Simi Hamilton

 

General News

Bib #1 for qualification. I was pretty stoked to qualify 12th, leaving me with a bit of confidence that it was going to be a good day. The course in Drammen goes up and around the beautiful church in the background. Photo: Nordic Focus

We Love This Place

Topic: General News

It’s Scandinavia… what’s there not to love? Granted, we go to some fairly amazing places throughout the whole year, but I think it’s probably safe to say that any time we board a flight from central Europe or the U.S., and the destination on our ticket stub either reads OSL (Oslo-Gardermoen), ARN (Stockholm-Arlanda), or HEL (Helsinki-Vantaa) we get a little more pep in our step and you see a few more smiles in the aisles. Maybe it’s the fact that we know where we are headed… great ski towns with amazing food, awesome training and racing venues, and with locals around every corner on the street or turn in the trail who are genuinely psyched to see you there and share their home with you. It’s not that we don’t get all those things in just about every other place we go during the season, but there’s an energy here up north that’s just a little bit different, and it feels a bit more like home. With the Canadian tour rounding out the World Cup season this year, it’s nice to feel that energy a bit earlier in the season than we’re used to (usually our Scandinavian tour starts in early March). Although the weather has been a bit dramatic since we’ve arrived here and we’ve seen everything from crisp, bluebird, and cold days to long periods of right-around-freezing and fog so thick it’s hard to see where your binding tabs are, we can’t complain. Our scando-tour races kicked off with the famous Drammen sprint last Wednesday in the beautiful, old city on the water. That one is  staple on the World Cup and it’s always a ridiculously well put-on event. The course winds through the city’s cobbled church plaza, right in the heart of the downtown shopping district. Within three city blocks, 80,000 fans pack themselves in and around the course come rain or shine, and the energy is absolutely electric all day. Fortunately for us, the day was beautiful and the snow was in great shape all day. It was super bomber klister conditions, with fast tracks that held up really well throughout the thousands of laps that the racers and techs skied throughout the day. Probably the craziest element of the Drammen sprint is the depth of the fields. With Norway as the host country, unfailingly there are plenty of guys and girls there that are in top form for the races and many of them have a knack of coming out of nowhere to qualify for the heats (the host country of any World Cup race gets several more start spots than their usual allotment, which is awesome for us this year because we’ll pick up those extra quota spots during the Canadian tour). For the qualification, we had 4 U.S. men and women qualify to move on to the heats. Just outside of the top-30 in both the men’s and women’s qualification, we had several skiers who were knocking on the door to skiing the rounds. That’s always such a frustrating feeling to be literally tenths of a second away from advancing to the quarterfinals, but it’s part of ski racing and it’s the stuff that gets you really fired up the next time you’re lined up at the start line. I was happy with my day, qualifying in 12th and moving on past the quarterfinals to ski in the semifinals. It was a little bitter sweet because I knew that my form was on point and I had unbelievable skis, but I barely got any time to recover from the final men’s quarter final before having to start the first men’s semifinal (regardless of any quarterfinal heat you come out of, if you are the second ‘lucky loser’ you go into the first semifinal, so if you come out of the fifth heat, you get about 10 minutes of rest before your next heat). Still, to be 11th in a classic sprint on the World Cup is a good sign for me, since I’m generally a much better skate sprinter and Drammen is probably the toughest classic sprint we have all year. I definitely ran out of gas in the last 150 meters of my semifinal, but overall I think it’s safe to say that how I felt all day is a great sign of where my fitness and speed are right now, which is a great feeling heading into the last period of the World Cup season. To top off an exciting day, Soph, Jessie, and Sadie all skied outstanding quarterfinals, but we’re shut out of advancing to the semis by near inches in all of their heats. The World Cup is a place, especially in a race like Drammen, where if one little thing doesn’t go perfectly, it can be the deciding factor of whether you keep racing that day or not. Sometimes you end up on the unlucky side of things or you are missing that 1% for a variety of reasons on any given day, and it shows thru at this level of ski racing.

