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Strides

You don't have to be IN IN the Alps to find beautiful skiing in Switzerland. I recommend Einsiedeln, just an hour from the Zurich main station.

You don’t have to be IN IN the Alps to find beautiful skiing in Switzerland. I recommend Einsiedeln, just an hour from the Zurich main station.

In the beginning, I really loved classic skiing, much more than skating.

I didn’t learn how to cross-country ski in a competitive sense until high school, and for the longest time skating was so hard: sure, I was fit, and I succeeded at it the way every high school runner-crossover does in the beginning.

But even through college the idea of doing a 2-hour OD skating was exhausting. My balance was bad, so V2 was the opposite of relaxing. My technique was bad, twisting to the sides and wasting a lot of energy. All this wasted movement made it tough for me to skate easily at a true “level one” with a low heart rate (especially going up Oak Hill….).

It wasn’t until after college that I began to get some acceptable skate technique, thanks to video session after video session with Pepa Miloucheva in Craftsbury. I began to get more efficient, and to really enjoy skating. I even ditched my former attitude that I could only ever do well in classic races.

In the past three years, things have gotten way more extreme. I initially moved to Sweden for my masters and never skated once in two years, instead vastly improving my double-poling. But then I moved to Switzerland for my PhD. I have barely classic skied at all because most of the citizen races as skating.

When I was home I also got to go skiing with my buddy from college, Courtney! She was staying a house nearby for a few days. It was super awesome to catch up! She picked me up at our farm before we headed out.

When I was home I also got to go skiing with my buddy from college, Courtney! She was staying a house nearby for a few days. It was super awesome to catch up! She picked me up at our farm before we headed out.

In addition, I have to take the train to ski so I don’t have much way of knowing snow conditions before I arrive at the trails. After all that travel, I just want to hop on my skis and go. I got lazy. I didn’t want to have to test hardwax or klister or, yikes, klister cover, after a long train ride. I didn’t want to bring a box of wax with me. I didn’t particularly want to sticky bring klister skis back on the train, either.

Was I just making excuses? Yes. But I think this is part of being a busy adult with two jobs: things that only take five or ten minutes, like applying kickwax when you get to the trailhead, seem like unnecessary, insurmountable, stressful obstacles. If I owned some of the nifty new waxless skis, maybe I would have classic skied more often. But I don’t. So I took the simple route and just skated. My skis might have been fast some days and slow other days, but they always worked.

I can’t believe that I had come to this. I had been a classic-skiing purist, shunning waxes skis, raving about the beauty of the classic technique.

But during these years of skate skiing in Switzerland, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. For a girl who once said, “skating is so unnatural, I mean, look at evolutionary history, our bodies were not ever under selection to make this sort of movement!”, hopping on my skis and taking off always felt immediately exhilirating, washing away whatever work burdens I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Over the holidays, I returned to New England and volunteered coaching with my old club, Ford Sayre, at the Eastern Cup race weekend. The head coach sent out assignments for the weekend. I saw mine and froze: “Evan, Tim, Chelsea: classic wax testing, application”.

It had been a long time since I had classic skied – I estimated I had only done so maybe five times in the last two years – much less tested wax or tried to predict what would work best in a given set of conditions. I wondered if I remembered how to do either.

On the Friday afternoon of the race weekend we arrived before the van with the athletes. It was incredibly cold, maybe 0°F, maybe colder? We had special green on our skis. I hit the trails.

I instantly remembered: what a joy it is to classic ski, in nice tracks, on wax that kicks! It was so easy! So effortless!

I remembered back to my last year in Sweden. There wasn’t much snow in Upplands. I went to one marathon, a seeding race for the Vasaloppet, where it was raining – so slushy. Clearly klister skiing. I didn’t have any klister in my small traveling wax box, so one of the guys in my club convinced me that it would be fine to just go on skate skis and double pole 42 k (being a tall Swedish man, this didn’t faze him). He turned out to be wrong, wrong for me at least. The first 10 k felt okay and then after that? It was a long way. I hated it. I hated skiing for a few days after that.

