Swiss Miss, K-Cam, or just Karin (not Karen!) â€” whatever you call her, she has been one of the fastest female skiers in the US for the past six winters. A native of Switzerland, Karin Camenisch came to the US to attend Denver University in December 2001. In her four years racing at DU, she was part of a team that won two NCAA National Championships. Her best individual result as a college racer came in 2003 â€” a 3rd place at the NCAA Championships hosted by Dartmouth College.
After graduation, Karin spent a year training and working in the Denver area. She cemented her place as the woman to beat with a victory in the 5K classic at the 2005 US Nationals at Soldier Hollow (Ed. The US does not award National Championships to non-citizens, so Karin did not technically win the National Championship). She dominated the Super Tour, taking both the overall and sprint titles. In 2006 she defended her Super Tour titles, once again winning both the overall and sprint crowns, despite being back in school full time. Last year she topped out with a 3rd in the 10K Skate at US Nationals and a degree in Exercise Physiology from Montana State University.
And if that were not enough, Karin may be one of the friendliest people you will meet on the ski trail. Extremely supportive of teammates and competitors alike, she always leaves her â€œgame faceâ€ on the course. She recently moved back to Switzerland and is training with an elite regional program with the hopes of regaining a spot on the Swiss National Team. But she hasn’t had enough of the United States yet â€” she is returning to America to race for the Rossignol Elite Team this winter.
FasterSkier caught up with Karin as she prepared to leave for a 5-day training camp on a glacier in northern Italy. This is the first of a two part-series, focusing on Karin’s training, racing and goals for the upcoming season. The second part will compare skier development in Switzerland and the United States.
FasterSkier: You moved back to Switzerland this summer after completing your degree in Exercise Physiology. What motivated you to return to the US to race this winter?
Karin Camenisch: I spent almost six years in the US. It would be very hard to just leave and not come back. I am looking forward to seeing my friends and racing over there.
FS: Do you have your schedule set for the season?
KC: Mostly. I will come over in November in time for camp in West Yellowstone, then race the Super Tour events in December. Then US Nationals. After that I’m not sure. I might follow the Super Tour in the Midwest. I will be based out of Bozeman, Montana for at least part of the season.
FS: All right, let’s talk about Switzerland now.
KC: Switzerland! Chocolate land!
FS: Exactly! Who are you training with in Switzerland?
KC: I’m training with a regional team that is based out of Davos. I live about 20 minutes from Davos, which I think is perfect, because I’m not there all the time. I can escape to do other stuff — by myself or with other friends — so I don’t have to spend all my time with skiers.
FS: So you’re not training six times a week with the team in Davos?
KC: No. I could if I wanted to, but I actually like to train by myself a lot. I like roller-skiing practices with the team, because we do a lot of video and technique training, and I couldn’t do that by myself. The team is really good because it’s pretty much everyone who’s not on the national team.
FS: So A very high level?
KC: Yes. And while it is a regional team from my region of Switzerland, our team is so good that a lot of other people have heard about it. We have people, from Zurich and other places, who join us, especially for the training camps. One of the really good skiers is Ursina Badilatti. She was released from the national team last year, mostly because she is in school right now and doesn’t have a lot of time to train and race. She’s definitely still a really fast racer. She’s been to world university games, world juniors, and U-23, I believe.
FS: How often do you guys have training camps?
KC: We had one per month in July and August. Now, in September and October, we have two. All camps are just 5 days long, so not too long, but still we get a lot of training in. Usually 8 or 9 training sessions.
FS: Overall, how is your training going?
KC: It’s going really well. I feel really good, and I think I’m in better shape than I’ve been in a lot of years. But we’ll see in winter. I’ll either be fast or totally over-trained: probably not anywhere in between.
FS: Do you have specific goals for your racing this year?
KC: I definitely want to close the gap to the women on the national team. Before I left Switzerland, I was on the national team, and it is my goal to get on that team again. I know it won’t happen this year — it might happen next year or in two years, who knows?
FS: As an estimate, how far back are you?
KC: That’s kind of hard to know, because I haven’t been racing in Switzerland for the last couple of years. Ursina Babilate was top three in the Swiss Championships last winter. I can definitely follow her — and am sometimes faster in running intervals, and I can follow her on roller-ski intervals. That gives me an idea that I’m somewhere up there, but I don’t really know.
FS: Will Switzerland have a team in Canada for the World Cups? And if so, would there be any chance you would race?
