Ski Racing in Australia!
As promised, the next Australian catch-up installment. After I’d been in AUS for about two weeks, we took a little drive north to Jindabyne, New South Wales for a weekend of racing in Perisher Valley. The drive was around five hours and took us out of the lush green landscape of the valleys around Bright into a more arid and high-desert landscape.
Something on this sign is not like the rest…Can you find it?
The first few days in Perisher were beautiful and sunny, a welcome relief from the wind, snow, rain and fog of Falls Creek.
Saturday was the Australian National Championships Classic Sprint. The weather held out most of the day, but started spitting some rain/snow mix just as the final heat was about to start…of course. It was a little weird to be racing in August, but it was fun. Since I didn’t really have a lot at stake and the whole atmosphere was so much more low-key than most U.S. races I go to, I was a lot more relaxed. But I also didn’t want to make a fool of myself so I still put it to the line. I was bummed that Esther Bottomley, Australia’s only female World Cup regular and a great sprinter, didn’t race the weekend because of illness. I was hoping for a good sprint battle with her. But at the end of the day, I came away with the win, and that was pretty cool. I can say I am an Australian National Champion! Now I just have to work on that U.S. National title….
The second day was some of the most unpleasant racing I’ve had in a while. A storm blew in during the night, and we drove up to Perisher in weather looking like this:
The wind was blowing SO hard, around 50mph if I recall correctly. It was so windy that my poles would blow to the side whenever I tried to plant them in the snow. The races were shortened from 10/15km to 5/10km on a 2km loop because of the wind and the snow drifts on the trail. The extent of snow drifting was something I had never seen before on a ski course. Snowdrifts were so high that they became an extra little climb and then a jump off the back of them! Between the drifts and the strong wind, I had a horrible time warming up and during the race I felt like I couldn’t even go hard enough to feel like I was racing because every other pole plant would just blow away. I resorted to skiing WITHOUT using my poles on some of the uphills because it was actually easier and faster than using my poles. Some of the younger kids racing were actually getting blown over by the wind on the more open sections of the course. During my warm-up I was telling little kids to “get low” in the wind because it was lot more stable. And I was telling myself that during my race too. It was ridiculous. It was epic. In the end, Jess beat me by 15 seconds, but I was just happy to get out of there!
Jess trying to navigate the snowdrifts.
Trying to push through the wind.
Gusts. So fun.
Kangaroo Hoppet Week
The week following Perisher was Hoppet Week! The Kangaroo Hoppet is a 42km marathon ski race, THE premier race in AUS, and is also part of the World Loppet series, so it brings in quite a few racers from around the world as well. The elite field was quite good. Several Russian skiers had been training in Australia, including Alexander Legkov, who is the #1-ranked distance skier in the world, and won the 2013 Tour de Ski and Holmenkollen, and his teammates Ilya and Alexei Chernousov, as well as Marina Chernousova on the women’s side.
Elite night sprints were held Thursday night at Falls Creek Village Bowl. The course was literally a downhill start for 100m into a short 50m uphill on an alpine run that spun a 180, then headed back uphill to the start. It took about 90 seconds and was frantic! It was snowing hard the whole time, and was pretty dark with only a couple lights, so it was quite a whirlwind. Rapid-fire heats of 3 ended the whole event in about 20 minutes, and I came out 2nd to Esther in the end by just half of a ski length and out-lunged Marina. And it won me some cash! Bonus!
Warming up in the snow
Heading out of the start in the final heat.
