Hi from the OLYMPICS!

Hey there! This is Jessie, checking in from South Korea and the Games! It’s been such a fun ride so far. We race the women’s 4x5km relay tonight and since we’ve been on the late train racing most of our races in the evening, we’ve got a lot of time to kill during the day! I’ve been trying to harness that nervous energy and make sure that I can focus in when the time comes, and stay relaxed and happy when it’s time to chill out. There are 6 races spaced out over the 3 weeks of the games, and it’s important to be able to hit each and every one with all the intensity that I have!

Andy, me, Anne and Paddy ready to go!

You’d be surprised how much of the day is eaten up by taking shuttle buses and simply moving from the 14th floor of our tower (that has one elevator) to the venue for training, to the Haven where we eat our meals in a smaller, quieter environment than the main athlete dining hall. But once we got into the rhythm of village life and settled down a bit, time’s been flying by! It’s honestly so fun just people watching around here. Every tower is decorated with each countries flags and some have mascots stationed outside. And I’ve loved getting the chance to hang out with athletes from other sports on Team USA and learn about their events, cheer them on, and see them in the stands yelling for us at our races too!

Racing my heart out in the classic sprints! (photo by Jesse Vaananen)
Having my family and boyfriend here at the Games has been so amazing for me! I love getting to hug them after every race.

Walking into opening ceremonies is one of the most incredible adrenaline rushes I’ve ever had…(and I’ve jumped out of a few airplanes, so that’s saying something). The lights, the crowd, the music blasting and the feeling of “this is it…we made it!” gets you so fired up to race! Getting to march with my teammates will be one of my favorite memories from the games, I’m sure, because it was the last time around!

Our girls ready to march!

Now it’s time to pull on my relay socks, get the glitter and face paint on all my teammates, and get ready to go give it everything I have! Our relay order is Sophie, Sadie, Kikkan and then me. Cheer loud for us!

Getting ready to rock and roll! (photo from flying point)



Erika’s Olympic Preview- Insider Edition

And so it begins! I have the privilege of writing the very first Olympic blog for our team website and am excited to kick off the games with a little deep dive into the people and personalities representing SMS T2 in PyeongChang. Six athletes from SMS T2 qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics and we couldn’t be more thrilled to cheer for them in South Korea. In addition to the actual events themselves, I LOVE the personal interest stories that NBC spends a ridiculous amount of time and money producing. Some people hate them, but I eat that coverage right up the same way I inhale popcorn while watching The Proposal. However, despite seemingly endless coverage of figure skating and free skiing, NBC has yet to take a closer look at the world of cross-country skiing. Katie Couric tries her best, but I hope to fill in some of the gaps in coverage left wide open by the mainstream media. There is a lot you probably already know about the SMS T2 athletes racing in PyeongChang, but I would guess there is a lot more that you don’t know. For those dedicated fans watching the races in the middle of the night, here is a little commentary to help pique your interest and show the story behind our six superstars.