 

Racing the last 100 meters of my quarterfinal. I'd finish 3rd in the heat, but with a fast time move on to the semis as a lucky loser. Photo: Graham Longford

Racing the last 100 meters of my quarterfinal. I’d finish 3rd in the heat, but with a fast time move on to the semis as a lucky loser. Photo: Graham Longford

 

Bib #1 for qualification. I was pretty stoked to qualify 12th, leaving me with a bit of confidence that it was going to be a good day. The course in Drammen goes up and around the beautiful church in the background. Photo: Nordic Focus

Bib #1 for qualification. I was pretty stoked to qualify 12th, leaving me with a bit of confidence that it was going to be a good day. The course in Drammen goes up and around the beautiful church in the background. Photo: Nordic Focus

With Drammen on Wednesday, the Oslo Ski Festival races were far from over. Many consider the 50 km and 30 km races at the Holmenkollen to be the queen distance races of the whole year. And when you take a lap on the race course 24 hours before the race even starts, you can tell why. Starting on Friday morning, thousands of Oslo locals make their way up the winding Holmenkollen road with skis and poles in one hand, and backpacks full of tents, sleeping bags, grills, and booze in the other. Weather it’s 60 degrees and sunny or 30 degrees and raining, they’re there. They construct these elaborate forest compounds reminiscent of a Lost Boys camp, all along the entirety of the 8.6 km loop. They are there to cheer on their favorite skiers (usually Norwegian, but they cheer just as hard for last place as they do for first place… believe me, I know from experience), but above all they are there to have a great time with their friends and family. Like I said in post last week, this culture lives and breathes xc skiing, and nothing reminds you more of that fact than witnessing what the Holmenkollen is like during the 50/30 km weekend. I wish I had some great photos to share with you that depicted the scene, but one of the reasons why our team is pretty outstanding is that we all pull the weight that needs to be pulled, even when the task seems a little extra ordinary. So for both races on Saturday and Sunday I had my hands full in one of the feed zones, dishing out Gatorade and Coke to our guys and girls. It’s a hectic scene, and fairly critical to make sure our athletes are keeping their sugar stores up over 50 and 30 kms of racing, but it’s always a blast to lend a hand and feel like your contributing in way, albeit somewhat small, to the successes of our distance skiers. Noah led the dudes on Saturday with a great result, finishing 24th (he skied incredibly gutsy and hung tough in a race that was taken out balls-t0-the-wall from the start and didn’t let up for 50 km). And new to the World Cup circuit, Scott Patterson skied an amazing race, finishing just outside of the points in 32nd. On Sunday, on a day plagued with freezing rain and cream thick fog, our girls buckled down and charged impossibly hard for their 30 km. Sadie led the girls finishing 22nd, with Liz hot on her heels in 23rd, and Jessie just a few seconds behind in 25th. Maybe not our absolute best day for our girls, but I am incredibly proud of them for fighting so hard on the toughest course of the year, with the toughest field of athletes, and walking away with three very solid results that they should be proud of.

So now I’m sitting in our hotel room overlooking Oslo (or more accurately where Oslo should be because we’re still completely socked in up here at the Holmenkollen), and thinking about how psyched I am for our next race coming up in just a few short days. We’ll fly to Stockholm tomorrow night and on Wednesday start gearing up for the city sprint there, which will take place on Thursday. A distance weekend in Falun, just a couple hours north of Stockholm, will go down this weekend, before we wake up to our final week in Europe before we head home on the 21st. On our last weekend over here, we’ll race in Lahti Finland, splitting the days with a skate sprint on Saturday and a duathlon on Sunday. We are all anxiously awaiting that plane trip back to North America, but we’re having a rocking time over here still and can’t wait to throw down some more great results around these parts before we head home.

02.08

2016

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It’s almost February?!?!

Topic: General News

Yikes… that went by fast. I won’t lie, it was one of my goals this season to keep my blog updated more frequently. Oops. Apologies. But hopefully you’ve been getting small glimpses of where we’ve been and what we’ve been up to via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and all those other programs the kids like to use these days. And I don’t want my negligence to keep my blog updated to be seen as a sign that I haven’t been engaged with this sport, with long days on the road, with the white-out training sessions, and with the all of the races (the great ones and the not-s0-great ones). It’s been an amazing season, not only for myself but especially for many of my teammates, and we’re all still super fired up for two more months of it. That I can ensure you. So, without dwelling too much on the past (recounting races, telling you about ANOTHER thanksgiving dinner in Finland sans turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes, or uploading photos of yet more toenails that are going to fall off because of my race boots), I’ll jump right in to what we’re up to RIGHT NOW.

