“The leaves crunch beneath my now worn running shoes as I negotiate the soft, pine needle infested single track above the Nor-Cal town of Truckee, CA. After days upon days of warm weather, blue skies and summer-like vibes, the jackets and long tights were thrown on – a rude reminder that even in California it’s approaching mid-October. As I weave between some seriously large pines and over the endless ridges, it feels as though I am literally running into winter.” – Devon Kershaw, on his blog
There’s no place like California. That’s what Canadian World Cup Team Head Coach Justin Wadsworth thought when he scouted the Truckee area in July. He stayed with a former teammate from the U.S. Ski Team, Marcus Nash, and spent two days exploring northern California and all the high-elevation ski town had to offer.
What he found was seemingly endless roads covering technical terrain at elevations around 1,775 meters (more than 5,800 feet). About a 45-minute drive away, one could find themselves more than 1,000 meters lower in Nevada City (at 2,477 feet), which Wadsworth deemed perfect for harder efforts. Weather was good there in autumn: warm, sunny and dependable. And who on his team wouldn’t want to go to California for a change?
“It’s been a really great camp; there’s been sunny, blue skies every day,” Wadsworth said on the phone from Truckee on Tuesday. “Everyone can train in shorts and a T-shirt or no shirt.”
Not that Park City, Utah, where the team normally takes its final dryland camp of the season, is a bad place to be – especially for altitude training at 2,000-plus meters (6,500 feet). But after somewhat of a hold-and-cold season last year, in which some of his skiers reached career bests and others finished a little disappointed, Wadsworth decided it was time for change.
Off to Truckee they went. Starting Oct. 1, the entire men’s and women’s World Cup team spent nearly three and a half weeks in California, wrapping up Thursday before heading home to Canmore, Alberta, for the opening of Frozen Thunder on Saturday.
The men’s team – Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Ivan Babikov, and Lenny Valjas – opted for RV dwelling, like their training camps in Hawaii. The women – Perianne Jones and Dasha Gaiazova – weren’t as into that, so they split their time between a Truckee hotel and a house the team rented in Nevada City, Wadsworth said.
Between the mountain town and low-lying Nevada City, the Canadians divided their efforts accordingly, with sustained easy training in Truckee and more intensity at lower elevations.
Wadsworth said the area offers some of the best roads and steepest hills he’s ever seen, quiet and ideal for training. He had been looking for rollerski terrain where he could push his men to work on their offset, or V1, for long stretches.
“We’re so fit these days you have to get a really big hill to get these guys working continuously,” he said.
California in autumn has been what I remembered it to be. Blue skies and sunny weather, vistas with apparent and looming granite monoliths, stellar soft single track running trails and long, winding (and climbing!), quiet roads. I remember all that from my years training in the fall both in the Mammoth Lakes and Truckee areas in the past. – Kershaw
Among the skiers he works with directly on the men’s team, Wadsworth said Kershaw, Harvey and Babikov are in the best shape he had ever seen. Valjas was still recovering from his knee surgery in July. According to his blog, Valjas had done “almost no cardio” before the California camp, but Wadsworth said he was jumping into most workouts.
“I was pretty happy he hopped right in and could hang with the guys really well,” Wadsworth said. “We have to make sure we’re not overdoing it with his knee.”
Women’s coach Eric de Nys worked with the women separately on more sprint-specific training. Jones and Gaiazova left earlier to get on snow in Canmore, and Kershaw flew to Europe on Monday to train with the Norwegian men’s team on the glacier in Val Senales, Italy. Wadsworth will meet him over there later this month and said this was the first time the national team invited one of his athletes to such a significant training camp. It was a no-brainer for a couple reasons.
“Devon came to me and needed a bit of a change,” Wadsworth said.
The 30-year-old world champion had been touring North American training camps for his entire career, even before he started racing internationally in 2005. He was also dating Kristin Størmer Steira, who came to Canmore in July, but he hadn’t seen her since, Wadsworth explained.
“I’ll be there for six days to make sure things are handled well,” Wadsworth said.
Mostly, he doesn’t want to blow all the work the team’s put into proper recovery this season. In retrospect, his athletes were a little too eager last summer and they paid the price during the race season, he said.
“I think things got a little out of hand last year with the intensity,” Wadsworth said. “People being too fired up and doing intensity a bit too hard than what we should.”
This spring, summer and fall, the Canadians have been more carefully monitoring each workout, placing some responsibility on the athletes. Heart-rate profiles could tell them a lot about where each individual was at with training, and they also tested a bit more this year.
“After each period, we tested to double and triple check where the athletes were,” Wadsworth said. “That’s something we brought back more … [but] I get more from the actual workouts outside seeing their fitness. The tests give us more indicators of small nuances and changes in physiology. We want to see improvements obviously, but the testing looks at other things that would be red flags or other areas, if they’re missing, we want to see there.”
Looking at his team’s training progress, Wadsworth said his athletes were right on track.
“Everybody’s a little bit different, but as a whole I’m really pleased with where we are,” he said. “The main thing is people have been really consistent and doing what they need to do. There hasn’t been a lot of showy stuff; we’re just really, really trying to hit the markers in every training session.”
Once they get on snow and start gearing up for the start of the World Cup late next month, they’ll have to be more diligent at keeping that in check, he added. The team will skip its typical warmup FIS races in Sweden and jump right in the World Cup opener in Finland.
“We’re basically using Kuusamo [Nov. 29-Dec. 1] as the first racing that we’ll be doing,” Wadsworth said. “That’s on purpose to build through the season and not having too much hard intensity and save it for later on.”
Jones and Gaiazova won’t go to Europe until mid-December for the third World Cup in Davos, Switzerland. Wadsworth said the entire goal of the season is a continual slope and gradual build up toward the Tour de Ski and, ultimately, the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“When we get over there, we’ll be fit and ready,” he said.
In Canmore, the women will have nearly two months at home on manmade snow at Frozen Thunder (Gaiazova will arrive there later this month after training in Montreal and Quebec). Harvey will stay in Quebec with coach Louis Bouchard and the Pierre-Harvey Training Centre.
On Oct. 24, the rest of the Canadian World Cup Team will host a classic sprint race with the U.S. Ski Team and other elite skiers in town. From what he’s heard, Wadsworth said temperatures have been ideal for making snow, and he hoped they’ll be able to add a “few more meters” to the course.
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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.