It’s a frigid Monday morning and the American SuperTour has left the building. The USSA PR department must have forgotten to send Zeus a Christmas card last December, because this tour has seen plenty of uncomfortably cold mountain air in the last twelve months. West Yellowstone was the coldest spot in the country at -30F five nights ago. Yesterday racers warmed up with breathing masks and the races were almost moved from Bohart Ranch back to Lindley in hopes of finding a venue that was above the FIS legal floor of -4F.
This morning our country’s fastest SuperTour athletes awoke to tempos below -15F and are thankful that the weekend’s racing is over. All they have to do now is hunker down in the back of the van with their puffies and feed their beloved coach/chauffeurs coffee for the long northerly drive to Vernon, BC.
Such up-front visceral discomfort on this level gives new meaning to the phrase “Oh Canada!”
But despite the cold, the ski Gods were kind enough to grant us a good day of racing on the ranch north of Bozeman proper. Bohart Ranch is safely removed from the chaos of cell phone service, and has winding, heavily treed trails with steep climbs and fast technical turns that provide a fun, if cold, venue for hot ski racing.
APUNSC’s Holly Brooks is used to cold winter, and apparently is also getting used to winning SuperTour races.
“She’s really on fire right now,” commented second place finisher and Bozeman resident Kristina Trygstad-Saari (Bozeman Ski Foundation).
Wearing the yellow leader bib but chasing distant APU teammate Laura Valaas, Holly skied alone for all of the interval start race.
“I was a ghost sandwich. There was no one in front or behind.”
After also winning yesterday’s skate sprint, Brooks claims that Sunday’s course catered to her strengths as an avid mountain runner during the summer.
“The course included lots of gradual striding which helped me out. That works well with the fact that I’ve done lots of mountain (hiking) training, which specifically works well with that gradual classic striding. My legs are relatively much stronger than my arms. I don’t have another activity outside of skiing that works my arms though.”
Probing further into Holly’s non-specific training during the summer, she explains that her husband and former standout skier Rob Whitney tends to lend a hand with her training.
“On of the things that I am doing during the summer is the (ski) specific workouts plus MORE. Rob and I do adventures all the time at home, and he always pushes the pace.”
Next weekend’s two skate races at Silver Star will specifically cater to Holly’s strenghts as a skater.
“I like classic skiing too, but if I can I’ll take two skate races. I’m so psyched because I haven’t been to Silver Star in years and my family will be there.”
Once racing season starts, racers are gone from home for months on end, and training takes on a new face as it’s crammed between the intensity of a weekend’s competition. Brooks says it’s nice to look forward to each little travel break before starting right back up again.
“It’s nice to let down a little on Sunday, because you only have a few days of training before race prep again. The few days of training are nice, and we have divided the drive into two days to stay healthy and keep from just sitting down for one long ride.”
Bozeman resident Kristina Trygstad-Saari took a few years off before returning to competition last year. She was working with back problems that prevented her from classic skiing, but still moved straight to the top skiing for the Saab/Salomon Factory Team. After the recent demise of the Factory Team, she is now fully supported by The Bridger Ski Foundation.
“I’m doing well and I’m happy about my race today. I pretty much went into it not knowing where I stood. I had a rough day yesterday, but I really knew to trails (today). I think of myself as being a strong skate skier. Today I felt pretty awesome though and had lots of confidence.”
Skipping classic races last season changed things for Kristina, and she has had to make some adjustments to stay in
“I’ve had to adjust my technique a bit, and take ample time to rest after classic races. I’ve been trying to figure out how to adjust my double pole, but in a way it’s been good for me to make some time for improvement. It forced me to be a good double poler.”
Living in Bozeman, Trygstad gets plenty of time to ski at Bohart Ranch. She says that the trails were sketchy fast, and that the recent abrasive, dry Rocky Mountain snowfall helped slow the course to make it more skiable.
“Training out there was super fast. There were some super fast downhill turns and steep herringbone hills,” Kristina says.
When poked about the technical and abrupt nature of the trails, Trygstad takes the bait.
“It was kind of like a Vermont high school coarse. I am pretty happy that they kept it at Bohart. Dragon and a few other people designed a bunch of new courses for that week (at Nationals), and made some changes for this race. They used a lot of stuff that wasn’t groomed and even went backwards sometimes.”
Trygstad finished safely 15 seconds ahead of former Factory Team teammate and third place finisher Rebecca Dussault of Gunnison, Colorado. 2006 Olympian Dussault (Pronouced “doo-sow”) has been making a strong return to the scene the last couple of years, and just toed Holly Brooks at the finish line to win last year’s American Birkebeiner.
“I did feel good. I didn’t expect to do that well after all the intensity during the week, and also getting on snow pretty late,” says Dussault. “I didn’t feel super warm on the start line, but it felt good the whole time. I stayed relaxed and didn’t push too hard. I’ve been heavily into skate since the beginning, but am trying to bring up my classic game for some of the pursuits. (Nevertheless) I have been seeing a few good classic races lately.”
Dussault was recentlly featured in fasterskier’s “Road To Whistler” series of athlete profiles. As most read readers know, she is the mother of two and balances family life with the life of being one of the more impressive all-round female athletes on the nordic scene. She competed in 9 races this year, including the recent XTERRA World Championships in Hawaii.
“The races (in West Yellowstone) were only 3 1/2 weeks after XTERRA Worlds. I’ve been trying to fit some ski specific stuff in there like roller skiing once a week, but it’s hard to stick with it doing triathlons. In retrospect I should have done more upper body work and now have to break into my nordic upper body fitness. For triathlons you do so much Level 3 work and the L4 hasn’t really happened yet.”
“I know bigger gains have been made with nordic specific training, but I don’t have a nordic support base (in Gunnison). Everybody in the community there is on bikes. It’s really important to have a community to latch on to.”
Dussault was lucky to have her husband and kids with her over the last couple of weeks, but said goodbye to them last night to just be a ski racer for the next seven days.
“They’ve been with me the whole two weeks in Montana. It was like a family ski camp in West Yellowstone. It helps that when I am not with them they are with their dad. It wouldn’t feel good to farm them out.”
Family ski camp, indeed. It’s got to be a boost to see mom lay it down.
The familiarity and locality of the American rockies has seen the last of it’s early season heat, and the racing flotilla is headed north. We’ll be following the racers through their tour of Merry Old Canada from afar before catching up with them again on home turf in Anchorage for US Nationals.
Nothing but the best of luck to all the North American racers up there, and we’ll see you in January!