A World Junior Championships and World U23 Championships skier for Finland who had racked up top-10 finishes in her country’s competitive national-championships field, Krista Niiranen moved to the American Southwest last year.
“I had been studying law in the University of Lapland in Finland, but for the last season I transferred to the University of New Mexico and represented the UNM Ski Team,” she explained.
Niiranen made a splash on the SuperTour and NCAA circuits, finishing sixth in the classic sprint and 10th in the 10 k freestyle at U.S. nationals before emerging as the top classic skier on the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association tour. She finished seventh in the 5 k classic at NCAA Championships and was named UNM’s Nordic MVP.
This summer, Niiranen is back in Finland training hard with various friends and teammates from before her time as a college skier. She has taken training opportunities all over her country and shared what it’s like to be a top skier in Finland in the summer.
FasterSkier: Where are you based this summer?
Krista Niiranen: My summer training is based in three areas this summer: Joensuu in Eastern Finland, the Vuokatti Olympic Training Center, and especially my current hometown, Rovaniemi, in Lapland on the Arctic Circle.
I have to say that all of these three spots are top for skiers’ summer training. In the beginning of the summer break I was training in Joensuu, the same area I grew up in. If you happen to be a biathlon fan, I stayed within 30 minutes away from Kontiolahti Biathlon Stadium, where is also a great rollerski track for summer training. There is also another track for rollerskiing only in 10 minutes from my family home. Then in June I was training for three weeks in Vuokatti Olympic Training Center, where the majority of the Finnish nordic skiers were gathered up for some good summer training. Currently I am living and training in Rovaniemi in the Northern Finland as a neighbor of Santa Claus.
FS: Compared to Ruka or the World Championships venue in Lahti, what is the landscape like where you are training?
KN: For Americans who have watched World Cup races, I would say that Eastern Finland is pretty similar to Lahti, which is four hours drive from my family home to south. The landscape in Vuokatti and Rovaniemi is pretty similar to Ruka with long and some steep hills. But you can definitely find beautiful hills and lakes from all over the Eastern and Northern Finland, where my training has been based for my entire skiing career.
FS: Do you have a team that you are training with, or are most of your training sessions alone?
KN: During summer I have a couple of training camps in Vuokatti and Lapland with a group of athletes who are challenging the skiers in the Finnish national teams. In the beginning of the summer I was training in Joensuu and Vuokatti with a couple of skiers from the same local ski club I represent when I’m competing in Finland. There are also many skiers at my level living in my current hometown in Rovaniemi, so I can get company for training on a daily basis. I really enjoy training with other skiers, but sometimes it is nice to go for a session alone as well.
FS: What is it like to rejoin a group after being away in the US for most of the year?
KN: I was welcomed to participate in trainings and training camps even if I spent most of the year in the US. Of course it was a little bit different situation when I had not raced in any competitions in Finland last season, but I have many good skier friends here in Finland so it was just fun to catch up with them during rest afternoons and easy trainings.
FS: During the summer, how do you design your training – is it based on a plan from New Mexico? Are you adapting it at all to be able to match with your training friends?
KN: This summer I am designing my training plan based on the knowledge I have gained from my previous Finnish coach and during my time as a Lobo. I am adapting my plan to match with the fixed training camps and trainings of other skiers based on the same area. I think that doing intervals and other training in a group is a good way to develop as a skier and learn from each others. I am also trying to listen my body to keep the balance between hard training with lots of hours and rest time.
FS: Are there typical workouts that you do that are different and probably wouldn’t appear on an American training plan?
KN: The training is pretty similar here in Finland than on our American training plan in New Mexico, but the biggest difference is that we are used to do more really easy long distance and level 2-3 training in Finland, but not really level 4-5 training during summer time.
In Finland I am also orienteering weekly basis as a training. I think that orienteering is a more Scandinavian or European thing, because in the US it was mostly an unfamiliar concept for many people. Running and navigating from point to point in the forest using a map and compass is actually pretty hard training. At least for me, a chill orienteering session ends up always being at least level 3 training when running fast in the forest and concentrating on reading a map.
I have also added some elements, like without poles skate skiing, from our American plan to my training plan in Finland. I am also planning on doing some track sessions here in Finland – I was not used to doing that before my time in New Mexico.
FS: What’s the hardest workout you have done so far this summer?
KN: Definitely, a traditional roller ski race in Vuokatti. The event consisted on 1.6 k uphill skate rollerskiing prologue, a 3 k cross-country running race, and 10 k skate rollerskiing pursuit where the final 1.6 k is uphill. The race was also mentally interesting, because I had not raced in Finland for over a year and therefore I did not really have any expectations when it comes to my current shape. After a hard competition, I was happy when I realized that I had set a new personal best in all the three stages after a year in the US.
[Ed. Note: After the final stage, Niiranen was 10th, two minutes and 50 seconds behind biathlon World Champion Kaisa Makarainen, who won the women’s tour ahead of five-time Olympic medalist skier Aino-Kaisa Saarinen. World Champion Matti Heikkinen won the men’s tour.]
FS: Are there any absolute favorite places to run or bike or rollerski?
KN: All the areas I have been training in this summer are among the best spots for summer training in Finland because the access to rollerski tracks, bike paths and trails is just by the front door. But if I should choose my absolute favorites, I would mention group training on a rollerski track and uphill classic rollerskiing in Vuokatti. Also running with good skier friends (and reindeer) on the countless of trails surrounded by a beautiful scenery in Rovaniemi is one of my favorites. I was also super excited to ski on real snow in a ski tunnel in Vuokatti, even if the scenery there is only a concrete wall.
FS: Maybe related, is your area set up best for some parts of training?
KN: I would objectively recommend all of these three areas for summer training for any skier, but in Vuokatti there is everything what a nordic skier can ask for during summer. There are a rollerski track, long uphills, tens of kilometers of trails for long distance running and hiking, bike paths, a ski tunnel with real snow and beautiful scenery with hills and lakes in Vuokatti. It is not a wonder that there are other national teams in addition to Finnish skiers training in Vuokatti as well.
It is just convenient that especially in Vuokatti and Rovaniemi: all the training possibilities and facilities are right after stepping out the front door, so there is no need to consume time and energy for driving for training.
FS: What is the best part of Finnish summer, aside from training?
KN: The best parts of Finnish summer are midnight sun, going to sauna and swimming in a lake, and everyman’s right to pick up berries and mushrooms to a freezer for the fall and winter.
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.