Season wrap!

Back home in Alaska at last!

After a long season on the road it was awesome to come home to Alaska for Supertour finals.  The weather could not have been better with sun all week long, good skiing and great company.

We had the whole SMST2 crew in town staying at my parents house.  It was awesome to have everyone under the same roof.  During the season we split into two groups, one on the World Cup and one pursuing the Supertour (to get on the World Cup).  The team hadn’t all been together in one place for over five months.

Team dinners!  It was really good to have everyone together at the same spot.  My parents cooked some awesome meals to keep everyone fueled for the races!

Team dinner.  It was really good to have everyone together. My parents cooked some awesome meals to keep everyone fueled for the races!  Left to right: Simi Hamilton, Erika Flowers, myself, Sophie Caldwell, Annie Pokorny, my dad, Gus Kaeding, Ben Saxton, Jessie Diggins, Andy Newell, and Sverre Caldwell.

My week started out with the Classic Sprint race.  The course was awesome and one of the more challenging courses we’ve seen this year, finishing with a big climb into the stadium.

This year I’ve been experimenting with double poling classic sprint qualifiers on skate skis.  To be honest, I prefer striding BUT very few sprint courses in the US are challenging enough and often double pole is faster  Most skiers on the supertour – and definitely on the World Cup – can double pole an A-climb without too much difficulty.  Even if some time is lost on the climbs by double poling, it still can be faster to go on skate skis because without wax the skis run much faster on the flats and downhills.  It generally takes two big climbs – or one big climb with an uphill finish – to really force skiers to stride.

So far in the season I’d raced four classic sprints, three of which I double poled on skate skis for qualification.  In those qualifiers I’d finished 1st, 2nd, and 1st respectively, which has given me a lot of confidence in my double pole, even over relatively challenging terrain.  The course at Supertour Finals, however, was definitely borderline too hard to double pole, with the finish up Elliot’s Climb, a 400m long undulating climb that kicks up with a steep pitch for the last 40m.  I double poled that last pitch  in warm up and it didn’t seem too bad.   Figuring that sometimes you need take a risk, and I went for it and double poled the qualifier.

I had a great first 1200m of qualifier, but 150m from the finish, halfway up that last steep pitch, I knew I was in trouble.  I hadn’t realized how tiring the gradual climb leading into that last pitch would be, and my arms were loading up with lactic acid.  It felt like I almost came to a complete stop between pole plants, and the last 20m over the crest of the hill seemed to take a lifetime.  Inch by inch, millimeter by millimeter, I poled over that crest and finally, FINALLY, made it up and over.  I tried to build back some speed to carry into the finish, but to say those last 60 meters were a struggle is an understatement.

Cresting the hill with some seriously tired arms.

Cresting the hill with some seriously tired arms (Rob Whitney photo)

In the first five minutes after finishing the qualifier everyone who watched gave me the better-luck-next-time look, and I was sure I was out for the rounds.  Then the results popped up, and I realized I’d qualified in 9th!  It was a huge surprise.  As always, double poling turned out to be faster than expected!  It was definitely a mistake on that course, but even so, I was right in the mix for the heats.  I did decide that I’d learned my lesson and immediately resolved to go on classic skis for the rounds, but it was also a lesson that more times than not, double poling can be a good option.

The heats were nothing special for me – after the qualifier, I had a hard time recovering the strength in my arms..  The quarterfinal went well, but by the semi I was more or less out of gas and struggling to stay with the lead.  The highlight was coming into the finish of the Semifinal with teammate Simi Hamilton.    I finished 9th overall on the day.  Andy and Ben both had great days and skied strong in the final.  In the end, all four of our guys placed in the top 10.

Spring Series-10

 

Andy and Ben on the podium.

Andy and Ben on the podium.

The next race on the schedule was the first ever mixed team relay National Championship.  Each team consisted of two guys and two girls. We’d been talking about the race all season and among the athletes there was a ton of excitement.  We fielded two teams for SMST2.  Our top team consisted of all Olympians with Andy, Sophie, Simi, and Jessie, and our second team was Ben, Annie, me, and Erika.

