Growing up in a family with Danish cultural traditions, hygge is what we strived for. There is no great translation into English. Google translate produces “fun”, but that’s not quite it. I think “cozy” is the closest if you’re going for a one-word translation. But it’s not like the coziness of warm socks. It’s the coziness and warmth you feel when you’re around people you are fully comfortable with. It is sitting around a dinner table well after the dinner is done, losing track of time, feeling a smile on your face, and the joy of being so content with the people you are surrounded by. I’ve found that hygge is often felt in moments that may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The in-between of the big events. But that’s what makes moments of hygge so good. Enjoying the coziness of the in-between.
Hygge is sitting around the fire eating homemade pizza with the team, it is summer nights at Christi and Rachel’s sipping dessert wine, running for an hour too long because the conversation is too good and the trails are too lovely to leave, waxing skis with fun music and fun people, coffee in the morning while watching the Tetons illuminate, driving back from Walden with Ferne and Dan and seeing the most beautiful sunset coming over the pass, watching the Olympic skiathlon at 5 something in the morning with Andrew and Trevor and enjoying their commentating rather than the TV.
Skiing is great. I love it. I am learning to love races. But the moments of hygge? Those might just be my favorite part of this whole thing.
I am sitting in front of my laptop, enjoying my morning coffee in the travel mug I “won” last weekend at the Teton Ridge Classic. I write “won” here because I was the only one in my age category. But doesn’t that say something as well?
Sometimes I have to remind myself of my background. Never have I thought of myself as an athlete. Sure, I dabbled in gymnastics and tennis as a child, but I was a musician. Early on I had to chose where my time and my parent’s money would be dedicated, and I chose piano and saxophone lessons.
When I started undergrad, I entered a world where I no longer had the time to be a serious musician and I was grappling silently with disordered eating. I had started running the summer before as a tactic to stay skinny, but I was too weak to go more than two miles at a time. But that was about 200 calories, so I didn’t need to go further, right? I auditioned for and made it into the marching band and could hardly physically make it through that first band camp. I was tired. I was weak. And thankfully, I realized that I needed to change if I wanted to be a musician in college at all and if I wanted to survive.
Fast forward to my junior year. I was healthy and I signed up for a marathon. Out of the blue. I had only ever run a turkey trot 5k as an official race and my longest run to date had been 7 miles. A few stresses in my life like a breakup, my grandfather dying, and hard classes might have contributed to my reasoning but I’m still not 100% sure why I did it. After 15 weeks of training and 26.2 miles of pain and pride, I was hooked. I was now dubbed the “athletic friend” in my social circles, but I still didn’t feel like I could be called an athlete. I really did not know what I was doing, I was just running.
In 2019, I moved to Laramie, Wyoming for graduate school and did not know anyone. My roommate invited me to a potluck for graduate student women in science. It overlapped a bit with a trail run planned by the community running group. I had been planning to show up to this trail run, I even messaged the group on Facebook. I had to go and meet the runners of Laramie. So, I said that I’d show up late, it’s a casual potluck right? The run was hard. Running at 8,000 ft for the first time kicked my ass and I went at a fairly embarrassing pace. After the run I showed up late, sweaty, and gross with a bag of carrots and container of humus. All the women were wearing cute summer dresses, made delicious dishes that probably took them at least an hour, and gave me some funny looks when I came in. I sat down next to my roommate, embarrassed for the second time that afternoon. My roommate introduced me to Eva Smith who immediately said something to the effect of “So I heard you’re a runner”. Numbers were exchanged and within a few days we went for a run.
After a wonderful year of running with Eva, we had moved in together and were struggling through the global pandemic. Her partner, Ben, was a Nordic skier. “The ski team is still practicing in person. They do a lot of runs. And you should learn how to ski!”. Sure. I wasn’t doing anything else. And my extroverted self was dying a slow and painful death with the lack of social interactions. But would I be able to keep up? Would I be a burden on the team? I wasn’t an athlete. I never had been. And I definitely did not know how to ski.
So much can be said about that first season learning to ski, but let’s fast forward to the 2022 Teton Ridge Classic. This season, I am not quite in ski shape. I spent the first few kilometers of the race remembering how to ski properly and learning how to do so on my new skis. I spent the last few kilometers trying to keep some semblance of technique while being incredibly tired. When I finished, I was not incredibly happy with my performance.
