STRATTON, Vt. — When Tor-Arne Hetland thought of the U.S., his mind went to places he had been before, like New York City and Park City, Utah.
Stratton — a small town in southern Vermont with roughly 200 year-round residents (not including the private ski school near the height of the land) — was a surprise, but Hetland figured if Andy Newell grew up training there, it had to be worth visiting.
Canada’s newest World Cup coach and his four-man team of Ivan Babikov, Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, and Lenny Valjas ventured to the land unknown in early August for a sea-level, dryland intensity camp with the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team. They rented a house in Stratton and brought a physical therapist along, and let Newell, an SMST2 skier and longtime U.S. Ski Team (USST) member, show them around.
Newell, of nearby Shaftsbury, Vt., picked the rollerski routes and joined the Canadians for about half of their workouts during their two-week stay, as did fellow USST and SMST2 skier Simi Hamilton.
Stratton’s new head coach in his third month with the team, Patrick O’Brien said the Canadians were a welcome addition while most of his team was training together, two weeks before the USST training camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Hetland and Canada’s World Cup assistant coach Louis Bouchard, who drove five hours down from Quebec City, came with two vans — making logistics somewhat easier for supporting eight men during a given workout. On Aug. 15, they did a three-hour, combo over-distance rollerski (mimicking a skiathlon), looping around hilly backroads.
“It’s been really cool working with Tor-Arne and Louis,” O’Brien said. “As a young coach, I’ve been picking their brains … They’ve been really accommodating.”
Not all the workouts lined up. The Canadians, with a fifth athlete in Raphaël Couturier of the Pierre-Harvey Training Centre (where Bouchard is head coach), generally focused on high-intensity (Level 4-5) rollerskiing during the camp. The amount of hours they wanted to put in didn’t always match those of Newell, Hamilton and Ben Saxton on the T2 Team, O’Brien explained.
“Kind of our go-to is threshold and speeds with some L4,” O’Brien said.
Newell had been scaling back the amount of L4 workouts this summer and doing longer workouts to increase volume, he added. Plus, Newell and Hamilton recently returned from the USST camp in Alaska.
During the Canadians’ camp in Stratton, O’Brien also had five female athletes to coordinate workouts for: Jessie Diggins, Sophie Caldwell, Erika Flowers, Anne Hart, and Annie Pokorny.
The crew from north of the border originally wanted to hold their own camp in Lake Placid at the recommendation of U.S. head coach Chris Grover. When they couldn’t find a house to rent in August, they turned their attention to Vermont at the suggestion of Grover and Justin Wadsworth, Canada’s other World Cup and National Team head coach.
“Londonderry, Brattleboro,” Hetland read out loud from street signs along the rollerski route. Not much imagination those English settlers had, he chuckled.
No, not in New England, but weren’t these 18th-century buildings neat? More like cute by his standards, considering Norway was 900 years older.
Regardless, Stratton had something he wanted to see in person.
“I was thinking, Andy Newell can train here for many years so … that’s the reason we are here,” said Hetland, an Olympic gold medalist who coached the Swiss national team with his wife from 2010-2014. He and his wife, Guri Hetland, currently live in Davos, Switzerland.
Another plus: Stratton’s near-sea-level altitude with a low point around 1,900 feet (580 meters). The Canadians wanted to train a lot and test their limits, so recovery times needed to be shorter, Hetland explained. In mid-October, they’ll head to Park City for their annual altitude camp with less intensity, and they previously got together as a group in Canmore, Alberta, and also in Bend, Ore.
Back when they were planning their late-summer camp, they ruled a few locations out. Their regular stop in New Zealand for actual skiing at the Snow Farm couldn’t happen because of Cross Country Canada’s budget cuts. Whistler, British Columbia, was a possibility, but it wasn’t great for rollerskiing, Hetland said. Then they couldn’t find a place to stay in Lake Placid.
But Newell, Hamilton and their SMST2 teammates: “We can use [them],” Hetland said.
“The U.S. and Canada have great skiers, but they’re alone,” he explained. “[That’s the] biggest difference to Russia and Norway.”
“Anytime you can make the group larger without sacrificing quality, it’s great,” O’Brien began, noting the high-caliber of the Canadians. “These guys are really fast.”
An hour and 30 minutes in, eight men — Newell, Hamilton, Babikov, Kershaw, Harvey, Valjas, Couturier, and Kris Freeman of Waterville, N.H. — clicked out of their bindings and switched from classic to skate. Hetland and Bouchard had parked their two vans on the side of the road and carefully laid out each athletes’ equipment a few minutes before.
Four months into his new role with the team, Hetland was still getting to know them. He remembers his parents’ first impression of the Canadians, having only seen them on TV.
“My parents, who never met them, said that will be good,” Hetland said.
Simply put, they seemed like they liked each other, and having worked with them for the last few months, Hetland could attest to that.
The key to their chemistry over the years hasn’t been a fluke: consistency in training partners and coaches has been a major factor, Hetland said. For instance, he linked Harvey’s success to his longtime coach, Bouchard.
As for the changes he’s instilled within the team, Hetland said there’s no one secret.
“The work over a long time is important, and also for the athletes to hear the same ideas about technique,” he said. “I’m saying it a different way … something old, but in a new way.”
Just a few minutes earlier, five women — Alaska Pacific University’s Rosie Brennan in place of Flowers — transitioned from skate to classic (Flowers helped at the Stratton junior camp that morning). Three of them — Caldwell, Hart and Pokorny — logged three hours for their longest rollerski of the season.
After picking their way through the woods to bypass a culvert-construction site on their go-to rollerski road, appropriately called Mountain Road, they ended in Stratton’s town center, a quiet intersection with a couple municipal buildings.
“26.25 miles,” Caldwell read off her GPS watch. “We just rollerskied a marathon!”
Later this month, after the USST camp in Lake Placid, the SMST2 Team plans to do its annual 100-kilometer (62-mile) rollerski to raise money for travel expenses for the upcoming season.
“I really enjoy watching and supporting these guys in training sessions,” said O’Brien, a Stratton alumnus who raced for the Craftsbury Green Racing Project until this spring.
Now he’s writing training plans for Hart, Pokorny, Flowers, and Saxton. The rest of the T2 skiers are on the USST, and O’Brien collaborates with their coaches to make sure they’re on target.
“I’m as much a facilitator as I am a club coach,” O’Brien said. “It’s kind of like putting pieces of a puzzle together.”
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.