Pretty much Russian Championships, in Saariselka

Week two of my season-starting excursion to Northern Finland took Ida, Pepa and me to Saariselka, Finland. It’s a nice little town way up north, somewhat of a resort town for alpine skiing. During the heart of the winter apparently there are hundreds of kilometers of cross-country skiing trails, but since we’re here at the beginning of the winter, there is only a maybe 7-8k out-and-back segment of trail with manmade snow that has reliable skiing. It won’t be long until they open all the other trails around here, because it just keeps snowing, flurries all day and a considerably accumulation overnight! Sunday morning after the races Ida and I even got out onto the tourist trails which had great natural snow and grooming.

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Saariselka is at the red teardrop, way up north in Finland

We drove over from Muonio to Saariselka on Wednesday, skied easy with a few speeds on Thursday, and then raced Friday and Saturday. It was a 5k classic individual start on Saturday (actually more like a 6k, 2 laps), and a classic sprint on Saturday. They were also holding a skate distance race on Sunday but with an afternoon start, we needed to be driving back to Rovaniemi in order to catch buses and flights, so we didn’t race on Sunday.

It was basically Russian championships at the races, in the sense that all of their fastest skiers showed up – it’s apparently a set of races that will heavily determine who starts for the Russians in the World Cup at Ruka next weekend. So there were lots of Russians in Saariselka, they brought their big wax truck, and they brought tons of staff and wax resources. 11 of 12 men in the semifinals of the sprint were Russian. There were also Belorussians, Germans, Bulgarians, Estonians, Finns, Kazakhs, Austrians, Japanese, Koreans, skiers from several other countries, and us 2 USA skiers!

Results from the races can be found here, and eventually they’ll be on fis-ski.com.

Thank you to the Bulgarian friends of Pepa’s who waxed skis for Ida and I on Friday and Saturday, throughout some tricky classic skiing 0C conditions! I can’t say we had perfect skis, but we put our best efforts out there, and tried to absorb the changes and testing chaos as waxes changed, zeros worked, then iced, then worked again, etc. If you’re a ski racer, you’ve been there… always a bit of a shock, but we get through it.

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Interesting building decorations in Saariselka, this one looks like a climbing gym, but I think it was just offices or apartments
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The “teepee” info-sign-center at the nearest trail access to our condo
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Qualifier results for the classic sprint, Ida in 13th with some very slick skis, me in 15th with stickier skis and really a solid-but-not-exceptional sprint effort
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Ida tucking in during her semifinal 

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Ida leading her semi into the final downhill, ahead of several Russian women

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There was a lot of blue and red ahead as I got ready to line up for the 5k classic start. Pepa estimates that there were 200 Russians in town. So it was a big presence, and a little intimidating, but good practice with real European-tough-competition racing. I can’t say I was very happy with my 5k, but it was good practice battling through slick skis and big hills, and then the classic sprint I felt great but missed out on advancing passed the quarterfinals in part due to an early tangle. It was fun to be racing and I’m already looking forward to the next sprint.
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Men’s classic sprint final
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Another view as the men’s sprint final heads up the big hill of the course, underneath an alpine lift. The lifts don’t open until later November so we were able to use the area without conflict.
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All quiet and still here
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Thank you Pepa for coaching/managing/driving/counseling during this 2 week Northern Finland trip! Here’s Pepa with Finnish race organizer and friend Haikki. Now we’re off to join the US Ski Team and heading to Ruka for the World Cup races next weekend! 
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