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“How do I grow a beard??”

Believe it or not, as a coach I get this question frequently. Okay, so I’ve got it at least twice. And maybe from the same athlete. But regardless, some people think growing beards is sweet. I tend to agree.

So without any further rambling, I present the Kieran Jones guide to beard growing.

1.       Shave your face. This may seem a little silly, seeing as you’re trying to grow a beard, not take one off, but it’s a mental thing. If you start clean-shaven, then everything else seems like an accomplishment, even if it’s not.

2.       Set some goals. What do you want? A moustache? A neck beard? Some chops? Handlebars? Google>Images that sh*t, and save the best one as your desk top background.

3.       Talk to all your friends about how sweet your beard is going to be. This is so you can’t back down after a couple of days of greasy fuzz and itchiness. If you tell people, they’ll mock your lack of nuts if you fail. And if you fail to grow a beard, your man (or woman, equality and all that) cred goes down the drain fast.

4.       Think really hard about hair coming out of your face. This is probably the most important step. You have to convince your face that growing hair is a good idea. It may seem slightly ridiculous, but trust me, all the best beard growers do it.

5.       Wait.

6.       Check mirror, run hand over face. Recommend you do this after 2 weeks to 1 month to see best results.

7.       Wear proudly to as many functions, events, weddings, semi-formal dances as you possibly can. There is literally no point in having a beard unless you’re prepared to show it off.

There you have it. Beard growing in seven easy steps. Do it and you’ll be a hero.

“But wait!” you cry. “Kieran, why would I even WANT a beard?”

Terrible question. But easy to answer. There are a few good reasons to grow a beard, such as:

–          Disguise. I recently picked my sister up from the airport. I had a two month beard. She didn’t recognize me.

–          General bad-assery. Think about all the big dudes in history. Then think about their facial hair. Abraham Lincoln: beard. Chuck Norris: beard. Josef Stalin: crazy moustache. Andy Newell: bearded on occasion. You think it’s a coincidence all these guys are legends and have facial hair? No. Think my four examples are weak sauce? Head over to The National Beard Registry for a few more. (Disclaimer: having a beard will not automatically make you awesome, but it will improve your chances.)

–          Protection. In the middle of winter, the beard performs the same function as a neck warmer. It reduces the amount of face exposed to windburn, frostbite, and people flailing their poles in the mass start at the Birkie. In the summer, it may be hot, but it protects against sunburns, and provides an extra layer of cushion for your face when you do the inevitable face-plant on your bike/rollerskis/running shoes/Razor scooter. (Again, disclaimer: FasterSkier is in no way responsible for your windburn/frostbite/stab wound/sun burn/facial lacerations while you are in possession of a beard. If any of the aforementioned happened, you clearly need a better beard. I am not a medical professional.)

So, there you have it – how to grow a beard and why to grow a beard. Do it up.

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Canadian Nationals. It’s over.

As you can tell, my initial goal of posting something every day failed massively. It was a pretty busy couple of weeks, that involved waxing a lot of skis, drinking a lot of coffee, and in general keeping things under control.

This was my first time at Nationals as a coach rather than an athlete, and I learned a whole lot about ‘the other side of the fence’ as it is called. And it’s pretty cool.

Just some of the things I noticed:

–          Feeding as a coach is just as important as feeding as an athlete. I forgot to make a lunch one day, and after 6 hours with nothing more than a granola bar and an apple, I was scraping about one ski every 20 minutes.

Best lunch of the week - burg and fries from the cafe at the Nordic Center. Made the afternoon survivable.

–          I appreciate the organizers decision to split the sprint day into Senior and Junior Men/Women, and then Junior/Juvenile Boys girls, because it meant that each individual day was shorter, but putting the three classic days in a row sucks for coaches.

–          Getting a sunburn at a ski race is possible. Getting sunburned every single day is impressive.

