CampsLifestyleTrainingMasters Minds: Motivating, ‘Part-Hardcore, Part-Fantasy’ APU Glacier Camp

Brainspiral BrainspiralJuly 28, 2014
Caption: 2014 APUNSC Masters Camp (L to R): Kathy Christy, Dan Libbey, Berit Flora, Coach Erik Flora, Sam Flora, Gavin Kentch, Coach Don Haering, Gil Lund, Coach Greta Anderson, Shannon Gramse. (Photo: Shannon Gramse/Flickr)
Caption: 2014 APUNSC Masters Camp (L to R): Kathy Christy, Dan Libbey, Berit Flora, Coach Erik Flora, Sam Flora, Gavin Kentch, Coach Don Haering, Gil Lund, Coach Greta Anderson, Shannon Gramse. (All photos: Shannon Gramse/Flickr)

Masters from around the world, we want to hear from you! FasterSkier is seeking dedicated masters contributors from various clubs and regions, including any and all skiers who aren’t quite pro or collegiate skiers anymore (or ever — as we know how many catch the bug later in life!) Whatever your level of skiing, if you can write, please do!

Submit camp or training recaps or announcements to info@fasterskier.com with the subject line “Masters Minds”. Articles can be informal, first-person accounts or written from an observatory standpoint with thoughts from others, like below.

***

The gods of American skiing have gathered on Eagle Glacier over the past few weeks, but July started off with a very different group of skiers at this world-class training facility 5,000 feet above Girdwood, Alaska.

From June 28 to July 1, Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center (APUNSC) held its third-annual Masters Glacier Camp, hosting nine skiers ranging in age from their 30s to their early 70s. Skiers enjoyed outstanding coaching, good weather and excellent fresh summer snow over a few days that were part-hardcore training session, part-fantasy camp, part gathering of family and friends.

Helicopter service to and from Eagle Glacier above Girdwood, Alaska. (Photo: Shannon Gramse/Flickr)
Helicopter service to and from Eagle Glacier above Girdwood, Alaska.

Eagle Glacier is permitted by the U.S. Forest Service as a special use Olympic development facility, and while Pyeongchang may be decidedly out of reach for these nine older athletes, it could be argued that no group of Eagle Glacier skiers — this month or ever — will have more fun.

This year’s Masters Camp was coached by APUNSC mastermind Erik Flora, who was recently named U.S. Olympic Committee National Coach of the Year, and assisted by Don Haering and Greta Anderson, elite skiers turned APUNSC masters coaches.

“I’m a nothing-special recreational skier,” said APUNSC master skier Gavin Kentch. “To have access like that to the same facilities and coaching as the best skiers in the world is obviously something that you don’t get in other sports.”

Kentch, who at 32 was by far the youngest athlete at camp, saw immediate benefits from his time on Eagle Glacier. “I made more progress as a skier in just a few days than I would have thought possible.  I’ve been skiing nearly all my life, and skate skiing for over 20 years now.  In just a few days, we came up with some technique changes that bordered on the epiphanic.”

 “In just a few days, we came up with some technique changes that bordered on the epiphanic.” — Gavin Kentch, APUNSC master and Eagle Glacier camper

Coach Anderson said such epiphanies are by design. “Due to the camp environment we can share a lot of ideas and technique concepts with instant trial and feedback in a relatively short window of time,” she said.  “On Eagle we have nothing but time to discuss, share and implement technical improvements.

"The Stadium" on Eagle Glacier. (Photo: Shannon Gramse/Flickr)
“The Stadium” on Eagle Glacier

“It can be incredibly motivating after a month of ski walking/bounding and rollerskiing for the body to be reminded, ‘Oh hey, this is why we are bounding,’ ” Anderson continued. “That can be a really great boost in confidence and motivation. It’s also a great way to break up the summer training, give the joints a rest, and get in some high-quality skiing on challenging terrain in conditions that aren’t otherwise experienced in Alaska — which are relatively soft and wet or klister conditions.”

And ice the Gatorade-and-Geritol narrative.  Like the elites, summer on-snow training is an important step toward these skiers’ upcoming race seasons, including, collectively, the Norwegian and American Birkebeiners, the 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational, and highly competitive age-group rankings in local events such as the Tour of Anchorage and the Anchorage Cup race series. Then again, these athletes are a reminder that skiing at a relatively high level has its own intrinsic rewards.

More important in the end than race results is the active, outdoor lifestyle that undergirds one’s experience on race day, an ideology reflected by the APUNSC Masters Program goals: “to develop cross-country ski skills, improve fitness, and promote skiing in the community.”

The facilities at Eagle Glacier overlook the Chugach and Kenai mountain ranges. Photo: Shannon Gramse/Flickr)
The facilities at Eagle Glacier overlook the Chugach and Kenai mountain ranges. 

Compared to elite-glacier camps, Masters Camp was more individualized and less structured. As Coach Anderson put it, “Elite camps tend to be very structured and goal-oriented. In contrast, our camp for Masters this year was all about skiing many kilometers and learning as much as each individual desired. Whereas elite athletes tend to finish their recommended time skiing each day and head inside to recover for the next session, masters this year had four days to ski their legs off as much as they wanted.”

A typical day at glacier camp started with a big breakfast and instruction on waxing, structure, or technique, then a two-to-three hour skating session on the immaculately groomed 10 K course.

It snowed three feet on the glacier in June, so the skiing was fantastic, despite a relatively sparse winter and spring in Southcentral Alaska. After a tough morning of skating — elevation effects, big terrain and soft snow conspire to make glacier skiing especially exhausting — skiers returned to “The House” for lunch, naps, and World Cup videos while the indomitable coaches scrubbed the skate lanes and set track with the facility’s PistenBully 100 for a late afternoon red-klister classic ski session.  Athletes were free to ski at their own pace, for as long as they wished, and 40-50 k days were the norm.

“My main goal for the camp was just to get in a lot of time on snow,” said Kentch, “because of the self-evident training benefits, but mostly because I just really, really like to ski.  So I went in hoping to have a lot of fun skiing for a lot of hours.  I skied 12 hours in five sessions, and had a blast in the process, so I’d say it was a successful camp.”

Dessert on the glacier.
Dessert on the glacier

Evenings were filled with hearty family style meals, saunas and hours of stories and ski talk. The special sense of warmth and intimacy at this year’s camp had a lot to do with the presence of Flora’s parents, Sam and Berit, both internationally competitive ski marathoners, and longtime family friend and onetime Norwegian national-level racer Gil Lund. Tales from the trail and memories of races and ski trips of yore were intertwined with reflections on parenting, family, the passing of time and tradition.

“One of the best parts of the trip was just the chance to spend more time with my coaches and teammates,” said Kentch.

Coach Anderson echoed those feelings. “Master skiers generally have other things going on in life — jobs, families, home improvement projects, and cabins just to name a few. Sharing that really special period of time — a trip of a lifetime for some and a highlight in their year for others — is the greatest feeling,” she said.

***

About the Author: Shannon Gramse is a longtime member of APU Nordic Ski Center’s Masters Program. When he’s not skiing, he’s thinking about skiing while being a father and a husband and a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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