This is the second article in a four part series documenting the 2008 Ski Mountaineering Season from the perspective of Lyndsay Meyer and Nina Silitch.
The World Championships of the ski mountaineering world are held every two years. This year they took place in Champery, in the Port de Soleil of Switzerland, only about an hour and a half drive from Chamonix the last week of February. Some twenty seven countries would be participating, from Scandinavia to South America, and as far away as China and Japan. Greece was even represented. Nina and I arrived in the morning and drove straight to the center of action, excited to meet our American teammates. Her family had come over for the big event, and we were actually going to have a team! Our crew, coached by fearless leader Pete Swensen and managed by Dawn French would be represented by myself, Nina Silitch, and endurance athlete Monique Merril. Our men included Brandon French , Brian Wickhauser, Scott Clodiron, Steve Romeo, Carey Smith, Ethan Passant, Todd Glew, Zahan Billmoria, and Chris Kroger. Some of our team had been to the previous World Championships in Italy, it was good to have some veteran racers. After gear check-in, we moved into our hotel rooms, which were attached to the conference hall. Not only convenient, but a great way to meet other teams and get last minute advice. Our first glitch occurred when we were all informed that most of us did not have international licenses. Fortunately we had Zahan, Swiss-French born he could talk the talk and helped us sort out applying for new ones immediately. Zahan was a great ambassador â€” soon he had Swiss officials asking him for assistance with translations and was even interviewed by Swiss television and radio. The question? Why is the United States so slow in the sport of Ski Mountaineering? While it sounded offensive, the public really just wanted to know why a nation of such athletes was so weak in the sport.
We conferenced as a team to find the best answer. Zahan was fabulous and explained that we are a large country and not everyone has access to the mountains like in the alps, and many children start early as espoirs (youths) in their local alpine clubs, a luxury we don't have. In addition, the sport of ski touring is more popular in Europe with all the best gear and local support. He explained we are trying to get more people involved back home, and that we do have some great races, but they are completely different. Held at much higher altitudes, the weather is twice as cold and there is always more snow on course to contend with. Adding to the challenge he explained we function on limited funding and often race costs come out of pocket.
Each evening at seven heralded a community dinner and a race briefing held in three languages. There was often room for some sort of interpretation of a course line or regulation. Courses were changed daily due to dry weather conditions so it was important to pay attention. The first day was the short individual course. Unfortunately, Nina fell sick the first day of competition with strep throat. Six of us raced â€” myself, Carey, Brandon, Ethan, Chris, and Monique. It was the best individual race I have ever done. With a small U.S. flag on my backpack I raced to cheers of â€œGo, go, go, USA,â€ and coaches and fans running along side of me, giving me advice. â€œHere, you are tired, you must skate, like this…â€ My teammates were the most inspiring by managing to be everywhere at all times. Both our men and women finished well, right around the middle of the pack with France's Florient Perrier taking the gold for men, and Italy's Roberta Padrenzi for the women.
The last day of competition was the individual long course covering roughly 10,000 feet of uphill. I woke up ill, so Monique carried the U.S. women, and Brendon, Carey, Brian, and Ethan raced for the men. Conditions were terrible, the course veiled in fog and racers dealt with both rain and sleet. Brendon finished a strong 28th for US men, and 20th place for Monique. Guido Giacomelli upset Florient Perrier for the lead and Francesca Martinelli won for women giving the Italians a pair of golds to finish off the championships.
We didn't bring home any hardware, but we had a blast as a team and met some pretty cool people from all around the world. We said our goodbyes having grown fond of our Spanish neighbors, and promised to rendezvous in Andorra in 2010 for the next World Championships. It was sad to leave our small U.S. headquarters but fortunately our new friends came over to spend a few days with us in Chamonix, and a few even promised to come over for the Pierra Menta next year. For a full report on the weeks events and a list of all results, check out Steve's site TetonAT, http://www.tetonat.com/?m=200802&paged=2 .