But sometimes I forget where I came from. This girl who grew up at sea level, who was not an athlete, who used to not be able to run more than 2 miles at a time, who didn’t think she was deserving of calories, who followed a marathon training plan she found on the internet, who learned to ski just a year ago, raced at 14k ski race. And she was the only one in her category to do that.
So, I drink out of this travel mug, and I think the journey it took to get the mug. What I did to deserve this mug. How far I’ve come. How far will I go?
It is a sweltering June day when we drive through the Bears Ears National Monument. The dry desert scrub oak of the western slope gives way to ponderosa, grassland, and aspen groves. Flowers line the curving dirt road and the car thermometer shows a 10 °F dip. We begin our backpacking trip at the top of Woodenshoe Canyon and will end near the bottom of Dark Canyon. Accompanied by five of our student athletes and my sister, my partner and I begin our trek in the deep shade of hundred-year-old aspens and ponderosas. The cicadas sing and, with their transparent wings, alight on our backpacks.
While I aim to be fully present in this precious space, my mind still lingers on a faculty development program that I led the week before. Gathered in a circle, eight female-identifying college educators pondered the question, “When do you feel belonging?” Their answers rarely included “in science” or “in my department.” These scholars are nationally recognized contributors to disciplines ranging from machine learning to the study of the age of distant galaxies, and yet belonging is not something that they associate with science. This had piqued my interest in “belonging” as a metric for inclusion even as we had confidently shared the “Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia.” Principle I reads, “Establish and support a class climate that fosters belonging for all students.”1
Published in 'The Physics Teacher" follwo this link to continue reading
I write from our Mercedes Sprinter – a 15-passenger vehicle named Zima in which we transport our ski team family. A handful of our graduate student athletes ride in the back. It is 6:30am and we drive to the trails at Tie City for our early morning run. I read an email string from two of our alumni skiers and advisees on my phone. Sierra writes to Ella and I; she explains her work to create an R Tutorial for the University of Colorado’s Microbiology class. She is using the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) One Health Framework alongside the 1959-2019 notifiable disease database. She is aiming to reconcile the One Health framework with the fact that the top 3 diseases in 2019 were STDs/STIs - chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Her email inquiry asks Ella and I if we can offer perspective in linking One Health to STIs.
The CDC’s One Health calls attention to the inextricable link between human, animal and environmental health. All connected, the health of any of these impacts the health of the others. While this web of co-dependent wellness has been the backbone of my teaching for decades, the inability of many to recognize this has caused us to ignore animal pandemics, deforestation, and even climate change.
I read Sierra’s email aloud to the graduate students in the back of Zima. Ella’s reply states,
“STDs lead to antibiotic use and this can lead to antibiotic resistance (as evidenced by high rates of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea) which might be transferred to other bacteria and then impact environment and animal health. I think it would be really cool to still include STDs (maybe alongside the other types you mentioned) and have students explain how they think STDs relate to One Health.” I feel proud of Ella in multiple dimensions when I read this email because it not only shows her deep understanding of ecosystems but it also shows her prowess in teaching for even in a simple email she suggests that students be given ownership of the synthesis of connections.
We begin our run on the trails of Tie City with the rising sun casting shadows through the Aspen Sunflowers. Helianthella quinquenervis are often also called the nodding sunflower for the flowers appear to be drowsy, casting their gaze downwards. We run through the campground and along the single track, across the small wooden bridges. Our train of runners comprised of me, Christi, Ben, John-Henry, Eva and Ellen. Ben and John-Henry are graduate students in Botany, though both might also identify as microbiologists, ecologists and food systems lovers. Eva, a graduate student in Geology runs third an line and with sardony she relates that her department has, just yesterday, been moved to Petroleum Engineering. She says, “Most of our faculty have no link to petroleum; I just don’t understand.” We all commiserate about the restructuring of UW departments and express our sadness in loosing a college that is the icon of connectedness across disparate disciplines.
