*Ben S. checking in.
Several members of the SMST2 Team and I are currently in Hancock, Michigan as we prepare to begin the 2020 US Cross Country Ski Championships. For those of you who have never been to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (more commonly known as the UP) it is a delightful tract of land stretching out into Lake Superior filled with wonderful, and unique citizens. It is worth noting that the only thing more unique than these citizens is their vocabulary. Over dinner with our host family the other night I was particularly puzzled when I heard REDACTED and REDACTED reminisce about the time their son was arrested for “whipping sh*tties in the bunner lot.” It was at this point I decided that I had to learn everything I could. I set out on a quest to find the most grizzled locals (also known as Yoopers) I could and, with their permission, have transcribed this new knowledge here for all to see. Please enjoy.
THE DEFINITIVE YOOPER DICTIONARY
God’s Country (n.) – The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, WHICH for the record is not a part of Wisconsin.
Yooper Loop (n.) – A singularly unique arrangement of asphalt at the interchange of US-41 and MI-26 that stands in defiance of logic, God, and safe-driving protocols (pictured above).
pasty (n.) – A cornish miners meal, akin to shoving part of an animal and most of a garden into a pastry. It must be eaten with ketchup, and never gravy.
panking (v.) – The act of pressing down snow, which is the only option you have left when the drifts rise above shoulder level.
Gitchi Gumee (n.) – The largest body of fresh-water in the world. Also known as Lake Superior.
toque (n.) – A hat which here, for some reason, is pronounced “Chook”
yooper slipper (n.) – Fur lined boots used for panking.
troll (n.) – Anyone who lives south of the Mackinac bridge
busche latte (n.) – A watery concoction which is consumed most often by local college students (see also: beer).
sawna beer (n.) – The same thing as a shower beer except you take it in the sauna.
yooper challenge (n.) – The act of consuming a Miller High Life, a shot of blackberry whiskey, and a pickled egg in as little time as possible.
yooper scooper (n.) – An extra large shovel specially designed for lake effect snow. It is also big enough to bring your husband home in after he completes the Yooper Challenge.
Lake Effect (n.) – A reference to the cold air that circulates above Gitchi Gumee, it is the governing dynamic of all weather in the UP.
percent of snow (n.) – In most places this refers to the chance that it will snow on any given day. In the UP it refers to the percentage of any 24 hour period it will be snowing. In St. Paul a 50% chance of snow means you’ve got a 50/50 shot of getting home without any trouble. In the UP a 50% chance of snow means it will be snowing 50% of the day.
Widow’s Weekend (n.) – The weekend of November 15th when every male resident in the UP disappears into the woods and tries to kill a deer (see also: opening day).
camp (n.) – A cottage or cabin (Used most frequently on Widow’s Weekend).
board meeting (v.) – Drinking every beer on offer at the KBC (Keewanaw Brewing Company).
Deer Skull Boiling (n.) – A popular local establishment with an infamous sign, which does exactly what you think it’s going to do.
trenary toast (n.) – A crunchy local delicacy which consists of a piece of cardboard lightly dusted with cinnamon.
whipping sh*tties (v.) – The highly technical act of intentionally testing your car’s traction in winter conditions (See also: doing donuts).
I flew into Calgary from Minneapolis after a successful fundraiser at home in Rochester and a wonderful Thanksgiving with my fiance and her family in the Upper Peninsula. After meeting up with my teammates, we drove up and settled into a condo in Canmore, Canada, a beautiful place with jagged rocky mountain peaks surrounding the valley floor.
The first few days in Sun Valley were again filled with easy skiing and thankfully no bone-jarring crashes. The day before the classic sprint, I elected to do skate pre-race intervals to get a feel of the increased altitude (6,000 ft) and the transition-heavy, grindy distance course. It was great to feel the body more reactive and peppy and left me with respect for pacing the course that had very little downhill rest.
I came into the individual start 15k skate excitedly nervous and was stoked to come out with a 30 second win! Part of the credit can be given to Coach Pat for yelling a false split halfway that I was down on 2nd place when in reality I was in the lead. It definitely fueled a strong last lap push in which I was able to ski with former NMU teammate Adam Martin and help him nip 4th place by 0.2 seconds.
Excited to see my fiance for Christmas, and for more racing!
*Simi checking in.
The race season is already flying by. It’s hard to comprehend that we’ve already been over here in Europe for nearly a month. As much as it’s important to slow down, take a breath, and execute every training session and race with as much focus as possible, it’s equally important to let yourself fall into a rhythm where the venues, the hotel rooms, the airport terminals, and the difference between the clean laundry and the dirty laundry start to blend together. Because cross country ski racing is about patience, and it’s much easier to be patient in reaching your goals when you let the tough times that would normally drag on forever kind of morph into a snowball that you can just toss into the trees as your skiing along the season-long ski trail. At least that’s what I’ve learned along the way, and it’s seemed to work for me in the past.
