There's no place like it. There hasn't been a cloud in the sky since I arrived back in Whitehorse nearly two weeks ago. The air is so still and so clear that it feels like everything you look at is in high definition. Mountains that are on the horizon suddenly feel close, like you could reach out and touch them. The sun is back too, every day is longer and brighter than the one before. I'll let the pictures say the rest.
With Knute still racing in Europe, Colin capped off three weeks of racing in Eastern North America with the Gatineau Loppet. The most popular ski race in Canada, the Gatineau features two 51km races back to back in one weekend. This year the classic race was run prior to the skate race. Colin skied the 51km Classic race on a fun point to point course from Wakefield to Gatineau. At 25km on the first big climbs of the course Colin skied away from the front pack and didn't look back. By the end of the race he put a four minute lead up on second place. Not a bad way to end a trip!
Pushing to the line
Men's podium: 3rd James Coulton, 2nd Chris Zeigler, 1st Colin Abbott
Thanks again to Air North for getting me back across the country!
Craftsbury, Vermont. You can't really call it a town. A region, hamlet or place maybe, but not a town. A town implies bustle, business and a backdrop for human drama to take place. Craftsbury is backwoods, laid-back and back to the land. Farm-land forms a mosaic with extensive forests, winding rivers, evergreen covered mountains and rolling hills. Ski trails wind their way through this landscape in a network similar to the roads that twist their way over the hills. You can ski to the general store if you like, or to the race trails, or to a friends house for dinner.
Upon arrival in Craftsbury for three days of Supertour racing Colin Ferrie and I were welcomed into Tim Patterson's home. Tim is a hunter and fisherman and all-around nice guy that happened to have a floor for us to sleep on and kitchen for us to cook in. We were also welcomed by Wilson, a giant Schnoodle (Schnauzer-Poodle cross) and Lucy the cat, a stray that showed up at Tim's door one day and never left.
The race weekend was another 3-day series starting with a 10km interval start skate race followed by a 20km interval start classic race and finished with a skate sprint. Following what seems to be a pattern for me now, the skate distance race was less than good, the classic distance race was excellent and the skate sprint was average. The distance racing was made more interesting by the 15 second starts and the large fields for the men. Courses were crowded and there was always someone to ski with, no matter how fast or slow the pace. With the large field of competitors, a small difference in race speed translates to a big difference in results. I was 39th the first day of racing and 6th the second day.
A big thanks goes out to Tim Patterson for the place to stay, Chris Jeffries and AWCA for wax support and Alexis Turgeon for the ride to and from Ottawa.
Colin Ferrie and Wilson
Skiing home after the first race
Amazing team spirit by Dartmouth. Yes, those are green mohawks.
6th place and not far from the podium on the classic day.
My European Journey started off in Seefeld, Austria. We had a week and a
half before the first races to allow plenty of time to recover from jet-lag.
The first couple days it was hard to not doze off mid-day but before long I was
fully adjusted. The skiing in Seefeld was less than ideal for my picky
standards but I'm starting to see now (having skied in several locations around
europe) that it was actually pretty good.
A few days out, we moved our training to Toblach, Italy. The trails here
were awesome. I was feeling great all week, which was backed up by a time trial
we did where I had one of the best races of my life… I hate it when that
happens. Needless to say, the races couldn’t come soon enough.
We finally made it to Val di Fiemme in time for one day of training on
the course before the races. If you’re wondering why we didn’t just train in
Val di Fiemme the entire week leading up to the races, I was too. The
Marcialonga, a very popular loppet was happening that week and the place was
already at full capacity.
The sprint was the first race. The conditions were fast, hard packed
snow. I didn’t care much for the steep hills on the course. I’m more of a one
skater than an off-setter. I thought I skied a decent race but fell well below
my expectations in a disappointing 42nd. It felt weird to not
qualify. Almost like I was cheated out of hammering out the next three rounds.
Last time I didn’t qualify for a sprint must have been my last world juniors; I
forgot what it felt like.
I refocused for the 15km the very next day. The conditions went to shit
overnight with sloppy wet snow falling. It was hardwax, but barely. My skis
would ice up on the hills, I’d run up them and kick off the built up snow at
the top. I prefer long striding where my years of classic skiing in the Yukon
(we didn’t skate much back in the day) shows through and I can glide up the
hills. These hills however were really steep so I had to focus on staying
upright and not falling onto and tiring my arms. I crossed the line for my best
international race ever, 21st place! Too bad I wasn’t 0.3 seconds
faster so I could have sat in the leaders chair and say I was top 20.