  1. Andy Newell: Andy, also know as Andrew or DrewBoo, developed his signature XC style running around the skate parks of southern Vermont. In middle school he traded chain wallets for skinny skis and began attending the Stratton Mountain School. His childhood idol, Willie Reed inspired him to wear trucker hats and jib skates and the rest is history. After over 10 years racing on the USST, Andy met the most beautiful, smart, cool girl in the whole world and learned to fly-fish in order to sweep her off her feet. Now at his 4th Olympics Andy is a married man and although he still won’t wear sweatpants in public, he claims sleepy time tea is the secret to success.IMG_0029
  1. Paddy Caldwell: An old man at heart, Paddy (whose real name is PATRICK) was basically 65 the day he was born. He first learned to ski under the wise tutelage of his father Tim Caldwell in Lyme, New Hampshire before later attending the Stratton Mountain School.  Paddy wears clogs every day in order to match his girlfriend and doctor-to-be Anne Strong. A man of simple pleasures but refined tastes, Paddy travels with his own box of Maldon sea salt to top everything from plain oatmeal to eggs. Paddy plans to officially graduate Dartmouth College this spring after competing in his first Winter Olympic Games. Paddy’s hack to fast racing is waking up before the sun and his mother Margaret’s chocolate cake.IMG_7561
  1. Simi Hamilton: Born and raised in Aspen, Colorado Simi first traveled East to attend Middlebury College where he became famous for folding laundry and organizing his room. His talents didn’t stop there though and he turned his cleaning skills into speed on the ski course, earning a nomination to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. In 2014, he fell in love with a fellow racer (see below) and he’s never been quite the same. In the off-season Simi takes to the mountains for skiing, seeks out rocks for climbing and waves for surfing. He fuels this adventure training regimen with copious amounts of La Croix and Annie’s Mac and Cheese, a winning combo that has propelled him to his 3rd Winter Olympics.IMG_7242
  1. Jessie Diggins: You all know Jessie as a sparkle chipmunk dance star skier but you may not know that she is also a dedicated plant lady AND a first-time homeowner. Although her tomato vines nearly took over the neighborhood this summer, Jessie’s green thumb kept the SMS T2 team well fed throughout the summer. Jessie grew up in Afton, MN where her hyper-extendable elbows propelled her to the Minnesota State Championship. She traveled to Stratton in 2012 to join the SMS T2 team and just last summer bought her very own condo in the Stratton area. Jessie is a quick learner, except when it comes to putting in contacts. Fortunately, she doesn’t give up easily and used her exceptional persistence and grit to improve her morning routine. Now, she can get ready to go in the mornings in 5 minutes flat— as long as she’s had a strong cup of coffee. Also ICYMI, Jessie finished 5th in Saturday’s Skiathlon, the best ever finish for an American Woman (The second best finish comes from Sophie Caldwell below who finished 6th in Sochi! Go Team!)IMG_0545
  1. Sophie Caldwell: Also known as Doph, Sophie grew up in Peru, Vermont and learned to ski on the double tracked trails of Wild Wings Ski Area. Part of the Caldwell cross-country skiing legacy, Sophie stands apart for her impeccable taste in Jelly Beans and a history of dying her hair pink. One of the most graceful skiers on the World Cup, Doph attributes her success to years of playing the recorder and a strong aversion to olives. Last year, the loss of one very important stuffed bunny threatened to end her long-time relationship with beau Simi Hamilton (see above). Fortunately, quick thinking by said boyfriend and a stuffed goat kept their relationship on track and things are better than ever. Look for her lunging across the finish line in Pyeongchang or hanging with her doppelganger Sadie Bjornsen.


  1. Anne Hart: Anne, Annie, Goob, she answers to them all. Midwestern born and bred, Annie grew up a self-labeled “meat-a-tarian” sticking to meat, meat products, bread, and the occasional peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Her early eating habits eventually gave way to a palette that rivals that of Rachael Ray and when not out skiing you can find her prepping a meal worthy of Top Chef. When Annie first started skiing she learned to kick-double pole with just one of her legs, a skill she occasionally still puts to use in races when trying to throw off the competition. Her biggest influence has been her little sister Valora, aka Val, who taught her everything she knows about pop culture and managing the elusive work-life balance.  IMG_4626 (1)


World Junior/U23 Championships

This is Julia checking in from Switzerland! After the Dresden and Planica World Cups, I joined the USA crew coming over for World Juniors/U23 Championships in Switzerland. I was really psyched to re group with my friends back home and hang out with people my age for a bit. After being sick the first two weeks of January and feeling a bit tired in Dresden and Planica, I was happy to have some good energy the first two days in Switzerland. There was so much snow that we had to take a long detour on our drive to the hotel and we could not ski the first day because of avalanche danger! It is funny how there is either too little snow or too much snow now a days.

Sunshine and smiles.
Beautiful triple tracks!
We didn’t build it, but we climbed it 😉

Unfortunately I came down with another cold just 1.5 weeks after I kicked my last one, and right before the races started. I did everything in my power to get healthy as soon as possible, but I was still very sick on sprint day. I skied the qualifier and placed 21st former SMS PG Lauren Jortberg qualified in 14th. Lauren went on to ski an awesome qualifier, but got tangled going up the last climb and lost the leaders, and I tried my best but was too sick to keep up in the quarterfinal. I did not start the 10km classic in hopes of giving myself a little more time to get healthy for the skiathlon. When skiathalon day came around, I was still a little sick but I decided to give it a shot and just see how I feel. I ended up not finishing the race because there is so much racing left in the season and I didn’t want to put myself totally under since I wasn’t feeling totally healthy, but I at least had to try.

