Skiing around the trails in Houghton MI earlier this month with my longtime ski companion Kristina Owen, she said to me, “It doesn't change, does it? We're still skiing around together, talking about life and dreaming about being fast. Only now we're older, more educated, and we spend less time throwing snowballs during practice.” Heading into my first World Championships, I realize how right she was. I am about to start another cycle of racing development, a cycle that, after many repetitions, I know well by now and enjoy.
It starts with a race in which you are beaten badly, so far down the results list that no one even notices you competed. Then the doubt; an insurmountable amount of time separated you from the winners and you fail to even fathom how you could ski at their pace. Those people who win must have something innate that you lack. Some skiers leave the cycle there, content to be racing and continuing with the same lifestyle, same training program that brought them to that point in their careers.
Then there are those of us who surmount the doubt and find faith in our ability to become good enough to be competitive against the field that previously defeated us. Inspired by your coach, by your parents, by that nameless older lady who showed up to compete in her first ski race ever, you start to believe that you can become better. You analyze the differences between yourself and the skiers you want to be competitive with. You make changes based on what you see — more rest, longer OD's, harder intervals, a better diet, more technique work. Then you race again, the next month or three years later, and you finish in one of the top spots. Finally, you are one of the racers vying for the win.
That success leads you to a bigger stage, fiercer competition, and, again, you find yourself at the bottom of the results list and the cycle begins anew. You could be anywhere on the scale of ski racing, from Olympic events to local J3 races. The same passion and dedication that you cultivated to accomplish your first ski racing goal will be integral to helping you ascend to as competitive a race circuit as you desire. As I step up one level to World Cup racing, I know it will be challenging and will force me to search for ways I can improve in order to meet that challenge. As you fight for your ski dreams know that you and I are engaged in the same struggle, taking the same steps to improve our skiing, regardless of what arena we compete in. Progressing through the ranks of ski racing is like zooming out on a fractal — the scope gets bigger, but the image stays incredibly the same.
Laura Valaas is a 2007 National Champion and 2006-2007 SuperTour Sprint Champion. She was recently named to her first Worl Championships team. You can also follow her quest on her website: www.lauravalaas.com