Sunday, January 22, 2017

Bozeman, Stagecoach Classic, and Climate Change Music

It seems that we have come to see another winter break of racing come and go before our eyes. Since writing last, the team has seen two weekends of racing. The first was up in Bozeman, MT at the MSU invitational and the second at the Stagecoach Classic in Winter Park, CO. With a wonderful change of pace, we went from the slushy mess of Utah into a true winter wonderland in Bozeman. Cold temps, freshly compacted corduroy and bluebird skies are how I would best summarize the setting, it was pretty close to nordic skiing heaven. In recent history, our men’s team especially has struggled to put together good races in Bozeman and I went into the weekend looking to turn that streak around. The race series was composed of an individual start skate 10km for the men and a 5km for the women on Saturday and a mass start 10km for the women and 20km for the men on Sunday. The team, on the whole, saw good racing and many personal success stories over the weekend. Results can be found here: For me personally, it was a mixed bag. During the skate race, I felt like I had tired legs throughout the race but my ability to push hard was not diminished. It came out to be one of my better points races to date and despite the tired legs began to feel I was coming into mid-season form. The classic day was a bit rougher around the edges. The tired legs from Saturday became really tired legs on Sunday. The race started and I could feel body just didn’t have the juice to stay aggressive in the first few kilometers. As the race continued on, I saw the pack slip away and found myself alone on the trails. Any racer who has experienced this knows how hard this can be. As my fatigue worsened I decided to focus on technique and skiing well. While my result was less than ideal, I finished the race and did not let my tired body get the best of me. Unless it is truly foolhardy for me to finish, a race I don’t like to drop out of races and make it an ultimate goal to finish even on the really hard days. After 5 hard races in about 10 days, I was happy with that.
This past weekend we had a change of pace and headed to the Stagecoach Classic with our full team. While I really enjoy the elite racing side of our team, my favorite times are when we are racing in citizen’s races with our full team. There is just something fun about the races and I really like seeing the entire team get to race. The Stagecoach Classic is a point to point 15km classic mass start and now stands as one of top ten favorite races. If you like to classic ski you check it out next year. This race is unique in that it funnels down to about a snowmobile width trace in many spots with only a single classic track and dense forest surround the trail on all sides. With a competitive field of skiers in the race, we knew it would be aggressive but fun as we flew through those trees. When the gun went off, the pace quickly ramped up and the games began. The course was double pole heavy to start but once we hit the narrow undulating forest part of the course we began to stride. Somewhere in that forest, it dawned on me that this is how nordic ski racing is supposed to be. I felt strong throughout the race and despite losing the lead pack with 3km to go, I ended up finishing 5th overall and 2nd in USCSA. Full results can be found here: It was a really good day and I hope the upward trajectory of my season continues as I head into racing in Kazakhstan in the coming weeks.
For the nordic skiing and climate change class, we began to explore the American Heritage Center at UW and continued to explore conveying climate change in a variety of non-traditional ways. My highlight has come in the form of conveying climate change data through music. If you are interested in hearing some of these pieces I am including links below. People are using music to convey everything from spatial variations in temperature over time, to forest health (both with real scientific data), to the UN collecting 4-bar compositions from composers from 192 countries conveying their thoughts towards climate change. Not only are these pieces beautiful, but they are allowing scientists to understand their data on a whole new level. This collaboration between art and science is very cool and I hope to start seeing it in pop up more places.

Changing Global Temperatures:
UN Global Climate Change Music Project:

Blogs from Kazakhstan to come. Until then, I hope you get to enjoy the trails yourself.

1/21/17 Devils Thumb CO and Preparations

Photo: The view in Montana last weekend

            This weekend marks my last race state side with the UW team. We are heading to Devils thumb Colorado for a point-to-point 15k race through the woods on a course I’ve never raced before. How fitting that these last few bittersweet moments meander though the woods on trails where I don’t quite know where the destination will lead me. We are making our final preparations for our travels to Kazakhstan this week and after that I will continue on without the team to my internship this spring in Germany with the UNEP working with the Convention of Conservation of Migratory Species. For the first time in 9 years, a ski team and training will no longer be the central structure of my life and the feelings of excitement, gratitude, overwhelming possibilities and a taste of fear wash over me with every conversation. 

             During our team dinner last evening, always a time full of inside jokes, giggles and new and old friends, Rachel reminded us that we have our family spanning many generations here. Not a family that could replace our incredible families of origins at home but a family that we can always return to in times of celebration, uncertainty, grief or joy. My mind wandered to all of the moments of growth and evolution that this team has helped me through over the years. The team and each of the individual that make up the parts of this body have enriched my life and taught me more than my undergraduate education ever could.