–          When I worked on a pipeline, you had to be clean shaven so if you had to put your oxygen mask on in a hurry, the seal would be tight. I’m pretty sure wax rooms should have the same rules, because my beard definitely made my mask no longer air-tight. You know when you can still smell wax remover through a mask, it’s not doing the right job.

–          Napping is crucial to success. Finding time to nap is nearly impossible.

–          Just about everybody has a different way to powder a ski. And they all think their way is THE way.

–          If you think it’s messy to klister one pair of skis, imagine klistering 23 pairs. With multiple layers. Three consecutive days

–          I don’t know who was doing the shopping for our trip, but I haven’t eaten as many Oreos and Nutella in my life as I have the past week.

–          The Alpine Club of Canada knows how to pack people in. And advertise for vehicles.

Probably the best advertising I have ever seen. They sure convinced me...

–          Honey Nut Cheerios are excellent for breakfast, but oatmeal takes you a lot further in your morning.

–          I would say well over 50% of the pictures I have from Nationals are of me eating, because that’s the only time when you could take out the camera for a leisurely picture.

–          Personal space was roughly non-existent. It now feels weird to do just about anything alone.

–          Standing around in the wax room does nothing to acclimatize you to altitude. I went out Friday and skied the 10 k that the Open men did 5 times for the 50, and about 2.5 k in I felt like puking my guts out.

–          Coaching is without a doubt harder than being an athlete over the course of the week, but when I saw my athletes suffering through the team sprint the first Saturday, it was tough to think of it that way.

–          When someone says “I bought laundry detergent, feel free to do some laundry” you can either interpret it as ‘you stink’ or a helpful suggestion. I assumed helpful suggestion.

–          The difference between looking badass in the wax room and looking like a moron is personal opinion.

–          When frustrated, throwing your sunglasses into a snowbank is a poor idea, but that’s a story for another day.

–          Using RaceSplitter makes giving splits easy, until you’re using it on a tiny iPod screen, you have 12 Junior boys around the same speed in an 85 skier field, doing 10 k in 3×3.3 k loops.

How you know I have no shame - I think I look good in this picture.

–          Showing up with 43 incredibly talented athletes means that you pretty much have a lock on the Club Aggregate. Which we did. But I can’ really brag – I scored zero points.

–          Semi-formal means jeans and a shirt, at least as far as I am concerned.

Canadian Nationals are awesome. Full stop. And now it’s time to gear up, set up, and figure out the next 11 months of cross country skiing.

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Obligatory scenery shot...

Canadian National Championships. Canmore, Alberta. Day 1 of 12.

I’ll do my best to post something every day, but that’s unlikely. There’s a bit of a schedule. We have quite a few people. I’m aiming to sleep. You get the idea.

First of all, I left Ottawa this morning at 7 AM. Or at least I was supposed to. But when 55 athletes, support staff, and coaches show up to get on one plane, each with a ski bag, a monster bag, and a ton of wax equipment things go wrong. But when your group constitutes half the flight, it doesn’t leave without you, even if that means it’s 40 minutes late.

But speaking of wax equipment, due to the sweet airline rule of only 52 lbs per bag, we actually spent the first half hour in the airport dividing our 65 pound wax boxes into ski bags, duffels, and carry ons. Do you know how many tubes of Vauhti carrot make 15 lbs? Or packs of CERAF? Or Nylon brushes? Yeah, me neither, but it’s a ton. Kieran Top Tip here – best bang for your buck on weight saving is the roto-drill assembly. Slip the drill into a duffel, and fit the handle, cork, and brush in your ski bag.

Our cargo van, packed to the roof with skis. There are not even any duffels in it at this point...

And Kieran Top Tip number two- this one is multi-step. A) Make sure your duffel is slightly underweight. Pack less underwear, or leave the espresso machine at home. B) Get the airline to weigh it, tag it, and set it aside. C) Put your monster wax box on the scale, act surprised when it weighs over the limit, get them to tag it, and say you’ll move stuff to your duffel. D) Move over-amount to duffel. E) Have 30 other skiers who are possibly late for their flight push forward to check their bags. F) Take both wax box and duffel to oversize baggage, without weighing them in again. (If you represent an airline and are reading this – it is purely hypothetical, and would never work.)