Night sprints podium
Friday was the last training day before the Hoppet, and boy, did we have crazy good luck on our way down the mountain. After we finished training, we headed down the mountain towards home around 10:30 or 11am, thinking about what skis we were going to wax for the race, what we were going to have for dinner, pondering the weather, etc. Then, about 15 minutes out from Falls (and about an hour from home still!) we rounded a corner and came to a stop. About 8 cars in front of us was a giant pile of rock and rubble from a landslide that had come down and blocked the road only about 45-60 minutes before. Road workers were there and telling everyone that they had to go back up the mountain because it was going to take a few hours before anyone would be able to get through. We kinda grumbled and dawdled, on the hope that they would let us walk past the slide debris and get to a car on the other side to pick us up. Then they decided that it was too unsafe to let anyone walk past it because the hillside was on the verge of sliding again. And then we got lucky. The policeman was just coming over to tell us that we were going to have to spend the night on the mountain because it was going to take all day and night to clear the debris when he got a call on the radio that there was a mom waiting on the other side of the landslide for her kids. “Are you the kids a mom is coming to pick up?” he asked kind of confused because we were all in our 20s and hardly “kids”, but we yelled “YES!” It was Esther’s mom and five of us ran for her car. Literally ran. With ski bags and backpacks. We were the only people to get off the mountain that night. It was incredible. We were SO lucky. We would have been stuck on the mountain without all of our race gear, no change of clothes, no food, and likely slept on a couch or floor of a lodge overrun with hundreds of people that got stuck too. Fortunately, the road workers did amazing work and cleared the road by 7am the next morning and with just a one hour delay, the Hoppet went off without another hitch. Phew.
The day of the Hoppet dawned clear and sunny, which made for a wonderful last day of skiing in Australia. I was pretty nervous at the start, not knowing how I was going to fare. Truthfully, my primary goal was to make it through the whole race without bonking, and I had planned my feeds precisely. The race went much better than I was expecting. The pace was pretty quick from the get-go, and I managed to get dropped by Marina and Chisa after about 5-6km after I fell too far out of the draft on a gradual section. For the next 25-30km or so, I skied solo with a few pulls by some men that either caught me or I caught and drafted for a bit. I was really happy with myself for being able to really push the whole time at a solid threshold pace, with only a couple of slight energy lulls. Even with hour-long threshold workouts throughout the summer, it’s hard to know whether you can sustain it through a nearly-two-hour race. After I passed through the stadium at halfway and started out onto the second lap, I could feel my energy dragging but luckily I had stationed Sue Kovacs just after the lap lane to give me a nice big Coke/energy drink feed mix, and about 10 minutes later I felt waay better and was able to up the pace again. Around the 32km mark, I could see that I was quickly catching someone, and around the 33-34km mark, I caught and passed Chisa. With less than 10km to go I really gave myself a kick in the pants to do my best to leave Chisa behind and really gun it for the finish. I knew I was in second place at that point, and not seeing Marina anywhere within sight ahead of me, I just wanted to keep it. It was really exciting to ski back across the Dam Wall towards the stadium because there were actually a ton of people cheering and I was passing lots of 7k and 21km racers. The finish is a downhill into the stadium and straight across the line, and it felt so good to skid to a stop and hang on my poles. I really wanted to just sit down, but I didn’t think that would look very professional… Plus I wasn’t sure if I would get up again. I proceeded to stuff a cupful of gummy worms and some slightly-unpleasant tasting blue drink into my stomach, and then I was cornered by the emcee for an interview. I don’t remember much of what he asked me except for something about the clothing attire/style of Australian skiers or maybe the lack of clothing, because my response was “Well, I don’t really mind because in a few minutes I probably won’t be wearing much clothing either here, so…” I have no idea what was going through my head to make me say that other than I was sweating profusely in the sun and full black lycra and a fleece headband. But I do know that I was a pretty happy girl that afternoon, although pretty useless for a few hours until I had lunch and a nap.
Pretty glad I put on that sunscreen…saw a lot of red faces later that day, but not mine!
And we’re off
Skiing past kangaroo signs
Tucking into the finish…it’s like you get to finish at the top of the hill!
With Jess (4th) after the race
Happy post-race chillin’ w/PK
Thanks to Falls Creek and the Birkebeiner Ski Club for a great race! I’ll be back to win it someday soon 🙂