the curious case of the credential in the snowbank.

Just before I left home last week, I was given something important. Realllllly, reallllllly important. My credential for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which also serve as my visa to get into the country. Sort of a big deal. I’m trying to think of anything else I’ve been given where it’s been so important that I not lose it for over a month, despite the fact that it’s a sort of flimsy piece of paper. Nothing is coming to mind.

But, oh well, I thought. No problem. I’m responsible!

Then I went to Ruhpolding.

In Ruhpolding, I was given a different credential for the weekend of World Cup racing, as I am at each venue. I am 9ABC, which basically means that as media I can access the media center, start/finish, and a certain area behind the range at a biathlon race. If I had D, I’d be a photographer, and then I’d have more special privileges like getting to nice spots on the course to take excellent photos. Usually, I just go to those spots anyway and hope that nobody notices that I have neither a “PHOTO” bib nor a “TEAM” bib. Usually, nobody cares, but every once in a while a grumpy old German course official yells at me.

The credential is also important because it lets me into the venue without having a ticket.

I went about my work the first day, reporting on the men’s relay, and then caught a ride to town with the U.S. wax techs and went for a jog with my friend Susan, who was racing, and then we had dinner together with the team and chatted in her room afterwards. She gave me a ride back to the Pichlers’ house, where I was staying, in the wax techs’ van. Bye Susan! Good luck tomorrow!

I woke up and went for a run the next morning, then started to get ready to go up to the venue for another day of reporting. I unpacked my backpack and repacked it with better clothes (the first day, my luggage still hadn’t arrived, so I didn’t have many choices). One last thing… where was my credential?

Hmm. I tore apart my little room, which is Pam’s office but she kindly put a mattress on the floor for me. I asked her and Walter if they had seen it. They were split: Pam swore I was wearing it when I came home the night before, Walter swore I wasn’t. Personally, I remembered carrying it in my hand as I left the U.S. team’s hotel and went to the van. I assumed I had left it in the van, but the wax techs had gone up to the venue long ago so I wouldn’t be able to get it until I got there. That was a problem, since I couldn’t get in without it, and how else would I get to the wax cabin to ask them about it?

Head hung low in shame, I walked down to the accreditation office, which is also where I would catch a shuttle up to the venue. I walked in and stood in front of the same woman who had given me the credential in the first place.

“This is very embarrassing, but, I think I lost my credential,” I stuttered. “Is there any way I can get a temporary one? I think I know where it is.”

“Are you Chelsea?” she asked.

Yes. Yup. That’s me.

From her desk she picked up two credentials, each with my face on them. One had clearly seen some water seep underneath its plastic lamination, because the text was turning all green and my face was sort of rainbow-colored. The other was brand new and shiny.

“Wow! Where did they find it?” I asked, wondering if the wax techs had for some reason dropped it off for me.

“In the stadium,” she said with a glare. “In a snowbank.”

She was clearly being reproachful that I didn’t value this credential, wantonly dropping it into the snow without a care in the world.

Me? I was confused. I’m still certain I had it at the hotel, so how the heck did it end up back in the stadium in the snow? When? Who?

All of this doesn’t bode well for my Sochi credential. Please, little piece of paper, stay in my notebook.

It’s funny though – besides just this credential mess, I’ve been really out of it this season when it comes to professionalism and organization. I should be a pro by now. My first World Championships was in 2011; I’ve been to two more, plus a handful of World Cup competitions, since then. I know my way around, particularly in Ruhpolding, which is the first venue I’ve visited more than once. I know where to get a shuttle and when I need to hitchhike; I’ve calculated the shortest way to run between different parts of the course; I’ve calibrated how long it takes for the winners to get to the press conference, so that I can squeeze in an extra interview in between. I can produce a story, with its feature photo, in less than an hour. I’m sort of a machine.

In Hochfilzen, though, I forgot everything: my computer charger, the cable to download photos from my camera, my headphones so I could listen to interviews on my voice recorder without pissing people off. All of it was in my hotel room. That day, I had to run, in my Sorel boots, the several kilometers to my hotel room and back, through a snowstorm, to fetch them.

And now this. Losing my credential. What, am I rookie? No way!

It’s troubling, to say the least. The next gig I have coming up on the reporting front is the Olympics, and let’s just hope I don’t make too many sloppy mistakes there. If I do, will you come fetch me out of the gulag?

Back to Bavaria.

I am in Uppsala, Sweden, now, having completed two days of my orientation program here – just the weekend separates me from my anxiously-awaited first day of Real Classes. But before talking about Uppsala, I want to write a little bit about what I did after Montpellier – I went to Ruhpolding, Germany to visit some friends, and I had a great time! As my mom wrote in an e-mail, the pictures look like “pictures from a … picture book about what Germany is supposed to look like. Lucky you, in the picture!”

