2020 – A Continuation
We find ourselves in the fourth quarter of what has turned into possibly the least funny year on record. Since tip off, the world has put the coals to us and it’s not exactly being classy about it. Remember that time our Canadian women’s hockey team won 18-0 over Slovakia in Vancouver? People were CHOKED. Oh, so we are Slovakia and 2020 is Canada in this metaphor? Nope. Back track to 2000 and Tiger is putting on a fricking clinic at the US open, absolutely dusting the field by 15 strokes. Oh, so Tiger is 2020 and we are everyone else in this metaphor? No, no. 1986 Tyson knocks out Frazier 30 seconds into the first round. Oh, so 2020 is Tysons strong right hand and we are Frazier taking a canvas nap? God no, too short. Try 2002, when Stade Olympique de l'Emyrne took on Adema in tournament play only to loose 149-0 in the most lopsided soccer victory in history. The real kicker, Olympique scored all 149 goals on themselves, never letting Adema touch the ball. A dumpster fire to end all dumpster fires. I’ll let you decide who’s who in that metaphor.
But heck, sports! Am I right? It was a long hiatus of watching full game replays and pretending everything else in life was a competition. World champion nap taker, div 3 bread maker, Pro-bowl Netflix watcher, 0-16 versus procrastination, World record holder in fizzy bubbly drinking, all to pass the time until we can FINALLY get back to work.
Enter the VBCST, our Virtual BC Ski Team. Brought to you by Zoom and streaming live on your Smart Phone, tablet, or Laptop. A whole bunch of heads in boxes trying to keep connected during the early days of shutdown (yes, that’s a Seven reference). Like a donkey in the Kentucky Derby, you work with what you’ve got and this was our starting point, 6 months and 5 years ago. At the dawn of the Canadian covid shutdown, these weekly check-ins were a huge highlight. Remembering that as things screeched to a halt the team was spread out and there weren’t actually many physical farewells between the staff and the athletes. The end of each meeting could be paraphrased simply enough. “we are working on a plan, but things are constantly changing and evolving day by day”.
On March 103rd those plans came to fruition and at long last the team was on the eve of being reunited for in person training. Up to this point our crew were sweating alone with begged, borrowed, and stolen equipment in garages and on driveways around the province. Doing what they could to keep fit and get a leg up on those who were quaranteating themselves into oblivion. Arrive the 104th and it’s time for us to tackle both team activity in the new covid landscape and the potentially longer than usual summer grind.
Let’s not insert a long winded explanation detailing every kilometer ran, kilogram lifted, vertical meter climbed, and minute spent doing the work that needed to be done if you really want to compete with more than this tiny pond we call Canada. The idea for the crew wasn’t to Rise and grind so they could spend a few minutes in the #PainCave and then spam the gram with a barrage of look at me I’m perspiring inspirational mirror selfies. The idea, as it has been for some time is that if they put in the effort, each day they would have pushed the needle a little further, that they would have done one to three really hard things, and be it yacking in the bushes, exhausted on the ground in a puddle of sweat, walking out of the gym on shaky legs, or opening the shock at the top of a climb, they could take pride in the work they were putting in. It’s never perfect, but it was an admirable effort by all. They pushed each other to be better, and also started to learn there is a time to put the plates on with the numbers facing in.
Usually the cyclical sequencing of ski racing dictates that we go Big fitness, train skiing, smaller fitness, Train skiing, race skiing, Train skiing, then back around to the beginning. Since the beginning of time it’s been this way, look it up. You can only 50 first dates so many fitness blocks before it’s too damn many. I’m like 80% sure that by the end that movie Sandler has to Stockholm syndromed her into being his wife every single morning. Doesn’t seem healthy to me… it also sounds so incredibly tedious. You can also only call yourself a ski team if you actually plan on, and complete the act of skiing. Fitness is awesome and if you’ve never tried some, I would definitely recommend. Our guys though, they are not training to be the best in the world at fitness.
