Just because they may be your neighbors, Olympians in bright-colored lycra racing around on the snow are an intimidating bunch. The skate ski crowd is almost neck and neck with the road bikers for having the most homogenous matching outfits and questionable-sponsorship wear. So, it's no wonder that here in Central Oregon especially, Nordic racing has a larger-than-life aurora surrounding it that may be off-putting to the "citizen skiers" who are considering getting out there just for the fun of it.
I've spent the last three winters really trying to improve my skate skiing, and still I oftentimes have to stop on the hills and suck a lung as the XC Oregon Team flies by and leaves me in their snow dust. Still, I've been having a blast and I try to learn and practice something new every time I'm out there. I started out like most, with a wide stance and arms flailing about for balance and eventually graduated into heels clicking with a feeling of grace and rhythm. My body feels like a pendulum propelling me forward and my arms swing high and back in coordination, so it's almost like dancing.
It has been on my list of yearly goals for a while now to train and complete a few races on skate skis, and it is likely that a combination of intimidation and fear of coming in DFL (that's "dead f***ing last" for the uninitiated) has held me back. With another new year rolling around and a great season of skiing ahead, I thought I would lay the foundation and do the research, and share my thoughts with those other folks out there looking to try a race or two this winter and see how they fair among the ranks of Bend's über athletes.
The three big local races to put on your calendar are the Tour De Meissner on February 12; the Cascade Crest on March 19; and the Desert Orthopedics Great Nordeen on April 2.
The Cascade Crest is a once-a-year opportunity to ski a long course that makes a single loop both inside and outside the Mt. Bachelor trail system.
"The Crest is more demanding and challenging," said Dan Simoneau, Nordic Director at MBSEF, which puts on the race every year to raise money for its programs. "There has to be more focus on overall fitness for this race because there are substantial climbs. There are places where you are going up hill for 10 to 15 straight minutes."
The Nordeen is a "negative altitude" race on the other hand. The course runs from Mt. Bachelor to Wanoga Sno-Park and is more a test of technique than overall fitness.
"There are a series of steep down hills and turns once the race leaves Sunrise Lodge," Simoneau said. "The hills and turns at Bachelor and Meissner are not as hard as the ones on this course, so working specifically on downhill technique can really help in this race."
Beginning this week, MBSEF is offering a series of master's classes in skate and classic training, in addition to overall fitness. See www.mbsef.org for more details.
Bill Warburton, Nordic coach at Bend Endurance Academy, recommends really getting to know the course before the race.
"Even though it may be well marked or there might be volunteers showing you where to turn, at any race, you are required to know the course," Warburton said, "You'll be much more efficient and have better flow if you know where you are going."
Warburton also suggested participating in the Tour De Meissner and the Sprinterfest Races during Winterfest, the weekend of February 18 - 20. Both races are beginner friendly.
A final bit of advice when preparing for your big day was offered by Bert Hinkley, ski tech at WebSkis, and U.S. rep for Solda Ski Wax. Bert was also the Nordic coach at Proctor Academy in New Hampshire for many years before moving to Bend.
Bert recommended experimenting with race ski wax, so this Saturday morning I had him give my skis the high-end ski racing wax treatment. Although Bert has spent most of his life as a history professor, ski waxing transformed him into a mad scientist. He pulled block after block of different colored waxes from his messenger bag and applied coat after coat. He started with a "hot scrape" using Solda Base Universal, then a Solda UF 7, then a crayoned layer of Solda PowerJet 1, a pure fluorocarbon block that runs for $82 for one square inch! Bert finished off the skis with a Solda F31 Orange, a high fluoro/paraffin hybrid wax.
This combination worked. My normal two-hour course around Meissner was cut by a half an hour and it felt like there were marbles under my skis.
"Bend can be a very serious place when it comes to ski racing," Bert said. "Have realistic goals and don't compare yourself to the Olympians. Make a plan for race day and then pick someone to follow, and don't start off in the front. That will help you pace yourself."