My first mini-tour….

… and I’m in love.

I’m also exhausted. We don’t do three races in three days very often, and let me tell you, it really wears you out. I’m pretty much toast.

This weekend a couple of us went up to Orford, Quebec for a NorAm mini-tour and it was tons of fun. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a mini-tour, think of it as kind of like a three-day stage race in biking. The difference is that on the last day, everyone starts in a pursuit format with the time gaps based on your times from the first two races, and the first skier to the finish line wins the whole weekend. NorAms are the Canadian equivalent of SuperTours; they are the highest level of racing in the country. So these races were guaranteed to be good.

I was particularly excited for the pursuit because I haven’t done a mass start all year (well, I did the one at the Eastern Cup, but I dropped out after 2k, so that doesn’t really count does it?) and I was really psyched for some head-to-head competition. I used to love mass starts. Now I almost never get to compete in them.

It was just Ollie, Tim, Matt, Alex and I, and then Ollie got sick and couldn’t join us on Saturday and Sunday, which was a bummer. We were flying solo without Pepa or any sort of wax support, but it worked out totally fine and we all had good skis – even though the boys and I put completely different things on our skis for both of the classic races! On Friday, I went on Swix and they went on Rode. Then on Saturday, I went on Rode and they went on SkiGo. On both days, I raced first and I was done waxing my race skis before most of them had even started testing – Tim was nice and talked to me about the wax on Saturday, which was a bonus. Even if you know what you think, it’s nice to bounce it off someone so you have a little more confidence in what you’re doing. Anyway, I realized that I am grown-up enough to go to a race and do all of the testing and prep work on my own without getting too stressed out or running out of time to warm up, which is cool (more on that later).

Friday and Saturday went okay for me – I was tenth both days, and felt like I skied pretty well on Saturday in particular. But I feel like I’ve kind of been in a rut lately; it took me a long time to get back into racing shape after being sick for a while in December, and while I have been very consistent all season, it’s been consistently mediocre! That isn’t really our goal around here so I’ve been hoping to have a good race that broke the cycle.

On Sunday, I had that race. For the women, it was a 15k pursuit, consisting of three loops on a fast but difficult 5k course. There was a kind of flat rolling section between 0.5k and 1.5k, and then a loooooong multi-pitch climb for about a kilometer, followed by some shorter hills and more rolling terrain back through the lap.

I started in bib 9, six seconds behind Sheila Kealey from XC Ottawa and ten and fifteen seconds ahead of two other skiers. Part of the beauty of racing in Canada is that you really know nothing about most of the people you are competing against, so you have to kind of just ski your race and see how it all shakes out. Anyway, I started off thinking I could catch Sheila; part of the reason I thought this was that she’s only five years younger than my mother. So I took off pretty hard, trying to bridge the gap so I could have someone to ski with.

This turned out to be completely misguided. I never caught her and after a few kilometers of maintaining the gap, she simply skied away from me. It turns out that Sheila is a fast lady- she had the 5th-fastest time on the day! Wow.

At this point, I panicked for a second. I was sure that I was being dropped because I’d gone out too fast, not because she was speeding up. But then I realized that the pack behind me, which had grown to three or four women, was always ten or fifteen seconds behind me and not gaining ground. So I couldn’t be slowing down that much.

By the time I got to the third lap, I was sure I was dying and was about to be enveloped by the pack chasing after me. That first kilometer and a half of rolling stuff was the toughest part of the course for me; I skied it pretty poorly. But when we got to the long climb, I gave it everything I had. Megan McTavish of XC Ottawa was in the chase group and must have done the same thing, because the next time I looked back it had shattered. She was still behind me but the other women had disappeared. I now had two tasks to focus on: one, staying somehow in front of Megan, and two, trying to catch bib 3, Michelle Workun-Hill, who was clearly having a tough race and who I could see up ahead despite the fact that she had started almost two minutes in front of me.

I went for it. I really, really went for it. And Megan didn’t catch me, not even close. I didn’t catch Michelle, either, but as I crossed the finish line I was mostly just relieved to be ahead of Megan.

Anyway, if you’re even still reading this long drawn-out race report, here’s the takeaway message: this was the best skate race I have ever had. I felt great. It was the perfect skate course for me, with manageable climbs that I could really attack. It was so fun to feel like I was going for it after a couple weeks of races where I was definitely not on the offensive as much as you should be. I love racing again.

And at the end of the day, I decided that I want to be as fast as Sheila Kealy when I “grow up.” So it’s a good thing that I felt like I was fairly competent at waxing my own skis and all that good stuff…. I have a lot of racing ahead of me!


Hannah Dreissigacker.

Around the dinner table, after most of the food is gone. Photo: Hannah Dreissigacker.

