Rick Halling is the Director of Nordic Racing for Atomic US.
The summer preceding an Olympic year is a tense time for coaches, athletes and suppliers. The old saying that skiers are made in the summer definitely holds true. Both the quality and quantity of summer training are highly scrutinized in an Olympic year. Along with the training, athletes are reviewing their equipment needs and many are switching to what they feel are more competitive choices. Most ski companies wish they could support every applicant. Unfortunately, resources are limited and race directors start to feel like the dean of admissions at highly desirable colleges. The race departments of different ski companies not only look at athletes’ results when choosing recruits, they look at what roles the athletes play with junior programs, master programs and how they represent the sport.
Atomic was thrilled and honored to have two time North American Skier of the Year, Kristina Strandberg, become part of The Thin Red Line this summer. Kristina is a four time NCAA All American, two time Super Tour overall champion and a USSA National Champion. She has an impressive record of promoting the sport and she represents the Olympic ideals. We called her right after she returned from summer training in New Zealand.
RH: Did you have a good camp in NZ?
Kristina: Yes, the skiing was really good with lots of snow and excellent grooming. It was three weeks of solid training and a good opportunity to test skis. I think we were pretty lucky with the weather too, not too much wind and mostly blue skies.
RH: Were you in some races? How did you and the Americans do?
Kristina: There were no races while we were at the Snow Farm, but we did a couple of time trials together with the USST. It’s always nice to have people around you who can push you in training. I prefer the more casual time trials to racing in the summer months though.
RH: I have been at the tunnel in Vuokati and the Dachstein glacier for end of summer skiing. I always see a number of Europe’s top teams at both locations. I have asked them about New Zealand and why they don’t go. All the Euros have given me the same answer, the level of athletes in NZ is not very high and that is an important part of training. The European teams claim that when they go to Vuokati or Ramsau they will be skiing along side the best in the world. If they go to NZ, they will be skiing with lower tier athletes. That seems like a pretty strong argument for choosing Europe over NZ, can you comment on that?
Kristina: It is really important to expose yourself to skiers faster than yourself every now and then. I think that is true for both training and racing. It is a good way to see in what areas you need to improve and it reminds you what you are striving for. It is of course also inspiring to train alongside World Cup winners and Olympic Champions. At the end of the day you have to train for yourself though. When you have to put all your focus on your own training it can be a little distracting to see other athletes ski faster than you. I think one of the most important reasons for the Euros to go to Vuokati or Dachstein is that they get a good camp with good training partners really close to home. NZ is a lot father away.
RH: Do you remember the old Saturday night live skit, “Pat?” Characters could never figure out if Pat was a man or a woman. Anyway, you are a four time All-American, you are a US SuperTour Champion, you are an USSA National Champion and you have been voted North American Skier of the Year for two years. But it sounds like you will be going to the Olympics in a Swedish uniform. Just like we couldn’t figure out Pat’s gender, it’s hard to figure out your nationality. What are you?
Kristina: If you check my passport you’ll find I’m Swedish. I am very much a product of the Swedish ski culture; I grew up in a family where skiing was the favorite pastime and we would watch both domestic and international ski racing on TV almost every weekend. Just like (I imagine) American kids grow up dreaming about the Major League or the NFL, I grew up dreaming of skiing for the Swedish National Team. On the other hand, I spent four years on the American College Circuit and six years on the Factory Team. I definitely feel like a part of the US Ski community. People here have been very nice and made me feel at home, like I am an American skier. But the final conclusion is; if I qualify to wear a National, it will be a Swedish one.
RH: Uniforms. You raced NCAA for four years in a Lobos uniform. After college you raced another six years in the NorAm and marathon circuit in a manufacturers uniform. Then you finally return to Europe and enter the women’s 30k classic in Norway, arguably the most prestigious and competitive of all World Cup events, and you wore the Swedish National Team uniform. A lot of Americans would have trouble comprehending this kind of pressure and honor. A good analogy would be if a young American went overseas to play baseball right out of high school, and after seven years he returns to the US and in his first game he puts on a Yankees uniform and plays against the Red Sox at Fenway. Can you describe the experience?
Kristina: It was quite an experience. Growing up it was always a dream to someday wear the Swedish uniform. It felt a little strange that I qualified for the uniform by racing here in the US, but the Swedish team was very accommodating and I got to travel with them for two weekends. I thought I could just sneak into a Word Cup, try it out without being noticed, but that did not happen! Skiing is a major sport in Sweden and people really care who gets to ski World Cups and who do not. When all of a sudden this “new” unknown girl was on the national team they had to explain who I was and where I came from. Overall the whole WC experience was nothing but positive. It was such an incredible feeling skiing at Granasen (Trondheim) with the ski trails lined by screaming spectators. I’d gladly do that again!
RH: How helpful were the Swedish technicians? Were the Swedish women very supportive?
Kristina: Everyone was very helpful. The technicians have a big Scania truck to wax in with room for (I think) seven people to work at the same time. Every athlete has a wax technician assigned to him or her and they help you out with both waxing and testing. I got all the help that I needed and could not have asked for anything else. The women were all very nice to me and they patiently answered all the questions from the WC newbie. They had quite a few questions themselves about skiing and living in the US. The only girl I knew since before was Anna Olson, we skied together in the same region when we were juniors. It was pretty cool to be out at ski races together again, it’s been a while!
RH: What got you to switch to the Thin Red Line?
Kristina: The decision to switch ski brands matured in the weeks after Nationals in Fairbanks. It is an important year coming up and I had to put myself into the best possible position to be competitive internationally and skis are a big part of that. I looked at the different options in front of me and I felt that Atomic was my best chance to get good skis and WC support. After three weeks testing in New Zealand I’m confident in my decision.
RH: Roman Toferer likes to use World Cup athletes as guinea pigs to test new ideas. Did he set you up with a couple of pairs of the Featherlight prototypes? How do you like them?
Kristina: Yes, I really liked them. At first all the skis were new and different from what I had been on before, so I did not notice too much of a difference to the regular Worldcup ski. After trying the skis for a while, I noticed that I really enjoyed skiing on the Featherlites, especially the skate skis. They were really stable and easy to ski, and most importantly, they were really fast.