I had to leave Montpellier at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and drag my bags through the street to the tram station, a ten-minute ordeal that left me sopping wet and disgusting. I was so happy that the train would be taking me to cooler climes. I rode to Lyon, switched stations, and then took three more trains before ending up in the mountains of Bavaria where Pam Pichler picked me up at the station – just as she did back in March when I arrived to report on World Championships.

Back then, Pam had to leave the next morning to go to a conference in Las Vegas; luckily this time we had more time to talk. I was still exhausted so I quickly collapsed into the same big, comfy bed that I slept in last time around, joined by one of the family’s cats. In the morning, it really took all of my willpower to get out of that bed.

It was raining and gray, but even then it was beautiful. I drank a lot of tea and lounged around the house with Pam and her husband Walter and daughter Malin, who made a delicious German plum tart from scratch; older daughter Nina was at her very first day of work. It was cozy to have a cup of something hot and look out into the drizzly valley.

After lunch, my friend Susan, who was in town for a biathlon training camp, came over to pick me up and we joined her teammate Sara (both of them were my buddies on the Dartmouth Ski Team back when we were mere babes) and went on a little adventure. Somehow, this trip had aligned perfectly so that I was in town on their day off and actually got to see them. As Susan drove the van on narrow, winding roads through the hills and mountains, we caught up on everything: I told them about school, Sara talked about the classes she’s taking through the Keller School of Management, Susan said that she jumped in the pond-like “swimming pool” outside of their little cabin every morning and it had left her cold all day.

We parked outside of the Berchtesgaden National Park and wandered through little tourist shops until we ended up at the lake of Konigsee.

I’m going to use this word a lot, but: it was beautiful! It’s a long, skinny lake that has clifflike walls in some parts, and you can take a boat ride where someone blows a horn at the cliffs and the echo comes back so perfectly that it sounds like there are two horns. We opted not to do this, but walked around the one end of the lake and admired the views. Looking at a map, we could see that there were trails up the steep slopes on either side of the lake, with huts to stay in or alms to eat at. Some time in the future, I really hope I get to come here and make a hiking trip out of it. The scenery is just spectacular.

As you may know, the area also has an interesting place in history. It was here that Hitler had his Eagle’s Nest built, and you can see it atop one of the ridges near the lake. Again, we didn’t walk up there, but I’d love to read a little more about the history of the area in that era in particular before I come back. I will come back.

We drove down to the actual town of Berchtesgaden, which is perched on a hill. It took us a little while to wander our way to downtown. On our way we passed an amazing cemetery – they do things a little different in Germany than in the U.S. – and a beautiful church. Once on the equivalent of main street, we tried to look for a cafe to grab a coffee at, but this being Sunday afternoon most things were closed (and Berchtesgaden is small, so there weren’t that many shops in the first place). We had to settle on gelato, which was funny because it was actually kind of chilly. I selected hazelnut and am happy to report that it was delicious, even if it didn’t help my internal temperature.

Of course, part of my trip to Ruhpolding was to work for FasterSkier, so after we drove back to Susan and Sara’s cabin I met up with one of their teammates for an interview before having dinner with the whole biathlon team. After Susan took me back to Pam and Walter’s, we drank more tea and talked for an hour or so. Susan and I used to do so many of the same things – running, skiing, ecology research, leading outing club trips – and we still have the same interests, but we’re adults now and we both have real jobs, I guess you could say. And we are both fascinated by each other’s jobs and curious about how all these things we love might be able to fit together into a real life. It’s amazing for me to be able to catch up with friends like Susan, especially in such a seemingly random place – I have had some pretty cool opportunities in the last few years.

The next morning I ran up to the biathlon venue (my first exercise in a week, and I could tell….) to observe their training session and do more reporting work. (For lots of pictures of that experience, check here.) When I arrived back at the house Pam and Walter were sitting out in the garden in the sun. They have a little microclimate in their backyard which can grow nectarines, grapes, kiwis… what!? It was quite warm and lovely and I could have sat there for hours.

As it was, I said goodbye to Walter, who was just home on lunch break from a job helping to renovate some houses one of his relatives owned. And then it was time for me to take a shower and re-pack my bags – just a short visit to Bavaria this time around. Pam and Malin drove me back down to the train station and I was off, wishing that I could stay much longer.

I only met the Pichlers this winter through my old ski coach Dennis Donahue, who had worked at the U.S. Biathlon Association when Walter coached the national team, but they have become great friends and very generous hosts. Again, it’s just another example of how lucky I’ve been in the last few years – how many people can travel to a tiny town in a foreign country and develop a real friendship with the people they meet there? I think the explanation is that I am blessed to have many kind and amazing friends of my own, who of course know more people like themselves. Thanks, world, for offering up so many wonderful things to me.