Cornering in the spirit qualifier. 
Went on a lot of sick walks, bu thankfully the views were nice.
My friends got me outside to build a tunnel when I was sick and it put a smile on my face.

Even though I did not have the week I wanted, our team had the most historic results to date at World Juniors! Hailey Swirbul from UAA earned 2 medals, one silver and one bronze during the week and the Junior men’s relay put the icing on the cake by finishing 2nd on the last day! Ben Ogden made history by being on the first US men’s relay team to earn a medal, as well as placing 7th in the 10km classic race, the best result for any US guy at World Juniors! Ben also placed 18th in the 20km skiathlon on an extremely hilly course with over 2,500 feet of climbing. It is so cool to see that the US is a threat at every level, from the World Cup, to U23s and World Juniors, all the way down to U18 Trip, and that history keeps being made!

Biking into town the day before Hailey got a silver medal!
Hailey getting her silver medal and making history.
Ben charging in the relay.
Silver medalist in the relay!


Now I am headed to Germany with my fellow D- Team teammate Hannah Halvorsen for an OPA Cup and for German Nationals the next 3 weeks. It will be exciting to watch our SMS T2 team crush it at the Olympics!!

Olympic Lead-Up

It’s been awhile and a lot has happened since my last post! After a lovely Christmas break in Seefeld, Austria, we packed up our bags and headed to the circus of the Tour de Ski. The Tour de Ski consists of seven different races in three different counties over nine days. The first stop of the Tour this year took place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Not only is Lenzerheide a beautiful area, but I also really love the courses there. They have a nice mix of hills and flow and I was looking forward to doing a skate sprint and getting in a couple distance racing opportunities. Our team had a strong day of qualifying in the sprint and I was feeling good and determined to make the final. I was thrilled to finish the day in second, my first podium of the year and to see Jessie place 5th, despite breaking two poles throughout the day. The next day was a 10km classic race and I woke up feeling tired, but I was happy to find some good racing feelings and have my best distance race ever placing 21st, made even better by having Sadie on the podium in 3rd! The next day was a 10km pursuit skate start race and even though I’ve struggled with skate distance skiing in the past, I tried to forget about that and hang on for dear life. It was a really fun race for me and Jessie finished the day in 3rd. Three podiums in three days for our team wasn’t too shabby!

Finishing out Seefeld Christmas camp in style with Jessie and Liz
Tour de Ski opening ceremonies
2nd place in the Lenzerheide skate sprint! (Getty Images)

Unfortunately, I came down with a cold the morning of the classic sprint in Oberstdorf, so my Tour ended after the races in Lenzerheide. Oberstdorf happened to be getting some of the worst weather we had ever seen on the day of the sprint, so the race ended up being cancelled due to dangerous conditions. I was happy I wasn’t missing a sprint, but it was a bummer that one race of the Tour de Ski had to be cancelled. I love the race course in Oberstdorf, so I’m hoping I get a chance to return next year! From Oberstdorf, the more sprint oriented crew who withdrew from the Tour headed to Ramsau, Austria for a week of recovery and training before the sprint weekend in Dresden, Germany. It was winter wonderland in Ramsau and I was able to go for some beautiful easy walks on skis while I was recovering from my cold.

View from my bedroom window in Ramsau
Above the clouds!
Road to recovery
The not so glamorous side of it all 🙂
Back to health!

After our week in Ramsau, we made the long trek up to Dresden, Germany for a weekend of city sprinting. Dresden was a new venue on the calendar and we were excited to see what it involved. It was a beautiful, old city and the track was set up in a park that overlooked the river and some pretty incredible buildings. This was the shortest and flattest sprint I have ever done, but that added to the excitement of sprint racing! Most sprints are around three minutes and this one was closer to two. Sometimes you get long hilly courses and sometimes they’re pancake flat, but a race is a race and you do your best at any given course and venue. I was psyched to be on the podium again, placing third in the individual sprint, and then got to team up with Ida and get another third in the team sprint! I was really proud with how we both skied and Ida raced a killer last lap and tagged off to me in podium contention, so crossing the line in 3rd and having her waiting with a big hug was icing on the cake.