It hasn’t been the absolute best start of the year for me, but that’s okay, because I’ve had seasons like this before that have turned out to be awesome. My main setback has been in dealing with a persistent hamstring pull that’s just taken a lot longer to fully heal than I wanted. But that’s how those things always go, right? It’s better and better, and with our stellar cast of physical therapists that volunteer their time to take care of us while on the road, I’ll be back to 100% operational in no time. We started the year with a long stint in Scandinavia, bouncing between Norway for some tune-up races, then to Finland for the World Cup opener, then back to Norway for the season’s first distance-only weekend. With a great start to winter in Scandinavia and central Europe, it’s been really fun to be back on snow. I mean it’s always fun, but when there are hundreds of kilometers of tourist trails open for training in nearly every place we go, it just makes everyone happier and reminds all of us that it’s not just about the racing.
We had some really great SMS T2 results the first couple weekends on the World Cup. Soph raced to an 11th in the sprint, while Jessie skied up to 5th overall on day three of the mini-tour format. My klister iced at the top of the final climb in the classic sprint, and a face plant left me a few seconds out of qualifying for the sprint rounds. You’d think that after 10 years of racing in Ruka, Finland for the World Cup I’d have a bit of luck and experience on my side at that venue, but that wasn’t the case again this year so it looks like I’ll just have to come back next year and race one World Cup weekend before hanging up the race skis (joke).
The girls followed up their awesome skiing in Ruka with some even more gutsy and hard-fought racing in Lillehammer last weekend. Jessie raced an incredible 15 km skiathlon on Saturday, attacking Norwegian distance specialist Heidi Weng on the final climb and skiing to a decisive 2nd place in a stacked field of distance skiers. Soph raced the first leg of the women’s 4×5 km relay on Sunday setting the rest of the team up to ski away with 2nd place (with Jessie crushing another great race in the anchor leg position). When we weren’t testing skis, racing, or doing intervals on the race course, we got in some spectacular easy distance skis on the trails surrounding the Birkebeiner Stadium outside of Lillehammer. That place is basically the birthplace of cross-country skiing, so any time you get to clip in to your ski bindings there and cruise through those woods is pretty special.
On Monday we boarded a flight in Oslo and headed south to our familiar home-away-from-home of Davos, Switzerland. It’s really great being back here, staying at the Kulm (where the US team has been staying since the early ‘80s), and prepping for this weekend’s skate sprint and individual skate distance race. There is plenty of snow on the ground, and lots more in the forecast, so the jagged peaks around this area are looking extra spectacular and impressive. It should be a really great weekend of racing, so we hope that you follow along! Thanks for checking in we hope that you are all having a great start to winter!
*Julia checking in.
After an incredible prep camp in Beitostolen, Sophie, Jessie, Simi, Kyle and I (Julia) headed off to Ruka, Finland for the first World Cups of the season! Every year, the first World Cups in Ruka tend to be quite competitive and deep, and mixed bag of results for everyone. Some people are shaking off the dust, while many of the Scandinavian and European skiers have been on snow for over a month and are in peak form, trying to make their World Cup team for the season. It is both exciting and nerve wracking to toe the line in the beginning of the season, not knowing where you stand against the rest of the world.
We just concluded the first two weekends of World Cup racing and it has been really inspiring as a younger athlete to see the team off to a strong start! Sadie landed on the podium in 3rd, with Sophie finishing 11th and Jessie 17thfor the sprint and Jessie skied the 3rd fastest time of day in the pursuit. The podiums continued this weekend in Lillehammer with Jessie skiing a super strong Skiathalon, finishing 2nd and the women’s relay finished 2nd today with both Sophie and Jessie on the team! I have had some solid results along with Kyle, but we are both fired up for more. The men have also had solid results and have been gaining momentum. Simi has been dealing with a hamstring injury, but he still skied to an impressive 34th in the 15km classic in Ruka just missing the points! To top it off, we even got three sunny days in a row in Lillehammer this week which was amazing!
I have been learning a lot from the older, more experienced girls on the team about race venues, course tactics, ski testing and more. I am super fortunate to have such incredible teammates and friends to look up to, and they have given me the belief that it is possible to ski at the very top as an American with hard work and determination, which they didn’t have the luxury of seeing as younger skiers. Not only have they shown that its possible to ski at the top, but they proven that what we are doing for training works. I am soaking in all of the lessons and experience I can from the team, constantly bombarding Sophie and Jessie with questions.
We head to Davos, Switzerland tomorrow for a bit of training before the next World Cups next weekend! I am looking forward to racing two more world cup weekends, building on the past two weekends of racing, before a short break for Christmas. Thanks for following our team!
*Ben S. checking in.
