What takes a skier to Slovenia in September, you might wonder? Surely there are other places closer to a home base in Vermont where it would be possible to dryland train on rollerskis or on foot. And Slovenia isn’t known for any of the skiing glaciers like can be found in Italy, Austria, and Alaska. What Slovenia does have, new this year, is an indoor, underground skiing tunnel.
Make sure to check out the previous post on this blog, which went up earlier today, on the GRP biathletes’ experience at Slovenian biathlon national championships. For this post, I’ll focus on the tunnel experience and a few other mountain adventures in Slovenia that the skiers were lucky enough to get to do.
When our coach Pepa found out early summer about Slovenia’s new tunnel, which is located at the Olympic Sports Complex in Planica, she started considering options that would tie the tunnel into our fall trip to Europe. The last two years the GRP skiers have trained for several weeks in Ramsau, Austria, making use of the Dachstein glacier for on-snow sessions. Last year the snow melted out quickly on the Dachstein, so while we did get some good quality sessions on our skis, we finished the camp feeling a little bit short-changed in the skiing department. The guaranteed snow of an indoor tunnel seemed enticing, to make sure we could log quality workouts on skis, especially since Planica is only about a 2.5 hour drive from Ramsau. Thus in 2016, here on September 21st, we’re midway through a camp that combines a speed-and-technique block in the tunnel in Planica with a distance-and-high-altitude block in Ramsau at the Dachstein glacier.
The Olympic Sports Center in Planica, Slovenia. Our accommodations were simple hotel-style rooms in the building at lower left, and our playground was the mountains beyond, plus the ski tunnel a 3 minute walk from our rooms.
For most, if not all, of the team, this was our first experience with a ski tunnel. It’s a very… interesting… environment, at least this Planica tunnel, which doubles as a parking garage during certain times of the year. The walls are drab grey concrete, and there are concrete columns which the trail winds around… but there are also unusual features to examine, like traffic mirrors and signs in Slovenian, ice-flooded stairways, ice stalagmites growing up from the ground and rime crystals on piping. We skied a single loop in between 80 seconds and 2 minutes, depending on the intensity, which can get a bit repetitious… but it also means that we have many opportunities to work on certain terrain features or transitions, and many opportunities for Pepa, Sam, or Nick to video us for later technique review. The air wasn’t the freshest, and there was no music playing… but the snow is consistent and predictable, always use-able and often pretty fast, and people could bring in their own headphones with podcasts or music. So the tunnel definitely had its pros and cons, but overall the experience was quite valuable and we put in a quality one-week long speed camp. Below are some photos from our below-ground Slovenian experience.
Tunnel stalagmites, from a low perspective that makes them look extra tall. We got a few ceiling drips on our heads too, but not all that many. It seemed to be drippier in the tunnel on the days when it was raining outside.
Alex and Heather cruise towards a corner
Emily starting the uphill
Heather in the transition zone, switching from boots back to running shoes for a post-ski jog and then the walk to our lodging.
Kait, Caitlin, Ben, Liz focus before a sprint start (Photo by Sam D)
Heather and Ben sprint while wax tech Nick looks on (Photo by Sam D)
Liz and Caitlin sprinting on a straightaway (Photo by Sam D)
And then there were the above-ground sessions! Apart from our tunnel skis, fortunately we were able to get out into the mountains for several hikes and runs. Planica is in the Julian Alps, and the mountains are impressive, with steep cliff faces but also trails that bring hikers around to climb-able sides of many of the peaks. Because the skiers and biathletes within our group were on slightly different plans, with the biathletes racing in Slovenian biathlon national rollerski races on Saturday and Sunday (see previous blog post), different groups of us went on a variety of adventures. The trails and peaks that we saw just whetted our appetite for more, and I know I certainly hope to return to Slovenia and this area in particular for future excursions and training! The following photos are from a few of our hikes. (Unless otherwise noted, I took the photos in this post.)
Hiking crew above the Vrsic pass, left to right Caitlin, Nick, Heather, Kait, Ben, Liz
Climbing above the Vrsic pass into the peaks of the Julian Alps
Another view of a deep valley, Nick and Heather ascending the trail
Peaking carefully over the edge to see the sheer cliff on the other side
We took brief break from our training routine with a sight-seeing and shopping walk around Bled, Slovenia, which is known for this much-photographed lake and castle
Looking down on the jump complex at Planica from Ciprnik peak
Crazy black salamander or newt from one of our hike/runs. On that particular run we saw dozens of these little guys on a section of trail.
Ben celebrates bagging a peak on one of our first afternoon runs (Slemenova spica, over 6000ft – a good climb from Planica at 3000ft).
Coaches and skiers (missing biathletes), from left: Pepa, Heather, Ben, Kait, Caitlin, Liz, Nick. Thanks Craft Sportswear for the awesome new custom-designed suits.
This morning was our first skiing session on the Dachstein glacier above Ramsau, Austria, and we were greeted by sunny skies and fast snow. For now follow our Instagram account @greenracingproject, or Craftsbury Green Racing Project on Facebook, for (nearly) daily updates from the glacier – we’ll be sure to get a glacier summary post with photos up here on the blog too by the end of the camp!