The past weeks in Vermont have been stormy in many ways. Despite heavy rains, and smoky skies some excellent training collaborations happened in two Eastern Development camps. Fifty-nine athletes were selected to attend either the REG (USST Regional Elite Group) or RDG (NENSA Regional Development Group) camps which took place in Stratton and Craftsbury respectively. Coordination with elite athletes, local club skiers and a strong pool of coaches multiply the reach and inspiration of these yearly gatherings.
The forecast heading into REG camp, hosted by the Stratton Mountain School, was ominous to say the least, with thunderstorms looming in the five-day forecast. Camp began with a focus on fundamental movements on rollerskis, followed by some spirited agility and technique stations. Wet pavement and competitive energy combined to see an above average number of spills -- the athletes are getting so good on their rollers that they play like they are on snow now.
Regional Elite Group camps are hosted in the four major regions of the country: East, Central, West and Alaska. Beyond creating a pathway for further USST development opportunities, they are often moments of great inspiration to athletes due to exposure to peers they wouldn't normally see in the summer months and exposure to elite skiers and USST coaching staff. While testing is a part of the REG camp structure -- the East has been focussing on making these tests into exercises for the athletes to train for competition. By practicing warmups and cool downs as they might in the winter and having a chance to try new things while watching how other athletes prepare without the pressure of a true race.
The second day of camp featured a one mile Double Pole test on rolling terrain that allows athletes to change gears during the effort. Skiers used NENSA's matched fleet of Swenor rollerskis and donned bibs like they would in the winter. The afternoon featured a two mile mass start uphill run which gave the entire camp an opportunity for head to head competition. On the women's side Amelia Circosta flew up the hill to again set the pace and it was William Riley of Gunstock who outpaced two Mid-Atlantic skiers, Andrew Scanio (NYSEF) and Braden Bellizzi (Rochester Nordic Racing).
The third day of camp featured a distance classic ski around quiet roads outside of Manchester and perhaps the most exciting moment of camp, when a young fawn sprinted in front of a group of skiers. Athletes were reminded the evening before of the importance of keeping Level 1 training easy. Clear skies allowed for some nice scenery of Mt. Equinox and the surrounding valley. In the afternoon there was strength instruction.
Throughout the week athletes participated in recovery exercises, group activities and informative meetings. Two highlights for the meetings were an opportunity to meet with the SMS T2 team (and visiting athletes) and a motivational presentation by USST Head Coach, Matt Whitcomb prior to a sprint competition. Whitcomb's talk prioritized self belief and teamwork as keys to success in the long run and no doubt lit a fire in the athletes.
The sprint competition on Tuesday gave athletes an opportunity to play with tactics on an exciting course set up at Ball Mountain Dam. The day featured a qualifier and four person court format heats, followed by a final for both men and women. With skiers like Julia Kern, Jessie Diggins and Ben Ogden in the field the skiers not only were able to put in hard efforts, but also witness some of the best in the world. Skiers who were not so long ago athletes at REG Camps themselves!
A huge thanks to Greta Anderson (USST), Matt Boobar (SMS), Alex Jospe (SMS), Steve Bruner (SMS), Ben Kamilewicz (Gould), Jacob Volz (Gould), Chris Stock (EMXC), Torin La Liberte (Clarkson), Evan Kendall (Dublin School), Matt Whitcomb (USST) Maria Stuber (SMS T2) Perry Thomas (SMS T2) and the staff of the Stratton Mountain School for helping support this project.
For the second year NENSA hosted the Regional Development Group (RDG) camp at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. This camp captures athletes who had outstanding results at U16 and Eastern High School Championships as well as high rankings on the NENSA Junior Ranking List. Every Eastern state was represented, and again an underlying goal and benefit of the experience was to bring skiers together to meet their peers from other clubs. This camp was led by coaches Adam Terko (Mansfield Nordic), Cate Brams (EMXC), Kevin Lee (Kearsarge Nordic), with the support of Anna Schulz and Audrey Mangan (Craftsbury).
Training for cross country skiing allows for some of the most diverse activities of any sport -- having a passion for an outdoor lifestyle is key to longterm participation in the sport. One of our first sessions got all of the athletes out on Great Hosmer Pond in assorted watercraft. This allowed for natural introductions and teamwork, especially as most of the vessels seemed to become swamped at one point in the journey.
One of the intentions of the RDG camp was to offer a competition for the athletes by scheduling the Lost Nation Roll, the first event on the NENSA Rollerski Series, in the middle of camp. For many this would have been their first rollerski competition and the camp schedule was designed around creating familiarity with the Craftsbury track and developing strategies of how to approach a race. On Friday afternoon skiers were split into groups for some focused technique work in classic with stations of "wet leaves," bounding on skis and focus on building balance on one leg. The evening meeting focussed on preparation for Saturday's event, with athletes splitting into groups to develop race strategies.
Unfortunately, as Saturday morning dawned the air quality from Canadian wildfires had worsened and the AQI index did not allow an environment for a safe competition. This forced lessons of resiliency and adaptability for the athletes and coaches alike -- as the athletes were already in the beginning of their preparation for the event on a morning jog when they received the news of cancellation. Despite the obvious letdown of the news the athletes responded well and were able to refocus on a distance session that focussed on double poling, V2 and dynamic skating body positions. In the afternoon the group was split for video review and a strength session.
After that session the RDG camp also had the opportunity to meet with the SMS T2 squad who was in town for the rollerski race and a training block overlap with the Green Racing Project. Athletes and coaches asked some very thoughtful questions on varied topics including: when they knew they wanted to pursue professional skiing, to overcoming injures, social media pressures and intentions -- one group even organized a TicToc video! We are so fortunate in the East to have not only professional athletes training nearby, but also so willing to give back, helping build and inspire a skiing culture. A huge thank you to SMS T2 (and friends) for being a part of both of these camps.
Sunday morning brought in some rain, which made for much better air quality. It also set the stage for an awesome over distance workout to finish up camp with a combination classic ski followed by a hike/run to the summit of Jay Peak.
On Saturday night Adam Terko delivered an exciting presentation on the similarities between cross country skiing and Formula 1 racing. While entertaining, the comparisons drew focus to these two exciting sports and enthused the athletes.