I wrote this on the plane overseas again after a short week at home. After Ramsau, I was fortunate enough to fly into Minneapolis, spend the week with the family, and then get a flight out of MSP back over to Munich. Before I go on, a quick recap of Ramsau:
Ramsau, Austria is one of the highest elevation ski jumping venues in Europe. Set in the Alps below the Dachstein glacier, it's usually a winter wonderland surrounded by connecting alpine resorts and endless cross country ski trails. That was hardly the case this year. Their best snow so-far fell in mid October, since then, the area has had little snow and warm temperatures. On a few cold nights they were able to make enough snow to prepare the HS100 and a bare-bones 1.25km cross country loop.
The highlight from Ramsau was definitely the 4-man team event. I competed with Bill, Taylor and Bryan in the first event of this format that I’ve done since World Juniors in 2012. We battled tough conditions on the hill and jumped to 8th. In the relay (5km each) Bryan led us off strong and we moved up to finish in 5th. Considering that 3 out of the 4 of us didn’t qualify to compete in the individual event and Bill’s not yet in his top racing form, it was a solid team performance.
Here's some photos from the team event, all credit Sandra Volk.
On Sunday’s individual event, the weather forced the jury to cancel and use Friday’s provisional jump – for the second time so far this season. Usually, this would mean that everyone – not just the top-50 – would get to race. Unfortunately for us, the jury decided that 70 racers would be too many on the shortened racecourse. This was especially frustrating for Bryan, usually a strong jumper, who jumped to 51st. But there was nothing we could do about it but cheer on Bill and be ready for the next opportunity.
After Ramsau, it was great to have a week at home with the family. Highlights included home-cooked meals, a fondue dinner, ice-skating on Christmas, spending time at the cabin and game nights. No jumping yet in the Midwest, but otherwise I was able to keep up with my training. Over the weekend, I put some K’s on the beautiful Birkie trail.
On Saturday I skied with Brian Gregg – a 2014 Olympian and 2015 World Championships hopeful for cross-country skiing. We skied about 40km in 3 or 4 inches of fresh snow, which was plenty for us. Some of the other skiers out there were completing the annual informal “Double Birkie.” I’m not sure if anyone did the full 50 + km trail both ways, but most of the guys were aiming for over 80km that day. I’ll have to add the Double Birkie to my list – and hopefully do it on an easier day than this year’s!
Stay tuned! If you want more info on how to follow along, these links are for you:
Be sure to follow USA Nordic Combined on Facebook here or our new Twitter here for updates.
The FIS Nordic Combined website, for schedules and results:
To watch the jumping and races later on YouTube, follow this guy or search Nordic Combined World Cup and limit your search query to most recent results.
This week was an off week in the World Cup schedule, and since I wasn't going to compete in the Continental Cups in Park City, I stayed over and trained in Planica, Slovenia. The coaches and Taylor went back to help with and ski in the COC's, respectively, and Bryan went home to spend some time with his wife. So I was solo for the week.
There wasn't much for snow in Planica, which is the case for just about everywhere but Scandinavia at the moment. One upside of this weather is that I'm staying in run shaping and might not have to go through a couple weeks of getting my running legs back in the spring after a winter of skiing every day.
I started the week with a run up from the guesthouse to the Tromeja, (Slovenian for 3 borders). Like the four corners of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, only I was at the top of a mountain overlooking Italy, Slovenia and Austria. Just to be sure, I checked out the map from my GPS watch and really was on the right peak. As an added bonus, the snow from last week stuck up high, the sky was blue and the views were gorgeous.
Back in town, winter seemed a long way off.
Fortunately I found some decent skiing at the Pokluka ski trails and a small loop up the valley from Planica. Pokluka was about a 50 minute drive, mostly winding up mountain roads, but well worth it. They're preparing for this week's World Cup Biathlon at Pokluka, so they had a good race loop and were busy making snow when the temps were cold enough.
Here's a throwback picture from January 2010, when I first skied at Pokluka, with Cliff Field, left and Michael Ward, right, before I competed in my first Continental Cup. Time flies.
There was also skiing just up the road from the road from where I was staying, past the ski jumps. It was a bit of an adventure to get up there: about 1.5km of hiking on what should be a ski trail, then I put on skins (fit for XC skis) and skinned up the valley another 2km, and then the trail opened up into a nice meadow with a short groomed loop. One of the mornings I was up there the local ski club drove a team van up there for training - on the supposedly non-motorized road. I didn't mind the hike though, it just meant a few less laps that I had to do at the top.
