Friday, February 17, 2012

Meribel, Frenchi-Land

For the past ten days I have been living and skiing out of Meribel, France... otherwise known as the three valleys... or the largest ski resort in the world. For two years now, I have made it a point to find a break in the middle of the season to take my mind away from the pressure and stress of racing to allow myself to relax. This year it worked out perfectly to go right before U23's, because this way I would get a short altitude block of training before the altitude racing at U23's. I also get the side effect of spending ten days with my boyfriend who is French, and spends the winters working as a ski instructor and coach out of Meribel.
Skiing in the sunshine (Greg Stafford photo)
kids biathlon race that was going on one day during my workout.

Last year I did a shorter block and didn't really get a chance to ski many trails, or get to know many people; but this year I got to know more of the trails, the bus systems, and some of the nordic instructors. Little did I know there were trails everywhere, going all the way to the next valley over!! Trying to live the most "vacation" mode I could, I would wait until later in the morning to go out for my skis so I could enjoy the sunshine as well as a bit warmer temperatures. I also took the time to do some  alpine skiing, seeing as I was living in the "alpine heaven". I actually made the decision that assuming you ski under control, and somewhat smart- nordics can learn a lot from some alpine skiing. We go down hills too- so why not become confident and comfortable with the idea!!??

One of the ski instructors I made friends with in Meribel
Sun chairs on the top of the mountain- BRILLIANT!!
As hard as it was to watch my teammates race on the TV over the weekend, and not be there with them- I have learned that a mid-season mental break is a necessity for me. Sometimes it's difficult to be in constant charge mode, with your head down, your muscles tight, and living the mental roller-coaster that accompanies it. So for ten days, I trained, enjoyed the sunshine, baked, met new people, did some schoolwork, spent time with my boyfriend, and learned some good old French talk.
The one humiliating thing about wearing a US Ski Team jacket on the hill is you don't always live up to what people would expect a "US Ski Team Alpiner would look like" :) "yep, im actually a nordy".
Valentines Day, Jo and I skinned to the top of the ski resort and watched the sun set- not too bad :)
A little toast
Watching some night events.
So much snow in Meribel!! This guy has some digging to get his car going!!
Yesterday morning, I set out early for my next adventure... TURKEY!! Starting at five in the morning, I headed down the hill in a snow storm for the train station. With Jo busy with work, I bought a train ticket and was prepared to head to the airport that way. Shortly after arriving, I realized that my pre-bought ticket was not being recognized with the system- so I started my day of travel on a train with no ticket, no french-speaking language skills, and not much of a plan. Luckily I met some nice alpine skier from the french side of Canada who helped me explain to the ticket man that I had in fact bought a ticket, it just wouldn't come out of the machine. From there on this awesome dude name "Gabriel from Canada" helped me maneuver through my three train changes with all my luggage and ski bag all the way to airport.

From there- the adventures started. As I was headed through the security line- just about to put my bags through, the entire airport lost power. After waiting for what seemed like forever, they managed to syphon the passengers through one "non-lit" security check zone- so luckily I made it to the other side. With all the monitors down though, I didn't know my gate number, so after going to the wrong terminal and then having to do a marathon race to the other side.. I made it to my plane just in time. As I loaded the plane and headed out, the pilot seemed to be on "french time", so running about an hour late. Part of my trip included going through customs in Istanbul, picking up my bags, rechecking them, and continuing on my journey. I knew all my connections were tight- so as we left Geneva way behind schedule, I knew I was going to be screwed for the day!! The minute the plane landed, I looked at my watch, realizing I had 40 minutes to: buy a Turkish Visa, get through passport control, round up my two bags, bring them to check in, go through security, and board my new flight. Turns out the Istanbul Airport is incredibly confusing, not many people speak english, and there is about a mile between the domestic part of the airport and the international. (the distance you carry you bags for re-check) To my luck, some incredibly friendly man from Pennsylvania, who does business in Turkey saw me franticly running and decided he was going to help me. He managed to guide me through the whole Visa process, help me round up my ski bag (which took forever to come out), ran with one of my ski bags across the airport, while I carried the other- and saw that I got to the plane.... with about 2 minutes to spare. At the last minute when I was re-checking in my bags and they were doing last minute call for my plane, I simply dropped my ski bag in the middle of the airport and ran for the security check. I figured there was no way I was going to get my bags anyways, but at least it had a tag on it, so it couldn't get too lost. (at least this is what I was trying to convince myself)

