Holly Brooks in Sochi: Never forget your credential

Anchorage skier Holly Brooks is with the U.S. Ski Team in Sochi, Russia, for races this week on the cross-country ski trails that will be used for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Brooks, a 2010 Olympian, shares some of her impressions as Sochi prepares for its moment in the world’s spotlight.


It's been 21/2 days now in Russia, atop this mountain. Instead of learning about the place, I feel more confused than ever.

Sure, some rules and protocol are becoming ingrained. For example, don't expect to go anywhere without your credential. After having to show my accreditation at least 50 times daily, I find myself subconsciously wearing it to do simple things like brushing my teeth -- in my own bathroom.

The living compound on "Psekhako Ridge" is separate from the on-going construction and the thousands of workers that operate cranes, dump trucks and lay brick 24 hours a day. It is amazing to experience, first-hand, what hosting the Olympics actually entails.

We have one checkpoint that serves as our exit and our entrance. At this rate, I'm not sure if this is to keep us in or to keep them out. The station is almost always manned by armed guards and when they aren't visible, I walk past the one-way glass cautiously, with the knowledge that I'm being watched.

On Tuesday our team needed to conduct a strength workout. Seeing that there is no such facility within our compound, this meant a trip down the tram.

A three-pronged approach was needed to get us to the weight room at the deserted five-star hotel in the valley far below. After passing through the primary checkpoint (show accreditation) we got on what's affectionately being called the "Russian roller coaster" (show accreditation). This contraption is an ATV-like vehicle with three seats directly behind the driver. There is room for six more passengers in an attached, second car.

Our driver floored the roller coaster and sped up the side of the palma-lift ski slope to the top of the gondola. We held on tightly to the roll cage and to each other as smoke billowed from the engine so badly that we could barely make out our destination or our driver. Upon arrival we thanked him for the ride and left him to deal with the defunct, over-heated engine.

After three more accreditation checks, we hopped on the high-speed gondola and descended 15 minutes to the base of the mountain (accreditation check) where three "electro-mobiles" were waiting for us. Little to our surprise, the "electro-mobile" turned out to be a suped-up golf cart with studded tires. Our drivers must have thought they were in the Russian version of the Indy 500 because they would floor it, slam on the breaks for each speed bump, then floor it again.

Following our workout we reversed the journey -- electro-mobile, gondola, Russian roller coaster, primary security check.

The adventure continues, as does the countdown to the 2014 Winter Olympics, just one year and one week from today.