The relay was by far my favorite race of the year and individually, one of my best efforts.

Hitting the climb in the team relay.

Hitting the climb in the team relay.

Everybody on my team skied really well, and Erika skied a badass anchor leg to bring us in the finish in 4th overall, far exceeding our pre-race ranking of 8th.  Our first team from SMST2 finished in 2nd.  Two teams in the top 4, not bad!

The team!

The team!

The last race of the week was the 30/50k at the hillside trail system.  The course they had set included five laps of the super-hilly Spencer loop.  I learned how to ski on those trails and it was the place where I did most of my training in high school.  It was fun to race on a true home course!

The day started with the girls 30k race.

Erika and Annie modeling our sweet new podiumwear suits.

Erika and Annie sporting our new podiumwear suits and racing hard.  Each one is customized with the person’s last name printed on the bicep!

Our girls crushed it and all ended in the top 10!

The 50k was definitely one of the harder 50k’s I’ve ever done.  The race started out under control on the first lap, but quickly accelerated on the second lap once we hit the climb.  I got dropped off of the lead group of 10 about halfway up Wall Street, the biggest climb on the course.  I  should have pushed harder – once you’re off the group, its almost impossible to catch back up.  I skied with a small group for the next lap, and at the 25k mark went off the front alone to try to catch any stragglers that might fall off the lead pack.

Start of the 2nd lap of the 50k

Start of the 2nd lap of the 50k

Once you’re alone in a 50k, the race becomes a true test of what you’ve got.  There is nowhere to hide and nobody to pace you.  For me, I’ve found that it becomes extra important to feed well. (Skiers take feeds throughout long races to keep sugar levels up and maintain hydration.)  My best 50k efforts always come when I feed well.  In this 50k, I ate one Powerbar Gel per lap (five Gel’s total) as well as taking three 4-6 oz diluted gatorade feeds per lap (15 liquid feeds total).  It was enough to keep from bonking and keep me moving those last laps when I was racing alone.

I ended up skiing alone for the last 25 kilometers of the race.  On the last lap I caught a glimpse of a New Mexico skier in the distance, and that gave me life for the final kilometers of the race.  I passed him with 3k to go and didn’t look back finishing in 11th overall and 9th American.  I was very happy with the effort and raced well given my fitness this year, but want to be high up on the results sheet next year.  Way higher.

Spring Series-24

Just like that another season has come and gone!  Now its time to rest, reflect, and look forward to a new year of training and racing.  Thank you to all the sponsors and supporters who have helped me this year!  Among them: Alaska National Insurance Company, Rossignol, Girdwood 20/20, Rich Suddock, Jack Hoops, my parents, and many others!  Also thank you to the many people who have opened their homes to me this season, and who have helped me along the way. Lastly, thanks to my coaches, Gus Kaeding and Sverre Caldwell, who worked tirelessly this year to help me succeed! Without you all, ski racing would not be possible.

Tomorrow I head north of the Arctic Circle to Anaktuvuk Pass to volunteer with the SkiKu/NanaNordic program.  Should be a great adventure!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engadin Week

I just came back from an awesome trip to Europe to compete in the Engadin skimarathon.  I started the trip in Ramsau, were I spent a few days adjusting to the European time zone with APU’s Pete Kling and SVSEF’s Chelsea Holms.  Ramsau is one of my favorite places in the world to ski and train, with a quaint feel and a laid back, relaxed atmosphere.  We timed the trip just right – we got some serious sun with daytime highs in the mid 50′s and perfect skiing.  There was still plenty of snow when we arrived, but with the rate it was melting I don’t think it would have lasted another week.

Sun and snow at the Tischelberger in Ramsau.

Sun and snow at the Tischelberger in Ramsau.

