Entering his third straight season with the Canadian Para-Nordic World Cup Team, Erik Carleton has already made some big decisions this year. Among them, he had to choose whether to race the Alberta Cross Country World Cup in Canmore or go for gold at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup opener in Vuokatti, Finland.
It must be tough to be Carleton, a competitive-nordic racer who doubles as a Para-Nordic guide for Brian McKeever, arguably the best visually impaired skier in the world. While some Canadians are still stressing over their prospects of making the Canada World Cups (which starts with skate sprints in Québec Dec. 7-8, followed by a skate sprint and distance races in Canmore, Alberta, Dec. 13-16), Carleton was one of nine outside of the nation’s cross-country team that prequalified.
With the option to race the 15 k classic mass start and 30 k skiathlon in Canmore, Carleton faced a bit of a dilemma. The IPC World Cup started just a few days before on Dec. 11 in Finland. Unlike the loaded cross-country calendar, Para-Nordic skiers have only one other World Cup (Jan. 20 in Cable, Wis.) before the World Championships started Feb. 21 in Sollefteå, Sweden.
After a 10-day camp in Sante Fe, N.M., earlier this month, Carleton wrote in an email that he planned to compete in both the races he prequalified for in Canmore.
“The IPC World Championships and the IPC World Cup in Sochi [March 14] will be the big priorities later in the season,” he wrote.
Last year, he and McKeever, 33, swept the 2012 IPC World Cup Finals in Vuokatti just a few days after competing at Canadian cross-country nationals in Québec. At Mont Sainte-Anne, Québec, Carleton won an individual silver in the 10 k classic race and placed seventh in the 15 k freestyle before jetting with McKeever, his childhood friend, to Finland.
There, they claimed three gold medals for a grand total of four last season.The only man that topped McKeever in 2011/2012 was Russian Stanislav Chokhlaev, who beat him to gold twice in World Cup skate races in Sjusjøen, Norway.
This winter, Carleton and McKeever are aiming for continued success and IPC dominance at World Championships and Sochi in preparation for the 2014 Paralympics. But first, Carleton wants to start strong individually.
“The main focus at the moment is to be in ‘best-ever’ shape for the December World Cups,” he wrote.
To do so, he committed to the Para-Nordic Ski Team (PNST) training plan, following it more closely than in the past.
“I have more confidence in the PNST program after my successes last season,” Carleton wrote. “My major goals are to enjoy what I do and to be smart at training and racing.”
As for his training, Carleton explained that he’s “revamped” both his classic and skate techniques and already seen improvements in his efficiency. A few colds set him back this offseason, but he resumed strength training for the first time in eight years.
“The idea was to build power without adding muscle, and to learn how to move properly to avoid injury,” he wrote.
He’s done more rollerski intensity and less trail-running and mountain-bike racing. Rather than run on a treadmill, he and the team started using the new rollerski treadmill in the Bill Warren Training Centre in Canmore.
“Overall my volume has decreased by about 10 percent, but the training load would likely amount to slightly more,” he wrote.
This year, the team scheduled two trips to Sante Fe for altitude training up to 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) to get in prime shape for December. The did the first in September and the second Oct. 30-Nov. 8, which Carleton wrote was “a great camp with good weather” and apparently warmer than usual.
Photos from the Canadian PNST camps in Sante Fe, provided by Carleton:
For the IPC Nordic World Cup schedule, click here.
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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.