This is always a nice week during the season. For most of our European competitors, the last weekend in January marks the point when they all go home to race their national championships, giving us a bit of a reprieve from the constant weekly chaos of race, travel, train, train, train, train, race, travel, train, train, train, and so on). With a bit of a break (the word bit is definitely emphasized here with our next sprint on Wednesday in Drammen, Norway), we always find a great place to train and sleep and eat great food and unwind a little bit. It’s a long season, so if you don’t do a good job of making the most of these short chunks of time during which you can actually get back to putting in some kilometers and taking the occasional sauna, you’re not gonna last through late March. So we chose to come to Sjusjøen, Norway this year for this “mini training camp.” We’ll just say that training in Sjusjøen is like going to the north shore to surf. It’s the place. You could literally leave your back door, ski until the snow melts in May, and you’d never have to ski the same trail twice. What is truly special about this place, though, is the culture of skiing here and witnessing how important this pastime is to the Norwegians. I went on a long solo over-distance ski a few days ago, and had to have seen at least three hundred people. From grandparents shuffling along on wooden skis to teenagers that would probably score World Cup points if they were given the chance at the big show. It’s unreal, and it reminds you that racing is just a small part of this amazing thing we are so lucky to be a part of.

Here’s a photo I enticed a sweet old lady to take of me during that long ski the other day. I was fairly psyched to be out there, if you can’t tell.

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I skied one heck of a great loop. A huge storm had just rolled through the previous night, and the one connector trail that I had to take to get somewhat close to home hadn’t been groomed yet that day. So I succeeded in actually getting some backcountry touring done during the season when I had to break trail for 6 km through 10 inches of powder coated with a stiff wind crust. Fun fun fun, maybe the type 2 kind (skinny skis don’t float as well as my touring skis). Here’s a google map of the loop I skied, which totaled about 50 km and 3 hours of smiles and giddy excitement.

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Living right on the ski trails this week has given us ample opportunity to test out our headlamps during sunset cruises (which, inevitably turn into awesome night skis through the rolling conifer forests). Here’s Soph skiing away from the setting sun at the start of our ski this afternoon.

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And a shot of the endless amazing terrain around here:

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We’ll spend a couple more days here in god’s country before heading south towards Oslo on Monday. On Wednesday we’ll race the classic technique (and historically classic race) sprint in Drammen, about 45 minutes down the Fjord from Oslo. The race kicks off our Scandinavian race tour (Holmenkollen next weekend, Stockholm/Falun, SWE the next weekend, and then Lahti, FIN the final weekend) before we jump on a plane for home to start preparing for our Canadian World Cup tour. It should be a great final few weeks of racing here in Europe, so stay posted for race recaps, photos, and more stories from the road.

01.30

2016

Heading east towards Ruka.

Cold, dark, humid Ruka

Topic: General News

We’re back. Ruka is one of those places on the tour that’s become a staple. From the same Finnish hit station playing in the restaurant, to the all-too-familiar long, slow, 10 minute uphill slog to every meal, some things never change. But it’s all good, because this place always dishes up a great race weekend and both the distance and sprint courses, as well as the unique mini-tour race format set the bar high for the rest of the World Cup season. I’ve been here in the past when the mercury hasn’t climbed above 0°F for a week straight. Exposed skin almost immediately flushes red and then turns to a ghostly pale white for the rest of the training session (or the walk to breakfast). Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, that seems to be less and less common up here in the far north, as Europe’s winters are becoming increasingly more mild. We’re looking towards a week of relatively warm temps here, although the ice-fog that makes its home here in eastern Finland anywhere on the landscape that rises more than a few meters, will surely find its way through however many layers of poly-pro and down we can put on. The FIS World Cup weekend opener kicks off with a classic sprint on Friday, followed by and individual skate 5/10 km on Saturday, and a pursuit start 10/15 km classic on Sunday. You can watch those races, and all other World Cup races this season, live here.

We had a great first week of training overseas in Gällivare, Sweden. Lucky for us, the small mining town 200 km north of the arctic circle got dumped on the day before we arrived. The 5 km World Cup course was in great condition for the whole week we were there, especially after about 20 volunteers from the local ski club spent several hours shoveling snow from the woods on the thin spots scattered throughout the course.

Looking from the Hotel Dundret, just above the races courses, towards town and the iron ore mines.

Looking from the Hotel Dundret, just above the races courses, towards town and the iron ore mines.

 

Sun setting on Gällivare.

Sun setting on Gällivare.

I took these two photos from my hotel window, the first showing the sunrise over town and the second showing the sunset over town. I think I took them about 30 minutes apart. It’s a pretty amazing part of the world, and when you start to spend more and more time here, you begin to understand why Scandinavians value long, warm summer days so much. They embrace the dark and the cold and skiing under the lights, but I think they absorb most of their energy to get thru the long winters during the summer months. When the sun does poke its head out in November-February, you’re hard pressed to find a more beautiful and rugged landscape anywhere in the world.