After a remarkably uneventful flight – the usual snacks, snoozing, and stuffed rabbits wearing sunglasses, we landed in Calgary, Alberta.

Surprisingly – and awesomely, I might add – all the gear we loaded on the plane in Ottawa made it. After our cargo van arrived (about five sizes smaller than we anticipated) we jammed our stuff in the back, and made for Canmore, and mountains!

Thirty minutes of navigational fun, and an hour of driving later, we ended up in the Rocky Mountains at our disgusting accommodations.

We’re staying in a pretty baller spot – the Alpine Club of Canada. Big wood building, smaller, cool wooden outer-buildings, decks, common rooms, woodsy-but-still modern feel – it’s got a good atmosphere.

But room size is interesting. It’s basically a hostel, so they really cram the beds in, meaning that four grown men – and all their stuff for 12 days – are sharing two bunk beds, and an 8×10. A couple of quick observations.

–          It very quickly became apparent organization would be key. I have several good personality traits – organization may not be one of them.

–          Snoring. 4 men. 1 room. 8 nostrils. Earplugs, or make sure you’re the first guy asleep. Nuff said.

–          Clothes. Specifically wet clothes. Not much room to dry your wet ski clothes, so I’ve made the decision that I can either A) not sweat when I ski for the 12 days, or B) we’re all dead. It’s currently a toss up. Ask again on day 10.

–          Bathroom time. Our floor houses almost the entire male Nakkertok contingent. That adds up to something like 25 people. Two bathrooms. You do the math. Only time I’ve ever been thankful most of my mornings will start at 5 AM, well before any of the athletes are awake and wanting bathroom time.

Time to crash – the wax room was set up today, but tomorrow we’ll be hitting the Nordic Center full on, and I’ll be skiing for the first time in 6 days. Nothing like hitting the hard flu right before Nationals. I call it a taper.

Let’s see how it works…

(Due to internet issues, pictures will be added at later….)

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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

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It has been over 365 days since I have pulled on a bib, stood on a start line in my racing suit, and gone for it. Over one year of no ski racing. During that time I’ve watched countless ski races at a variety of levels, but I haven’t had the guts to do it myself.

It wasn’t the race in particular that turned me off racing. The last time I raced wasn’t a good day, but I’ve had far worse. Racing 30 km for the first time in my life at the Eastern Canadian Championships NorAm against 66 other open men wasn’t really what I needed that weekend, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

I can be pretty happy with my final effort. It’s not often that a skier can finish 36th, and almost 18 minutes behind Graham Nishikawa and ‘happy’ will be a word that comes to mind, but hey, I finished 30 km, which seemed like a pretty solid achievement at the time (and to be honest, it still does). Also, I didn’t examine the results super closely, but I’m fairly confident that not many other skiers pulled off the negative splits that I did over the last three 7.5 km loops, and if they had a time marker for the last kilometer, I can virtually guarantee you I would have won it.

Conducting my retirement interview - "It's been an emotional run, finishing mid-to-back of the pack, but now it's over, I'm going to take some time, focus on my family, and then make 6 or 7 comebacks because I can't let go, just like Brett Favre."

Now, for most people, taking a year off ski racing wouldn’t seem to be a big deal.

Bu as far as I can determine, I have raced at least one cross country ski race every 12 months since I was about 5 years old. As long as I can remember, weekends in the winter were about ski racing. Sometimes one day, sometimes two days, classic, skate, different distances, different places, but always sitting in a car, heading to a race site to put on that bib, toe the line, and go for it.

And 368 days into ‘retirement’, as I call it when some of my smart-ass athletes start razzing me, things are a little different.

Instead of cruising to the race site to listen to my iPod, shoot the shit with friends from other clubs, and get in a good warm-up before listening to those oh-so-comforting start line beeps, I now show up sometimes hours before the athletes.

