Pavel Sotskov is a recent Dartmouth College graduate who had been training and working in New Zealand for the summer at the Snowfarm. After leaving New Zealand he returned to Presque Isle, ME to race for MWSC and is now with the team in Finland training for US Nationals and the Super Tour season. He has sent several updates on his experiences.
In my quest to train on snow every month of this year, I have decided to visit the country which is hosting the first 3 weekends of racing on this year’s FIS race circuit for some early November skiing. This country is Finland, and the exact location at the moment is Vuokatti, the Finns’ premiere training and preparation venue for all of the country’s winter sports athletes. I have traveled here with the Maine Winter Sports Center team, as we prepare for Anchorage and the 2009-10 Super Tour season. While Vancouver is looking less promising for me based on the newly published team USA skier quotas, some of our team members, including Ben Koons (MWSC/NZL), are still looking to score FIS points that would earn them spots for the Olympic Games in a few short months.
Preparation for the season is the name of the game here in Vuokatti, with teams gathered from Russia, Finland, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Japan, and now our team from the US and New Zealand. Skiing in the tunnel has been extended with a loop that continues right out of the far end of the tunnel onto a 4.3km figure-eight loop that includes some good terrain and the biathlon stadium. Because of the high number of skiers on the relatively small loop, our interval session today included a training session on how to pass 7 year-olds on the right-hand side of the track. This includes the skills of not letting the child fall onto your skis or injuring them too badly with your pole tips. Kids are not the only skiers you pass while doing intervals; it feels good to be able to pass a train of 10 Russians in national team suits on just about every uphill.
I do not mean to say that the track is too crowded to get legitimate training. On the contrary, I always like to train with skiers that will be winning the World Cups in just a few weeks. In addition to seeing them on the trails, all the teams together in Vuokatti Sport’s abundant dining hall, mainly featuring a traditional Finnish fare of smoked salmon, potatoes, and bread. The food does not stop there, however: beet salads, rice, homemade bread beer, and of course a dessert at every meal (including breakfast) are just some of the choices available for the athletes. The one problem with the dining hall is a limit of 3 entries per day. This means, if you really want to have more than one dinner, you have to digest directly at the table. The rule is mainly created for the Russians who take an average of 2/3 of a pound of smoked salmon every time they enter the dining hall. Our team has been trying to last at least 2 hours in the cafeteria per meal, but this interferes with the 3 hour nap time I have been getting per day: skiing, sleeping, and eating are the main activities of a skier here in Vuokatti.
One team that I did not expect to see here is the Russian National Disabled Team. Now if the “disabled” qualifier was not in the title, you would assume that these skiers were completely abled athletes. Not only is their speed comparable to many of the other skiers out on the trails, their mobility is stunning. In the tunnel, the wheelchair-bound skiers were able to scale the 5-step staircase backwards in their chair faster than I can walk. Their toughness may come from overcoming disabilities, but it also comes from their coach, who I hear constantly hurrying the team along with some very coarse Russian language. Today, I skied by the coach skiing next to a very tired female sit skier, commenting that she would slip and freeze to death in the ditch at the bottom of the hill if she did not make it up the final portion of the 4km loop. The “do or die” attitude will not only earn the team street cred among the disabled community, but also podium spots at the Paralymic Winter Games happening alongside the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.
For the next 3 days the Maine Winter Sports Team will continue to prepare for the FIS races in Muonio, Finland. I have been glide testing the new additions to my Salomon fleet, and attempting to work on gaining some final speed before the 550km drive to the race venue mid-week. Fast skis, good training, great food, and of course a real Finnish sauna complete with hearty Finns is one of the best way to find snow this November.