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Hallie’s First Biathlon World Cup

21.Jan.2020 by Hallie Grossman

Hallie here, writing from the “Family Club” or “Y” at the Biathlon World Cup in Ruhpolding, Germany (that’s where this post originate, but it took a few days to finish). On January 6 and 7, USBA held two trials races in Arber, Germany to determine the IBU Cup and World Cup teams for the upcoming race weekends. Jake, Emily, another teammate Paul, and I were the top two men and women in the races, so after the races wrapped up, we got in the van for a fairly long ride to Oberhof, Germany. Four hours and one “American burger” stop later, we made it to Oberhof.

Oberhof is notorious for its inclement (read: lousy) weather and it didn’t disappoint. As we got closer to the venue, the fog set in. It seems like natural snow is lacking in Central Europe this year, so it wasn’t surprising that there wasn’t any of that. There was a light dusting of snow in Oberhof, but I was warned that that would likely be gone soon (it was).

The next morning, I had some business to attend to. First, I had to get my rifle and some of my racing clothes inspected, to make sure my rifle was legal and my clothes didn’t have too many or the wrong logos on them. Second, Armin, the women’s National Team coach, gave me a tour of the racing venue. The venue is huge-large enough to contain at least 20,000 fans, more than 200 competitors, a similar number, if not more, of team staff, and a huge amount of wonderful volunteers. The venue is on a hill, with the wax cabins at the top and the range at the bottom, so there is a complex maze of buildings and temporary outdoor stairs to get you from one place to another. Armin told me the best way to navigate the maze, showed me where rifle check was, and pointed out least six different toilets (a critical part of race day!). After the grand tour, it was time for training, where I tried to not be too star-struck by all the biathlon phenoms on the range the whole time. It was raining, which made it more difficult to see and distinguish everyone in all their rain gear!

Thursday was sprint race day! Almost all the World Cup races are in the afternoon-better for spectators-so I went about my usual prerace activities of jogging and dryfiring and eating and being a mix of nervous and excited. Kelsey and I found glitter earlier in the winter and started wearing it at races. I hemmed and hawed for a moment about whether I wanted to wear glitter in the big leagues and the final decision was a resounding yes. I was really excited when Armin handed me my bib and said I got to keep it! They make new bibs for every single race on the World Cup. Seems a bit wasteful, but also good souvenirs and gifts for supporters. I’ll definitely be keeping this one forever though.

All smiles before the first race: glitter, a pink bib that is mine forever and a smily coach. (Ignore that I am wearing rain pants and our changing cabin is full of rain gear).

The most noteworthy part of the race was the spectators. There is a giant hill at the beginning of the course that is packed with people, that were all cheering. On the first loop, I couldn’t help but smile going up that hill. For the two more or more minutes that you ski through the stadium before you shoot, there are tons and tons of cheering spectators.

The IBU Instagram featured the new-comers to the circuit after the sprint. This pictures sums up my feelings of the day pretty well: tired but there’s a hint of smile still left.

Friday was a day off from racing. Usually on a day like this you go to the venue for training and do some skiing and shooting. Unfortunately, it had rained so much that they cancelled women’s training to preserve the snow for the men’s race that afternoon and all the racing that still had to take place in the coming days.

Saturday was relay day! It was my first time doing the “women’s relay.” On the IBU Cup, they are always mixed gender relays. It was also the first time there was an all-GRP relay on the biathlon World Cup! Susan was the scramble leg, followed by Clare, then me, then Emily as the anchor. These other three are well known for being really good at relays! Clare and Susan were in the top five for both of their legs and I haven’t been that nervous before a race start in a long time. While me and the other third-leggers were waiting to be tagged, a Swedish girl turned to me and said “Have fun! Enjoy it!” A smile instantly came over my face and I relaxed a lot. During the race, I got passed by several people and had one penalty loop in standing (in a relay, you have three spare rounds then anymore open targets require a penalty loop). Susan was out on the course cheering for me, which was really encouraging, as was Armin and our other coaches and wax technicians. I tagged Emily in 13th place (I think) and then she moved us up to 12th.

