LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Flinging around a sharp corner about a ski length behind one another, Sophie Caldwell (Stratton Mountain School T2 Team), Ida Sargent (Craftsbury Green Racing Project), Caitlin Patterson (CGRP) and Jessie Diggins (SMS) each lowered into a tuck and prepared for a long, steep descent.
Diggins called out to the others just ahead of her in the classic rollerski sprint at Lake Placid’s Olympic Jumping Complex.
“That’s it,” the U.S. Ski Team (USST) member said. “Nice.”
Conversations like that, in the first of two women’s semifinals at the USST Elite Camp on Thursday, didn’t take place every heat. But they generally differentiated the women’s and men’s races.
According to Caldwell, who eventually won the women’s 1.4-kilometer final, nothing was too cutthroat about the sprint rounds. Caldwell finished first in the quarterfinal, semifinal and A-final, beating USST member Sargent in the latter by 1.4 seconds. Diggins finished third in the A-final, about four seconds back.
“We try to be nice,” Caldwell said. “We even talk to each other and let each other know how much space we have. I don’t know what the boys do.”
She laughed. Anyone who watched the men’s heats on Thursday knew exactly what they did.
In the first of four men’s quarterfinals, USST members Simi Hamilton, Andy Newell and Skyler Davis all battled for position on the same corner at the top of the long hill. Each had to pass through two narrowly spaced cones to make the turn.
All three of them did so and managed to stay on their feet, while Ryan Scott (Team HomeGrown), Tim Reynolds (CGRP) and Sylvan Ellefson (HomeGrown) worked hard behind to close the gap. Davis said he felt someone push his poles, which made him go uncomfortably faster on the ripping downhill.
In the end, they all made it to the finish. Newell ultimately won the men’s 1.5 k final, about two seconds ahead of SMS teammate Davis in second, and Hamilton (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) in third (+4.42).
“This course is pretty wild because there’s so much tucking,” Newell said after the race. “To have six people going around that course is pretty crazy. Skyler and I are used to banging heads with each other because we do it every day, but it was fun to have Simi and Ryan Scott and some of those other guys in there, fun to go really fast on the downhill and try to pass each other on some of the corners. Nobody crashed hard I think, so it was a good day.”
Davis, who was second behind Newell in the qualifier and every heat that followed, said his performance was a “confidence booster” after being sick at the Lake Placid camp last year and having to call it a day after the prelims.
“Coming in [to this workout], I was pretty tired. This camp’s been hard,” Davis said. “Once I started warming up I felt great.”
A competitive field of 26 men made for fast heats. On the same course last year, USST A-teamer Kris Freeman won the classic sprint in 3:30. Newell posted 3:22.38 in Thursday’s A-final and threw down a 3:18.91 in the qualifier.
In the women’s qualifier, which consisted of 14 skiers, Diggins was fastest in 3:42.20 – the same time Sargent clocked to win last year’s time trial. On Thursday, Caldwell qualified second 0.15 seconds back, and Sargent was close behind in third (+0.24).
Those kinds of measurements are what matter most this time of year, according to USST head coach Chris Grover.
“It’s too early to really hang your hat on any sort of results here,” Grover said. “It’s just kind of a road mark. I think for a lot of the athletes, we want them to take a look at what kind of lactates are they able to create, what kind of heart rates are they able to have. That gives us an indication of how much of their aerobic system they’re able to access, how much of their anaerobic system they’re able to access, those kind of feedback markers plus how they sustain the rounds.”
If they fade progressively after the prelims, something’s got to give. Grover said race scenarios give skiers an opportunity to assess where they’re at, and how to move forward.
“Like, ‘OK, I’m handling training well during this period,’ or, ‘I’m starting to get a little fatigued, I’ve really got to concentrate on rest for a few days, or for a week after this camp,’ ” Grover said. “So it’s not so much the placings that are critical; there’s a lot of different rollerskis out there, there’s a lot of different ski speeds. It’s more the individual feedback in terms of heart rate, lactate, times, technique.”
Sophie Caldwell (1st woman): “I felt good today. In the qualifier there were a few things that I felt like I didn’t do quite right. I took the corner on the bottom wrong, so I worked on those in the heats and it was good to be able to follow some people and see what they did, like Jessie was really good at going fast over the top of this hill and taking the corner down there.
“I didn’t really know what to expect. I wanted to be right up there with Jessie and Ida. … This summer we basically just did all Level 3, not many Level 4 workouts, and then we do some speed workouts. I think now we’re starting to do more Level 4, time trial, race pace stuff, but it feels good so far so it’s good to know you can still get fit just doing Level 3. … We all have different skis and everything, but I’m just happy to come out here and feel good and be in the mix with everyone.”