I stand around in the dark. I go for short skis on test skis. I gear up to wax 39 pairs of skis (Thunder Bay NorAm, thank you very much). I jam to sweet tunes on our wax room sound system. There are days when I don’t ski more than 1 k. There are days when I don’t even put on a pair of ski boots. There are days when the most exercise I get is busting across the stadium in my Neos to catch one of my athletes coming up that last hill into the stadium, and I narrowly avoiding yakking my pancakes all over a well-meaning but slightly over-zealous volunteer.

I recently had another coach ask me if I missed racing. For once, I had nothing to say. I usually like to think my clever quick-witted responses get me places; but for once, I didn’t really know what to think.

In most countries, this isn't even considered technique. Except Poland...

After some thought, I decided to be self-serving – I miss the good days, but never the bad ones.

I never miss those 15 km skate races where my legs felt like concrete blocks after 2 km. I never miss the klister days where it would work in the sun, and not in the shade, only to switch on your next lap. I never miss gasping for air at the top of some brutal climb thinking, “damn I hate my Dad right now, because he’s so right about me paying for skipping those long

zone 1 workouts.” I never miss falling on my face 100 m into a sprint race. I never miss finishing at the back of the field behind people who have never beaten you in your life. I never miss standing around in a mass start with all your warm-ups off at -19 while the race organizer breathes on the thermometer to make the call to start the race. I never miss the days when it’s so cold that you’re not sure whether your hands and your junk are going to make it. Most of all, I never miss the days where I didn’t have enough guts to even finish the race off.

But then there are the days I do miss. The days with lengthy back and forth battles between close competitors and friends. The days when it feels like you’re not even working you’re going so fast and your skis are so slippery. The days when you get down to the last 1 km, you’ve held off a guy way better than you who started a minute back, and then you smoke him in the sprint finish. The days when your grip is bombproof on the ups, your skis are rockets on the downs, and you finish better than you could have imagined. The days where the start chute feels more like a party than a race. But the thing I miss most is the feeling of crossing that finish line knowing that you are dead tired – that you couldn’t ski any faster, and you worked as hard as you could. I’ll be completely honest – there were not a ton of those days. But when they did happen… it’s what kept me coming back.

But do I want to go back and race now? Always a bit. But every time I do an interval set at practice, or in the middle of my distance ski put in a good solid effort, it makes me want back in. I don’t know how, or when, but I have to do it.

I want days like this back. Allright, minus the flow, but you get the idea.

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How cold?

This morning when went I went skiing at 11 AM it was -25 Celsius, or -39 Celsius with the windchill. Needless to say, the race which my athletes were planning on attending was cancelled.

Instead, a dozen of us went for two hours, and avoided frostbite with some solid bushwacking. I may need a new pair of classic skis, turns out there are rocks involved with bushwacking…

Oh Canada!

Some sweet face-ice... nothing like a good ski below -20 to make your beard grow icicles

Face- Ice Pros and Cons

Pros

– it means you have a rad beard

– you look intense

– if its cold enough for face-ice, it’s probably cold enough that you were able to ski

– athletes ask you if you can include “beard-growing to skills we develop at practice”

– hair and ice covers up lots of skin, reducing wind burn

Cons

– there is a gigantic icicle hanging off your face

– small children and women are afraid of you (the children part may in fact be a pro…)

– older adults chirp you about “growing a Santa Claus beard”

– ice can freeze your beard to your buff/balaclava, making it difficult for other people to see your facial expressions. it’s also difficult to clean off your face after your ski, even with a scraper

I like intense. I think I’ll keep the beard for a little while longer.

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In my other life as a cross country ski coach, I recently had the opportunity to head to Thunder Bay, Ontario, for the trials for everything. Seriously, just take a look at the race notice.

