FISU 2017 – Welcome to Kazakhstan by Carrington Pomeroy
Having been selected very early for the 2017 World University Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I had a lot of time to prepare. However, I still was not prepared for everything that Almaty had to offer.
After a “short” 22-hour trip through Toronto, Frankfurt and Astana, we arrived in Almaty at 3:30am local time. As most of the passengers on our flight were athletes, we walked into the arrivals’ area to cheering and dancing volunteers. When these volunteers proceeded to collect our bags for us and load them onto our Almaty 2017-logoed bus, I knew this was going to be quite the event.
In Canada, we really don’t make a big deal about this event, but in certain parts of Europe and Asia, this is essentially a mini-Olympics. We were staying in a full-on, brand new athlete’s village where everything from the bed sheets to plastic water bottles were covered with the Almaty 2017 logo. The village came complete with its own grocery store, a spa, two banks, a five-cuisine dining hall that had crepes every morning and, my personal favourite, a complementary espresso bar with two full time baristas. So that it doesn’t go to waste, the village will be turned into affordable housing for residents of Almaty within the next year.
This was all complemented by the volunteers, who were eager to help with anything and even more eager to take pictures with us. Everywhere we went, there were several very enthusiastic volunteers who were very good at English. They and the people of Almaty were very considerate and welcoming.
The bus ride from the airport to the athlete’s village took about an hour. This hour was spent doing everything I could to try to stay awake but also taking in the city of Almaty. It’s called the “city of a thousand colours” for good reason. I’m not sure how the people there sleep normally as every building seemed to have a lit up design on it and it was really, really bright. Arrival at the village was basically the same as the airport, everyone cheered as we came in and then we passed through a ton of security. Finally, when we got to our rooms, we were allowed to sleep – but only for the few hours until morning.
The next day, we headed up to the race site. I had heard this site was nice but this is one of the nicest venues I’ve ever been to. Cut out of the side of a mountain, the courses offered every kind of terrain and some amazing views. Team Canada had their own wax container with an adjoining athlete lounge about 5 minutes from the start line. The walk to the start line also involved walking 200m through a granite tunnel that popped you out into the middle of the stadium. The first time walking out of that tunnel to a big crowd in the grandstand was pretty surreal. The courses were made up of a sustained climb for about 2k, a Dirk’s Dive-like downhill, a Chute Charron and then a ton of fast switchbacks before a fast, straight downhill into the stadium. After finishing, a camera would zoom in on your face for a bit. You got to keep your bib and you would be ushered into an athlete lounge where your clothes and food were waiting for you. It was sweet.
The competition was ridiculous. Russia, Kazakhstan, Japan and France sent what were essentially their World Cup “B” teams. One of the French dudes got called up to go to Falun for a World Cup while we were there. So I wasn’t expecting much in terms of results but it was cool to see how fast those guys are. It was also interesting to see that they ski the same speed as I do in zone 1. I think that means I’m going too fast.
The races for me were a mixed bag. It started with a 10K classic where I blew up spectacularly after having the 31st fastest first lap, lost a lot of time looking around at my competition and ended up 57th out of 85 starters. This was where I expected to be at the outset so it was a solid start to the week. The next day, a 10K skate pursuit, was quite a bit better. My skis were quite good and was able to make my way up the results with the 43rd fastest time of the day, one place off my goal of top half. Unfortunately, I got sick after this event and was forced to skip both the sprint and team sprint. However, I was happy to see my friends Alexis and Andree-Anne ski into the top 20 on the sprint day. Next up for me was the team relay, something I hoped I would get to participate in all year. It’s always awesome to race for a team and this was no exception. I still wasn’t relay (haha) feeling 100% but was able to push hard for the team and even ended up passing the American team! Finally, the last race of the competition was a 30K mass start classic. I still wasn’t feeling great for this race but the Canadian wax team provided me with some amazing skis so I was able to cruise through the race without that much difficulty. I even ended up 42nd – mostly because of all the people who DNFed and DNSed – but they’re just pansies so I’m just gonna go ahead and say I met my goal of top half.
Outside of racing, there was a lot of eating and studying. With everyone else also in full time studies, they all also had to do work – this made it a lot easier for me to concentrate and actually get my work done. Though, my roommates and I did spend a lot of time playing basketball with bottle caps and trash bins.
On one of our off days, we got taken on a guided tour of some of Almaty’s attractions. This tour began with a trip up a mountain just on the outside of the city. This offered amazing views of the city, an adventure park, a zoo (!) and even more people wanting to take pictures with us. We were then taken to see various monuments built to remember Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union, as well as their role in the Second World War. This was followed by a visit to the oldest church in Kazakhstan which was an amazing place (and made completely out of wood!). Finally, we went to the most famous market in the country: The Green Market. Vendors come from all across the region to sell food and handmade goods here. The market is seemingly endless and very easy to get lost in. It also provided me with my first ever chance at actual bartering (as opposed to arguing about ski prices).