Pow day at the best trails in NH. Second one around the loop.

Pow day at the best trails in NH. Second one around the loop.

And then later that winter, I did the 90 k Vasaloppet despite being utterly unprepared. I’ve written before about how that turned out.

Maybe more than moving to Switzerland, these memories of skiing slowly and painfully in the deep slush, hating my life and regretting my decisions had been traumatic enough to turn me off classic skiing.

This was nothing like that. It’s joyful! I automatically remember how to shift my weight. It turns out, it’s not something you forget. It’s like riding a bicycle. Once you’re good at it, it sticks with you. Thank God.

And I remembered why I used to love classic skiing. Striding is my jam. And it still is.

As I cruised around the Craftsbury trails, my old familiar stomping groups, I was happy. For a few loops. I hadn’t brought very beefy gloves with me from Europe though, so after a while I began to sense the precursors to frostbite. By the time the van with the kids showed up, I could barely ski another loop before I was forced back into the touring center, huddling in defense, to catch up with my old friends on the staff and try to breath life back into my fingers.

Over the holiday break, I got in some more classic skiing. I had new skis to test out and, for once, there was plentiful snow in the Upper Valley. I could ski all my favorite spots. (On skate skis, too.)

Taking these long, easy skis was one of the best parts of vacation.

After my first work week back from holiday vacation, I headed on a train to go ski early on a Saturday morning. In my single-pair ski bag were classic skis with blue kickwax. I had a great day.

Moral of the story: always have a few good klisters in your possession. Otherwise you might accidentally turn yourself off of something that you love, and you won’t remember what you’re missing until a former coach orders you to race wax a bunch of high school kids’ skis.

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Before and After the Fall: A Meditation on Healthiness

It was a busy summer. And so, I inevitably got sick. After a rainy ridge run in the Jura mountains confirmed that me and my friend Steve were more or less compatible overdistance-run partners, we ran across Liechtenstein. I often do these sorts of point-to-point runs in the mountains in spring and fall, but a certain amount of caution is usually maintained in choosing routes when I’m alone. Having a buddy willing to go the crazy places I suggested opened up new route possibilities and with it, more wear and tear (and fitness!) for my body. The summer was full of opportunity and I was giddy. We ran a section of the Via Alpina, a 1500-mile trail which traverses the Alps from Monaco to Slovenia, crossing through six other countries on the way. While I’d love to trek the trail some day, these days section runs are the best I can do. We “only”…

Three Countries, One Six-Hour Run

Sometime in the last year, my friend Greg casually mentioned to me that it was possible to run across Liechtenstein. “Oh yeah, we did it,” he said. I guess I knew that the country was tiny. But – not to diminish Greg’s running chops – it didn’t occur to me just how tiny it was. 62 square miles. I started looking into it and, of course, there are quite a few writeups of how to “cross an entire country on foot!” The shortest way across is about eight miles. A fast runner could do that in an hour. The idea of crossing the whole country definitely appealed to me. I knew that I had to do it. But an eight-mile run along the flat part of the country? That didn’t really inspire me. I started looking at the map. There were mountains along the Liechtenstein-Austria border. That is more my speed. When my…

January 1? No Way. Spring is the Time for Resolutions!

Some people make resolutions at New Years. But I’m never very successful at keeping them. This year I had a revelation: for me the calendar doesn’t start on January 1, but when the ski season ends and a new year begins. We’ve all kept track of it this way in our training logs for years and years, but I had never explicitly thought of it seeping into the rest of my life. After all, semester schedules still go on. Grant cycles don’t depend on the seasons. But emotionally, the end of the season is the time for me take stock of what happened in the last year, set goals, and decide what I want to do better – how to manage my time through the whole year, culminating in winter. When I got back from World Championships, I started making resolutions. The first one: next year I’m not going to…

