Engadin Update

Olympic years can be so centrally focused on the big event it can be easy to forget that there are so many other amazing ski racing experiences to be had. That is one of the main reasons I jumped at the opportunity to join Erika and Chelsea Holmes at this years 50th anniversary Engadin Ski Marathon.

 

The Engadin is one of the biggest skate marathons in the World and once you arrive in the Egadin Valley its easy to see why. Sitting at a moderately high altitude (just under 6,000 feet) the valley consist of a huge network of xc skiing trails winding through picturesque Swiss towns like St. Moritz and Pontresina with epic mountain views.  We arrived just in time to go on an easy cruise in the sun on Friday and check out the first kilometers of the 42 K race, which starts on a pancake flat series of lakes.

Checking out the course!

This is also the time of year when it’s great to jump in any kind of racing opportunity you can so I was stoked to hear about the Engadin Night Sprints taking place in Mt. Moritz on Friday night. With a solid payout it attracts a number of World Cup skiers so it was a strong field and a typical fun city sprint course with tight turns, rollers, lots of contact, and even a jump.  Something about racing at night on these scrappy courses really helps remind me of why sprint racing is so fun. I was just bumped out in the semis but despite missing out on a paycheck I was happy to mix it up and felt good during the night sprints.

 

Unfortunately on race day the perfect weather deteriorated and we woke up to a dusting of new wet snow, which quickly turned to rain halfway through the race.  We had heard all kinds of stories from skiers who had raced the Engadin before and how crazy the start can be.  Even up on the front line of the Elite wave I could feel the intensity of starting in a group of 500 plus skiers with several thousand more right on your heals. This year’s race saw a record number of entries somewhere above 16,000.

Chelsea and Erika talking strategy

The start was frantic to say the least, with a huge pack of skiers swarming and drafting one another across the wide-open lakes. Everyone gets a little antsy at about 12K when the wide-open flat trail drastically narrows and begins to climb in the woods. This is where things got tough for me and I carelessly lost contact with the front group. Despite that the 5 or so K’s of climbing was really cool with winding trails that split randomly with trees in the middle. Not really knowing what was around each bend also added to the excitement of racing. (we obviously didn’t have time to ski the whole course haha)

 

Once out of the woods and the climbs the race drops down onto more pancake flat terrain and more or less a straight shot for 20K to the finish. I was so amazed at how quickly the K’s clicked by on the fast flat terrain and how different it was than most World Cup races. Just like bike racing these flat marathons are all about how fast your group is moving so it was frustrating to see the larger lead pack slowly pull away from my chase group as we raced toward the finishing town.

 

I wasn’t able to finish as high up as I would have liked but it was still totally worth it for the experience. The Engadin is also known as being a special race because the men and women all start and race together so Erika and Chelsea were also battling with the dudes all the way to the finish. They both skied really well even with Erika’s broken pole and Chelsea sprinted her way to a lunge for the podium finishing 3rd.

Chelsea on the podium!

The Engadin experience was everything we could have hoped for highlighted by the Engadin specialist Tony Wiederkehr and his family who graciously hosted us and showed us the ropes. It was awesome to connect with Tony again and see his passion for this race and they made us feel like we were part of the family. Can’t thank Tony enough for his hospitality, I know after learning a few things about this epic race I look forward to being back on the start line in the future.

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Bonjour

This is Julia checking in from France! I am with Ben on the OPA Cup Trip and we just wrapped up our first weekend of racing at an OPA Cup in Italy. The first day of racing was a 10km classic for the women and a 15km classic for the men. Although the course had no steep hills, the long gradual climbs in combination with mild altitude made the course challenging. I was excited to put down a strong result the first day, placing 9th overall, putting me in a good place for the skate pursuit the second day. On the second day, I started in a group of 3 and I charged out of the start in hopes of reeling people in during the 15km skate race.

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The incredible meat chef.
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Cheese for days.
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Beautiful skiing and snow.

One thing I have learned from racing in Europe all winter is that you have to go out fast if you want to compete with the best, so that is something I have been trying to do in my races…even if it means I blow up a bit. I ended up finishing 10th overall. While Ben didn’t have the race he hoped on Saturday, he put down a strong race in the pursuit, reeling people in one by one.

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Fresh snow the night before the race.