I also spent two afternoons at the nearby Dali jump suit factory. For once, I let them do all the work. They re-measured me, built me a suit, and then made all the alterations on the spot so that it would fit perfect. In the past, I've had to make these alterations myself, which is neither fun nor the best way to have a perfect suit. This time, I left it to the professionals.
Since I was alone and had extra time to kill, I played the part of a tourist more than I usually would. One afternoon, I drove down the road to Tarviso, Italy for some shopping, wandering, browsing and a real Cappuccino. On the way back, I stopped at Laghi Fusine and took in the beautiful alpine lake.
I stayed at Gostišče Uh, a small guesthouse that happens to be owned by the biggest NFL fan I've ever met in Europe. In fact, Žan, whose team is the Eagles, is one of the most diehard football fans I've met anywhere.
I've stayed at the "Uh" before, and he hosted the junior team for around a month in total over the span of last year, so I felt right at home. Žan and I watched the World Cup ski jumping on his big screen projector. And, of course, when Sunday night rolled around, the projector was firing for game-day with his full NFL Network package. The Packers were the "early game" - starting at 7pm our time, so I watched most of that game, although it was a pretty bad game for Packer fans. After I went to bed, Žan still had one game to sit through, and then the real game could start - Philadelphia vs. Dallas.
They took good care of me with traditional food and all the kindness of a family that's in the business of hospitality. Slovenian cuisine tends to lean heavily on meat, potatoes and fried food in general, but some of their specialties were exceptional. Slovenian mushroom soup, in particular, is the best mushroom soup I've had anywhere, and they have some really good dumpling dishes. For my last lunch before leaving, they served me Krapi, a large dumping filled with polenta, buckwheat flour and ricotta cheese and topped with a slightly sweet and savory butter sauce. Suffice it to say, I didn't arrive in Austria hungry.
I drove the two hours to Ramsau, Austria on Monday, where we'll be competing this weekend. There's not really any more snow here - just a short man-made cross country loop. But the jump is open, and I took a few jumps with the Slovenian NoCo team Tuesday morning. The rest of my team arrived Tuesday night, and now we're back on a normal schedule. I'm off to take some more jumps this morning! Think snow!
This last week in Lillehammer was just as up and down as the hilly Birkebeiner race course. I wrapped up the weekend with some good steps in the competition and a personal best World Cup finish of 35th on Sunday.
We arrived to Lillehammer Monday night, with a few days to relax, train and get ready for the weekend. We had two jump sessions on the hill during the week, which is as much as you can ever hope for between competitions. Honestly, I only had a few jumps that were up to the level that I was shooting for, so I had some work to do going into the competition.
Lillehammer only has a few inches of natural snow on the ground, so rather than skiing loops around the race course, we drove up to ski at Sjusjøen, a nearby nordic center, on Tuesday. Less than 20km of driving and suddenly we where in a winter wonderland. I roller skied at Sjusjøen 5 years ago when I first went to Lillehammer, but it is really spectacular in the winter. You could ski in the trees and fog for hours and hours if you wanted... or were lost. We stuck to a safe out-and-back to avoid spending the entire afternoon skiing.
We stayed at a massive Radisson with a large contingence of the cross-country teams. This is was last weekend that we'll be with XC until Falun, and I think I'll miss being in the same place as them. Leaving Norway, I'm also going to miss brown cheese sandwiches and having salmon at least everyday. They definitely took care of us well at that hotel. I'm sure it helped that the Norwegian cross-country team was staying there.
Friday was the usual official training and provisional/qualification, but not the usual schedule. Instead, we started the day with XC training in the morning, right before the women's and men's skate sprint races. It got pretty hectic testing on the one hill out of the stadium. I tried to capture it in the picture below, although the crowd had died down considerably before I snapped this picture. With speakers blasting music and a couple hundred skiers and techs around me, it was a pretty fun atmosphere - at least as much fun as I've ever had testing skis.
We had our official training jumps right after XC training. I put down a pretty good second jump, and was pumped going into the provisional round. But first we had some waiting to do: our provisional wasn't until that night, after the women's jumping. Unfortunately, I didn't quite have it in provisional, and along with Taylor and Brett, was out of the top-50, and out for Saturday's race. Taylor was agonizingly close in 54th and just a few points away from 50th.
