Lars Flora races for the Saab-Salomon Factory Team and was a member of the 2002 and 2006 US Olympic teams. More information on the Saab-Salomon Factory Team can be found at www.enjoywinter.com. This article first appeared in Ski Post – www.skipost.com
It can start in middle of October or the day I arrive to the West Yellowstone Ski Festival. Throughout my ski career the first day on snow has fallen somewhere in this time frame. Back in the 2002 Olympic Year I was on snow Oct. 25th and my first Olympic Qualification race was November 2nd. Last year I left around the thirteenth of November and spent one week preparing for the first World Cup. One week to prepare to race the fastest skiers in the world! How does the first snowfall and the first week on snow relate to the mental and physical aspect of being the best skier?
The first snow can be a huge mental boost. After hundreds of hours of roller skiing and running throughout the summer and fall all I want to do is kick a real classic ski with real wax. I look forward to the first day on snow and the adrenaline created by the excitement of real skiing. I check the web cams and weather forecasts to see the potential of the first substantial snowfall. The excitement builds as I see the temperatures drop – any day it’s going to happen! The dust on the classic skis is going to be brushed off and be replaced with the day’s fresh snow crystals. This is the mental boost I look forward to every year.
It happened here in Bend a few days ago. My girlfriend was one of the lucky skiers who went up the mountain to enjoy the fresh fallen snow. She came home and said it was one of the best days of the year. The skiing was just okay, but the mental boost fired her up and the next day she blasted through one of the toughest workouts of the year on roller skis. Most likely the roller ski workout would have gone well even without the ski, but the extra mental lift from the previous on-snow day recharged her mind and reminded her what is two weeks away. Only two weeks until the first race of the year in West Yellowstone.
How does one train for the first week on snow? Throughout my career I have experimented with many different approaches to the first week on snow. One year I started with five days of intensity. Other years I started with big hours and in bad snow years I started with medium volume and intensity. So what is the best way to approach it? Just like many things in training and racing it depends on the individual. The year I put in five days of intensity I still had three weeks of rest before the start of the race season. I had plenty of time to build volume and recover for the first race. The same thing is true for the years I started out with big volume. On the bad snow years I planned moderate training since I had races at the end of the week and I had minimal on-snow time. All the above training scenarios worked well for me. Remember to evaluate what you have done in the weeks leading up to the first snow and what is coming in the weeks ahead. If you put too much emphasis on other people and what they have done, or how much on-snow time you need to be in top form, you might want to brace for poor performances right off the bat.
As we go through the winter, every week brings a new opportunity to get more time on snow. Winter is always just around the corner and every week a skier has a chance to prove themselves. If the snow is bad, and ski conditions mediocre, it is sometimes more beneficial to roller ski and to continue working on potential weaknesses. Once the first race hits no matter how much (or little) time you have had on snow, the bottom line is going to be if you have focused on quality training you will be ready physically and mentally for the coming season.