After the race, the Swedish girl gave me a big hug and asked me how it was and said she knew it was my first World Cup because aforementioned Instagram post. I told her that her pre-race reminder made my day. I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to in the relay, but my teammates were so encouraging and reminded me of the rule of not be allowed to say “sorry” after a relay.

GRP relay selfie

Sunday brought the final races of the weekend: the mass starts. To be qualify for the mass start, you have to be in top-25 World Cup ranking or the top-five performers that week so far. Susan qualified for her first mass start of the season in Oberhof! I decided to take the short jog from our hotel to watch the women’s race. I don’t think there were a lot of other athletes’ spectating but I was still starry-eyed enough about being on the World Cup that I wanted to go watch, and cheer for Suz! The weather wasn’t great for the race and it was quite windy but this didn’t deter the fans at all.

Only a sliver of the grandstands.
There were jumbotrons on the course!
Throngs of people leaving after the women’s race.

After Oberhof, it was on to Ruhpolding. I was promised nicer weather here, and it happened for the beginning of the week. It was like spring, with green grass and temperatures climbing to the mid 40’s.

Happy to see the sun!

On the second night in Oberhof, there were the Opening Ceremonies. I learned that certain World Cups have these every year. We waited outside for a long time, then walked across a stage and there were tons of people watching.

Our flag bearers
Some of the kids wanted everything and anything signed, like snow pants, gloves, and jackets!

Ruhpolding is a total biathlon town. There were signs for the races everywhere. When we were there in the summer, there were spectators at the range, cheering. They even have an indoor shooting range!

We went to the “shooting hall,” or indoor shooting range. It was quite loud but also beneficial to do more slow fire shooting in the winter without freezing.

The women’s sprint race was on Thursday. I heard Jake’s parents cheering from the side of the course, which was cool!

Starting the sprint. I think the primary purpose of the start cabin is sponsor visibility.
Photo from Karen, Jake’s mom.

On Friday, we took the tram up a mountain. It was the same mountain that Alex, Emily, Mike, and I hiked up a few years ago when we were in Ruhpolding for a training camp. It was fun to be like a regular tourist and get a ride to the top, then enjoy coffee and cake in the sunshine! The view looking down the mountain was neat, as one side looked like green farmland and the other side was snowy mountains.

Green grass
Mountains
Fun afternoon adventure.

I didn’t compete in Friday’s pursuit, but got to be on course with Armin during the race. It was neat to experience this perspective of the World Cup! There were a lot of coaches, spare poles, smart phones with live results, and cheering. I was too intent on learning how to be a coach to take any pictures…

I’m back to the IBU Cup now and we have a few week break before racing commences. I’m spending the time in Switzerland with a girl on the Swiss team! It’s been sunny and great so far.

One Way to do May

9.Jun.2019 by Hallie Grossman

In the ski world, May 1 is seen as a very special day; the start of the new training year! It’s such a special day that Fasterskier.com dedicated an entire article to it. May is the time for reflecting on the past year, acting on goals set for the coming year, and getting back in to the groove of training. Much of the GRP Biathlon team had a similar month to me, so I am going to chronicle that below. After a few days in Craftsbury, the month kicked off in earnest with a training camp in Bend, Oregon, followed by a quick trip to Columbus, Ohio (not great ski training there!), then home again to Craftsbury.

May 1: GRP friend/training partner/Estonian biathlete Johanna made a jaunt to Craftsbury for a few days. We went on a lovely hike up local favorite Mount Elmore, which got the training year started on a fun note in classic Vermont style.

Johanna, Susan, Kait, and I mid Elmore hike.
May 3: Susan, Kait and I made sure to get in a quick Green Up Day trip before heading West! We greened up along the road where we spend a lot of time roller skiing.

May 5: Next up, I, along with Alex, Emily, Susan, Clare, Mike, met Kelsey and Liz, and many other USBA teammates in Bend, Oregon for almost two weeks of crust cruising, technique work, and mountain biking. We are all part of the National Team in one way or another (except Liz who just wanted some fun early season on-snow time), as either athletes, or in the case of recent GRP alum Mike, a National Team coach. I had never been to Bend but had heard lots about this place, making my expectations quite high-and they were definitely met and even exceeded! Bend did not disappoint with plenty of sunshines and seemingly endless skiing and biking.

GRP girls and Mike.