After hopping on a plane with a few of my favorite athletes in Ottawa, we cruised through Toronto, met a bald man who you may or may not know, and then disembarked into the cold air and disorganization that comes with having a team of 39 athletes who have arrived on multiple days at different times.

Do you know this man? First person to name him, and why he's ridiculous gets a burnt bagel courtesy of Charcoal.

After some quick shuttling, organization, and a broken rental van, we ponied up, and headed out to the race site, Lappe Nordic.

I have been to Lappe often, and in my mind, skiing at Lappe in Thunder Bay means two things – large difficult hills, and pancakes. This may be an indication of my skiing career, but that’s not really important.

As an athlete, the hills sucked, and the pancakes made Lappe the best stop on the Ontario Cup circuit by a landslide. As a coach, the hills suck even more, I just now get to avoid them, and the pancakes are exactly the same, I just get to eat more.

If you’re busy wondering why a ski race is known for pancakes, let me explain. Thunder Bay has a pretty prominent Finnish community, and that community, other than being really into cross country skiing and plugging a lot of time and effort into the ski infrastructure at Lappe, like pancakes.

As a result, the little kitchen at Lappe churns out hundreds of pancakes each time the Ontario Cup, or other larger events come to town.

Almost more like crepes, these thin pancakes technically come with two options – without sauce, and with strawberry sauce. Now, far be it from me to tell you what to do, but if you get pancakes at Lappe without spending the extra 50c on sauce, you are not only a cheap bastard, but you are missing out on half of the pancake experience.

It’s pretty awesome to come in from skiing/waxing/running around/yelling/throwing your friends in snowbanks and be able to hit a pile of warm pancakes covered in tasty strawberries.

Man I love breakfast!

As for the hills, they are about as difficult as the pancakes are awesome. On the 15 k loop, the last 1 k features as far as I can determine something like 900 m of climbing. And that’s only a slight exaggeration. They even come with sweet names – Klukie Line, Pilon’s, The Grunt – you just know that when people start naming hills (Morderbacken, Alpe Cermis, anyone?) it’s NOT because they’re so easy and fun. Luckily my position as coach means I get to audit hills from the comfort of my NEOS, rather than the up-close and personal version – although just before you think I’m really lazy, I did ski every hill on that course during the weekend – I know exactly what it’s like.

Favourite Workout of the Week: Two hour classic ski around the rolling terrain at Nakkertok, a trail system that has struggled with snow coverage so far this year. However, Ottawa has finally received enough, and two hours of classic skiing on an awesome sunny afternoon, on narrow trails with lots of cool terrain turned in the best ski of the year in Ottawa for me, despite being pasted by a friend in the one intensity set we did.

What I’m Watching These Days: The NFL Playoffs. I watch very little football during the year, but once things get down to the nitty-gritty, I start to pay attention. Last weekend was sweet, because Green Bay and the Bears both managed wins, and now face off for a trip to the Superbowl. My roomate likes the Bears, I’m pulling for the Pack. Should be a good weekend.

Is YouTube Really Worth My Time?: If you don’t get excited about cross country skiing after watching this video, you don’t have a pulse.

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I would never dream of complaining about being a cross country ski coach and working for FasterSkier – I have a job which allows me to be outside doing exercise in a sport that I love, and a job which lets me interact and follow the best cross country skiers in the world. That being said, sometimes having two jobs which rely on the same schedule can make things – a little tricky, let’s say.

This last weekend was a prime example. Saturday and Sunday I was slated to take a coaching course which involved an on-snow component, as well as some classroom time, and some video technique analysis – all things I have no problem learning, and I was actually pretty excited about the content. However, when you factor in the rest of the weekend which was jam packed full of things I enjoy, I would have liked an extra few hours of daylight.

