Europa Cup Challenge

After a great US Nationals, the APU Elite Ski Team and I are off to Craftsbury, Vermont to start the second half of the race season. We will be in Craftsbury for the next two weeks racing in five SuperTour races. Due to such a successful US Nationals, the entire elite team qualified to join the US Ski Team for the Europa Cup. We will be bringing a total of ten athletes, which is over half of the team!

Along the way, we will be making videos and weekly updates for those who want to follow our journey. This next trip will be a large financial hurdle for us. For that reason we are starting a crowd funding campaign that will help support our trip:

Please share this with anyone you think may be interested in following us.

Back in Alaska

After US Nationals, most of the team came back to Alaska for a two week training block. I was under the weather for the first week but got back to full steam for the second week.

Some beautiful days in Anchorage, even before it snowed!
Some beautiful days in Anchorage, even before it snowed!

It seems that wherever we go, snow soon follows. After two weeks of skiing on the new man-made ski loop at Kincaid, snow finally hit Anchorage after a month long drought. It was only about a half a foot but it was exactly what we needed to sharpen up the trails. We still had some gorgeous days of skiing before the new snow, but you could feel the excitement in the city when it came.

David is really excited about the snow making. Thank you NSAA!
David is really excited about the snow making. Thank you NSAA!
If 2k of trail is good enough for Kikkan, it's good enough for me!
If 2k of trail is good enough for Kikkan, it’s good enough for me!

Most of the APU US contingent is shipping out of Anchorage today and heading East for the Craftsbury SuperTours. We land into Boston at 4pm today, right before the “potentially historic” Winter Storm Juno is to hit New England. It is supposed to dump over two feet of snow on the Boston area and will gradually creep up towards Vermont. With any luck, we will time it just right and make it to Craftsbury without tempting the blizzard.

We will be in Craftsbury for two weeks before heading over for the Europa Cups. I am really excited for the chance to race the Europa Cup again this year. I made a huge step in my development and I hope to make another this year.

Racing in Europe last year.
Racing in Europe last year.

Holyton of Snow!

Another US Nationals has passed in Houghton, Michigan. I have raced in Houghton quite a bit since UAF races in the central region of the NCAA against schools like Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, St. Scholastica, etc. I have been to Houghton a total of six times now, but in no way was I prepared for it this year.

Lex getting a birthday interview after finishing second in the 30k classic.

With a constant blizzard and wind chills down to -20 F, I didn’t leave a single item of clothing unworn. When people discovered I am from Alaska and spent four years in Fairbanks, the common phrase of “this must be warm for you!” was repeated. Nope. Though Fairbanks gets down to -40 F once in a while and Anchorage has its wind storms, when you get the snowy trifecta, it starts to drain the mind.

Part of our large APU contingent jamming out in between races.

That said, I had a wonderful time in Houghton. We had to get creative when it came to our free time so the team spent a lot of time reading in coffee shops, strumming on guitars, and singing songs. In general, the weather cleared up for the race days and along with the great volunteers in Houghton, the championships went on without a hitch.

15k skate day. Photo: Christopher Schmidt

My week of racing started relatively unremarkably for the first three races. Finishing 22nd, 17th, and 15th in the Skate 15k, Classic Sprint, and Classic 30k respectively. I was not completely satisfied with my results, but they were still small steps in the right direction. At least that’s what I kept on trying to tell myself. With the last race coming up, the skate sprint, in order to qualify to race in Europe and meet my real goals of the season, I needed to achieve a top five.

I have talked to my coach a lot about the importance of patience, long term goals, and how the process outweighs the daily outcomes. Unfortunately, even though I know that to be true, my subconscious really wanted to race in Europe with the rest of my team of seven guys who had already qualified. Europe is where the majority of competitions are including the World Cup. It is critical to gain experience racing on foreign soil.

For the final three days of US Nationals I had this battle going on in my head. Sometimes it would click: “Everything is going to be great. I can make any situation work. I can adapt.” Other times: “If you don’t make it, your season will crumble.”(That obviously wouldn’t happen, but pressure can make you think funny things). By race day though, I had come up with my mantra: “Race to win, not to qualify.”

Logan leading Eric and I in our quarterfinal. Photo: Christopher Schmidt

The qualifier went well where I crossed in 9th, but it wasn’t until my quarterfinal heat against Besh Cup rivals and current/former teammates Eric Packer and Logan Hanneman that I knew I could make the podium. Finishing the final 200 meters, I discovered I had a finishing sprint I’ve never had before.

I swear this was not staged. I am so blessed having the team and friends that I do. This is after Lex and I finished the final, which was also Lex’s best sprint result ever and put him in the running for most consistent skier of the week with a top 10 in every race! Photo: Christopher Schmidt

With a similar result in the semifinal, all my focus was on the final. Racing against two of my other APUNSC teammates, Reese Hanneman and Lex Treinen, and classic sprint champion, Dakota Blackhorse-Von Jess, it was not going to be easy. The pack went out aggressively with a lot of jostling. I was almost certain someone would fall or break a pole. I struggled to follow my race plan of moving up as we got closer to the finish. Every time I tried to move I was shut out. Instead of coming into the final 200 in the top three, I was tied for last. Luckily, I found a hole and went for it with everything I had. Dakota had already broken up the pack at that point so I concentrated on him. With my coach telling me that I could get him, I pushed with everything I had, but he was too strong. My second place finish was a huge result for me and I’m now qualified for the European races later in the season.