When it was all said and done, the break between skiing and skiing would be the longest ever for a healthy athlete at this level, half a year. To add on to things, it was not possible to say with one hundred percent certainty when we would ski again. I don’t think the crew ever had a doubt that it would happen, I mean how could it not? Each check in included a plan, but those plans all had a big asterisk next to them. Chile *If we can leave the country. Now that we can leave the country, Chile *if the Chilean government opens ski resorts. Okay, Chile is dead soooo Europe?! *If the powers that be in Canadian sport think its okay. Really though, Europe right?? *Well yes, but some countries aren’t open. And so it went for months. Plans are made and unmade and made again just to be changed by the unforeseen circumstances of the covid world.
Each summer in the past has had a finish line that’s clearly defined to about a one week window. Train your ass off knowing it has an end. Take that away and things can get a little blurry. Regardless of my being a proponent of doing fitness until it kills you, it did make clear that this training in limbo style of off-season was not sustainable. Without doing it nearly the justice an actual training block for these guys deserves I’ll try to sum up the idea of not having a growing speck on the horizon.
You set out for a short run, it’s a loop that you know well and todays the day you have it in your head you’ll get a personal best time. You run hard, it hurts, but you are committed to mentally grinding this one out. At the end of the loop, you’re right on pace to blow your previous best out of the water but as you round onto the final stretch you notice that someone has moved your house way further down the road. Shitty thing to do but oh well, it’s only a little further. You keep pushing hard, your legs are starting to get a little shaky but heck, you’re hungry and you want to get back to your house. You’re almost there now and wouldn’t you know it, they have moved it again, even further this time! You’ve been running hard now at a pace you know you could sustain for your normal loop but this is uncharted territory now. It’s your house though so you kind of have to make it back. But do you shut it down and walk? Do you keep pushing and possibly explode then never make it? Maybe you crush it no problem?
Thank goodness a plan came together, courtesy of our very own Nicklaus Cooper, logistics expert and also professional logistics juggler. Foreshadowing? Of course not, when have things never not gone exactly as we planned?... From my perspective this news came just in time as the team had reached a fork in the road. One path lead straight back to the gym and what I think would have been an eventual off snow induced depression and insanity. The other path resembled one we had travelled many times before, although after the first step we realised it would be a different kind of journey than nay time before.
Mask up y’all! Cover your mouth and nose at all times. Stifle your sneezes until you feel like you’ve given yourself a concussion. Sanitize yourself head to toe sixty five hundred times a day. Don’t touch your face, don’t touch other peoples faces, don’t touch doorknobs, don’t touch the airport trollies, you know what, just don’t touch anything. Always answer with a very confident “NO” when asked if you have Rona symptoms, then use any method at your disposal to pass the temperature test. Stay in your bubble. Wear plastic booties overtop of your shoes. Ensure you have a small flask of Lysol to sip from just in case you start to feel a little tickle in your throat, after that sanitize one hundred more times. If you don’t have the one gallon of sanitizer necessary, you can always use steel wool to scrub off a layer of skin.
…okay, so it wasn’t actually that bad and seriously, wear your mask. Travel during corona time is really similar to travel during any other time. The biggest difference is that it’s quieter everywhere. You can still buy overpriced gum and water from the little shops. People still walk super slow, none of the general public understand how the zone numbers work when boarding the plane, and when you select a seat in an empty row on an empty plane some asshat will still book the seat right next to you. Except now you can actually get mad at them for being an irresponsible piece of trash.
The team was reunited during our small layover in Toronto and then it was off to Munich for our first Covid test of the trip. Land, collect the bags, get to the hotel, burn all of your travel clothes and take a shower. We then grouped up and headed back to the airport where our tests would be done. Even though the consensus among the crew was that they were all covid free, it still gave everyone a little bit of nerves. This negative test would after all, be our ticket to travel Europe. A positive test would mean a nice quarantine followed potentially by a return flight home. On top of that, no one was overly excited about having a Q-tip shoved into their brains. We filled out the paperwork and then waited while the clinic would buzz one of us inside at a time. Once inside, you would fill out a little more paperwork and then be handed a sealed tube with a novelty sized Q-tip inside and told to take a seat. While waiting again, this time with the Q-tip in hand, you had the opportunity to measure it up against the side of your head to try and workout just how far into your brain this thing was going to go. To me, it didn’t look like it was going to fit.
