In his nine-plus years on the U.S. Ski Team, Andy Newell figures he has logged more skiing hours at the Snow Farm on the South Island of New Zealand than any other place in the world.
An annual training camp destination since 2002, the U.S. men’s team touched down there last week and will stay for the rest of the month.
Head coach Chris Grover will let Newell, Simi Hamilton and Noah Hoffman take full advantage of the August snow and complete some of their biggest training volume weeks of the year. But it won’t be all slow and easy.
“The ease of the living/training situation here makes it quite easy to train a lot,” Grover wrote in an email. “We will also run several interval and speed sessions, with at least one interval session being Sochi-specific for the sprinters.”
The camp coincides with New Zealand’s Winter Games, which served as a fitness gauge for some World Cup skiers last Thursday. Newell beat a small-but-quality field in a skate sprint, while reminding his skiing muscles what all that rollerskiing, running and biking this summer has been for.
“It’s August, so we never want to be racing too fast in the middle of the summer,” Newell wrote. “But at the same time we want to see positive feedback and improvement in how the training is being absorbed.”
Hoffman continues to rebuild up his upper-body strength after undergoing shoulder surgery this spring. He did a 2 ½-hour double-pole workout on Friday.
Hamilton sprained his left ankle a couple of weeks ago during a run with the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team and did not race on Thursday as skating irritates his ankle more than classic. He partially tore all of the ligaments in the same ankle during a terrain-park accident in high school and has had occasional problems with it since. Hamilton wrote in an email that while in New Zealand, he has been working with Canadian team physical therapist Shane Hutchins on re-aligning the ankle and getting it to function normally again. The U.S. did not send a physical therapist to the camp.
Newell said the extensive trail system is white, but dirt and grass isn’t far beneath his ski bases. He said conditions range day-to-day from awesome to not great, depending on how windy it is and how cold the nights are.
“I like training here, because you can get the real winter-type conditions that are hard to find in glacier skiing,” Newell wrote, referring to one of the few other places to find skiable snow during the North American summer.
Hoffman expressed his dissatisfaction with the grooming on his blog.
“The (Snow Farm) staff has chosen not to groom on multiple occasions,” Hoffman wrote. “The decision not to groom has made training difficult and less productive. We, the athletes training here, don’t understand the excuses, because we have skied all over the world in more adverse conditions than they are experiencing here at the Snow Farm.”
A short drive down off the mountains brings athletes to the town of Wanaka, with its green grass and lakes, where they run and do strength.
Following the New Zealand camp, the U.S. men will stop in at home and re-pack their bags before heading to Lake Placid, N.Y, for the next USST camp about a week later (Sept. 3-16).
Canada’s entire World Cup team is also in New Zealand, with the exception of Lenny Valjas, who is rehabbing his knee after having it scoped last month. He explained in his blog that he has been racing on a bad knee for nearly five years, but this summer it was getting progressively worse so he finally had it taken care of.
“[Valjas’] recovery is going really well, but we felt it was better to get him 100-percent before returning to a full training camp,” Canada head coach Justin Wadsworth wrote in an e-mail. “There is no doubt in my mind he’ll be ready this winter. He went into the scope in the best shape of his life and has done a super job of continuing to train while doing the rehab on his knee.”
Four younger skiers from the Pierre Harvey National Training Centre in Quebec tagged along to train alongside Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Ivan Babikov, Dasha Gaiazova and Perianne Jones.
Wadsworth and Grover shared their camp plans with each other and the teams will combine for several workouts.
“The focus down here is just good solid training with an emphasis on technique,” Wadsworth wrote. “It also allows our athletes to take a break from roller skiing and running, so they head into the final part of the summer/fall refreshed and ready to get the work done before the snow flies. We’re not doing anything specific for preparation for Sochi except some work in steep terrain, which we don’t normally get on roller skis.”
The Canadians have an altitude camp in Truckee, Calif., in early October, before getting on some more preseason snow in Canmore, Alberta.
“Overall, the team is doing well and it’s fantastic to have more women than men down here,” Wadsworth wrote. “The group here is super motivated and is a nice mix of veterans and younger athletes.”
Steven McCarthy discovered a passion for sportswriting in the classrooms of the University of Maine school of journalism. He earned his Bachelor's degree in 2010, while complementing his studies covering two years of UMaine sports and summer college baseball on Cape Cod. He resides in southern Maine and works in a private school for kids with autism. In his spare time he's training for his next marathon (running or skiing) or coaching at a local high school.