I just flew off the Eagle Glacier above Girdwood, Alaska. My teammates and I were on the glacier for a week for a joint camp between the U.S. Ski Team (USST) cross country men and the Alaska Pacific University (APU) men’s team.
This is going to be a long post. Believe it or not (and you probably won’t if you make it all the way through this post) but I actually deleted a ton of photos. I’m not used to blogging about an entire week, and I took pictures as if I was blogging daily. Because of it’s length, this post might also be a bit discombobulated. My apologies.
Before departing for the glacier we filled up on some delicious greasy food at Taco King, an Alaskan specialty that we hit up three times during our week dry-land training in Anchorage.
I was psyched. (Maybe a little overly so.)
We all piled into an APU van for the 45 minute drive to Girdwood. The drive provides stunning views of the Turnagain Arm and the Alaska Range in the distance.
We arrived at Alpine Air in Girdwood, super excited for the helicopter ride to the glacier. Here’s USST head coach Chris Grover getting the pre-game shot of my teammate Simi Hamilton.
I like watching how it all works, including how the helicopters are cleaned and maintained.
We got a safety lesson before taking off. The number one rule is “we’re never in a hurry.”
I could have stayed at Alpine Air all day, watching the action, but soon it was time to go. Once the helicopter is started, things happen quickly. We used the big A Star, which seats 6. It took three loads to get us all up. Here’s the first load heading off:
I was in the third load. The flight from Girdwood to the glacier is less than 5 minutes. The glacier is very close to town but 6000′ above it. The ski area of Alyeska is located in Girdwood, and it is a spectacular valley.
I got to sit in the front seat.
We got pretty close to the side of the mountains. I had to remind myself that I was in a machine that is much more maneuverable than a plane.
Here’s our pilot Keith. He’s the same pilot who took me up last year. He has a lot of flying experience out of Girdwood.
We couldn’t land at the lodge because it was socked in, so we landed on the glacier instead.
I love helicopters. (I don’t know anybody who doesn’t.) I could watch them (and certainly ride in them) all day. (Besides flying up and back to Eagle this year and last year, my only experience in a helicopter is a tour I took of the Black Hills on a school outdoor education trip.) Here’s the A Star taking off from the glacier.
We were met on the glacier by the head coach of the APU team, Erik Flora, and one of his assistant coaches, Don Hearing. Don gave us a ride to the lodge in the sled attached to the snowmobile. Here’s APU athlete David Norris.
My USST teammates Simi and Ben Saxton had never been to Eagle Glacier, and it had been a long time since Andy Newell and Grover had been there. It’s a spectacular place, especially on your first trip. Here’s Simi checking it out on the first evening.
Last summer was my first time (as a guest athlete of APU), and I was excited to be back.
Here’s the view, taken from our bedroom, of the drinking water pond and the glacier in the background.
One big change from last year was that the snow is low and some crevasses are starting to show below the lodge. Flora set up a fixed line for us to cross them on the way to skiing every day.
We had to wear a harness down the hill. We then took it off, did our workout, then put it back on to come back up the hill. It was not nearly as big of a pain as it sounds, and I’m glad they are extremely cautious and doing everything they can to minimize risk. Here’s Don checking the fixed line:
Flora designs a new course every year, and it was really fun to see the new loop on the first day.
The first day was basic distance training to get used to skiing again. I skated for two and a half hours in the morning and classic skied for two hours in the afternoon. For both sessions I focused on technique and did a similar progression to what I had been doing on the treadmill in Park City, starting without poles, then adding in one pole without a strap, then two poles without straps before finally going to my normal setup. We got awesome weather to start the camp.
The lodge, owned and operated by APU, is located on the cliffs above the glacier and was flown in by a sky crane awhile ago.
It is well equipped and designed for high level training. Things get very wet when you ski on a glacier, even if it’s not precipitating, and the drying room in the lodge is remarkably effective.