Ten Days in Norway

I just got back from a trip to Norway. As always, it was phenomenal. I have nothing against Zurich – I’m pretty happy here and it is as close to an ideal situation as I could think of living in a city – but I came home thinking, why didn’t I do my PhD in Oslo? There’s something about seeing the T-Bane packed with skiers of all ages and ability levels, or heading out to ski on a weekend midday and running into probably hundreds of people out on the trails just outside the city. It’s a city where everyone is chic and blond, usually dressed in black, very stylish. But nobody looks at you with eyes askew if you’re out in Bjørn Dæhlie ski pants and a ratty old Swix jacket. Or, if you’re going to watch a ski race and you pull on a classic Norwegian wool sweater instead…

Things I’ve Learned Racing in Switzerland for a Year

On Sunday I did the last race of my season, the 42k Gommerlauf in Valais, Switzerland. There are actually two more races in the SwissLoppet series, but I will miss them because I’m taking a trip to Norway. Having done the other seven races (it would have been eight but one was canceled because central Europe has had terrible snow problems), it seems like I’ve locked up third place in the overall series anyway. A series podium had been my goal going into the season so I’m thrilled to be able to check that box. (It’s a lot harder to check boxes off in my academic life, so at least I have this one thing!) The Gommerlauf was great, and definitely my favorite race I’ve done this year. Goms is not exactly a town but a region of Switzerland, a valley high up accessed by tunnels and winding mountain passes. The…

Is it possible to race yourself into shape?

Sometime partway through 2015, I made a goal of competing in the Swiss Loppet series this winter. It is a 10-race series of half- and full marathons, almost exclusively skating, in different places around Switzerland. I reasoned that it would be fun to compete, I could probably do decently well in some of the races, and plus I’d get to tour the different cross-country ski areas of the country. The first race was in Campra, Ticino, in early January. I didn’t really know what to expect, but the race was fairly small and a ton of fun. I finished fourth and set my sights on getting a podium by the time the season ended. (No luck yet…) Part of that race was figuring out exactly what I was doing. I haven’t raced a ton of 20k’s or 25k’s in my life, and in fact I had only raced four or fewer times…

Swiss baked goods you win as prizes, ranked.

This weekend I went to Rothenthurm for a 22.5k skate loppet. Rothenthurm is quite close to Zurich and probably one of the lowest-elevation places you’ll ever race in Switzerland. The snow was not fantastic – it’s basically a moor or fen of some sort, so there’s a lot of water bubbling up. This turned into yellowish ice which was in some parts covered in a thin dusting of snow, and in others not. In a few of the drier spots there was grass poking through, or gravel dragged up by the groomer. The ice did make it fast though – the race was over before I knew it, which was very okay! I saw a lot of crashes in this race which were caused by peoples’ skis slipping out from under them on the ice as they pushed off one leg. It happens so fast and all of a sudden…

Ladies get no respect.

This weekend my race was in Lenzerheide. All in all it was a good experience – we raced four loops around the Tour de Ski trails, with one extension and the steepest ‘A’ climb cut out. That turned out to be a good thing, because the first rough part of the race is that it was in the middle of a snowstorm. I can’t complain too much because we have been wishing and begging for snow – the race was actually supposed to be a point-to-point but there wasn’t enough cover, hence the loops of the World Cup course – but it slowed things down considerably. Whereas the weekend before I had felt like I was flying, this weekend not so much. In the slow conditions I guarantee I would have been single-sticking up that ‘A’ climb by the fourth go-round. At least on the long grinding climb out of…

Campra Trip: Attraverso & “College Skiing” in Switzerland

This weekend I went to Campra, in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland (Ticino). It was a double deal: a classic 5 k for the Swiss University Games on Saturday, and Campra’s trademark ski marathon, the Attraverso, on Sunday. The first race gave me a chance to see what university skiing is like in Switzerland. Coming from the EISA circuit in the United States, it was quite a difference. And the second race is part of the Swiss Loppet series, a weekly set of mostly 21-25 k races (with a few 42 k’ers) around the country which I plan to participate in this winter. It turns out that Campra is nearly impossible to get to without a car (if you want to go there by public transport, email them at info@campra.ch and they might be able to work something out). So luckily I was able to tag along with the Swiss Academic…