All in all, this trip had its ups and downs but it was an amazing experience. I had a ton of fun, learned a lot and gained a whole ton of experience. Visiting Almaty, the atmosphere during the opening ceremonies and representing Canada are just some of the things I’m not likely to forget.
Mont-Sainte-Anne NorAm Trip Report by Chris Blakeney
When Skiing Is At Its Best
Lots of us have memories of Nationals four years ago in almost the exact same place. This was nothing like that. Where 2012 nationals were wet and slushy, this past NorAm was perfect. -4 degrees, a heavy mantle of snow on all the trees, and gorgeous courses combined to make keeping your mind on the course and not getting distracted by the breath-taking winter majesty a serious challenge. It was a particular challenge on the pre-ski with the result that a lot of our race plans had seriously wonky course maps full of woogles and wuppees.
The courses were actually fairly straight-forward 5km or 3.75km loops repeated 1, 2 or 3 times depending on the age category. And, as I may have mentioned, they were pretty nice. Full of strideable hills, steep downhills, and intense double-pole zones. Saturday’s had everything you could want in a classic course, on top of winding through a lovely section of the Laurentian Forest. The skate course was another 5km which overlapped significantly with the classic one, but, instead of many climbs scattered throughout the journey, it had one massive, steep, grueling climb about 800m in, and after that it rolled and descended the rest of the way to the finish. Both courses had one awesome feature in common: an insane downhill where some of us hit up to 78km/h and many of us struggled to stay on our feet. Indeed, on that first classic day almost half of the team decided that nothing could be better than lying in the snow for a short, mid-race break.
Despite those breaks, the team in general raced well, although some credit should be given to the fantastic wax we had both days. On Saturday, we had perfect grip and awesome glide (did I mention those 70km/h descent speeds?); it couldn’t have been better. On Sunday, Kieran worried us all by putting on some magic gunk which looked like toothpaste and tasted like toothpaste (just kidding, don’t lick your skis before a race) and was distinctly sticky when we first stepped on to it in the start area. But it was fast. I still don’t understand what black magic was at work there, but those skis moved.
At this point, you ought to have figured out that Saturday’s race was classic and Sunday’s was skate, but the format was somewhat more exciting than that. It was a two-day pursuit race, meaning the second day was a continuation of the race on the first day, so the amount of time you finished behind the leader after the interval classic was the amount of time you started behind the leader on the skate day. It’s a rare format and a fun format as on the second day you tend to start, or at least ski, in small groups with racers who are roughly your speed. For some of us, like Maks and Carry, and Katherine and Claire and Laura, this meant a chance to do some pack racing, some tactical skiing. For others, like yours truly, it meant a very lonely 15km ski with only the glimpse of the racers ahead when I was lapping through the stadium; did I mention that staying focused on the race was a challenge?
That aside, lots of us had great races with great results, and Zoë even podiumed. So, it was a fruitful weekend on the snows. But the whole trip wasn’t all about the races was it? Well yes, but the other parts were good too. Tasty meals. Spacious accommodations. Motivating competitors. And, usually, some pretty good choices for the race music. What more could we want? The whole trip ran smoothly (as far as I know), no vans broke down, the Funmobile (yes the van we rented to carry skis was called the Funmobile, was painted with some strange creatures, and had dovercat for its license plate) didn’t get stuck too deep in the snow bank, and the weather held for the drive both ways. We even got to “surprise” KJ for his birthday with a cake and a card, although he came back early, so the surprise part might have been spoiled by all the boys filing past him to take our places in the elaborately decorated girls’ unit. Overall, it was a fantastic race weekend and a superb way to get some racing in before Easterns. Of course, a huge thank you goes to Jocelyne for organizing so much and to everyone who put their time into making it a smooth trip; you know who you are, thank you. Credit should also be given to whoever planned and marked and groomed those courses as better conditions do not exist. It was perfect skiing.
Katherine, Claire, and Laura’s pain train on the pursuit day
Carrington and Maks in their pack on Sunday.
Chris and Pain Face on Saturday.
Zoë’s podium on Sunday.
World Junior Trials’ Report by Katherine Denis
Lappe: Land of the Cold
If I had to describe World Junior Trials in one word, I think that word would be cold. Everything about trials this year was cold. The temperature, the wax and, unfortunately the pancakes that we shovelled down in a rush to catch our flight on Sunday.
That being said, the cold isn’t a bad thing. It makes it really easy to wax and it meant that there wasn’t any rain – a problem Ottawa has right now.
The World Junior Trials weekend started like any other. Roll out of bed at an ungodly hour, put clothes on, double check that the clothes you put on were on right, get picked up and go to the airport. You’d think we’d be used to early mornings by now, but no matter how many times you wake up at 5:30, it’s still early.
