Two weeks ago, Kris Freeman and Noah Hoffman weren’t exactly sure what they were in for before flying to Norway, but they were excited. The two had been invited to a Norwegian national team training camp, and without much else besides their bare necessities, they headed to the snowfields of Sognefjell.
On June 3, the two U.S. Ski Team (USST) members jumped into action with the Norwegian men’s squad, kicking things off Sunday afternoon with at 2 ½-hour skate. The next day, Freeman and Hoffman spent five hours on snow, and the day after that, completed a two-hour skate with 20 kilometers at Level 3. They capped Tuesday afternoon with a two-hour classic ski, and ended up logging nearly 23 hours that week.
While both appreciated the volume training and generosity of the Norwegian team, which included Freeman and Hoffman in all their sessions, they were ready for an off day by the end of camp. Given that opportunity last Saturday, they ventured on what Freeman called a “crust cruise.” Two hours and one gigantic climb later, Freeman and Hoffman had gone much farther than they bargained for, but were glad they did so.
“It was the most scenic ski I have been on in years,” Freeman wrote in a blog post. “And we only got lost once.”
FasterSkier recently spoke with Freeman, Hoffman and Simi Hamilton, all of which were staying at Sognefjell’s remote mountain lodge. A recent addition to the USST A-team, Hamilton arrived Monday with Burke Mountain Academy as a guest coach on their two-week Scandinavian junior trip. He was helping his girlfriend, Kate Barton, who was leading the camp in place of the academy’s head coach, Pete Phillips.
On Wednesday, Freeman and Hoffman left Sognefjel,with Freeman heading home and Hoffman continuing on in Lillehammer, Norway. Hamilton said he’d be in Norway until June 22.
FasterSkier: Simi, how do you get involved with this trip?
Simi Hamilton: They just needed someone else to tag along to help out with driving [including a two-hour trip to Sognefjord, Norway] and a couple of things with coaching. So I got a free trip over here and get to train and get to hang out with a bunch of immature-but-fun 15 year olds. It’s a good thing.
FS: Have you been to Sognefjell before?
SH: I’ve been here a couple times before, but it’s been probably about eight years since I was here last. I haven’t been here in a while, but it’s great. It’s a cool spot and it’s really nice living right on the trails. I got out [to ski on Tuesday] afternoon. I was later informed that this is the worst [snow] that they’ve had in a couple weeks, but I find it’s still pretty good. They have a ton of snow up here, which is really nice.
FS: Kris, what have the conditions been like for the past week and a half?
Kris Freeman: When we first got here, we had probably three days where it was snowing and raining and pretty cold, and then the last five days I’ve been in shorts and a T-shirt.
The snow has been phenomenal for this time of year. They’ve taken really good care of it; they’ve salted once or twice a day a day. The day where Hoff and I [toured] the mountain, it was pretty ideal crust training so I’ve got no complaints. Scenic and pristine.
FS: How was training with the Norwegians?
KF: I have a history of working with [Norwegian men’s coach] Trond [Nystad] when he was the coach of the U.S. Ski Team, and he was very helpful. Noah and I weren’t able to travel over here with a form bench or an iron or any of those things, and [Nystad] helped with those, which was very nice, gave us his training schedule. We were invited to every session. They took video of us, gave us technical advice. They treated us like members of the team, which was very, very generous.
The athletes are friendly. Everything’s pretty professional out there. Not a lot of conversation while skiing, but they’re generally welcoming.
FS: How’s your Norwegian fluency?
KF: Absolutely non-existent.
SH: I think that goes for all three of us. It’s hard because everyone speaks English well, so it seems like you never need to speak Norwegian. I think all of us could probably agree that it would be great if we could speak Norwegian, but there really isn’t a use.
KF: I can’t even pronounce half the guys on their team, their names, properly.
FS: How big was the group?
KF: There wasn’t like a line of guys going around. For the most part on the distance days, people kind of did their own thing. I skied mostly with Eldar Rønning, Martin Sundby and Sjur Røthe (laughs as he says final name). That’s not how you pronounce it, but I’m going to say ‘Sur Roth’ because I’m American.
FS: Noah, how’s the training been?
NH: It’s been awesome. I really felt like it was good to ski with and train with the Norwegians. I learned a lot in terms of some things those guys do differently than me, some great technical advice from their coaches and being able to ski behind those guys. We had two really productive threshold sessions. I just felt like it was a huge opportunity. I feel like it was a little overwhelming; maybe I need to go home and evaluate what I think is going to be super beneficial to carry forward and what I think maybe we do a little better in the U.S.
FS: What’s one big difference between the way Americans and Norwegians train?
NH: The big thing for me is that they train harder at camps than they do at home. They train hard at home, but they take some time to recover after camps. How we approach camps in the U.S. is we’ve always kind of done a sustainable [effort], so it’s just part of your training and more or less similar to what you’re doing at home. So that was a different concept.
It was a really big load for me doing their schedule. It was two five-hour days, two threshold sessions, so it was a total of like 22 hours-ish in five and a half days so it was a lot. That was kind of something that stood out.
FS: How are you feeling?
NH: I’m starting to get a little tired. Zach Caldwell is here now, who Kris and I both work with in a coaching capacity and on skis, so I’ve kind of switched gears a little bit towards technique and basically backed off the load significantly. That’s been kind of a nice change of pace at the end of camp here.
KF: I’ve kept the volume and I’ve basically kept the Norwegian schedule going for the whole time here. I still feel good, but I’ve had enough skiing here and I’m ready to go home. I’ll be home for four or five days and then I have my first Maine Winter Sports camp. (Note: Freeman took the train to Lillehammer on Wednesday and flew out of Oslo on Thursday morning. Hoffman was headed to Lillehammer to work with Caldwell before flying home on Saturday.)
FS: Noah, is there still a possibility that you’ll get some pointers from Thomas Alsgaard (Norway’s five-time Olympic gold medalist)?
NH: He’s been up here [in Sognefjell] a little bit. I have been able to ski behind him a little bit, I know Kris has done that as well and that’s been great. I have not actually talked to him at all (laughs), but just skiing behind him has been a great opportunity. I’m going to stay a extra couple nights in Lillehammer and visit the Madshus factory and continue to work on Zach on technique, switching to dryland rollerskiing.
FS: Before I forget, how are the accommodations in Sognefjell?
KF: Rustic. … It’s fun, it’s quaint. They’ve only got four toilets for the whole men’s wing and three showers. I’ve never been into communal men’s showers.
(Note: Freeman estimated there were 25 men staying at the lodge at a given time. The women stayed in a separate wing with their own facilities, which were apparently nicer than the men’s, he said.)
The food’s been good and the skiing’s been good, and that’s the important thing.
Related story: Freeman, Hoffman Invited to Norwegian Training Camp
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Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.