Dresden individual sprint podium (Getty Images)
Picturesque race course (Getty Images)
Team sprint 3rd with Ides! (Marcel Hilger photo)

After the team sprint in Dresden, we drove back to Ramsau for a few days of training before heading to Planica, Slovenia for a classic sprint and classic 10km. Planica is a beautiful venue set in the Julien Alps. I had only been there on bad snow years, so it was amazing to see it covered in snow with tons of easy tourist trails to ski on. The classic sprint day was really hard. I was happy to make the semis and place 9th on the day, but I was exhausted by the end. It was a really long gradual course and I finished the day with some new things to work on. A lot of our classic courses have really steep hills where you have to shuffle up them or sometimes run/bound or herringbone. The course in Planica was very long and gradual and I definitely have some work to do on my power striding. I haven’t been that sore from a race or workout in a long time! The second day was a 10k classic and my body was tired, but I tried to pace the race well and was able to finish with decent energy. I was 31st and it was a bittersweet result because I was two seconds from the top 30 and hadn’t felt great, but being 31st would have been a great distance race for me in the past, so while I wasn’t thrilled with how I felt, I also wasn’t disappointed in the result.

Planica classic sprint day (photo: Toko/Nordic Focus)
Easy skate ski with Jess

And that brings us back to Seefeld, where we’re currently having our pre-olympic camp. I’ve spent the last two Christmases in Seefeld and I love it here, so I was happy to return. We are staying in some really comfortable apartments and it’s nice to have a bit of a homier feel for a couple weeks before the Olympics. Seefeld is having a huge snow winter. I’m sure I experienced a couple big winters like this when I was younger, but I haven’t seen snow like this in at least ten years. I thought they had good snow over Christmas and then they got two more meters of snow right before we showed up. We timed it nicely because it’s been warm and sunny since we arrived. We just finished our final World Cup weekend before the Olympics and our team is feeling good. World Championships is in Seefeld next year, so in addition to getting in some racing before the games, we’ve been able to preview the courses for the big event next year!

Check out that snow!
Evening ski with Liz and Matt
Happy Birthday to Ides!

Saturday we had a skate sprint and the women’s course was back to a pretty short and relatively flat course. I love skate sprinting on fast courses because it’s high speed, exciting, and tactical. Our team had a strong qualifier with Sadie, Kikkan, Simi, and I qualifying in 5th, 18th, 5th, and 4th. I was in a quarter final with Maiken Casperson Falla who is one of the strongest sprinters in the world, so I knew if I could stick with her, I would have a good chance of moving through the heats with some fast times. After a bit of a bobbly start to my quarter, I was able to move myself into second by the finish and move onto the semis. I prioritized having a better start in my semi and it actually felt a lot better than my quarter final and we had another fast heat and I was into the final. Sadie also moved on in her quarter and semi and toed the line next to me in her first ever skate sprint final! In the final, I tried to have the same strategy as my other heats and hopped in behind Maiken and stuck to her like glue. There was a big downhill corned into the finish and we had an exciting three way sprint to the finish. I was sure I had crossed the line in 2nd, but about twenty minutes later I found out I had tied for 1st!! It was the most pleasant surprise and ended up being a dream day. I honestly didn’t even remember lunging, but I’m sure glad I did. The next day Jessie won the 10km skate, Sadie had another top 10, and Erik and Simi raced to their best distance finishes ever placing 9th and 12th in the 15km skate. This team is on fire!

Tie for 1st! (Getty Images)
Photo finish
Chasing Maiken around the course (Jens Korner photo)
Podium shot (Jens Korner photo)
All smiles with my coach, Matt (Lumi Experiences photo)
Proud of this guy (Lumi Experiences photo)

We have another week in Seefeld before we head to PyeongChang for the Olympics. I cannot wait to attend my second Olympics and to see what this team can do. I’ve had a dream season so far and regardless of what happens at the Olympics, I know I couldn’t be happier or more proud to be part of such an amazing team. I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has supported and believed in me, the U.S. Ski Team, and our SMS T2 team. Our success is so much bigger than ourselves and we wouldn’t be here without you, so THANK YOU x a million.

