WHISTLER OLYMPIC PARK, BRITISH COLUMBIA ( March 25, 2008). The Canadian National Championships provided a great opportunity for the CXC Elite Team to race on the newly-created 2010 Olympic race courses at the beautiful Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley, British Columbia, about a fifteen minute drive from the alpine mountain resort of Whistler.
The drive from Vancouver to Whistler on highway 99, also known as the Sea to Sky highway was certainly memorable. The highway twists and winds along abrupt mountain ridges plunging directly into the Pacific Ocean. The ocean protrudes via fjord-like waterways sprinkled with numerous islands inland all the way to Squamish, BC about 40 kilometers from the ski trails. Although we felt that we had driven two hours from the ocean near Vancouver, the coaches motel was actually only a mile from salt water.
Squamish was race headquarters, but the only hint of snow to be seen in Squamish was on the adjacent mountain tops. Rain showers and low clouds were the norm in Squamish. The ski trails displayed a completely different climate with frequent snow squalls throughout the daytime and near steady snowfalls throughout the nights. The rain/snow line averaged about 1000? above sea level, with Squamish at 500? and the race venue around 3000. The snow base on the trails was thought to be 3 meters (9 feet), so there was no need for rock skis.
The frequent snow squalls and mild temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius made waxing challenging particularly for the classic events. Continuous testing indicated that no wax zero skis or hairies was the best for kick for classic. A variety of no wax combinations were tried in these tricky situations. Glide was also a challenge since the conditions changed whether it was snowing, overcast or sunny and all such could be seen at any given time during the day. Structure was equally important, since some structure was necessary to break the moisture tension, yet too much would create friction between the new snow and the ski base.
The format for the event included 600 starts each day. Canadian Nationals include Disabled, Open, Junior, Youth, and Collegiate Championships. Racing large fields on relatively short loops created great spectator possibilities and congestion on the trails.
Although facing the unusual snow and weather conditions, Matt?s absence as a new dad, and illness among a couple of the athletes, CXC Team represented themselves well, with some solid showings in the results.
March 18: The Classic Races
The women skied a 5k classic (2 X 2.5km), while the men raced a 10k (3 X 3.3km). The course had an interesting technical profile, with solid climbs and descents. Frequent sharp corners formed hard packed berms and sitzmarks that claimed many skiers and purportedly a dozen skis on the day. Much of the courses were set with 4 tracks to handle the large field.
Wax turned out to be a major issue of the day. The CXC crew tried some unusual waxing methods, and all were pretty satisfied with their skis. Kristina Owen turned in the top performance of the day, with a 22nd in the open women's field. Teammate Johanna Winters raced ill, and finished 43rd. On the men's side, Garrott Kuzzy finished 24th, closely followed by Brian Gregg in 32nd. Andre Watt was also ill, and did not compete for the week.
March 19: The Skate Races
The distances were slightly longer for the skate races, with the women doing a 10k and the men doing a 15k. The day was snowy, leading again to interesting course conditions. Courses were tilled immediately prior to the women's race, and again immediately before the men's. The heavy snowfall above freezing with high moisture content caused a rough and rutted sweet spot down the course, with very slow deep snow along the sides.
Along with the deep rutted and glazed V tracks, poles were frequently pulling large clots of snow up from the surface, with the course resembling the look of a heard of stampeding horses at the end. Passing was difficult a best. It was slow during the women's race, and rapidly degraded during the men's race. The team fought hard and persevered. Brian and Kristina turned in matching 18th place finishes. Garrott finished the men's race in 25th. Johanna's illness did not allow her to rapidly recover from the classic race, so she sat out the skate.
March 21: Sprint
Temperatures cooled to just below freezing for the start of the sprints, which created a bit more familiar snow pack for the CXC Team wax coaches. The buzz for the day was the presence of the full Swedish men's sprint team. Consequently the field included both recent Olympic Champions, Canadian Chandra Crawford and Swede Bjorn Lind. Also the entire US sprint team. It was a disappointing day on the women's side, with neither CXC ladies making it into the heats. Kristina came in 36th. Johanna was recovered enough to start, and finished 42nd. The boys, on other hand, had a chance to showcase their sprinting prowess. Both Gregg and Kuzz made it into the heats. Fresh off the World Cup, Garrott skied to an impressive 6th place. Brian also skied well finishing 29th.
The team sat out the long races on Sunday, instead electing to drive from Whistler to Vancouver and Seattle, followed by flights to Fairbanks in preparation for US Distance Nationals next week. A big thanks go out to the Duncan family, who hosted the team for the week. Full results can be found at www.zone4.ca. Additional athlete race summaries can be found at www.xcskilife.com and www.kristinaowen.com.