The incredible snow, scenic skiing, delicious food, and great company have spoiled us on our trip so far. The whole team kicked off the weekend with really strong results and we are looking to carry that momentum forward with us.

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The perfect last race day weather.

Yesterday, we departed Italy and headed for La Feclaz, France. On our way, we made a stop in Annecy, a beautiful city that we got to explore during our lunch stop. We are now in France for a one week for a training block and French Cup race on Sunday before we continue on to Spain for OPA Cup Finals! I am looking forward to exploring two new countries I have never been to before.

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Frist time in France and all smiles here 🙂
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Annecy, France.

Welcome to Italy

We are currently sitting in the shadows of the Italian alps, being blanketed in snow, and preparing for the first races of our OPA Cup campaign. So what does that look like? Thanks to Eric Packer’s new camera, I can show you.

We flew into Zurich, Switzerland on Wednesday morning and began a 6.5 hour drive south which eventually brought us to the town of Cretaz and our hotel, which is so small and Italian you might as well call it Hotel Pellegrino.

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Unfortunately, that is not its name, the Notre Maison is only a short walk from the race venue, and some days the snow stopped long enough for us to make the journey on foot.

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The next day we moved into our wax cabins, and began the long process of sorting out skis for this weekend’s races.

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The food here is good enough to make grown men cry. The highlight is the pasta course of every meal. The portion size of these dishes would make Michael Phelps blush, but it’s the taste that really steals your heart. Even something as simple as pasta with marinara sauce approaches sublimity; it’s a heap of butter-laden, basil-kissed joy. “Pasta” is too weak a word for the handmade heaven in every bowlfulTomatoes must beg for the chance to end up in a dish like this… Wait, what were we talking about? Oh yes, skiing! We are here to ski! (And eat).

This morning, almost all of the boys (and Julia!) joined up for some pre-race intervals.

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Even though we spend almost 5 months a year on the road together, skiing in the same towns at the same times, we very rarely take the time to train together and learn from one another. Being on this trip gives us that opportunity, and I have always believed it’s one of the most fun (and important) parts of our experience over here.

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Tomorrow is the first race of our European odyssey, and we know that whether it’s the best race of the season or the worst, we have plenty or racing, learning, and fun ahead of us.

Also we will be stuffed so full of pasta we may very well explode.

Post Olympic Thoughts

The Olympics are over, but there is still a lot to buzz about! First and foremost, and I know it’s old news by now, but Jessie won the first ever gold medal in cross country skiing at the Olympics when she teamed up with Kikkan in the team sprint. It was an incredible day for everyone involved and invested in cross country skiing and might always remain the biggest event in the history of U.S. skiing. I was a spectator at the race and can’t remember crying that many happy tears for a long time. I was beaming with pride for my friend and teammate, Jessie, for our U.S. Ski Team, and for our little club team that has managed to not only produce an impressive group of athletes, but also an incredible group of people.

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Photo: Swix

I’m going to save all the details of the gold medal for Jessie to share with you, because I feel like that’s really the only way you should hear it, but I can give you an update on what we’re up to now! On the 26th, we woke up early to catch a bus to Seoul, plane to Prague, plane to Helsinki, and bus to Lahti. About 30 hours later we were back in a European hotel room beginning to prepare for the World Cup, which starts up again this weekend. I am so grateful for my Olympic experience, but I must admit I have never been so excited for a European hotel with soft beds, delectable breakfast spreads, and a sense of familiarity and normalcy. Jet leg has taken a couple days to get used to, but I always find traveling west to be a lot easier than traveling east, and we were staying up late and sleeping in late in Korea, so it’s honestly pretty refreshing to be back on a normal schedule where I’m ready for bed in the evening and ready for the day to begin in the morning.

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A lovely ski with Erika in Lahti.

So what’s left for the season? I can’t believe it’s March and I know the next 2.5 weeks are going to fly by. I’m not allowing myself to get too excited for home yet because usually that comes along with an overwhelming feeling of homesickness that tends to hit this time of year, so instead, I’m getting psyched for the races we have left. This weekend in Lahti there is a skate sprint and a classic distance race. Wednesday in Drammen, Norway we have a classic city sprint, and then over the weekend in Holmenkollen there is a 30/50km skate. The following weekend is the final World Cup weekend with a mini tour of a skate sprint, classic distance, and skate distance. Then we’re done with the World Cup season and head back to Vermont for spring series. Thanks for following our journey!!