Dream big
And send it! 🙂

Back in Seefeld!

This week the European half of SMST2 are back in Seefeld, Austria for the final World Cup races before the Olympic Games. This weekend the racing action features a Freestyle Sprint on Saturday followed by a Freestyle Mass Start on Sunday. Next year Seefeld will host the World Championship races in February. The organizers are pulling out all the stops and testing out the facilities for next year’s event.

Seefeld showing off for our afternoon training session

Seefeld feels like a home away from home in Europe. All of us were here for Christmas this year and have gotten to know the area well. It’s great to be back in a familiar place to have a mid-season reset and get ready for the next two months of racing! Stay tuned for updates from the races this weekend – the first Super Tour weekend since US Nationals starts today in Craftsbury, VT. Word is that Coach Pat is tuned up and ready to represent SMS in the Craftsbury Marathon on Saturday!

Lots of snow and fantastic skiing in Austria the last few weeks!
They’ve done a great job grooming

Why We Sport (the Minneapolis Miracle)

Coming from Minnesota, I’ve never had a home team go to the Super Bowl (much less have that Super Bowl in Minnesota).  So last Sunday when it appeared that the Vikings were going to lose a first-half seventeen point shut out to the New Orleans Saints, I was equal part depressed and unsurprised.  Two years ago I wrote a blog about Blair Walsh’s 27 yard missed Field Goal, and how I was going to do my best not to be a Minnesota Sports Cliche.

But after last Sunday…I’m not only proud to be a Vikings Fan, but I would be thrilled to be the 2018 Minnesota Sports Cliche.  In case you somehow missed the incredible play from Keenum to Diggs (no coincidence that his name is similar to our own Ms. Diggins) with ten seconds to go to score a touchdown with no time outs, watch it now (sound on, and leave yourself ten minutes so you can watch it three or four times).

After the play that has been dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle,”  Diggs was asked about the seemingly impossible touchdown.  Among other words and tears, he concluded: “I don’t stop playing till the clock hits zero.”  And with that, he left the press conference and reset for this Sunday’s game in Philadelphia.

My reaction to the touchdown pass

The Minneapolis Miracle, I believe, is a perfect example of why we sport.  Going into any ski race– be it the Birkie, the Olympics, or just a citizens race– the most exciting performances are ones that not only surpass real and perceived expectations, but those that come about through pure grit and power of will. It is the moments when all seems to be pointing in the direction of failure, and the perseverance to push through the nay-sayers to prove your muster, that to me explain why we sport.

Because those are the moments that lead entire states to come to a halt as people put down the hot dish to scream, faint, jump in a pool, and cry.  Those raw reactions don’t happen during “easy games” or obstacle-free victories.  If the Vikings had managed to hold a comfortable seventeen point lead, sure everyone would have been happy.  But there would have been no fainting, no screaming, no hot dish leaving, no “best day of my life.”

My own “Minneapolis Miracle” (Anchorage Sprint Qualifier Edition)

As we head down the barrel of the biggest sporting event in the World (both the Super Bowl and the Olympics), I cannot wait to see what my teams can accomplish.  Because if the Vikings have taught me anything… it is that underdogs are the best dogs, and stories filled with obstacles overcome are the only ones worth telling and more importantly worth living.  Skol!


Ramsau camp!

After finishing the Tour de Ski, we needed a big break from ski racing…both mentally and physically! So the Tour finishers joined the sprint crew in Ramsau, Austria. It’s one of the most beautiful places we get to train, with mountains surrounding over 50km of ski trails!

Paddy and Jessie and Cork cheered on the Alpine slalom girls at their night run in Flachau on the way to Ramsau camp!
Liz, Jessie, Cork and Sadie on a ski round the mountain!

While the sprinters went to Dresden and knocked out some awesome podiums (yeah Soph! Representing SMST2 so well!) the distance crew stayed in Ramsau for a training camp. We celebrated Liz’s birthday with some pretty epic night sledding down the alpine mountain, and got all our laughing in for the week!

The night sledding crew!

