Sunday, June 26, 2016

Second-Toughest Man in Norway

If, when you think of cross-country skiing, you think of nothing but spandex, stopwatches, interval training, flourination and carbon fiber, I understand. The envelope around a ski-racing lifestyle can get pretty narrow for those who dream of being the fastest spook in their realm. But of course skis are used for far more than just glide-testing. They're for having fun. For exploring around the countryside. For traveling efficiently from place to place when there's snow on the ground. And they're good for reindeer herding.

The Lapp people of northern Scandinavia have been herding reindeer for a very long time.  And just as the native people of Alaska have incorporated modern tools to fish, hunt, and work more efficiently, so have the people of Lappland. Reindeer are central to Sami culture and lifestyle, and they must be herded from place to place as the seasons change. During the spring migration, this work is typically done with snowmachines.  But the treeless arctic landscape makes for great spring crust skiing, and we all know how fast and far we can go on a pair of skate skis on a good crust.

Aslak Ole Eira

Aslak Ole Eira is from Karasjok in Finnmark.  He's the UAA Ski Team's newest recruit.  He's a fast ski racer. He's also a proficient skate-ski reindeer herder. I'll let you read this article for yourself, but basically Aslak says that he prefers to herd reindeer on skis instead of on a snowmachine whenever conditions allow. Not for the training, but for the experience. It gives him time to think and relax.

NY ROLLE Aslak Ole Eira som er en av landsdelens mest spennende langrennsjuniorer blir snart TV-kjendis.
(Foto: Svein Halvor Moe)

This won't be Aslak's first time to Alaska. He has been here before.  He competed in Fairbanks a couple years ago when the Arctic Winter Games came to town. He won three golds and a silver - not too shabby!

Aslak Ole Eira

We are looking forward to skiing with Aslak this winter, and to his contributions on the results page and on the podium. But I am also looking forward to the chance to learn more about the Lapp culture. One of the benefits of being on a team such as ours, with members from such a broad geographic area, is having the opportunity to learn more about places we've never been before and cultures we've never experienced before.

Welcome to our team, Aslak Ole Eira!

(By the way, Aslak is also a Norwegian reality TV star, and is known as "Norway's second-toughest man".)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Heeding the Call of Duty

I got the call last night around 9pm.  It was my friend Deb.  She needed my help.  "Adam, there's a training camp going on again this week at Eagle Glacier and we need to make sure the snow conditions are good and the kids are training hard and everyone's OK, and we need to check the loop to make sure the skiing is still good up there." At first I didn't understand why we needed to go to all the trouble of getting our ski stuff together and firing up the helicopter and making the trip up to the glacier.  It seemed to me we could just call the coaches and get a report from them and save ourselves the hassle of going skiing. But Deb insisted, "No, we need to see for ourselves to know for sure."  I wondered why she needed me to come along, too, in the helicopter. But she said I was needed as a counterbalance. If I didn't sit on the left side of the chopper, it might be unbalanced and maybe it wouldn't fly right or something.

So I gradually realized that Deb was right.  What if the coaches didn't tell us whether everything was OK?  Or what if they didn't tell us the truth?  And what if the helicopter was off-balance because I wasn't sitting in the left-hand seat?  I couldn't have that on my conscience. Even though I had a lot of important things to do today like reading catalogs, eating snacks, and watering my dandelions I realized that I had a responsibility and an obligation to load my skis on the motorcycle and ride the 45 minutes to Girdwood to check on glacier skiing conditions.  We simply needed to know how conditions were on the glacier. We needed to bear witness.

Skiing is always better immediately after motorcycling.   Always.

The Thomas Training Center looked fine. No problems there.

The furniture in the training center has not changed a bit in the past 23 years, as far as I can tell.

All was good with coaches Erika and Sam.

Erika and Sam, giving workout instructions.

Here's Deb.

Here's me.

This week, it was the junior girls' turn at the glacier.

There's always going to be those two who don't get off the ground.

Erika, Deb, Mike and Sam

Our ride has arrived.
As it turned out, everything was OK at Eagle Glacier.  It's probably a good thing we checked.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Biking Is Good Recovery

After skiing around on Eagle Glacier in the morning, my legs were pretty tired. So I was delighted to be invited to join Andrew, Casey, Casey's mom Robyn, and their friend Megan for a little mountain biking in the afternoon. I made an excuse not to go to the office for more than about 20 minutes today, and off to Kincaid Park I went...

Andrew, Casey and Meaghan.  Do you think I spelled Megan's name right?  It's difficult to know for sure, as her name was not submitted to me in writing. There are about six different ways to spell this name.  I've chosen this way. 