Things Which Made My Weekend More Hectic Than Anticipated:

-Thursday, Dec. 30, fellow FasterSkier staffer, journalism legend, and poor Fantasy Nordic competitor, Nat Herz swung through Ottawa on his way down from a little vacation in the back woods of Ontario. This is the second time Nat and I have managed to connect in Ottawa, and he was irate after his first visit due to his total lack of Beavertail consumption, which I had promised. For those unfamiliar with Beavertails, they are basically a piece of fried flat bread, most often covered in butter, brown sugar and lemon juice, and then eaten in seconds. In my short experience with him, I have discovered Nat is a bit of a sucker for desert, and the Beavertail definitely fits in that category. As a result, he was set on finding one, but after some slight evening diversions, including a quick visit with a veteran of the ski community and a dinner that involved a guy with a greasy beard, we flat-out ran out of time, and Nat was stuck Beavertail-less for the second trip in a row. He now hates Canadians, and my job may be in jeopardy.

A Beavertail not consumed by Nat Herz

– After a scant five hours of sleep, I bounced up Friday morning to watch The Tour de Ski begin on Friday, Dec. 31, with a prologue. After catching the women’s race and eating a few pieces of toast (actually toast, as a result of his sister standing in front of Charcoal the entire time), Nat headed for home, leaving me to watch the men’s prologue, and then get started on coverage for both. Quick note on prologues – kind of a goofy format, which I don’t really like. Not that exciting to watch, and random people do well, only to drop off the face of the earth in every other format. Not sure what the point is, but judging by the lack of spectators, not that many people care.

– The coaching course started on Saturday, January 1, at 8:30 AM. And if you check your dates, that would be New Years Day. Not entirely sure how it got there, but clearly the other people in the course and the organizers were not in the 20 to 25 range.

– The weather was brutal. Saturday was several degrees above zero, rain, and then a freeze Sunday night resulted in tricky conditions to say the least. I made a pair of hairies in an attempt to have classic skis with grip – no dice. Instead of benefiting from perfect snow, we dodged puddles, patches of grass and dirt, skating-rink-like conditions, and pouring rain. I’ll be honest – the conditions sucked. Impressive reaction from the participants however – absolutely everyone (including myself) was still keen to be out there, and there was a complete lack of whining.

– The World Junior hockey tournament is in full swing. Like at least a couple of other Canadians, I’m somewhat interested in hockey. I know who Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are, but I also know who Danny Carcillo and Brayden Schenn are, which should give anyone vaguely interested in hockey just an idea of how closely I follow the sport. World Junior’s is a fixture on my calendar around this time of year, and the elimination games began on Saturday – when I finally arrived home from the course, around 6 PM, the Canadians had just finished ousting the Swiss from the tournament.

The exact opposite of the ski conditions at my coaching course

– More importantly, Saturday morning was the second day of the Tour de Ski – and it turned out it was a wickedly exciting hunter-style classic pursuit. With the Canadians killing it (Kershaw second, Harvey 9th)and after watching it today, it was an awesome race which would have been unbelievable live. A quick note on hunter-style pursuits – completely sold on this concept. There is nothing more intense than the start, with so many skiers going out like crazy. While the end result in men’s racing is often the leader getting swallowed up and then destroyed, the fact that total time plays a factor means the mass start racing is way better.

– Sunday morning I woke up feeling terrible, and seriously considered staying home to avoid the skating rink skiing, and more importantly, to catch my favorite World Cup format (a classic sprint) with two Canadian and one American man clearly looking for top results. But I hustled out the door, but not before I was able to check qualifying results – and with the top qualifying by Kershaw, Harvey, Newell, and even Freeman in the heats, not to mention Randall, I just about pulled the plug. While I love all cross country skiing, sprints, and in particular classic sprinting is almost an addiction for me. The speed, tactics, close finishes, falls, and upsets all make it the best format on the World Cup today. I left home exacting a promise from a friend to text me results as the day went on, which turned out to be an awesome idea, until the final. He gave me the start list for the men’s Final, I waited, and then received “Oh man, you have to watch the mens final for yourself,” which, at 10 AM when you have another 7-8 hours of coaching course without internet access, was probably the most painful thing to hear.