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Olympic closing ceremonies with Paddy.

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.

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Sunshine and smiles.
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Beautiful triple tracks!
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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.

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Cornering in the spirit qualifier. 
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Went on a lot of sick walks, bu thankfully the views were nice.
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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!

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

 

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!!

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.
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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!
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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!

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Ramsau views

Christmas in Germany

While the World Cup skiers spent the holidays in Seefeld, Austria and the rest of the team was at home in the U.S., I (Julia) went “home” to Germany where my family is from. This year I am lucky to already have been in Europe so the travel to Germany was only a drive away. Christmas is my favorite time of year because I get to be back together with my whole family (who I only get to see maybe once a year if I am lucky), stroll through the Christmas market, ski with my family, and enjoy my grandmothers yummy food and Christmas “plätzchen”.

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My favorite Christmas Market ❤
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Christmas tree with real candles as always.
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The whole family hanging out after dinner.
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Playing games with the little kiddos and my grandmother.
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New Years Eve fireworks in the city.

I was lucky to have good snow this year because the past few years have looked pretty grim. My family and I went on a few long skis into the Czech Republic since we were skiing right on the border. I also managed to jump in with German national team skiers for some intervals which was really fun! I think it is always interesting to see what other teams are doing and to switch it up and train with other skiers. I was happy to always have a training buddy.

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Striding and gliding through the Czech Republic with my sister and her boyfriend.
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Intervals with Katharina Hennig und Julia Belger from Germany!
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First tracks with my sister.
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Skiing with my mom and my sister.

Unfortunately I caught a cold at the end of the holidays, but thankfully the Tour de Ski has begun and I have been entertaining myself by watching our team crush it! Sophie found her way back onto the podium in the first stage of the tour, finishing 2nd in the skate sprint in Lenzerheide, Switzerland followed by Jessie right behind her in 5th (after a broken pole in the quarterfinal and final)! Simi just missed the semi final and ended up 15th with Andy right behind him in 19th. The following day Jessie raced to 7th place and Sophie had a really strong distance performance finishing in 21st place! But the excitement does not end there…on the third day Jessie also found her way back onto the podium in 3rd place of skate pursuit race. After the first three days of race, they traveled to Oberstdorf for an off day and then were greeted by a big storm on race day so the sprint had to be cancelled after the women’s qualifier! Keep an eye out for Jessie and Paddy since they are the two skiers from our team left in the tour. There are only 2 stages left and she is sitting in third place overall and Paddy has been fighting a cold but is coming on strong now.

To Davos!

For the last five days, everyone has been walking around with a little more spring in their step. We arrived in Davos, Switzerland on Monday, greeted by four feet of cold, dry power on the ground, and nearly 8 hours of uninterrupted sunshine during the day. Twelve hours before arriving in Switzerland, we left a cold and dark Scandinavian winter, and the change in environment from Norway to central Europe was welcome to say the least. But anytime this team gets a chance to put on a race bib, we don’t squander that opportunity. We saw some amazing races from many on our crew while we travelled along the Arctic circle in the first two weeks of the World Cup circuit from Ruka, Finland to Lillehammer, Norway. The 18 hours of darkness a day and sub-zero temps certainly didn’t catch us off guard. Jessie and Sophie both started with a bang, racing to top-10 finishes in the classic sprints and the 15 km skiathlon in Norway, respectively. Julia settled into life on the World Cup with some gutsy and hard fought racing in Finland, while Andy skied one of his best distance classic races ever in Finland. My own personal start to the season has been a rocky road so far. I’m finally starting to feel somewhat normal again after battling what was most likely salmonella poisoning or an E. Coli infection. Fifteen pounds lighter, my body can really move up those hills now!

Race prep, getting ready!

But back to the task at hand… Tomorrow kicks off the first skate sprint of the year. It’s a Davos staple. The course is fast and fun, with some technical corner skiing and always lots of rowdy European spectators on the two-lap course. It’s been 10 out of 10 skiing out there all week, with fast snow, crunchy corduroy, and waves of Vitamin D coming out of the bluebird skies. Tomorrow will be a little different, with snow expected all day (it’s already snowed about 8 inches since this afternoon), and frigid temps forecast for the whole day. But that’s part of ski racing. Planning and hoping for one thing, and then having to perform in something totally different. Keeps us on our toes! Since Davos is at altitude (it’s actually at the FIS limit of 1500 meters), most of our training this week has been pretty low key and focused predominately on long, slow distance. Which has given us all some amazing opportunities to get tons of kilometers in on the endless supply of tourist trails up the sunny valleys that are guarded by some of Europe’s most rugged peaks. I can’t remember the skiing being this good in Davos, especially in December, in the last 5 years.