Leaving France
Entering Turkey
What a surprise, once again the plane sat on the run-way for an extra 45 minutes, the exact amount of layover I had on my next connection in Annarka. As we landed, and I knew I had 5 minutes to run to the next plane- I simply gave up. Having been on an adrenalin rush for about 4 hours now, I couldn't take it anymore. I noticed the Czech Team was on the plane with me, so at least I wouldn't be the only one missing my flight. To my surprise as I walked down the steps of the plane, one of the skiers waved me over to a van. I jumped in, and magically someone was personally delivering us to my next flight!! We jumped out of the van, walked the steps up to our new plane, and took off about five minutes later..... WHAT!!! During the flight I knew two things. I was going to make it to Erzurum today, and I was not going to get my bags!! NO WAY!

As I was sitting there, waiting for the two other Americans who were on the last connection flight I watched both my bags come out on the belt in disbelief!!! After all that chaos, and all those short connections, and all the hope I had lost with Turkish Airlines... somehow it had all worked out. All I could think was thank god for those random friendly people that decided to help me just out of pure kindness!! How incredible!! Also, thank god I didn't live that experience as a junior when I had no experience traveling. HOLY COW!!

So, I am now in Turkey- where I have seen very little. Arriving late didn't allow for us to see much around, and it has been windy, snowy, and storming since we arrived- so again I haven't seen much. What I can gather is; there is an alpine hill beside us, our hotel is very fancy, we are staying with the norwegians, there is a certain "lack of air", the courses seem fun, Turkish people drive with no rules and a strong use of the horn, I can't figure out a single word the turkish people are saying, it is a bit sketchy around here, we have a team full of new awesome juniors, and this trip is going to be one big adventure!!

Venue view- with not a whole lot going on :)
Fun fact of the day- Gus has enormous feet!!
With that, I am headed to dinner where they have been serving an impressive display of interesting mixtures of food. No bad... just interesting!!

More news soon when we get to see more!!

On another note, I got to watch the World Cup on TV today. Kikkan fell in the finals and still went on to finish 3rd, and Devon Kershaw pulled the most impressive finishing speed to win the race today!! Lots of screaming at the TV- sooo fun!!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Russia, Russia, Brrrrr

Last week, I had my first ever trip to Russia for the weekend of World Cup racing. Unfortunately the mixture of frigid cold temperatures, and the quick trip made for little exploring. What I saw of the country was either from the airplane window, the bus window, the hotel, our small jogs around the hotel, or simply the ski venue.

Finding some entertaining things on our run.
The first stop was Moscow. I have met a few Russians in Alaska, as they all seem to come to school at UAA, and one of the things I have always noticed with them was: fur and high heels. Let me tell you, Moscow lived up to the generalization... and more!! Starting with the trip from the airport to our hotel all I could see was smoke stacks, beat down buildings stacked at least 20 stories high everywhere, and lots of crazy drivers in very old cars. Things were starting with a bit of a grey tint. As we got closer to the heart of the city I began to see colorful "Aladan"buildings. (The disney show with the flying red carpet). That, and groups of markets that looked like you would only want to go shopping in if you had a body guard and possibly a weapon. I have to say, I got the shivers. I felt like if you went in alone, you may not come out. Waiting in traffic for at least an hour, going only 1km confirmed that traffic in Russia is no different than that of Seattle or New York. People still want to get places!! When we finally pulled up to our hotel, I was shocked, thinking it was a joke. I actually felt like we were pulling into Vegas. Bright lights everywhere, red carpet, finely dressed people, nice restaurants, strip clubs, ponds.... you name it, they had it!! The best part is; I seriously wonder what the Russian guests thought as they saw all the skiers role in with their sport clothing, and their lack of "heels and fur".

