The first snowfall has arrived and racing has begun, fall is beginning to show signs of transitioning into winter. When the calendar turned over to November it marked the first race of the season in Canada. As crazy as it may seem, I opted to forgo the event to stay home in Thunder Bay and continue training for the entirety of the fall in hopes of improving my fitness for the winter race season.
For a given race day, like the one that just passed at the beginning of the month, it is a competition of who is the best ski racer, who deploys the best tactics, pushes themselves the hardest, and has the fastest skis. From May to October during the "training season," you are still competing against everyone you line up with on a race day, except instead of being a competition of who is the best ski racer; the training season is a competition of who is the best self-improver.
Skiing can be a difficult sport to gauge self-improvement; times for events are extremely variable based on conditions and equipment. Running in comparison is far more accountable, from one year to the next on the same 10km course the variables that affect your time will, for the most part, be under your control. Sure there might be a stronger headwind or the pavement might be wet but in comparison to a 10km ski race where times can change by over a minute based on the weather, self-improvement can be quite difficult to judge.
As a first-year senior, I am getting to the point where increments of improvement are getting smaller, and harder to find. As a younger athlete, the margin of improvement was substantial and far easier to notice from one race season to the next, or even a single training camp. One of my biggest goals for the year is to continue improving. I know right, that’s extremely vague and hard to measure, but it is more so the idea of it which I’m trying to achieve.
So this fall the plan was to get fit, not fast. Last year I improved my speed quite substantially, however, my fitness became inconsistent and was what I saw as my weakness in many races. In September I did a three-week training camp in Schladming Austria with NTDC, It was a volume camp focused on spending time skiing on the Dachstein glacier. The largest benefit of travel overseas to Austria and the Dachstein was the accessibility of snow, a five-minute gondola ride from the parking lot. this meant we could be skiing up high in the morning, and roller ski down low in the afternoon.
I spent the first 8 nights of the camp sleeping high in a separate accommodation from the rest of the team, doing what would get the most out of each day for me. It was great for the days we skied, I would wake up, walk across the parking lot, and be in the gondola line up. I then moved down to the bottom of the valley for the second half of the camp to let the body recover, and put a bit more focus on the intensity workouts of the camp. In terms of maximizing improvement, the Dachstein glacier and valley is one of the best training regions in the world to do so. Having access to high-quality skiing on the glacier up high (2600m) and a world-class roller ski track over a thousand meters lower within a 15-minute commute is hard to come by, and incredible for fall training. National teams from many other nations agree the area is a hotbed of cross-country skiers in the fall. Each day on the glacier there was roughly 200 skiers on the glacier and during afternoon roller skis I encountered more athletes in one hour than I would the entire summer in Canada.
The three-week camp was very productive, hopefully, I will reap the rewards this winter and see an increase in the consistency and level of my fitness. Next time I travel it will be for the real deal, racing begins, I will travel west at the end of November. Hears to hoping the improvements I have made over the summer and fall will pay off. As I mentioned earlier, equipment plays a massive role in this sport, it can be the difference between a good and great race, so thank you to my equipment sponsors Rossignol and Leki for setting me up for success!