Climbing up from the Supertour Opener

When a frustrating weekend of ski racing STILL makes you remember how much you like to race, things are ok! But from here, I’m going to be climbing up!

The opening Supertour races in West Yellowstone, MT started off well enough, yet with plenty of room for improvement. After qualifying 3rd for the skate sprint, I felt stronger and stronger throughout the rounds and was really looking forward to the final and putting in a truly all-out finishing sprint. Unfortunately the “crash-marred women’s final” (see fasterskier article: http://fasterskier.com/fsarticle/west-yellowstone-review-big-wins-hart-michaud-bangman-brian-gregg/) drew its descriptive flair from a big crash that I was involved in, shortly before the only uphill on the course. Crashes happen in ski racing, they’re definitely part of the sport, an element of luck and timing that may or may not be within the racer’s control. Sometimes it’s easy to laugh off crashes, or to be annoyed only at yourself, if you misstep on a downhill or plant your own pole between your legs. To have my pole broken, and to be taken down as a side effect of a collision of other skiers, when I was following closely but keeping my arms and legs and equipment to myself, was tougher to swallow. I was NOT happy. Time to take a deep breath, and bounce back.

On Sunday, we women raced a 10k mass start classic. When I arrived at the venue,the weather was rapidly alternating between snow flurries and sun, at near-freezing temperatures… the waxer’s nightmare. There was fresh snow over the grooming, still fluffy outside the classic tracks, but the tracks themselves were glazing. Everything pointed towards a tricky day for classic skiing, but I proceeded with ski testing as planned and made sure not to stress myself out. Waxed skis icing, zeros, good wax, slick zeros, slow wax, good wax… around and around, and soon enough it was race time, I made my choice and headed to the mass start. Right from the start I could tell it was going to be a bit of a mental toughness day for me, not quite the all-around-strong day I had been planning.  My muscles were a little slow to respond, energy not as high as the day before. And while I’d handled the uncertainty of the weather just fine – hadn’t let that stress me out – realistically I may not have had quite enough wax on my skis.

Easy classic skiing in West Yellowstone is quite nice, with long gradual hills and twisting corners – but when you put on a race bib and go for it, you realize that all those lovely striding hills are mostly quickly ascended by double poling. The organizers instituted two “diagonal technique only” zones, which is new to racing as of last year; it’s a permissible way to force skiers to use classic skis rather than double poling only on skate skis, by requiring articulation of each arm and leg separately. So we powered up the small climbs by double poling, and then resorted to striding and herringbone on the two largest hills during the technique zones. It ended up being essentially a double pole and herringbone race, especially as I lost all hint of kick by the end. Rosie Frankowski valiantly led the charge for the middle of the race, pushing the pace, while a handful of us rotated around positions in the lead pack. By the last time up Tele hill, perhaps a kilometer from the finish, our lead pack was down to 3 women – myself, Hedda Bangman, and my teammate Kait Miller. I herringbone-ran up and over Tele hill as fast as I could, hoping to build a gap towards the finish, but my push wasn’t strong enough to drop the other two. Hedda and Kait ran past me on the last uphill before the finish, and I came across 3rd, just a few seconds back and pleased enough to be on the podium, though I’d been looking for a little more.

Thanks to my coach Pepa for the support in this first weekend, and to Nick Brown, Audrey Mangan, and Ollie Burruss for their excellent wax tech-ing work and many kilometers skied in pursuit of ski speed! And my parents for volunteering to help with the races, and cheering me on!

Gear wrangling and packing is one of the most annoying and typically frantic parts of ski racing. Right after the race, we did that, sorted out all the equipment into its bags, and then I hopped in the car with my parents to drive back to Bozeman.

During the drive to Bozeman, I was relieved to feel a mild stomach ache that’d been inexplicably lingering since Friday melt away.  With the lifting of that weight, I felt a renewed energy to get in my afternoon strength workout, and headed straight to the Spire. Bozeman’s climbing gym is probably one of my favorite places to do strength workouts – there are so many interesting and extremely strong people around, and lots of grip strength toys, and there are climbing walls! So at the end of my strength session, I practice climbing up. And while in skiing I may not always be climbing the results –because those are not always within my control – by climbing in confidence, fitness, mental toughness, I’ll gain better ability to work past frustrations and ski to my own expectations.

Below, photos from West. Soon to come, Silverstar, the skier paradise where we’re currently preparing for Supertour/NorAm weekend 2!

Arriving at the West Yellowstone with GRP teammates, in the lead-up to the races. Every day we were curious what we’d find on the trails – after a cancellation of the Supertour on Monday, the races were reinstated on Tuesday. Thank you to the organizers, volunteers, officials and everyone else who made it possible to pull off the races! We really appreciated the chance to race in West as planned, the conditions were pretty good really, and it sure beat having to change plans and drive or fly somewhere else!
Following Kait on an easy skate ski mid-week. Look at that corduroy, even with thin snow!
Leading the group of the eventual top 4 finishers, during the women’s 10k classic in West Yellowstone. Hedda Bangman (white and black suit) won the race, followed by my teammate in green Kait in 2nd, and myself in 3rd, with Rosie Frankowski (blue) in 4th.
Supertour podium for the women’s 10k classic mass start
Climbing up! Rock climbing is a different kind of battle than ski racing, but there are some major parallels. Finish lines. Sense of accomplishment. Balance. Strength. As I was clinging to the holds, contorting my body and trying to find ways to overcome this crux or that big reach, I could so very distinctly hear my internal voice egging me on. When I was ready to give up and drop onto the rope with just a few moves left to the top, I chided myself and pushed on. Why would you stop, or slow, when you can keep going, and reach the finish line!?
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