“Crust cruise” is a somewhat ambiguous phrase and I think holds different meanings depending on what part of the country you are from. To me, a born and raised Vermonter, it traditionally meant darting through trees and perhaps a snow covered corn field in late winter or early spring. Out West, it is a whole other beast! We skied in the Broken Top Mountain area, and other than enduring a rather rough snowmobile trail for a few kilometers, we had untouched wide open expanses of varying terrain, including steep uphills, fast and fun downhills, and gently rolling flats. It was amazing and took adventure skiing to a whole new level!

Kelsey looking out over South Sister.
World’s best playground?

In addition to adventure crust skis, we did a lot of technique with coaches Armin and Mike.

Biathletes classic ski?! And do speeds on those things?! Sure do!

Most afternoons we went mountain biking. Again, the Vermonter’s conception is much different than the Western reality! The mountain biking in Bend was fast and flowy and really fun! Mountain bike is also a blast in the east, just different. I was impressed by all the people out on the trails, from young to old and everyone in between. One day a group of around 20 kids zipped by us, which was pretty neat.

Too busy trying to keep up for any action shoes, so here is a posed one! Hallie, Kelsey, Susan, and Liz.

Bend is also notorious for its tacos, just ask Ollie. One evening we went out for tacos and here is a picture to prove it.

Taco.

Bend wasn’t all play and adventure! We did some porch TRX strength sessions-and what could be better than getting stronger and being outside?

Clare and I working on our tans. I mean strength.

May 16: After Bend, many of us hopped on a plane for Columbus, Ohio. What were a bunch of skiers doing going to Ohio? Crossfit! Concept 2 hosted a biathlon event at the Rogue Invitational Crossfit Competition, a competition where elite Crossfitters from around the world were vying for spots for the Crossfit Games. Here, current and former GRP biathletes were the Range Officers and several Concept 2 staff members were the technical masterminds behind this operation. We got the opportunity to teach top level Crossfit athletes how to shoot an air rifle, many who had never held any sort of gun before. We were amazed at just how appreciative and eager to learn all of the athletes were.

Teaching shooting to incredible receptive people was awesome!
Teaching.
The (current and former) GRP squad: Back row-Mike, Ethan, Emily, Alex Hallie. Front row-Kelsey, Susan, Hannah, Raleigh.

We were teaching/coaching on Friday and Saturday morning but also had some time to check out the other events that were happening before our event on Sunday.

This was the Ruck event on Saturday, where competitors had to wear a weight vest, climb a rope several times and run a mile with heavy sand bag.
The event was live streamed on NBC!

On Sunday’s “race day,” we were range officers and our job was to load magazines, record hits and misses for the live stream, and reset targets. It was a rather high stress position, as lots of money was on the line for the winners, but it was really cool! You can check out the livestream here, starting around 35:00.

Very official looking range officers.

May 20: Then it was back to Vermont! Here are some photos of the second half of the month.

Gardening season is in full swing!

Weeding prickly raspberries with the knowledge that the prickles are worth the delicious berries later in the summer! Here I am with Erin, one of the “garden ladies.”
Laying black plastic to plant squash/melons/peppers etc. The tractor makes it easier but it is still an arduous process.
A weekend Long Trail hike yielded lots of beautiful spring wildflowers!

Spring time marks the return of the summer Tuesday Night Race series. This weekly event takes place late May-late August and has 5k run and 5k and 10k bike options and has seen nearly 100 racers before! It is a super fun community event that gets the community and Outdoor Center guests and campers out on the trails.

The TNR generally takes place rain or shine!

Community Fitness is a GRP-led fitness class that has a great group of regular attendees. It was awesome to get back to this crew after a few weeks away. I am constantly amazed at the improvements that these community members make on a weekly basis!

When I got back from the Crossfit competition I was inspired to spice up our community fitness sessions a bit with some Crossfit influenced activities!

Training resumed as soon as we hit the ground in Craftsbury.

Working on being more fearless.
It is full on bug season, so long sleeves and hats and buffs are required garb for shooting sessions, no matter the temperature.

Community and youth involvement is a big part of being on the GRP and we get to bike with a bunch of different school and kid groups through the spring, summer, and fall. Watching these kids get stronger, braver, and faster is awesome and inspiring and definitely encourages me to try to do the same!

