On The Road With The USST Service Team

FasterSkierOctober 25, 2007

Peter Johansson (L) and Larry Paromaa catch a quiet moment before beginning a 1600 kilometer drive up to northern Sweden. The two were in Torsby last week helping the USST sprint team test skis.

World Cup service techs make for a special breed. On the U.S. team, former serviceman Per-Erik traded in waxing skis for tracking domesticated reindeer along the tundra of Alta, Norway. Lasse spent his working days away from the ski races by chasing down drug runners along the Swedish-Finnish border. Roar Lillefjell was born a Viking, built for pillaging villages, both in size and temperament. An engineer by trade, Peter Johansson once drove iron ore-filled dump trucks in Scandinavia’s second largest underground mine. Oleg hails from Tartu, Estonia, speaks Russian and loves vodka. Need I say more?

When meeting Larry Paromaa for the first time, he threw in a snuss and said, “Ettan. The One.” Sometimes the simple sentences convey the most meaning.

In summer, all live under the midnight sun. In winter all know what twenty-four hours of darkness is like. “Everyday. For three weeks straight,” Peter, the serviceman from Gallivare, informs me.

Two American born service techs have been with the national team during the past ten years. Chris Hall was meticulous in testing skis, testing wax and applying it. He also never had a problem with time changes. A bed wrapped in 1500 thread count silk bedding, an airplane seat, or riding shotgun on an icy alpine road, for Mr. Hall it’s all the same. It never made any difference. If there was a free minute, with nothing to do, nobody to talk to, as far as I could tell Hallsey spent it asleep. Never met one who could sleep like Mr. Hall.

Randy Gibbs is a second year Continental Cup serviceman. First thing you notice about Randy is Randy. He has presence. He has size. He has style. There’s just no missing him. At 6′ 5” and well-built he towers over a crowd the way Maynard James Keenan’s bodyguard might. The difference is Randy can lay it out on the course. He also talks training. He’ll give you his latest thoughts on everything from the band Tool to hypoxic and hyperbaric chambers for endurance sports. His sister Becky Lavelle, whom he coaches – USAT’s 2006 Multisport Athlete of the year — uses both. Randy, finally, has some serious entrepreneurial spirit. He scouts Midwest movie shoot locations with A- to-D list movie stars and producers. And if you’ve ever bought a T-shirts online with a witty slogan or clever design you could be contributing to Randy’s empire.

In Düsseldorf Randy will be alongside the Swedes Larry and Peter, waxing Andy and Torin’s skis at the World Cup Opener. Only for Randy, this is his vacation. He’s traveling across the pond on his own dime to learn from the two Swedes, to be part of the action and take in the post-race Foo Fighters concert. You decide: as a fan of U.S. skiing you have a choice — either Randy traveled over the Atlantic on his own dime to inhale fluorine in a wax trailer. Or Randy’s All In.

Within the USST, the service team has some serious ski know how. Larry raced through the eighties and nineties with Wassberg, Svan, Morgren, those guys. Peter ran Ski-Go’s glide testing research when not adventure racing or working northern Scandinavia’s ore and copper mines. Talking with them one uncovers nuggets of insight obliquely — embedded in stories they might tell or how they go about their job. The insight hits a range of themes, from ski choice, grinding (Larry prefers having three, maybe four grinds on every pair of a skier’s stockpile of skis rather than a different grind on every pair) to adventures in civilian employment.

“600 kilometers of roads make up the Kiruna mine. This must be known to understand how I felt driving into the underground tunnels alone for the first time,” says Peter on a drive from Torsby ski tunnel to the Karlstad hockey arena. “A couple hundred meters in and natural light becomes totally absent. There’s not even a hint of it. It’s so dark your body begins playing tricks on you. To turn off the truck and climb out of the cab is to experience your body in special state. You feel almost like your swimming in darkness. Hardly feeling the difference from what’s up, down, right, left, that’s kind of spooky.”

On the way back to Torsby, the car’s radio picks up NRK 3 — a Norwegian public radio station. “Ah. I can’t listen to this garbage. Change the channel,” says Larry from the backseat. “But isn’t Norway Sweden’s little brother? Don’t you want to hear what your sibling has to say?” asks the passenger riding shotgun. “It’s true, yes, that Norway is our little brother. It’s also true your younger brother can be a real pain in the ass at times, you know.” See what I mean about the simple sentences saying the most?

Headgear Sponsor: USA Pears (www.usapears.com)
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