I just finished up a productive, challenging and fun camp on the Eagle Glacier, above Alyeska Resort and the city of Girdwood, Alaska, with the Alaska Pacific University (APU) men’s elite team. We were also joined by two women from the APU team who didn’t attend the U.S. Ski Team/APU Women’s Camp the week before. The camp was led by APU Nordic Ski Center Director Erik Flora. Erik was helped by APU staff Dylan Watts and Sam Sterling.
For the most part we trained together as a group, although I skied alone for a couple of sessions as well. In the seven days on the glacier I skied 28 hours plus did two thirty minute strength sessions. We did two intensity sessions, both level 3 (threshold/sustainable pace). The first session was five laps of a 12 to 14 minute loop with 3 to 4 minutes of recovery between intervals, skating. The second session was an hour of continuous hard skiing, classic. We also did one speed session (10-20 second efforts) and one over-distance session (four and a half hours for me), both skating. I was tired by the end of the week.
I was warned going into the camp that the APU men like to train fast. I found that to be true for a couple of sessions but not consistently. They are in great shape. They were good training partners for me. My U.S. Ski Team teammate Erik Bjornsen in particular was really strong. He pushed me often. I’m excited to watch him race next year.
I struggled with confidence at times on the glacier. I have always struggled to ski in really soft snow. The snow is consistently soft on the glacier. I also don’t feel that I’ve made big gains in my upper body strength and power, which are big goals of mine this summer. The technique work that my coach Zach Caldwell and I did in Vermont before I headed to the glacier carried over well to snow, but I wish I could have sent some video to Zach while I was on the glacier. (It wasn’t possible without internet.) I’m looking forward to continuing to work towards my goals this week in Park City and the following weeks in New Zealand.
The living situation on the glacier is very conducive to high level training. Everything on the glacier was flown in by helicopters, the building included. It is hostel style living. The kitchen is well stocked, and cleanliness is a priority on the glacier. Every day my chore group and I had a job, either preparing breakfast, cleaning after lunch, making dinner or cleaning the dinner mess. On top of that one group vacuumed and another mopped every night. Here is Tyler Kornfield cooking brats for a dinner:
Maintenance of the building, snowmobiles, Pisten Bully, generator, ski trails and wax room is incredibly challenging and time intensive. I am super impressed with Erik Flora, Dylan and Sam. They worked nonstop on numerous projects and daily maintenance to keep the place running smoothly. Erik has a background in machine work, which is critical. They are almost entirely self sufficient as getting tools and parts on and off the glacier via helicopter is very expensive. They have a well equipped tool shed:
Other than training, eating, sleeping, ski prep and the light chores, we athletes don’t have to worry about much on the glacier. Here are Erik (left) and Reese Hanneman hanging in the sun between training sessions:
The views from the lodge are pretty nice.
Here’s a look over the glacier just after sunset from the lodge:
Group training on the glacier:
For the most part we had perfect weather for the camp. A couple of afternoons the fog started rolling up over the ridge.
Here’s a look down the glacier, towards where the Eagle River flows out of it, on a clear day:
Erik grooms the trails to fit the training schedule. In general we skated in the morning to try to get firmer snow. Then Erik would re-groom with classic tracks in the afternoon:
Baking was a favorite pastime of some of the athletes, especially Sarah Cresap who made some incredibly delicious treats. We all reaped the benefits. I’m not sure who made these particular brownies:
“Man Camp” was the decided name of our camp. The girls didn’t seem too offended by it. In fact I’m fairly certain that either Sarah or the other girl at the camp, Greta Anderson, decorated those brownies.
Here are Reese (left), Greta and 2013 Junior National Sprint Champion Thomas O’Harra:
And here I am on a cold evening:
The smaller glaciers surrounding Eagle Glacier are sweet.
Here’s a look at the lodge just after sunset.
The generator is located a safe distance from the lodge.
It was hard not to keep taking pictures of the views and sunsets.
On multiple days we were above a heavy cloud layer that covered Girdwood and the Cook Inlet (Turnigan Arm).
Here is Erik Bjornsen skiing on a warm day:
When the fog did come it was generally low and spotty. You could often see above it from certain locations.
Here’s the group skiing in the fog.
Two Canadians from the Yukon Territory drove to Anchorage to join us at the camp. Here is Yukon skier Colin Abbott:
Here I am (left) with Reese:
Here we are skiing in some dense fog:
It was cool to watch the fog roll over the glacier.
Helicopters came in and out often from the glacier to transport people, drop supplies and pick up trash.
I enjoyed watching (and riding in) them.
Erik changes the layout of the trails every year to imitate the coming year’s championship courses. This year’s course is designed to ski like the trails in Sochi. Erik did a great job. The loop was over six kilometers long and took anywhere from 19 minutes to 40 minutes depending on how hard we were going and the snow conditions.