Ida Sargent (2nd): “It’s a rollerski time trial in September and everyone is on different skis,” she wrote in an email. “I wasn’t concerned with results, instead focusing on gettiing a hard workout and practicing some technique goals in a max effort. It was a really fun skiing with everyone and it felt good to feel the lungs burning with cold air this morning!”
Jessie Diggins (3rd): “During such a good intensity camp, my goal with this workout was to get in some good hard efforts, and really work on my qualifier,” she wrote in an email. “Classic sprinting is definitely my weakest area and epecially qualifying, and so I’ve been really focusing on, well, FOCUS during the qualifier.
“I definitely was feeling the fatigue in my body, but that was to be expected during this camp after a 4.5 hour training day yesterday [Wednesday], so I wasn’t super worried about it. However, it still doesn’t feel good to not be moving lactate out as fast as I want!”
Andy Newell (1st man): “I definitely feel so much better than I have in the past racing here. I’ve been doing a lot more hard stuff, a lot more speed, so it’s good. I actually feel like a sprinter again, which last year at this time and for most of the winter, I didn’t really feel like a sprinter so it feels really good to get that kind of power back.
“I’m usually not such a good classic rollerski sprinter, for whatever reason, my technique doesn’t translate that well over onto rollerskis, but it feels good to double pole well and I like courses that have lots of striding like this. … Last year, I was sick for this race or I’m [usually] really tired for Lake Placid camp because I’m coming in training too much volume. I tried to cut back [the week before] so I was able to really come into this camp and get the most out of each interval session and time trial. That was the goal of the camp and I think that worked out well. I’ve been feeling good all camp and hopefully will be able to absorb some of this hard training better than in the past.”
Skyler Davis (2nd man): “We had a sprint time trial about two and a half to three weeks ago in Maine. It was pretty similar to this except it was all double pole so I got to go head to head with [Newell] on that. This was the same type of thing, we were battling the whole time, especially coming up the hill. All those guys were pushing pretty hard … so all of our heats were pretty fast. It was really good training.”
Simi Hamilton (3rd man): “I felt pretty good today, considering that I’ve done pretty much no max efforts yet this year,” he wrote in an email. “I actually felt better today than I have in years past during the camp, so I am taking that as a good sign that my training is going in the right direction, especially in terms of overall fitness and improved endurance throughout heats. I ran into some slight equipment problems [blown-out rear wheel] today, so that was kind of a bummer, but other than that I am pretty happy with how the day turned out.
“My main goal today was to ski consistent efforts in the qualifier and each heat … And I think I did that, especially since my equipment problems required me to switch to a slightly slower pair of skis for the semis and finals.”
Chris Grover: “We’re toward the end of the camp now so people are starting to accumulate some fatigue. We’re actually doing threshold bounding intervals tomorrow [Friday], so I expect that just about everyone will need a few easy days following the camp and that’s normal.
“We like to push the athletes when they’re together and they have a chance to go head to head. At the same time, it looked like good movement out of a lot of the athletes. I really like this course because it has such a wide, steep finish hill, really a chance for athletes to demonstrate how their holding up through the rounds, if they’re able to carry good momentum up that hill and over the top and into the finish. I think it’s also great to have a big hill and then a long finish straight, especially like we have for the men on this course, because it replicates a lot of the courses that we encounter in the winter time.”
1. Sophie Caldwell (SMS) 3:37.82
2. Ida Sargent (CGRP/USST) 3:39.22
3. Jessie Diggins (SMS/USST) 3:41.89
4. Amy Glen (CGRP) 3:43.48
5. Anne Hart (Dartmouth) 3:45.41
6. Clare Egan (CGRP) 3:47.92
1. Caitlin Patterson (CGRP) 3:41
2. Liz Stephen (USST) 3:45
3. Heidi Halvorsen (GMS) 4:02
4. Erika Flowers (SMS) 4:04
5. Annie Pokorny (Middlebury) 4:11
6. Julia Kern (CSU) 4:31
1. Andy Newell (SMS/USST) 3:22.38
2. Skyler Davis (SMS/USST) 3:24.39
3. Simi Hamilton (SVSEF/USST) 3:26.80
4. Pat O’Brien (CGRP) 3:29.94
5. Ryan Scott (Team HomeGrown/SSCV) 3:30.10
6. Eric Packer (SMS) 3:33.51
1. Nils Koons (CGRP) 3:31
2. Alex Howe (CGRP) 3:32
3. Sylvan Ellefson (Team HomeGrown/SSCV) 3:33.12
4. Dylan McGuffin (CGRP) 3:33.39
5. Tim Reynolds (CGRP) 3:33.89
6. Gordon Vermeer (CGRP) 3:34.78
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.