As it turns out, the Germans are not so high on the through the nose technique *collective sigh of relief*. Instead they stab you in the back of the throat… Ten Q-tips later everyone is back in the van and on the way to the hotel to await the results. The following morning, one by one each of us got an email saying we were good to go, so we went. Three hours down the road to everyone’s favourite Austrian glacier, Hintertux.
In reality I don’t think it’s many peoples favourite, but it has snow and they have training. Kind of the key points we were looking for. Tux is known for it’s obnoxious gondola lines, demanding tech lanes, and occasionally extremely icy conditions.
It was finally happening, the team was one sleep away from being back on snow. It’s always been exciting to get to the first camp of the summer, but this time there was a feeling of relief as well. Soft or hard snow, sunshine or rain, it all didn’t matter, the crew was going to enjoy the hell out of being clicked into skis. Id like to say it was that Christmas morning vibe that had everyone up bright and early that next day, in reality it was courtesy of jet lag. But whatever, it’s go time.
Remembering that the crew had been so long off snow, the first few days were spent hammering out a big bout of return to basics. Find position/learn a proper position then keep on doing it. High volume and skiing like when you were little, which could either mean sking until the lifts stop turning or it could mean skiing until Marcus finds a river leading into a hole in the glacier in the middle of the lane, decides to drink from it and then test the depth with his pole until it disappears…
Eventually it was time for a mix of friendly sets and more free ski. Through osmosis perhaps or some other hard to explain phenomenon a few of the guys were skiing about as good as they ever have right off the bat. Process, progression, patience, strides are starting to be made by all. Then, no less than one hundred centimeters of snow fell over two days. Hooray… Ok so sure the glacier looked like river ridden elephant skin and it could really use the snow and sure there were about as many crevasses as there was skiable surface but wow, is a hundred CMs of packed powder hard to ski on. Sunny skies and summer conditions exit stage left.
Annoying fall storms have entered the chat. And so it began, the worlds most exasperating stretch of fall weather in recent memory. Now for those of you who have been chasing snow in Europe in the fall, you know it’s almost never going to be a blue bird camp. The expectation is to miss a couple of days but the good outweighs the bad and the training you do get is still the best October option. For sure the ski racing deprivation we had all been experiencing over the last six months magnified the situation, but still, a team can only take so many card games and courtesy gondola rides before it begins to rust your soul.
Camps are rarely, if ever just “get better at skiing camps”. Get better at tuning, be better at recovery, improve managing yourself. Certain things are always going to be attached and intertwined with the focus of the trip, one giving value to the other. An enhancement to your athletic playbook and an opportunity to mould yourself into a more complete skier. Some opportunities though are not so clearly defined. Right up until they are. The team practiced and practiced annnnnnd practiced being prepared to perform. Don’t put your boots in the van until your boots are in the van. Don’t let waking up to rain dictate the outcome of your day and most importantly, when the fog does clear or the hurricane winds quiet down, be the persons most primed to take advantage of that brief window to improve.
And so it went. Some days not possible to ski, some days only possible to slide, some days perfect viz and bomb holes. As ugly as the music was, we were establishing a rhythm. When it came time to take a day off, we wanted to keep up that ski racing rhythm by heading to the biggest little town in ski racing. Kitzbuhel! A first time experience for all the guys and a chance to step on the track by hiking it finish to start house. I didn’t know what they would think of it and I had no idea if it would be done justice without any snow. Leave it to the Euros to keep the stoke high for ski racing. The DH gates were marked top to bottom, section names were displayed proudly and TV’s placed in all the key turns with highlights playing on loop. Mighty hard to leave the streif uninspired, and I don’t believe any of the crew did.
I’d say at this point 2020 isn’t sneaking up on anyone anymore. Murder hornets could be billowing out of the sewers and beating people with baseball bats and the world would shrug it off as routine. Ohhh it’s sooo horrible, they are hitting people with their tiny little clubs, can’t they see we have been through enough already? Weird news that trends more to the bad than the good comes every other day. We finish the hike and go for Pizza in town, as you do. It’s pretty tasty. Walking back to the vans, Nick gets a call and he walks a little away from the group as he talks. As the call ends I watch him snug up his mask. Hopefully his face is just cold, right? Turns out a couple of athletes had just tested positive for the covids, and wouldn’t you know it, we happened to have been near their coaches over the past few days. I have never seen a group of people spread two meters apart so fast. Okay, so no stress but rules are rules and three degrees of separation or not, we are officially grounded until we can get negative tests.
