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.
In 2010 at CY Middle school in Casper, Wyoming I was introduced to cross-country or Nordic skiing. It had been about a month or so since my first season of cross-country running had ended, so when it came time to decide what to do for a winter sport cross-county skiing seemed like the most natural choice for me. Had I ever heard about Nordic skiing before? No, but I'd downhill skied so they couldn't be that much different. Little did I know I was entering a whole new world.
My young moldable mind was able to pick things up quickly, and my first few seasons flew by as I learned how to actually ski. In high school I began racing at a higher level, traveling across the country for Junior nationals to test my skills against kids from all over America. My whole life was absorbed with this culture of skiing. I trained year-round for a sport that could only actually happen a few months out of the year.
By the time I reached college my love of the sport brought me to the UW Nordic Ski Team. Here I experienced more of what skiing actually is. For me, it always revolved around physical attributes, but now I'm bringing in my mind as well. In my almost tenth year of skiing, I'm beginning to learn where the sport comes from, and how to the learning process of skiing occurs. With my new SUS teammates, I'm starting to have to analyze the sport more than I ever had. I now have knowledge of how long this sport has been a part of different cultures, the evolution of it, and how certain techniques are fairly new in the grand scheme of things. I'm having to dissect the culture in order to explain it to someone with the same knowledge of Nordic skiing as my sixth-grade self. It's been so long that I'd forgotten how I'd learned to ski, but now I'm attempting to help people learn. I know I'm still early in my journey of re-learning Nordic skiing, but I'm open to where it will lead me.
by Rachel Watson
The air is still cold but the closeness of the people in our small running pack makes me feel warm. We begin our ascent up Medicine Bow peak from Lake Marie and run as a full group around the south side of the lake. As the trail turns from paved path to dirt single track and finally to rocky tallis, the group of runners spreads from a tight group to individuals or pairs, many of the latter in deep conversation. The Nordic bodymind of the team coalesces and disperses much like a dictyostelial slime mold; sometimes we exist in close proximity as a melded fruiting body and sometimes as our individual motile forms, but we always find our way back together. I find myself running with Ella and we speak of research, learning, PhD journeys, and the earth's microbiome as we run, scramble and summit the peak together. Very near the summit, we pass by a small patch of snow. We both look at one another and wonder what our new Shanghai teammates did and said when they saw the snow for the first time? In order to accommodate the diverse experience of our group, we had separated and dropped our low-altitude-adapted-teammates at the upper lot before going to the lower lot to begin running. Thus, while every step of the run takes us closer to coalescing as an entire team, we have not yet caught our new team members.
The wind at the summit buffets our hair, eyes and hands but its presence is welcome because its cold contrasts with the warmth of the sun and reminds me that autumn is here. It forecasts the coming winter, a metaphorical score of music in which wind curls to form the first stanza and promises a second verse that stories the nucleation of the first snowflake, the arrival of the winter. We stand just briefly at the summit, long enough for me to ask Ella how many times we have summited in the last few years. My heart asks a deeper question; it inquires my strong but aging Nordic body as to how many times I have reached such peeks and whether I am closer to the last time than the first?
It has been less than six months since Christi and I met administrators from the Shanghai University of Sport in a small room in the University's Division of Kinesiology and Health. In that small room, we agreed to select 10 athletes from eighty applicants, to, in one year, teach them how to ski, ski train, race and coach. We agreed to this lofty outcome because it was clear to me, even when one might presume the pearl of authenticity to be obscured by the shell of professionalism, that the leaders in that room all prioritized and deeply valued the holistic success of the student athlete.
Unpacking what it means to teach someone to be a Nordic skier, to truly embody the soul and the solidarity for the Nordic way of knowing is now, at the top of Medicine Bow Peak, with my hand exploring the surface of a quartzite rock outcropping, what I challenge myself to be able to do. I envision the soul of Nordic culture to be so big that the words would fail to fit into any book bounded by two-dimensions. For me, Nordic culture builds layered strata of memories of the wisdom of those who were my coaches, my mentors and my role models. It is the accent of my first coach, Don Quinn ("Quinny"), an accent that he called "Scandihoovian". Like many in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, his Swedish roots were unforgotten but they were weathered by American experiences of the Upper Peninsula. They were a combination of the guarded, private Scandinavian way of being and the raw, gritty tenacity of the Yupper born of a shared history of the roughness of the lives of copper miners. Just like pasties, the Yupper is crusty on the outside but warm and wonderful on the inside.
