Nowhere else in Europe, or the world, for that matter, can claim the popularity that Ramsau am Dachstein has as a training destination. A glacier to ski on at 8,000 feet, a 6-km rollerski loop that will scare you out of your bindings, hundreds of kilometers of single track running paths, a gym with all the fixings, and rallying in a 1.7 L with a stick shift on the twisty roads. Athletes from all over the world converge here in the fall from all types of Nordic sports — cross-country, biathlon, Nordic combined, jumping, and even some Alpine skiers.
Maybe I shouldn’t share the truth — and keep this place empty for the next two weeks that I’m here — that the conditions are actually quite good. Late last week and over the weekend, a low pressure system moved through that kept the mountains shrouded in fog and the snow soft and dirty, but yesterday, the clouds disappeared, the sky opened up, and the track froze solid.
Three weeks ago, I was with the other members of the U.S. Biathlon Team in Torsby, Sweden, where the newest and longest ski tunnel is located. For ten days, I skied on perfect corduroy, man-made snow at -4 C nearly every day. (Oh, there’s a shooting range inside, too, so we can do biathlon-specific training just as in winter.) By the end, I was exhausted. I had forgotten that the first weeks on snow are an adjustment period, where muscles that haven’t been used in many months are recruited. Rollerskiing is not as close to real skiing as I thought.
After a week of easy training in Norway, I flew down here to Austria. In the past, when I’ve skied on a glacier, I became unbelievably tired. The combination of different muscles, plus the added stress of high-altitude and usually challenging conditions was not a good mix. But this time, since I have already adjusted to skiing and have lived at altitude for much of the past two years, the feeling is much different. Whereas in previous situations, I skied barely faster than walking pace, now I actually feel like I am skiing with proper technique and power application while still maintaining low levels of blood lactate and a low heart rate.
The key thing, I think, is that I’ve chosen to ski, at most, two days in a row. Then I do my intensity sessions (with shooting) on rollerskis on the loop down at 3,500 feet. I have also limited my first workouts on the glacier to two hours. By the end, I still feel energized, rather than lethargic. The final thing is that I always take the first gondola up to the glacier at 7:50 AM. That way, I have first crack at the hard conditions, and only at the end of the workout does the track start to soften up.
Here’s what I am doing during the three weeks that I am here:
W Travel from Norway/off R off Walk 15' I F RS-SK Intervals 8x9' III RS-DP 1h30 I S SN-SK 2h I Strength 1h30 S SN-SK 2h I RS-CL 1h30 I M RS-SK Intervals 8x5' IV Strength 1h30 T off W SN-SK 2h I Strength 1h30 R RS-SK Intervals 8x6' IV+ RS-DP 1h30 I F SN-SK 2h I SN-CL 1h30 I S SN-SK 2h I Strength 1h30 S Rollerski Race in Germany RS-CL 1h30 I M SN-SK 2h30 I Strength 1h30 T off W SN-SK 2h30 I Strength 1h30 R Bounding V 8x (6x 40â€/20â€) RS-CL 2h I F SN-SK 2h30 I Strength 1h30 S RS-SK Intervals 8x10' III SN-CL 1h30 I S SN-CL 2h30 I Strength 1h30 M RS-SK Intervals 8x3' V RS-DP 1h30 I T SN-SK 3h I Strength 1h30
While the tunnel in Torsby provided excellent conditions, the air is extremely humid and the 1.3-km loops become tedious, especially when I did 300 laps over the course of ten days. The scenery from Dachstein when the sky is clear is unbeatable. I cannot get bored with such amazing views.
The changeable conditions on the glacier also provide many opportunities for me to test my new Madshus skis. Because many World Cups are raced on man-made snow now, and the snow inside the tunnel stays consistent from day to day, Torsby was an ideal place to start testing. But I also need skis for soft snow, new snow, hard pack, and ice. At the same time that the variable conditions test my skis, they also test me. If you say that the conditions on the glacier are bad — strong wind and deep, dirty snow — I’ll say, what will you do when you face such conditions in a race?
One day last week, I arrived at the base station for the gondola a few minutes early. A group of German athletes, mainly younger, was waiting for the ticket gates to open. When I awoke, and looked in the direction of the mountain, I knew that it was going to be a challenging day: I could barely see the trees fifty feet away.
Suddenly, at the base station, the German coach stood up and said that they were going home. My German is marginal, so I didn’t know why they were leaving. I walked down the stairs following them, assuming that they were leaving because the glacier was closed. Then, I saw two Swedes, one of them a Frederiksson, talking to the departing German coach. They asked the same thing I was thinking — is it really closed? The coach said no, but that we should look at the webcam of the glacier on the wall — it was gray, nothing but clouds. The Swedes looked at each other, and I looked at them. I thought, well, I’m spending all of this money to be here, I might as well at least go to the top to see how it is. I walked up the stairs and into the gondola. The Swedes and a few others were thinking the same thing, as they followed, too.
Madshus Ski & Boots ( www.madshus.com )
Patagonia Clothing Co. ( www.patagonia.com )
Honey Stinger Energy ( www.honeystinger.com )
Lactate Pro & Spirotiger ( www.fact-canada.com )
Marwe Rollerskis ( www.finnsisu.com )