While the rest of the world looks at July and thinks ice cream, hot dogs and bathing suits, skiers think otherwise, jetting to the Southern Hemisphere and beyond in search of skiable snow and competitive training partners. This year, the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team headed north, to Eagle Glacier in the Chugach Mountains just southeast of Anchorage, Alaska, for two mid-summer training camps filled with slushy skiing, major improvements and even a little crevasse-jumping.
From July 13-20, both the men’s and women’s teams spent separate weeks training on the eight-kilometer loop created and maintained by Alaska Pacific University (APU) on the glacier accessible only by an 10-minute helicopter ride. Traditionally, the men’s team has travelled across continents to find snow, having visited New Zealand and Austria the past two summers, but sharing a venue with the women created a feeling of continuity throughout the team.
“The beginning of an Olympic cycle is a good time to try something new,” said USST head coach Chris Grover of the change. “Back to back camps with the women and men allowed us to pool our coaching resources, giving us better camp support and making it more economical for us.”
Despite having the same venue, the men’s and women’s camps maintained their own distinctive characters. This year marked the fourth year of the North American Women’s Training Alliance (NAWTA), thus named because the camp features talent from all over the U.S., Canada and, more recently, Norway. This year, Norwegian Olympic bronze medalist Celine Brun-Lie was the guest of honor at the camp. The men, in similar fashion, featured a jumble of athletes from all over the country, choosing to call themselves the less syllabic “Man Camp.”
USST men’s coach Jason Cork spent both weeks on the glacier with the men and women and was more interested in how the training differed between the World Cup and non-World Cup athletes than the differences between genders. “I would say that the top quarter of training volume for the women was at least as big as the upper limits of volume the biggest guys did,” he said, “though I’d say that the velocity of some men’s sessions was probably closer to race speed than most of the women.”
On the minor differences between camps, Cork added, “the women had better baked goods, and the guys watched better movies (Point Break).”
The weeks were structured similarly, with morning and afternoon sessions held completely on snow in the warm, slushy conditions.
“While I can never fully appreciate it while I’m slogging through it, the chance to ski on soft spring snow and fine tune technique and efficiency in challenging conditions we often see on the World Cup is one of the best advantages of Eagle Glacier!” wrote APU/USST A Team member Kikkan Randall, who spends about three weeks each summer training at the venue. Grover notes that efficiency on warm, slow snow is becoming the golden ticket for success on European courses, where predictable snow has become something of a rarity during the winter.
The conditions were not the only challenge, as many of the athletes hailed from different clubs and looked to take advantage of training time with their competition. Cork noted that there were a few opportunities for athletes to really stand out, including a medium intensity classic session, speed session and skate team sprint.
“APU is our biggest domestic rival so were constantly pushing each other and joking with each other which made workouts even harder,” said SMS T2/USST A Team member Andy Newell. “I walked away from the week really impressed with Erik Flora, Mikey [Madison] and all the APU guys.”
USST member Noah Hoffman gained from the competition as well, commenting that the pace in the team sprint was particularly hot. “It was our only chance to go as hard as we could and experience the thrill of racing,” he said, “It was also a humbling and motivating experience because some of the men on the APU team and my teammates on the USST were much faster than me.”
On the women’s side, five different domestic clubs were represented, with the addition of Brun-Lie from the Norwegian national team. “The sharing of information and ideas is the best part of this camp!” exclaimed Randall. “We play on each other’s strengths to get the highest quality in every session…I find it very motivating and fun!”
Both Cork and Grover agreed that the camp presents the best way to check in on what different athletes are doing and how each individual athlete absorbs different training. By preceding each on-snow camp with a week of dryland training, they could see which methods best benefitted their different athletes. Additionally, the camp gave them a chance to have direct contact with the country’s developing athletes.
Despite what Hoffman phrased “the inevitable fatigue and stress of extended isolation” that many glacier camps tend to have, the week received high reviews from all of the athletes. After a week of scoping out future backcountry skiing sites around the glacier, USST A Team member Simi Hamilton put it simply, “Overall, the camp was a huge success. The training was great, we had a good ratio of intensity, volume and recovery, and the conditions, both dryland and on-snow were ideal.”