Long morning ski

Sunday’s races include a 10 km skate individual for the women, and a 15 km skate individual for the men. As a team, we pride ourselves on skiing parts of this course better than any other nation on the World Cup. Specifically, the downhill. The 5 km lap consists of a 3 km climb, a 180° corner, followed by a 2 km “working” downhill (meaning you certainly can’t just sit in a tuck and expect to have a good race, you have to attack the entire downhill). Since our team is comprised of some of the best downhill cross country skiers in the world, it’s normally an area that we tend to crush everyone else on. So if you’re following along this weekend, either checking results over your Sunday morning brunch or waking up at 4 a.m. to live stream the race on NBC Sports, be proud knowing that we’re there attacking the course in it’s entirety better than anyone else out there.

Team training!

Thanks for checking in and I hope that wherever you are in the world, the snow is starting to build up on your local ski trails just like it’s doing here in Davos!

 

Lessons from the Word Cup

This is Julia checking in from Davos, Switzerland! I am currently experiencing Period 1 of the World Cup for the first time and I have learned so much already! I am very grateful to have many of our SMS T2 team on the road with me, showing me the ropes and offering familiarity. My biggest goal while on the World Cup this period is to gain experience and learn as much as I can.

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Watching and cheering on Jessie and Sophie in the heats in Lillehammer!

Here are some things I have learned so far:

  1. There are no slow starts on the World Cup, everyone charges all out from the start  to finish. You have to give it your all.
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Sadie and Jessie charging to 3rd and 6th place!

2. Even the fastest skiers ski really easy on easy days. Walking uphills on training days is encouraged, especially on the hilly courses.

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Skiing very easy on our first day in Davos at altitude.

3. The courses are far more hilly than most of the courses in the U.S.

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The Lillehammer courses are some of the hilliest courses I have seen.

4. Team walks/jogs are a great way to get to know the town and shake the legs out in the afternoon.

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Strolling down the scenic main street in Lillehammer.
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I accidentally found myself in the middle of a parade.

5. Staying on top of body care is super important, whether that is stretching, rolling, working with the PT, or ice bathing. A healthy body makes a fast skier!

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I will take this kind of ice bath any day 🙂

6. HAVE FUN! Do little activities that make you happy on the road.

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A few Canadians and Sophie and I went on incredible ski from Lillehammer to Sjusjøen and back.
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Team jam sesh. 
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The sunshine in Davos for sure made our whole team happy!

This weekend Sophie, Jessie, Simi, Paddy and I will be racing in Davos, Switzerland for the third World Cup weekend while  Erika, Annie, Ben, and Katharine will be racing in SilverStar, Canada this weekend!

Snow Skiing in Forêt

Our team headed up to Forêt Montmorency, Canada to ski on snow for 4 days this past week. Forêt lies 1 hour north of Quebec and they make snow late winter and save it so that they can roll it out in October. Even after some heavy rain, they still had the full 2.1 km loop to ski on!

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Sophie was pretty excited.
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…and Pat might have been even more excited!
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We even got some natural snow too!

With the first races only 18 days away, getting on snow as much as possible is very important. Although it we had a “wintery mix” almost every day while were there, the skiing was quite good for October and we were able get in high quality speed and interval sessions. Nothing beats snow skiing, that is for sure!

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Kelsey joined us for the week and the rain suits were an important thing to pack.

Most of us are finishing our last intensity block to get the engine revved up for some racing. I even got the chance to put a bib on and do a rollerski race run by NENSA in Stowe, which was a great opportunity to put a bib on and remember what racing feels like. We are excited to join the SMS juniors for one last week of training by jumping into some of their time trials as part of their nationals week simulation before we head to Europe/ Yellowstone!

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Toasty fire + bananagrams + team hang out = bunker life
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Excited to be back on snow (and to have stayed nice and dry).