Also, Flora has nailed the grooming. (It helps that he never sleeps.) Although the tracks cannot be salted due to environmental concerns, they are groomed twice a day and are great for training.
I took a couple of artsy shots.
Here’s a look at the depot area where we dropped harnesses and clothes:
Here are Grover and head USST men’s coach Jason Cork heading back up the fixed line after a session:
Here’s guest athlete and Sochi Olympian Brian Gregg in his harness:
Here are some skiers across the glacier:
And here’s a look up near the top of the loop:
On Tuesday (Day 2) we did our first intensity training. We classic skied with an hour of continuous aerobic threshold work (level 3, a hard but sustainable pace). Here are (from left to right) Simi, Cork and Newell dialing in their skis. (Well, Cork was actually dialing in my skis.)
Here’s Simi warming up.
Here’s Kyle Bratrud, an athlete from Northern Michigan University who has been training with APU for the summer.
Here are (from left to right) APU’s Reese Hanneman (who won the U.S. Supertour last season and will be joining us on the World Cup in the fall), Newell and APU’s Lex Treinen:
Here are Saxton (left) and the only male athlete on both the APU team and the U.S. Ski Team, Erik Bjornsen.
Here’s Newell again:
And here’s a shot he took of me:
Tuesday’s intensity was a really high quality session. In the afternoon we did some more classic skiing. Here is Newell again and APU’s Eric Packer:
I skied with them for a while.
One of the fast downhills on the course:
And skiing up near the top of the course:
Throughout the week we had a couple of visitors, all of whom dropped in via helicopter. (It’s the only practical way to get there.) Some of the APU media team came to take pictures.
The helipad is right by the lodge, and I could watch them come and go all day long.
If I wanted cell service I had to sit by the edge of the cliff, and the view wasn’t bad. (It got less spectacular later in the week as the weather deteriorated and I could only see about 100 feet.)
When it was clear I had a perfect view down to Girdwood (the visible airstrip is where Alpine Air is located) and of the Turnagain Arm in the distance. The Turnagain Arm sees the largest tidal flow in the United States (and fourth largest in the world), so it fluctuates between water and sand flats. You can see the tide was out in the picture.
The APU media crew filmed the APU guys for a marketing video.
We also used the photographer to do a USST photo.
And we did some individual shots. Here’s Saxton:
On Wednesday and Thursday I did distance training, 5 total hours on Wednesday and and 4.5 on Thursday. The days were made harder because I double poled (a classic technique that only uses arms) for two hours each afternoon. The snow was extremely soft, so my poles sunk a long ways each time I planted them. They were two of the hardest specific strength workouts I’ve ever done.
Here’s a view of some cloud cover on the glacier from the trail-head at the lodge:
Here’s the APU men’s team skiing as a group for the photo shoot:
Here’s Saxton, psyched:
And here’s Newell doing some technique work with one pole, followed by Grover.
The coaches got to ski a lot because there wasn’t a lot else for them to do.
By Wednesday the clouds rolled in and we were skiing in the fog.
The lodge seemed eerie.
There are four dorm-style rooms in the building; it sleeps 20. Here’s the room I was in:
Here’s a skier coming out of the fog. I like this shot.
Here’s Reese classic skiing:
The lodge has a small weight room which I used twice. Here’s Lex doing core work on the pull-up bar.
Everything that’s flown onto the glacier has to be flown out. Here’s the pile of trash in one of the conexes (shipping containers) outside the building:
We cook for ourselves on the glacier. Breakfasts and dinners are done in small cooking groups, who rotate through making a big meal for everybody. We ate really well. Here’s Newell, serving some french toast, eggs and bacon:
Here’s another view of the scenery from the lodge. I basically took this same shot every day.
One of the conexes has been converted to a wax room. We were responsible for our own skis.
Here’s the trail system on Thursday morning with the mist burning off.
It was another gorgeous day.
