ZÜRICH, Switzerland– American racers might think the ski season is over, but not so for Holly Brooks.
“I think I might be the only North American skier who is still competing,” she laughed on Sunday. “Maybe someone else is out there, but I know a lot of people are heading to the beach.”
The Alaskan made the FIS Marathon Cup her season goal, and is about to fly to its last competition, the Ugra Ski Marathon in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. She currently leads the standings by four points over Tatjana Mannima of Estonia, with Aurelie Dabudyk of France only 41 points behind as well. With 100 points going to the winner, 80 to second place, then 60, then 50, any of the women could conceivably win the Cup.
That is, if any of them wins the actual race. Last year, marathon favorites Riita-Lisa Roponen of Finland and Seraina Boner of Switzerland finished second and third in the Ugra, minutes behind relative unknown Ekaterina Rudakova of Belarus. The podium finishers were the only non-Russians in a field of fast women.
In their head to head meetings, APU’s Brooks has beaten Mannima three times and Mannima has beaten Brooks twice, but both were in classic races. The Ugra is a 50 k skate, the technique which Brooks favors. FasterSkier caught her for an interview before she flew to Russia.
FasterSkier: What have you been up to for the last few weeks?
Holly Brooks: I’ve been country hopping, as per usual. Or, as usual for me this winter. The last week I spent in Chamonix, which sounds really exciting but it was gray and raining and I didn’t do a whole lot of skiing.
The week before that was kind of a Scandinavian tour. I spent the week in Trondheim with Anders Haugen, a Norwegian-Alaskan who just moved there. The snow wasn’t great there either. That was the week leading up to the Årefjällsloppet, the final of the Swix Ski Classics in Sweden. It was not a great race for me, but I was really happy to be there to experience and hang out with my team, Team Santander, who took the overall win. So that was really fun.
And then the week before that was the Norwegian Birkie. Which was great. You always have to check that off your bucket list as a cross-country skier.
FS: Your last FIS Marathon Cup race was a while ago at this point. How has it been trying to stay motivated?
HB: It’s really wild that the penultimate FIS Marathon Cup was the Engadin, which was March 8th, and the final, the Ugra Ski Marathon, is April 11th. So there’s more than a month there.
I have had a good month in between. I went to Holmenkollen and cheered on teammates there in the 30 and 50 k’s. I had some good racing – the Norwegian Birkie was a really fun experience. I actually cooked dinner for the head of the Norwegian Labor Party, who is potentially going to be the next Prime Minister of Norway. So I cooked his pre-Birken dinner, which was really fun. I’ve just gotten to see a lot more of Europe and of Scandinavia and places that are off the beaten path of the World Cup. And I’ve made a lot of new friends in the last month too.
FS: Now you’re off to Russia. You’ve had plenty of challenges this year with logistics, but how much harder is it with Russia?
HB: I don’t think I’ll believe I’m in Russia until I’m actually in Russia. It has been extremely hard. The logistics around this race have been a total bear. I will say that the people on the organizing committee have been really helpful and really welcoming.
But the visa alone, being a solo show I’ve had to do all the organization myself. For the visa alone I probably sent over 150 emails and made 30 calls. Put hours and hours and hours of time into that. And then figuring out the tickets and who will wax my skis, and all the normal solo stuff.
It will be a long journey to Khanty-Mansiysk. I didn’t even know where it was until I googled it. Siberia is quite far away. I think it’s five time zones away from central European time. I was definitely watching with interest when the biathletes ended their season there a couple of weeks ago. So yeah, I’m excited to get there.
FS: You’ve spent time racing in Russia before, on the World Cup and at the Olympics. Do you think that will help you deal with some of the unfamiliarity of things?
HB: I know that the only thing you can expect is that you have no idea what’s going to happen. You just have to be ready to roll with the punches. I definitely also know that you also have to be extremely patient, because things don’t necessarily happen in a timely manner or how you would expect them to happen.
The food could be great or it could be horrible. I’m definitely taking peanut butter, instant coffee, and instant oatmeal, amongst other things, just in case. And I’m supposed to be able to walk from my hotel room to the start/finish of the race. I’m hopeful that everything will go smoothly.
FS: In the beginning of the season you got a little cushion of time before you started racing, compared to the last couple of years and the World Cup crew. Now you’re going much later than them. What’s harder?
HB: This year has been interesting because I spent all of November and half of December in Alaska, studying. It was actually really hard being at home watching everybody kick off their season. Now I’m on the opposite end. Everyone’s done, they are headed to the beach, and I’m still going. Essentially my season is the same length, it’s just shifted back three weeks to a month.
I think this is a little harder. It was hard watching them race and I wanted to race at the beginning, and now I’m really tired and I’d like to be done. Everyone else is done and I have to stay focused and stay strong. I think the way I’ve done it this year is a little bit harder, but I’m hoping it will pay off.
FS: What’s the race preview?
HB: Well, I have a four point lead going into this race. It’s pretty crazy after an entire season of marathons in eight different countries, to have it be this close at the end is quite exciting but also a little stressful. The girl in second, Tatjana Mannima of Estonia, is only four points behind me and it’s the same as World Cup scoring so if I beat her, then I win the FIS Marathon Cup. If she beats me, then she wins. There’s a lot at stake here. I’m really just trying to stay focused for April 11th.
FS: And then what will you do?
HB: And then it will take me three days to get home [laughs]. I’m already having nightmares about potentially having to check four pieces of luggage on an international flight to Alaska! I’m really really excited to go home.
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.