Then we moved into these incredibly nice apartments where we had the chance to cook for ourselves, which is such a treat when you’ve been living out of hotels for months in a row! I got my banana bread baking on and loved it. After such a great break, I’m ready to start racing again! We’re all driving today to Planica, Slovenia, for the next World Cup weekend. Wish us luck in the classic sprint and 10/15km classic!

The amazing views in Ramsau!
Ready for another amazing sled run!

U.S. Nationals

Every January, the SMS T2 domestic squad heads to U.S. Nationals for a week of racing that sets the stage for the rest of the season. Top performances at U.S. Nationals can earn athletes start rights at World Juniors, U23s, OPA Cups and the World Cup. This year though, U.S. Nationals also doubled as the final Olympic qualifying opportunity for racers not competing on the World Cup. With excitement high and the stakes even higher, Ben, Annie and I (Erika) traveled north to Anchorage, Alaska ready to leave everything on the course for a chance to represent the U.S. in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Sunset in Anchorage
First light hitting the race loops!

Anchorage in January can best be described as…dark. The sun rises after 10 AM and by 3:30 PM the last rays of light begin disappearing from the horizon. Fortunately, many of the race trails at Kinkaid are lit and those that weren’t gave me a good excuse to break out my million lumen headlamp (thanks Andy!). An unseasonably warm December (thanks climate change) meant race organizers were forced to rely on manmade snow to create the race loops for Nationals. After hearing the rumors of pouring rain and no snow, we were impressed by the condition of the trails upon arrival in Anchorage. The manmade snow was in perfect condition and made for some fast and fun racing. Although the snow making loops eliminated many of the long burly climbs I crave, the racecourse did include some shorter steeper hills. Smaller laps simply meant hitting those hills more frequently. The week started with a 10/15km skate individual race followed by a skate sprint, 20/30km classic mass start and finishing with a classic sprint. While I would love to say we left Alaska with hardware in our hands and golden tickets to the Olympics in our pockets, ski racing is rarely that simple. Instead I’ll share a few of the rose, thorns and buds that marked our week in Alaska…

Nat and Pat Narwhal with one of the Best Surprises Ever!

Roses: (The Good)

  • Annie discovering Fire Island bakery
  • Erika’s dad and sister surprising her before the race and showing up unexpectedly in Anchorage dressed as narwhals and ready to cheer
  • Annie taking down a potential robber with her shopping cart during an early morning grocery run at the Natural Foods Market
  • Erika finishing in the top 5 for Americans in the skate 10km
  • Ben figuring out how to order pizza online for FREE
  • Annie racing to FIRST in the skate sprint qualifier by a whopping 3 seconds
  • The most fun mass start 20km of our lives
  • The sunrises
  • The sunsets
  • John Ogden’s first viewing of “The Bachelor”
  • A few days staying with the my former teammate Eric Packer and his family
  • Ben skiing to the podium and finishing 3rdin the classic sprint
  • Pat absolutely slaying our skis all week and making sure we had some of the fastest race boards out there
  • Annie leading the Olympic qualifying sprint standings
  • Taco King
  • Watching the SMS juniors CRUSH
  • Erika getting donuts in lieu of flowers from her hubby
Best. Husband. Ever.

Thorns: (The Less Good)

  • Coming up short on some big podium goals
  • Annie not getting free groceries for taking down a potential robber
  • Ice fog
  • Fire Island bakery being closed for almost the entire time we were in Alaska
  • Challenging snow/rain conditions for the skate 10km
  • Discovering Dr. Pimple Popper is an actual show on television
  • Sore hip flexors, back and neck after the 20/30km classic race
  • Forgetting to take a good team picture
  • Virus that sent our wax tech Steve to the ER (he’s okay!)
  • Annie’s unlucky fall in the classic sprint heats
  • Only a single moose sighting all week
Snowy first day of Nationals!

