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Eastern Canadian Championships – Yup, I’m Still Alive

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Sorting skis Thursday afternoon before the madness began

Eastern Canadians was a marathon for the Nakkertok crew. In the 600 person field, 90 athletes were racing in Nakkertok colours, and of that 90 we were responsible for waxing 60+ pairs of skis. It was an epically fun weekend – and I have a few things to comment on before I forget.

First off, volunteers. In my mind, they are probably the best thing in the world. They make the ski world work. They lay out impossible amounts of time and energy to make things happen. They constantly impress with their dedication, willingness to do difficult things, and enthusiasm.

Joey (left with the mask) and Dave (right with the beard) two of the clutch volunteers gearing up for early morning waxing action

Of particular note for me are the 10 to 15 parents who chipped in to help the coaches wax the over 60 skis we had for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s event. It would have impossible without them, and while we did have several long days, including a 15 hour door to door effort Saturday, they made it possible, and did so with incredibly good humor. It shocks me that a parent with one kid in the program would agree to come out at 6 AM on their Saturday morning to stand around in the cold, and wax skis for four hours. All I can say is thank you!

On the flip side, there are also volunteers that lay it on the line for dubious reasons. The certain parking lot attendant who was more intent on his power trip than listening to my pleas for a favourable parking spot because of my lack of snow tires was especially frustrating (Being told “that’s not my problem,” is not a good way to endear yourself to me…).

Or volunteers who don’t seem to realize that I have been to a ski race before, and were quite insistent that I wasn’t to be allowed on the course. I know I look like a pretty big goon with my plaid jacket, ridiculous hat, NEOS, stupid sunglasses, and waving around an iPod, but seriously – chill out. Thanks buddy – this isn’t my first rodeo. Focus on making sure the racers go the right way, not on whether my boots are making slight impressions on the far edge of the course.

Cheering – if you’re not going to do it right (read: the way Kieran thinks is right), don’t do it at all.

I’m known for using a lot of tried and true coaching phrases for encouragement – “you’ve gotta go,” has turned into a bit of a theme for some of my athletes, but in general I aim for things that at least make sense.

Unlike the coach who I heard yell, and this is no joke, “you’re a shining star!” to one of her athletes. Really? You’re a shining star? Are you sh*tting me? If someone told me that during the race I would stop and laugh in their face. I say some ridiculous things, but that’s just unnecessary.

Also, I’ve noticed that just because someone was at one point a high performance athlete doesn’t make them good at cheering. I was standing next to the coach of a high performance Canadian team, and when one of his best skiers came by, I could barely hear him, and he was 6 inches away from my face. Sure, I guess some people don’t like loud cheering, but I will hazard a guess that your athlete might like to know you’re paying attention.

You know it’s going to be a long weekend when your wax room has a light bulb – much less the 10 our two rooms had

On the theme of cheering, I recently purchased the RaceSplitter app, and spent the weekend ironing out a few kinks.

A couple of notes about that. First of all, it doesn’t matter how sweet the RaceSplitter App is, if you’re not paying attention, it’s probably not going to be successful. When Graham Nishikawa and Drew Goldsack ski by you, and you forget to punch in bib numbers and hit the right buttons, you’re probably not going to get much out of it.

Second, when you make multiple start lists, make sure you choose the right one. I spent 10 minutes punching in numbers of athletes, and raging about how RaceSplitter didn’t work, only to eventually realize that I was trying to put the Open Men into my Juvenile Boys start list. Whoops.

Third, you have to have good sightlines. I mean, I knew that already, but I was standing on a tough uphill, with a good reference point, and somehow it wasn’t enough time. I couldn’t quite manage to punch in bib numbers fast enough, read the result, and then get my athlete a split I was confident in, all in the space of 15 seconds or so. Need more practice!

Speaking of timing, while I was a bit of a gong show with the split app, the organizing committee had some interesting ideas about timing as well. I appreciate the timing staff – they’re volunteers too – and they do a ton of hard work, and pull off miracles, but there are some times when they are a bit goofy.

After enquiring as to the whereabouts of results, one coach was rebuffed with “Zone 4 is in Alberta, we’re not using it any more. You have to wait for paper results.” I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean. It’s not like it should be a surprise that people expect times at a ski race. It’s a timed sport.

Rockstar wax bench - outside in the cold and dark, with a spotlight. Baller.

Also, Saturday featured the first 12 person sprint heat in NorAm – and possibly FIS – racing history. The sprint course featured an overlapping up-hill section, and somehow the starters managed to time it perfectly so that on the one uphill on the course all 12 athletes in two open men heats managed to jam together. Unfortunately I missed it, as I was in the wax tent, but I heard all about it.

Saturday also had some of the most bizarre weather I have ever seen. The weather regularly flashed between a mad snowstorm, and warm and sunny. Standing with fellow FasterSkier staffer Chelsea Little, we managed to both be cooking in the sun, only to be covered in snow five minutes later. Cool, but would have been annoying if I was racing.

Over my time as a ski racer, I have been to a lot of athlete meetings. I will admit that I was not an enthusiastic participant. If you ask anyone I skied with, my standard expectation was that I would receive start times and vehicle departure times. That’s it, that’s all. If the coach wanted to talk about more than those two things, it better be incredibly important.  If they started to ramble, or if some of my fellow skiers started to ask redundant questions (“is there ski marking?” is a particular piss-off for me, but I’ll save that for another blog) I quickly turned into peanut gallery. I can’t imagine I was any fun in those meetings.

This year, I have started to take in coaches meetings. I have decided they are very similar, and I’m really there for roughly the same information. Start times, and important changes that will impact my athletes directly. They are equally painful, and my attitude is the exact same when things go off topic – I’m still the guy sitting in the back cracking jokes. “You look so grown up with short hair,” one coach who I have known since my early days of skiing remarked to be this weekend. Don’t worry – it’s just the hair, nothing else has changed.

Coaches working the taps at the coaches meeting

However, the most recent edition featured something I haven’t seen before – a keg of beer. Leave it up to the Quebecois organizing committee to bring in some of the local microbrew to loosen the crowd up.

Finally, I observed possibly the most difficult situation ever as a cross country skier. As the final few Open Men were completing their 30 k (which is a long way,

I know), the Midget boys were sent out to hammer out 5 k. About 1 k in they promptly started tracking the Open men. I know that has to be killer – all you want to do is get through your last lap, and then you’re forced off the trail by 70+ skiers who are 12 years old, and just hammering away like crazy.

Mad props to the guys who kept pushing, and finished off the race. I know my ego couldn’t handle being tracked by midgets – that would be the point where I would end my association with cross country skiing, probably forever. While I easily could have taken a picture of some Open Men being humiliated, I opted to spare them the permanent record – and I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

Recharge mode on Monday morning - coffee, omelete with broccolli, and a big sleep in