They’ve been on four-hour runs through marshes, braved ‘mystery testing’ with the national team, and been featured in a Swedish newspaper. But when asked to describe their favorite aspect of their trip to Sweden, Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen are in complete agreement: the people.
For the two veterans of the US Ski Team, the trip was a unique chance to actually get to know the people they compete against all winter. “When you see people on the World Cup, they’re doing their own thing,” Stephen explains. “Then when the competition is over, they all go home during the week in between races, so there’s not a lot of opportunity to get to know them outside of the ski world.”
“When you think about it, none of us had a normal college experience,” Randall adds. “The World Cup is our chance to form these memories. Ten years from now, twenty years from now, when everyone else is looking back and remembering their college years, we’ll be saying, ‘Hey, remember that World Championships?’”
With trips like this one, along with Randall’s last summer to Norway, the duo are forming lasting friendships with their competitors. “Now when we see each other on the World Cup, we can ask Anna how her family is doing,” says Randall.
According to Randall, it’s rare for skiers of different countries to train together. She herself first made such a trip last year in Norway, deciding to make the most of her trip to Turkey as a FIS athlete representative and stay behind to train with sprinter Elle Gjomle. It was such a great success she decided to do it again, this time at Anna Haag’s invitation to stay with her in Orsa and with Stephen joining her.
Randall started reaching out to her competitors long before becoming a FIS rep. “It started a few years ago, when I was the only woman on the national team on the World Cup and I didn’t have any girls from the US to hang out with. I would go out and meet women from other teams; it was funny to me how teams stayed within themselves.”
The experience was so valuable that Randall convinced Stephen to join her this time around. “It was pretty ballsy of Kikkan to come over on her own last year,” said Stephen. “I don’t know if I would have come over here by myself.” Now knowing what it’s like, she can’t wait to come back.
Their stay began in Orsa with Haag’s family, stopped in Östersund, and ended in Torsby. There, Randall and Stephen joined the Swedish women for part of their on-snow camp in the ski tunnel, where they got to participate in a day of testing and two days of quality time on snow.
While putting in long hours on the trails, Stephen and Randall said it was great to talk with their hosts and realize that, while they may not speak the same native language, they think and feel the same things during a workout. And while the Swedes may have their own tour bus, said Randall, “their training is pretty much just like ours,” a conclusion that represents the great value of a trip like this one.
On the subject of training, Stephen says her foot injury from this spring hasn’t been holding her back at all. While cutting a hole in the heel of her boots this winter provided a temporary solution, it didn’t come close to solving the problem. She was in so much pain in March that she sat out the SuperTour Finals in Sun Valley.
The pain seems to be behind her now. “Rossignol made me some custom boots, and they’re in the process of making version two now with a few changes,” she said. “By giving my foot some time off, the initial pain went away and I’ve been able to try the boots out and give feedback.”
She was uncertain as to whether she would need surgery back in March, but now she says it’s been so far so good and doesn’t plan on needing it.
Upon arriving back in the States, Stephan and Randall will enjoy some time at home before gearing up for a training camp with the rest of their teammates in Anchorage in mid July. They “most definitely” want a training trip to Europe to become a regular part of their off-season training in the future.
Says Randall, “This was such a home run we might just have to come back to Sweden again next year.”