The only Americans to race this weekend were athletes on the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP), who competed all three days in Muonio, Finland after training there for about a week. When they booked flights for Europe, it was with the goal of getting in quality early-season training on snow and brushing off the race cobwebs with serious European competition.
With the abysmal snow conditions in Scandinavia leading up to this weekend, and no reason for optimism in race-day forecasts, those objectives became easier said than done. Everyone, not just Craftsbury, had to jockey for position on a 2.5 k ribbon of granular, artificial sugar with nearly 500 other skiers. The snow problem forced Norway to cancel its season opener, making Muonio and this weekend’s only other racing opportunity in Bruksvallarna, Sweden, even more crowded than anticipated.
So, things didn’t go as planned. But this is nordic skiing. Over the course of a racer’s career, one is bound to face a situation (or two, or twenty) where everything seems to fall apart. Travel logistics disintegrate. World Cups get canceled. Poles break. The stakes could be low or high, and Muonio at least provided competitors an opportunity to fine-tune their race-day adaptability when the stakes were relatively low. Here are some notes and quotes from Craftsbury on this weekend:
On dryland warm-ups: Only being able to run for a warm up and not being able to test skis [the course was closed from 10:30 till the completion of the guys at around 3] made things a little tricky but was good lesson in flexibility on race morning. – Pat O’Brien
On facing Justyna Kowalczyk in her first international race: The most valuable aspect of the trip for me was just being in the same race as Justyna Kowalczyk. Also, getting on snow early is extremely valuable, even if it is a 2.5km loop! – Clare Egan
On freshly-ground skis taking a beating: The conditions are actually pretty good if you don’t look at the bottom of the skis! [I] wish Zach Caldwell can see how his work of art got destroyed! – Pepa Miloucheva
On holding your own: On distance [training] days I’ve realized it’s easiest to just ski my own pace and not worry about all the people around me. If someone wants to pass me, I keep going and let them go around and then do the same when passing other skiers. It’s easy to get intimidated and jump out of the way for every approaching skier but that just makes for a lot of stopping and starting. – Ida Sargent, via CGRP
On realizing nobody’s snow is perfect: Overall this trip has been very different than when we came here last year. Today was the first day that felt at all like winter, unlike last year when the temps never above freezing. All of Scandinavia has been struggling for snow and we were very fortunate to be in one of the places that had solid skiing for the last several weeks. It makes you realize even a venue 200+ km north of the arctic circle isn’t immune to unpredictable weather. – Pat O’Brien
On the motivation a tougher field inspires: …With a deep, highly competitive international field of racers fired up for the season to begin, there’s definitely a contagious energy around these races. When I was racing today, Clare cheered me on by screaming “every second counts!” and it couldn’t have been more true—in these races, every second could easily be five places. Thats crazy! And it’s also definitely very motivating. – Hannah Dreissigacker, via CGRP
On getting on snow for a whole month in November: The snow may have been dirty at times, and the skiing crowded, but it was skiing in late October and early November, something you just can’t get in New England. And I’ll take that over roller skiing any day. – Pat O’Brien
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.