Quinny's coaching advice was generally culturally-rooted prose such as, "Yeah, you know, you can't be up hootin' with the owls if you want to soar with the eagles." His stories about training with his twin brother Dave taught us as much about training as any textbook ever could.
"Yeah Rachel, competitors would ask us, "Hey Quinnys why are you skiing so slowly?" We would just look at them and say, "You do your training and we'll do ours and when we get to the race, we'll see what happens."
As Ella and I make our way across the scarp of the face of the peak, the wind continues to buffet my face and eyes. The culture of Nordic is one of sunglasses and Dermatone. The texture of this thick protective face cream, meant to guard surfaces that cannot be effectively covered with clothing brings memories so deep that despite being old they cause my breath to catch and my heart to stop. I remember racing in below zero temperatures in Winter Park and Durango. I remember meeting Christi for the first time. The very essence of the soul of a Nordic skier, she gave me my first pair of sunglasses with yellow lenses. They were lenses that would shield even the fiercest of blizzards. Memories of these glasses overlaid on tacit recollections of the oily feel of dermatone on my face convert Nordic from a construct to something palpable by every sense: touch, feel, smell. Nordic is body meeting soul and it is at this interface
As we begin to descend the peek, the scree gradually turns to dirt trail and Ella and others descend with the speed of youth leaving me to ponder my Nordic memories alone. The culture of Nordic is not just on the trails, it is everything that wraps the moments outdoors. It is Norwegian sweaters, glogg, dry base layers, clogs, thick wood wax benches carved from old nobly trees. Memories of teammates past cause tears to well in my eyes and I have to slow my cadence long enough to make room for the big presence of my Norwegian college coaches. Knut Nystad, now a Manager for the Norwegian National Team, taught me that Nordic is dancing on your skis. He showed me that Nordic is kindness, that in Nordic "team" means telling the raw truth every day, laying oneself bare both literally and figuratively. When I had no hat, Knut took off his own hat and gave it to me. When I needed poles, Knut cut his to fit me. When I began coaching my own team, Knut found a way to outfit us in uniforms and provide skis for those on the team who had none. Years later, those skis were paid forward again and again from earlier teammates to newer members. The Nordic culture forms a web of International connection; it is a web that buoys us and supports our professional and personal success. Nordic is solidarity.
Nordic is the feeling of hot klister turning cold on a weathered thumb that hopes to see so many more races. It is the feel of extra blue kick wax and metal on your teeth when a tube of wax that has seen hundreds of training days is nearing its end. Nordic is the feeling of putting a hand covered with klister into a glove and knowing the sweat will free your hand of the stickiness by the end of the ski in a magical way that seems to evade even wax remover. Nordic is the childlike joy we feel when we see every snowflake, just as it is the intense scientific scrutiny of each of these flakes as we interpret the language of fractal angles and shape so as to select the right wax.
As I near the end of the run and I see the team coalescing in the parking lot, I realize that our new Shanghai teammates are already becoming a part of the fruiting body of the culture of Nordic. They cuddle in lobster mits, borrowed hats and are already celebrating the warmth of down jackets ("puffies"). The culture of Nordic is one that is so deep that it transcends language and I have seen these new athletes learn first through their bodies, with every sense. Like a snowflake that crystalizes in the clouds before it is ever seen by us on the earth, their learning is confirmed in their bodies, their sensual experiences and is daily crystalizing as cognitive understanding of the science and culture of Nordic.
 This term is slang for people of the Upper Peninsula.
 For those who don't know what Dermatone is: https://kk.org/cooltools/dermatone-skin-protector/
 This is a Norwegian traditional drink. It's similar to mulled wine.
The world as we know it is growing,
growing both in beauty and danger
and it is us who are the creators.
We build cities to unite us all but in the same process are developing technologies that may lead to our end.
Our end to a body and a mind, free from the chains of diagnosis, from chemicals, from real human connection, from nature.
And those who are most affected are left behind.
We need not attempt to drag them along but restructure our lives so that they are not they but us and we can all work and live without being thought of as less.
This blog is a compilation of thoughts, essays, class projects, recipes, etc. from SNOW Athletes.
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