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Archive for December, 2013

Stau in the Penalty Loop

17.Dec.2013 by Susan Dunklee

Now that I am home with solid internet and don’t have to focus on racing for a couple weeks, I am hoping to catch up on some stories from the World Cup. Here’s one from early December:

We have spent endless hours on the Autobahn during our travels. Our most dreaded road sign, spotted all too frequently, is a “Stau” warning: traffic is about to slow to a crawl. Somewhere miles ahead, an accident has happened or vacation traffic is bottlenecked as it returns to Munich. All we can do is settle in and wait out the traffic jam or “Stau.”

I recently found myself in a different sort of Stau during our pursuit race in Östersund. Following the first shooting, a windy struggle in which I missed all 5 targets, I made straight for the penalty loop. As I started my third circuit around, I took a quick glance over my shoulder. “Well, this is something new,” I thought. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a continuous parade of color; about 30 athletes were circling the loop at once. With no room to maneuver in the penalty loop, we were stuck going the same speed as the person ahead of us. It was like driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Despite my disastrous start to the race, I realized that everyone was struggling and I could still be competitive.

Unusually high traffic in the penalty loop. Photo: USBA/NordicFocus

As the race progressed, conditions didn’t improve. Windblown snow had piled up across the race track. On downhills that I usually tuck at high speed, my skis sunk deep into the drifts and I slowed to a stop. I drafted behind other athletes to avoid wasting unnecessary energy against the headwind. The little red wind flags hanging in the shooting range ripped horizontally, unlike their gentle fluttering during our zeroing (sighting-in) period 45 minutes earlier. The wind whipped up clouds of snow that would obscure the targets and blind anyone in their path. Flatland, one of the Norwegian women, lost her sunglasses when they flew off her head in a particularly strong gust.

Stormy conditions on the shooting range. Photo: USBA/NordicFocus

One week earlier, a similar windstorm tore down the wall next to the shooting range.

Unbeknownst to the athletes, the competition jury was meeting and they decided to stop the race midway through, citing unfair and unsafe conditions. A strong windstorm earlier in the week had already toppled big pine trees onto the course. Athletes who normally hit over 90% of their targets were “dirtying” (missing all 5.) Other athletes, shooting during breaks in the wind or on the higher points protected by a wall, could hit more targets, avoid the penalty loop, and pass 25-30 people at once!

I was finishing up my third shooting stage, when I heard a race official speaking behind me. “The race is done. You must stop now.” I put my rifle on my back and turned around. Everyone was packing up. Per, one of our coaches was standing nearby behind a spotting scope so I went over to check in.

“That was wild!” I exclaimed, pumped up on adrenaline. “I missed 8 out of 10 prone targets and I was in still the hunt for a top 40 and points.”

“Yeah, it was crazy,” he agreed. Per nodded towards the lower numbered shooting points. “You should go rescue your friend,” he chuckled. Sure enough, I looked over and there was my teammate Annelies, all by herself and still cemented to her mat. Apparently she was the most focused athlete out there that day. She was completely oblivious that the rest of the competitors were already streaming towards the stadium exit. Normally we take 30 seconds to shoot five shots, but she’d been standing on that mat for minutes, waiting for gaps in the wind.

I skied over. “Hey Cookie,” I said softly, not wanting to startle her with a loaded rifle in her hands.

She lifted her head off the rifle’s cheekpiece, bewildered. “Huh?”

“They stopped the race. We are done.”


As we joined the other athletes at the exit I asked, “Couldn’t you hear that nobody else was shooting?”

“No. I thought it was quiet because everybody was just waiting for the wind too.” We had a good laugh.

According to our Swedish friends, Östersund’s wacky weather continued in the weeks after we left. Strong windstorms ripped down trees, damaged houses and left the region without power.

Davos Days

17.Dec.2013 by Ida Sargent


Welcome to beautiful Davos Switzerland.  Does it get any better than this?


I feel very lucky to be in such a beautiful place and to breathe the fresh mountain air of the Alps.  We have had full sun every single day!  After a few weeks in northern Scandinavia, it feels great to soak in the rays and regenerate our Vitamin D stores.


Mountains and more mountains


The view from behind our hotel


There isn’t quite as much snow this year as last year or in years past but the skiing in the valley is still really good.  While I surely can’t complain about all of the sunshine, I have my fingers crossed for a few fresh flakes so that they can groom some of my favorite trails up some of the nearby valleys (FIS Cross Country photo).


Always great to be in Switzerland with lots of chocolate!  The giant Toblerone I’m holding was 140 Swiss Francs in the Zurich airport so I had to pass on that one but I’ve still had my share of great chocolate.