Skiers as a species tend to be pack rats. They tend to collect, and even hoard, the multitude of gear required to live an outdoor life in the depths of winter. They cram spandex and boots into duffle bags with the type of mastery that makes you wonder if they might also be living a second life as Tetris champion. They’ll always manage to fit one more item into their bag (or vehicle) because skiers pack in sort of the same way as a depression era Okie: they covet a vision of themselves as prepared, but aren’t quite sure what their final destination might be.
This is a long way of saying that when Ian and I drove from Vermont to Minnesota a few weeks ago, the car was full. Very Full. We had our duffles, our skis, our backpacks, our food, and random things like boot dryers crammed into the back, front, sides, and roof rack of one of the auto industry’s finest achievements: a Toyota Rav4. This is not an uncommon scene in the world of ski racers, because a transient life spent on the tracks (classic, not train) means that there will always be moments when you have to pick up your gear and get to the next place. Sometimes the next place is nearby, sometimes it’s far off. Sometimes it’s an easy trip, sometimes it means changing terminals at La Guardia. But it always entails a moment when you close the last zipper, get the last buckle snapped in place, take a deep breath, and do a mental inventory to check if everything you own did in fact make it into your bags. What are the ramifications of life lived out of a suitcase?
The main thing I’ve noticed is how relative time can be on the road. In a big picture sense, the pages of a calendar can whip by without any regard for seasonal aspirations or personal relationships. But at the same time, individual days can seem to drag on for eternity. This means that skiers think about time very differently. We mark it less by the days and weeks, but by moments, vistas, and people.
Is it normal not to remember things very well after only a couple days, or at any rate the exact order of things? That’s often how I feel after a month or two on the road each year. I imagine that as I get older, this phenomenon will only intensify. I doubt that, by my next birthday, I will remember many of the specifics of my cross country drive with Ian and his fiancee Kameron, but I will remember certain things. I will remember Kam sleeping in the back seat as Ian and I watched a car wreck flash by from the dark of our windows in New York. I will remember Ian defying the laws of common sense, as well as (I’m assuming) the state of Ohio when he ran to find a bathroom on the shoulder of 1-90. I will remember the two of them listening to songs for the first dance at their upcoming wedding. I will remember the moment we thought the old Rav4 had died at last, only to pull a hulking heat shield out from under the vehicle and continue on like nothing had happened.
Life lived out of a suitcase is impermanent, and it can make you feel small. It can cast you and the things you love in painfully opposite directions. But it gives you the packing abilities of an artist, and can deepen your heart, as it blurs away the non-essential moments of life, leaving in sharp relief only the weird, the emotional, and the unique.
*Sophie checking in!
Julia, Jessie, Simi, Kyle, and I have been in Europe for ten days! On November 16th, we packed our bags and flew to Norway, where we had our pre-season camp. We were lucky to arrive at the same time as a snowstorm and there was an endless amount of skiing to be had. We spent a lot of our time on the race trails, testing skis and hopping in some races, but on the easier days, Beitostølen had a huge network of easier tourist trails that we were able to explore.
Norway was having their season opener races in Beitostolen the weekend after we arrived, so we all jumped in one or two of the races to get the first race under our belts before heading to the World Cup. It’s funny because Norway has so many ski racers and the field is so deep, especially on the mens’ side, that it can be almost as strong as a World Cup field some days! I only did the classic sprint over the weekend and I was psyched to qualify in 3rd and end the day in 3rd. Any day in the final or on the podium is a great day and I was excited to ski four rounds and use slightly different tactics for each one.
After a couple more training days in Beitostolen after the races, we hopped on a couple planes to head to Ruka, Finland. Our first World Cups are this weekend in the form of a mini tour. Tune in to watch the classic sprints Friday, classic distance races Saturday, and skate distance races Sunday. Thanks for following!
*Ben S. checking in.
The shuffle button on my iPhone is working. Lake Placid, New York recedes in the small gap left between the duffle bags and equipment of too many skiers. Miles of trees and fingerlike lakes fill the windshield. The shuffle function locks on The Killers. “We’re burning down the highway” Brandon Flowers tells me through my earbuds, “On the back of a hurricane.” My phone has another button, for volume, which I jam repeatedly while our grey 15 passenger van hurtles, tiredly, towards the south. Away from 2 weeks of hard training, away from the Adirondack mountains, and ostensibly towards Vermont. Except, after leaving our last official training camp of the year, we’re headed somewhere far scarier and without any specific location.
The last two weeks have been something of a ceremonial end to fall training. We still have plenty of work ahead of us before we can translate our training into races, but the end of this camp means that the proverbial hay is officially in the proverbial barn. What remains is weeks of sharpening, of final touches left to be made of our fitness; the start of the season is imminent. I’m confident because I know I’ve done a lot of work. I’m nervous because, right now, I can’t know if I’ve done enough. Will I be strong in January? What about March? I’ve come to understand this refractory state of anticipation as a necessary part of the fall.
