GÅLÅ, Norway – There is no doubt in Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset’s mind about this: “Skiing in extreme cold can be a nightmare for some racers. Martin Johnsrud Sundby (NOR) is one example, he can barely breathe when it gets really cold,” Hjelmeset told Langrenn.com.
But Hjelmeset is also certain about this: “Among those who sat out the races at Gålå (Norway), this weekend, there were a number of skiers who don’t suffer from cold-induced asthma as well.”
Hjelmeset, who chose to race at Gålå this weekend, said that it was cold, but not a big deal. “Sensitivity to cold is a very individual thing. I would compare skiing in extreme cold to training at altitude. Some do well with it, while others can barely handle it. You just have to know your own body and your own limits. But now it seems like the trend is going the direction that skiers are a little too influenced by other racers’ limits,” Hjelmeset said.
Hjelmeset observes that the term “cold-induced asthma” is used frequently by the media. “During the broadcasts from Kuusamo, I think the term was used at least a hundred times. Of course, that will affect people’s perception of racing in the cold, and a lot of them would probably handle the cold just fine. I really think people are influenced by the media and what they report on, and of course what the elite racers say about it,” Hjelmeset said.
Point in Case: The Torsby Tunnel
The past year, Hjelmeset has made an observation in the Torsby ski tunnel in Sweden, which he wants to point out as an example of how people are affected by the media and reporting.
“For a long time, it has been unpleasant to breathe inside the ski tunnel in Torsby. Racers of all levels have seen and heard that the national team skiers often use the ‘lung plus’ device or ski with a face mask in the tunnel,” Hjelmset said, explaining that he constantly reconsiders and adjusts based on his own perceptions, not the common belief.
“This year, the air in there has been a lot better, and I’ve stopped using the ‘lung plus’ all together. I’ve been there several times this fall, and I think it’s strange that so many still are scared about the air in the tunnel.”
Be serious about temperature cutoffs
Hjelmeset emphasizes that when it comes to cold temperatures, some people will always run into big trouble. And he argues that temperature cutoffs were instated for a reason.
“During the Norwegian national championships in Bardufoss a few years ago, it was extremely cold. I didn’t have any serious breathing problems before I raced there, but after those races, it’s been a lot harder for me. Several racers ruined large periods of their races seasons by skiing too hard up there. Kristian Horntvedt is one who struggled for a very long time after those events,” Hjelmeset recalls.
However, skiing in extreme temperatures is nothing new for the veteran, who is racing outside the national team structure this year for the first time in a decade. He particularly recalls a race in Russia.
“There was a race over there in Russia, a few years back, that was held despite the temperature being far below -20 C. It was so cold that we layered up with newspapers under the race suits, and Frode Estil decided to race with his warm-ups under his lycra. Of course, that was not healthy.”
From Langrenn.com, November 29, 2010. By Ola Jordheim Halvorsen, translation by Inge Scheve
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.