KC: That would be great, but I don’t know. I talked to the National team coaches, but they don’t know because it’s so far off. I’ll definitely let them know that I’m interested, and that I’m close, so they wouldn’t need to pay for my flight we’ll see what they say. During the same time, we actually have Swiss Championships at home, so I don’t know if they will send people at all It also depends on who will do the Tour de Ski. If people do the Tour de Ski and are tired, they may not travel to Canada, but other people might get a chance.
FS: More about your training. Are you working closely with your coach to design your training plan, or do you set your own?
KC: I have been writing my own plan for a couple of years, but always get advice from coaches or friends. This includes coaches I had in college, or even before college. And most recently, Dragan Danevski, the Head Coach for BSF (Bridger Ski Foundation ) in Bozeman. I’m always open to advice or suggestions. Because I’ve been racing for so long, I know what’s good for me and what works for me. But I’m open to trying anything new â€” of course you want to get faster, and sometimes you can’t just be stuck in your routine. It is good to experiment, and that might help you to jump to the next level.
FS: What kind of training are you doing?
KC: During training camps, I train whatever everybody else is training, and then when I’m at home, I adjust my own plan to the schedule of the regional team. We have at least two practices a week together, and those two practices are mostly roller-skiing, with a coach, and then all the other days are open. Sometimes I meet with some of the national team women or the regional team women, and we all train together. Other times I’ll just train by myself, because it’s much easier, and I don’t have to drive to Davos.
FS: In addition to roller-skiing, what are you doing?
KC: I’ve done a little bit of road biking. I brought my road bike over just for recovery, but it’s hard to do a recovery workout because from my town it either goes just uphill or just downhill, and then you have to come back either down or up. You can’t go easy. But I’ll run a lot, run with poles, and of course do my strength training. That’s pretty much it. I’m not a good swimmer, so I don’t like to go to the pool.
FS: What is your training like now? Do you do a lot of intensity; are you on the â€œtraditionalâ€ track of a couple intensity sessions a week?
KC: Right now I’m on this â€œtraditionalâ€ track, if you want to call it that, with some intensity. Knowing that I needed something new this year, I put some sprints into almost every workout. I believe that if you do that, your body learns to go fast almost all the time. So I think it will help, especially for sprints and shorter races like 5Ks.
FS: And when you say you do sprints during the workout, are those short 10 second pickups, or
KC: Yes, up to 15 seconds. It’s also not as boring if you do that. In the past, I did VO2 max blocks, and I had a really good experience with them. Three years ago, I did that, and I had my best season ever in the US.
FS: Was that the year you won a race at US Nationals?
KC: Yes. That was my first year out of college, but I still lived in Denver and was working in Denver, and mainly training by myself. I was still able to go to some college practices, and that was the first year that Knut (Knut Nystad, then Head Coach at DU) started that kind of training with the team; I just did my own version because I trained by myself. We did 10 interval workouts in a block: 6 sessions in 6 days, with each afternoon off, and then 1 or 2 days rest, and then another 4 intensities. So a total of 10 intensities in 11 or 12 days.
FS: And were those mainly level 4?
KC: Yes, and always mixed. So one day rollerskiing, next day running, next day running with poles, next day rollerskiing again, so you wouldn’t get too tired or use the same muscles all the time.
FS: That was very successful for you. Have you thought about doing that again?
KC: Yes. I tried it the year after that, and even last year I did a smaller version of it, but I don’t think I was ready. My body was so tired, maybe from school. You need to know your body so well. You also need to be totally ready, totally rested when you go into that period. And then when you’re done, you need to be smart and rest for a couple days as well.
FS: Which can be very hard to do when you’re in school very intensely, or working a lot.
KC: Exactly, and sometimes you just don’t want to admit it to yourself. We are all athletes, we don’t want to show weakness. So we say, â€œOh, of course I can go out and do my intervals, no problem.â€ I don’t think people realize, including myself, how much energy it (the intensity block) takes away from you, because often times you think you can do as much training as you did when you weren’t in school. But it’s not possible.
FS: And it seems that when you went to Bozeman and started school again, you weren’t able to be at quite the same level you were at the year you were working in Denver and won the National Championship?
KC: The biggest thing was that maybe I trained as well, but I think the recovery was just not good enough. If you have school and training, then you don’t have any recovery time. While going to school is physically a recovery, you use your brain and are still walking around, and it’s stressful.
FS: So you must be looking forward to a winter of racing and not being in school?
KC: It will be interesting! I am definitely looking forward to this season.
Karin racing at US Nationals
The view from Stelvio