The US Ski Orienteering team competed in the 2009 World Championships earlier this month in Japan. This was the first world championships in ski orienteering that has ever been held outside of Europe, and the Japanese were very excited to be our hosts. The US team had some good results and some results we’d like to improve upon, but we all had a great time while over there, and the Japanese hosts were eager to show us the best they had to offer.
All the teams stayed at the Rusutsu resort, which is primarily a downhill ski mountain, but serves as an amusement park in the summer. The competitions took place on the more advanced side of the alpine resort, which meant that not only were the courses brutally hilly, we couldn’t go downhill skiing on our rest day! The format was the standard sprint, long distance, middle distance, and relay.
The first race was the sprint, and it was billed as a downhill sprint. There was 105m of descent and 40m of climb, which meant that it never felt all that hard, physically – it was hard to keep from out-skiing my brain. That is the interesting part of ski orienteering, although you are going near or at your ski race pace, you have to be concentrating on the map at the same time to make sure you are going the most direct route to the control. If you are skiing fast but you take a poor route choice, you could stand to lose a lot of time, so there is a fair bit of strategy involved. Alex Jospe led the day for the US women in 22nd, which was the best American female finish we’ve ever had in a sprint. Greg Walker led the way for the men in 47th. If you would like to learn a little more about how ski orienteering works, I wrote up some articles after the Swiss world cups last year.
The next day was the long distance. The air temperature soared to almost 60 degrees F by the end of the women’s race after a cold morning, and a lot of us were on the wrong skis, although it made for great spectating weather. Adrian Owens had the best result for the men that day in 43rd, followed by Greg Walker in 45th and Alan Oprsal in 47th. For the women Alex was 28th, followed by Sue Grandjean in 32nd and Sharon Crawford in 33rd. The long course sent the women up “the wall” twice, and the men went up it three times, for a total of 890m a climb. This is much more climb than you would ever see in a 20km ski race. The downhills were a lot of fun, as many of them were on screaming fast narrow trails, flying through the woods on a ridgeline.
The long is a mass start, and everyone has variations of the map so that you can’t just follow the person in front of you, which is possible because there are 2 map exchanges and multiple “forkings” on the map, to make sure that following will not work and that everyone does the same distance and elevation.
We had a day off after the long, which was well received after such a difficult course. The Japanese event organizers hosted a couple different cultural events, such as flower arranging, origami instruction, and a Japanese tea ceremony.
Saturday we were back to racing, with the middle course. The slush from Thursday had frozen up into a beautiful crust, so it was possible to take a lot of short cuts, skating across the crust, making the navigation almost easier, since you could just go by the large features instead of trail junctions. Alex led the women again in 25th, and Sue was 33rd. Adrian was our top guy again, in 44th, and Greg was just three minutes behind him (in ski-o, when you can make a 30 second mistake in the time it takes to blink, three minutes is not much). Visibility was very difficult because it was snowing and the wind was blowing at 45 km per hour, so hard that it pulls the spit right out of your mouth!
Thankfully, the wind died down a little and the sun came out for the relay. The men went first, and the US team of Adrian, Greg, and Alan was right in it until Alan made some mistakes. Alex was first leg for the women, she came through in 7th, and we lost a couple places after that, but the men were able to hang on to 11th! So close to that top 10…
Another world champs is in the books. They haven’t announced where the 2011 championships will be, but there is a full season of world cups next winter to look forward to! To try a ski-o in your area, get in contact with your local orienteering club (use the google). Orienteering is a great sport because you have to use your brain as well as your body, and there are definitely opportunities for international competition as well. If you would like some more in-depth stories from the World Champs, check out Alex’s blog.