So that was the second time I got deep throated by a Q-tip… (I’ll have you know those are the doctors words, not mine. “Okay, I am going to deep throat you now”. Weather it’s doctor humour or broken English I’ll never know). Selfishly all we could think about was that the weather was getting good and that this was pretty crap timing. Good thing Russ cooks so well outside the pocket, it was once again time for a scramble drill. Grab your sanitizer and lets get to Innsbruck, like now. In the middle of a global pandemic you’d think finding rona testing would be a breeze. But in a time crunch the options are limited. Our best chance was to get to a mobile testing centre.
This testing facility was located at the Olympic areas a couple minutes off the highways. We arrive and pull into the massive parking lot where we have to zig and zag the van though cue made of metal barriers. We are the only people in this whole place. When we get through the maze we arrive at what amounts to the Zamboni entrance to the rink. Here we are greeted by a fireman who sign language directs us to drive into the building. It’s got a pretty apocalyptic feel already, but once we get into the arena and our eyes adjust to the dim lighting we see a group of people in full hazmat gear. Now we are pretty sure this is not a covid test, but where they burn all the zombies. This also does not look like what we were seeing online. Hazmat minion number one asks for our paperwork, which we don’t have. What it amounted to was that we had stumbled into very much the wrong place and tourists needed to go to the other parking lot for their tests. Let’s go to the friendly testing facility, please.
With the toxic waste disposal people in the rear view we pull into our correct parking lot and behold, a RV sized spaceship van that looked like a collaboration between Elon Musk and the Oscar Myer wiener people. From the depths of this automotive catastrophe comes a somewhat haggard Austrian man with a lit cigarette coming out the top of his mask. Cash changes hands and laughs were had as everyone tried and failed keep from gagging. Check a parking lot covid test off the list. (To be clear, regardless of my distaste for the design of the testing truck. It has a complete and state of the art laboratory inside.) *insert photo of this truck thing*
The results were very positive. Everyone was negative. (Every old persons favourite Corona test joke… needless to say, I don’t think its funny). With these negative tests we were back to being allowed to ski again at the tux, but the tux is located in a newly labelled red zone within Austria, meaning negative ten times over and other regions still don’t want anything to do with you… Wittenberg and what used to be our favourite indoor ski hill being one of those regions. Tux had given all it had to give and it was high time we GotTFO.
Where do you go when you are black listed from half the places in Europe? Who can you rely on when you are coming from a “high risk” covid area? Italy has your back! Lets go to the Baita Ortler, a charming mountain fortress set at the literal foot of the Stelvio glacier. The same Passo Stelvio the Giro climbs each year, and the same Stelvio that Alpha Romeo named it’s most middle of the road looking car after. There was definitely a time, perhaps pre WW2 where the Ortler would have been surrounded by the glacier and not only had it in it’s back yard. Those days are long past but the glacier still lives on and is an awesome place to train. The lanes are snow machine access only and you ski until the diesel runs out each day. That is of course if you don’t perish from carsickness as you wind your way from the valley floor up the 48 switchbacks.
This place is not the Ritz. It’s closer to an alpine Alcatraz than anything else actually. Tight quarters and old bones, surrounded by the ghostly remains of a few ancient looking hotels that apparently shouldn’t have tried competing against the Ortler. When you’re up, you’re up, don’t bother trying to escape. If you let yourself though, you’ll enjoy your stay at 10,000 feet.
Super-G was on the menu and we were to be guests with the Slovenian National team. Great day of training and well earned by the crew after enduring the temperamental weather in Tirol. It’s hard not to smile after a day of going fast under clear skies along side World Cup medalists.
By design, Stelvio was to be only a short stay, a quick in and out for three days before heading to indoors site B. Site B referring to Belgium and the indoor ski halls of Snow Valley. All that stood in our way was the entire longitude of Europe… and as the boys will tell you, a European kilometer is a lot longer than a Canadian one. So fill the vans with as many European liters of diesel as they will fit and we get on the road.
