The fall season means many things to the cross-country skiing community. It means the temperatures decrease, the training intensity ramps up, and excitement for winter begins stirring in the soul.
For well over a decade now, fall for the U.S. Ski Team (USST) has also meant a training camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. Although the team has had camps in New Zealand and Norway not long ago, it still manages to squeeze in a one-week intensity camp before heading to another dryland camp in October in Park City, Utah.
The national team coaches were already in Lake Placid after hosting the National Coaches’ Education Symposium last weekend, and with half of the USST athletes training with the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team (SMST2) fewer than three hours away, it made sense to have a quick camp at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.
“We wanted to give them the chance to come to a different venue, get on the rollerski track, and kind of have a check in with them to make sure things are going well technically and recovery wise and everything else,” said USST head coach Chris Grover in a phone interview.
But the eight national team athletes from the SMST2 Program, Jessie Diggins, Sophie Caldwell, Katherine Ogden, Julia Kern, Andy Newell, Simi Hamilton, Ben Saxton, and Patrick Caldwell, account for a small fraction of the nearly 30 athletes at the camp. Joining the USST is the rest of the SMST2 team, the Sun Valley Gold Team, the National Elite Group (NEG), and the National Training Group (NTG).
The NEG is made up of the best junior athletes from each region (East, Central, West, Alaska) while the NTG consists of the best U24 and U20 athletes in the United States, based on domestic and international results from last season. The SMST2 domestic team and the Sun Valley Gold Team are made up of elite American skiers not on the national team.
“The athletes in those clubs are the athletes that are just below the national-team level and aspiring to the national team level,” Grover said. “They are the ones that are knocking on the door and pushing everyone along. It’s really fantastic to have them all here.”
For all of the non-USST athletes, the camp represents not only an opportunity to train at the Olympic Training Center (OTC), but also the chance to live along side some of the national-team members and see how they train, refuel, and recover. They also receive some technique and training feedback from the national team coaches.
Because the camp is one week long this year, the group is trying to fit in as much training as possible to get the most out of the venue and one another. On top of a good number of hours, the plan is to have five intensity sessions throughout the week.
“Obviously if were having a longer camp, 10-day, 12-day, 14-day camp, we have to build in a little more recovery and here we’re just jamming through it and training all seven days. People are taking a break afterwards,” Grover explained.
In order to fit everything in, the USST is skipping what usually is the highlight event of its camp, the Climb to the Castle rollerski race up Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington. The race goes five miles up the Whiteface Memorial Highway to a castle at the summit and has an average incline of 8 percent. However, this year, the USST coaches felt the race didn’t quite align with the goals of the camp.
“The Climb to the Castle, as hard as it is to miss it because it is a fantastic event, it just didn’t play well athletically for the needs of the group,” Grover explained. “We wanted to do more sprint specific training and short intensity as opposed to giving up a whole workout or two to do the Climb to the Castle.”
Also contributing to the decision is the fact that many of the national-team members on the SMST2 team are more sprint-oriented, so the potential benefits of an uphill time trial are not as pronounced for those athletes.
Meanwhile, many US Biathlon team members will be racing the Climb.
In terms of the differences between this week’s camp and the U.S Ski Team’s two-week camp in Norway, the Lake Placid camp has about three times as many athletes in attendance and the domestic venue really makes for a different approach. In Norway, the group was exploring a new area, but in Lake Placid, the group is back to an old standby.
“This is obviously a very familiar place to us,” Grover said. “We know all the roads here and all the trails here and that sort of thing. So it’s really easy for us to plan where we are going.”
So while they had a good time training on new roads and paths in Norway, the group is taking advantage of the more familiar territory in Lake Placid, at least for a week. Next week, the athletes will head home to recover. But for the USST members, the time at home will be short. They have less than a month until their next camp begins in Park City on Oct. 12.
— Alex Kochon contributed reporting