Biathlon in Bavaria

Where can you possibly start when you are describing something so alive, so full of energy, so frenetic?

I’m here at IBU World Championships in Ruhpolding, Germany, and as the days tick down I can’t imagine how I will ever leave this place. It’s the same feeling I had in Oslo last year, and on that trip I was so overwhelmed that I never even ended up writing about it.

So this time I’m going to try to do better.

I arrived on Wednesday evening, sans ski bag, which however irritating it may have been at least made my train rides a bit easier. I am staying with a wonderful couple: Walter Pichler, a former star biathlete for West Germany who then coached the U.S. team for a decade, and his American wife Pam. Pam immediately made me at home: Anything you see in the cupboards is up for grabs! Do you want some tea? Look, our cats like you!

The Pichlers live just up the hill from town, and that evening I walked downtown to pick up my media credentials. It was immediately clear that this was going to be different than Oslo. Ruhpolding is a small town, of just 7,000 people, but it had to absorb the same amount of publicity and attention as the entire 1.4 million person metro area of Oslo. The town was packed, I mean packed, like sardines with rabid fans. Biathlon is the number one winter sport in Europe and nowhere is it more popular than in Germany.

But it wasn’t just the atmosphere that was different. The IBU is extremely, extremely well-organized and has a lot of money. They also have more rules. I asked whether there were service bibs that members of the media could borrow and ski on the course – we did this in Oslo and it was great – and the man handing out the credentials actually laughed in my face.

That’s a bummer, because there isn’t as much skiing to be had here, especially since the subtropical temperatures that have hit the area in the last week have made the skiing down in town very crappy. I have skied on the trails across from the venue a bit, but they don’t groom them much because people are here to watch, not to ski, and they use all of their resources for the races. Up the valley is better – I got to do an amazing ski with my old friend and teammate Susan Dunklee – but I don’t have a car, so it’s tough to get up there.

Really, though, the lack of good skiing is the only thing where Oslo is kicking Ruhpolding’s butt. The races have been amazing. There is so much exciting stuff happening that I can’t even start to explain it. And the fans, I must say, are even more loud and crazy than ski fans. Even though attendance is capped at around 30,000 due to the logistical challenges of transporting people up and down the narrow valley to the venue, it doesn’t feel any smaller than when I saw 100,000+ fans in Oslo. When Magdalena Neuner or Andreas Birnbacher comes into the range alone, you could be a mile away and still tell whether they hit their shots – the stadium explodes in a loud “HEI!” – or not. That’s how loud and unified the spectators are.

I’ve been working very hard. This weekend there were two sprints on Saturday, with a total of more than 250 competitors, and two pursuits (capped at 60 apiece) on Sunday. I stayed up until 1 a.m. on Saturday writing four race reports, woke up on Sunday and did a roundup of everything I missed, watched the men’s race and did interviews, then sprinted my way through the men’s report before the women’s race started on Sunday afternoon.

After the women’s race, my productivity took a dip as I had been invited to a U.S. Biathlon Association banquet that evening. I met the team at their hotel and grabbed a drink with Ed Merrens, a friend from the Upper Valley who is here as the U.S. team doctor. Then all of us took a van up to a very fancy Bavarian guesthouse where we met up with the coaches and wax techs, ski reps, foundation members, and a USOC staff member who was attending the Championships. We were served fancy Bavarian food, lots of Prosecco and beer, and treated to accordion music and yodeling. All of the German ski techs as well as the team’s High Performance Director wore leiderhosen. It was fantastic to be able to chat with everyone when I wasn’t working.

I didn’t get home until 11:30, though, and was too exhausted to transcribe another interview or write another race report. I save that up for yesterday, which was supposed to be a day when I had no obligations and could just relax and go for a ski. It was raining when I woke up, so that made it a little easier to abandon my plans and keep working, but it still stung a bit.

In the afternoon I was able to kick back, though, walking into town to see the sights and check out a museum on the history of biathlon in Ruhpolding. It was amazing to look at the old pictures and see how much biathlon has changed. Of course it used to be completely with the classic technique, but that wasn’t the only major difference. Some targets used to have a single black dot. Then there were three. Then there were five, but in an “x” like on a pair of dice. The evolution of the Ruhpolding venue, too, was remarkable. From just a couple of targets in a clearing in the woods, it has evolved into a state-of-the art facility with a large stadium. I saw pictures of the Pichler family chainsawing down trees and moving them in trucks. I saw pictures of heavy equipment installing a bridge.

With only six races remaining, I’m already getting a bit sad about leaving. It’s been great and going back to real life in Oregon will pale in comparison. But instead of thinking about that, I’m just going to enjoy my last days here and make the most of them!