The podium ceremony with Reese, Dakota, and me. Photo: Christopher Schmidt

So, with my season plan finalized, I am heading home today before potentially heading up to Fairbanks this weekend for a Besh Cup or going down to Valdez for a back-to-back 35k race called the Qaniq Challenge. Following that, the team heads over to Craftsbury, Vermont for more National Points racing and onto Europe soon after.

Come and Gone

Summer has come and gone and I have nothing to show for it. At least on this blog.

Countless hours spent with my team at amazing places like APUNSC’s Eagle Glacier and the high altitude camp in Park City made up most of the highlights.

My team on the glacier shot by the great Chris Hodel.

After Park City, I was fortunate enough to have my sister fly down for a little adventure into Moab before flying back to Anchorage. We had a solid two weeks of decent skiing but were forced to switch back to bounding when we had our annual thaw. We had to get creative with a few hockey games but our preparations for West Yellowstone were still good.

Sister watching the last sunset before not seeing it again for a month.

Our first period of racing was in Montana. First in West Yellowstone and finishing up in Bozeman with both a sprint and distance race in each weekend. For both sprints, my qualifiers went well but I left frustrated in the heats, getting out-lunged West and going down in Bozeman. I also struggled in the distance race in West before finding my rhythm for the racing in Bozeman before going down twice on an icy course.

Thanks to TOKO’s Ian Harvey for the always great shots in West Yellowstone.

When we returned to Anchorage, the skiing was still less than optimal, but luckily, the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage got the new snow making system going just in time to hold the Besh Cup races. I was able to pull to win through against a thick field in the sprint.

Besh Cup sprint podium with teammate Eric Packer in third and former UAF teammate Logan Hanneman in third.

Since I have not updated this for almost a year, there is a lot worth noting. Among that, I was able to participate in NANA Nordic as a coach for the first time.

A few of the adventures I’ve been on since last season. This is a picture from NANA Nordic in Noatak.

The whole experience was a blast and I can not wait to go again next spring.

More NANA Nordic pictures from Noatak. Coaches still need to get a workout, too!

After Besh Cups, I was able to hold my fourth annual Lickety-Splits Ski Camp for Kids. We had 150 kids sign up and with the help of 23 local coaches, it was the best one so far.

Lickety-Splits! Featuring our mascot moose antler name tags.

Photos thanks to the fantastic Dana Tower!

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to train and host camps like Lickety-Splits because of the support I get from the Anchorage community and my Gold sponsor, Northern Air Cargo.

I had a photo shoot with Northern Air Cargo which featured Sadie, who is sponsored by Saltchuk, which owns NAC. For some reason, they wouldn’t let us climb on top of it for the shots. We’ll work on it for next time though.

Thank you to Northern Air Cargo. I plan on representing them well throughout the rest of this season.

Another great shot from Chris Hodel featuring Northern Air Cargo and my focus face.

We move on to US Nationals at Houghton, Michigan in the beginning of January. I have always been able to hit my stride around January so I am really excited to get back on the road.

Until next time.

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!

The Season Begins

A lot has happened since my last post. After I got back from Montana, the team went straight to snow in Hatcher Pass. Here is a video of our early season training thanks to my teammate Reese Hanneman.

And another from West Yellowstone, Montana.

After training in Anchorage for a month, we started our race season. We went back to Montana to race in West Yellowstone and Bozeman. My races did not go like I had hoped in West Yellowstone but I started to come around for Bozeman. Unfortunately, sometimes weather comes in the way of feeling good and the race directors were forced to cancel the classic sprint, my favorite race, because it was too cold. They raced the 15k classic the next day in some of the coldest weather I have ever raced in. Since I spent the last four years in Fairbanks, I should know how to race in the cold, but I was still under prepared. I was happy to finish and satisfied with my race as a nice stepping-stone to where I want to be.

Reese on the skate sprint podium in West Yellowstone!
Easy day in Rossland. Winter wonderland.

After Bozeman, the team went up to Rossland, British Columbia to race the Canadians for the weekend. I qualified for the skate sprint, which was a huge confidence booster after having missed many in the past year.

My teammates had a really good start to the year, accumulating five podiums in the first three weekends. Even when I do not do as well as I hope, it really helps to have teammates do well and bring up the mood, especially when we near the last part of a trip.

Erik Bjornsen winning the skate sprint in Rossland.

Even more importantly than early season racing, I held the third annual, Lickety-Splits Ski Camp for Kids! It is a one-day camp I started in 2011. The first two years, we had about 100 and 90 kids respectively. This year, we have 120. My idea for the camp was to start to get my generation of elite athletes more involved with the next generation. Hopefully in a few years, Anchorage will have many more. I know that when I was younger, any interaction with an athlete, at any level, meant the world and I hope Lickety-Splits can encourage some of these kids to ski for the rest of their lives.

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The day after the camp, I raced the Bech Cup classic sprint and the skate 15k the following day. They both went well and I left the weekend excited for US Nationals.  Normally, the Anchorage Besh Cups are the premiere race of the season in Alaska, but this year we also have Spring Series in March. Alaskans have very few chances to race in front of friends and family, so we are very excited to be hosting this year.

Reese (National Classic Sprint Champion), Eric, and me in the Final. (Photo: Charlie Renfro)
Reese (National Classic Sprint Champion), Eric, and me in the Final. (Photo: Charlie Renfro)

In my next post, I will update you on my adventures in Utah for US Nationals and the plan for the rest of my season.