While I just distance skied, the rest of the guys did short fast speeds. Here’s Kyle:
I didn’t join the speed workout because my coach John Callahan and I felt that there was too much speed and intensity on the schedule for me to do in July. Thursday’s session was one of two that I skipped during the two week camp. It was fun to watch the guys. Here is Brian lunging at the finish against Packer.
The snow got soft, wet and slow (as it did every day) and looked challenging to sprint in.
In our off time we watched a lot of World Cup and Olympic racing. (It was a very focused camp.) Here we are in the living/dining area:
The food is stocked before we arrive with a huge selection from Costco. We could not have eaten it all if we’d tried.
Flora’s wife and son came to join us midway through the week. Also, Don flew out, and he was replaced by another APU coach, Mikey Matteson. I was fascinated and took a picture every time a helicopter came and went.
More snow melted and the crevasses under the fixed line became more visible as the week progressed. (They still were tiny and the fixed line was just a safety precaution.)
On Friday we did the second hard intensity session of the week, a skate team sprint workout. We simulated a semi-final with three intervals of the sprint course. We then broke into teams and raced a “final”. I had never done a team sprint before, and it was a great opportunity to try it out. I was better at it than I feared I might be, finishing in the middle of the pack. It was one of the few race-pace workouts I’ve done this year, and I was happy to see my heart rate climb fairly high. You can see my heart rate data from the session, from my Timex watch, here. (In the data, laps 3, 5 and 7 are the first three intervals. Because I was racing, I didn’t take splits for the three race efforts, but they are clearly visible in the heart rate data.)
Some of my teammates and the APU skiers were very impressive in the session. Here’s Packer:
My partner Kyle:
We woke today, the 6th and final day of the camp, to fog and rain.
We persevered anyways and finished the camp with a long, 4 hour plus, skate ski. At the start the conditions were good, but by the end they were as soft and slow as any I’ve ever skied in. It was challenging. I used my Timex GPS watch during the session to be able to share the loop and the terrain. You can see the map and elevation profile of my ski here. (I skied eight laps of the loop. On the watch, lap 1 is the ski from the lodge to the depot (which is 0.78 miles), lap 2 is my first lap of the loop (4.36 miles), lap 3 is the remaining 7 laps and lap 4 is my ski back up to the lodge.)
After my ski I was remarking that everything up there was flown in by a helicopter, including the new snow cat…
…the old snow cat…
…the conexes, the grill, the fuel tanks and the building itself.
It really is an incredible operation. The kitchen is impressive and very functional considering the remote location.
After our long ski today we rushed to get packed and ready to fly out. However, the weather moved in, and we had a bit of a wait. Here’s everybody chilling:
We made a pile of bags, which came out after us in a sling below the helicopter.
The lodge, which has cooped up a lot of skiers over the years, has some cool posters on the walls.
Many are of skiers who have spent a lot of time there.
And many have been signed.
They make for interesting viewing around the house.
Also, recently they have started keeping lists of athletes who attend the camps. Although it is only a two year old tradition, it is quite an extensive network of names.
Saxton did the honor of penning our defining feature.
Eventually a helicopter managed to make it in, despite the weather still being marginal.
We were in one of Alpine Air’s smaller 3-seaters. It took several trips to get us all out.
Here’s Erik Bjornsen as we depart.
Keith was again our pilot.
Last year I hiked out instead of flying off. Flying was an incredible experience, different than coming up, and I’m so glad I got to do it this year.
Here I am, psyched. (I’m aware that my mouthpiece is not well located.)
We snuck our way through a hole in the clouds down to Girdwood.
We got to check out and hang in Alpine Air’s hanger upon arrival. It is cool.
Again, I apologize for the length of this post. It was a great camp, and I’m so grateful to the coaches, especially Flora, who enables the place to function. Thanks also to the APU team for having us, incorporating us into your group and leading us on fun and productive training sessions for the entire two weeks we’ve been here in Alaska!