Editor’s Note: The following is the third post of a series proposed by Maks Zechel, a 19-year-old Canadian cross-country skier embarking on his first season training abroad. He recently made the big move to Norway, where he’ll be training and racing with Team Asker for the next nine months. Through these updates, Maks hopes to share his personal “observations, stories, and lessons learned” to help close the gap between North American and Scandinavian nordic skiing. Read Post #1 and Post #2.
My landlord greets me warmly at the bottom of the driveway as soon as I step out of the taxi. In his mid-70s, he doesn’t even give me a chance to protest as he quickly scoops up my heavy ski bag and staggers up the steps leading to the house. He’s fit, and in the coming days I see that he goes running, kayaking or rollerskiing every day, while his wife goes swimming. After unpacking my things I am treated to an evening meal that includes brunost (Norwegian “brown cheese”, it’s soft and sweet) and smoked salmon. Later I am shown where to put my bike in the shed. Wooden skis hang in the rafters, the same ones he used to compete in the Holmenkollen 50-kilometer race in the 1970s (this was before it was a designated World Cup, but it was still a prestigious event). It’s like finding a pair of skates in my grandfather’s attic, and discovering that he played in the NHL with them. Welcome to the home of cross-country skiing.
And what is more Norwegian than skiing in the summer? My arrival in Norway coincided with the time that most Norwegians go on holiday. Team practices were suspended for a couple of weeks so I decided to take a trip of my own to nearby Torsby, Sweden. This is a small town that is known to skiers around the world for its partially underground ski tunnel. A few other well known ski tunnels designated for cross country skiing, are: Oberhof (Germany), Toksovo (Russia), and Vuokatti (Finland).
Time spent on snow becomes crucial to a skier’s success as they enter the junior and senior level, and skiing in the summer grows in importance. Summer is an expensive time to get on snow for many, but it is extremely valuable. Skiing in the summer allows athletes to put in big hours of volume and quality intensity workouts that are harder to fit in closer to the race season. It is easy for skiers to get excited in the fall and early winter as we finally get on snow.
As the race season draws closer, it is common for skiers to frantically put in huge volume and many hard workouts in the short periods that they are able to ski. It is frustrating when fall arrives and you go from great summer fitness, to suddenly feeling that your dryland training is not directly translating to good technique and shape on skis. Nevertheless, trying to fix all of this too quickly before the first races in December can ruin your entire race season if you burn yourself out. One solution is shifting some of that on-snow work to the summer, when it is easier to absorb a lot of training with the absence of school and races and the presence of sunshine and Vitamin D.
The ski tunnel in Torsby is easy to access and great for a short or long stay due to the excellent training variability. Besides the tunnel, this includes a rollerskiing track, biathlon stadium (outside and in the tunnel), extensive running trails through the surrounding hills and forests, and a fully equipped gym attached to the tunnel.
The ski tunnel is one loop with a wide “stadium” area at the start. The entire loop is a concrete tunnel and the temperature is kept around -5 degrees Celsius (23˚F). The loop has two hills per lap, which are steeper in one direction and more gradual in the other, making for a great place to work on striding. Most senior men would one-skate the hills at race pace, but they are still steep enough for offset technique work at lower speeds. I was thrilled to be on snow for my first few five–minute laps, but after approximately 150 laps in three days, it became less exciting. The “eurobeats” playing in the tunnel were entertaining at the start, but one can only listen to “Despacito” so many times…
While in Torsby, I stayed in a room at the Valbergsängen Sporthotell (a six-minute walk from the tunnel). Valbergsängen offers the option of staying in a hostel for a reduced rate where you are given your own room in a house with a bathroom and kitchen that are shared with other guests, or you can stay in a hotel room where you have more privacy and breakfast is included. You can even choose between the two if your Swedish is good enough. Unfortunately I missed this expensive difference, and without a kitchen, ended up making creative “meals” on my desk out of tuna, cheese, beans, peanut butter, and an assortment of bread and vegetables.
I returned from Torsby, after twelve hours spent skiing loops in a “bunker”, to discover that I had a new roommate. I was sitting on my couch working on a blog post when I heard a noise that only your average-sized mouse should make when hitting the floor. I looked up and, with a jolt, realized I was looking at a spider almost the size of my hand scuttling towards my fridge. In that moment, I decided two things: one, I did not want a roommate, and two, this spider was too big to tackle with a tissue. I jumped up and grabbed my broom handle from the corner (coincidentally this broom handle doesn’t have a broom on the end of it, something that will likely be an issue at some point in my stay here). When I looked up, he was gone (I say “he”, because I am praying it is not a female about to start a family in my apartment). I slept restlessly that night. A week later, after discovering that this is a common Norwegian house spider, I am now in the acceptance stage, and I hope that the two of us can coexist peacefully for the next nine months. If not, one of us will have to leave….
Norwegian Phrase of the Week
Norske: Jeg sølte en stor beholder med yoghurt i melkegangen. Jeg beklager så mye.
English: I spilled a large container of yogurt in the dairy aisle. I’m so sorry.*
(*True story of my first few hours in Norway, unfortunately.)
About Maks: Maks Zechel is a competitive cross-country skier who secretly wants to become a professional mile runner. He loves hiking and going on canoe trips with his family, as well as peanut butter cups in ice cream. Johan Olsson is his favourite skier and he hopes to race the Cortina-Toblach stage of the Tour de Ski one day. He enjoys writing about his experiences. Follow him on Instagram @makszechel.