Ali Crocker sends her apologies for missing the Michigan Cup Relays - she was busy representing the US in the Ski Orienteering World Championships! Ali finished 7th overall at the American Birkebeiner after winning a couple of our local Michigan Cup races, the Gran Travers and the Frosty Freestyle. Ali hangs out with Team NordicSkiRacer.
Hello from Kazakhstan! The Ski Orienteering World Champs for 2013 were just held here, in the Eastern part of the country near Oskemen (until recently known as Ust-Kamenogorsk).
We had a team of six (three women, three men) representing the USA in six different races. In ski-orienteering, the distances aren't set because the courses are different each time; instead, the course designer makes different courses planning on different winning times. So the races were sprint, middle, sprint relay, relay and long. During the race, you have to make your way to a series of points marked on a map as quickly as possible (see map for an example). At your average ski area in the US, this might not be that hard of a task or that adventurous. But to make things tricky and way more fun in international ski-o competitions, the race organizers put lots of extra little trails in with just a snowmobile before the race (dashed lines on the map). These trails take excellent ski skills to just stay upright on, but while racing for ski-o, you also have the challenge of finding your way amongst them all while trying to race full-out!
ABOVE: The map from the sprint race. Normal ski trails are green solid lines, snowmobile-groomed little trails are dashed lines. Where I went is traced in red and where I think it might have been better to go is traced in blue.
One of the most memorable races of the week and the best for me was the middle-distance race. A powerful storm moved in that morning, but the organizers decided to not postpone the race with an hour to go. In that remaining hour, the wind gusts ramped up even higher and trees started toppling leftand right.
When it came to race time, I was told to expect lots of branches down on the trails, but nothing that should get too much in the way. In reality, the trails were littered with tree trunks, making using the trails a challenge. You might come hurtling around a corner on a snowmobile track and all of the sudden there is a tree trunk that you need to either dive in the woods to get around or somehow jump over. Throughout the race, I think I went over three trees, around two, and one was just too big to do either, so I went back and went another way. It might not have been the safest race ever (my teammate saw a tree fall about 20 feet away from him!), but ski-orienteering is always an adventure. =)
I came in 12th place in this race, in front of all the Norwegians, a perennially powerhouse ski-orienteering nation. This is the 2nd best result ever for an American ski orienteer, after an 8th place I got at the Ski-O Champs two years ago in Sweden. (Russia, Sweden, Finland and Norway generally nab most of the top-20 spots in ski-o, just one American before me has made it into the top 20).
For the rest of the week, I had a good result in the long distance race, coming in 17th, although I had really been hoping for a top 10 (next time!). In the sprint, I came in a bit further back, but it was the first day of competition so I wasn't quite expert yet in ski-orienteering, with a bit of a break from international races since early January. The relay races were a bit of a wash, I went to the wrong (but nearby!) marker in the sprint relay, disqualifying our team, while a teammate broke her ski on the first leg of the normal relay.