They seem to fancy the "stacking" method.
mmm, beautiful!
The front entrance to our hotel
sticking out a bit.....
Breathing masks were essential with the cold weather!!
With the frigid temperatures outside, down below -4F most the day, our venturing outside including wrapping ourselves up with clothing and going for short jogs or heading to the venue. We were instructed to not venture too far, and never go alone, as the actual "safety level" was right on the edge.
Shopping Center
Night time view from our room
The actual venue for the Moscow City Sprints was amazing. Not only was there a nordic venue, but they were also working on putting in a slalom hill for the Alpine World Cup the following weekend. Made of thousands and thousands of pieces of scafeltine, the slope towered above our little 1km nordic track. Not only that, we were racing right at the famous or maybe "infamous" Luzhinky Stadium. It was neat, we were just surrounded by so much history. I was really hoping we were going to get a chance to walk to the Red Square, but our Moscow trip was only a short two days... which came down to all preparation and then racing.
Center of the ski venue... doesn't that air just look cold!!?
The slalom hill in the process of being built. Our races started almost right at the base of it.
The ladies testing skis and trying to stay warm!!
The actual race didn't go so well for me. The mixture of the cold temperatures, a long flat course, and my grandfathers passing away the night before didn't really put me in the right place. It was super exciting on another hand though because my teammates had some of the  most amazing racing ever. As I watched the three of them tactically control the semi-finals, I just got goosebumps and big smiles. The exciting thing is, I know we can all ski like that, it's just a matter of throwing down your best at the right time. I think there are so many more exciting times to come for our team in the near future. Cool stuff!!!

RIP Grandpa- I love you dearly.
Jessie, BIB 1!!!!
Here is a little shout-out video we made in review of our Moscow Race. Just a little fun :)

About three hours after completing our race, we hopped on a bus with team Norway, and drove eight hours through the night to our next venue. With such a short turnover, just one day between the races- it was important to move on... even through the night. That bus ride was an experience in its own. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I woke up to a variety of sketchy and beautiful things visible out the window... ohhh Russia!!
This is what many of the buses looked like, minus the skier on the side.
Once again, as we arrived in Rybinsk for the racing, temperatures were hovering down below legal limits. The difference in Rybinsk was that there was strong wind that accompanied the frigidness. Once again I froze myself in the race, and finished the 10k skate somewhere below where I would have liked to be.
Jessie and I, with the stadium in the background.
Cold, but still smiling :)
The most incredible thing about Rybinsk was the atmosphere, regardless of the cold temps. There was a true celebration going on. People were out there just loving it. This is where I learned why the Russians wear so much fur... because its FREEZING out. They are just smart enough to figure out how to survive in the climate. I almost bought myself a fur hat by the end... but I am not sure it would have a whole lot of use in the normal "tropical" conditions we have been experiencing so far this year.
Holly and I trying out the fur hats (Holly photo)
Lots of spectators.
Kikkan and Liz getting some skiing together.
The ladies squad- Notice all the clothes I have on for cheering.... brrrr! Props to the wax techs and coaches for standing out there in the cold all day- that is impressive!!
It was a fun weekend and a fun new experience. I can't say I would ever want to live in Russia, but I like visiting just for the racing part.... although I wouldn't mind if things warmed up a bit next time.

I am now in France for a short altitude block before U23's in Turkey. (Turkey will be high altitude racing). I am also getting to spend these ten days with my french boyfriend, who I haven't seen in three months, so it's super nice! A mixture between the alpine skiing, sunshine, great nordic skiing, and a little time with my mind away from racing will hopefully be the perfect set up to have some of my best races of the year in Turkey! I hope!!!
Blue skis and good tracks- YES!!!
Jo and I doing some of that alpine stuff.
I also started school this week, so I am back at the books, learning my accounting. It is exciting, I am actually in a class with my brother, Fitness for Life, where we will learning about setting goals, and spreading holistic health throughout the community. It sounds like a bit of a joke, but I think the teacher is pretty stoked on challenging us. I am excited!! But, I am back at having a solid past-time energy consumer for the rest of the winter. 

Hope you all are happy and healthy!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A little FUN

Here is a video of the most epic sledding I have done. Thanks Newell for putting it together!!