Ragnhild Bolstad of Hedmark Skikrets based in east central Norway has organized training camps for the top regional juniors in east central Norway for more than a decade. When putting together camp training schedules for junior skiers, Bolstad has some key ingredients in mind: The social aspect is huge. The athletes want some feedback on where they are and where they can improve. Strength is important and roller skiing is often over-emphasized.
Building an environment
First and foremost, a lot of the skiers train alone or with a limited group of other skiers and coaches. Bolstad tries to compose a training camp schedule that exposes the skiers to other coaches, technique sessions and workouts that are fun to do in a big group, such as relays and group challenges.
“The number one objective of these camps is to get together with others on the same ambition level, compete and compare themselves to others,” Bolstad says. Additionally, they want to get some pointers, learn something new to take home and get a break from their regular training routine.
“It’s always useful for the skiers to get feedback on how they ski, whether its roller skiing or on snow,” Bolstad says. During a camp, skiers often do more than in a regular week, both in terms of intensity and volume, so variety is a big component, she says. “My philosophy is that they can easily do a lot of easy distance and volume on their own, but that they enjoy doing intensity with other, and that they push themselves more when they do intervals and mock races at in a camp setting,” Bolstad says. “I usually recommend that they come to the camp well rested and take care to do a very easy week following a camp.”
Add more strength
One area where Bolstad thinks there is room for improvement is strength.
“A lot of the time it seems like strength is just a few minutes of abs and core at the end of a workout, but I think we can do more here. Strength is becoming increasingly important in cross-country skiing, so it should be a natural component of a camp too. Some coaches believe you need a sophisticated gym to do a structured strength workout, but you can do a lot just with the elements you find outside,” she says, mentioning rock ledges for benches, rocks for cones, grassy areas instead of foam mats, and tree branches for hang-ups and pull-ups, as well as simple things like elastic bands that are easy to roll up and bring on a workout. “I think most juniors do some sort of strength at least 2 or 3 times per week at home.”
Bolstad also thinks including strength into roller ski workouts provides better use of the time on roller skis than just logging miles and hours on the pavement.
Roller skiing is over-emphasized
Bolstad believes a lot of skiers overestimate the importance of roller skiing.
“Certainly, you need some and most skiers should do two roller ski workouts per week in the meat of the dryland season, but I don’t think there is much value in more than 3 or max 4 roller ski sessions per week,” she says, explaining that while specific to skiing, there are other aspects of training that needs attention during the dryland season.
“Roller skiing is a great alternative to other endurance training, and is definitely useful in keeping the ski muscles sharp, staying up on technique and getting a load off your legs, but there is nothing that beats running in developing capacity,” Bolstad says. She swears by running, skiwalking and bounding with poles as some of the most efficient, versatile and enjoyable forms of dryland training.
“I firmly believe in running with poles, bring them everywhere, and run in a lot of different terrain, such as wetlands and gnarly trails to improve both strength and balance. Use your poles everywhere,” says Bolstad, adding that part of what makes skiing so great is the nature experience. Roller skiing confines athletes to the pavement, while running opens up much more terrain.
Favor mountain biking
Bolstad also believes cycling has a place in a well-rounded varied dryland program. However, she recommends mountain biking and trail riding over road biking.
“When riding trails, you ride in and out of the saddle, you have to balance your bike through turns and over obstacles and you really have to engage your core, which develops balance and core strength to a much greater degree than riding on roads.”
Issues and training principles
Finally, Bolstad also makes sure every junior camp has some sort of theoretical content. She usually sets up at least one lecture on a relevant topic, ranging from training principles and fundamentals, doping and eating disorders.
This last year, she invited officials from Anti-Doping Norway to talk about diet and dietary supplements in the context of doping.
“Ambitious athletes are willing to stick to a strict and sometimes almost extreme diet, and for some the step to supplements is not that far. What is doping? And what are the gray areas?” Bolstad also notes that once skiers reach the junior level, they can be tested for doping at sanctioned events, so she felt that it would be useful for them to know what the procedure is like.
This spring, Bolstad organized a lecture from the new initiative Sunn Jenteidrett (“Healthy Girl Sports”), which was launched as a joint project from the Norwegian Ski Association, Norwegian Biathlon Association, Norwegian Track and Field Association, and Norwegian Orienteering Association. The project is also backed by the Olympic Development Center (Olympiatoppen), the Norwegian Athletic Association (NIF) and the national lottery (Norsk Tipping). The project focuses on female athletes age 13-22 and emphasizes on building supportive training environments, increasing awareness of eating disorders and information on how to find resources. The project also teaches young athletes – both girls and boys – how to plan meals before, during and after workouts and competitions, as well as how to eat right and what to eat, since many junior skiers move away from home to attend ski academies during their high school years. Young athletes who attend ski academies often live in apartments near their schools and have to cook for themselves during the week. For a lot of juniors, this is their first experience with living alone.
“A lot of people think eating disorders only affect girls, but the truth is that a lot of boys also have trouble getting the right balance in their diets, maybe for different reasons. Also, eating disorders are something that affects everyone in the sport, from coaches to teammates and everyone in the support system. It’s important to talk about it, and to let the athletes know that there are resources out there, how to help and how to get help.”
So bottom line, the most important aspects with junior camps include building an environment among regional athletes where they can learn from each other, test their limits and get feedback on their technique and progress.
The junior racer on camps: Socially rewarding and bloody serious
Maja Solbakken, 17, from Engerdal on the Swedish border is one of Norway’s promising young skiers. She’s attended a number of ski camps since she was 13 or 14 years old, and raves about the value of the experience. For her, the most important take-aways from the camps are the friendships that she has formed with skiers from different parts of the country, and the intensity and focus that only happens in a camp environment.
“It’s so nice to hang out with other kids who have ambitions in skiing. It’s a really social experience, and every time I go, I get really motivated to keep training hard,” Solbakken says, explaining that training with celebrity coaches and other skiers you usually only see during the race season, she really wants to show off her best game.
“You push a lot of limits when you’re at the camps. I’ve done uphill intervals to the point of throwing up. There are coaches there from the junior national teams or regional teams, and you just really want to show what you’ve got,” Solbakken says.
Solbakken doesn’t think the national team coaches base their team selection on the junior camps, but she certainly thinks that skiers who look like they work hard and have the right attitude can get on their radars during the camps.
“The national team coaches are at all the big races in the winter, so if you’ve made a good impression in the summer, there’s a chance that they’ll remember that. I think they observe a lot during the camps,” Solbakken says.
Feedback and pushing limits
Solbakken enjoys going to the camps to get feedback on her technique and progress from coaches that she doesn’t work with on a regular basis. Also, she says it’s inspiring to be coached by some of the top World Cup racers. National team skiers often serve as assistant coaches on the summer ski camps that attract junior skiers from all over the country.
“We had Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen as our strength and plyometrics coach last summer. She was really nice, but she required full attention to the task while training and didn’t take any crap. So we got some really intense, focused and efficient workouts there. That was really motivating,” Solbakken recalls.
Solbakken says that the summer camps are the highlights of her summer training program.
“The camps really mean a lot to me as an athlete and as a person,” Solbakken says, adding that she hopes to come back as a coach some day. “Only the top skiers in the country are invited to coach at the national summer ski camps. It would be a big honor to be asked one day.”
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.