It’s that time of year when everyone’s raring to get on snow. Let’s say you’re lucky enough to find some — even just a few hundred meters — like the U.S. Paralympics Nordic team did late last month at a training camp at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Seven athletes — a combination of high-performance and development skiers — spent a week at Van Ho from Oct. 23-29 for the nordic center’s earliest opening yet on machine-made snow. Starting Oct. 1, the area’s SnowFactory blew enough snow for a 480-meter loop wide enough for two-way skiing. And it did so despite daytime temperatures hovering around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
On top of that, Van Ho organizers constructed a two-point, 10-meter Para biathlon range, which was connected to the loop and gave the team’s biathletes a place to practice shooting.
But on Day 2 of camp, the rains came, putting a sizable dent in the skiable terrain. While Van Ho was rebuilding its loop for the end of the week, the Para skiers switched gears to dryland training, shooting and rollerskiing/mountain boarding at the venue’s full-size biathlon range and rollerskiing the paved loop at Lake Placid’s Olympic Jumping Complex — the latter of which is known for its challenging terrain.
“This was a first for us and proved to be a great training site for all of our sit skiers,” BethAnn Chamberlain, the US Biathlon Paralympics development coach who led the camp, explained in an email, referring to the jumping-complex trails. “Late in the week, despite the continued warm temperatures, the Mt Van Hoevenberg crew was able to put together a short strip of snow for us again, including giving us access to our Biathlon range area.”
What did they do to make the most of their on-snow time? Chamberlain shared an agility workout for “even the smallest stretch of snow.”
The Workout: Early season agility
What you need: At least 200 meters of snow, cones, and if possible, a corner on the track (cones can substitute if no corner is available)
What you should know: “The basic premise of this workout is to have the athletes ski corners and around cones at different speeds and by taking different lines, and doing so on their own as well as in groups,” Chamberlain explained. “This not only helps the skiers develop a better feel for how their sit ski responds to their movements around corners, but also opens up the idea of the near infinite approaches and techniques to get around a corner or to maneuver around other skiers on course. (It only take a few minutes of skiing in a sit ski to truly appreciate how difficult it is to maneuver and stay upright, and do so with speed in a sit ski. I highly recommend everyone, adaptive and non-adaptive skiers to give it a try.) This is a speed workout disguised as an agility workout.”
Setup: Using cones, construct two slalom courses for the athletes to race through, head to head.
Warmup: 20 minutes of easy skiing
The workout: (45 minutes to 1 hour total)
- First, ski course at an easy speed and work up to a sprint speed.
- Then, start the “races”, with two athletes racing at a given time, competing against each other on the parallel courses.
- Throughout the session, change it up. “You can continue to run ‘races’ in this manner, change the position of the cones, to create different corners to practice on,” Chamberlain wrote. “You can then move onto 180-degree turns, long sweeping turns in both directions and every other kind of other turn you can think of. Athletes will ski these corners on their own as well as in groups or pairs at easy speeds to start and ramping up to race speed.”
- “A continued change in the position of cones creates changes the turn they have to make and keeps the athletes engaged and challenged to practice different lines and approaches through out the workout,” she added. “Run these drills along with additional variations such as shuttle run ‘races’ & slalom style turn relays for 45 minutes to an hour.”
Cool down: 20-30 minutes Level 1 skiing.
“We had a great week of training in Lake Placid,” Chamberlain noted. “The folks at ORDA [New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority] and Mt Van Hoevenberg were amazing and worked very hard making snow for us, which we were able to use for skiing and for Biathlon training.”
Kris Cheney Seymour, the nordic program and events manager at Mt. Van Ho and ORDA, which owns the venue, explained in an email that while the week was reminiscent of 2017 Junior Nationals (which were also forced to relocate to the jump-complex trails), it was certainly worth it.
“Hosting the U.S. Paralympic on-snow fall camp is a wonderful opportunity and provided a timeline that pushed boundaries to do something that is normally outside the realm of possibility,” Seymour wrote in an email. “The effort to pull this off was more about effective planning and management of the process. Of course the dedication of our staff to pull off all pieces was considerable, but everyone had a pieces and executed it well.
“We started with 480-meter-long stretch of snow, 2 feet deep and 16 feet wide,” he explained. “The SnowFactory snow was very durable to skier traffic. In the middle of the week we had a significant rain storm with high winds that compromised the loop and we had to rebuild for the end of the week. … It was a small flashback to the weather we dealt with last year at Junior Nationals.”
The nordic center is currently stockpiling snow from the SnowFactory in order to open to the public. Over the course of the winter, Van Ho has a stated goal of being open 150 days with skiable snow; last year, it was open 139 days thanks to the SnowFactory (as opposed to 39 days the year before without it).
“We have a SnowFactory because of unpredictable winter weather,” Seymour wrote. “… Without the SnowFactory this past season we would have lost the stadium and connector trails just under 40% of the days we were open. Our season would have been closer to 85 days if we only had natural snow. … As pioneers with the SnowFactory in North America we are still learning from the machine and perfecting our warm weather snow management. TechnoAlpin has been helpful in sharing how others have used the SnowFactory around the planet, but to some extent, all locations have their own challenges.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.