Two weeks of living and training nearly 11,000 feet above sea level can do a lot for Noah Hoffman and Kris Freeman’s preparation for the upcoming season. A lot of help if managed appropriately, a lot of harm if done wrong.
The two elite U.S. skiers are wrapping up an on-snow camp in the Italian Alps. Hoffman (U.S. Ski Team/Ski and Snowboard Club Vail/Team HomeGrown) joined a trip arranged by the Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC), of which Freeman is an Olympic Development Team member. A crew from the Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont also trained on the glacier, but lodged separate from the MWSC group.
Hoffman and Freeman followed separate training plans, but with the same basic camp rule: don’t get too tired. If they come out of the camp needing two or three weeks to fully recover, they will miss out on valuable time reserved for intensity and sharpening before the season-opening races. Neither had previously lived and trained at as high of an altitude in their careers.
Freeman and the MWSC group are on their way back to the U.S. on Monday, while Hoffman heads to Germany to train for a week with German World Cup skier Hannes Dotzler, who, at 23, remains one of the best skiers in the world in 24-year-old Hoffman’s age group. Hoffman said he wants to learn as much as possible from him.
Dotzler finished sixth in the 15 k classic at last season’s World Cups in Canmore and La Clusaz, France, and seventh in the 50 k classic at World Championships.
Freeman designated it a volume-only camp, logging a ton of slow hours. Hoffman did one intensity session each week, to keep in touch with the speed he developed over the summer.
“I have always been able to handle huge loads of volume training and I also have a long history of responding well to high altitude,” Freeman wrote in an email. “I had my best races of [last] season at the Canmore World Cup right after spending two weeks at 8000 feet in Aspen.”
Freeman had two top-15 finishes in Canmore. He didn’t realize until he got to Italy how close they were to Valdidentro, where he won the 30 k classic at the U23 World Championships in 2003 and placed 16th in a World Cup there in 2009, a week before finishing 4th in the 15 k classic at World Championships.
“I thought Stelvio was the best option for a September on-snow camp,” Freeman wrote. “Overall, the quality of skiing and quality of life has been much better than other glacier experiences I have had.”
Freeman reported firm tracks and winter-like weather on the Stelvio Pass glacier, with occasional snowfall to freshen things up. They kicked on hard wax around a two and a half mile loop neighboring an alpine area. Freeman and Hoffman, roommates on the World Cup circuit for the past five years, stayed together in Hotel Livrio, where they skied out the front door.
It was Freeman’s first time on snow since the spring. Hoffman skied on Eagle Glacier in Alaska and at the Snow Farm in New Zealand this summer. They didn’t have much company on the loop, but last week shared it with the Italian military team and Olympic gold medalist Cristian Zorzi.
MWSC coach Will Sweetser re-stocked the food supply frequently so the athletes could refuel between workouts. An early start was required to ski twice in a day on the glacier, as the trails closed for grooming at 3 p.m. daily. Sweetser also assisted with ski prep, letting the athletes focus on recovery during a condensed first half of the day.
Hoffman didn’t check the altitude on the glacier when he was packing for the trip, so he had to adjust his workout schedule with coach John Callahan upon arrival.
“The original plan with a high load of volume, intensity and specific strength didn’t make sense to pursue at this altitude,” Hoffman wrote. “John and I were not disappointed by the situation. We saw it as an opportunity to earn extra benefit from training, a good test of my ability to handle this altitude, and of course a reality we had to accommodate, not unlike a changed travel schedule, an illness, or difficult weather conditions.”
Also on the glacier from MWSC were ODT members Welly Ramsey, Sam Tarling and Omar Bermejo. Canadian Brandy Stewart was also with the group.