Over the minion bridge. Cartoon critters make biking bridges over less scary and more fun.

And now it’s on to June, where the training ramps up, the black flies get replaced by mosquitos, and we get faster and stronger!

Coaching in Shungnak, AK: Where “It’s a We”

7.May.2019 by Hallie Grossman

By Jake Brown

What a privilege it is to be a ski-racer: we train year round for a sport that we love, a sport that is exciting, intimate with nature, technical, and keeps our bodies healthy. When I was in high school, our coach advertised cross-country skiing as “a lifetime sport,” a sport in which you can compete for the rest of your life. For myself, I hope that the structure and work ethic that training for cross-country ski racing instills in me will transfer when my life is centered on something other than being the fastest ski-racer or biathlete I can be. Cross-country skiing is a sport that is worth sharing, and this April I had the privilege of getting to share the sport in rural Alaska.

There are parts of the world where skiing can not only serve as an avenue for athletic or character development, but also play a more functional role in daily life. Think of the Arctic, where snow covers the landscape more often than it doesn’t, where snow-mobiles (known simply as “sno-gos” in the Arctic) pack down the snow-laden village streets, and where success or failure in silently stalking caribou on a hunt can mean a guarantee of food on the table, or not.

Skiku/NANA Nordic is an Alaskan non-profit that sends skiers and coaches to the rural Alaskan villages to teach basic skiing skills for one week each year. “Skiku” is the overarching name for the organization (the name comes from combining the Inupiaq word for ice, siku, and the word ski) while “NANA Nordic” was the original name for the organization before their reach expanded beyond the Northwest Arctic Native Association’s region. This year Skiku had 58 villages on the schedule. Between three and six coaches are sent to each village for one week. While in the village, the coaches take over the phys-ed classes during the day, provide after-school ski programming (usually games and adventure skiing) for kids after school, and offer lessons for community members as well.

This year I had the privilege of coaching with Skiku in the village of Shungnak. Shungnak is located 355 miles inland of the Kotzebue Sound, just southeast of Kobuk Valley National Park and southwest of Gates of the Arctic National Park. Shungnak has about 250 residents, 95% of whom are of Alaska Native heritage. In Shungnak I was joined by two other coaches, Harvard University assistant coach Jeff Tucker and GRP summer athlete Johanna Talihärm (during the week, Jeff received word that he would be joining the Craftsbury coaching staff for the summer!). Although I had served as a coach with Skiku in the past, each village is unique and I knew that Shungnak would be no exception.

Shungnak, Alaska

A week before traveling to the Arctic I called the Shungnak school principle, Roger, to introduce myself and make sure that the village was prepared for their “ski-week.” Roger assured me that he, the village, and the kids were ready. The kids love skiing, he had told me, and they are pretty darn good, too. He talked about previous years, about how the entire village had lined the village streets to watch the race at the end of the week. “Because in Shungnak, It’s a ‘We’,” he had said.

Fast forward to our week in the Arctic, and it didn’t take long for Johanna, Jeff, and I to learn what “It’s a We” was all about. The community made us welcome, having put up welcome signs in the school and providing us with all the resources we need, which made it a joy to share as much as we could about skiing with them. We spent our nights sleeping in the fourth and fifth grade classroom and our days on skis. After morning assembly at 8:55am, we would prep for our classes by organizing gear or setting up an obstacle course, treasure hunt, games, or the race course. When P.E. classes began, we were fortunate that Shungnak’s students were easy to work with. As long as we maintained structure and order, as was the way at Shungnak school, the kids followed along. This allowed the three of us to get all the kids, as many as thirty at a time (and nearly fifty on race day!) set up with equipment and out the door in a matter of minutes.

Bears learning to ski… photo by Debby Tzolov

Every day we took four separate PE classes out for an hour each; ages ranged from pre-kindergarten to seventh grade, and abilities ranged wider.  Each day brought a new theme (which always kept things interesting for both us and the kids): Starting and stopping games, agility course, biathlon, treasure hunt, and racing. After school we took all comers outside to play a game on skis (the most popular being run, caribou, run and capture the flag) or on an adventure ski either down the sno-go trail toward the next town, Kobuk, or through the village streets. Although we had to be on the lookout for stray dogs and speeding sno-gos, I always preferred going into the village, where interested adults would glance up from their work on a sno-go to watch kids ski by, and kids would call out, “look, Dad, watch me slide!” and then proceed to share with you all about their family as we skied along.