The lodge is equipped with a small but useful strength room.
There is a planned menu for dinners because groceries are flown in on a weekly basis. The menu is fairly vague though so cook groups have the ability to get creative. Here’s Lex Treinen cooking burgers.
The group watched lots of World Cup footage from last season for technique, motivation and entertainment. Several of the races they chose were races that I raced in and was featured on the T.V. coverage. Honestly watching so much footage caused anxiety for me. It made me worry that I’m not as fast as I was then and it made me feel pressure to live up to expectations. This anxiety is something I need to get under control. I need to focus on taking the next step in my career by working on my process goals: maintain my fitness, maintain good energy, improve technique, and improve upper body strength and power. Here is the group watching the 50k from the World Championships in Val di Fiemme:
Reese is a great photographer. He took much higher quality photos on the glacier than I took. He was also nice enough to take some high quality skiing and head shots for me. He keeps a great blog. Check it out here.
The lodge is equipped with a great drying room which is essential since your boots and socks get soaked every session even on a nice day. Here are Erik Bjornsen (near) and Reese in the drying room.
This guy flew up in his personal helicopter to say hello to Erik Flora for an afternoon:
The glacier and sky looked a little different every day.
One day an inspector from the National Forest Service came (in a helicopter of course) to inspect the facility. APU runs the lodge on a USFS permit. Here’s the inspector talking to Dylan about safety requirements:
Here’s Sarah with one of her numerous baked goods:
I celebrated a wonderful 24th birthday on the glacier. Sarah made me a delicious cake.
Our hope was to fly out yesterday (Saturday) after our last session. However there was a storm rolling through. Visibility was nil and winds were over 50mph. There was no chance for a helicopter to land. So, we settled in for another night. Some of the boys played monopoly.
There is a tradition of documenting each camp that rolls through the glacier on the wall. Here’s our list:
This morning the glacier was still socked in. It was unclear whether a helicopter was going to be able to fly in. Most of the group was planning on hiking off the glacier anyways to save money. I had been advised not to hike off by U.S. Ski Team coach Chris Grover. Chris was worried that I would get injured or sore on the hike. However, I didn’t want to risk getting stuck on the glacier and missing my flight out of Alaska. So, I decided to hike as well. It turned out that a helicopter was able to get in and pick up the two athletes that stayed to fly just as we were leaving for the hike.
I didn’t know what to expect on the hike. I’d heard lots of stories that made it sound pretty sketchy. Erik Bjornsen taped his ankles to keep his feet dry and to keep from rolling his ankles.
We roped up to walk across the glacier in case somebody fell into a crevasse.
We were briefed on safety procedures (by Erik Flora) then headed out on the ski trails.
It didn’t take long for us to head away from the trails. I’m glad I wasn’t leading in the fog, but I understand Erik has done the hike more times than he cares to count.
As we headed down we got off the snow and onto the glacial ice.
It was tough to walk on in my blown out road running shoes.
I was told that each of these lines on the glacier represent a year’s snow accumulation.
After about half an hour we made it off the glacier.
We then headed straight down a very steep scree field.
We saw this cool spider on the way:
Here is Reese leading Forest Mahlen after we got under the cloud layer.
I was glad I went on the hike because it’s a cool trail.
We made good time. It took us two and a half hours to get down to the car. Erik Flora said he’s done it, without ropes and at race pace, in under an hour. That is impressive. Apparently it can also easily take four hours if the group is not moving quickly.
We saw this mountain goat:
This section near the bottom was perfect to sled down (without sleds). However you had to be careful because there were hidden rocks under the grass.
It was cool to see the changing Eco system as we descended.
There was some serious bushwhacking near the bottom. Here’s Forest:
Here’s David Norris jumping a creek.
When we made it back to Anchorage, many of us went to a delicious lunch at “the” pizza place to go to around here, Moose’s Tooth.
I’ve spent the entire afternoon on the computer. I have a lot of catching up to do since I haven’t been online for over a week.
The ladies hosted a media day during their camp on the glacier. The local public radio station sent up a corespondent to do a story. The national broadcast of NPR’s All Things Considered picked it up. It’s a really good story about the glacier and the U.S. Ski Team’s path to the Sochi Olympics. You can listen to the story or read the article here.
Also, before I headed to the glacier Brad Rassler of Sustainable Play contacted me to do an interview. He wrote the most humbling and complimentary article that anybody has ever written about me. I am grateful and honored by his words. The article can be found here.
Thank you to APU and the entire camp group for including me in a fun and productive camp. And a special thanks to Erik Flora for inviting me and for all of his incredible help and hard work. Erik is one of the big reasons U.S. cross country skiing has had so much success over the last five years.