Testing some skis in the slush.  The new Rossi's were CRUSHING it in Sochi and felt great in the wet snow!

Testing some skis in the slush. The new Rossi’s have been CRUSHING it, and were on many podiums in Sochi.  My pair felt great in the wet snow!

After three days in Ramsau, we drove to the Engadin Valley, where we met up with the rest of the US crew, including Holly Brooks, Matt Gelso, Matt Briggs, and waxer Clarke Sullivan.  The Engadin Valley is an incredible place, home to some of the most well known alpine and nordic skiing areas in the world.  The ski trails wind down through the valley, running through iconic towns such as St. Moritz and Pontresina.

Driving into the Engadin Valley.

Driving into the Engadin Valley.

The action started with the St. Moritz night sprints right near downtown St. Moritz.  The generous prize money attracted a strong field, and many World Cup sprinters flew down after the Drammen Sprints to compete.  The atmosphere was incredible with tons of spectators.  There was a DJ blasting music, leading what amounted to a dance party on the sides of the course, beer tents, Swiss cow bells, and the like.  It was hands down the coolest sprint race I’ve ever done.

The atmosphere was intoxicating and I felt more excited to race than anytime this year. This was my first time competing head to head with some of these guys, and because I didn’t have any expectations I decided to just go out and hammer.  The day started with a 500m qualifier, followed by 1000m heats and a 1700m final.  The course was a figure-8 of sorts, and the qualifier ran in the opposite direction of the heats (this is important later).

I had great skis in the qualifier – Clarke did an incredible job waxing and I knew from the moment I started that I had a shot if I could stay on my feet.  I tried to stay smooth and relaxed over the chewed up snow and carry my speed efficiently.  When I crossed the line they started announcing the heats and I couldn’t believe to hear my name in the mix with names I’ve heard all year on the World Cup – Nikolay Morilov, Anders Gloeersen, Josef Wenzl, Gianluca Cologna, and others.  I ended up in 9th, well in the mix!

My heat had Cologna, Gloeersen, and two other Swiss team sprinters, and an Italian.  I could barely believe I was lining up next to those guys.  Gloeersen was 4th in the Olympic sprint and won a world cup earlier this year.  I decided to just go out and hammer and see what would happen.

The gun goes off.  Gloeersen in lane 1, I'm in lane 2, Cologna in lane 3, etc.  Thanks to Holly Brooks for the photo.

The gun goes off! Gloeersen in lane 1, I’m in lane 2, Cologna in lane 3, etc. Thanks to Holly Brooks for the photo.

I had the best start I’ve ever had in a sprint, and got out into the lead off the gun.  With the narrow course, position was really important and it was almost impossible to pass.  I lead almost the entire heat and was just on autopilot, letting the skiing happen by itself.  Unfortunately, right before the finish, my autopilot took me in the direction of the qualifier that I’d skied earlier, and I completely forgot that they had SWITCHED the direction for the heats.  I realized my mistake at the very last second, and cut over hard, but in the confusion ended up tangling with Gianluca and subsequently crashing.  I finished 5th in the heat, Gianluca was 6th.

It was a huge bummer, since I might have been having my best race ever up to that point.  It was still an awesome experience to be in the mix with those guys.  Holly Brooks skied well in the heats and ended up in the money!

Holly Brooks in 3rd at the St. Moritz night sprint.

Holly Brooks in 3rd at the St. Moritz night sprint.

Two days after the night sprint was marathon day.  I’ll let the photos do the talking.  Click on the pictures to enlarge!