December means two things to me: Christmas and ski camp.

Many Dartmouth teams have a December camp: The swim team was in Maui, and the rowers were in Florida. I just returned from Monte-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, where we have camp at the same time and place every year.

As soon as finals ended, all sixteen members of the women’s team piled into a minibus and a Sprinter van with our giant duffel bags, five or six pairs of skis apiece, and boxes full of meal ingredients from the BJ’s in West Leb. The drive is about six hours, and we napped most of the way up.

When we arrived at the Chalets Montmorency, where the Dartmouth team has been staying for almost 30 years, we unloaded our bags and claimed bedrooms as fast as we could before piling back into the bus to go ski.

That first afternoon is always heaven, since there’s rarely much white stuff in Hanover in early December. This year it was a winter wonderland of freshly fallen snow. There was so much powder that the groomer couldn’t pack it and we kept falling through, sometimes up to our knees. The pink sunset bathed the snowy forest in magic.

Our first dinner was self-assembled burritos. After the meal we had a team meeting and got down to the nitty-gritty of camp.

Every other morning, we did a short jog and strength routine. Breakfast was always at 8, and it was always a big pot of oatmeal and some English muffins. The bus left at 8:45 for the morning ski. Lunch was on your own, everyone crafting different concoctions in the oven and on the stovetop.

During the afternoon break we worked on skis, napped, or did some other quiet activity. Then we were back in the bus at 2:45 for a second ski, followed by a short break and dinner at 6. We all went to bed early.

Camp is predictable. We ski, a lot. We watch the same movies over and over. We eat ridiculous quantities of food. We sleep, a lot. We don’t work on our skis as much as we could.

But the most memorable times at camp are the days that break the routine. One of my favorites is the day we do our long ski, then join the men’s team for a Thanksgiving-style dinner.

This year, we scheduled a long classic ski. The goal time was three to four hours, but I was hoping for five, because there are enough trails at Mont-Sainte-Anne to ski that long with no repetition. The snow had been great packed powder all week, and I was excited.

Unfortunately, when we woke up that Monday morning, it was pouring rain. The snow was melting and waxing classic skis would have been a nightmare; even if we had found the right wax, it wouldn’t have lasted the whole ski. We switched the workout to skating.

I skied up Lac-Sainte-Hilaire with Kristin Dewey, our co-captains Courtney Robinson and Hannah Dreissigacker, and our Development Coordinator Martin Benes. The trail winds up and up and up, and soon I was skiing in only my race tights and a polypropylene shirt. If it’s warm enough to be raining, it’s warm.

We saw the Lebanon High School team heading down from the top of the trail. I recognized a few of the skiers and waved to Les Lawrence, the coach.

We had been hoping to ski up to a cabin on top of the ridge, but the final section of trail was not groomed and in the wet snow we didn’t feel like forging our own way. That section is rarely groomed and in the three years I’ve been to camp there, I’ve only made it to the cabin once. We turned around and headed down the hill.

I took off on my own on a long, only somewhat groomed trail along a smaller ridge. I was making third tracks on the trail, which was slow going. Wet snow built up on top of my skis, and the downhills weren’t much faster than the uphills. But the woods were quiet except for the sound of the rain, and it was peaceful.

I crossed under the massive power lines which are so prevalent in Quebec. There was a strong buzzing as the rain hit the lines and evaporated. I thought of the studies suggesting that living next to power lines increased one’s risk of cancer.

After skiing for two and a half hours, I was completely soaked and too cold to keep skiing. I got on the bus, where I found Ida Sargent, one of our most talented and dedicated skiers. I felt better about ending early once I knew she was, too. There was no point in making ourselves sick.

Most girls skied back along the power lines. Some skied longer than we did, some shorter. As we trickled in we all took hot showers, ate lunches with hot cocoa, and crawled into our beds to warm up. I took a nap before the next portion of the day got started: Thanksgiving.

For this event, we split cooking responsibilities with the men’s team. Max Hopkins, a former Hanover High teammate of mine, is the master of the deep-fat fryer, where he cooks five turkeys. The boys also prepare stuffing (from a box), cranberry (from a can), and carrots (in lots of honey). We girls are responsible for pies, mashed potatoes, and green beans.

It was chaos as we try to fit three tables, thirty-four chairs and place-settings, and five turkeys into one condo unit. But we were eventually all seated somewhere, and began loading up our plates. Max rehearsed a poem and an irreverent version of grace. Every part of the meal was delicious, especially the turkey. Chatter filled the room.

Besides training, this is the point of camp: with no more academic responsibilities, we can relax and get to know our teammates better than we ever have before. Just like any other Thanksgiving, this one felt like it was with my family. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing better for a team than that.