Adventures in Europe: Part 1

The skate sprint at US Nationals. I qualified well, but went down in the quarterfinal and did not advance. (Photo: Bert Boyer)
The skate sprint at US Nationals. I qualified well, but went down in the quarterfinal and did not advance. (Photo: Bert Boyer)

Back in October, when I was laying out my season with my coach, I asked him how I should plan my season. Should I expect to go to U23s and race the second half of the season in Europe or should I see how it plays out and plan as I go? Luckily, he was way more confident in me than I was at that point in the season and he told me to plan everything expecting to make the U23 team. So I did, still unsure of my abilities. On the last day of US Nationals, I was in seventh place on the U23 list and with the US team only taking five to Europe I figured I needed to finish top three in the last race, the classic sprint, to qualify. I ended up finishing second and booked my ticket to Munich that day to leave on Monday, in three days. I made it to Europe on Tuesday the 14th, a week ahead of the rest of the team and took the train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I decided to do this instead of going back home to Alaska so that I could adapt to being in Europe.

Easy living in Seefeld. Perfect tracks, perfect day.
Easy living in Seefeld. Perfect tracks, perfect day.

My former UAF teammate, Max Olex, helped me connect with a team in Garmisch at a place called “Haus der Athleten”. It is a boarding school for young athletes mixed with a hostel. With three meals a day, travel to skiing, and new friends to show me around town, I was in heaven. Considering I had never traveled to Europe alone before, my situation could not have turned out better.

Nordic Combined world cup. US Ski team member Taylor Fletcher heading out of the gate.
Nordic Combined world cup. US Ski team member Taylor Fletcher heading out of the gate.

While I was in Garmisch, I was able to ski twice in Seefeld, Austria, a thirty-minute drive away. My second trip down, I stayed and watched the Nordic Combined World Cup. It was awesome to see those guys crush it over here.

The streets of Toblach with the Dolomites always in view.
The streets of Toblach with the Dolomites always in view.

After a week in Garmisch, I made the five hour train ride to Toblach, Italy. Even though I had planned everything out to the T, it was still incredibly stressful. Since I was hauling around two sixty-pound bags including a ski bag and since I had some tight transfers, I wasn’t able to get a ticket before I got on the Italian trains. I know nothing about traveling by train and the entire time I was worried whether they would catch me and leave me at the next stop. As it so happens, you can buy tickets on the train, it just costs five extra euros. Luckily, I had some cash.

I finally met up with the rest of the team here in Toblach. We are staying in a very nice hotel, getting served by a magical little man named Zigi (he literally does magic tricks for us, which has mesmerized everyone, especially Ben Saxton) three course meals. We have been skiing every morning and venturing into town in the afternoon, a 10-minute walk away.

So far, this is the best trip I have been on and it just goes to show how the US Ski Team along with NNF is stepping up their game in every way to prepare us for bigger and better things. I am really excited to start racing next week. We have a great team with high expectations. I hope we can ride the wave the world cup athletes have created for us.

Next stop, Val di Fiemme!

What I’ve Been Up To

Since coming off the Eagle Glacier after the first APU camp, I spent a few days relaxing in Anchorage before going up to Kiana, where my mother grew up and my grandmother operates a store. Shout-out to Blankenship Trading Post. If you ever find yourself lost in the wild of the Arctic and need to buy anything from guns to “aged cheddar”, this is your place.

Aged Cheddar
Aged Cheddar. Yumm

While I was in Kiana, my sister and I put on a running camp for the kids in the village. There is not much to do in Kiana during the summer for the kids so they were all excited to have something new to try. We had about 50 kids between ages two to 19 for each day of the three day camp, which is about a third of the kids in the community.

Lickety-Splits Running Camp Kiana. These kids were quick!
running camp
Everyone was pretty excited about new people in town to play with for a few days.

The other reason for going North is to see some of my cousins I haven’t seen for a really long time. A few of them, Katy, Peter, and Kaylor, helped coach our camp, too. It was a pretty fun rest week and a really good to get away from focused training for a bit.

Balance beam
My cousins and me on a playground next to the school in Kiana.

After I got back from Kiana, we jumped right back into training. The team usually meets six times a week and we usually get the weekend to ourselves. Sometimes we stay in town, but the best part of living in Anchorage is its accessibility to so many different places within a few hours.