Lining up at the start in the start pen, with 13,000 other people.  Luckily elite skiers got a reserved pen out in front!  Photo: engadin-skimarathon.ch

Lining up at the start in the start pen, with 13,000 other people. Luckily elite skiers got a reserved pen out in front! Photo: engadin-skimarathon.ch

About 1k into the race crossing over the first lake.  If you look closely I'm right in the middle of the picture in bib 230.   The traffic was unlike anything I've ever experienced in any other race, EVER.  The first 10k of the race crosses over two lake, and is pancake flat into a headwind.  There is no way for anyone to get away, so the pack stays in a huge bunch.  Photo: engadin-skimarathon.ch

About 1k into the race, crossing over the first lake. If you look closely I’m right in the middle of the front row in bib 230 wearing the Stratton suit with a black headband. The traffic was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in any other race, EVER. The first 10k of the race crosses over two lake, and is pancake flat into a headwind. There is no way for anyone to get away, so the pack stays in a huge bunch. Photo: engadin-skimarathon.ch

Aerial view of the front pack from one of the many helicopters following the race.

Aerial view of the front pack from one of the many helicopters following the race.  Photo: engadin-skimarathon.ch

Lead group

It’s a scenic race! Photo: engadin-skimarathon.ch

At 7k, my pole snapped unexpectedly.  Everyone I asked refused to give me a replacement (I can't blame them - how would they ever get it back!) so I ended up waving the broken stub above my head while no pole skating with the lead pack.  I hung on for maybe 4k before my legs flooded and I dropped off.

At 7k, my pole snapped unexpectedly. Everyone I asked refused to give me a replacement (I can’t blame them – how would they ever get it back!)  I probably asked 60 coaches for a replacement, waving the broken stub above my head while no pole skating with the lead pack. I hung on for maybe 4k before my legs flooded and I dropped off.  Still just one pole.  This pic is from around 10k.

After 13k of one-pole skiing I got a new pole entering Pontresina at the 20k mark.  Clarke (our wax tech) had our spare poles in Pontresina itself at 21k, so 1k later I switched the pole out for my own and got back on course.  I decided to hammer - I had a lot of catching up to do AND a lot of people  have been extremely generous in supporting me, so giving up was not an option!

After 13k of one-pole skiing I got a new pole entering Pontresina at the 20k mark.  I somehow had missed the pole service station in St Moritz. Clarke (our wax tech) had our spare poles in Pontresina itself at 21k, so 1k later I switched the loaner pole out for my own and got back on course. I decided to hammer – I had a lot of catching up to do and 21k left to go.  I resolved to catch as many people as possible.  A lot of people have been extremely generous in supporting me, so giving up was not an option!

I ended up working forward by leapfrogging from pack to pack.  Photo: engadin-skimarathon.ch

I ended up working forward by leapfrogging from pack to pack. Photo: engadin-skimarathon.ch

No words necessary!

No words necessary!

At the end of the day, it was definitely a bummer to end up so far back, but given everything that happened I was happy with how I skied.  The one lesson I learned for next year is to put your EMAIL address on you poles right below the grip.  That way, if you break a pole, you can ski right up to a coach with replacements, and make the transaction personal.  Point to the email address on your stub and hand that over in exchange for the pole.  This way, they at least have some way to get in contact with you to get the pole back.  I skied along, yelling for a pole and waiting for one to be offered to me – surprise, it never happened.  The key is to make it personal.

Two US skiers had great days – Matt Gelso skied a strong race to finish in 16th, 11 seconds out of the win.  Holly Brooks finished in 4th after an impressive showing.

Women's podium with Holly in 4th

Women’s podium with Holly in 4th.

The spirit at the Engadin is incredible!

The spirit at the Engadin is incredible!

Tony Wiederkehr  showing some Seattle spirit.  Tony was instrumental in organizing the trip and deserves a huge thanks! He also skied the whole 42k in a Marshawn Lynch costume, complete with regulation pads, jersey, and helmet.  To make it authentic, he went with no poles cradled a football.  It was awesome!  Thanks Tony!

Tony Wiederkehr showing some Seattle spirit. Tony was instrumental in organizing the trip and deserves a huge thanks! 

Tony also skied the whole 42k in a Marshawn Lynch costume, complete with regulation pads, jersey, and helmet. To make it authentic, he went with no poles cradled a football. It was awesome! Thanks Tony!

