Over the last two weeks, the U.S. Ski Team and many of the nation’s top skiers have been hitting the hardtop and trails around Park City, Utah, intent on getting in quality training sessions at altitude before heading off to on-snow camps. The area’s consistent fall weather and training opportunities, including the rollerski loop at Soldier Hollow, make this camp an annual team staple.
Many of the country’s most competitive nordic skiers outside the U.S. Ski Team (USST) are also in Park City, drawn there by the opportunity to train with the team before it heads to Europe for the start of the World Cup in late November.
USST Head Coach Chris Grover estimated there were slightly more than 30 athletes at the camp, with all 16 national-team members, plus skiers from the National Training Group, Alaska Pacific University (APU), the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) Gold Team, Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team, and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project. On the phone earlier this week, Grover expressed excitement about a, “nice mix of some younger guys and some veterans, and top club athletes and the national team.”
Although this is a national-team camp, guest athletes are invited to attend the high-intensity workouts as well as the long, over-distance sessions when the venue safely allows them to do so, Grover explained.
During the first week of camp the focus has been on threshold, some testing and speed workouts, and something called “The Double Pole Project.” Grover described this as a pre-workout video session meant to aid in transferring the athletes’ work in the weight room to lower abdominal engagement in their double-pole technique. Stemming from a plan shared at the World Cup coaches’ seminar in Trondheim, Norway, in late August, the team integrated this into their camp with hopes of seeing this strength technique come through this winter.
After the initial week of mellow, acclimatization-based workouts and technique focus, the second week of training included more intensity. On Tuesday, Grover highlighted that morning’s 6 x 4-minute ski bounding session as one that got both athletes and coaches excited. Whether it was the sun beaming down or the lower elevation training site in Salt Lake City, the first full-group, high-intensity workout of the camp went off without a hitch, he said. It also provided a preview of the intensity coming at the end of camp: a three-day rollerski mini tour starting on Sunday.
In the past, the USST ended its Park City camps with rollerski time trials. This season, without a World Championships or Olympics, and with over half the the World Cup races being tour-stage events (19 to be exact), Grover and his staff decided to shift from race simulations to stage events.
“We’ve definitely put an emphasis on practicing not only how to manage energy from day to day, but how to recover optimally from each session,” Grover said.
The team saw some success at Norway’s Toppidrettsveka mini tour this summer, with Liz Stephen and Noah Hoffman placing third in the hill climb, but also encountered bad luck with broken poles and several crashes in the last stage of that tour, Grover said. These are the types of mishaps he’s hoping the tour simulations will minimize in races this winter.
The mini tour will start this Sunday, Oct. 25 with a freestyle sprint, followed by a shorter classic mass start on Monday, and ending with a longer freestyle pursuit on Tuesday.
The national team also unveiled its new uniforms this week. L.L. Bean and Craft signed as the team’s clothing sponsors this spring and revealed the new suits and warmups with the team on Monday in Park City. Grover explained the shift to L.L. Bean and Craft as one that’s been “excellent” because it provides a “…uniform that is totally unique to the USA.” He also believes the team will benefit from the wide range of pieces available through these larger companies.
The first World Cup is a little more than a month away in Kuusamo, Finland, and aside from D-team rookie Julia Kern rebounding from a slight back injury, the team is healthy, Grover said. Erik Bjornsen has resumed training at full capacity after surgery on his hand and a knee injury earlier this summer.
Team veteran Kikkan Randall recently announced her pregnancy and will be missing this season as a result. Grover was fully supportive, acknowledging her pregnancy as one of Randall’s long-term goals. The timing also worked nicely without a World Championships or Olympics this season. While Randall has been training with the team in Park City, she has scaled back her intensity and shifted toward over-distance and technique training, Grover explained.
Without a major championship on the World Cup calendar this season and a North American tour — the Ski Tour Canada — in its place, domestic competition for the additional start spots is something many U.S. and Canadian athletes are looking forward to. Per the “national quota” regulations of the World Cup, the U.S. will be able to start five additional men and five additional women for the entire Ski Tour Canada, for a total of up to 24 racers.
While Grover said the upcoming mini tour in Park City would not decide those spots, he explained the coaches were using this week’s training sessions to note the fitness of non-national team athletes. However, on-snow results will ultimately determine who receives those Canadian World Cup starts. More on the 2015/2016 World Cup Team selection criteria here.
After wrapping up the mini tour on Tuesday, the USST will leave Utah on Wednesday. Several clubs will head directly to Canmore, Alberta, for an on-snow camp at Frozen Thunder, while others, like APU and its USST members, will head back to Alaska in hopes of getting on snow as well.
The USST will reconvene Nov. 13 to fly to Gällivare, Sweden, where they’ll hold a camp and compete in a couple FIS races before traveling to Kuusamo for the World Cup openers.