I was excited to find some maple syrup in a store in town but fortunately it is still early in our winter travels so I still have part of my supply of Vermont syrup from home.  I gave a pint of it to Heinz Kessler, the owner of our hotel here in Davos and he excitedly told me that he loves syrup but has not had any since the 80s when another VT skier brought him some.


The team after our annual Secret Santa gift exchange which includes poetry writing and reading and gift giving.  I wrote ‘Twas the Night Before the World Cup, a rendition of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas for Fred, our massage therapist.  Jason Cork, one of our coaches wrote a series of Haikus for me and gave me a little Christmas tree for my hotel room.  It’s a real tree and about a foot high and just perfect for firing up my Christmas spirit.


The Davos stadium (Salomon Nordic photo)


Hotel Kulm, our home away from home on the road and where I will spend Christmas this year.


We had World Cups here in Davos this past weekend.  On Saturday some of the team raced in a 15km and 30km freestyle race and had great results including five top 30 finishes.  I sat out that race and prepared for the freestyle sprint on Sunday. I felt energetic and confident leading into the race and dreamed big with my sights set on improving on my results from last winter.  My qualification round was solid but not perfect and I just missed making the top 30.  My day was done far before I planned or was ready for and I was left with a huge ache of disappointment.  The women’s field was incredibly tight this weekend and only 3.6 seconds separated the first through thirtieth and I was just behind that mark.  Normally the men’s field is packed into close margins while them women’s field sees larger gaps but on Sunday there was about six seconds spanning the top thirty men.  I guess there are just lots of fast women this weekend.  I have replayed the race in my head repeatedly, grimacing while thinking of the slip on the ice on the final corner or my horrible transition into the uphill on the second lap.  Lots of little mistakes quickly accumulate on a day when there wasn’t room for error.  On a perfect day for racing, I was left sitting on the sidelines which is not a fun place to be.  It’s easy to become disappointed and frustrated when you look at just the place number beside my name on the result list but this sport is about keeping your head up, kicking harder up the next hill, and racing faster toward the next finish line.  The time had come to find confidence and motivation from this race and this day even if its ending was far different than I planned.  It’s about looking for improvements, challenging obstacles which will eventually make me stronger, and embracing every success whether big or small.  It’s a practice of patience, embracing this amazing journey rather than instant wins and gratification.


“The battles that count aren’t the ones for the gold medals.  The struggles within yourself– the invisible battles inside all of us– that’s where it’s at.” Jesse Owens


Qualification rounds have always been a challenge for me.  I ski faster and more relaxed in the rounds when racing head to head against the other skiers but the first step is to make the rounds.  My goal is to eventually confidently qualify in every World Cup sprint that I enter.  I’m inspired by my teammate Andy Newell who  with the exception of a couple falls, can’t remember the last time he hasn’t qualified for the heats (we think it is since about 2003 or 2005).  I’m obviously not there yet, but I’m making progress towards that goal.  The last time that I raced on this course in Davos, nine seconds separated the top thirty and I was almost 13 seconds out.  This weekend I was a third of that margin away from the lead.  It was my second best qualification ever if you measure based on FIS points (percent back) or total time back from the winner.  I felt strong and fast.  I skied relaxed with length, rather than with a frantic tempo which is not efficient on courses like this one requiring gliding and smooth skiing.  So these are my successes this weekend and these are the steps which will take me forward to our races next weekend in Asiago, Italy.  Those are the feelings which inspire me to continue to train, race, and put everything on the line each day.


Thanks for the cheers and support!

Frigid Bozeman

14.Dec.2013 by Caitlin Patterson

The day following Liz’s excellent post, “How to Stay Warm in Barely Legal Temperatures,” the skiers in Bozeman, MT did get to put their staying-warm skills to use for a classic distance mass start Supertour race.  Sunday December 8th dawned cold, but slightly less cold than the previous day, and we were hopeful that by the 12pm scheduled start the temperatures would be within the legal range.  From our perch in the big house overlooking the Bohart Ranch venue, we made frequent trips to the window to check out the scene, and even more frequent trips to every weather forecast website possible to check out current temp and hour-by-hour trends.

With a jury meeting scheduled for 11:30am, and the women’s start planned for 12pm, Liz and I didn’t have much of a choice but to venture out before any decision about the race was announced.  We typically like to warm up for around an hour, or at least start our warm up an hour prior to the race so that there is time to test skis, change into race suit and bib, and maybe eat a snack.  So at around 11, we bundled up and left the house, even though the temperature still was a bit low, something like -6 to -8F.  While skiing through the stadium during the beginning part of the warm up, we learned that the start was postponed at least until 12:30, so Pepa encouraged us to jump in the car and stay warm rather than skiing too much.  At 12 we were still in the car, waiting on an updated decision… which came at 12:10, informing us that the start was now postponed until 1pm.  So more waiting.  At 12:25 or so it was time to get out of the car and get ready, but shortly after starting to ski, we learned that now the start was postponed to 1:30pm, and that instead of a 10k mass start it was changed to a 5k mass start.  Yikes!  At this point there’s not much you can do except find amusement in the situation, keep trying to stay warm while skiing around, and wait to hear what comes next.  The last time I did a 5k mass start was as a J2 in Houghton, MI for Junior Nationals in 2006 (I think)… so this was going to be an interesting format.  And then, 15 minutes before the start, after mentally preparing for a 5k, it was turned back into a 10k… sort of a relief, sort of a bummer.