We landed in T-Bay around noon, headed to the hotel and then went skiing up at Lappe. It was cold. I will say this a lot. Leading up to trials, the weather in Ottawa had been hovering around 0 to -5, so when we got up to Lappe and the temperature was around -20 without the wind chill, it was a bit of a shock to the system. Since it was so cold, we weren’t able to do any Race Prep Intensity. This is because when the temperature is below -20 doing any form of high intensity can hurt your lungs and have long term negative effects. So we all just shuffled around trying to figure out the courses.
Every year, trials are hosted somewhere in the country at the beginning of January. As it is also a NorAm as well as a provincial cup, this event is almost as big as Nationals. Skiers from across the country compete in a three day event spanned over four or five days. For the Junior and U23 categories, the winner of each race qualifies for a spot at World Junior Championships. Remaining spots are filled by the next best skiers. This year they will be held in Rasnov, Romania, from Feb. 22-28th. Our coach Kieran will be joining the team as an assistant coach/wax tech.
This was my 5th visit to the beautiful winter land that is Lappe. I really do enjoy these trails! There’s a lot of variation in terrain with a downhill for every uphill. It makes it easy to push hard when you know there’s a super fun downhill coming. My favorite is Massaro’s heartbreak. It’s a pretty straight downhill and steep enough to accumulate a lot of speed! A really fun one on fast days.
The order of the races this year went like so: skate sprints, classic intervals and the skiathlon. Because of the cold, all the races were pushed back to 11am starts (they usually start around 9-9:30am).
Let’s start with the skate sprints. The sprint course was quite different from the usual Lappe sprints. It pretty much consisted of a very long downhill from the start, then up a gruelling hill “Pilon” and a flatter section with a short downhill into the finish. It was one of those courses where I think having really fast skis was important. Unfortunately, the skis I used weren’t ideal for the conditions and not as speedy as I would have liked them to be. The qualifier went pretty well and I was able to focus on what needed to be done. I haven’t quite been able to get into that race zone this season, where it hurts but it’s ok kind of thing, and so considering this I wasn’t disappointed with my qualifier, but I wasn’t super happy about it either. It was a quick turn over time between the last finishers and the beginning of the women’s heats. I was put into a heat with my teammate Claire, who qualified 4th, which was pretty exciting! Off the start I struggled a little to keep up but was still with the pack. My skis being a little slow, I lost a bit of time on the downhill. Once the pack hit Pilon, the race really started. Unfortunately, my turnover wasn’t quick enough to keep up. I finished my day with the quarter-finals, disappointed in myself. Tomorrow would be a new day. Some of my teammates had really good races and I’d like to make a special shoutout to Alex Slobodian, who after an upsetting season last year, finally had a good race!
Claire’s semi-final. You go girl! (PC: Martin Kaiser)
Alex after having a good race. (PC: Martin Kaiser)
Maks killin’ the hop skate. (PC: Martin Kaiser)
Laura is stoked to start her classic race. (PC: Martin Kaiser)
Luckily, the 5km classic race brightened up everything! In the past, I’ve struggled quite a bit with any sort of classic race. Along with that and not having a very good season so far, my confidence was running low. Having no expectations but to have a better race than the 5km classic in Canmore helped me a lot. All I had to do was race better than that, which wouldn’t be that hard. I ended up having a really good race! I still had a lot of energy at the finish line, but I was happy I didn’t want to quit from the start. Big improvement! I didn’t look at the result for this race because I know it would have changed my thoughts about it, and not for the better so I have no idea how I actually did.
The last day of racing was supposed to be a skiathlon. In Canada, we only get one chance to race this type of race at a NorAm level. It’s pretty exciting to race and watch. Racers start out on their classic equipment and switch to their skate equipment half way through. First to the line wins.
We arrived at Lappe on Sunday morning for this last race of the weekend. It was very cold, and there was a lot of talk about what was happening in the race office. Was it to be delayed or cancelled? At 11am, it was announced that the races were delayed an hour. So, a bunch of athletes sat around the chalet and coaches continued to test skis. An hour past, and once again, race officials announced that the races were delayed another hour. The tension was a little high because many athletes feared they would cancel the race thus eliminating their chances to qualify for the championships. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and after two hours of delay, the races were finally cancelled. I must admit, it really sucked and I saw many teammates crushed by the fact that they didn’t get their last chance. I do think, and I am not the only one, that the results from this race would have made quite a difference in the nomination for the team. But what can you do…
Even though the races were cancelled, the team still went out for a ski. It really was a beautiful day to ski and it reminded me how lucky I am to be in the sport.