Yesterday’s heavy rain and hail has left the ground moist and soft. The smells, glorious, are a compilation of blooming wild rose, geosmin produced by soil microbes and fungi that have pushed up during the night. With each deep nasal breath, I ask myself to detangle to odors, pushing the limits of the sensitivity of my olfactory senses. With each breath, I feel the stress of the week dissipate; with each bilateral running step, I feel all pain leave my core. I caress the petals of an Aspen Sunflower – soft, almost velvety. I feel connected. I feel healthy and I feel love for the earth and the skiers around me.
My mind returns to One Health. One might ask, what is health? In our ski team class of two semesters ago we read Eli Clare’s book Brilliant Imperfection. Eli might say that we often conflate health with a normative icon. In this moment, I recognize myself as embodying that norm. I am temporarily able bodied. I am a fit athlete. But, arguably, that is not health. Health may take many faces.
If One Health reminds us that human health is inextricably linked to environmental health, I wonder why we generally tend to think about this in a unidirectional way? That is, we can often see how environmental health affects human health (the air we breath, the water we drink). However, we rarely think about it in the opposite direction. If we are healthy, how do we impact the earth’s health. If we run across her soils, bask in the smells of her blossoms, feel the velvety smooth bark of her trees, are we, in fact, improving her health? I think that Robin Wall Kimmerer would say yes!
Behind me in the running line Ben has begun to talk about mushroom gathering. He says, “I need to start remembering to go out mushroom hunting on mornings after a big rain!” He asks us if we will all pay special mind to look for the yellow color of Chanterelle. Christi replies that she thinks he will be better at spotting them than she will. He replies with a quick, “You never know!” Eva tells a story about her high school coach who did so much Chanterelle gathering that they finally put up as sign saying, No Mushroom Hunting. I remind them of Kimmerer’s book about the way in which harvesting, with thoughtful practices, improved the health of the Sweetgrass. One Health may include our mushroom gathering.
We end our run in a large field of Aspen Sunflower and I pause long enough to take a photo basking in my own health and the health of the life around me.
On long drives to ski races and camps, the van interior transforms from a mere vehicle for transportation to a place of rich, memory-making dialogue. Conversations range from the philosophies of Kant, to superheroes, and future dreams. One of my great life joys is salting the conversation with open-ended questions. “What is your most memorable dream?”, “If you were any character in a book or movie, what character would you be?”, “What keeps you up late at night?” And one of my favorites, “What will be in your garage ten years from now?”. This final inquiry might seem incongruous if one were not to know that college students struggle and falter when I ask, “Where do you see yourself ten years from now?”. Thus, I have gradually morphed this question to the garage question. I find that answers easily roll off the tongue and in no time I have my answer to the more deeply coveted former inquiry.
Often answers to the garage question are quite lengthy and detailed. I will always remember Adam Karges detailing the bicycle collection he would own. Everything was exact, from the type of seat to the brand of hub. Ben’s Porsche 911 would require quite a lavish garage space. Nathan’s climbing wall would not necessitate a very fancy garage, but it would need to be slightly lofted. Every garage is filled with more than one sporting accoutrement. Generally, there are kayaks, bikes, weight benches and so many skies, skies of every type, from backcountry to tele and, of course, many pairs of Nordic skies.
It is December 28th, 2020. This auspicious year is the twenty-third in our coaching career and for the first time, we have a team wax room that is not our garage. A combination of funding through our Shanghai University of Sport team and a contribution from Christi and I allowed us to convert the garage behind the rental house (the other half of our duplex) into a real wax room. It has a heater, a fan and even insulation! Christi spent weeks moving wax benches and boxes from our garage to the new wax room. The new space transformed into a welcoming, dexterous place that was inaugurated when the skiers dripped green Fast Wax onto their bases for our first race of the year. However, the move left our own garage in a heap of piled remains, a graveyard of more than two decades of layers of our life.
We commit two days of our holiday break to unburying, cleaning and reimagining our garage space. I begin on the Northwest corner, unburying stacks of Papa John’s disposable plates from wax room pizza deliveries. I find pieces from the first gift that I ever bought for Christi – a Makita drill. These are surrounded by screwdrivers, hammers, a deep toolbox filled with the relics of the implements we needed to hang photos, measure rooms, and build our house together.
