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I started skiing my sophomore year of high school, when my friends from the cross-country team convinced me to join them in the winter, too, with the Ford Sayre Ski Club. Like all beginning skiers, I sucked. I only competed in two Eastern Cup races that year, and finished last and second to last. In a relatively short amount of time though, I became somewhat decent at skiing. This was partly because I was good shape from running, so I could go hard even if my technique was terrible. That explains the uphills and the flats. But the downhills?

I learned to ski at Oak Hill, home of Dartmouth skiing and the 2003 NCAA Championships. As anyone who’s ever skied there knows, Oak Hill has some S-turns. Recent excavations have removed one of the scariest of said turns, but only last year, when I was racing Dartmouth Carnival, I watched a girl in front of me fall on one of the turns and dislocate her shoulder. I also once saw a teammate fall and somehow hit her mouth with her pole, and begin bleeding profusely (luckily, she still has all her original teeth). Once you’re familiar with the terrain, the downhills are tons of fun in good conditions. But even for excellent skiers, they can be treacherous when icy. These were some of the first downhills I ever encountered as a skier. Talk about trial by fire. And you feel bad snowplowing, because then you’re just making it worse for the next person.

One way that I mastered these downhills was (I think) suggested by my Ford Sayre coach, Scottie Eliassen. Even when you’re out on an easy distance or overdistance ski, it doesn’t tire you out to attack the downhills as if you were in a race. Start at the crest of the uphill, take a few strides for power, then drop into a tuck and try to work the corners. Trying different lines while you’re skiing fast will teach you far more about how to approach both those specific trails (and any others you might encounter in the future) than you could learn by going easy. It will also teach you to adjust your approach based on the conditions. Plus, adding a few powerful or higher tempo strides in while you’re skiing the downhills will spice up your workout and prevent you from “dragging” or being lulled into a slow tempo.

To take this one step farther, try something that Cami Thompson had the Dartmouth team do at Christmas camp every year: race each other down the hills. Cami would divide us into groups of three or four or even five, line us up at the top of a hill, and say “go!”. By the time I got to Dartmouth, I considered myself a solid downhill skier, but I was still nervous about skiing downhills around other people, like in a mass start. This exercise, which forced us to jostle for position, jump in behind each other, and generally avoid falling down, helped. It can be incorporated into a lot of different workouts. You can even do it when you’re just easy skiing with your friends.

After a season of incorporating race-pace downhills into your workouts, a tentative skier will find that they are much more confident and competent.

After walking on to the Dartmouth team, Chelsea Little improved steadily, earning carnival starts and her first EISA top-10 in 2007. The competitive atmosphere on the Dartmouth team taught her how to be an elite athlete, and greatly raised the level of her own skiing. While Chelsea is excited to put school behind her and train full-time, she appreciates the balance provided by the CGRP program. She is looking forward to getting to know Craftsbury’s wilderness and is already working to create a nature trail and an accompanying curriculum for student groups. Come winter, Chelsea hopes to settle into the national-level racing scene.

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One Response to “Race Pace Downhills: By Chelsea Little”

  1. Scott Perras Says:

    I have always agreed with practicing downhills in training like you would in a race, taking different lines, tucking, skiing with a pack and race pace like you suggest. But I have never fully understood when skiers get to a new venue and practice downhills by sprinting into them even faster then you will go into them in a race with race skis and wax.

    Seeing that downhills have never been a strong point of mine maybe I should head out to the trails with some teammates and polish my skis.