DAVOS, Switzerland— Reese Hanneman knows he’s skiing well. Reese Hanneman also knows he’s not skiing well. And that pretty much sums up the experience of racing the World Cup in period one, when your first races of the season are against the world’s very best.
“This is really hard,” Hanneman told FasterSkier at the finish of Saturday’s 15 k classic race. “I think people really underestimate how hard it is to go from racing well in the U.S. to racing well here on the World Cup.”
The Alaskan skier, who will turn 25 in ten days, earned his World Cup start rights by winning the season-long SuperTour series in the United States last year. Starting at the end of November, he’s been in Europe toeing the line in races that represent a career goal for many domestic competitors.
“I’m used to having these really good sensations,” Hanneman said. “[At home] even when I’m suffering, I can be winning the race. That’s really motivating. Over here, you’re really suffering and you might be skiing the same speed, but you’re four minutes out. You’re just getting blown by. It has been a really good learning experience and unless you have these learning experiences, it’s going to be really hard to ever be successful over here.”
Wearing a black race suit painted in stars and strips, Hanneman is representing the U.S. for the second time in his senior career. He also got a trip to World Cup finals in Falun, Sweden, last season, also by way of leading the SuperTour.
But the field for World Cup finals is limited to the best World Cup racers and the Continental Cup leaders from different regions. Back then, Hanneman had also had an entire season to build into the competition. He was confident and knew exactly how he was skiing.
Starting off the season on the circuit is an entirely different experience.
“It’s no secret that period one is by far the most difficult period of the year,” Hanneman explained. “The first two weekends are in Scandinavia, and so with the Nations Group and the mini-tour, they just have a ton of guys. And everyone from Finland and Norway is, they all had to be on form to even qualify for those races. So the fact that they are all there racing automatically means that they are just crushing it.”
Hanneman also upped his training substantially in the off-season. He knew it was a risk that might slow him down temporarily, but it’s now also hard for him to tell what the effect was: is he really racing badly because of it, or is the competition just so much better than what he’s used to that it feels that way?
“It’s really unforgiving,” Hanneman said. “I’m probably skiing decently well, if I were in the U.S. I’d probably think I was doing fine. But over here you just mentally get destroyed.”
His ultimate goal for the season is to make the U.S. team for World Championships, which will be back in Falun. With that in mind, he put together his plan for the off-season.
“I put in a huge summer and fall of training,” he said. “Definitely way harder and more training than I’ve ever done. So I was hoping that– that was with the goal, I was hoping all that fitness would come through way more than it has. Even though I knew that I wouldn’t be in peak form, I was hoping that I’d be skiing pretty well… I’m just trying to stay positive and not – I know I can ski better than I am right now, so I hope it’s just a matter of time and that at some point this season I’ll be crushing it.”
In Saturday’s 15 k classic, Hanneman placed 79th of 81 finishers (the only other American in the race, Hanneman’s Alaska Pacific University teammate Erik Bjornsen, placed 48th with a time about three minutes faster).
That hurts, but there were a few other things going on to contribute to the disappointing result that day, too.
“I actually had a cold yesterday and the day before, so I wasn’t even planning on racing today,” Hanneman explained. “But I woke up feeling a little better than I thought, and I figured that if I had the opportunity to race another World Cup, I should probably take it as long as I felt like it could be productive.”
On Sunday, Hanneman placed 86th in the freestyle sprint.
He’s trying to keep the long game in perspective, both for the season, and his career. To race against the world’s best is one benefit of the trip; another is to learn from Bjornsen and U.S. Ski Team sprinters Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton.
“There’s three ski team guys here and then me,” Hanneman said. “It can feel like there’s 50 Norwegians in the start pen and it’s just Erik and I bumping fists, like, ‘all right buddy, here we go!’ But he’s skiing pretty well, and it’s fun to ski with these guys because they’re all pretty successful. Erik is a really good all-around skier. I just try to learn from them, and hope to join them at more of these races.”
First, he’ll head back to the United States in January to race at U.S. National Championships in Houghton, Michigan. Last season, Hanneman won his first ever national championship in the classic sprint. He was also second in the 15 k classic and third in the freestyle sprint; at the end of the season, he was third in the marathon at distance nationals.
Those are happy memories, and Hanneman hopes that racing stateside will help him get his mojo back. He’s been watching the SuperTour and Canadian NorAm results roll in from across the Atlantic.
“I know a lot of those guys are skiing really fast,” he said. “I think that the level of U.S. skiing is going up, for sure. But I’m also excited to go back, and hopefully get on the podium and get some good positive reinforcement. Those guys are skiing fast, but I know I can ski at least that fast. I’m excited to try to get my head out of this hole a little bit.”
If he can accomplish that, he feels that his World Championships goal should be attainable.
“I know that if I ski to my capabilities, ski like I was skiing last year, that I can make it no problem,” he said. “Well, not no problem, but I can make that team. So that’s my goal. But I also don’t want to just hang everything on one event. I’ve already raced more World Cups here than I would ever race at World Championships. I’ve gotten more experience and it has been much more of a significant experience instead of just showing up for one race.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.