I’m going to tell some stories, but before I do that, two notes.
First of all: there is a cake in this blog’s future. Just staying, stick around for cake.
Secondly, my boss over at FasterSkier, Topher Sabot, took some great pictures at the SuperTours in Lake Placid this weekend. Mostly he took pictures of the men and women who were going really fast and winning and all that good stuff, because that’s what belongs on FasterSkier. He also got a few pictures of me, which he was kind enough to share. I’ll post a couple of them today and a couple maybe later this week. Thanks so much, Topher; best editor ever. Dear reader, if you think it’s cool that Topher gave me photos, go to Cricket Creek Farm – his other business – and buy some cheese. They ship. My colleague Nat says that Maggie’s Round is the best.
But anyway: I wanted to write a little bit about Lake Placid. Not even just about Lake Placid this weekend, but about Lake Placid in general.
Placid is a pretty cool place. In a lot of ways it represents the past: the city hosted the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympics. Most of the motels are pretty old-school, from the paint jobs and signs down to the appliances inside them. The Olympic Training Center and the ski jumps are hulking, blocky, and grim.
But one of the cool things about Placid is that it really, really loves sports. The area has produced at least one winter Olympian for every Games since 1924, and they’re still doing it: in Vancouver, there were eight Lake Placid natives and four athletes from the surrounding towns. And several of them won medals. This town doesn’t joke around.
So in that way, Lake Placid also represents the future.
I’ve been visiting Placid since I was quite small, when my family would pile in the car over New Years and drive over, almost always through a snowstorm, to watch my aunt compete in the World Cup moguls competitions. We’d stand on the side of the course on Whiteface Mountain, which was windy and freezing cold, and cheer her on. Then she’d have me stand on the tails of her skis and ski me down to the lodge and we’d drink hot chocolate.
One year we stayed in Elizabethtown (which I thought was really cool, because my aunt’s name is Elizabeth; my eight-year-old self was sure that was why we were staying where we were) and my parents took us out to an Indian restaurant for dinner. They ordered all the entrees by saying their Indian names, and tried to trick me into eating Baingan Bartha, an eggplant dish. I hated, I mean hated, eggplant. As soon as I had one bite I could tell it was eggplant and got very very mad in an eight-year-old sort of way. That’s my biggest memory of the trip that year. I’m pretty sure the waiter laughed at me.
When I was in high school, my aunt was no longer competing in moguls, but she was coaching the U.S. Ski Team. They still had those World Cups during the first week of January, which coincided with final exams my junior year. I scheduled all my exams for one day (which my friends considered suicide) and then went to Lake Placid with Lizzy. She hated living in the Olympic Training Center, so I was her excuse to get a room in a dingy motel in town. We bought oatmeal and brown sugar (the IGA only had granulated brown sugar, I remember this quite clearly, and there was dust on the shelves) and ate it in the motel room before she’d go off to coach and I’d go ski at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
I felt pretty special on that trip. Lizzy taught me how to drive in a rental van loaded down with all of the U.S. Ski Team’s ski bags, and we did donuts in an empty parking lot where I couldn’t hit anything because she said it was important not to freak out when you weren’t in control. She introduced me to all of her athletes, and Toby Dawson said hi to me, which made my day (week? month? thanks Toby!). And she took video of me skiing and analyzed it with DartFish, which at the time was super-secret technology. We drew the blinds on the windows of the hotel room so that the Canadians wouldn’t see what we were doing. She was very worried about other teams figuring out what their computer program was. Or maybe she was just humoring me, who knows.
In college, I raced in Lake Placid twice. The first time was my freshman year, and it was my very first college carnival. There wasn’t much snow so the races were moved to the ski jumping complex, a two-kilometer loop which goes straight up a huge hill and then straight down it. I think I was so out of my element that I skied quite well out of surprise more than anything – I skied the first lap with Anja Jokela, who raced NCAA Championships for UVM that year, before dying pretty hard. Still, in that first college race of my career, I finished 35th, which isn’t bad by a long shot. I was less than a minute behind Dartmouth’s last varsity skier. It still amazes me that I did that – it was definitely my best race that whole season and I didn’t even realize it because I was in a sea of new skiers.
The second time, my junior year, I was a complete different athlete. I had had a breakthrough the year before and had raised expectations for myself. In a 5k skate race on the biathlon trails, I felt fast and went slow. For some reason, I didn’t even race the next day. I can’t remember why.
When I came to Lake Placid this weekend for the SuperTours, the specter of that race was hanging over me.
“Don’t think about it,” Pepa said. “It won’t happen again.”
So I didn’t. I just raced.