On Saturday we cheered for Bryan, and our Swiss "teammate" Tim, who finished in 14th, one of his best results. Bryan jumped just two meters short of K-point, but was in 45th after the jumping - too far back to get into the race. He skied a strong race to finish in 34th.
Saturday race photos:
I spent most of Saturday focusing on clearing my head and preparing for Sunday's comp. Letting the past go isn't my forte, but it's an important skill to learn as an athlete. After watching the race, I went back up to Sjusjøen to ski pre-race intervals, and enjoy some bomber skiing. It was a clear afternoon, and the sun was setting below the plateau for almost the entirety of the ski.
On Sunday I had a pretty good provisional and qualified in 44th. Finally! I was in! Of course, in the following competition jump, I was hoping to put myself in a position to fight for points. I ended up jumping to 46th and just a little too far back time-wise.
In the race I worked with the young Frenchman Hugo Buffard. I skied with Hugo in Ruka; he's always a great skier to be with. We picked off all the guys we could, and I beat him to the line to finish in 35th. With the 11th fastest time, I had another PR cross-country race.
While I was fighting through the back, Bryan made his way up from 36th to a position to fight for the podium on the last lap. He ended up 8th, a great result with signs of more to come this season. He had a super fast race - 2nd fastest on the day. Our wax techs are doing an amazing job, and Bryan and I are psyched with how well our Madshus skis are running!
Here's one more sunset picture before I go (from a different day). Norway never fails to impress me.
I'm in the Oslo airport now, about to board a flight to Germany. From there, I'll drive to Planica, Slovenia. I'll spend the next week training there before going to compete in Ramsau. Hopefully the weather cooperates and I'll get to jump - if not, I'll still be in the gym and on my skinny skis.
As always, thanks for reading.
And we're off and running. The World Cup opener is in the books, and we're now getting ready for the next stop in Lillehammer, Norway.
We flew up to Kuusamo the weekend before last, ready for winter and the cold and dark of the arctic. We got our share of dark, but the temps were pretty mild and the sun even came out to say hello on Thanksgiving.
We competed in the small resort village of Ruka, near the city of Kuusamo. The cross-country skiers and ski jumpers also had World Cups there. Every hotel in Ruka was packed with skiers, coaches, techs and gear reps.
Our competition started on Friday with the Provisional jump. The provisional is used if the weather doesn't cooperate the next day during the actual competition, and only the top 50 from provisional qualify to compete in the jumping the next day. Bryan jumped to 32nd in the provisional and was the only one of us in the top-50. So Brett, Taylor and I were out, unless the weather was bad and they had to use the Provisional. We weren't too optimistic, but then again, Kuusamo is a notoriously windy jump.
On Saturday morning, the wind gods were on our side. After canceling trial round and getting a few of the first jumpers down safely, the wind kept getting stronger and the jury had to cancel. It was good news for all of us! (Except for Bryan, who would have liked to try to jump to a better position).
Although Taylor, Brett and I weren't in a position to ski into points, we were all stoked to race. This bit of luck definitely made my weekend.
Bryan led the way from our crew, skiing up from 32nd to finish a solid 17th. Taylor skied the 2nd fastest time on the day and finished in 36th. I moved up from 56th to 44th. I had the 17th fastest time was pretty psyched with my race, considering it was my first ever individual World Cup race against a full-field. (I raced in a an individual World Cup in Chaikovsky, RU, but many of the top guys weren't there).
On Sunday we competed in the 2-man team sprint. For this format they combine our jump scores and then we each ski 5 laps of 1.5km, tagging off to our partner between. Sprint and stop, sprint and stop. The Fletcher brothers finished 13th, Brett and I were 19th. Out of 23 teams, it wasn't our best performance, but I was happy with my racing again. Team sprints are basically the hardest race we do, and not usually my strongest suit. So I was happy to be on the better side of the middle of the pack with the 20th fastest time.
All in all, last weekend was a fun way to start the season. We'll get a couple training session on the jump hill here in Lillehammer, and we should all be ready to bring our A-game for the weekend.
After a quick strength session Monday morning we flew to Oslo and drove to Lillehammer.
There's a little more daylight here in Lillehammer than in Ruka, The sun stays out until the late hour of 3. When days are this short, an extra hour is a blessing.
Stay tuned for this weekend's events. Two individual comps on deck!
Where am I?