I move to the water bottle cupboard where row after row of bottle and coffee mug boast race logos and work events. From mugs embossed with Shepard Symposium on Social Justice and UW Science Initiative to Glide the Divide ski race, each bottle and mug was built to hold more than just hydration; each holds a memory. I unearth a large plastic insulated mug that is dated 1997 and labeled “L.L. Bean Biathlon National Championships & World Team Trials, Lake Placid”. The old plastic mug itself is worth nothing; in fact, it is likely not even BPA-free. And yet, the memory it holds is so powerful that I have to sit down for a moment to carry the weight of it. It was my Junior year in college when Christi traveled one last time to the Olympic trials only to be, once again, the fastest biathlete not to make the team. I show Christi the mug and we decide that we will make a special shelf for things like this in the new wax room. A shelf of memories.
My cleaning takes me deeper into the dust of memories. I wipe off the laminated posters, old race bibs and newspaper articles that cover the doors to the water bottle shelves: Riley winning Nationals for the first time, the Alaska twins sporting the original “waffle suit”. A more formal poster shows the smiling face of Alexander Panzhinky. He holds the silver medal that he won in the Vancouver Olympics; I smile back at him as I remember his brother, Zhenya after he toed to a win at our Nationals in Rumford, Maine. I ran to give him a hug and he said, “I will tell my brother what Gold tastes like.”
Nearby is a laminated photo of Marit Bjorgen, undebateably the most successful skier of all time. She is pictured on the front of a Norwegian Newspaper with the headline Norge I Form. She is getting ready to race in a black sports bra and shorts. Her abs showcase the perfect six pack and the photo would leave any skier with the feelings of lust and awe. But for me, these feelings are more palpable when my eyes lift to the nearby picture of my college coach, Knut Nystad. He is pictured on the front cover of Rocky Mountain Sports. His perfect classic stride would draw the attention of most, but it is to his eyes that my gaze turns. These are the eyes that I studied from the back seat of my college ski van. Eyes that sparkle with depth of thought, compassion and energy.
I uncover an old manilla envelope filled with 2014 All American certificates. I read Elise’s name and then Sierra’s. Both are written in beautiful cursive on the embossed paper. I touch the gold relief and realize that only these certificates, buried in our garage, had the time to silently reflect on the successes. Both scholars themselves moved forward in such a blaze that they likely forgot this victory as soon as the ink dried. Elise now in Medical school and Sierra working to complete her PhD, I wonder if they might now like to see these?
Surface after surface, shelf upon shelf, I uncover layers of old ski wax. I scrub and scrape. The warmer waxes roll up into balls, the cold waxes form sharp shards that sometimes hit my hands and face with a tiny prick. All of the pieces come together, a rainbow of colors, layers of memories, years of our life melted, dripped, re-coalesced and hardened together.
Hours pass and with every moment, a new surface is exposed. I am able to sweep the wax piles from the floor and Christi finds our old ski racks. Wooden, they are engraved with our names. Christi built mine and gave it to me my Senior year of High School. We carefully fill the ski racks with our own skies. I realize that this is the first time, since they were built that these racks again hold only our own skis. In fact, these racks, represent the very foundation from which our life grew to support and hold the success and adventures of hundreds of young skiers. If I had answered the question of what would be in my garage a decade after I sat staring at the inquisitive eyes of my coach, I don’t think I ever could have dreamed that my answer would be: my garage will be “the Friday” of hundreds of skiers race Saturdays.
Natural intervals are a specific type of interval that is variable and fun!
Basically as you ski you choose the intervals. You want to mix them up with some steep uphills, some flats, definitely go over the top of every hill. You can even through in some downhill and gradual downhill for fun.
You ski around the trails and time yourself on the intervals. They can be any length but they need to add up to 12-15 minutes of total hard skiing time. So they can be any variation of length but in the end 12- 15 minutes
You have new skis! Yay! It's so exciting to feel those beautiful new bases with ALL that potential SPEED!
Now you want to help those new skis reach their full potential through waxing! One of the best things you can do is to make your skis ROCK is to wax them - a lot!
Let's build them up the right way.
You might think this is all you need BUT if you want to truly have fast skis you'll want to ski on them, wax them, ski on them, wax them, in a continuous loop. This combination makes the skis super fast!
Finally, you should never let your good race skis sit for any length of time without wax. If the conditions don't allow for constant skiing you should make sure to storage wax your skis so they are happy.
