Posted November 20th, 2010
I’ve been keeping track of my first ski of the winter ever since I began writing a training log in the tenth grade. In my book, the first ski had to be a legitimate session on snow; fast grass and frost didn’t count, and it couldn’t be some 24-hour fluke either. For example, the eight inches at Breadloaf on October 20, 2005, didn’t count, because I plodded around for only an hour and the wet mush was all but gone the next day. But two years later, the Nor’easter that left enough powder in Lake Placid on Halloween weekend to dust off the snowmobiles went in the books as my earliest ski ever. The trails held for a week and then it was back to rollerskiing for a brief stint until Thanksgiving in Yellowstone, but it still fit my criteria to go down in the books as the first ski of the season.
This year set a new record: October 26, on an impressively manicured five-kilometer loop in Muonio, Finland. Not only did this ski fit all the criteria (that loop has expanded to almost 15 kilometers in the week I’ve been training here), the conditions rivaled last February’s peak snow pack at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. It might seem traitorous to my home turf to count training on snow a hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle (how could Vermont ever compete with this latitude?), but it sure hasn’t bothered me much yet.
Craftsbury’s Green Racing forgave the traditional stint at West Yellowstone over Thanksgiving for an extended on-snow training camp in Finland. We’ll be here for about four weeks and will also start in the opening Scandinavian FIS races of the year. While we might be missing the collective hullabaloo that marks the opening of the Nordic season in North America in Yellowstone, we are joined here in Muonio by Estonian, Russian, Kazakh, and German national teams, to name just a few. Needless to say, there are a lot of big boys skiing around out there every morning.
Despite being so far north, Muonio can’t guarantee natural snow in October every year. Their solution: covering an enormous pile of last year’s snow with sawdust to weather the five or so months of “summer” they get here. When we arrived, there was at most a few centimeters of natural snow covering the streets of this small Lapland town. But on the ski trails it was a different story. A big excavator, a few tractors with large wagons, and a piston bully had easily uncovered the remains of the last year’s snow mountain (picture an entire football field filled up to the tops of the goalposts, and that’s after a summer of melting) and spread it across approximately five kilometers of trail. While this aged snow admittedly feels a bit, well, old, tilled in with an inch of fresh natural snow made for unbelievably solid ski conditions, especially for October.
In another week, the last outstanding member of our team and another contingent of Americans from the Maine Winter Sports Center will join us in Muonio. All told, 20 Americans, including the U.S. Ski Team, will toe the line at the first big FIS races of the winter. The National Cross-Country Ski Education Foundation, a nonprofit whose business is to increase racing opportunities in Europe for promising American racers, has helped subsidize the trip. For many national teams, these races are a tune-up before the first World Cups of the year in Sweden in mid-November; there won’t be races of this caliber outside of the World Cup until springtime. In short, we’re excited to be here, to be skiing on snow, and to get the racing underway.
My first ski of the year is in the books, as well as the second, the third, and as of this afternoon, the 14th. Dryland training is officially over and winter is here, albeit a bit north of home. We’ll be skiing, eating and sleeping for the rest of our camp here, and with some luck we’ll be welcomed back to Craftsbury in December to the same snowy conditions that drew us across the pond and up to the Arctic in the first place.
Tim Reynolds races for the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, an Olympic development cross-country ski program based at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. Check out his team at www.greenracingproject.com.