I had three and a half weeks. Three and a half weeks between my last altitude camp in Park City, Utah, and my departure to Europe for the World Cup season. Three and a half weeks to pack Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day and my husband's birthday into a duffle bag for an entire winter on the road. Three and a half weeks to enjoy home, enjoy the best of Alaska and then say goodbye until I return in late March.
Many people will think of this winter simply in terms of the Olympics. Yes, the Games in Sochi, Russia, will most certainly be the highlight, but what many people don't understand is that we have a regular season that features more than 30 races in 10 other countries too.
For those unfamiliar with World Cup cross-country skiing, I often use an NFL analogy: Sochi is the Super Bowl. But teams don't just show up at the Super Bowl untested. They need to qualify.
My last month at home was used to put the finishing touches on the preparation season. Now it's time to switch gears -- it's time to race!
The U.S. Ski Team traditionally spends two or three weeks every year in Park City for the "shoulder season." This year, some of the team went from Park City to "Frozen Thunder," a man-made loop of snow rolled out each year in Canmore, Alberta.
But before spending five straight months on the road, there is nothing better than spending the last couple of weeks in your own bed. And so instead of spinning loops like a gerbil on a 2-kilometer loop with hundreds of other skiers, the Alaskans on the team rolled the dice and headed home, crossing our fingers that we'd find snow and skiing here.
Luckily, Hatcher Pass, Ed Strabel and the Mat-Su Ski Club came through in a big way and we had glorious conditions for on-snow training. The APU team became very familiar and very thankful for the new Trunk Road as we made the trip to Hatcher's four to five times per week. We skied loop after loop around Independence Mine and up a steep grade we coined "Sochi Hill."
Then, it was a quick Sochi sendoff in Town Square, an early Thanksgiving meal (Costco rotisserie chicken had to suffice) and we were off!
Four flights and a long van drive later, we found ourselves in Beitostolen, Norway, for some warmup races and acclimatization. We were able to test our race legs and perhaps more fun, catch up with former APU coach Frode Lillefjell, who returned to Norway five years ago.
Most of Central Europe and Scandinavia is 10 times zones away from Alaska. That and the 30 to 40 hours of travel to get there can wreck havoc on your body. Compression socks, sleeping pills and a good book to read when you are wide-awake at 3 a.m. are essentials.
As I sit at my computer writing this, we're just outside of Kuusamo, Finland, competing in the Ruka Triple, a mini-tour ski.
Personally, it's been a bit slower start to the season than I'd like. I've already hit my "fall quota" for the year -- racers sometimes call it "hugging the snow" -- but we're only two races into a long season, and my bags are packed!
Holly Brooks is a U.S. Ski Team member and 2010 Olympian who lives in Anchorage and trains with the Alaska Pacific University nordic program.