The North Americans on the World Cup circuit had plenty to look forward to as they flew to Davos, Switzerland.
After three straight days of races in Kuusamo, Finland, the cross-country skiers would have a chance to kick back, train and enjoy the sun.
What many didn’t think about was the snow.
The Canadians first set eyes on the green landscape before the Americans, as they drove from the airport to Davos on Monday.
As they passed a grassy field, Babikov snapped a photo and tweeted: “Hard to believe, but that’s how Davos, SUI looks like today. #WaitWhereAreWeGonnaSki?”
They soon discovered they’d be all right.
Davos race organizers had anticipated that international skiers that would flock to the town nearly a mile above sea level to train almost two weeks before it hosted the World Cup. They stockpiled manmade snow accordingly, producing it in the Flüela Valley and transporting it in dump trucks to the stadium in Bünda.
By Tuesday, the venue offered three loops: a nearly 2-k distance course with hilly terrain, a 750-m sprint course with one hill and a 1-k golf course loop, which was entirely flat.
“The (2 k) manmade loop … was actually some of the best skiing I’ve experienced all season,” U.S. athlete Kikkan Randall wrote in an email. “It had terrain and nice tracks. … I think if we get colder nights, a lot more skiing could materialize really quickly!!”
On Wednesday, the International Ski Federation announced that the Davos races Dec. 10-11 were a ‘go,’ but the length of the distance race remained uncertain.
Originally scheduled to host a 30 k for the first time since 2000, Davos organizers may have to shorten the men’s freestyle race to 15 k. If that happens, the women’s 15 k skate race will become a 10 k. Freestyle sprints will take place Sunday, Dec. 11.
The FIS will hold off on deciding about the distance races until likely the middle of next week.
“For the distance race on Saturday, we (will) try to prepare the longest possible route,” Jacqueline Kühne of the Davos Ski Club head office wrote in an email.
“Thanks to some cold nights, additional snow could be produced and the stadium and the sprint courses are covered already,” FIS Race Director Jürg Capol told FIS Ski. “Currently it is a bit warmer, but towards the beginning of next week, we expect a colder weather period again.”
By warm, Perianne Jones of the Canadian national team explained that daytime temperatures in the valley hovered between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius, about 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We are so happy to be here, and eat tasty food, and wear our sunglasses,” Jones wrote in an email. “Even the lack of snow can’t dampen our spirits!”
While Jones and the Canadian sprinters train in Davos for this weekend’s races in Düsseldorf, Germany, the team’s distance skiers went to Livigno, Italy. About 1 ½ hours from Davos by car, Livigno offers higher altitude training at 3,439 m (11,283 feet) above sea level. Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth wrote in an email that sending those athletes there had always been the plan.
As for the sprinters, Wadsworth wrote they should be OK with some light training on Davos’ short loops before their first freestyle sprint of the season in Düsseldorf on Saturday.
“Obviously it would be better if there were a few feet of snow, but we are still super happy to be here,” Jones wrote. “Perfect skiing, great snow, no rocks, no sawdust.”
She explained that although a lack of natural snow presents challenges, race organizers in Davos had done “an amazing job.” Throughout the world, venues had stored snow from the previous year in case of warm conditions, piling it under sawdust and using it as needed.
“It seems to just be the reality these days that this is something we have to deal with in our sport,” Jones wrote. “Relying on natural snow is just not an option. … Fortunately no races have been cancelled thus far, but we will have to wait and see what happens in central Europe in the next week or so.”
Regardless, she wrote that both the Canadian and American teams were in good spirits, sharing the same Kulm Hotel in Davos. It was Jones’ favorite.
“Life is good,” she wrote.
“The sun and the coffee and good friends is making up for the lack of snow,” Randall wrote in a blog entry on Tuesday. “And we’ve still got 10 days until the World Cup happens here.”
The Americans also divided their team, keeping the sprinters in Davos and occasionally sending the distance skiers about 1 ½ hours away to Pontresina, Switzerland. U.S. head coach Chris Grover explained they would take day trips to ski Pontresina’s flat 4-k course, which was at a slightly higher elevation at 1,805 m (5,922 feet).
On Sunday, the distance skiers (Kris Freeman, Noah Hoffman, Tad Elliott and Liz Stephen) may compete in an FIS race (5- and 10-k freestyle) in Seefeld, Austria, about 2 ½ hours from Davos.
Hoffman wrote they would probably spend Saturday night in Seefeld and return to Davos on Sunday afternoon. He pointed out that without any natural snow in Davos, the dryland training there was also good.
“In the next two weeks, we will be taking several day trips to Pontresina … for a little more skiing on some longer training days,” Hoffman wrote in an email.
On Wednesday, USST member Andy Newell turned 28. His teammate on the women’s side, Randall tweeted: “Beautiful ski on the 4km manmade loop in Pontresina. As bday boy @AndyNewellskier would say, ‘suns out guns out’!”
He replied: “Catching rays and logging K’s!! My favorite.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.