And a new season begins!

FasterSkierNovember 20, 2012

I was a bit nervous about returning to Muonio this year after getting burnt out on the darkness and Arctic living here last November when the snow was very scarce.  I was at my breaking point last year and didn’t know if I could ski another loop in the dark around the short, icy, and dirty loop.  But at the same time, as I packed my bags in Craftsbury last week, I was excited to be back on the road and to start the season so I pushed aside last year’s memories and got excited for a new season and a new start!

After about 30 hours of travel we arrived in Muonio, Finland, a small town which is about 250 kilometers north of the Arctic circle.  Our team was staying in little cabins on the trails at the ski area Olos.  We got out of the van, tired and jetlagged, and we were greeted by a great show of northern lights in the sky.  I tried to capture them but the shutter speed on my camera was a bit too slow for a good photo.

While 2011 was one of the worst years of early snowfall across Lapland, 2012 is shaping up to be one of the best.  There is lots of snow here and the skiing was great.  It was fun to explore lots of new trails that I never even knew existed and the tracks and snow couldn’t have been any better.

We had a few days of training and adjusting to the time change and then racing began.  This weekend was just warmup races for the team as we prepare for next weekend’s World Cup races.  But these races were still very legit and are known as some of the largest FIS races in the world.  There were over 500 entries every day including National teams from Finland, Russia, Poland, Germany, Japan, and probably some others which I have forgotten.  The first race was a classic sprint on a very hard a technical course.  I didn’t really know what to expect as I had been having trouble sleeping and getting over the jetlag all week.  I just focused on skiing relaxed and smoothly and was very excited to see that despite a horrible transition that caused me to come to a complete stop in the finishing area,  finished 5th!  The afternoon brought the heats and it was really fun to ski with these really fast women.  I felt strong through most of the heats and ultimately finished 6th, racing against ladies who commonly finish in the top 10 of World Cups, a place I hope to someday land.

The next day was a 5km classic which I was very excited for as it’s one of my favorite races.  Unfortunately it ended up being a very rough race for me as I battled some lingering stomach issues (complications of interesting Finnish cuisine?) and wasn’t ever able to get the same race feeling I had felt the previous day.  Still it was great to have another race and blow out some cobwebs.  Finally on Sunday, there was a 10km skate which I skipped but had a lot of fun cheering the on the other girls.  Liz, Holly, and Jessie all skied really well and finished 2nd, 7th, and 9th!  We finished the weekend in style by watching Skyfall, the new Bond film, in an underground theater in Olos which none of us oreviously even knew existed.

Here are some photos of the week in Muonio.

Remember this from last year?

The skiing is a little nicer this year. Here are Kikkan and Liz skiing the first day we arrived.

Here we are skiing in the middle of the day. The sun never seems able to quite rise above the horizon so it’s a constant sunrise/set.

A view of Lapland from our cabin

Our cabin was quite cozy. Liz slept in a loft which wasn’t tall enough for her to stand up in.

Finnish cuisine involves lots of potatoes, root vegetables, reindeer, berries, and salty oatmeal.

Last year Clare visited the middle school in Muonio and since she wasn’t returning this year, she set up a visit for our team. We talked to the kids about where we are from in the United States and then answered questions like, “What is your favorite fast food?” and “Are there polar bears in Alaska?”

Racing in the heats next to Kowalczyk

The course was very interesting and had a herringbone finish as you sprinted up the base of the alpine line to cross the line.

I was very happy with the start to the season! Also this picture was taken directly after the race but the lights had already come on and the darkness was setting in.

It was fun to see lots of great racing by the US team this weekend. We’re ready to go! Here is Liz on her way to a 2nd place finish in the 10km skate


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