WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Even though the Montana State University (MSU) Ski Team is stationed only an hour and a half north of West Yellowstone, Mont., its skiers still have to adjust to the elevation.
MSU – Bozeman, which sits at roughly 4,800 feet, is 2,000 feet lower than West Yellowstone. Fortunately for the MSU skiers and those who come from well below 6,000 feet, the week leading up to the 2014 SuperTour opener is the perfect opportunity to adjust.
That’s why the majority of the MSU intensity workouts in West Yellowstone have focused on threshold intervals. That changed Tuesday as head coach Kristina Trygstad-Saari began preparing the team for the season’s first weekend of races.
In order to get the team race-ready, Trygstad-Saari introduced a series of Level-4 intervals to prepare her skiers for racing at altitude before the SuperTour races this coming weekend.
“Part of it is physiological and part of it is mental,” she said, explaining that once athletes process lactate at altitude, it allows them to deal with it in a more efficient manner once they begin racing.
As for the mental side of the workout, Tuesday’s new snow, strong winds, and variable trails made for a challenging morning.
“On a day like today when we didn’t have perfect grooming and it was their first hard workout, they were probably feeling it after the first interval and so they just had to push through five. That’s exactly what they’ll be doing Friday and Saturday” she said.
Warm up: 30 minutes continuous skiing followed by six minutes of 15 second pickups followed by 45 seconds of easy skiing.
Intervals: 5 by 4 minute intervals with the first at threshold and the following three at level 4 or 5 k race pace. Rest until heart rate returns to resting or after four minutes.
Cool down: 20 to 30 minutes continuous skiing.
After arriving at the bustling trailhead of the Rendezvous Ski Trails, MSU athletes set out on a warm up consisting of a 30-minute ski followed by six minutes of a cycle of 15-second pickups proceeded by 45 seconds of rest.
“We wanted them well warmed up… [The pickups] make sure that they were feeling warm and snappy by the time they did the first interval,” Trygstad-Saari said of the warm up.
“It’s just like a race. If you go out of the start gate feeling warm and ready to go you’re just going to maximize your race time,” she continued.
Once the MSU team was warm and snappy, the real workout began with skiers embarking on five four-minute intervals starting at threshold and progressing to level 4, or 5 k race pace.
According to Trygstad-Saari, four minutes is long enough to make the intervals hurt, but short enough from her skiers to maintain technique and speed throughout each interval.
As the team dispersed to cool down following the intensity, Trygstad-Saari noted that she was expecting great things from the MSU athletes this season. However she and her assistant coach Tim Whiton have been stressing a controlled start to the season.
“They’re all coming into fine form but we’re trying to remind them that we’re early in the season and we don’t want them peaking for West Yellowstone races. They’re all excited to race and we’re all excited to see what they can do,” she said.
Check out MSU’s promotional video for the 2014/2015 season here.
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.