“Start with the Golden Objective. Plan everything back from that.”
The goal of the OST summer training camp was technical improvement. Full stop. The number one weakness of Ontario skiers [in general], the thing that holds athletes back from those coveted top 3 or top 10 positions at nationals is technical skill. With winters that start at Christmas and end before Nationals it’s no wonder we struggle to compete against athletes who have access to on snow skiing from October to May. Get them on snow, get them skiing well. These were the Golden Objectives that led us to Germany.
The trip to Oberhof was an adventure into uncharted waters. No one from the Province had been to the German ski tunnel, a new, above ground facility with the longest summer trail network in the world. Some of our athletes [and coaches] were about to experience their first trip to Europe. While I’ve had more than my fair share of European skiing adventures I’d never led a gaggle of teenagers overseas before. As the saying goes, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
When you plan a trip around a central objective it becomes much easier to judge both during the camp and in retrospect not only whether it was a success, but also what factors contributed to that success.
Here are some of the key factors that resulted in this being a kickass camp;
First and most simply, our living arrangements were seamless. The ski tunnel was one kilometer from our house and three minutes away from a track, a full gym and some amazing roller skiing paths. From a coaching perspective this was ideal. Not having to stress over logistics such as food [full meals were provided], transportation, or finding descent training venues meant that all we had to focus on was providing athletes with the absolute best support at every turn.
The quality of skiing in the tunnel was excellent. One might wonder how entertaining 1.8km of trails will be around hour two of an LSD workout. The nature of tunnels design however makes it surprisingly engaging. The horse-shoe shaped trail network is double wide allowing athletes to ski in either direction. The terrain is varied, consisting of a series of short, long, steep and gradual climbs. Athletes can choose the sequence of hills in any combination to make the workout as varied as they require. No- it’s not the same as a 10km loop of Gatineau park but hey- we’re skiing in -7 while looking out windows at the green leaves of late July. Snow conditions in the tunnel can best be described as hard packed corn snow. The tunnel was groomed each night and set up nice and hard each morning. On classic days we threw down an ultra thin layer of blue klister then covered it with 4 layers of VR60. The conditions never changed so the wax never had to. Training indoors- what a novelty.
During nine days in the tunnel we shared training slots with national teams from six different countries. This provided the OST with a unique opportunity to train with World Cup athletes. There’s nothing like classic skiing behind the Czech nat’l team to develop a true appreciation for what skiing relaxed and snappy means. When Andy Newell and the US men’s team showed up our boys were invited to jump in for a portion of their sprint double pole workout. Besides training immersion our athletes were observing different teams workouts and taking note of their training and recovery habits.
The thing that resonated the most for me was the basic nature of each teams training regime. They were doing the same workouts I’ve seen done back in Canada a thousand times. In fact- we would inadvertently cross paths with teams all over the place, during our morning workouts in the tunnel, then again during our ski walking or rollerski workouts in the afternoon. [also- I’d like to point out that our friend Tito with Japanese National Team made his athletes do a TON of legs only drills I hadn’t seen since rec courses at the City of Ottawa].
In the end OST athletes put in an average of 17-20 on snow training hours during the nine days we spent in the tunnel. They rotated between a series of LSD, intensity and speed workout all geared towards technique improvement and maintenance of that technique under stress. We [Toivo and myself] provided athletes with constant feedback, both with live video and post workout video analysis.With nothing else to focus except quality technique some really fundamental breakthroughs were made with athletes.
Our athletes have not left this camp with perfect technique, but they have all made major improvements. The works starts now to ingrain those changes, and continue to work towards targeted areas of improvement as the dryland season continues. A training camp in itself will not change the direction of athletes season- but if done right it can shoot athletes into the remainder of their season with more momentum than they had before. As Baisia said, “look out Canada. We’re commin’ for ya.”