Found: a clue while on a treasure hunt
S’mores!
Agility Course!
The first attempts at “pizza pie”… work to be done
Scary Bear!
Laser biathlon!
It’s a showdown! Shungnak’s best vs. Johanna

It’s easy to think that we were the ones giving the kids a special experience. And in a way we did. It was evident when we saw the joy on their faces as they sprinted to the equipment line on the last day, when they zipped down a hill without falling, or when one said “I croak” (translation: I’m exhausted) with satisfaction after he crossed the finish line on race day. But the reality is that they and Shungnak as a whole gave us arguably the more valued experience, one that will change our perspectives on culture, struggle, joy, and what is really important. It’s not just a privilege to pursue ski racing, but it is also a privilege to share it.

Community lesson, photo by Debby Tzolov

Roger was really big on mottos. “It’s a We” was the big one, but there were also “Education comes first” and “Education is a job,” which were emblazoned all over the gym. At first, I thought it was a little overkill. The phrases were everywhere. But by the end of the week, I had bought in. Take “It’s a We,” for example. Roger had come up with the phrase as a school motto, but the words were transcendent. “It’s a We” represented Roger’s mission to increase the sense of community in Shungnak. It was Shungnak’s brand. And they wore it well, both figuratively, and literally. In fact, Roger had officially made the slogan a registered trademark of Shungnak School, and it appears of every article of school clothing, from teachers’ sweatshirts to basketball uniforms. Roger even outfit us ski coaches (as well as other visitors) with our own ‘It’s a We’ paraphernalia, broadcasting the Shungnak identity beyond the Kobuk Valley. But it was clear that the slogan wasn’t about sending an image to outside world, but about uniting Shungnak internally. One of Roger’s biggest goals when he arrived as principle eight years ago was to increase parent involvement in their child’s education, to have parent and student pursue education as a job together. He wanted families to stand up against domestic violence and alcohol abuse, to make Shungnak a safe and healthy environment. He wanted the students to serve their communities, for example fetching stove oil for neighbors or chopping wood for an elder. This is what “It’s a We” stood for.

During our time in Shungnak we heard jaw-dropping stories illustrating Shungnak’s transformation over the last eight years. We only got a glimpse into Shungnak, but we could see the essence of “It’s a We” in something as simple as skiing. For one, the school had bought into the ski program: they not only have established an ongoing system to take the kids skiing throughout the winter but have also purchased two laser biathlon systems, Podiumwear warmup uniforms, and a wax box filled with a brand new Swix T77 iron, waxes, brushes, and a “Swix CeraF” apron. Teachers and community members were also enjoying the sport: we had four adults attend our evening community ski lesson, including a mom who had been convinced by her first and third grade daughters to give it a try. And the biggest sign of support was when we saw the community turn out to watch the race on Friday afternoon. Family members and friends lined up in front of the village store and watched their kids race a challenging 3km in slushy conditions. For me, that alone made it worth it, to see that skiing could contribute to the mission of “It’s a We.”

Principle Roger shows off Shungnak’s Podiumwear warmups in 2018
Beautiful landscape of the NANA region

January GRP Biathlon in Europe, Part 2

1.Feb.2019 by Hallie Grossman

World Cup 5: Ruhpolding, Germany

From Oberhof, Clare and Susan drove with the US Biathlon World Cup contingent while Jake, coming from Poland, met them in Germany en route to Ruhpolding. Driving from rainy, snowless Munich, the team first encountered snow just before pulling off the highway nine kilometers from Ruhpolding. Yet when they pulled into the hotel there was three feet of snow layered over everything (so much that signs plastered on buildings all over town warned pedestrians of the danger of falling snow from the roofs) and falling from the sky were the first flakes of a blizzard that would last the remainder of the day and add eight fresh inches to the snowy landscape. Most of the snowbase had come from record-setting storms earlier in the winter, and road closures and avalanche warnings from those storms were still in effect. While the US team was lucky to stay just 5 min from the race venue, other teams had to drive up to an hour due to road closures to get to their hotels. The avalanche warnings caused the organizing committee to delay the first race (the men’s sprint) by one day; men and women both raced the sprint on Thursday. The weekend was sunny with temperatures just below freezing- perfect weather for biathlon. In addition to the sprint, both men and women raced a relay, and Clare and Susan raced the mass start (the mass start is limited to 30 starters: the top 25 on the IBU points list are joined by 5 wild cards outside the top 25 who had the best individual performances from the given weekend).

