I have been fortunate in being able to get through the blah month of November in Michigan by, well er.... not being in Michigan, and going to both Fairbanks Alaska and then West Yellowstone. Plus this year we’re now skiing at home upon return. Is this a great country or what? Normally I schedule both events but rarely get to do both of them due to poor snow or warm conditions at one of the venues. Not so this year. This year Alaska was cold.... really cold. Over the years Global Warming has taken its toll and the Endestad ski camp has permanently been moved to the first full week in Nov. from the last week in October for the better snow conditions. What’s a little less sun light anyway?
The Endestad camp usually has around 20-25 people in attendance with all abilities represented from beginner to racer. The number of repeats is quite high and the furthest camper comes from Sweden most every year. A typical day begins early for Yoga enthusiasts if you can get up at 6:20am to drag yourself down to the Yoga room for a 6:30 start. I don’t know why I don’t continue with this after the camp because my back never feels better than at the conclusion of this week. But you only have time for so much.
After breakfast we head to Birch Hill for instruction and video filming. Birch Hill is a world class Nordic facility that can handle Nor-Ams and even World Cup events. (You can see parts of the stadium area at: http://www.nscfairbanks.net/index.html or moon your friends back in Michigan at a prearranged time).
A certain portion of the system is lit so you can finish your skiing into the late afternoon. It gets dark around 4:30 or so and twilight starts at around 3pm. Twilight lasts a long time because the sun is on a very low southerly trajectory. The Arctic circle is only 100 miles away. So the morning sessions are technique for both skating and classic.
What I have really appreciated is the classic instruction from John Estle, former USSA Head Nordic coach. He has the 5 step easy program for teaching classic, starting out from running on the track with no glide, to stepping it up, to finally getting in a decent glide. The progressions seem to work because Gussie, a great skate skier, can now ski classic with me for long sessions.
Actually she picked this up last year with John’s instruction and a pair of Atomic demo skis that really had nice kick. We even bought a pair of Atomics after last year’s camp. Also, I tried this year’s version of the Atomic top classic ski at the Yellowstone camp and again am impressed with the performance.
Audun is the master of skating (plus to use an Audun expression he is“no slouch” in classic as well) and I concentrated on his suggestion of using more ankle flexion (bending) when planting the foot/ski back onto the snow so that essentially you come down on the balls of your feet with a bent ankle. Audun also emphasized one of the points we heard from Sten this summer: to get moving off the V1 ski that was just set down in the snow and get the upper body moving away from that ski toward the next gliding ski quickly. This helps prevent the body from de-accelerating with only an arm push which occurs if your upper body stays too long over the gliding ski. You tend to muscle it with your arms only and don’t utilize your abs and leg push all together simultaneously.
After the morning session, we head back into town for lunch and for the ever so painful video analysis. (Do I actually ski that badly? Yes I do.) Actually, Audun has a nice way of telling you that you look like crap by at least including one or two complimentary points but then tactfully showing you a number of needed corrective actions. “You have got to stop sitting on that toilet seat”.
After a brief rest, we head back up to Birch Hill or the ski trails at UAF. In the afternoon you are on your own and can ski with friends and or try to perfect what you learned in the morning. The last thing you should attempt is to try to stick with Audun. Every year someone new tries this and dies shortly thereafter. The only year I could stick with Audun was when we were classical skiing and he used demo skis without wasting time to apply the correct kick wax.
In the afternoons you will see hundreds of kids skiing. Pys Ed classes are for Nordic skiing plus the secondary and high schools have their ski teams out practicing. So at about 3:30 the school busses show up and here come the kids. This is really encouraging to see so many young people including over 100 elementary kids skiing. On one afternoon the congestion in one of the changing areas was so great that I accidentally forgot to put my boots into my day pack when we left for the day. Slight panic set in that night when I couldn’t find my ski boots. Well my concern turned into relief when we got back up to Birch Hill in the morning and there sat my boots. Nordic skiers are a great group of people.
The group dinners are at the adjoining restaurant to the Spring Hills Suite Hotel and they are wonderful. You will gain weight during this week - especially after the Alaskan cookout at Sally and Audun’s house on Friday evening. (More on that in a moment).
After dinner for most evenings we do more video analysis, watch world cup races and evaluate technique, or have special speakers on the typical subjects such as training or waxing. Plus it’s finally time to relax and socialize a bit. In Yellowstone it’s Moose Drool and in Fairbanks it’s Silver Gulch Amber Lager.
This year we took some time out of instruction to watch portions of the woman’s Nor-Am pursuit race. They blew hot air onto the thermometer and said, “-4F, let’s go”. We didn’t watch much of the race but kept moving to stay warm. The start and finish though were spectacular with Becky Scott winning by over 2 minutes in a 10km race. Either she is ready for the Olympics or our US women are not.
On Friday evening we head out to the Endestad homestead for an Alaskan cookout. Audun cranks up the wood stove sauna to start the night off. Then we eat and eat and eat. Audun is a registered Alaskan guide in the summertime so we get to sample his hunting bounty. This year Audun set down a plate and says “Hor's D'Oeuvres.” We look over and there is a piling high plate with meat hanging on 12 inch long bones. “Moose ribs” he says. Wow, this could have been the whole meal right there but we continued dinner with 3 types of Alaskan salmon, and Dahl sheep. One year we had bear also.
Playing with the young kids (Ari and Anya) is fun, too. I don’t know why I could not walk on Anya’s 3 foot tall gymnastic high beam like she could. Probably something to do with that Silver Gulch. How would you like to be born into a family of Olympians? Sally as the cyclist and Audun as the skier. What a great gene pool.
Every year we get long sleeve camp T-shirts with some unique art work by Audun with a common theme of generally either a bear or moose chasing a skier down the track or up a tree. One year the shirt was just a tad bit risqué and I know of one Michigan Cup racer who refuses to wear her shirt from that year. Hey, I think it is a great conversation piece.
Bring warm clothes (Gussie remarked, “nobody will believe that I actually have more clothes on now than when I go downhill skiing in Colorado”). You don’t need to bring a lot of clothes because of low humidity and you can hand wash clothes or use the hotel guest washing facilities. Yes, this year was a cold one but nobody got frostbite and we actually did stay warm. We kept moving though. So if you go, plan on a wide temperature range from -20 to +40F.
For the past two years we also have been invited over to the Hanley homestead for a great mid-week lunch. Owen Hanley Jr. is one of the top US skiers and he was on home turf for this year’s Nor-Am. We got to talk to a number of top US skiers over lunchtime whom were staying at the house. Owen Sr. is a master skier who participates in our camp as well.
For me going to Fairbanks is a real treat and I consider it time to spend mostly on technique training. I try to get good technique ingrained during that week in prep for on snow in Yellowstone when we ski lots of hours or back in Michigan in Dec. There is no pressure to do lots of kms at the Endestad camp, although it seems that in past years I have observed at least one person who just wants to ski lots of kilometers and misses out on a lot of the world class instruction. There is time later for putting in the K’s. This is a week to get your technique straight.
I’d be glad to answer any questions about this camp. Just see me at the races this winter.
For more information jump to http://www.myalaskanadventures.com.
Well gotta go. There is bit of snow here in Midland and if you don’t get out on it immediately, it usually melts, and you have missed your opportunity.
Regards, Curt Peterson