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Southern Hemisphere Racing

Wed, Sep  30, 2009 - By Doug Bernard, Toko

This article original appeared on the new Toko US Nordic Blog.

Standing in line at the Salt Lake City airport with a set of skis only seems unusual in August. The ticket agent didn’t even bat an eye though, and I felt pretty lucky that my ski bag came in at 69lbs – one pound under the limit! The rest of the flights from Salt Lake to Santiago, Chile were uneventful, but the anticipation was building. This August I have the opportunity to race Biathon (ski and shoot) and Cross Country for the National Guard Sports Program in Portillo Chile. The race series is a military competition that serves as the South American Championships. Also attending are delegations from Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Spain. We had originally planned to head down a week earlier, but the initial race series in Bariloche, Argentina was cancelled due to lack of snow. The chance to train and race in South America – especially in a setting as spectacular as Portillo – is an opportunity not to be missed!

Lack of snow proved not to be an issue as over a meter of snow fell the night before we flew in, closing the road from Los Andes to Portillo. The road is prone to closure, and we bided our time at the Chilean Army post in Rio Blanco. It was really hard to sit there and watch it rain and snow, knowing that the conditions in Portillo were probably epic. Our biggest excitement during our time in Rio Blanco was after breakfast one morning, the Portillo heli ski helicopter crashed on take off no more than 50m from us! We were able to help extract the pilot and a passenger from the wreckage and speed them off to the hospital. Needless to say, we were content to wait for the road to open and take a bus up to Portillo after that!

After three days of waiting, killing time with gym workouts and running, we were finally able drive up to the Chilean Army Mountain School facility in Portillo. Even though we arrived just an hour before dark, all of us quickly scraped skis and got out for a couple of laps around the course. It was great to be back on skis, enjoying winter in August, surrounded by 13,000-14000 foot peaks and lots of fresh snow. Even coming from Park City, Utah the elevation here is significant (9700ft) and for the guys coming from sea level it was a killer.

We had five days of training before the races begin to remember how to ski, dial in our shooting and figure out the wax. The series calls for five races in 8 days: two 10k Sprint races, one 20k individual race, one 15k Cross Country race and one 25k Military Patrol Race where 4 skiers must ski together over the course with one shooting stage. With this many races in such a short time frame, the name of the game is going to be recovery.

Toko's Doug Bernard racing biathlon in Chili

Toko's Doug Bernard racing biathlon in Chili

With the new snow and good grooming, the question is how much will the temperatures warm up? The initial weather report called for cooler weather with some snow leading up to the first race, and then a warming trend with sunny days for the balance of the series. Even with over a meter of fresh wet snow on a deep base, the course is well groomed on a 3-4km loop (depending on which cut-offs they use). The entire course is above the tree line, so once the sun comes out, it hits the course evenly. Before we arrived we expected that the snow will be wet and dirty (the course is right next to a major highway with road dirt and particulate from the diesel trucks), but the new snow put a layer of clean snow on top of the dirtier snow. As the weather warmed up this last week, the dirt has begun to come through.

As expected, the weather did warm up, but the nights remained cool with temps dropping to the mid 20’s, so we saw the track harden up each night. The grooming remained spectacular, and even with the warm temperature and the direct sunlight, the track wasn’t beginning to transform until later in the afternoon. Snow temperatures were staying in the high 20’s until the sun really began to bake the snow later in the afternoon.

Our first race was an afternoon 10k Sprint race after a morning of training, so it was a tough call whether to go warmer than we would for a morning race or count on the snow temperature lagging behind the air temperature and go with a colder wax. I opted for LF Moly, scraped and brushed, with HF Red and Yellow 1:1, with Jetstream Red and Yellow ironed in and then brushed out. I would have rotocorked the Jetstream, but we didn’t bring a drill down since our bags were already so heavy. I liked the way my skis were running before the race, but they seemed just a little grabby in the sunny sections, so I added two passes of the fine offset structure with the Structurite Tool and it really freed up the skis. Some of the other athletes have skis ground specifically for different conditions, but those of us who just run a clean universal grind all had great success with adding the structure to our skis.

Since the conditions didn’t change and we had such great success with the wax in the first race, I used the same combination for our second race. The second race was a 20k Individual race, and while it is a race that favors good shooting (with one minute penalties per miss), good skis and strong skiing are important as well.

In both races, I had great skis, but it was more apparent in the 20k as the race wore on. We hit the wax and the structure just right, and our skis kept getting faster as the race progressed. I found that as my glide got better, I was able to ski efficiently up the hills, V2 many of the sections that others were using V1 on, and even had to check my speed a couple of times as I ran up on other competitors on the downhills!

In all it has been a great week of training and racing so far, and we are all looking forward to the rest of the races.