Despite her small stature, Liz Stephen had a big season in 2011-2012.
She had the best string of World Cup results in her young career, finishing in the top 30 three times over the course of the World Cup season. Stephen also had a strong performance at the World Championships in Oslo, finishing an impressive 16th in the 30 k freestyle, as well as 24th in the 15 k skiathlon.
The diminutive 24 year old, standing at 5’2, is a veteran member of the U.S. Ski Team (USST) and has ridden the momentum of a strong ski 2011 campaign into an exciting off-season of training.
Stephen has had the opportunity to take in two unusual training experiences this summer – the first a trip with Kikkan Randall to Europe, and the second to Alaska, to train with a massive group of women.
“This summer has been great!” Stephen said in an interview with FasterSkier.
Stephen had heard a lot from team mate Kikkan Randall about the training possibilities in Scandinavia, and knew that if the opportunity presented itself, she would take the chance and go.
“I really wanted to go to Sweden after hearing about Kikkan’s Norway trip [the previous year Randall visited Norway]. It was such an amazing experience.”
Randall and Stephen were in Sweden as guests of Anna Haag and Emil Joenssen – two of Sweden’s top World Cup skiers.
“They were so nice, letting two giggly American girls into their homes,” said Stephen.
The two Americans trained with the Swedish National Team, were interview by a Swedish newspaper, and spent time touring the Swedish countryside, both for training and as tourists.
But she also felt that in terms of training, it was a great experience.
“The training was great, and we’ve been able to come back and share some things that they do differently,” she said.
In particular, Stephen noticed that the U.S. and Sweden have very different strength routines – at least compared to herself and Randall.
“They were doing circuits, and a much shorter strength session than we get into, at least at that time of year,” she said.
Stephen has integrated a few exercises into her strength program as a result, and she felt that Haag and the Swedes were able to learn a thing or two from the Americans as well.
In terms of her personal training, Stephen was surprised at how well the trip went.
“Both weeks we were there [in Sweden] were big weeks,” Stephen said.
“I went over thinking I was going to be wasted and over-trained – and it was a lot of training. But it was done in a manageable way. We rested well between the workouts, the easy distance sessions were easy and slow, just for a long time.”
With over 20 women present, including the two women on the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) World Cup Team, the camp was a unique training experience.
“Alaska was awesome – it was a great camp,” Stephen reported.
“I’m not sure if that’s ever been done before to the extent that we took it,” Stephen said of the large, women’s specific training camp.
“Having Chandra [Crawford], and Perianne [Jones, both of the CNST] there was great, and having the 20 women training together all day every day for two weeks was unbelievable.”
Stephen’s favorite workout during the camp was a set of double poling intervals which provided a unique training opportunity at a camp filled with such chances.
At one point the group did a double-poling intensity set of 6×6 minutes, with all the girls getting together on one hill.
“At one point we had 15 women hammering up a bike path in a tight pack, and sometimes people would get off the front a bit, but everybody was in a massive pack – everybody was high-fiving in between them [the reps], everybody was pushing so hard, and you definitely go harder with other girls around you,” she said.
“Double-pole intervals are just so much better done in a group.”
When training in Park City, her home location, she rarely has other women to train with, and Stephen described the experience as “a huge benefit” for her.
For Stephen, it wasn’t just about training – one of her personal goals for the camp was to get to know as many of the other girls as possible.
“I wanted to take the time to get to know as many of the girls I could,” she said. “We’re competitors, friends, and we travel together a lot, I wanted to know these girls better, because we spend so much time together.”
When the other girls departed Alaska for their respective corners of the continent, Stephen stayed on in Alaska and toured around with Chandra Crawford.
Stephen spent an additional four days camping, sea kayaking, and getting to know the Canadian sprinter a little bit better, as well as enjoying the Alaskan weather and wilderness.
“It just poured rain on us the entire time, and there were super high winds,” said Stephen, laughing.
“It can get cold and kind of nasty, but the two weeks we were there for the camp, it was awesome.”
Stephen made no mistake about what has been the greatest highlight of her training season so far – the fun factor.
“The biggest thing is that it has been really fun the whole summer,” she said. “You learn new things, you try and push yourself to get better – it’s been super fresh.”
While Stephen has traveled a lot over the course of the summer, she counts that as a benefit, as she never felt that training had gotten stale, or overdone. As a result, she is feeling confident in her preparation.
“You always think you’re doing a better job than the season before,” said Stephen, “But I do really believe that, and I’m happy with where it’s going, and tests are showing that I’m fitter than ever.”
And Stephen isn’t sitting back waiting for the season to come to her; “there is a lot more work to be done still,” she said.
Stephen recently completed the annual USST fall camp in Lake Placid, where she won the Climb to the Castle rollerski race in impressive fashion, and will be heading to the team camp in Park City Camp in October as well.
For now, her plan is to leave North America on November 7 and be on the road all the way through to World Cup finals.
While that means spending almost all of the winter in Europe, including Christmas in Davos, Switzerland, Stephen is happy to do it in order to race the Tour de Ski, and get all the World Cup starts she possibly can.
With no major championship this winter, Stephen considers it a good year to try staying in Europe in the entire year.
“I’m really excited to stay over there all year – I love Europe!” Stephen said.