Wednesday, January 27, 2016

City sprints, the Dolomitenlauf, and skiing in Liechtenstein

We arrived to Lienz, Austria in the afternoon on Friday. Unfortunately, we had an opposite experience to our tunneling on the way to Davos. As we got closer and closer to Lienz the fields turned brown and the temperatures skyrocketed to a balmy 5 degrees celsius! We were unable to ski in Lienz, however we were fortunate that the Dolomitenlauf was being held up in the mountains outside of the city.

Upon arrival we went for a short run to shake out the legs and we ran into two other Americans who we had been in contact with and who are doing a similar trip to ours this winter. It was great to meet Jojo and Ethan and we were able to spend much of the weekend getting to know them and sharing adventures. On our run we also realized that there were Lienz city sprints going on in the evening. The organizers filled the entire town square with snow and created a crazy sprint course complete with a snow bridge. The town square atmosphere was unlike any ski experience we have had and we even got to see some American skiers fight it out with the Europeans. Our first night in Lienz was a huge success (despite not being able to pay for our groceries initially, and eating frozen pizza (really, we didn't have a stove and couldn't heat it up) for dinner...the joys of traveling, right?)

American Andy Newell about the hit the jump

The finish zone

The gnarliest downhill corner we've ever seen

The Dolomitenlauf is a 42km skate race, however there are different races all weekend. We went up to the course the day before to check it out and were able to watch part of the classic race as well.

Previewing the course the day before
Europeans will go to any lengths to host a ski race!

The race organizers created a light atmosphere on race day, blasting American pop music and welcoming representatives from every World Loppet on the circuit. We are slowly becoming more savvy in our race preparation and got the start about 45 minutes early to stake our spot with our skis. Already, people had filled several rows in front of us.

            The race immediately opened up into a large field, giving us room to move up through the mass of skiers in front of us despite starting, again, behind about 200 people. After 15 kilometers of racing, we settled in with a pack of about 10 skiers that included the lead women in the race. Since skiing with a group is so much more efficient than skiing alone (skiers draft off of each other like bikers, making skiing behind people much easier than leading), we skied at the back of the group for about 20 kilometers, occasionally chatting about race strategy and the lovely scenery. With about 10 kilometers to the finish, another skier came up from behind our pack and passed us. We followed him to a group of five skiers ahead of us, and then, two kilometers from the finish, we dropped this group and raced each other to the finish line. Tyler, the superior sprinter, crossed first, finishing 24th overall. Jackson nearly kept up but finished four seconds behind in 25th. Oddly, a massive crowd was cheering madly when we arrived. We thought it was for us! Then we turned around to see the first woman finishing close behind us, well deserving of the uproar.

Photos of the 42nd Dolomitenlauf!

At the finish line

The post race food and beer tent

            The following day we went for a hike in the foothills of the Alps because it was 10˚C and there was so little snow. We found a picturesque church hidden in the forest and some great overhead views of Lienz, then returned home to eat nearly a kilo of pasta.

A partial view of Lienz on our way up the mountain

We were able to hike to a beautiful secluded church

             We are now in Zürich again, staying with Jackson’s family friends, the Messerlis. On our way to Switzerland, we stopped in Liechtenstein to ski. It seems warm temperatures have swept across the Alps, and the day was again about 10˚C, not the winter weather we had anticipated. The drive up to the ski venue was precipitous. We probably gained five kilometers as the crow flies and nearly as many in elevation. Finally we reached the top, and the skiing was almost perfect, despite the warm temperatures. Trails followed a narrow river valley through steep mountains, which surrounded us on all sides. Tyler donned some Maranacook tights to represent his high school and Jackson stopped ocassionally to bird by the river where White-throated Dippers fed in the icy water. Similar to our ski into Poland, we felt skiing in Liechtenstein was a unique and exciting opportunity on this trip, as well as a great way to cap the Dolomitenlauf.    

Skiing in Liechtenstein!
Jackson skiing up the valley

Representing Maranacook, of course!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Racing at Lenzerheide: an impromptu 20km

We woke up early the morning after the Jizerska for a quick ski in Horni Misecky before driving to Germany to meet up with Kara, a friend of Tyler’s from high school. We met Kara in Dresden and were able to tour the city for the afternoon before continuing to Hassfurt in central Germany where Kara lives. Touring Dresden was very fun and certainly different from what we had been doing for the previous week.

Visiting Bamberg!

