Macx Davies, Christian Gow, and Scott Gow of Biathlon Canada training at the Canmore Nordic Centre last weekend in Canmore, Alberta. (Photo: Matthias Ahrens)

Frozen Thunder is back, but it’s not the same Frozen Thunder you knew before.

Every year, snow is stored all summer at the Canmore Nordic Centre in Canmore, Alberta, and rolled out in October to provide local ski and biathlon teams with on-snow training opportunities. This year, the loop has changed.

“It feels good to be back on the snow after such a long time away,” Biathlon Canada’s Nathan Smith wrote in an email. “The loop has been lengthened and improved. There is a steeper climb now, which means mandatory offset.”

“They’ve set a new track compared to previous years which is much better for training,” Cross Country Canada’s Jesse Cockney agreed.

Biathlon Canada Head Coach Matthias Ahrens explained that the changes were needed to make the loop more comparable to courses used in international competition. National teams for both biathlon and cross-country skiing will be using competitions on Frozen Thunder to pick their World Cup teams, so they wanted the course to be difficult.

“We were doing intensity Monday,” Ahrens wrote in an email. “The athletes started skiing on Saturday and have not really experienced much challenge to adapt from rollerskiing. We are in the last preparation phase before the first World Cup happens in four weeks, and the training volume is reduced now, but the intensity increased to do the final race sharpening.”

The Space Dogs Ski Club out in force on Frozen Thunder. (Photo: Bob Truman/www.skierbob.ca)

Aside from national team athletes and World Cup hopefuls, the loop has been home to high school racers, families and masters teams.

“The reason you will see a lot of athletes wearing bibs is actually that we have training times for elite athletes from 8-noon, MondayFriday, since the National and Development Teams have a big stake in funding Frozen Thunder as early season training venue,” Ahrens explained. “Only those who have contributed money to Frozen Thunder get bibs and are allowed to ski in the mornings, just a way to control who is on it. On weekends and afternoons it is open to the public.”

“It was a quiet start to Frozen Thunder with a lot of teams away, so that was lovely to enjoy the new track (a fun turn and more climbing) and not play Rush Hour,” wrote Erin Yungblut, a Canmore-based biathlete. “I think it’s really exciting to have so many teams and talented athletes out… I love being able to ski behind others and learn from as many as I can.”

Among that group is the Space Dogs Ski Club masters team.

Canadian biathletes training on the shooting range in Canmore. (Photo: Matthias Ahrens)

“For our masters performance group, getting on early snow is probably equal parts technical advantage and motivation/excitement,” wrote Dasha Gaiazova, a Space Dogs coach and former Olympian. “We are grateful that we, and many other skiers of all abilities have an opportunity to train on early snow so close to home. I also believe it makes the Frozen Thunder project more self-sustainable, through sale of general public ski passes, early season ski lessons, and providing great visibility for the sport of cross-country skiing in Canmore.”

Frozen Thunder is getting busier. The Canadian National Ski Team returned from a training camp in Park City, Utah — Cockney had done a shorter camp, thus returning home and getting some extra time on snow. The Canadian biathlon squad already had its first time trial on the course on Thursday. The U.S. biathlon team is also in town now for an on-snow training camp, and the two teams will have joint competitions on Nov. 7-10. Meanwhile, next Wednesday and Friday the cross-country team will hold a classic sprint and skate distance race.

Below, a roundup of some more reactions to getting back on snow before the start of the season:

“It is super fun to be back on snow – rollerskiing is great training, but it simply isn’t the same! I am here in Banff to spend time with my husband before I hit the road for winter racing. I would love to be training with my APU crew in Alaska (there really is no place like Alaska… and yes I am biased as it has and will always be home), but I have been super busy going between Alaska and Banff this summer and I felt it was more important to have this short time with my husband and limit travel these last couple weeks. Not to mention, the Bow Valley is very close to my heart. The terrain in Canmore is great training, lots of transitions and a new stair-stepping climb – they fit a lot into that 2 k loop.”

— Chelsea Holmes, Alaska Pacific University

“Getting on snow the day after returning home from Park City camp was an awesome transition, but I’m quite tired after the time at altitude so I’ll take a couple easy days to get energy back now. I wasn’t so much planning my shorter camp around more time on snow, I was just being careful with energy this late in the training season. As it turns out I may have overdone it anyway in Park City, but it was a really good call to come home and try to recover a bit sooner than the rest of the gang.”

— Jesse Cockney, Canadian National Ski Team

“It’s so amazing to be back on snow again; I still can’t get over how lucky we are to live and train in Canmore with such an epic facility. The transition back to snow has been pretty quick and easy for me as I did a lot of yo-yo camps up at the Haig Glacier this year, so I’m used to icy starts/soft sugar underfoot. Racing definitely feels closer now, and I couldn’t be more excited. I literally have zero pressure or expectations on myself, as I’ve come to realize I’m pursuing biathlon because I love the challenge of it… and the results will be what they are. I don’t think I’ve ever expanded this much [as a person] so quickly. It sounds corny, but I’m finally starting to figure out how to control the controllable and forget the rest of it.”

— Erin Yungblut, Rocky Mountain Racers

“Being on snow as much as possible is one of our priorities for Space Dogs members for a number of reasons:
1. Master skiers usually have full-time jobs, and families to look after, so their training schedules are compressed, and the workouts have to be as specific as possible.
2. Many masters have old injuries and accumulated damage to their knees / back / hips, which makes it impossible for some to run, or to do other dryland-type workouts. The more they can ski, the more training is accomplished pain-free.
3. Training around high-performance athletes allows for learning through watching, and through imitating. Sometimes, seeing someone ski with good technique is a lot more powerful than having it explained in concept terms.
4. Skiing in crowded spaces is beneficial for loppet racing practice. We purposely arrange some of our workouts around busy trail times, so that our skiers are more comfortable skiing on crowded trails, which is what a loppet race experience usually feels like.”
— Dasha Gaiazova, coach, Space Dogs Ski Club
“I’d say the transition had gone smoothly and no different than previous years. I’m careful not to adapt my technique in the summer for rollerski efficiency. I’m feeling pretty strong and have been performing fairly well vs. my team mates in time trials. Of course, that is just a sample of 5 athletes. I think it’s dangerous to proclaim that everyone is fit and crushing it before the reality check of World Cup. I’ve seen that this can build up unrealistic expectations. That being said, I’m feeling confident and have a good feeling that things are going to work out well. I will be in top fitness when the time comes in Europe and Korea.”

— Nathan Smith, Biathlon Canada National Team

“With not getting onto the Haig Glacier because of snow melt, our team hasn’t been on snow since May. The transition was easy for me this year and it feels like second nature to be back on snow. I will admit to the first couple of strides feeling like skis are quite long, but that didn’t last long… It was a bit sad while they were pushing out Frozen Thunder, because we had about three days of rain. So far it is holding up nicely and we just have to hope that colder temps are in the forecast.”

— Rosanna Crawford, Biathlon Canada National Team

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Chelsea Little

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.

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