Rogla OPA Cup racing, and other scenes of Slovenia

4.Mar.2015 by Caitlin Patterson

Liz Guiney and I traveled to Europe early last week to join the US OPA Cup group and gain experience racing in competitive European ski races.  The OPA Cup (also known as Europa Cup or Alpen Cup) is the central-European equivalent to the US Supertour – it’s a race series that spans the entire winter, where the fastest non-World Cup German, French, Italian, Slovenian, Swiss and Austrian (and maybe a few other countries…) athletes compete ranking points that can give them World Cup start spots, and for general recognition.  Since these races are in Europe and relatively close to much of the World Cup circuit, many racers will bounce back and forth between World Cups and OPA, depending on whether they’re racing well and if their country has spots for them in the World Cup.  So when athletes from guest nations, such as the USA and Canada, show up to race, we have the opportunity to test ourselves against many experienced racers, but with the potential to actually do well and build our confidence, helping us develop to be the level of skier who can compete on the World Cup. The US Ski Team has put together an organized trip to travel around and race many of these OPA cups in February and March, and Liz and I were fortunate enough to have good results at US Nationals in January that allowed us to qualify for the trip.  Although it would be great if anyone who wanted to race could make the trip, unfortunately resources are limited, logistics get complicated with more people, and as a “guest nation” the US is only allotted one tiny wax cabin at the venue, so this year there was a stringent criteria set up for determining who could attend the trip.  Thank you to NNF (the National Nordic Foundation) and the Craftsbury GRP for supporting our skiing development through this trip!

Liz and I in our US gear after a session of classic intervals

Liz and I in our US gear after a session of classic intervals

So, with that background of why we travelled all the way to Europe for a few ski races… Last weekend’s OPA races were in Rogla, Slovenia, so Liz and I flew from the US to Ljublijana, Slovenia.  From Ljublijana it was about a 1.5-2 hour drive to Zrece, a town in the valley below Rogla where we would be staying.  Past years the US athletes had apparently been able to stay up “on the mountain” at Rogla itself, but this year it was some kind of European holiday and the organizers of the event preferred for us to stay down in the village.  It was actually pretty nice, the village had no snow at all, great for afternoon jogs, and the 40-50+ F weather was the warmest I’ve had since the fall.  We did have to take a horribly twisty road up and down from the venue to ski each day, but at least at the top there was plenty of snow and sun shining through on a few days!

Each morning we skied in Rogla, and then generally hurried down to watch skiing World Championship races from Falun, SWE on Eurosport. Down in the town of Zrece, we went on afternoon jogs, one of which included an excursion up the hill to a few churches, wandered to the grocery store for snacks, and visited really cool castle ruins just 7 kilometers away from our hotel!  And then, before we knew it, it was the weekend and race time – skate sprint on Saturday, classic 15k and 30k mass starts on Sunday.  The races went well, but not perfectly – definitely a learning experience for me, about not hesitating, ever, in a sprint race, and about how to ski with minimal kick during a hilly 15k (take advantage of the  downhills, and run the uphills).  While the results, numbers-wise, were not quite everything I was hoping for, I was very happy with my effort and race feelings! To do a 1.2k skate sprint just one week after the 51k Birkie, and feel snappy and awake, is a feat in itself for me.  Now I’m on to Lahti, Finland to race in the World Cup this weekend! It’s an exciting time for GRP skiers, with the World Cup biathletes (Susan, Hannah, Clare) about to start their World Championships, Ethan racing in the IBU Cups in Canmore, Ida and I here at the skiing World Cup in Lahti, and Liz racing this coming weekend in Austria.  Check back for more stories coming soon, and enjoy the photos!

For further reading about our experiences, check out Liz and my personal blogs, where we’ve been posting additional stories and pictures about our trips: elizabethguiney.blogspot.com and caitlinpatterson.blogspot.com

Also, I wrote about the classic mass start races at OPA for NNF, which you can read here: https://www.nationalnordicfoundation.org/2015/03/caitlin-patterson-slovenian-opa-cup-day-2-classic-mass-starts/

Liz Guiney and Chelsea Holmes skate through mashed-potatoes snow a few days before the races in Rogla

Liz and Chelsea Holmes skate through mashed-potatoes snow several days before the races in Rogla

Through the woods to the church

Through the woods to the church

An afternoon jog into the woods and up to a church on top of the hill

An afternoon jog into the woods and up to a church on top of the hill

Church on the hilltop above Zrece

Church on the hilltop above Zrece

Looking down into the valley in Slovenia where we stayed

Looking down into the valley in Slovenia where we stayed

The Konjice Castle ruins, nestled in the hills above the town of Slovenske Konjice, which was only about 7km from the village of Zrece where our OPA group stayed

The Konjice Castle ruins, nestled in the hills above the town of Slovenske Konjice, which was only about 7km from our hotel in Zrece

The central courtyard of the castle, complete with green grass

The central courtyard of the castle, complete with green grass in February!

Arrow slits overlooking the valley

Arrow slits overlooking the valley

One of the newest parts of the castle

One of the newest parts of the castle

Liz on the castle walls

Liz on the castle walls

Cavern, with lock-able gate, under the castle

Cavern, with lock-able gate, under the castle

Lead men's pack descending on the 2nd lap

Lead men’s pack descending on the 2nd lap of 6 during their 30k mass start classic race. Look closely to see the stars-and-stripes USA suits – my brother Scott Patterson is 4th from the top, and Eric Packer is 2nd from the top, they ended up 10th and 13th place.

The lead pack of men early in the race

The lead pack of men early in the race

Bryan Fish and GRP alum-now coach Pat O'Brien prepare to give feeds to the men in the 30k classic

Bryan Fish and GRP alum-now coach Pat O’Brien prepare to give feeds to the men in the 30k classic. Pat raced in a “wax tech relay” on Saturday, and though I didn’t see it myself, apparently he threw down some impressive super-speed turnover

The junior men's race passing by a tracked snow vehicle

The junior men’s race passing by a tracked snow vehicle

Lex Treinen loops through the fields

Lex Treinen loops through the fields

Feeding and cheering

Pat O’Brien feeding and cheering, as Reese Hanneman passes by in the 30k

Miles Havlick and Eric Packer collecting feeds during their 30k

Miles Havlick and Eric Packer collecting feeds during their 30k

Liz and Becca Rorabaugh

Liz and Becca Rorabaugh enjoying the sun and spectating