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Summer Solstice Makes for Great Camp with John Aalberg

GRNST XC Ski Training Camp

Wed, Jul  2, 2003 - By Mike Muha

Saturday

Greg, Frank, and I have just arrived at Pando Ski Area, home for the Grand Rapids Nordic Ski Team / FasterSkier.com Training Camp with two-time Olympian John Aalberg. We can barely move, having just stuffed ourselves silly with breakfast at Perkins. “Hope we’re not going rollerskiing too soon…”

After a round of introductions and why we’re here (“I need work on my technique, “I just want to go faster, “I trying to keep up with Milan”), John launches into an intensive discussion on skating technique:

  • You need to use multiple techniques for different conditions and speeds. If you only do V1, you won’t be racing your fastest.
  • In skating, lean, don’t bend at the west. Think about a ball in front of your abdomen. Try to move that ball up and forward.
  • You need strong core strength to be able to stay over your ski.
  • We don’t actively twist our upper bodies anymore.
  • Elbows in. Keep a slight angle in the elbows.
  • Compression and pre-compression, not bending at the waist, are what make you go fast.
  • Never ski on an outside edge.
  • Push to the side, not back.
  • Full extension of the leg!

John continues with a discussion of the rhythm and cadence of skating, weight shift, angle and direction of pole plants, angle and direction of ski, the difference between V2 in uphills and on flats, V1 stance and edging, V1 transitions. Thankfully, we receive a handout that covers all the main points. The consensus among many of the campers? “Looks like we long-time skaters are going to have to unlearn a lot of things we were taught early on…”

We then carpooled to the White Pine Rail Trail to put into action what we’d just heard. First up, V2-alternate (one pole for every two skates). John skis along the group or stops and watches us pass, offering specific tips. Periodically, the group stops for a general review of the technique. Skiers who have only done V1 struggle to get the rhythm done. Some are more successful than others.

We're quite a bit down the path now and we switch over to V2. Same thing: John skis along side or watches us pass or calls us together for a review. Eventually, we end up on an uphill road that crosses the path and work on our uphill V2 technique (and our downhill snowplow!): “See how the rhythm changes on the uphills?”

At a couple different points, John takes videos of us for later review.

After we completed our ski, it’s back to Pando for lunch and video review. As we chowed down on subs, John showed us a presentation about the creation of the Soldier Hollow XC ski venue for the Olympics (John directed much of the work). When lunch was over, it was the moment of truth: video analysis. Ouch! The camera doesn’t lie. All that was good was displayed; all that was bad was displayed. John first focused on what each of us were doing right, offered suggestions about what we should strive to do better, then told us why we should do it differently.

Next, we reviewed V1 technique then jumped in the cars to hit another local park to work on our climbing. We warmed up a few minutes, then started skiing repeats up a hill. The several climbs were without poles, once or twice with a deep crouch. That hurt, especially when John yelled, “Lower, lower. Get full extension. Your normal skiing should feel more like that!” The point was that most of us weren’t using our legs to the fullest extent.

Next came V1, V1 with only the hang pole, V1 on video tape, and marathon skate. Biggest worry? Staying out of Carl's way as he zoomed down the hill at full throttle...

Then back to Pando. More video analysis. Exhaustion sets in.

Even with 17 people in the camp (with a long wait list...), John has handled the crowd admirably. 

The camp breaks for the day. Those of us with time on our hands head over to Ernie Brumbaugh’s house for a beer, a cruise on his pontoon boat, another beer, and some dinner on the grill. It stays light a long time – it’s the summer solstice today!

Sunday

The day after solstice - today will be slightly shorter. We're on the way to winter! I decided not to stuff myself at Perkins this morning, but do load up on coffee – camp starts at 8:00am today. Bleary-eyed people show up, and we start a discussion on training zones, intensity, and recover. Then it’s on to a running interval session / max heart rate test (read Getting in the Zone! for all the excruciating details). After catching our breath, getting something to eat or drink, we head over to one of the Pando ski hills to do ski walking, mousehuf, and ski bounding drills, with and without ski poles. “Don’t just walk with poles – focus on the follow thru. It’s more important to finish the poling than start with your hands way in front of you…” Ski pole length becomes a function of stride speed – the shorter the stride, the shorter the pole you might want to use. For normal moosehuf and bounding intervals, normal classic poles are OK. Long distance ski walking, a few centimeters shorter may be better.

Lunch is spent answering questions and talking a bit about classic technique. Post lunch, it’s off to a relatively quiet road (so we thought) for a doublepole and kick-doublepole session. Except for the neighbors calling the police because of all the cars parked along the road “It’s those high schoolers again….”), the road worked pretty well for the session. John demonstrated and had us do both the long doublepole (for distance, easy downhills, fast conditions) and the short doublepole (for starts, finishes, pickups – whenever you needed extra speed). We then moved to kick-double pole, including a little drill where we sort of skipped with our foot before pushing off (to teach pushing down on the kicking ski). Camp over.

Value of the camp

So what did I find most valuable about the camp? First, we southern Michiganders have very little exposure to coaching and thus very little feedback on our technique. For me, the technique work was hugely beneficial. I took lots of notes and am consciously thinking about technique when I’m out rollerskiing. Second, I thought the interval / max heart rate session and the discussion leading up to it was hugely important in understanding why we train in different zones and actually participating in an activity that uses each zone. It very much clarified some what Torbjorn Karlsen (John Aalberg's coaching partner) has been trying to teach me over the last year.

For me, the value I receive from the camp was well worth the fee.

How did it compare to last fall's camp?

Last fall we had J.D. Downing for our camp coach. How were the camps similar? Different? Both camps focused quite a bit on technique and did video analysis. J.D. had more focus on strength training and dryland work (we did extensive strength and bounding sessions), and the discussions focused on what to do at what time of the year.

John focused more on understanding training zones, had an interval session to help people understand why we do intervals and to determine each individual's training zones.

Each camp complimented the other. Those of us who went to both could see how our technique (hopefully) improved. And the rest of each camp overlapped only a little. Both camps were of great value.

Related Links

Getting in the Zone! John Aalberg explains what training zones are used for and how to compute them. We then run a max heart rate test so we can figure out our zones. Several people are surprised by what the test reveals!
A 30-second video (4.8 MB) from the camp showing John Aalberg demonstrating the V2 technique on rollerskis.
Pictures from the GRNST / John Aalberg Training Camp.