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2019 Ski-Mountaineering World Championships - Behind the Scenes

2019 Ski-Mountaineering World Championships - Behind the Scenes

After the 2019 Ski-Mountaineering World Championships in Switzerland, we asked some of the Canadian athletes to tell us more about their experience racing on the world stage. Here is what they had to say about the racing on the other side of the Atlantic.

After the 2019 Ski-Mountaineering World Championships in Switzerland, we asked some of the Canadian athletes to tell us more about their experience racing on the world stage. Here is what they had to say about the racing on the other side of the Atlantic.

In a few words, how would you summarize your experience at Skimo Worlds?

Lori Anne: The 2019 Ski Mountaineering World Championships were fun, inspiring and hard work!

Matt: Eye opening. It’s hard to understand what the best in the world look like until you’re actually there racing with them.

Kylee: World class, the level of racing, organization and competition was extremely challenging and awesome to seeand experience.

Peter:  After a couple of these under my belt, I felt more relaxed and had a bunch of well executed races. I was impressed with the results of my teammates on the team and this was a great surprise. 

What is it like to race skimo in Europe in a deeper and stronger competitive field?

Lori Anne: It's exciting and humbling racing with the worlds best! The top ski mountaineering athletes in Europe are super fast on the climbs, extremely consistent and efficient in their transitions and straight line most of the descents! It's evident that they have more race experience than we do in Canada. In time, we will continue to close the performance gap. North Americans had some great top 10 and top 20 results this year! Those results did not go unnoticed by the ISMF race officials and event announcers.

Kylee: It is fun and hard. I knew what to expect because it was my third world championships.  It is very difficult to compete against the Europeans with fewer competitions and competitors in Canada.  It is impressive and always reminds me how much work we need to put into development in Canada. It also encouraging to be in the mix with some of the most well rounded and agile mountain athletes in the world.  Truly dialed and world class in terms of moving through mountain terrain and cardiovascular fitness.

Peter: It is humbling. The leaders are so fast. There are always other skiers to battle with and suffer together. Strengths and weaknesses will get exposed.

What surprised you the most about racing with the world’s best?

Lori Anne: From my experience at the last World Championships in Italy I knew to expect racers to be more aggressive than we are in Canada, but it still caught me a bit off guard! At the start line of the Individual Race, athletes line up in rows based off of their ISMF ranking. Everyone has their own space... until the gun goes off. Then they all mash together and take the shortest route out of the start area. I was prepped to protect my gear (it's an easy place to break a pole or have a skin sheared off from the front of your ski), but I had my ski stepped on and wasn't able to keep my balance. I fell to the ground and then got skied over by some racers. It was not the ideal way to start the race, but it definitely got my heart pumping!

Matt:  Just the raw intensity of the racing. The pace felt flat out, even in the longer events. Everything is so close at that level that nobody can afford to take their foot off the gas for even a second.

Kylee: How well rounded the ski skill set of the top athletes are on the world stage.  The athleticism is staggering. The courses at worlds were odd this time due to poor avalanche conditions and weather. They involved a lot more Nordic style skiing which is unusual. From skating, double poling, steeper skiing, light mountaineering, sprinting and long course it is the truly exceptionally agile and all around talented athletes that excel.   

We heard that the weather wasn’t the best during the week. Was it really that bad?

All Four:  The avalanche conditions weren’t good for sure with a lot of fresh snow.  But, being from the Rockies in Canada we wouldn’t say the weather was that bad and it was still very warm. The organizing committee did their best but was certainly conservative with the courses and terrain choice.

One thing you learned from your Villars experience.

Lori Anne: These World Championships re-confirmed the need to be well rounded to have success in skimo racing. With the mix of weather and snow conditions, the athletes who were most adaptable came out on top. It's so important in training to ski a variety of terrain (flat, steep, narrow, obstacles, wide open), to improve your skills in that terrain (for example - efficient skate skiing), to ski a variety of snow conditions (crusty, powder, slush) and to know which skins perform best in which conditions. Also, Swiss chocolate powder on top of a cappuccino is divine. I'm going to do that at home!

Peter: Be familiar with your equipment, but not so familiar that it is worn out!

Matt:  I’m still at the point where I’m learning something new every race. This experience was my first time at any top level endurance event, skimo or otherwise and I learned a ton about how the best approach racing and all the little things we can do to elevate ourselves towards that level. I’m actually really looking forward to getting back to training. 

What is the next step to build a bigger ski-mountaineering community on our side of the Atlantic?

Lori Anne: Creating a bigger skimo community in Canada needs to involve local changes within active communities. Creating events that attract and bond people together over the sport and the mountains, as well as increasing access to both safe training locations and more specialized skimo equipment will advance the sport and the performance of athletes in North America. Part of our challenge on this side of the Atlantic is how far apart our ski communities are from each other. It's been great to see the initiatives that you guys at SkiUphill have been doing in the Canmore/Calgary area! Hopefully as more athletes continue to advocate for uphill routes at ski resorts it will pave the way for more communities to have local skimo social and race events. This will lead to more participation in the growing Ski Mountaineering Competition Canada race circuit which connects athletes from all over western Canada and the USA.

Peter:  More races in more places, but at a grassroots level rather than Canada cup. U17/U19 programs to get more people started earlier would help too.

Matt:  That’s a tough one. Skiing and ski racing is so ingrained in the culture of the alpine nations that people here are completely psyched on every form of it. The hype seems to happen pretty organically. I’d say the next step for us is getting more people out to races so that they become more relatable for potential athletes and fans. At the end of the day it’s all about pushing the limits of efficiency in mountain travel, which is something that everyone who ski tours, climbs and runs can probably appreciate on some level.

Kylee: In Canada to improve we need to work harder on skinning technique and other more technical aspects. The top end female athletes from North America also need to focus on improving on the world stage instead of just North America perhaps by doing more co-ed racing just to have more head to head race experience. Racing a season or two in Europe would also really help top North American racers. I think that putting more energy into Junior development of aged 16-24 athletes who have a lot of potential like Jessie McCauley would go along way.  Perhaps having them attend a European team training camp or inviting a coach of a stronger skimo nation to run a camp in North America would help.  Females also need to race more head to head in competitive environments, especially for the sprint discipline.

Any cool gear tips and tricks you heard of?

Lori Anne: In the climb it's all about that glide, especially in the lower angle courses that we had in Villars-sur-Ollon. Using wax on the skins was key for the slushy snow and good technique was necessary to avoid slipping in the steeps. The top male vertical racers had the minimal allowance skins on. Another trick I saw was on a spectators touring skis - they had created a custom inlay for their skins into their bases.

All Four: Some racers ran ultra narrow skins on the outside edge of their skis for the vertical so they could skate on the flats. That was clever, but I hope to never see a course that requires it ever again. Could be an interesting idea for dispatching flatter sections of the big icefield traverses when conditions are right though.

 

Thanks to Lori Anne Donald, Peter Knight, Matt Ruta and Kylee Toth Ohler for taking time to answer our questions! 

Want to learn more about skimo racing? Visit SkimoCanada.org 

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