So finally, after the many delays, the race was set to start.  Most of the women reluctantly pulled off warm up pants and jackets at the last minute, and some just kept them on, and everyone had buffs or neckwarmers and hats and a few of us even raced in AirTrim breathing masks.  I often find with race that I feel like I’m in a bubble, in touch with the turns of the course and the skis on the snow and my body, but nothing else in the exterior world.  Wearing a breathing mask, which I find worthwhile for the warmth and humidity it adds to the air, combined with general cold, makes the bubble effect more pronounced.  Hearing, feeling, seeing is dulled and my mind is focused towards one goal – to ski as fast as possible and finish the race quickly in order to get out of the cold.  Of course that’s pretty similar to the goal in any race… race as fast as possible… but something about the extreme temperature adds an extra urgency.  All unpleasantness about the cold aside, I was actually very happy to get to race, and it was a fun mass start.  It was a difficult day to be well prepared for the race when it did happen, but all of us racers were in it together adapting to the challenges.  Chelsea Holmes skied very well and broke up the women’s field by half way through the race – I chased her down with all the energy I could muster, and though I fell a painful 43 seconds behind her by the finish, I was still pleased with 2nd place.  Liz skied to a strong 7th place after passing several racers in the 2nd half of the race.



Women's race shortly after start, Caitlin and Liz in 2nd row

Women’s race shortly after start, Caitlin and Liz in 2nd row. (All photos by Margaret Hillhouse)

Chelsea Holmes (7), eventual race winner, leading Caitlin (3) up a hill

Chelsea Holmes (7), eventual race winner, leading Caitlin (3) up a hill

Liz Guiney climbing during the race

Liz Guiney climbing during the race

Caitlin cornering

Caitlin cornering

Caitlin within a few k of the finish

Caitlin within a few k of the finish

The men’s race started before the women were even finished, but Liz and I watched the end of their race during our cool down, and all the GRP guys were certainly fighting for their positions – Gordon was close behind the lead pack in 10th and Andrew slightly behind that in 12th.  A few of the guys were a little disappointed with the results I believe, but I’m confident that they’ll be building into the season and getting stronger after more race starts – watch out for them in future weeks!

Men's start

Men’s start

Post-race look.  I think I nailed the natural version of those eyelashes Liz talked about in her post - they were quite distracting, though not quite as bad as the frozen contacts.

Post-race look. I think I nailed the natural version of those eyelashes Liz talked about in her post – they were quite distracting, though not quite as bad as the frozen contacts.

Raising the core temperature in the hot tub after racing.  Hats were imperative for the outdoor tub.

Raising the core temperature in the hot tub after racing. Hats were imperative for the outdoor tub.


While most of the GRP Supertour skiers headed back on Tuesday to Craftsbury, where they’ll be helping with the upcoming master’s camp and racing in the Eastern Cup in a week, a few of us stayed west for one more weekend of races.  So now Liz, Andrew and I are in Rossland, British Columbia with Nick waxing our skis for two Canadian NorAm FIS races.  Saturday we’ll race a skate sprint and Sunday a 10k/15k classic individual start.  None of us had been here before, and the impression so far is very good! Lots of fresh powdery snow, scenic tree-covered mountains and hills in every direction, relatively warm temperatures in the low 30s, European-style hilly and hard courses on wide trails.  Check out the race website here for information if you’re curious: (and for results)

Also don’t forget to watch for all the GRP skiing and biathlon athletes racing around the world this weekend: Ida in the Cross-Country World Cup in Davos, Switzerland (, Susan and Hannah in the Biathlon World Cup in Annecy-Le Grand Bornand, France ( and Clare, Ethan, and Mike at the US IBU Cup Trials in Minnesota from Saturday through Wednesday of next week (  Wish us luck!