Tony also skied the whole 42k in a Marshawn Lynch costume, complete with regulation pads, jersey, and helmet. To make it authentic, he went with no poles and cradled a football. It was awesome! Thanks Tony!

It was an awesome trip.  Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen.  I am back in the US, racing the Craftsbury Spring Tour this weekend in Vermont, and then Supertour Finals in Alaska next week.  Till next time!

Fall in Pictures

I’ve had an amazing fall, with great training in some really fun camps.  I spent the end of September and early October around Stratton:

The pavement around Stratton is some of the best in the world.

The pavement around Stratton is some of the best in the world.

Foliage

SMS PG Ben Saxton and Foliage

Fall-2

Fall-4

Fall-6

I’ve been getting the old camera out more often.  Here are some shots I took for Andy Newell for his upcoming album.

Fall-9

 

Fall-8

October 5th we hit the road to go to Park City, UT for a two week altitude training block.

The open road.  iphone photo

The open road.  Park City rollerskiing, iphone photo.

Skate day at the Soldier Hollow rollerski track.

Skate day at the Soldier Hollow rollerski track.

Soldier Hollow, Utah

Rosie Brennan hosted a Dartmouth Homecoming reunion at her house in Park City.  Lots of Dartmouth alums are skiing at a really high level right now!

Rosie Brennan hosted a Dartmouth Homecoming reunion at her house in Park City. Lots of Dartmouth alums are skiing at a really high level right now!

After the camp in Park City, we headed to Canmore for a 10 day on-snow camp at Frozen Thunder.

Noah Hoffman striding it out in Canmore.

Noah Hoffman striding it out in Canmore.

Photo I took for Timex with Noah Hoffman.

Photo I took for Timex with Noah Hoffman.

We also did a little bit of racing in Canmore as a final tune-up.  Sylvan Ellefson took this awesome video clip of me and Andy in the quarterfinals of the classic sprint.

http://instagram.com/p/f3M9tHkN9b/

I’m now back in Stratton putting in the final push of hard training before the first races of the season.

The final push!

I head out for West Yellowstone on November 20th for the season opening Supertours.  Look for a post around then!

 

 

Lake Placid Wrap

We just wrapped up our annual fall intensity camp in Lake Placid.  After spending the summer training in Stratton, it was fun to mix it up with some other athletes from around the country.   In addition to the USST, there were athletes from the Craftsbury Green Team, Vail, CXC, MWSC, and my team, SMST2.   There was also a talented group of juniors attending through the NEG camp, which invites top junior athletes to participate.

Lake Placid.  Not bad.  Not bad at all!

Lake Placid. Not bad. Not bad at all!

Every year, the Lake Placid camp marks the transition into fall training with lots of high intensity intervals.  Typically, our summer training focuses on building base fitness, with lots of distance skiing and L3 intensity.  In the fall, we start to ramp up high intensity training in preparation for the race season.

L4 bounding up Whiteface Mountain

L4 bounding up Whiteface Mountain (Bryan Fish photo)

Classic speed day.

Classic speed day (Bryan Fish photo)

Saxton and Nygren on a start, putting some force down on the skis.

Saxton and Nygren on a start, putting some force down on the skis (Bryan Fish photo)

We stayed at the Olympic Training Center.   The training setup at the OTC is perfect, with great roads and trails right out the door, and world class facilities on site, including a dining hall open all day, weight room, recovery room, and an incredibly helpful PT staff.

This greets you as you walk through the front door of the OTC.

This greets you as you walk through the front door of the OTC.

Paddy Caldwell enjoying the  NormaTec Legs in the recovery room at the OTC.

Paddy Caldwell enjoying the NormaTec Legs in the recovery room at the OTC.

Sophie Caldwell ripping some skate speeds.

Sophie Caldwell ripping some skate speeds (USSA Nordic Photo)

 

Solid crew for a 2.5hr 45km OD classic ski.

Solid crew for a 2.5hr 45km OD classic ski (USSA Nordic Photo)

The group.  Children at Play.

