The U.S. Ski Team concluded its annual altitude camp in Park City, Utah last week, leaving attendees a little more excited and prepared for the upcoming season. A final gathering before the national team travels to Europe in November, the camp provided opportunity for U.S. athletes to train at altitude and soak up some final rays of sun before winter takes hold.
The annual October camp has always been popular due to its consistent, dry weather and high-altitude training opportunities. In 2013 the camp saw its largest attendance with 50 skiers converging in Utah with the hopes of earning a spot on the Olympic team.
Despite the absence of the Olympics, the camp’s popularity has continued into 2014. According to U.S. Ski Team head coach Chris Grover, approximately 40 skiers were at the 2014 camp, which concluded Sunday Oct. 19.
Unlike September’s USST training camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. the Alaskan members of the national team, including Kikkan Randall, Sadie Bjornsen, and Erik Bjornsen, were present in Park City.
They were joined by fellow national team members Andy Newell, Simi Hamilton, Ben Saxton, Paddy Caldwell, Noah Hoffman, Liz Stephen, Ida Sargent, Sophie Caldwell, and Jessie Diggins.
A variety of other skiers from Alaska Pacific University, Bridger Ski Foundation, Stratton Mountain School T2, and Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Team, among others, joined the array of activities that traversed the mountains surrounding Park City.
Athletes participated in workouts that ranged from a rollerski up the American Fork Canyon that featured over 3,000 ft. of elevation gain, to speed work on Soldier Hollow’s familiar trails. During a long run, the team even came across some fresh snow above 8,000 ft.
For Miles Havlick (SVSEF) the training in Park City was valuable because of new perspectives he gained from the USST coaches and their ability to “broaden your horizons.” Furthermore, Havlick said that training with the USST men was beneficial to his technique and fitness.
“There’s no one better than to do a speed workout with than Newell, Simi, and Bjornsen,” he said in a phone interview.
On Thursday Oct. 16 the USST held a 10 k time-trial for both the men and women at Soldier Hollow that saw Randall and Miles Havlick top the women’s and men’s fields. While the results have little significance due to variation in each skier’s training and rollerski speeds, the USST coaches monitor both heart-rate and lactate to analyze the effects of the training load, effort, course type, and altitude on each skier.
The Park City camp is unique in the fact that athletes live at roughly 8,000 ft. in Upper Deer Valley to increase hemoglobin levels and prepare for high altitude races. According to Diggins the annual camp helps her prepare for some of her favorite competitions, including the high-altitude stages of the Tour de Ski.
“I am still learning how to ride the line between going hard and blowing up at altitude, since once you flood your legs you can’t recover as fast as you can at sea level,” Diggins explained. “So doing a lot of long L3 and longer L4 intervals at SoHo (Soldier Hollow) is really helpful for my race prep.”
Sadie Bjornsen said that while it is always difficult to acclimatize to altitude, she has developed several techniques to aid the adjustment.
“I know that for at least 4 days I am going to feel like a slog. I also know that I need to force myself to train easier than ever those first few days in order to adjust well without getting too tired for the rest of the week,” she wrote in an email.
With the roughly 40 athletes in attendance the allocation of time and resources is difficult to balance between national team and club team members. However, Grover said that the USST coaches have a functional system in place.
Grover explained that the primary goal at any USST camp is to prepare the national team for World Cup and World Championship success. Its secondary goal is to offer training opportunities to developing athletes who are just below the national team level.
“Both goals are important to us as coaches,” Grover wrote in an email.
As in past camps, the U.S. Ski team had several “closed” workouts in addition to trainings that included the entire training group. Grover explained that the division was important for both the national team and club athletes, but acknowledged that regardless of the structure of the workouts there would always be some imperfection.
“Our intent when dividing some of our sessions is to provide value to both groups, but I guarantee it will never feel perfect for each individual,” Grover said.
Despite the success of the camp, the USST did not leave Park City without injury. Sophie Caldwell fractured her left elbow Oct. 7 after tripping on a low-hanging cable in a Park City Mountain Resort parking lot. After performing surgery hours after the injury, doctors estimated that Caldwell’s recovery to be roughly six weeks.
According to Grover, Caldwell is in great spirits and finding creative and productive ways to train despite her injury.
“She has been incredibly mentally tough through this process, and it is clear that she has the heart and the resolve of a champion,” Grover said of the 24-year-old.
At the conclusion of the Park City Camp, the USST traveled to Canmore, Alberta for a week of on-snow training and racing at Frozen Thunder. The team will remain in Canada until Oct. 28 when skiers enter their final block of training before traveling to Europe.
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.