Nakk + XC Ottawa (PC: Sheila Kealey)
After our ski, it was a quick turnover time to get to the airport because our flight was leaving in 2 hours. We still fit some time in to scoop up some HOT Finnish pancakes to go. Worth it! Luckily everyone got there and things went pretty smoothly from then on.
Overall, I think I learned a lot. I figured out a new warm-up routine, remembered how to get into a race focus along with other things.
With this in mind, I’m quite excited to race in Mont-Sainte-Anne this weekend! On deck is another 5 km classic and a 10km skate pursuit! I haven’t done a pursuit race in a while.
All for now! Until next time,
Craftsbury Eastern Cup Race Trip Report by Carrington Pomeroy
It Was Almost All About the Food
With our exams over, the NJDT athletes who did not travel out West made the trip down to Craftsbury, Vermont on the weekend of December 19th to get in some much needed early season racing.
Due to Ottawa’s distinct lack of snow, we left a day earlier than usual to take advantage of Craftsbury’s promise of a 1km snow loop. So, on Thursday at 10:30am we piled into the back of the Scheier’s min-van and made for the land of maple syrup, blueberries and Andy Newell training with no shirt on.
Nolan at the top of the rise • Photo by Toni Sheier
The drive down proved to be fairly uneventful aside from Craftsbury being located approximately 2km south of the middle of nowhere. Seriously. After crossing the CAN/US border we faithfully followed the questionable instructions of Nolan’s GPS down the longest series of dirt roads I have ever been on before arriving at the Outdoor Center.
Luckily, this proved to be the only downfall associated with this ski centre. This place is nuts; by the time we left, most of us had asked Kieran if we could come back for a training camp and some XCOttawa athletes had already booked another stay. We were staying a 5 minute walk from the start line, we could literally watch the races from our bedrooms and don’t even get me started on the food. I am lucky enough to eat extremely well at home (thanks mum) but this was on another level (sorry mum). Every meal was provided in all-you-can-eat buffet style from local farms around Vermont. The first night, we were served huge pieces of roast beef, mashed potatoes, some sort of kale salad and these unreal beet burger things. This was then topped off with a make your own salad bar that had pretty much everything you’ve ever wanted to put in a salad. Honestly, it would be worth coming back just for the food.
Comfortably watching ski racing • Photo by Sheila Kealey
The Craftsbury Outdoor Center is probably one of the most interesting facilities I have been to and the idea behind it is one that I think should be replicated. In 2008, Dick Dreissigacker and Judy Greer purchased the Nordic center and re-established its mission to promote participation and excellence in lifelong sports as well as the protection and management of the surrounding areas. Honestly, as an Environmental Science student that ski races, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Unfortunately, to create a not-for-profit centre with a mission like this, a large amount of money is required, meaning that this is pretty much the only location of its kind in North America. Luckily for them, Dick Dreissigacker also owns the company that made pretty much every rowing machine or ski erg you’ve ever seen (which is probably quite a few).
Now you guys are probably saying “But Cary, I came to hear about the races!” So I guess I’ll get to that part…
The week leading up to this weekend had been extremely mild, turning the 1km snow loop that Craftsbury had into a 440m loop of ice. Owing to this, the weekend’s race formats were changed so that both days were short skate races (a sprint and 5k) with multiple loops of the 440m course. This was pretty frustrating for the first bit but once I remembered that Ottawa didn’t have any snow, my mood quickly changed.
Kieran helping Kyla with some race prep • Photo by Sheila Kealey
The first day was a 1.3km Skate sprint that featured 2.5 loops (don’t ask) of a course with a lot of flat and one short but steep uphill. This race was definitely a wake-up call for me in that I was reminded how important it is to keep my technique together and how hard ski racing is. Unfortunately, despite the rocket boards produced by Toni and Kieran, no Nakkertok members qualified for the heats. However, the cobwebs were gone and the result was actually a drastic improvement for most people compared to the beginning of the season last year. Finally, the mood on this day improved with the 10cm of snow that fell over the course of the day, making this winter feel a bit more like actual winter.
Using that snow and a bit more man-made snow, the next day’s 5km race was held on a 1k loop that featured quite a bit of turning and some very fast times. Most people were much happier with this race and saw significant improvements in their results. As for myself, I was satisfied with my result having skied in the top 10 for most of the race before fading on the last lap. Still missing that top end gear! But that will come with time.
Considering the circumstances, Craftsbury did an amazing job throwing together two quality races for over 400 people. The volunteers and organizers did an outstanding job and we appreciated every minute of it. In my opinion, in terms of cost effectiveness, I would argue that this is easily the best option for early season racing for people living in Ottawa.
Yours truly, sending it up the shallower uphill on a gorgeous day in Craftsbury
Photo by Sheila Kealey
Before I end this post I would like to thank Kieran and Toni for driving and the amazing waxing they produced all weekend, as well as Corina Zechel for organizing this fantastic weekend. It was very much appreciated.