            Rachel and Christi have yet again defied expectations and norms and created an integrated class on skiing and climate change that spans the season’s travels with brilliant reflections on art, history, scientific and self-discovery. Student projects ranging from Ella’s on man made snow versus natural snow microbial diversity to Ben’s Queer poetic writings are well under way. I have chosen to follow my interests sparked by the SHIFT conference on conservation and recreation this fall. So I have created a project that will explore the discrepancies between our idealized and our actual environment in the context of ski tourist communities through a lens of environmental justice. I have started conducting interviews with people who work in ski resort areas about how their experiences working as maids, ski shop workers, and in various service jobs to learn about how living in a mountain town has impacted their relationship with the environment. In many cases, it seems like individuals who are integral to making ski industry work are most dependent on snow and their livelihoods are incredibly impacted by the increasing numbers of low snowpack years and variable weather associated with climate change in delicate mountain ecosystems. Yet again I am stunned with the realization that the populations who are most vulnerable already, even in a seemingly privileged context of a ski community, will be the most impacted by climate variability.  In Kazakhstan I will continue to interview locals to gain perspective about the issues they face.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

US Nationals Recap: Racing the Best in the Country and My Other Pursuits

I am writing this post in Clifford as the team is traveling from Heber, UT to Bozeman, MT as we drive through a pounding rainstorm along the Wasatch Front. We just spent the past week racing at the US National Championships at Soldier Hollow. The men raced a 15km skate individual start Saturday, a 1.5km classic sprint Sunday, and a 30km classic mass start Tuesday while the women raced a 10km skate individual start, a 1.3km classic sprint and a 20km classic mass start on the same days as the men. During the two weeks leading up to this race, I put in my last higher volume block of the training year. This was done with the intention of inducing a bigger and more sustained peak in performance at the end of the season for USCSA Nationals. While I did this with the thought of skiing fast later, I came into the races at Soldier Hollow on slightly tired legs. This resulted in less top notch results in the skate 15km and the classic sprint. In both races, I hit a wall where my muscles couldn’t go faster despite the fact that I could breathe just fine. I felt more of a muscle burn than I ever had before while racing. Fortunately, I never lost the ability to keep pushing myself despite my body not responding the way I had hoped. When I was dealing with overtraining a few years ago, this was something I struggled with almost every race. The fact that I didn’t struggle with this makes these races a step in the right direction regardless of my place in the race.
 In ski racing, we all have good, bad days and a lot of days somewhere in between. What gets me though is keeping in mind that the hard days make the good ones even better. After having Monday off we raced the 30km classic. The course conditions were perfect for klister putting Rachel in her kick wax element (always a good sign for us UW racers). By some miracle, the race coordinators and volunteers had kept the trails from becoming a sheet of ice despite a full day of rain on our day off followed by subfreezing temperatures the night before the race. Despite their best efforts, the downhills turned to a sugary mess and I found myself watching the best racers in the country snowplowing down the whale’s tail to avoid flying off the course. In all of this chaos, I found myself getting stronger with every lap (there were eight, 3.75km laps) and reeling in one race after another. While I saw many other racers dropping out around me, I continued on as the volunteers in the stadium yelled, “cowboy tough.” While I finished towards the bottom part of the results list, I was satisfied with my effort and the race I put together. I was by far the best I felt in the set of races and a good way to end my time in Utah. I also want to briefly brag about my teammates. I don’t know if the volunteer who shouted, “cowboy/cowgirl tough” really understood how perfect that statement is for our team. I am honored to ski alongside such a group of resilient and hard working people who not only perform at a national level but do it simply because they love to ski race. No scholarships, no special NCAA athlete benefits, just a passion for the sport and a desire for self-improvement everywhere from the trails to the classroom. For me, I couldn’t think of a better thing to be a part of.

When not skiing, I have been filling my time with a couple of other pursuits. These have notably included, studying for the GRE, applying for jobs (I graduate this spring), building a curriculum for the Nordic Rocks Program, and working on a class taught by Christi and Rachel titled Nordic Skiing and Climate Change. This class is having us look at how climate change is impacting our sport in a very diverse manner. We are looking at everything from scientific publications, popular media articles, art pieces, and even poetry. I am focusing on snow depth change through time and its impacts on where and how we can ski. With this past week of racing, it is easy to see how a warmer climate might affecting how we race. For the 30km classic race, we were supposed to ski a 5km lap but natural snow part of the course melted away before we could race on it and essentially left only the man-made snow remaining. It really makes you question if what you’re doing is sustainable when you are skiing on a ribbon of man-made snow. On a slightly different note, one that I think is lost when we talk about global warming, is that the climate is not just warming but more so destabilizing. This week of racing was highlighted with many days where the conditions went from snow to rain to hail within an hour and by 50 degree temperature swings from one day at race time to the next. If you are curious how this compares with the rest of the country, in terms of snowpack, here is a link to a national snow data set It seems that solider hollow, arguably the crown of the US ski racing trail systems, currently sits in a zone of climatic chaos. While one week of questionable racing conditions doesn’t drive a stake into the heart of nordic racing, it has to make every skier question the future of our sport if these unstable weather trends continue.