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The Band is Back Together: Women’s Training Camp Begins in Alaska

The group after a well-executed workout. (L to R) Kate Fitzgerald, Kikkan Randall, Liz Stephen, Astrid Jacobsen (NOR), Ida Sargent, Holly Brooks, Bettina Gruber (SUI), Jessie Diggins, Emily Hannah, Anika Miller. (Photo: Matt Whitcomb)

The North American Women’s Training Alliance converged again this week in Anchorage for their third annual camp, this time with a few more foreigners than usual. (L to R) Kate Fitzgerald, Kikkan Randall, Liz Stephen, Astrid Jacobsen (NOR), Ida Sargent, Holly Brooks, Bettina Gruber (SUI), Jessie Diggins, Emily Hannah, Anika Miller. (Photo: Matt Whitcomb)

The joint women’s training camp between the U.S. Ski Team and Alaska Pacific University began this week in Anchorage, Alaska, bringing many of the nation’s top female skiers together for the first time in a month along with a few special foreign guests. According to USST women’s coach Matt Whitcomb, training has been going well so far.

“It’s nice to have the band back together up here for the third annual NAWTA camp,” he said on Tuesday. “We had a killer session [on Tuesday] with some Level 3 pace development intervals, and we’re gearing up for a great couple of weeks here.”

The pack of Americans once again includes Canada’s Chandra Crawford, whose participation in the camp since its iteration in 2011 inspired the name North American Women’s Training Alliance, or NAWTA. But the group might have to change its name soon if it keeps attracting so many European athletes; this year decorated Norwegian skier Astrid Jacobsen and top Swiss national team member Bettina Gruber joined its ranks to experience the group’s training environment.

“We’re in really good company this week,” Whitcomb said. “Just the day in, day out training situation resulting from such a high caliber group is where we get most of our benefit from.”

The group training is precisely what brought Jacobsen says brought her to Alaska.

“For me it is exotic to travel here to see Alaska,” Jacobsen told FIS in a recent interview. “Most importantly though it was the opportunity to go and train with Kikkan [Randall]. For me she is the best skate sprinter we have. I felt that we could challenge each other. We each have different qualities.

“Also, if you look at how the American women’s team has developed in the last couple of years it is a really interesting team with a good spirit. I was curious to come here and see how they work as a group.”

In return, the Americans hope to benefit from the new perspective a foreign athlete brings to the table.

“I got this descriptor from Rikard Grip, the Swedish head coach: he talked about the Americans adding just the right spice to training, so I’ve taken the word spice and have really appreciated the spice that it does add, having Bettina and Astrid and Chandra,” Whitcomb said. “It’s just a nice simulation for everybody, including the guest athlete. We’re going to be watching these girls and their strengths closely, and we hope they can pull something out of this camp and have a better shot at a medal in Sochi, as well.”

If it surprises anyone that the U.S. national team has opened up its training to foreigners, particularly before an Olympic year, Whitcomb says this is simply part of how they operate.

“One of the philosophies of the team is we’re very open,” he said. “We share any secrets we might have, and in doing that we end up learning much more. So it’s an open environment and the more we can share the more we can learn.”

The first week of the camp is being spent dryland training in Anchorage during a higher-intensity block, and next week athletes and coaches fly up to Eagle Glacier for more volume-specific training on snow.

Thus far, Whitcomb has been happy to see his athletes looking strong in workouts and staying healthy while managing mild injuries.

“We have a couple mild injuries being nursed along but nothing major this season,” he said. “I think everybody has their little tendonitis issues, little things here and there, and as a team we’ve gotten things much better under control this season. Through working with a physical therapist and setting up better injury management system than we’ve had in the past.

“The key is just smart, varied training,” Whitcomb continued. “When you do varied training it allows the body to recover in sneaky ways, so we’re doing a lot of that to be preemptive. They’re doing a much better job as athletes, we’re doing a better job paying attention and being strict when needed as coaches, but everybody’s doing great and hitting the ground running here.”

When the group moves to the glacier this weekend they’ll spend about six days on snow for between 23 and 30 hours of volume on skis. The team has both individual and group-specific goals for the entire camp; as athletes work on personal technique or equipment-based goals, the team aims to continue operating better together as they live and train together on Eagle Glacier.

“It’s just a great opportunity to get out there and get on skis,” Whitcomb said. “Learning to kick a ski on sloppy snow — mornings are firm and fast for skating, focusing on something similar to our workout [from this week]… Whether you’re socializing on a long easy ski or going head to head in a speed workout, we really run everything as a group at this camp.”

About Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

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