At the end of October, Team Birkie headed west for three-weeks. Leaving the midwest in search of a higher altitude training venue and snow, they headed first to Park City, UT, then north to Canmore, Alberta, where winter has already settled in.
Coach Caitlin Gregg had several objectives for the camp, primarily related to training time above sea-level. Her first goal for the team was to get in a three-week altitude block, in order to learn how the Team Birkie athletes respond at higher elevation to guide preparations for the races at altitude coming up this season, including U.S. Nationals at Soldier Hollow and the Super Tour stop in Sun Valley, ID. Gregg explained the second objective for this camp was to give the athletes time at the Soldier Hollow venue to familiarize themselves with the trails and race course, as well as to experience some higher altitude living in Park City.
In the second phase of camp, Team Birkie headed to Canmore, Alberta to take advantage of the early-season Frozen Thunder ski track while continuing to train at altitude, this time with higher intensity sessions and races on snow. The time in Canmore not only offered the athletes early-season snow time but also provided Gregg and assistant coach Leo Hipp with the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the athlete’s individual fleets of skis so they feel prepared when race waxing and guiding selection in the competition season.
For all six of the athletes who travelled to Canmore, this was their first time on snow this season. Although the only trail open was a 2.5k loop, Gregg shared that they took advantage of the opportunity to work on refining technique and got in lots of ski testing. As athlete Ingrid Thyr said, “Ski selection and waxing can play a huge role in racing, so this was a great opportunity to spend a couple of weeks dialing those things in with my coaches.”
Team Birkie member, Zak Ketterson shared that his personal goal for this camp was to put in plenty of quality training hours on snow in preparation for the upcoming races.
“Getting on snow this time of year can be really difficult, so I definitely try to not waste the opportunity when I have it,” wrote Ketterson. “The more time you have on snow before the first races, the better. Skiing on snow is just different enough from roller skiing that it can be a bit of a transition at first.”
In addition to technique work, Gregg prepared very specific goals for the team’s intensity sessions and race prep that are hard to mimic with dryland training.
Travel between the US and Canada is a bit more involved these days, thanks to COVID protocols and procedures. The team flew from Salt Lake to Canada and was required to present proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure. In spite of this, Gregg said, “We were lucky and the travel process on both ends of the trip was very smooth.”
In addition to the snow loop provided by the Canmore Nordic Centre for Frozen Thunder, Nordiq Canada put on two race events in which 100 athletes from Canada and the U.S. participated. The first being a 5/10 k classic and the second a 10/15k skate. For Team Birkie’s Christian Gostout, these races were about learning.
Gostout had COVID in September and had to take a substantial amount of time off to recover.
“Because of this,” he explained, “I came into the camps without a lot of rest, so I was prioritizing good performance and execution of our key sessions (intervals etc.) while being quite weary of volume and fatigue outside of these sessions.”
The two time trial events in Canmore provided the opportunity to re-learn how to embrace the discomfort of racing.
“I didn’t bother to look at results until well after both,” said Gostout, “I went into the first race knowing I was going to make lots of mistakes, but that I would learn from them. I definitely did make said mistakes, but I felt surprisingly good while racing! My next goal was to correct for the things I had done wrong the second day, and see if I could improve the quality of my race. I did manage to execute certain things better on day two, but the camp fatigue finally caught up with me, so the performance as a whole wasn’t great. The overall experience has me optimistic for the upcoming races.”
For Ketterson, he approaches any race effort with the same mentality, regardless of the type of competition.
“Even if these races weren’t super ‘important’ from a season standpoint, I still try to go into any race with a similar attitude,” he wrote. “I view these races as some of the best practice I can get for the races I am really training for. I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about them, because I definitely do. Any race I do I will try to put my best foot forward because racing is a skill that gets better with practice.”
Racing and training aside, the three weeks resulted in different highlights for everyone. Gostout shared that a classic ski the team did up towards Lake Moraine was a favorite, saying, “It finally felt like winter, and I was just skiing for the joy of being out. Those kinds of days can’t be beat.”
Ketterson wrote that a personal highlight from the trip for him was watching coach Caitlin Gregg do some hard skate intervals on her birthday.
“Caitlin has really embraced her head coaching role this year — so much so that it can be easy to forget that she is still an incredibly fit skier,” he wrote. “I thought it was really cool to see Caitlin flying around the course and watching people’s expressions as she skied by. I am sure they were probably hoping she wouldn’t be doing the races.”
Gregg reminisced that as an athlete traveling to Park City and Canmore was one of her favorite camps and now as a coach she loved it even more. Gregg said, “The high quality training in both locations was exactly what we needed and we now have an off week before our final preparations for the start of the season in Duluth, MN in only a few weeks.”
With the first Super Tour happening December 4-5th, the race season is just around the corner. Looking ahead in the upcoming season, the Team Birkie athletes have a range of goals.
Gostout wrote, “You have to go all out and dream big when an Olympic year comes around, so I do want to have strong early season races in the December Super Tours and at US Nationals. Even more so because the early races will be in the Midwest, and Team Birkie has the opportunity to showcase our success to our local community.”
Ketterson stated that his main goal is to make the Olympics in Beijing starting in February.
“I know that is a goal for a lot of skiers this year and most of them are working really hard for it, just like me,” said Ketterson. “At the end of the day, I just want to improve every year because skiing is a long-term type of game and I know that hard work pays off — if not this season, then eventually. All I can do is my best, and I have been trying to do that every day.”
Returning home after three weeks at altitude, the team is taking some time for rest and recovery before the race season kicks off in earnest. As Ketterson said, “My focus now is on staying healthy and getting my body and equipment dialed for the start of the season. There is still a lot of work to be done before the first races, but I am confident that Team Birkie and I will be ready when the time comes.”
Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.