– During this whole 3-day process, I finally managed to sell my van. Except the guys who bought it picked it up when I wasn’t home, leaving me to collect bits and pieces of paperwork and spare keys, and finding a way to get them to a small town 45 minutes away before he left to head back to school after the Christmas break on Sunday morning.

– And a huge thank you to George, Sabrina, Jordan and Duncan McTaggart for dinner on Sunday – not having to make dinner after a busy weekend was awesome!

Favourite Workout of the Week (or last couple of): This is tricky, because in 7 days in Canmore I skied 17 hours, including two amazing 3 hour classic days. However, just before heading to Canmore I went to Ontario Cup #1 in Duntroon, ON, as a coach to support 20-ish Nakkertok skiers. The first testing run around the skate sprint course on Saturday morning reminded me why I no longer race – my legs burned after heading up the one steep uphill on the course.

What I’m Watching These Days: 24/7 – a pretty cool new HBO series that covers the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. A lot of behind the scenes stuff, including some intense coaching moments. And obviously the 20 km Pursuit and Classic sprint from the Tour – both were deadly, and without a doubt the highlight of World Cup racing so far this year.

Is YouTube Really Worth My Time?: Surprisingly, for once it’s not. If you’re out there making YouTube videos, hurry up, because I need some entertaining stuff to watch

Testing in the morning. Don't tell anyone I took this picture - I was supposed to be testing, not having fun.

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I managed to swing a trip to Canmore, Alberta, for Christmas with the family this year. While a full run-down of my adventures (read: a pile of skiing and not much else) is coming up shortly, for now you’re just going to have to be entertained with a few notes from the vacation.

Notes from Canmore

– Flying can either be horrible, or awesome. I was given a window seat (score!), found out it was next to a baby (not score), baby fell asleep before take-off and didn’t wake up for the entire flight (mega-score) and I watched the Bears destroy the Vikings in a one-sided extremely chilly battle (mega not-score).

– The skiing in Canmore – and particularly the Nordic Center – is awesome. While the snow coverage is still a little bit light in spots, collecting 6 hours of skiing in two beautiful sunny days at a fantastic venue was great.

– Back to back 3 hour classic skis are tough, even when you pick as nice terrain as we did.

– The Paintbox Lodge (owned by Sara Renner and her husband Thomas Grandi) is a flipping baller spot. My parents stayed there for a few days to kick off the vacation, and they really did so in style.

– Homemade pizza is way better than anything you’ll ever order, especially after a 3 hour ski.

– When your dad breaks out the kick wax in the middle of a classic ski and you chirp him about his “weight shift”, you better make sure you get grip for the rest of the ski, especially if he’s in better shape than you.

– Being a member of an active family sometimes sucks. Anytime you bring up ‘rest day’ or ‘work’ as something you have to do aside from skiing, you get laughed out of the room.

– Skate skiing is hard. About 15 minutes into one of my skate skis, my legs hurt, and I wished I had chosen to use my classic skis. Actual skating (as in on ice), on the other hand, has no uphills, and the glide is always fantastic.

– If you don’t already have one, buy a remote control helicopter.

– I’ve joined twitter, and I’m feeling self-conscious about my lack of followers. If you have it and want to know what I’ve eaten for dinner, and when I use the bathroom, look up joneskieran!

– While coaching at Ontario Cup races is a blast, there really isn’t much skiing involved. In three days I think I managed to ski for a total of an hour, most of that in the dark while testing in the morning.

– My sister is churning out the hats as her most recent arts and crafts project – it’s a bit of a cross-country skier cliché to make hats, but the wool bad boys she is making are really awesome, warm, and high quality.

– On Boxing Day, the Nordic Center is packed. The first 200 meters out of the stadium is a traffic jam, but as soon as you get further out, and find the less traveled routes (especially the ones with hairy downhills) the skiing gets less crowded.

I've skied in a lot worse conditions...

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My beautiful yet slightly-angry toaster oven.

