If you live and train at high altitude, one of your biggest concerns probably centers on how to log sufficient intensity work without becoming overly tired. It’s easy for an athlete’s heart rate to escalate at even a moderate pace when skiing at or above 7,000 feet; try to do intervals and you’ll find yourself maxed out well below race pace. But scale them back too much and it’s hard to race fast.
Colorado University Head Coach Bruce Cranmer has to come up with creative solutions to this dilemma, as the Buffs’ nearest training ground at Eldora Mountain begins at 9,200 feet and climbs to 10,800. He is loath to overtire his athletes, but because the NCAA circuit often takes the Buffs to sea level races, Cranmer is careful not to let their fast-twitch languish.
To that end, the interval workouts he’ll have his team do this time of year take place closer to the CU campus in Boulder at 5,400 feet. As the college season approaches, Cranmer’s training plan starts to include less over distance and more workouts at race pace. Whether there’s snow down in Boulder or not, the harder workouts takes place as low as possible.
For one such workout, the Buffs will either run with poles near the fabled Mt. Sanitas or find a good hill to rollerski back and forth on.
“Often it’s required on rollerskis, but a lot of people prefer running. Some feel you get a better workout running with poles,” Cranmer said.
The workout begins with a set of 2 x 4 minutes at race pace. The next set is 4 x 2 minutes at a slightly faster pace, and the workout ends with 5 x 1 minute above race pace.
“We’ll do that to get ourselves up to race pace and get that feel of going faster,” Cranmer said.
Once the season arrives there’s plenty of weekly intensity to be had from the races themselves. Come January, Cranmer will cease the race-pace workouts and make sure his athletes continue quick speeds no matter where they’re skiing in between competition.
“Once we’re back in school, we’re racing on the weekends and we don’t do many intervals during the week. During the season we might do 30 seconds to 1 minute of speeds the day before the next race,” he said.
In addition to the pre-race tune-up, the Buffs will also throw pickups into their distance sessions, at Eldora or otherwise. If his athletes are feeling good, Cranmer has them do 12 x 15-20 second speeds, “to keep the quickness going and not just ski at a slow pace.”
Speed work is especially important this season, with the NCAA Championships taking place down low in Middlebury, Vermont. Bottom line, Cranmer says, “we do as much intensity as we can at lower elevation.”
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.