An action shot of some serious blogging

Exploring Bamberg

The weather did not improve much while we were in Germany and we continued to enjoy steady clouds, fog and the occasional downpour. Regardless, we had four great days with Kara and while we couldn’t explore Hassfurt with skis we did some great exploring with our running shoes on!

We were very fortunate to have lots of things to do to keep our minds off of the absence of snow.

Enjoying Kaffee and Kuchen: certainly a tradition we want to bring home!

We did enjoy one day in the Hassfurt sun!

Kara is currently working as an enligh teaching assistant through the Fulbright program. While we were in Hassfurt we went and spoke to two German classes about our trip and what it was like to grow up skiing in the United States. It was a fun and unique and we learned a ton about the education system in Germany.

Standing weirdly far apart outside of Kara's school after one of our presentations

After 4 great days in Germany we hit the road once again to meet up with Phillip, a friend of Jacksons from summer camp. Highlights of the drive included a wonderful ski in the Alps at Alt St. Johann and getting extraordinarily lost trying to find Phillip’s apartment in the heart of Zurich. Having dealt with this issue before, we knew that cell data would stop working when we crossed the Swiss border…you would think that we would have learned! We did make it to Phillip's apartment eventually and we were able to enjoy a delicious Raclette dinner.

We were feeling a bit restless because the Jizerska had been shortened to 16km and when we heard of a race on Sunday up at Lenzerheide (a 2hr drive from Zurich) we jumped at the chance to race again! Early Sunday morning we started the drive to Lenzerheide for a 20km mass start skate race. We were seeded at the back, of course.

After so many days in the rain it was fantastic to spend a day in Lenzerheide with snow falling at a steady rate. This made seeing during the race a bit challenging for those of use who forgot glasses (Jackson!) but it was a great experience nonetheless. We raced four laps of a modified tour de ski course. Tyler finished in 48th and Jackson followed closely behind in 50th. It was a great racing experience and we both know that if we had started closer to the front of the pack our results could have been much better!

Jackson racing in the 20km at Lenzerheide

After the race we were very happy to meet up with Chelsea Little, who is in Zurich studying (and skiing of course!). Chelsea is participating in most of the Swiss loppets this season and was at the race as well. Not only was it great to get to know Chelsea, she was also very helpful in finding the building where lunch and the awards were being held. Chelsea recently wrote an interesting blog about women in Swiss skiing that can be read here:

On Thursday we headed to Davos for a final ski before heading to Austria. The day started like most and we drove through a dreary fog toward the mountains, the scenery invisible. Then, about half an hour from the venue, we entered a tunnel the climbed for a couple of kilometers. Did we die inside of it? The other end blinded us with sunlight and the clouds surrendered to a perfectly blue sky. Snow covered every inch of the mountains, which now rose straight up from the road. And then we were pulled aside at a police blockade and asked for our identification.
            It turns out the day we chose to ski in Davos was the same day that global economic leaders were arriving for the World Economic Forum. Our police encounter turned out to be benign and after a nice chat about skiing with some officers, we made our way to the Davos amidst a sea of shiny black Mercedes, BMW, and Audi convoys that were bringing very important people to the town.
            Davos is another World Cup venue and we arrived with aspirations to ski the World Cup race course. Fortunately, an old man intervened and told us we should ski up a river valley, where the sun would be shining. He undersold its beauty. The skiing was perfect all day, with rock hard tracks, extra blue wax conditions, and extra blue skies. Ski chalets and cow barns were sprinkled upon the mountains, some trailside, some majestic and inaccessibly high up. We skied up two valleys that rose at an ideal grade for classical striding, flew back down them, and finally found the world cup loop, which was really difficult, of course, but had some fun, corkscrew downhills. The conditions were too good to stop skiing.

That night, we had dinner with Greg Goldsmith and Chelsea. Greg is a postdoc working on plant biology in Zurich, as well as a Bowdoin nordic alum. He invited us all to his place for a great dinner of rice and beans and salad (a novelty these days, I’m afraid) and we spent the evening in conversation about skiing, biology, travel and skiing. Greg has traversed the world for both research and enjoyment and proved a great resource for advice about skiing in Europe, field work in graduate school, and most things in between. The dinner was a perfect way to cap our first stint in Switzerland. Plus, the 50 kilometers we’d skied in Davos wasn’t enough exercise and we squeezed in an extra 3.5 k on our walk to and from his place. Now we are in Lienz, Austria, home of our second marathon, the Dolomitenlauf.