QUEBEC CITY – When Canadian cross-country skiers Len Valjas and Devon Kershaw went to get coffee on Thursday, they didn’t have to wander the streets looking for a good spot, as they do when they’re on the World Cup circuit in Europe. Instead, they headed straight for a place called Le Nektar.
“We know where everything is,” Kershaw said. “We didn’t just go to a random café.”
For the first time since the Vancouver Olympics, in 2010, the world’s elite cross-country skiers have traveled across the pond, for a pair of race weekends in Quebec and Alberta.
Since the American and Canadian national ski teams had been racing in Scandinavia through Sunday, they’re suffering from sore legs and jet lag just like their European counterparts. Nonetheless, the transatlantic swing has upended the typical order on the World Cup circuit: the North Americans are racing on home turf, while the Europeans are an ocean away from theirs.
That’s afforded the local teams several perks.
The U.S. team, for example, didn’t have to ship all their waxing equipment back from Europe; instead, they could use irons and benches supplied by American clubs.
Instead of staying at the race hotel in Quebec City, the Canadian men have been sleeping at the nearby home of Alex Harvey, where the team enjoyed a Christmas dinner with presents and a tree.
“Even though it’s not our home, it’s a home,” Valjas said.
And for once, it’s the Europeans who had to pack adapters for their electronics—something Kershaw relished when he was asked about it by a German competitor, Jens Filbrich.
“We were like, ‘Sorry buddy, you have to pack that 1960s brick to transform your power,’” Kershaw said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for years.”
From an athletic and logistical standpoint, the playing field for the Quebec City competitions will be largely level. The sprint course is a new one this season, so despite the fact that the race will be held near Harvey’s hometown, the Canadians don’t have any extra experience with the track.
And since the heavy hitters on the two North American teams were racing in Finland last weekend, they’re no less jet lagged than the Europeans.
“Our guys look tired at night as much as everybody else,” said Chris Grover, the head coach of the U.S. team. “I think everyone’s kind of catching their breath.”
The advantages are mostly around the margins. There’s some extra equipment: the U.S. squad, for example, brought four exercise bikes for warm-ups, supplied by a pair of Vermont club teams.
And there are also friends and family: Kikkan Randall, the star American woman, had the support of her mother while she took laps of the sprint course on Thursday.
Andy Newell, the American sprinter from Vermont, has a contingent of some 25 people traveling to watch him race in Quebec City, including one of his youth coaches, plus a crew of buddies driving up in a converted white schoolbus, complete with couches and a full bar.
“It’s not going to be any different racing,” Newell said. “But it’ll be fun afterwards.”
For the Europeans, the travel to North America offers some inconveniences, but also some nice changes—especially since this weekend’s races are taking place in an urban setting, with racers staying in the plush Hilton Quebec.
“Everything is bigger, and everything is new,” said Bettina Gruber, a Swiss racer.
Most Europeans, Gruber said, “are not used to traveling” so far to get to races.
She too had to remember to pack an adapter. But on the other hand, Gruber added, the food in Canada has been “at least as good” as what’s available in Scandinavia—and even offers some novelties.
“I’m really into the Greek yogurt,” she said.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.