Riding high off my last race, I couldn’t wait for the 30km skiathlon. It
was pouring rain for the last 2 days. I knew I didn’t have great skis for these
conditions but man, I had no idea what I was in for. My first reaction as the
race started was “oh boy, my skis are real bad. Everyone is in a tuck and I’m
double polling”. For the first few kilometers I told myself “if I can just hang
on until we switch to skate”. It was very hopeless though. Anyways if you don’t
know my result, good.
So that was it, the 3 races that I trained for all summer long. I was
lucky enough to have one good one and got invited on the b-tour in Latvia and Estonia.
I was glad to have this opportunity because 3 races did not seem like enough
after traveling all the way to Italy.
I spent last week training in Seefeld, Austria again before making our
way to Latvia. So far I am pleasantly surprised. There’s still very limited
snow but the internet is way better than Italy and I bought an entire smoked
fish today for 50 cents. The streets here definitely have a lot of harsh history
in them. I get the feeling that the second world war was yesterday.
I'll race Latvian Nationals this week and travel to Estonia for some
Scando Cups next week.
While Knute was off racing at the U23 World Championships, Colin headed to Ottawa for the Eastern Canadian Championships. Over the three days of racing he finished 13th in the skate sprint after losing a basket in the quarterfinal and having to get a new pole partway through the heat. The next day was a 15km individual start skate race, and one of the rare times the open men get scheduled to start in the afternoon. With over 700 starters over the course of the day the last of the open men didn't get on the course until after 3pm. Colin put together a consistent race and finished 8th in the open men.
The night after the skate race it snowed 25cm and despite the best efforts of the groomers the course was soft and beginning to disintegrate on the climbs before the race even started. The last race of the weekend was a mass start 20km classic race and featured a field of more than 120 open men. After skiing with the lead pack for most of the race, Colin finished a strong 5th place, less than a minute from the winning time set by Yukoner Graham Nishikawa.
A big thanks goes to the Allain family for hosting the Yukon Elite Squad a second year in a row here at Easterns.
Thanks too for John Langstone for the following videos:
Knute Johnsgaard has qualified to represent Canada in Italy this year at the U23 World Championships. After four days of intense racing in Canmore this past week, Knute has proven himself once again to be one of the top young skiers in Canada. Here's how the races shook down.
Day One. Olympic Trials sprint race. Skate 1.7km.
The first race of the week was a race specific to Olympic selection. As one of two sprints used for Olympic selection there was a lot on the line for the top racers in the country. Knute and Colin both qualified well in 7th and 13th respectively. The fast conditions came into play as heats played out slowly and tactically. Knute was knocked out in the quarterfinal after being drafted and slingshotted in the finish stretch. Colin made it through to the semis and then the B final where he finished 9th on the day.
Day 2. Olympic/WJ/U23 Trials race. 15km Classic individual start.
The first distance race of the trials was a hard, hilly 4 lap race made easier by the bomber kick and glide on our skis thanks to Alain's hard work. Knute had a solid day of racing, finishing in 14th while Colin finished in 25th.
Day 3. Olympic/WJ/U23 Trials race. Skate 1.7km.
The second sprint of the week was held on the same course, at the same time as the previous sprint, but conditions were much slower. Heavy wet snow fell throughout the day and increased the time it took to ski the sprint course to near four minutes. The difficulty of the course and conditions made tactics less important than in the previous sprint. YES alumni David Greer came out of retirement to race this one sprint, it was great to see him back in the purple and white suit! Knute, Colin and David all qualified for the heats, in 9th, 15th and 28th respectively. Knute was the only one to make it through the quarters but his day came to an end in the semis after a broken pole in the finish stretch.
Day 4. Olympic/WJ/U23 Trials race. Pursuit 30km.
When the final day of racing started, almost nothing had been decided for selection. Most of the decisions hinged on performances in the pursuit race. Only Knute started the pursuit for YES as Colin was fatigued and not feeling well enough to race. The pace was fast from the start and Knute just hung on to the leaders for the first few laps of the race. Graeme Killick started pushing the pace near the end of the classic portion and continued to increase his lead to the finish. Nobody coming close to closing the minute gap he put on the rest of the field. Knute found himself in a chase pack behind Graeme with 5 of the best men in Canada. Knute placed 7th but a mere 5 seconds out of second place.
This December will go down in history as one of the snowiest months Whitehorse has ever seen. There's more snow on the ground now than there usually is by the end of March. This has, of course, made for exceptional skiing. In addition to skiing almost every day, doing regular timetrials and interval sessions we've the holidays have brought a nice change from the regular schedule of training, racing and recovering.