The last time that I wrote was after the cancelled competitions in Ruka, Finland. Since then, I competed in the next two scheduled World Cup weekends in Lillehammer, Norway and Ramsau, Austria. In Lillehammer, warm temperatures and wind continued to be a factor, but at least this time we were still able to compete. The first competition day was scheduled to be a 4-man team event, but a windy morning prevented yet another jump competition. Fortunately, we had a good and fair provisional round from the day before for exactly that reason. Using the provisional round's jumping results, we then kicked off the season with an individual race. This certainly wasn't the first time that we've used the provisional to race, and it goes to show the importance of making this round a good one.
On Sunday in Lillehammer, the jury moved us down to the K90, again citing worries of windy conditions. I missed the timing for my competition jump and started my move uncharacteristically early. I was too far back to have much of a chance to ski into points. The day before, I had a chance at finishing in the points, but didn't have a particularly strong race to make it happen. And so after the jumping on Sunday, I was determined to at least put down a fast race, fighting for every position, regardless of where that put me at the finish. I skied a smart and (what felt like) strong race but in the end I only moved up to 43rd. The day before I had finished 37th, with the 27th time rank. Surprisingly, my XC time rank was one spot back on Sunday from the day before. Comparing this to the last year in Lillehammer, where I skied the 11th fastest time, this was disappointing and somewhat baffling.
With the first weekend in the books, there was nothing to do but move on and look forward to the next competitions in Ramsau. The following day, my teammates and coaches went home, while I stayed in Lillehammer. The following weekend was open on the World Cup schedule, and I use the opportunity to get in some training. Some of the others competed in Park City at the opening Continental Cups (COC). With my team gone, I stayed with two Norwegians brothers: one a current Nordic Combined skier, the other a student, having just recently retired from his ski career. This was a cool opportunity to live, cook, train and share stories with these generous members of the Nordic Combined family.
During my "week off" I cheered from afar for our team in the Park City Continental Cups (COCs). It wouldn't have made much sense for me to travel back to Park City for the week, given that I wasn't going to compete and would have to be back in Europe after just 6 days at home. However, while watching the success of our team, I was wishing I was home to see the races unfold. Taylor competed each day with the goal of finishing in the top-3 of the COC overall at the end of the weekend, and thus earning us an additional "wildcard" World Cup spot for next period. He succeeded in this mission in an impressive way, climbing the podium each day from 3rd, to 2nd to 1st on the final day.
Taylor was not alone in having a successful weekend in Park City. On Day 1, we had 6 guys in the top-30, including my 17-year-old brother, Ben, who earned his first points with an impressive 16th, and 15-year-old Stephen Schumann, who has to be one of the youngest guys to ever score points for the US. The following day, both Bens (Loomis and Berend) jumped extremely well, and started the race in 3rd and 4th place. Ben Berend stayed in the top-10 and finished a career-best 8th, while my brother shattered all expectations when he finished in 4th, just a few seconds off the podium. Needless to say, I was super pumped for the guys. When Taylor took the win the following day, Ben Berend continued to improve and came in 6th, and once again we had a total of 6 Americans within the top-30.
There wasn't much time for celebrations after the Park City COC's. Taylor, Bryan, Michael and our coaches hopped on a plane the day after the last race to meet me in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and then from there we drove to Ramsau, Austria.
Just as it was last year at this time, Ramsau was completely barren of snow asides from the jumps, a few alpine runs and the race course. Fortunately, this year they had plenty of snow made and we were able to race on a full 2.5km loop. (Last year we were confined to a 1.5km flat loop in the field.)
In Ramsau, I jumped at the similar level to the first day in Lillehammer, which put me in the low 40's both days to start the race, but within striking distance of the points group. On Day 2 especially, I had a full opportunity to crack the top-30; although I started in 43rd, I was just 25 seconds behind 30th at the start line. I did what I could to move up through the ranks, which is something I've become accustomed to. I can normally rely on strong XC skiing, even when jumping doesn't go well. However, when it came time to really go, my legs just didd't have it, and I felt like I was already sprinting before the pace even picked up significantly. I watched despairingly as the "better skiers" - a group I would normally put myself in - skied away with apparent ease as I struggled to keep my speed up on the long climbs.
I ended up with two 40th place finishes in Ramsau. Disappointing, yes, but perhaps not as far off as it would seem. It's worth noting that I qualified for each of the 4 days of competition so far. Last year at this time, I was only inside the top-50 in qualification once after my first 4 chances.
Now, I'm back home, with the family for Christmas week. After a few long weeks on the road, it's great to be home. I'll use this week as a chance for recovery and easy distance training. This should be key to get my body rested up and ready to go again in just a couple weeks.
I would be leaving for Klingenthal, Germany right away on next Monday, but the organizers already cancelled, so we have an extra week until we start back up. (You guessed it, warm temps and no snow). One of the few places with good snow right now is Park City, and they seem to have plenty of it. After this week in Wisconsin I'll head back to Park City for a week of training. Hopefully by then the weather will start to turn in Europe, as the next few weekends on the schedule are still up in the air.
Once we leave for Europe next go-around, we'll have a pretty packed schedule for the rest of the season. I'm looking forward to going back to some of the places where I did well last winter, including Chaux-Neuve, Trondheim and Val de Fiemme. There's still plenty of chances ahead to make this season a great one! Watch for us to be starting again on the 8th of January in Schonach, Germany.
Where am I?