Evidence of autumn abounds at the U.S. Ski Team’s camp in Sun Valley. Temperatures on Thursday struggled to break 50 degrees, there’s snow in the mountains outside town, and with three time trials over the next week and a half, the team’s training focus has shifted from volume to intensity.
But despite the signs of the inexorable creep towards winter, nobody’s getting ahead of themselves.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, still,” said coach Matt Whitcomb. “[The] coaches are patient, and athletes are patient.”
The Sun Valley camp kicked off Wednesday, with members of the U.S. Ski Team (USST) joining athletes from the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) for freestyle rollerski speeds. Five of the USST’s seven members are in attendance, with Kris Freeman and Kikkan Randall opting out.
After a distance workout on Thursday, the camp really heats up on Friday with a sprint race simulation—with a twist. Instead of a running a qualification round followed by six-man heats, each athlete will race four times individually.
USST member Simi Hamilton said that starting athletes one-by-one would allow the teams to access more challenging terrain. But Whitcomb added that the unique format would also keep the strongest sprinters from coasting through the heats to the finals.
“The individual start is going to drive very high effort level all day,” he said. “It’s going to be really interesting [to see] who’s skiing fast at what point in the race—who can endure, essentially, a qualifying round effort every heat.”
In addition to butting heads with the SVSEF athletes, Hamilton and his teammates will also be tested by three promising young skiers—Tad Elliott, Jessie Diggins, and Ida Sargent—who are also attending the camp at the invitation of the USST. Torin Koos and Sam Naney of the Methow Olympic Development team arrived in Idaho on Thursday as well, and Swedish U-23 skier Lisa Larsen—29th at last year’s Tour de Ski—is in town, too, staying with her aunt.
The crowd of visitors is much appreciated by Hamilton, who trains with the SVSEF Olympic Development Team and lives in nearby Ketchum. Hamilton said that the intensity of his workouts had leapt up a notch with the start of September, and any time that happens, “it’s super-nice to have other people there, to be able to get through the suffer together.”
Over the next ten days, two more time trials—a 3.75 k/2.5 k prologue and a 10 k classic—will follow the sprint race.
While there have been few prologue-length races held in the U.S. and Canada, the event is being raced more and more on the other side of the Atlantic—especially with the increasing popularity of tour-style racing. According to Whitcomb, the USST is making an effort to adapt to the format, first with the time trial in Sun Valley, then with another scheduled for the team’s next camp in October in Lake Placid.
“I think we’ve got to nail this prologue distance,” Whitcomb said. “We just feel like this event is showing up on more and more calendars.”
There aren’t quite as many opportunities for sightseeing and adventuring in Sun Valley as there were during the USST’s last camp in New Zealand. But according to Whitcomb, there’s still plenty of time for bonding over team dinners. And the team’s sports psychologist, Jon Hammermeister, arrived Thursday night—he’ll hold sessions with team members both individually, and as a group.
The camp wraps up Sunday, at which point the athletes go their separate ways until the USST’s fourth and final dryland camp of the year, in Lake Placid in October. From there, it’s just three weeks until the team takes off for Europe in early November, for the start of the race season.
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Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.