And of course, the German biathlon fans did not disappoint, showing up en masse for their favorite home World Cup. Racing on a course lined with wild fans 3-spectators deep is energizing; it may even be worth having to pass through the unmistakable aroma of fried German cheese during each race loop. What feels a little strange coming from Craftsbury, where you can escape into the silence of the woods to train, is not only racing but also training in front of an audience of thousands of fans. The fans arrive hours before the race to claim their favorite course-side spots and on days where athletes are not racing (for example, much of the team on mass-start day, where only 30 athletes race), training still takes place and usually at the venue.

Evening ski in the Ruhpolding valley
Jake in the Ruhpolding relay
Clare with a fan and flamingo in Ruhpolding… and more fans!

IBU Cup 6: Lenzerheide, Switzerland

From Arber it was on to Lenzerheide, Switzerland for the IBU Cup crew. Lenzerheide was beautiful, the “Canmore of Europe” as Raleigh called it, with jagged mountains rising into blue sky on all sides. The team raced a sprint, pursuit, and relay in Lenzerheide, and all GRP athletes qualified for the pursuit by finishing in the top 60 in the sprint. Emily led the way in the pursuit, moving up from 27th to 18th with three penalties. The all-GRP team of Alex, Raleigh, Hallie, and Emily also started a mixed relay for the US.

The range in Lenzerheide

Raleigh racing beneath the jagged peaks of Lenzerheide, Switzerland

World Cup 6: Antholz-Anterselva, Italy

While the IBU Cup team wrapped up January competition in Switzerland, the World Cup crew traveled from Bavaria through Austria and over the Brenner Pass to Antholz-Anterselva in the South Tirol of Italy (a bilingual region of Italy, each town in the South Tirol has both a German and Italian name). The Antholz valley is a stunningly beautiful place with mountains blanketed in plenty snow and basked in plenty of sun: a cross-country skier’s paradise, or close to it. Accordingly, the biathlon venue is one of the most popular among athletes. The course contains a blend of rolling terrain through woods with more challenging climbs and snaking descents through open snow-laden meadows with jaw-dropping mountain views. Although clouds and snow made their way up the Antholz valley most mornings, by race time in the afternoons the sky was clear. Windy conditions and 1640m altitude made shooting more challenging than in Ruhpolding. Once again, however, that’s part of the sport. The race lineup for Antholz was the traditional sprint, pursuit, mass-start weekend; GRP highlights were Jake scoring a World Cup point with 40th in the sprint and Clare’s 15th in the mass start! Whether good or bad performances, it’s easy to be content in Antholz with the delightful weather and another delicious family club (think the best of both Italian and German food: all types of pasta, pretzels, würst, soft and hard cheeses, soups, and desserts).

Susan on the big climb in Antholz with the stadium and range in the background, chasing GRP summer athlete Johanna Talihärm of Estonia

Clare fighting on the big climb in Antholz with US men’s coach Michi Greis cheering her on


Europeans love biathlon.
Kids don’t care how many penalty loops you had…
Sunrise ski up the pass on the Italian-Austrian border

After the final races concluded on Sunday, January 27, we were reunited in Munich, albeit tired and happy to be heading home. Racing continues for the GRP biathlon team at the NorAm Cup this weekend in Jericho, VT (Feb 1 and 3), on the World Cup in Canmore, AB (Feb 7-10) followed by Soldier Hollow, UT (Feb 14-17), and on the IBU Cup at the Open European Championships in Minsk, Belarus (Feb 20-24). Follow all the IBU results at www.biathlonresults.com and look for updates on our team page www.greenracingproject.com. This weekend’s NorAm results can be found at http://www.eabiathlon.org/results.html. Thanks for reading!