Buds: (The Things We Look Forward to Now)

  • Three more months of race opportunities
  • Increasing hours of daylight
  • The American Birkebeiner
  • Some serious rest and recovery
  • The Dresden World Cups this weekend
  • Dialing in the perfect cup of coffee
  • Time with family and friends away from the stress that is U.S. Nationals
  • Setting new goals
  • Homemade baked goods
  • Clean laundry
  • Cheering on our teammates and friends at the Winter Olympic Games!
Racing the sunrise at Kinkaid

We still have a few weeks until the Olympic Team is officially named but I know that this year’s team will be the strongest we have ever had. Regardless of the names that wind up on that Olympic roster, I am incredibly proud of the effort our entire team has put in over the past four years to push ourselves, and each other, to perform at our best. Our week at Nationals was imperfect, yes, but I can honestly say that we left everything out there on the tracks. My greatest hope is that in some small way our efforts helped push the winners just a little bit harder, reach just a little bit further and dig just a little bit deeper to ensure that those representing us in Pyeongchang are ready to race at their absolute best! Thank you for supporting us through the roses and thorns and stay tuned to see which SMS T2 athletes will be repping the Red, White and Blue in South Korea!

Lots more on the horizon!

Lightning and thunder and falling trees, oh my!

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes our sport gets a little boring. Well, that’s actually an unfair judgment. I don’t think it’s our sport that gets boring, its doing the same things over and over that maybe gets a little boring. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, what we do is actually quite exciting. We wear clothes that allow us to be as close to naked as we can get without actually being naked, we head out the door to slide around on skis when it’s -10°F, we trust the thin pieces of carbon and wood under our feet aren’t going to disintegrate on the downhills when we’re going 50 mph, and we can cover as much ground as an electric scooter can in a 3-hour long training session. So like I said, it’s exciting, but sometimes our lifestyle gets a little monotonous.

About 1/4th through the World Cup season each year, things start to feel very routine on race day. You wake up and eat the same oatmeal-hard boiled egg-rye bread breakfast 3 hours before your race start, you start testing race skis on the course 75 minutes prior to your start time, you do your 3 minutes of threshold intensity 30 minutes before your start time, you hammer down a bit of Clif Bar 15 minutes out, you exchange your warm up bib for your race bib and roll up your over pants so the volunteers have an easier time strapping your timing chips on, you run around in the start pen trying to stay relaxed but really you’re just trying to hide the fact that you’re really nervous, and then finally you get to trip the start wand and your race gets under way. When you go through that same process weekend after weekend, year after year after year, it all starts to feel a little too familiar. But every now, like we witnessed last Wednesday, that routine is thrown for a loop and a little bit of excitement and humor is thrown back into the mix.

Forest down on course! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

One week out, we had an inkling that something nasty was going to roll in just in time for the Tour de Ski’s classic technique sprint in Oberstdorf, Germany. When the website YR.NO lists an upcoming day in its forecast as having 80 mm of precipitation, you know you’re in for it. So on race day, as we drove to the venue in sheets upon sheets of heavy, cold rain, we mentally and physically readied ourselves for what was surely about to become an adventurous if not soggy day on the trails. Before heading out to test skis, we donned trash bags over our torsos to try to keep the torrential rain from working its way through our many layers of polypro and spandex. That didn’t work, but it was worth a try. On we continued, ignoring the heavy rain, and focusing on picking our best pair of klister skis our wax techs had prepared for us (the skiing was actually exceptionally good since they had decided to salt the entire sprint course, making it very fast and firm). But then the wind started to blow and the lighting started to strike. I remember skiing down the fast downhill just as the first real gust of wind hit the venue. I was nearly catapulted on to my face while I was cruising down towards the stadium at 40 mph. Simultaneously, a bolt of lighting within a mile of the venue blinded our world for a split second, its following boom shaking the ground underneath us. As the hurricane-force winds continued to blow and several more lightning strikes shook our world, nearly every athlete headed for the safety of the athlete’s building, where we would continue our warm-up out of the rain and out of the danger of 1 million volts of electricity coursing through our skinny bodies. The scene inside was almost comical, and it certainly would have been worthy of out-loud laughter if it weren’t for the fact that there was no talk of the organizers postponing or cancelling the race. Everyone just looked at each other with amazement, unable to fully comprehend the fact that we were actually expected to go out and race in these conditions. The women started their qualification as planned, with all of the men sitting inside on spin bikes or just on the couches, watching the carnage on the live-feed channel on the TV. At one point, several of the stadium advertisement banners blew off of their supports and ripped across the stadium, nearly decapitating several women as they came into the finish lanes. During another gale, several athletes (including our very own Sadie Bjornsen) got hit with a gust of headwind so hard as they attempted to climb the second uphill, that they literally had to stop in their tracks and crouch down to avoid getting blown off of the track. Meanwhile, the lightning continued, its cracking booms reminding anyone who has ever had a close call with it in the past that it is probably the most dangerous bad weather phenomenon you can ever find yourself dealing with. It’s unpredictable and it’s deadly, but even its presence at the Oberstdorf venue didn’t have an effect on cancelling or postponing the race. What finally did it, what finally ended the day, were several 70+ foot trees being blown over on the distance portion of the course, just a few hundred meters away from the sprint course that was being used that day.  I guess the organizers finally determined that if that happened again, and someone happed to be under one of those trees, it would be pretty bad news for everyone involved.

