Note: The following was submitted by Björn Ilsemann, a coach with the Norwegian College of Elite Sports and Heming IL. If you have a team camp or training recap that you’d like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this year, U.S. junior nordic skiers from Sugar Bowl Academy competed in the Norwegian Cup and Sprint Junior Nationals, and then welcomed a team from the Oslo ski club of Heming IL to U.S. Junior Nationals in Truckee/Tahoe, Calif.
It was at the U16 camp last summer when Sugar Bowl Academy coach Martin Benes and Björn Ilsemann from the Norwegian College of Elite Sports and the ski club of Heming decided to do an exchange to race both countries’ junior nationals (JNs). Martin had a lot of experience travelling and racing, both as a skier and as a coach. Björn had done similar exchanges before, leading a group to JNs in Fairbanks in 2013 and hosting several groups of US skiers for Norwegian JNs.
The plan was easy: The participating skiers from Sugar Bowl would live with families and train with Heming skiers for a week, and then race a Norwegian Cup weekend and the Junior Sprint Nationals. The Norwegians from Heming would then come over to Truckee and race USJNs.
During the earlier winter months, the dream became a plan, and in the first week of February, five excited skiers and two coaches embarked a plane heading to Oslo. After being picked up at the airport, the group of skiers from Sugar Bowl and coach Caitlin Bernstein were quickly becoming familiar with how Norwegian skiers in Oslo live and train. Hundreds of kilometers of lit tracks, a five minute subway ride to freshly-groomed tracks and hot chocolate at cabins far out in the backcountry became daily business.
After an easy Monday recovering from the inevitable jetlag, Björn took the group on three-hour-plus ski in the backcountry on Tuesday morning, followed by a strength and coordination training with his group of skiers at the Norwegian College of Elite Sports. After a quick shower, we headed to town for pizza and the arrival of the last two members of the group who came in from the J1 trip in Sweden, Hannah Halvorsen and coach Martin Benes.
On Wednesday, the gang did an easy morning ski in the World Cup tracks at Holmenkollen, and met with the junior skiers from Heming for a short-but-hard sprint training session in the evening. Thursday was easy again, the U.S. kids watched a race of the Biathlon World Cup at Holmenkollen and did a rest ski before the Norwegian Cup races on Friday.
The venue of the Norwegian Cup was pretty close to Oslo — about an hour by car. While the skiers and coaches were shuttled early that morning, you could feel the excitement build up in everybody. But still, no one had expected such a circus of countless wax trailers, big tents and wax cabins, and the intimidating number of close to 1,000 participating junior skiers.
No one had expected such a circus of countless wax trailers, big tents and wax cabins, and the intimidating number of close to 1,000 participating junior skiers.
The tracks were really hard and the competition was even harder, but the athletes from Sugar Bowl put up a good fight! To be fair, jetlag and maybe a little nervousness can be blamed a little bit, and the skiers finished in the second halves of their fields. A well-organized race and a lot of help from the wax techs from Heming made the day a good experience anyway.
On Saturday, the Norwegian Junior Sprint Nationals went underway. With good skis again from the Heming techs, the Sugar Bowl athletes did an amazing job racing and were close to advancing from the prologue.
Halvorsen, who didn’t race on Friday, didn’t seem very nervous or intimidated by the strong field and managed to win the prologue by two seconds! She didn’t stop there, dominating her quarterfinal and semifinal as well. In the end she stormed into the finish and crashed over the line to win the Norwegian Junior Sprint Nationals!
On Sunday we raced a classic distance, again as part of the Norwegian Cup. The gang was still excited and had a great day at the venue, which was crowned by a sixth-place finish by Hannah!
Everyone among the U.S. and the Norwegian skiers who participated in this first part of the project agreed that the trip was a great success. The athletes from Sugar Bowl Academy really got a taste of how it is to live a World Cup-athlete’s routine, and I’m sure they want more of that!
Almost exactly a month later, the Norwegian skiers and coaches packed their bags and set out on the 20-hour journey to USJNs. With a van crammed full of skis and a joyful gang of seven skiers we drove on highways five-times bigger than at home, but managed to arrive safely but late at night at Truckee.
With a van crammed full of skis and a joyful gang of seven skiers we drove on highways five-times bigger than at home.
After having slept way too little, as we felt, we skied our first time on West Coast-snow on Tuesday. The plan was to acclimate to altitude (at home we ski at sea level) and the heat (it was over 25 degrees Celsius warmer than in Norway), and to ski easy with some tiny intervals. That worked nicely, and we felt very welcome by absolutely everybody.
We considered the first distance race of the JNs on Wednesday as “too dangerous to race hard” in terms of altitude, and decided to ski in a Level 2-3 pace and just do what feels right. All of the skiers felt good, and we had great skis thanks to the help of the Far West test team and our “local,” Martin Benes.
Thursday was easy again, with intervals a little harder than Level 3 and close to a 5 k race pace. The Norwegian athletes used the evening to shop and discover the local food, while the coaches did a presentation on how Norwegian skiers progress from junior to senior skiing, followed by an interesting discussion. The evening ended with a big feast of Mexican food and fun at one of the parents’ houses.
Friday was the day of the mass start race. The Norwegians had good skis and skied in the front part of the field for the two first loops. Then the altitude and heat took its toll, and one of the Norwegian skiers had to quit and even seek medical attention. The others plowed on, and finished on first and seventh in the U18 field. For the U18 girls, our sole competitor that day Ellinor Høgberg put up a good fight against the U.S. girls, and finished seventh in a really strong field.
On Saturday, relay day arrived. We gave our best and raced hard, but the U.S. skiers were too strong and we finished sixth for both the U18 boys and the U20 girls.
Maybe that was because my skiers were already looking forward to the banquet? The evening came, and everybody enjoyed the food and the talks with fellow skiers and new friends.
The trip home went well, and after some days with jetlag we were back on our skis and racing again. Every single one of my skiers, including us coaches, will remember the trip as an experience for life.
Every single one of my skiers, including us coaches, will remember the trip as an experience for life.
We have to thank Martin Benes and Caitlin Bernstein from Sugar Bowl, as well as all the parents and skiers who participated and helped with this project. Special thanks go to Bryan Fish from USSA and James Southam from NNF, for all your help and support! We also have to thank Joey Caterinichio from USSA for making things work and the discussion, the organizing committee at JNs for letting us participate, and August Teague from Far West for invaluable help and advice in the wax cabin.
In the end, we want to give a big thank you to U.S. skiing for having us over, for skiing with us and for showing us how much joy and pleasure skiing gives you. Thanks also to Sugar Bowl for coming to Norway, and especially to Hannah for kicking [butt] while you were over here!