There are three things that really push my buttons in life – people who are consistently flaky, when I don’t get enough sleep, and burnt toast.

I have to admit, I am a bit of a sucker for toast. I have toasted a lot of bagels, breads, and various other bread-like substances in my day. Usually they are then paired with cream cheese, peanut butter, eggs, or whatever else I have on hand. I consider toast a pretty crucial part of my morning.

However, in the last month, I have moved into a new residence, and have left all of my old toasting appliances behind.

Soon after we moved in, my roommate came home with a sick toaster oven. It was a wicked deal, it had loads of fancy dials, numbers, and looked like it was ready to take over our kitchen. I was stoked! However, in the month or so since then, my attitude towards ‘Charcoal’, as I have now started calling our toaster oven, has changed.

Instead of loving it, I’ll be brutally honest – I hate the *&$%ing thing.

My most recent attempt at 'toast', only to get 'post-apocalyptic brown'

As you may have gathered from the new nickname name, as far as I can tell, he does one thing really, really well. And that’s to turn your valuable bagel, piece of bread, or breakfast pita into a charred mass of indigestible and un-salvageable morning humiliation.

Now, you could pin the blame straight on me – don’t pay enough attention, turn it on for too long, I have a complete lack of toasting ability, yada yada, I get the idea. But here’s the issue – not to brag or anything, but I have enough toast-making experience that no matter what, I should be able to create a wonderful piece of toast 99 times out of 100.

For the last three years since becoming a rabid World Cup cross country ski fan, I have had a pretty set routine. Wake up Saturday/Sunday morning during the winter (often at obscenely early times, damn you Europe). Wrestle with finding a way to watch a live feed. Hustle to the toaster the second some weird European commercial using a tiger, chopsticks and a 70-piece marching band to sell watches comes on, put in a few slices of bread, hustle back to my computer, watch a heat or two, hustle back to the toaster to find some not too raw, not too burnt slices of toast, and then back to watch the rest of the race. Easy!

Not any more. This new toaster oven seems out to get me. Charcoal has a ridiculous dial which, if you’re trying to toast your bread for less than 10 minutes, is impossible to set. Sometimes he dings to tell you your toast is ready – sometimes he doesn’t. Even when he does ding, you often open the door to find something that looks like it was assaulted with a flamethrower, rather than a nice golden-brown crust ready to be peanut-buttered.

It’s not the fact that Charcoal is a toaster oven rather than a slot-loading toaster. For 3 years of university, I had a toaster oven that functioned beautifully, despite being between 10 and 15 years old. I mean, eventually we had to get rid of it when all of the features finally broke, including the one which turned off the heating element, which resulted in a near disaster, but I know how to work a toaster oven.

Who needs to toast a piece of bread for more than 10 minutes??

It’s not like I’m far away and forget the toast either – my bedroom is half a dozen steps from the kitchen. I’m often scrambling into my ski clothes, or hastily composing an email during that time period, and I can’t just wander into the kitchen every 5 seconds, or stand over it. I like to give my toaster some responsibility to do its own thing.

However, Charcoal has abused that responsibility. At last count, he had taken from me half a dozen breakfast pitas, three bagels, and at least full loaf of bread. This is war, Charcoal. I live on the top story of a tri-plex. My kitchen has two large windows without screens which open easily. The pavement is hard. You know what I’m getting at. Just try it.

Favourite Workout of the Week: Two-hour classic ski with a couple of friends, who are also more on the washed up side of the ski racing business. We found some nice sections to do a cheaper version of stone-grinding on my 12 year old year rock skis, and avoided all intensity.

What I’m Watching These Days: Went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, which is an incredibly awesome movie. I consider a movie without a car chase or a gun fight a waste of my time – I was impressed Harry Potter delivered both of those factors, as well as some epic camping locations.

Is YouTube Really Worth My Time?: With Oeystein Pettersen creating movies, it sure is. Apparently the Sprintgutta has a good time in Davos, or at least they did last year.


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