One more fun look at what the storm did to the ski trails…(photo from Matt Whitcomb)

So as we drove home that day, we had a good laugh about the absurdity of the day and the storm, and we thanked our stars that everyone walked away with all limbs intact and nobody’s bodies were burnt to a crisp. All of the women that were forced to go out there and spin a race lap in the 70 mph winds, the bolts of lightning, and the torrential rain should get awarded 100 world cup points just for their bravery. And I sure am glad there was no camera inside the athlete’s building showing just how nervous all of us guys were as we watched the women racing outside.


Tour De Ski

After a nice little holiday break in Seefeld, we packed up the spandex and hit the road for the Tour de Ski. The Tour de Ski consists of seven races over nine days in three different countries. About half our team completes the tour, and the other half, who is more sprint oriented, usually pulls out after the second sprint, or just over half way through the tour. The first stop of the Tour this year was in Lenzerheide and we had three races in a row being a skate sprint, classic 10km individual start, and skate pursuit start. I’ve always loved the sprint course in Lenzerheide. It has a lot of flats where maximizing glide is important, and it’s a two lap course, which makes it a little easier to pace for me and pacing is quite important since it’s at altitude. I felt great throughout the day and was really happy to come away with my first podium of the season with a second place! Jessie had a really impressive day and skied to 5th place despite breaking a pole in the 1/4 final and final.
Photo: FIS
Day 2 of the tour brought a 10km classic race. The conditions that day were some of the trickiest I have ever seen. It was very hard to get kick and the downhills were fast, icy, and sketchy. Jessie, Andy, Simi, and I are all people who love downhills and consider ourselves pretty good at them, but I think we would all be quick to tell you those were scary (or at least Jessie and I would)! Sadie raced to 3rd that day, Jessie to 7th and I was psyched to score my first distance points in a couple years placing 21st. Two podiums in two days!
Beautiful Lenzerheide
Day 3 of the tour was a pursuit start 10km skate. Jessie skied an impressive race on her own and maintained her 3rd place, getting her first podium of the season! 10km skates are the most difficult discipline for me, but I actually felt pretty good for a couple laps before fading some on my last laps and holding on to a top 20 in the standings. Three podiums in three days!
Photo: FIS
After the three races in Lenzerheide, we drove to Oberstdorf and had a rest day on the tour. Most of us went for a very short ski on the sprint course and tested a couple pairs of skis. The next day was a classic sprint, and one that I happen to really like! I love the sprint course in Oberstdorf because it’s quick, has a couple short steep climbs, and some technical downhills. I also had my only world cup win there two years ago, so that probably adds to my love of the course. Unfortunately x 2, I woke up with a sore throat the day of the sprint AND the race ended up being cancelled due to ridiculous torrential downpours, winds, thunder and lightning.
Oberstdorf weather forecast
So that was the end of my tour, but the other tour goers races a 10km skate mass start in Oberstdorf and then had another rest day, then raced a 10km classic mass start in Val di Fiemme today and will finish up with the Alpe de Cermis tomorrow – a race up an alpine mountain. Yes, I know, it sounds crazy and it is.
Jessie, Liz, and me in Seefeld over Christmas

Meanwhile, the sprint crew is recovering here in Ramsau, Austria where the sun is shining and the skiing is amazing. We’re enjoying cheering on our teammates and getting prepared for the World Cups next weekend in Dresden, Germany. Thanks for following!

Ramsau views