Our journey would take us through Garmish where we would spend the night and then continue with the second leg the following day. So far crossing borders had been a non-issue. We knew the rules to each country and stayed well within the guidelines. About twenty minutes into Germany a small Citroen POS hauls ass past us and pulls in ahead of our van. Not an out of the ordinary move on country roads in Europe. Then this things lights up like a Christmas tree with all the LED’s. Police, follow us. Hmmm, were not speeding, seatbelts are on, no outstanding warrants… We follow them and stop when they do at come construction. Out pops a friendly looking plain clothes officer, he comes up to the window and says politely to please follow him to the next pull out. He then goes and has what we assume is a similar conversation with the cars around us. When we reach the pull out he makes the turn, so do we, and everyone else just keeps on driving. Okay, weird but we are a passenger van so it makes sense. We both stop, the door opens, but this time the dude is hat, vest, police jacket on and flanked by two other officers who we didn’t realize were even in the car. If we were ever to be murdered on the side of the road, now was the time. They take all the passports, ask a few questions and then have a conversation amongst themselves. I assume about if there is a lake nearby to sink the van in. Passports are returned and we are given the all clear to continue, and keep continuing until we are through Germany.
Arrive the BC in the land of bricks, bikes, and big people. Nestled in the North eastern corner of Belgium is the small town of Peer. The only buildings not made of red brick were the gas stations and the ski slope. The town felt sleepy and happy to have one foot firmly planted in simpler times. It was not at all a place you would expect to ski, it was more of a place you would expect to play chess in the park or feed geese or maybe meet up with the gang for some shuffle board. The ski slope though looked to have potential and we set off to scope it out as soon as we arrived. By and far the most modern building in town, it looked plenty big enough from the outside. A friendly woman greeted us when we entered and she gave us the grand tour. She seemed very proud of what they had to offer and soon we realized it was for good reason. They had recently watered down what would be our lane for the week and it had set up into incredible conditions. The slope was steep enough, there were pieces of terrain, it was longer than it had looked during our research, and it would essentially be all ours. We knew the team would be excited and heck, we were excited! It was time for thousands of gates and a week of perfect weather.
This year, insanity did not set in. For a variety of reasons, the two biggest being the guys didn’t have enough time in the day for insanity, and our lovely hotel/retirement village/botanical garden. The Watermelon. Our days started and ended at the Watermelon, a hotel which was decidedly not fruit themed. Perhaps that’s because we were butchering the name and it was in fact Watermolen, or, and much more likely because watermelons simply weren’t in season.
Two two-hour sessions is the standard for indoors, a schedule that Snow Valley did not deviate from. The change from previous indoor experiences was that we had only two hours between training times. Wake up, drive to the hill, ski, tune, video, lunch, finish tuning, ski, tune, video, drive to the melon, dryland, shower, drive to the dome, finish tuning, dinner, drive back to the melon, sleeeeeeeeep. Repeat. The variations came only in the course setting and the times at which we skied. Gates shattered, edges dulled, some profanity was muttered during the short magic carpet ride back to the top of the course, and everyone looked a hell of a lot like slalom skiers. I could not think of a better place to be to finish our first camp back in the covid world. After a trying trip, with its share of frustrations and firsts, the crew made the absolute most out of all Europe could throw at them. It was time at last to head west, not for home, but for quarantine. Another first that the guys decided they would like to share together as a team.
PS – Belgium re-imposed Covid restrictions the day of our departure. Coincidence? We’ll never know.
~ Morgan Pridy, BC Ski Team Coach
#1. BCST at the bottom of Stelvio - (front l to r) Ryan Jazic, Nick Cooper; (back l to r) Heming Sola, Tait Jordan, Dylan Timm, Marcus Athans, Gerrit van Soest, Nathan Romanin, Montana Molyneux, Morgan Pridy
#2. Head Coach Nick Cooper at Kitz
#3. Toronto Airport social distancing
#4. Covid test
#5. Kitzbuhel hike
#6. Kitzbuhel start gate
#7. Stelvio morning training
#8. Stelvio luggage transport
#9. Indoor skiing