorage two days ago, it's snowed more than two feet in the mountains, so there should be plenty of fun to be had out there!

(ɹǝıʞs ʎɹnqǝןppıɯ ǝɥʇ :ɹǝʍsuɐ zınb)

Friday, March 7, 2014

NCAA's is Cancelled!

No, of course NCAA's is not cancelled.  But today's alpine events were postponed due to bad weather until tomorrow, which unfortunately means our mass-start races will not be swarming with cheering alpine racers because they'll be racing at the same time as us, on the other side of the mountain in Park City.  The last day of NCAA's is usually mayhem out on the trails, and we love it, so it will be a shame to have a somewhat quieter last day of competition without our counterpart skiers from the other discipline.

For us on the sunny side of the mountain, we had a beautiful day of preparation for the final NCAA race of the year.  Tomorrow's predicted to be sunny again, so we tested skis all morning and waxed skis all afternoon. But by the end of the afternoon we had our work done and could relax a bit this evening before getting serious again in the morning.
Mount Timpanogos at dusk.

Cousin Etienne et Marine singing songs to young Sylvie in Alaska via skype.

Les Chanteurs Etienne et Marine dans "Le Studio Trop Grand"

As it's predicted to be a zillion degrees and sunny tomorrow, the arms and legs have been cut off some ski suits...

Stay tuned.  Alpine and nordic events are both happening tomorrow - it's going to be a big day!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

NCAA's Day 2

Yesterday was all about making final preparations for our first race of the NCAA Championships.  As you can see, there was nothing wrong with the weather:
Nicole and Marine discussing kick wax application.

Today was the first day of Nordic racing at NCAA's.  Not a lot of podium action for us today, though Lucky had his best NCAA national championships race ever, with a seventh place. Congratulations to Lukas Ebner!
In case you don't know who Lukas is, he's the one wearing the number seven.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

NCAA Championships Day 1

Niko Harmanen got us off to a good start today with a 3rd place finish in the men's giant slalom this afternoon.  Congratulations Niko!

Lucky, Cousin Etienne, and Smiley made it over to the alpine hill to support the alpine team.  They said they had a great time and came back inspired for tomorrow.  

As for us coaches, we spent the day and most of the evening in the wax cabin. We have everything lined up and ready for tomorrow's 5k / 10k classic races.

Last night at the NCAA Banquet my friend Luke Bodensteiner, who is now a bigwig with the US Ski Team, was giving his speech and he told the audience that today's NCAA athletes get a lot more spiffed up for the NCAA's than back in 1993 when he was at NCAA's in Utah.  He was partly right about that and partly wrong.  The 1993 NCAA's weren't in Utah.  It was the 1991 NCAA's that were in Utah.  I know because I was there too, as Luke and are the same age and skied NCAA together. But he was definitely right when he said today's NCAA skiers are a lot more classy than we were.  Here's proof.  Check out the photo of our UAA skiers, taken last night at the banquet:
And this picture of just our UAA Nordic skiers:

And now compare that to this picture of my old University of Wyoming nordic ski team, taken at NCAA's in Utah in 1991:
See what I mean? The only things that match on this team are the sandwiches Joe and I are eating.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Nicole DeYong and the Qi of Ski Coaching

All of the first year UAA ski racers have been interviewed.  How about the first year UAA ski coaches? Hear Nicole wax poetic about the grand scheme of things:

video

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tee Time

The team is well into championship-preparation mode with some backyard golf, our annual pre-NCAA trivia contest with the alpine team this evening... and that's about it.  Wait - no! ...we did a little skiing, too.

There's plenty of snow - if you stay on the race trail. Some of our skiers have strayed from the prescribed route - at high speed.
The best of both worlds - summer and winter.

Andrew and Marine.

Synnove & Nicole discussing ski selection.

Here's Nicole exiting our team wax cabin with a flourish while Andrew works on digging his ditch.

Here's UAA Nordic Team Utah Headquarters.  I'm not kidding.  This is where we are living this week.

The great thing is you can watch Hermod's Hill and the Whale's Tail from the back patio of our team house.  I haven't told Andrew and Nicole yet, but I plan to take race splits from this vantage point and call them in via radio.

Backyard golf seemed like the appropriate afternoon activity.

The scene on our back patio.
This little fella keeps me company at night in my sleeping-closet, but apparently he startled a couple of our athletes who weren't expecting to see his smiling face looming out of the darkness.  For the record, we have two screams and backward-stumbles-to-the-floor.  Guess my little friend is doing his job.
And finally, here's a little video clip you might enjoy:
video

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Return to Utah

If you’ve been checking this blog lately in a futile search for news from the UAA Ski Team, you’re likely wondering if Lukas or Etienne took over the writing of the blog, considering the lack of posts lately. But the plain truth is the team’s been on the road and moving too fast for me to keep track of them.

Trying to keep up with the team from Anchorage obviously wasn't working out, so I decided to catch a plane to Salt Lake City to track them down. The UAA alpine team was on the same plane as me so that made things easier. 
On the climb out of Anchorage this morning
Awwwwwwww... Who knew alpiners could be so cute!  Niko and Cedric getting cozy.
I arrived at the UAA team palace to find that Synnove and Mackenzie had prepared a three-course gourmet meal of bacon-wrapped asparagus, cordon bleu, and strawberry cake for the team.  I have to admit that I haven't eaten so well since the last time I traveled with the UAA Ski Team.  Each night, a different pair of athletes takes responsibility for dinner, and apparently there's become a bit of competition to see who can cook the best meal for the team.
This photo doesn't do it justice.  The team dinner was truly exquisite.
Lately, I've been so busy announcing ski jumping competitions, traveling around Alaska for work, fixing broken household appliances and automobile parts, buying another motorcycle, racing in the US master's championships, and doing radio interviews that the past few weeks have gone by in a blur.  It's going to be nice to just be in one place for a week, focusing on our team's performance at NCAA nationals. It feels great to be back with the team - greeting them this evening felt like family.

By the way, if you have nothing to do and would like to torture yourself for an hour, you can hear Toby Schwoerer (former UAA Ski Team All-American) and me talk about backcountry skiing on the radio here at this link.