Quite an epic week so this blog is a bit of a big one, so if you’ve got time to burn read on and enjoy..
We left Davos with amazing sun and great snow and headed southwest to Chamonix, France. I was extremely excited head to France. Firstly I’ve never been there before. Secondly Chamonix is at the base of Mont Blanc and one of my non-skiing dreams is to climb to the top of it. After reading a bunch of climbing books as a kid I’ve had a big urge to climb big mountains for a long time. Any way enough of mountain speculation, I was there to race and I was keen! In Davos I thought I’d found a bit of that fire that I seemed to have all of last year and I was really hoping to kindle something for the three races, a skate sprint, a classic 15km and a 30km ski-athlon.
We were staying in athlete accommodation, which I was also excited about because that generally means it’s a lot more social and fun. However we were staying with the French, Italians and Germans and they generally keep to themselves so it was all a bit quiet on that front. Our hotel was fairly unique reminding me of soviet styled concrete bunker with a possessed elevator. It just seemed to choose a random floor to send you too or made you go up to the 6th floor before it took you to the ground floor.
So I knew that things in the north of Europe were bad but in the south there had been some snow so I though Chamonix would be fine, but was I wrong! It became very evident that there was no chance a 30km mass start was going to be held when we arrived. I was even a little unsure if any of the races would run at all.
All the snow was brought in by dump trucks, there was a base of sheet ice, which showed the remnants of a past snowfall but as soon as you were off the track it was onto green green grass.
The plan was to use the sprint as race prep for the two distance races that weekend. The result of the sprint was really disappointing but the feeling and spark was good. The organisers overnight had added basically a wall to the race course. A steep pinch that was basically unskiable.
As I went into the pinch I tried to put the foot down and jump skate over it. However it was so steep that if you didn’t plant your pole close to your ski it just dropped into thin air the pitch was so steep. This is frustratingly what happened to me. I lost my balanced, then my speed and I stalled out. Having to try an recover and get momentum over the top was hard and I lost a lot of time. It was such a frustration but on the positive I felt good in the race and was looking forward to the 15km course the next day. The course was very favorable for me and I was really looking forward to trying to get a good result. It was a series of rolling hills to a final back climb that was quite steep.
To cover the course they had again brought in tons of snow on dump trucks and then push it out over the 3.75 km course.
Because it was so warm and the snow was going to mush so quickly the organisers flipped the race start making it so the fastest skiers went first and had the best, firmest snow and the slower guys went at the back, a fairly brutal rule. To make things even more interesting the Germans, French and Italians were all using the races as Olympic selection races so the quality was super high with past World Champions lining up. I was starting at the back, and as I headed out a German on a lap or two in front went past and I straight away jumped onto the back of him. I got a great ride and the first split I got from Ewan was good and I was feeling ok. The track on the other hand wasn’t going ok, it was brown and slushy with huge ruts and rock all mixed in. It seems for every few buckets of snow they brought in they brought in a bucket of gravel and mud.
So the main part of the distance course was shaped like an 8 but it didn’t cross over you started on the right and did the two right half-moons climbing up and on the second half-moon was where the big hill was. So here I was sitting behind my German train driver as he pulled me along and we turned on the back big hill. Let’s now call this big hill, Mud Mountain. So climbing Mud Mountain the first of 4 laps went well, I stuck onto the German and over the top he only opened a small gap.
So like a runaway train the German stormed down the hill (the left side of the half-moons) and opened up more of a gap and my hopes of catching more of a ride chugged away. However at the end of the corner I found our German train driver dangling in the protective bunting that’s meant to stop people from launching off the corner. I zoomed past him as he slowly untangled himself. German train derailed… Well clearly it wasn’t too bad a crash because relatively quickly he caught back onto me and we skied together for the rest of the lap. Sadly however he had already done two laps starting earlier than me and was on his final lap and so up Mud Mountain and the rolling foot hills before it he raged away trying to finish strong and I was left to ski the final two laps solo.
By this stage the course resembled a child’s mud pie and I was not appreciating it! I honestly have never skied on such brown and dirty snow (I know the photos don’t show it but out the back was amazing!). If some one called it cold, crusty dirt I would have believed that more than dirty snow!
With the deterioration of the course came a serious slump in my skiing and I finished the race a little frustrated I’d skied the course so poorly and what could have been a great course for me turned into a brown horror story!
That afternoon I set a new record in that Dad and I caught a gondola up to the Aiguille Du Midi which is at 3842 meters and the tallest I’ve ever been on land.
It was a lot of fun looking at the views and seeing Mont Blanc that little bit closer!
The next day was turned into an 18.75km individual skate because of the bad snow conditions. However when I woke my legs were aching and I had a store throat. Frustratingly I withdrew from the race realizing that being healthy was more important than one race.
That afternoon the team got the news that the next weeks World Cup in Poland had been confirmed but due to the lack of snow the 15km mass start was to be held on a 2.7 km loop. This race was to be used as the last Olympic selection race before the team was announced. All the distance skiers were still after points to help their Olympic chances and with a race in Switzerland nearby the call was made for them to drive there and hunt those points.
After a talk with the team manager and knowing how I was feeling, with my form being fairly average and my health compromised I decided to pack my bags and leave the team for the season. It’s a little confusing to explain selection criteria but basically I would have had to of skied top 30 this weekend in Poland to get the spot at the Olympics and that just wasn’t going to happen.
My parents picked me up in Chamonix and I’ve head to Germany to stay with friends for a few days before heading to America once I’m healthily and ready.
It was a huge decision and one, which I still think about and I probably will for a long time. There are moments where I hate what I’ve done and ask myself why I didn’t head to Poland and try to ski out of my skin but then the realistic part of me kicks back in. In some ways I’m glad it’s all done and it was on my terms. I’m extremely excited to head back to America and race there. The style of skiing is much more relaxing, fun and friendly which suits me perfectly yet the quality is high. I still have other goals for the season, which I will strive for. I also can’t wait to have some warm sun good skiing and yes to see my girlfriend again.
The lead up to the Olympics are a very tough stressful time on coaches and athletes. So a huge thank you to Finn, August, Ewan, Allison and JC. All my family and friends that have supported and cheered me on. I couldn’t of done it without your support and plans are already being worked out for the future.
Train hard, rest easy, live for the moment.