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Road to Sochi: Before the Olympics, Christmas in Europe

Holly Brooks

Sometimes after races I can't sleep, and tonight is one of those nights.

Today was the first stage of the Tour de Ski, the first of seven races in nine days, held in three different countries. In order to not wake my roommate (who is also my bedmate) in my small European hotel room, I'm typing in the bathroom with the door closed.

I have spent the last three Christmases in Europe preparing for the Tour, and this year was no different. My teammates and I like to joke about "Orphan Christmas," and our European counterparts are always shocked when they learn that our holidays are often spent in random locales attempting to find an Internet signal good enough to Skype with our families up to 10 time zones away.

But, we make the most of it by hosting International White Elephant parties and decorating as we can. Baking projects are assisted by Google Translate (is that the salted or unsalted butter?), and good outcomes are sometimes a product of sheer luck. This year we cooked Mexican food three times in one week -- it was officially time to give the schnitzel a rest!

Christmas Day itself consisted of packing, cleaning and prepping for the next day's departure. We were no farther than 500 meters from the hotel when we narrowly avoided an accident and spent the next hour and a half putting chains on all four tires of our van.

As we descended the pass from Davos, Switzerland, en route to Oberhof, Germany, we were met with torrential rain and spent the next six hours speeding on the Autobahn with the windshield wipers on high.

The weather wasn't good for driving and it certainly wasn't good for the snow conditions on the World Cup racetrack.

Our first training day in Oberhof was spent skiing inside the city's refrigerated ski tunnel that features indoor artificial snow year-round. Because of the conditions, the course was shortened to a smaller loop. To my amazement I learned that the organizing committee created a "base" for the snow with crushed ice from a German fish processing plant 500 kilometers away.

In addition, artificial snow was produced up to 350 kilometers away, in the forest, 300 volunteers from Oberhof spent time collecting what little snow was left and transporting it to the course.

Veterans often refer to the World Cup as the "White Circus," and a circus it is. Most of the big ski nations have large semi trucks that serve as mobile waxing facilities -- something the U.S. team doesn't have. Once the trucks arrive at the venues, the tops and sides pop out into expanded, full-service wax rooms.

As for the U.S. team, we live out of duffle bags and eat what is served to us as, weekend after weekend, we bash heads in attempt to become the best ski racers we can be.

With the Winter Olympics in Sochi quickly approaching, there is a palpable excitement and anticipation. This year has thrown me some challenges and I have yet to ski to my potential. My plan is to take a big rest the next couple of weeks and tap into the hundreds upon hundreds of hours of hard work and dedication I've poured into the sport.

Stay tuned for more, because I'm sure that Team USA won't disappoint.

 


By HOLLY BROOKS
Daily News correspondent