The U.S. Ski Team (USST) wrapped up its first full week of a 14-day training camp in Park City, UT on Friday with an individual start classic rollerski time trial at Soldier Hollow. In the crisp Utah air at just under 6,000 feet, 16 men and 11 women completed the 16.5 k and 12.3 k courses, respectively.
Noah Hoffman (USST/Team Homegrown), skiing on a pair of Swenors, bested the men’s field by over two minutes on the four-lap rolling course. Kris Freeman (USST) and Erik Bjornsen (USST/APU) rounded out the top three.
“Rollerski races are a total crapshoot,” said Hoffman Friday afternoon. “I beat Kris by two and a half minutes, which is ridiculous. It’s just craziness; I’d be winning World Cups if I did that on snow.”
Joining the USST athletes were skiers from Central Cross Country (CXC), Alaska Pacific University (APU) and Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC), as well as a few independent and college skiers.
On the women’s side, Kikkan Randall (USST/APU) proved that she can get things done even when coming up from sea level. Over the course of three laps, she put a few seconds between herself and Canada’s Daria Gaiazova (Rocky Mountain Racers), who started 90 seconds ahead of her. Holly Brooks (APU) finished third.
Brooks said that individual start format provided a good opportunity for athletes to work hard by themselves. “It wasn’t a bunch of people in a train, drafting,” she said. “It was a good, hard effort, which I haven’t done in a while, so it was really valuable.”
USST men’s coach Pete Vordenberg was happy with the effort he saw at the 2002 Olympic venue. He noted that in a race with varying wheel speeds, the results are largely meaningless. The race was more a chance for athletes to get in a solid intensity workout, focusing on individual pacing and good technique.
“The results are just something for the coaches to do while the racing is going on,” said Vordenberg. “But I was really impressed with people holding the hammer down the whole time, skiing with powerful, efficient technique.”
One of the principal goals of the camp is for both the USST and other athletes is to get a feel for how everyone’s body adjusts to the altitude at Park City. The stadium at the Ski and Biathlon Complex currently under construction in Sochi, Russia lies at just over 4,500 feet, so training and testing at altitude will be a focus for the USST as it prepares for the Olympics in 2014.
USST head coach Chris Grover said that in addition to lactate, VO2 max, and strength testing, they are also collecting data on red blood cell mass at the beginning and end of the camp to identify how athletes are responding to the thinner air.
“So far the feelings have been pretty good,” said Randall earlier in the week. “I think the most important thing is spending time at altitude, having less distractions here than at home, and getting to train with this great big training group we have here.”
In addition to providing valuable altitude training, the Park City camp is also simply a good opportunity for athletes to train with a more diverse group of training partners than they have available at home.
“It’s ideal for us to have these strong senior athletes training alongside us,” said Grover. “It provides really good depth.”
Kris Freeman, who usually trains out of New Hampshire, agreed. “I’ve gotten some good training in with Noah and Tad [Elliott]; it’s good to have focused guys around me,” he said.
APU’s Erik Bjornsen, who was named to the USST’s new D-Team this year, was also happy to have the chance to test his fitness against senior members of the team. “It’s been great to train with the USST guys,” he said earlier in the week. “It’s also been nice to have a good training group, and test where I’m at before the last month of training.”
Coming just a few weeks after their training camp in Lake Placid, NY, several of the 12 athletes on the USST chose to remain at home rather than potentially disrupt their training with travel. Andy Newell, Ida Sargent, and Skylar Davis are spending the last part of the pre-season in New England.
For many athletes currently in Park City, these next few weeks are their last high-intensity training block before it’s time to leave in early November for the first World Cup in Beitostolen, Norway on November 19. The flurries that started to fall in Park City this week were a reminder that the racing season is fast approaching.
“It’s really fitting that it’s snowing now,” said Brooks. “Yesterday was a month exactly until a bunch of us depart for Europe. It really makes you realize winter’s coming.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.