The group. Children at Play. (USSA Nordic Photo)

We finished up the camp with the Climb to the Castle, a skate rollerski race up Whiteface mountain.  Last year I started too hard and really suffered in the race.  This time around I started much more conservatively and skied in control all the way to the top.  It was also a personal goal this year to V2 the entire race.  I V2′ed everything until the final pitch, where a brutal headwind forced me into V1.  Maybe next year I’ll make it all the way!   Regardless, it was a good day and a great workout.

Top of Whiteface, over and out!

Climbing the Castle at the top of Whiteface (Vanya Rybkin photo)

Thanks for reading!

 

100k Ski-A-Thon

Ski-a-thon day!  The whole team got out for a nice long rollerski cruise near the Vermont/New York border to raise money for the coming season.

The team at the finish!  From left to right:  Jessie Diggins, Erika Flowers, Sophie Caldwell, Annie Pokorny, Myself, Ben Saxton, Skyler Davis, and Annie Hart.

The team at the finish! From left to right: Jessie Diggins, Erika Flowers, Sophie Caldwell, Annie Pokorny, Myself, Ben Saxton, Skyler Davis, and Annie Hart.  Andy and Simi are currently in NZ for a USST training camp.

It was a beautiful day with smiles all around.

The girls group at around 60k in.

The girls group around 60k in.

I decided to classic the whole way.

Not a bad day for some classic striding.

Luckily we had lots of high-tech power food to boost us through the day.

Luckily we had lots of high-tech power food to boost us through the day.

photo (7)

A photo of the final GPS reading: 102.6k in 6:41 (about 6 hours of “on” time if you take out the stops.

Ski racing is an expensive sport.  The SMST2 team provides housing, training facilities, a coach, and a great training group.  As athletes, however, we are individually responsible for fundraising to cover travel and racing expenses.   My training, travel, and competition expenses last year totaled over $20,000.  I received generous support from both individuals and sponsors, but did not cover all the costs.

If you would like to support me as an athlete, please consider making a donation to the ski-a-thon.  All money goes into a fund to help cover my travel and competition expenses.  Checks can be written out to the “Elite Nordic Fund” and sent to:

Stratton Mountain School

 Eric Packer c/o Gus Kaeding

7 World Cup Circle

Stratton Mountain, VT 05155

You can also make a donation through the paypal “donate” link on my homepage.

All families and individual supporters will be thanked on my website and sent regular training and racing updates throughout the fall and winter.

Thank you for reading!

Summertime and Junior Camps

We’ve had an awesome summer here so far in Stratton, with lots of good weather and great training conditions.  We just wrapped up SMS junior camp week, which is always a great opportunity to get in some good training with a bunch of motivated kids.  Below are a bunch of pictures from the week, courtesy of SMS Nordic.

The group for Junior Camps

The Junior Camp crew, sporting some hi-vis shirts to be safe out on the roads.

Jessie, Sophie and I were counselors for the camp, which meant that we got to also try out coaching a bit.  Teaching is always fun with a motivated group, and also a great way to reinforce concepts we’ve been working on ourselves

No-pole classic striding practice.

No-pole classic striding practice.

Striding it out on a 3.5 hour OD with up-and-comer Max Lachance.

Striding it out with camper Max Lachance on a 3.5 hour OD.

7x 7 min L3 bounding up Stratton.

L3 bounding up Stratton.

Discussing a goal pyramid at out goal-setting session with the guys group.

Discussing a goal pyramid at our goal-setting session with the guys group.

Annie Hart, Jessie Diggins, Sophie Caldwell, Mollie Hoops, and myself.

Annie Hart, Jessie Diggins, Sophie Caldwell, Mollie Hoops, and yours truely.

Sprint starts!

Sprint starts!

I got my picture on the back of the t-shirts this year!

I got my picture on the back of the t-shirts this year!

I have a big volume week coming up with lots of hours planned!