It’s not often that an eastern collegiate skier gets the chance to train on snow in the middle of October. Recent two-inch storms excluded, most student-athletes in New England don’t see snow until Thanksgiving, and are likely getting ready to chuck their rollerskis over the next bridge.
Not so for Tony Ryerson, a Harvard junior and native of Vail, Colorado. In addition to taking classes abroad this semester at Universitat Innsbruck, which is situated in the middle of the Austrian Alps, he’s already skied at 8,900 feet. Thanks to a connection with Swedish Team Exspirit, Ryerson was recently able to join them on the Dachstein glacier for a weekend of training.
“[In October], the glaciers in Austria are pretty much the only places that have snow. New Zealand and South America are melting,” he said. “So everyone from around Europe [was] here.”
Between his Swedish hosts and the rest of the European club teams and national teams there, Ryerson estimated that he shared the trails with about 300-350 other skiers, all of them world-class. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, Slovenia and South Korea were all present, in addition to a sizeable Scandinavian contingent—Norway, Finland, and Sweden.
“The Russian team alone was maybe 100 people,” Ryerson said. “Every other person was Russian, and going so fast.”
After taking a three-hour train from Innsbruck, Ryerson got picked up by Exspirit’s team coordinator, Erik Nilsson, who he met at Burke Mountain Academy’s training camp in Sweden last summer. He joined them that afternoon for dryland, and was on snow for the next two days.
Was he intimidated?
“I was scared to talk to the Russians!” said Ryerson “Well, to most people actually.”
But he made the most of his opportunity to learn from some of the fastest and best technical skiers around. When he could, Ryerson mainly tried to stick with the Team Exspirit athletes.
“Their level one was, like, my level two or three. So I’d get pretty worked at the end of three hours,” he said.
To avoid the risk of getting overtired, Ryerson made sure to ski at his own pace for most of the workouts, jumping in behind faster skiers for an hour at most, and then slowed it down.
“Then maybe I’d try to ski with a Russian for 10 minutes or so,” he explained. “I’d just tag on to whichever national team or World Cup skier was currently passing me.”
In the midst of so many elite athletes, it’s easy to imagine a 21-year-old college skier getting discouraged after being continually passed. But Ryerson kept a level head and an even pace, and said that it was more a source of motivation than anything else.
“As an EISA skier, you might think you’re pretty fast, and then someone passes you like you’re standing still. It puts it into perspective,” he said. “But then you’ve got to remember that they’re the top guys in the world, winning World Cups. So it wasn’t demoralizing. It was definitely more motivating.”
As Ryerson doesn’t leave Austria until mid-January, he’s planning a trip to watch the Tour de Ski, which runs from December 29 through January 8. The five cities on the schedule—Oberhof, Oberstdorf, Toblach, Cortina and Val di Fiemme—are all under four hours away by train from Innsbruck, so he’s hoping to watch a few of the nine races in the Tour.
Trying not to rub it in, Ryerson noted, “That should be pretty cool.”
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.