Aino-Kaisa Saarinen’s got a lot on her plate. Finland’s celebrated cross-country skier is currently on Eagle Glacier with the North American Women’s Training Alliance, a group of about 20 women from the U.S. and Canadian national teams.
A multiple world champion with three Olympic medals, Saarinen, 33, has been in Alaska for more than two weeks, staying with U.S. Ski Team member and World Cup sprint champion Kikkan Randall during the first part of camp in Anchorage. Before that, she trained in Italy.
With just a few days left on the glacier before heading back to Finland, she said the summer wasn’t about to slow down. On July 14, Saarinen will marry her longtime fiancé, Tom Gustafsson, a former Finnish national league basketball player, and then she’s off to another Italian training camp.
FasterSkier caught up with Saarinen briefly on the phone Thursday while she was making lunch. Volume is typically the goal during the second part of the Alaska camp, and Saarinen said it fit well with her fitness plan.
“So far, I really love it,” she said. “There is a lot of snow and the track is in good condition, and we have had good training sessions here.”
Saarinen explained that she’s been training with the group, which includes top Americans like Randall, Liz Stephen and Jessie Diggins, and Canadians Chandra Crawford, Dasha Gaiazova and Perianne Jones. According to her blog, she was tired after the Italian camp, but said she’s been feeling good in Alaska.
“I remember when Kikkan sent me the program. I was happy to see that it was actually the kind of program that I myself had planned, too,” Saarinen said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from Europe or if you’re from U.S.A. The training is quite similar.”
That was one of the reasons she decided to go to Alaska. Randall extended the invitation in March, thinking Saarinen would appreciate a change of scenery after more than a decade of racing and training internationally. She was right, and Saarinen immediately accepted the offer.
“I came here because I wanted to have something new and see some new places,” she said of her first time in Alaska. “When I came here [on June 12], we were training down on rollerskis and going hiking. The terrain was just great. The weather has just been great for us and everybody has been so nice to me.
“I just love this good energy here in this training camp; I think I have gotten what I came here for,” she added. “It’s good energy and [a] new place, and good terrain for training, so I’m satisfied.”
As for what Saarinen – a distance specialist — has gotten out of it? Hopefully, speed, she said. Saarinen has been working out with Randall since the day she arrived.
“It’s nice to get to know who you are competing with, and make some new friends,” she said. “Also, it’s good to see a little bit how people are training. Are they doing something different than you are doing? And of course, Kikkan is a very good sprinter, and also, many of those on the U.S. and Canadian teams are very good sprinters, so I hope I get also some speed from here.”
This coming season, Saarinen said she wanted to win an individual medal at the 2013 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. A strong classic skier, she was looking forward to the 30 k, sprint and relay.
In the meantime, she will have to get through what she called a “dream summer,” in an interview with iltalehti.fi. Saarinen is headed to a junior camp in Rovaniemi, Finland, and then she’ll enjoy a small, traditional wedding, and a combination of a ski camp and honeymoon in Toblach, Italy.
“Then I will go to Italy for a two-week training camp at the end of July. There is a lot going on,” she said with a laugh.
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.