Laura Valaas, one of the top skiers in the country, spent the second half of the season racing on the World Cup. She skis for APUNSC and is a member of the US B-Team. Phil Bowen talked with Laura after the World Cup races in Canmore.
Philip Bowen: I recently read about your spending time studying. Do you consider yourself a full-time ski racer? You didn't attend an NCAA powerhouse ski school. How has your emphasis on xc ski racing evolved in the last few years as your national and international results have improved?
Laura Valaas: Ski racing has always been something I have done because I enjoy it. In college it was one of my extra-curricular activities, part of the well rounded liberal arts experience, albeit one of my favorite parts. When I graduated in 2006 I decided to be a ski racer full time. I still ski race because I enjoy it but now I have made it far and away my top priority. However, being a full-time ski racer doesn't exclude me from engaging in other pursuits during my down time.
PB: Does it help your preparation to have those other pursuits? Rest is such an important part of the process. I've known racers who defined rest as spending 4 hours in front of the TV in between training sessions and others who were running businesses from their laptops. Where do you fit in that spectrum?
LAV: I find that watching TV makes me feel listless and not at all fired up to train or race so I try to stay away from that as much as possible. On the other hand, pursuing other interests and goals outside of skiing keeps me happy and engaged in life which, I think, helps me stay more excited about skiing. With the amount of focus I give to skiing I find that I have to immerse myself in non-athletic activities at least part of the time to provide a balance to my life. While I may not be running a business I do get to read a lot books, study for the actuarial exams, keep up my website, and explore other hobbies on varying levels of seriousness like art and languages.
PB: You've spent back-to-back years with the two clubs that seem to be dominating right now, CXC and APU. Do you see any common threads in what they're doing that make them successful?
LAV: Without a doubt it is the people involved with CXC and APU that makes both of these programs so successful. CXC has a fabulous group of people running it and I know I learned a lot from Bryan Fish's meticulous and scientific approach to training. APU also has a great staff of coaches who dedicate impressive amounts of their time and energy into the program and into the athletes. Erik Flora as head coach takes the time to analyze the training physiology of each of his athletes and adapt our training to individual needs. I can say the same of the US Ski Team staff that I've gotten to work with this year. Having so many people supporting and working for the teams I've been a part of, CXC, APU and the USST, with dedication and passion has been truly instrumental in helping me develop my skiing these past two years.
PB: But the midwest is oh so much cooler than Alaska, right?
LAV: Well, in January the average temperature in Hayward is 8Â°F and in Anchorage it's 14Â°F so it does seem to be cooler!
PB: There's a lot to like about the recent results of North American women. Beckie Scott, Sara Renner, and Chandra Crawford have Olympic gold and silver, Kikkan has a WC win and a top-ten Olympic result with Wendy Wagner. Did these successes have anything to do with skiing becoming more than “one of your extra-curricular activities?” Where do you get inspiration when the going gets tough?
LAV: I certainly have to thank these women, and others like Alison Owen, for blazing a trail in skiing for me to follow. It reassures me that success is possible and shows me that the way to success is hard work, dedication, and passion. I've watched Kikkan train since this summer and there's no secret to why she's as fast as she is now; she trains hard and she's been training consistently for a long time. As Vordy says, “don't hope; know.” It is inspiring to KNOW that if you have the commitment and the patience to pursue ski racing you will succeed.
PB: What is something that the folks out there don't know about the life of an elite xc ski racer?
LAV: It is actually as fun as you imagine it to be! If you want more insight into the day to day life of a ski racer you can check out www.lauravalaas.com.
[ed. laura deserves a little self-promotion â€” her oft-updated site has good writing, photos, and behind-the-scenes info.]
PB: Speaking of the life of an elite ski racer, you've been staying with the A team in Canmore since the Canada World Cups wrapped up, and you are now on the road with them in Estonia. Are you getting any valuable insight in training or lifestyle?
LAV: There is certainly a lot to be gleaned from traveling with the USST on the World Cup circuit. Watching how these guys train, recover, race, travel, and stay healthy makes it clear that you have to take very good care of yourself if you want to be competitive at the World Cups. If you get sick before a race it doesn't really matter how well you trained the summer before since your body can't function at 100%. These guys make sure they get enough sleep, stay hydrated, use hand sanitizer, and pay super close attention to how they're feeling. They also set a good example during training. They train hard, they train easy, but they always are training with a purposeâ€”to be faster. You can feel it in the atmosphere , these guys want to be better, they're driven, passionate, and working every day to get closer to their goals.
PB: Finally, why cross country skiing? I know you've had a lot of success as a competitive cyclist…was there a decision there to choose one or the other? If so, what is it about xc skiing that makes it worth the commitment?
LAV: Why cross country skiing?! Because I love to ski! I am so happy when I'm out on a ski trailâ€”that's a good enough reason for me. There's so many attributes of skiing that interest me. Skiing's an incredibly beautiful, graceful movement but at the same time immensely powerful and dynamic. I'm finding that the more time I spend skiing the more I want to learn about skiing and improve my technique and my fitness. I've always loved the freedom to explore that cycling brings with it and I'll take advantage of a good racing opportunity where I can but cycling's always been my off-season sport and skiing's my true love!
PB: Thanks a lot, Laura! Good luck with the rest of your season and in your preparations for the World Championships and the Olympics.
LAV: Thanks, Phil! It was a pleasure talking with you.