A Woman’s Guide to Mounting (Salomon) Bindings

13.Dec.2013 by Clare Egan

Really this guide is for any person who needs to mount his/her own bindings. No one likes drilling holes into brand new race skis. But, like waxing skis and gluing pole tips, mounting bindings is part of being a cross-country skier. The good news is, if you learn to do it yourself, you don’t have to be at the mercy of your more drill-savvy teammates. The very wise Maria Stuber originally proved to me that women can do this, and then I got a refresher course from the kind and all-knowing Lucas Schulz, whose sister Anna CAN CHANGE HER OWN BRAKE PADS. Here is a D.I.Y guide to mounting bindings.

Plan A: Locate the nearest handyman and ask him politely to do it in exchange for baked goods. I see this as win-win, whereby you get your bindings mounted, plus you both get baked goods. If this fails, try Plan B.

Plan B: Unless you are a true handywoman like Susan “all-I-want-for-Christmas-is-a-Dremel” Dunklee, you will probably still need to locate a handyman, in order to borrow some of his tools. P.S. Now is as good a time as any to add a drill to your Christmas list! Here’s what you’ll need:

  • a sharpie
  • a phillips-head screwdriver
  • wood glue
  • a ski scraper
  • a drill
  • a phillips-head drill bit
  • a limited-depth drill bit that may actually be called a “binding drill bit.” I suggest using the smallest one you can find. I used approximately a 3.6mm (diameter of hole) x 9mm (depth of hole) bit, which is the larger bit pictured below.
  • the brand-specific jig


The most important thing is the jig. You can find this online (to buy) or from your local ski shop or brand rep (to borrow). It makes the process relatively fool-proof. You snap it onto your ski and then drill through the holes in the jig. The holes line up exactly where your binding screws go.

And of course you’ll need bindings! These are my new Salomon Pilot skate bindings. They come with three screws for the front, plus two along the foot plate.

The Drill.
Nothing makes you feel like a bigger idiot than when you can’t get the bit in or out of the drill, so I have explained that below.

The round end of the bit goes into the drill.

The three teeth on the inside of the drill close in on the bit to hold it in place.

Turn the two halves of the barrel of the drill in opposite directions to get the teeth to close in. Reverse directions and they will spread out.

To secure the bit in the drill, twist in opposite directions as tight as you can.

Push the button here pictured next to my thumb to change the direction of the spinning bit. You want it to spin clockwise for our purposes.


1. Find the balance point (middle) of the ski by balancing it on something like a ski scraper, and mark it with a sharpie, as I have done here.

2. Clamp the jig onto the ski. The blue handles pivot to clamp or unclamp. You can do this on the floor (left), or if the bottom of the jig goes below the bottom of the ski, you may need to set it on a bench (right).

3. Find the line that marks the balance point on the jig, and line it up with the balance point of the ski (left). Push the jig all the way down until it touches the ski (right).

***This is when you stop and check to make sure the jig is facing the right way***
The three triangle holes (below) should point towards the front of the ski.

***This is when you check everything thrice***
I) the balance point of the jig is lined up with the balance point of the ski
II) the jig is pushed all the way down onto the ski
III) the jig is pointing the right way

4. Drilling time! The idea is just to get the holes started so you can put the screws in, so the holes don’t have to be very big at all. If you hold the bit up next to the ski, you should see that it would only go a little ways into the ski. When you drill, do your best to keep the drill vertical, and apply quite a bit of downward pressure to break the surface of the ski.
Hint: Some jigs have holes for multiple types of bindings, so make sure to drill only into the holes that are labeled with your specific binding type. P.S. It doesn’t hurt to hold your binding up to the jig to make sure you’ve got the right jig.

Fresh holes.

(The fact that there are no pictures of me confidently and competently drilling into my skis is further evidence that I did this by myself!)

5. Apply a drop of wood glue to each hole.

6. With the screws in the binding, line up the screws with the holes, and get the screws started with a screw driver.

7. You can actually screw them all the way in with a screwdriver if you prefer, but it is pretty hard work and takes a long time, so I recommend using a drill. So swap out your binding drill bit for the phillips-head bit.

Pull the trigger slowly and push down hard on the screw with the drill, doing your best to keep the drill vertical. Try to stop the drill right before the screws are all the way in, and then finish them by hand with the screwdriver. This is mostly because the drill makes an awful noise when it gets the screw all the way in. Do the front three screws first, rotating between them so that they are all screwed in at about the same time, i.e. do not screw one screw in to completion before starting the next. Then do the foot plate screws afterwards.

8. You are almost there. Once the binding is secure, with all the screws finished by hand to ensure their tightness, you place this little screw cover over the rear-most screw.

9. Last step is to apply the decal to the front of the binding.

and VOILA!

And remember: just because you don’t have to be at the mercy of your male teammates, doesn’t mean you have to not be at the mercy of your male teammates. That’s what being a modern lady ski racer is all about: being empowered to choose when you are ready to drill, and when you’d rather stick to the baked goods. The choice is now yours! Next lesson: gun cleaning!