Unless you’re just a Scandanavian mutant, built out of muscle and with an extra lung, you’ll know that ski racing requires quadratic thinking, the ability to not only understand your own momentum, but to hit a target along the way. Because that calculation changes with every stride you take, you need to think a certain number of strides ahead, always remembering to factor in where you are at any given moment and how far you’ve got left to go; I am stuck in between these two variables, I am thinking too big. It’s easy to get paralyzed thinking like this, in fact it’s skiing’s biggest trap. It’s easy to believe that skiing shouldn’t work this way, that skiing well is a product of racing in the vaguely defined moment, of letting go. But skiing in the moment doesn’t mean zoning out, it doesn’t mean being obtuse or forgetting to think. I believe it means redefining the ‘how far you’ve got left to go’ part of the equation. The key isn’t to stop thinking, it’s to stop thinking so far down the line. Not to stop calculating, but to understand that the nature of this sport is that the targets are always moving. The key to a successful season is to try and hit the targets in front of me (like the easy week ahead) instead of the ones I am imagining I will see in 2 months time.
We’re now passing by the New York State Washington Correctional Facility. It reminds me of the titular prison in the Shawshank Redemption. Uniting the two sides of NY-22 is just about nothing, save for some slate. My phone has moved on from the Killers to something I don’t like quite so much, so I press the other volume button on my phone and I begin to hear the speed of the van a little more. We are driving towards Vermont, but after that I don’t need to worry quite so much about where I’m headed.
*Alayna checking in
The team is back from a two week training camp in Lake Placid, NY and boy am I ready for an easy week! This time of year, all of our training plans start to diverge and we keep Coach Pat on his toes even more than usual. For myself, it’s been a while since I took a total easy week to help absorb all of the work we’ve been putting in so I’ve been enjoying my rest since camp.
While in Lake Placid, the SMS T2 team was fortunate enough to join the US Ski Team for a solid block of training. The national team was staying in a house together while the rest of us got an apartment right downtown. I thought this was nice because between training sessions or during off afternoons we were able to walk around, check out the town and check out the miracle on ice venue (Ian was particularly excited about this part). We also had our junior, Will Koch, and a GMVS junior, Brian Bushey, join us in the apartment which added some young blood to the mix. It’s super cool when we can help build the next generation of skiers!
*Simi checking in!
Whewww, what an exhausting but amazing last week it’s been. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that last weekend was the best weekend of my life. Yes, Sophie and I got married. Yes, it was hands-down the most beautiful day of the summer. Yes, everything went perfectly and I didn’t throw up from nerves when I recited my vows. The reason why it was the best weekend of my life was because of the people that were there and the people that made it happen. It could have poured rain, dumped snow, we both could have forgotten our vows, I could have accidentally lit my shirt on fire… it still would have been the most special and unforgettable day of my life. We are both so grateful to all of our friends, our huge families, and of course our teammates for just being there for us.
Ben and Kyle were our tech wizards. They helped us set up all of our music and PA equipment, taking time out of their busy schedules to make several trips out to Peru. Ben O. and Ian were our charismatic and pro bartenders for the evening. Every time I looked over at the bar they were either doing hilarious bartender tricks or managing to serve what seemed like 15 people all at once. I’m sure several of our single female friends that were in attendance had their eyes on them all night. Jessie set up the coziest LL Bean tent palace I’ve ever seen, complete with flower pedals, a huge, ultra comfy mattress and comforter, and premade breakfast on a coffee table by our bed. All so that Soph and I could begin our official married life together in pure comfort and style. Alayna spent hours prepping the house for the weekends festivities. Julia took time away from her busy school schedule to be there for us as things got hectic and chaotic. And it’s hard to put into words what Kelsey did for us. She spent days and days all summer drawing the most beautiful table cards depicting our favorite 25 mountains throughout the world that we’ve climbed and skied.
All of our teammates’ love for us, their support, and all the hours they spent making a perfect wedding happen that would not have otherwise happened without them made us realize how much we rely on them for everything ski related and everything life related. We can’t thank them enough and we’re the luckiest teammates in the world to have them by our side.
We’re here in Lake Placid for the next 10 days, having just started our final camp of the training year. Conditions are perfect. The trails and roads are dry, the days are sunny and warm. The nights are cool and perfect for sleeping long hours. And the leaves are popping like the flames of a bonfire. Since we’ve entered the time of year when we start doing less volume and more hard intensity training, the focus of this camp is quality over quantity. We’ll do several hard interval sessions and time trials during the camp, complimented with long and easy days of training in the high peaks when we’re not hammering the pavement. We’ve all got snow on mind as the days get shorter and colder, and we can’t wait to be gliding on the real stuff in just over a month (fingers crossed). Thanks for checking in!