Every year, it seems like half of Anchorage convenes to the city of Kenai for two weeks in July to subsistence fish for the winter. It is called dip netting, and only Alaskan residents are allowed. The process involves three to six foot nets held out in the water ideally to catch red salmon. The first year I went, I caught 25. Last year, my sister and a friend caught 80. This year, I went with a few friends. We caught 10 total. I was allowed to bring 55 home so I was a bit bummed with only three.

sprinting out
Lex and David demonstrating what they would do if they actually caught a fish. (photo: Emily Russell) 
lars cleaning
One of my old teammates at UAF, Lars, helping us clean one of the few fish we caught. (photo: Emily Russell)

We still had a lot of fun and enjoyed the great people. We don’t have very many professional sports in Alaska, so this is our entertainment for the year where a bunch of different people come together for the same goal: conquering Salmon. This year, Kenai had another massive red salmon run with 1.3 million getting past our nets and into their spawning grounds.

david eating fish
David pulled a few flounder in. Normally we throw them back, but he was hungry. (photo: Emily Russell)
child and seagulls
There are an abundance of seagulls due to people filleting their fish on the beach. Also, a child is practicing the art of killing salmon. (photo: Emily Russell)

It’s never a bad thing when you get to bring home a fresh meal for the night.

One of the filets I cut up for the night’s dinner.

After three weeks in town, the APU men made it up to Eagle Glacier for our second and last Glacier camp of the summer. We had a few guests up this time. US Ski Team member Noah Hoffman wrote a pretty good blog post about it and my teammate Reese Hanneman has one here.

We were greeted by a family of Ptarmigan this camp.

The weather was perfect again this camp. We had five amazing days and it just started to take a turn as we were leaving. This was my third glacier camp and I am really excited by the improvements I have made since the last two. With four hours of skiing a day, instant coaching, and quality rest, Eagle Glacier is a well oiled machine meant for making skiers fast. It is one of the best tools APU has offered me.

pillows of cloud
This was our view for the first five days. Cloudy down in town, but perfect on the glacier!
The trail past our drinking pond on the way to ski.
Helicopter coming in to take us down.

We get flown up from Girdwood every camp by Alpine Air. These guys are amazing and if you are ever in need of an adventure, call these guys up!

heli drop
Swing load of food for the camp after us.
Nightfall in Alaska. The darkness is starting to creep in.

I am now on my way to join my team in Park City for our first altitude camp. Soldier Hollow, which is close to Park City, will be hosting the 2014 US National Championships leading up to the Olympics, so this camp will be extra special in preparation for the winter.

Until next time!


It’s the Little Tweaks that Count


After each season, athletes look back on how it went and what they need to do to improve. Sometimes it is easy; just a few tweaks here and there, but nothing drastic. Sometimes it is hard. That is where I am.

Sometimes you're on top. And you're happy.
Sometimes you’re on top. And you’re happy.

Sometimes you fall. And it hurts.
Sometimes you fall. And it hurts.

I have talked to a lot of people who have expressed feelings and opinions about how my season went. Early on in most conversations, the question of, “What went wrong?” comes up. I think for every person I’ve talked to, I’ve given a different answer. Maybe it is that I am narrowing down on the right one, but it’s most likely that I really have no idea.

There are so many things that go into being a good skier. Good coaching, training, equipment, mental aptitude, luck, a strong support system, good wax technician, etc. Within those things, if I wanted to, I could go into excruciatingly small detail of how I have lived in the last year. I could analyze every detail to try to find out the reason I had a sub-par season, but it wouldn’t work.

Getting patted on the back after a frustrating Junior National race
Getting patted on the back after a frustrating Junior National race.

Skiing and training is so complex that over-analyzing would leave me stressed and with a lot of questions rather than answers. Even though a frustrating season left me feeling like I needed to change everything I did differently, I’ve come to realize that I was just over complicating things.

After I give the answer of, “I don’t really know”, the next question is, “Well, what are you changing?” Obviously, this question is heavily dependent on knowing what went wrong. As I said, most of the time, it is just simple tweaks. Maybe it is introducing more speed or less strength and more distance training. I have a few of those simple tweaks as well. For me, it is organizing my resting areas, eating better, being more prepared for workouts, and increasing flexibility, among others.

The biggest change I am making is obviously a new team and a new coach, but if I don’t make an effort at the small things, the effects of a new training program will be minimized.

At the end of the conversation, some people accept my response, but most do not. Most people really do not like the simple answers and almost all of them have a different opinion. In the end, it really does not matter what anyone thinks but me. The only way I will fail is if I doubt the changes I am making. As I steadily train and develop a rhythm, my confidence in the changes I’ve made will steadily increase and will allow me to train and race harder and smarter.

So, as I finally made it back to Anchorage for the summer, I have been busy dialing in my routine and making sure I give myself an opportunity to make my tweaks. Even though it’s been the nicest beginning of summer in recent memory, I have had to spend a lot of time inside recovering from a bit of sickness. Luckily, we are starting to ramp up training, so I’ll be able to get my needed dosage of Vitamin D. Hopefully next week, I’ll have done some exciting things that I can share with you.

Moose blocking my way out.
Moose blocking my way out.

Moose blocking my way home.
Moose blocking my way home.

Until next time,