Our trip to Norway began as a conversation with Lisa Patterson. Patterson, who leads Canada’s World Junior [WJ} team was talking about the underperformance of Canadian athletes at International races. From her perspective athletes are fatigued following Trials races, are unaccustomed to the challenges of travelling overseas and are overwhelmed by the event itself. The outcome of these factors have been performances below what our Canadian athletes are capable at an International level.
The goal of our trip to Norway was to give future WJ/U23 candidates the opportunity to experience the challenges of racing overseas. It was a dress-rehearsal, an opportunity for athletes to learn in order to optimize future performance. And boy- we all did a lot of learning on this trip.
We arrived in Norway after a hasty transition from Canmore’s WJT. Tired from the races & subsequent travel we were pretty disappointed discover a complete lack of snow in Drammen and it’s surrounding areas. Local ski areas we planned to visit were closed- and on top of that, races we planned on participating in were either cancelled or moved.
Lesson # 1
When the plans you make don’t work out- make new ones.
We spent our first day in Norway looking for snow in an area we didn’t know very well. The end result was a jog around the Holmenkollen stadium. While the area was neat to explore- the general feeling at the end of the day was one of disappointment.
Day 2 we followed local information suggesting we check out a place called Norefjell 2h north of Drammen. We set off equipped with GPS coordinates and the promise of snow.
Focus on your goal. Roll with the rest of it.
We definitely found snow in Norefjell. Lot’s of it. The snowpacked road was cut from snowdrifts and approx half a meter of snow accumulated while we were there. What we couldn’t find was a chalet- but finding a segment of trail from the road we practiced the art of the parking lot wax and head out from there.
The trails, groomed earlier in the day and covered in light powder, wound down into a spacious red pine valley. Despite this- several athletes were feeling stressed. Sitting in a van for 2h waiting for a ski in an unknown location with unknown variables was having a psychological effect. It reminded me of a particularly hot, miserable rollerski I endured with a group of 13 year old girls one year. The workout was on the cusp of being an utter disaster when the girls decided as a group to stop focusing on the negative and instead recognize they had an opportunity to embrace a good training opportunity and execute the workout goals. Was the lead up to our ski in Norefjell easy, perfect, or ideal? No. Did that need to impact the quality of our workout? It depends on how much you allowed the external variables affect the core goal.
Upon returning from Norefjell Thursday evening we were informed that with considerable pressure from our Norwegian contact- our athletes would be entered in the team relay of Norwegian Nationals. Not only that but we were also invited to act as forerunners for Friday and Saturday’s races.
When an opportunity comes along- work your ass off & make the most of it.
I’m not going to say it was easy for us to pick and leave Drammen on such short notice. Nor was the 3.5h drive to Lillehammer in a howling snowstorm. But we made it~ and the experience was pretty cool. Our athletes flew out of Lillehammer’s Birkenbeineren stadium in a blaze of glory. Busloads of the paying spectators lining the course highfived them as the jumbotron in the stadium showed replays from the qualifier. There is level of excitement around cross country skiing in Norway that takes some desensitizing. Forerunning for Norway’s top skiers Friday and Saturday gave our athletes an opportunity let it all sink in ahead of Sundays team relay.
Saturday night we followed as much of our pre-race routine as possible focusing on process based goals and planning for the next day. We talked about staying calm and focused in the lead up to the races, established race plans & key words, and established maps for successful personal results.
You learn by doing.
Sundays event was a 3 leg relay [classic, classic, skate]5km laps for the women and 10km laps for the men. 142 teams had registered in the men’s field. That morning our athletes cut their teeth with the likes of Størmer Steira, Sunby & Northug. I was pretty proud to watch our guys keep their composure- remaining focused during their warmup, calmly moving into the transition zones & working during the race to maintain technique and race focus in such challenges circumstances. At the end of the day everyone made mistakes. No one had a perfect race. Even though our athletes had been through the motion a hundred time, even though we had planned for success- planning is not the same as doing. The best part about the experience was that everyone came with concrete knowledge of what they needed to do better in order to perform to their potential at such an event.
Back in Drammen [which now had loads of snow] we spent an evening training with Konnerud, Drammen’s local Junior team. Ten minutes from town we arrived at a ski zoo- it was like a Nakkertok practice all over again- hundreds of kids whizzing by in groups going every direction.
We didn’t discover any Norwegian secret powers. They don’t have jet-packs, tails, or superhuman speed. Konnerud’s Juniors were the same as Juniors back home- there were just more of them. That- and they ski a lot. Amidst the bustle of practice there were faster skiers, slower athletes [and a curious 2:1 girl/boy ratio]….and all of them ski, either after school, as part of their sport school, afterwards professionally or for their University because what else would you do in Norway? One morning I watched a Norwegian daycare let out for recess, teachers strapped skis to the kids tiny boots and sent them to a nearby hill. On a Wednesday night Konnerud held a Pee-Wee and midget race night. They had over 600 participants. Canadian’s like to get behind the Olympic rhetoric ‘we are winter’ but the humiliating truth is that we don’t deserve that title. Skiers make up 0.167% of the population in Canada. Norway is winter, and until we stop acting like hard work and cold weather will kill us- we’ll never come close to them.
We spent our last weekend in Norway racing a Provincial-type race series. It was not what I expected. In all honestly- Saturdays race seemed pretty bush league compared to an OCup. The event organizers were confused when we asked about wax facilities and when we requested access to power they straight up laughed at us. The course consisted of two tracks set over a roughly 3km course. During the 4h‘s that midget and peewee skiers took over the course & even after that during the open categories athletes and coaches were free to ski on course.
You don’t have to be fancy- you just have to be good.
So there we were powdering skis outside in the falling snow, grip testing around mini-midget skiers thinking ‘what kind of a local show is this?’- only to have Norway throwdown come start time. Some of our best athletes were about a minute back of the race leaders [some whom were former WJ champions]. We had a similar experience the following day- although some of our athletes fared a bit better.
And that was it. Monday I our team on a plane back to Canada and head to France to cool my heels for a few days before meeting up with the OPA tour for a series of races in Scandinavia.
You get from life what you take.
Two weeks later the athletes are back in Canada- resting up from Easterns and prepping for OCup #3. No one who went to Norway came back immediately changed. What I encouraged our athletes to do was think about what they saw and what they learnt. Not just about Norway- but about themselves. Everyone struggled on this trip- my point was never to shelter anyone but to provide all of us with an experience which forced some critical self evaluation. If we want to address the challenges experienced and the weaknesses we discovered on this trip- the work lies ahead. Otherwise- it was another nice ski trip.
 Based CCC membership in 2013/2014 and the current Canadian population.