Always remember - A waxed ski is a happy ski!
Succulent Nut date cake
Bake on 350 degrees for ~25 minutes or until edges start to pull away from pan
By Sydney Wiswell
We are hitting our quadruped training block, in which we start to run with poles, when the motions of running start to feel more and more like skiing. Today’s midweek adventure run took us to Happy Jack. This run turned out to be the perfect time for me to reflect more on ski culture, something I have been meaning to take time to do since reading Rachel’s most recent blog post. Upon reflection on and after the run, a word repeatedly swelled up in my thoughts, a word which I couldn’t help but realize embodied precisely what ski culture means to me.
This is admittedly an interesting word and feeling to associate with a sport which puts us in the coldest of elements and places.
The majority of the run today was spent in a lack of conversation, something that doesn’t normally happen on our group workouts, but made for the perfect storm of thoughts and time for reflection in my own head. Although saying there was a lack of conversation may sound like a lonely or odd energy between the team, it was quite the opposite. As we ran along, I felt a stronger than usual connection between myself and my teammates.
My arms swung in a pendulum motion bringing my poles along with each of my strides. My hearing focused in on the clicking of the whole groups poles on the ground in front of and behind me.
I felt the shambled cork of my pole grips as we ran along. This set of poles have been with me for quite a while now. A pair of green and silver One Way’s, which were passed on to me by one of my high school coaches. These poles have accompanied me on a great variety of workouts, from easy runs to workouts which by the end left these poles as the only thing holding me from collapsing to the ground, witnessing me in my most exhausted state.
This almost methodical ticking of poles on the trail slowly subsided any residing feelings of overwhelm from the day, any general stress from life load. I became grounded, in a way only training seems to be able to do at times. I can only describe this grounding feeling as warmth.
This feeling of warmth was different from the feeling of warmth my swix coat or buff gave me on this run. It was a warmth I felt in my gut. A warmth to my core that reconnected me to my deep love of the sport of nordic skiing and this team that I was running in a pack with. It brought me back once again to why simply being a nordic skier makes up such a large piece of my identity. I was so content to be running with this group, all of whom I know hold similar identities as skiers, all in slightly different ways, which creates a strong team synergy.
As Ella lead the group through the trails of Happy Jack, I thought about how many countless miles she has put into these trails. I felt no resistance whatsoever to just follow in her stride wherever she decided to take us, a feeling when training with a team that I have recently realized how much I take for granted. So much freedom comes with that feeling of just being able to fall into a rhythm with the group. This freedom comes with a lack of worry. A lack of worry about finding the next turn or about whether we are going to go for the right amount of time. The group energy just seems to guide us the right way at times.
Between Ella and myself was Leon. I couldn’t help being brought back to Christi and Rachel’s discussion with us about how we would find more in common with the SUS team than we might have initially expected simply though the common athlete culture. As I ran behind Leon, our strides almost perfectly in sync, I found yet another feeling of warmth in how this created such a substantial connection between anyone at any given time in this simultaneously individual and team sport.
The last minutes of the run, the fog began to really set into the dips of the hills and valleys as we made our way through the engulfed terrain.
This image, of the daylight fading and the fog of the first snow clouds settling in, may have seemed quite dark and cold to some. But somehow the energy of it all, catalyzed by this team, by this sport, was simultaneous comforting and exhilaration. We were running through the first signs of winter, of the season ahead. I’ve realized that each season brings similar patterns, filled in with different details. Those details will soon unfold before this years group, adventures and memories to come that are not even thoughts yet.
After we all re-grouped at the vans, people began changing base layers and piling back into the two vehicles. I quickly realized how familiar the smell of the heaters and the warmth of the air was, senses I hadn’t felt since last winter. These senses have accompanied me all over the region and even country over my years of skiing. From the middle school ski club vans, to the airport busses in Chicago and New York taking us to the larger competitions over the last few years. This warmth of car heaters after a workout in the cold was a different kind of warmth. It brought a comfort that carried over the years and different environments. An indication that another day of training was complete, with various teams over time, but always with that common core. The core that has grown up with me, raised me, seen my greatest battles and greatest growths. The core that has kept me warm.
This blog is a compilation of thoughts, essays, class projects, recipes, etc. from SNOW Athletes.
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