Casey in action.
Andrew had some kind of small animal trapped in his bike. He took off the seat post to try and find it.
Andrew Strava's this downhill every damn day. Here, we were getting psyched up to charge it. And discussing broken collarbones.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Different Kind of Triathlon

Serious bloggers like me need to do research. Lots of it. That's why I hire so many staff (and interns). How can we report to you what's going on with UAA's current and former Seawolf skiers if we don't go out and find them in their native habitat, doing what they do?

The Great Cornholio? No. Lex Treinen. Lex was runner-up at the NCAA Championships in 2009, skiing for UAA. Now he's racing for APU. 
Tracking down former Seawolf skiers sometimes requires extraordinary measures, but I was in luck this morning because I have a friend who has helicopters. And everyone knows that if you have access to helicopters, you can go almost anywhere. 

Remember earlier when I was saying that Lex Treinen was a Seawolf in 2009? Well, so was Sadie Bjornsen. Sadie was third at NCAA's that year. This year she scored about a zillion World Cup points and ended up 14th overall on the World Cup circuit. Not too shabby!
Knowing that APU was conducting one of their many on-snow training camps on Eagle Glacier, I strapped some skis to the motorcycle this morning and made my way to Girdwood to see my friend Deb, who has helicopters.

Hey kids!  All you need is a couple bungee cords and you can turn a boring drive to the ski place into a fun ride to the ski place!
I suspected I'd find Sadie and Lex on Eagle Glacier, but I couldn't know for sure unless I took a flight up there myself.     

Here's Deb.  And her whirlybird. And some ice cream for the APU team.
I like hiking; don't get me wrong. But sometimes when I'm flying to the top of a mountain in a helicopter I think about how much easier it is to fly in a helicopter than it is to hike, and it makes me feel good. Is that so wrong?
Here's the edge of Eagle Glacier.
Here's the building where everyone eats and sleeps between workouts.
First-class travel arrangements.

I have spent a lot of time at Eagle Glacier over the years.  Most of it was back in the early and mid-1990's. Back then, things were somewhat more rustic than they are now.  And we used to fly up there in airplanes, not helicopters. This is back when Alpine Air was a fixed-wing operation, before they became a helicopter operation. I haven't been inside the dorm building in the past few years. (And I didn't get a chance today either.  My day job revolves around looking inside buildings. I didn't want to look inside a dumb building today - I wanted to ski!) In the old days it always smelled a little moldy, it was never quite warm enough, and we used incinerator toilets that emitted little puffs of smoke now and then which was a little spooky for a couple of different reasons. 
But I've heard things are very plush and comfortable in there nowadays thanks to a lot of remodeling work by APU over the years.

I took a lap around the 5k loop with David Norris today and he told me Kikkan had GPS'd the Sochi Olympic trail a few years earlier so that Erik Flora could model that summer's training loop on Sochi's profile in preparation for the 2014 games. I asked Erik about that and he told me he sets a loop for each camp that's targeted at the kinds of skills the team is trying to improve on. Last year he built in some fast turny downhills to force improvement of downhill skills.  And today they were doing a sprint relay workout on a course specifically designed to mimic a World Cup sprint course profile, and they cut it in half so that the athletes could isolate and identify strengths and weaknesses in different kinds of terrain. 

Erik and me.  In addition to being the ski coach of one of the most successful ski clubs in the world, Erik is a diesel mechanic who can operate, maintain, and fix Pisten Bullys. That's not an insignificant skill to have when you are isolated on a remote glacier with a team full of athletes and one snow cat. Erik is also a Seawolf. He was an All-American for UAA in 1994 and 1995.
I was impressed with the organization that went into APU's training plan for the day.  But what impressed me most up there was the good vibe among the group on the glacier. I saw a lot of smiles, and everyone seemed pretty happy to be there, doing what they were doing. That's no small thing in the middle of a big week of training, isolated on a glacier. I know that those big training weeks can make a person pretty tired. But it looked like a lot of good work was getting done at training camp.

I'm not actually as short as I look in this photo.  It's my posture. See how they're all standing straight up, and I'm not?  That's what I'm talking about.
(These APUers are Tyler Kornfield, Scott Patterson and Eric Packer)
 So anyway, in the end I came to the conclusion that our former Seawolves Lex, Sadie and Erik are doing just fine at APU. They say "hi". 

note:  I want to thank Deb (and pilot John) at Alpine Air Alaska in Girdwood for turning a five-hour miserable hike up a scree slope into a five-minute awesome helicopter ride. And I want to thank APU's ski team for letting me chase their skiers around the glacier for an hour this morning!