For a cross-country skier, there is nothing worse than the anxiety of
waiting for that first snow to fall. The angst grows as deep as a bridled
race horse waiting for the gates to open. All that we want to do is glide!
Is it too much to ask that the weather reciprocate our enthusiasm?
My options are limited compared to previous years. In my final semester of
college, I don’t have the luxury of escaping to higher altitudes or
latitudes. Final exams, papers, and projects are only a month away. When I
think about it, though, being limited to waiting for the snow to fall is
much less stressful than what I went through in previous seasons.
Last season might have been the worst.
Last year, I’m not sure that winter and I really met at all. After super
conditions on the Dachstein Glacier in Austria in September and a week of
skiing in the Torsby, Sweden ski tunnel in August, I had certainly been
spoiled by the time November rolled around. The U.S. Biathlon Team convened
in Torsby once again in early November thanks to the foresight of our
coaches Per Nilsson and Mikael LÃ¶fgren. (Somehow they knew that it was
pointless to travel hours for a few inches; maybe the weather-maker sent
them his plans for the winter.) After a week of tunnel training, though,
most of us were fried from the dozens of loops every day. It was time to
move on, but to where?
Bare fields in Obertilliach, Austria in December.
In Obertilliach, I spent two weeks skiing around a one kilometer loop of
man-made snow. As other teams arrived, the loop and shooting range became
horrendously stressful. I can only imagine in retrospect what the organizers
were going through. Afternoons that I had previously imagined filled with
easy recovery classic ski tours ended up being runs through the browning
fields. I just wanted to cry.
Even the high Dolomite mountains surrounding the Forni Avoltri area were devoid of snow in mid January.
But then on the eve of the first European Cup race, it dumped. So much snow
fell that we were barely able to make the one kilometer drive across flat
terrain to the venue for the race. The snow was pure white, wet, and
accumulated to about a foot or more. It was like Christmas. Except that
because of it, our wax technician wasn’t able to get out of the parking lot
and bring my skis to the race start. I skied anyways on my training skis
just because I was just so excited to finally ski on real snow. The results
were obviously poor, but my hope in winter was finally reestablished, even
if it was at the absolute last hour. I raced the next week in Hochfilzen at
World Cup 3, this time with all of my equipment, and it finally felt as if
everything was starting to be just as it should be.
Winter arrived, but it soon abandoned Europe. Temperatures warmed and the
snow melted. While I was enjoying perfect conditions in Heber City, Utah,
there was little snow left in central Europe by Christmas-time. When the
World Cup reconvened in early January in Oberhof, Germany, the athletes
raced on chopped ice brought in from a fish-packing factory in northern
Germany. When I returned to Europe to compete on the European Cup, there was
very little left. In Cesana-San Sicario, Italy, the 2006 Olympic site for
biathlon, the temperatures soared to nearly 60 F. It felt like spring. At
the next host site, six hours to the east, in Forni Avoltri, there was again
very little. But again and again the organizers magically came through and
pulled off the races.
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