The warm-up FIS sprint race didn’t go superb for me last weekend. My energy just felt a little low and my body needed a good wake up I think. For some reason I’ve had a really tough time adjusting to the time change this time around, averaging only about 5 hours of sleep per night. But the good news is that when I am awake during the day, I’m feeling energized and focused, for the most part. I’m hoping that any day now my body will realize that it’s probably a good idea to be passed out in bed a little longer each night, and I’ll be able to start waking up to an alarm at 8 a.m. We’ll see how that goes. On the plus side though, our team as a whole had a really good start to the race season. We had 5 podiums, with Jessie’s double victory in the classic sprint and 10 km skate, Soph’s 2nd in the classic sprint, Caitlin’s 3rd in the 10 km skate, and Andy’s 2nd in the classic sprint. The team is fired up to really get the season under way and I’m excited to see what kind of results this weekend produces. More from the far North soon.

Jessie and Soph crushing the field on the first turn in the women's sprint finals in Gällivare.

Jessie and Soph crushing the field on the first turn in the women’s sprint finals in Gällivare.

Our radical "US Ski Temm Wax Trukk". Traveling incognito. That Norwegian truck doesn't have anything on our rig!

Our radical “US Ski Temm Wax Trukk”. Traveling incognito. That Norwegian truck doesn’t have anything on our rig!

Heading east towards Ruka.

Heading east towards Ruka.

 

 

11.24

2015

Digging deep, striding up the Burbakken during the final stage of Toppidrettsveka

Putting the bib on in August

Topic: General News

As August winds down and the Fall seems to be drawing closer and closer with shorter days, a few leaves already spinning off their trees, and more, harder intensity added to the training schedule, things always start to zoom by way too fast. It’s hard to imagine that in a little over two short months, we’ll be getting back on a plane to Europe, bound for the season’s World Cup openers in Scandinavia. But it’s always a good sort of hard-to-imagine feeling because come this time of year, you can start to reflect back on a summer filled with 8 hour long training adventures, too many roller ski sessions in 90 degree heat that leave your feet red and blistered, and the general absence of donning a World Cup race bib every weekend. There’s a definite satisfaction that comes with abandoning those summer norms, and you can start to taste how authentic that satisfaction is every year around this time.

We wrapped up our last, true ‘summer’ training camp in Trondheim, Norway this past weekend, finishing the camp off with a bang as we took part in the world’s biggest multi-day roller ski race festival on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I could talk my head off about how massively hyped the competition was, but you can’t really appreciate it’s magnitude until you’re standing half-way up the 20% grade Brubakken climb at 2 km for the final stage of the Toppidrettsveka race. You’re one of 40,000 spectators out there in the sunshine, drinking beer and yelling your head off for your favorite skier. It’s a good atmosphere, and it certainly got us riled up to ski fast.

I was fairly happy with how the whole race series went. It started out well for me last Thursday when I placed 13th out of 100+ guys in the opening stage, a 5.5 km running hill climb up a 2,300 vertical ft peak rising above the fjords a hundred km southwest of Trondheim. I haven’t done much running this season because of a flaring patella tendon and because we were on snow in New Zealand for most of July, so I surprised myself with how fast I was able to get my big butt up that big mountain. I guess I have my parents to thank for that… running is in my blood and because of that I can sometimes fake my way to a respectable result. With a quick turnaround before a classic sprint that same afternoon in the seaside town of Aure, I was a little fatigued and didn’t quite have the sprint race I wanted to have. Double poling has always been, and still is, my achilles’ heel but it is progressing and there is still plenty of time to make the adjustments I need to make before the race season starts in earnest. It’s always good to have something that you’re pretty bad at I guess. Keeps you plugging away at those small things and gives you purpose every time you head out the door for a training session. Friday’s race was a 15km skiathlon (half classic, half skate, with an on-the-fly change of equipment halfway thru) at the Knyken roller ski track just outside of Orkanger, another small port city nestled a couple fjords from Trondheim. The adrenaline spike you feel when you head into a 90 degree corner on rollerkis going 40 mph, in a mass start group of 100 guys, is fairly indescribable. But once you’re thru the traffic and the pack starts to get strung out a bit, you can focus on skiing your own race at your own pace. I was encouraged by how I felt for that one. I think my general fitness right now is better than it has ever been at this time of year, and I was able to hold a heart rate of 195+ for about 20 minutes straight as I wound my thru 6 laps of the 2.5 km course, placing 27th in a field that consisted of quite a few guys that have been on the podium at a distance World Cup. The race series finished off on Saturday with a 15km classic pursuit start (you started based on time-back from the previous 3 races) in downtown Trondheim. The first 2 km of double poling took you across flats with over 20,000 fans cheering from the sidewalk before you turned and headed up the insanely steep Brubakken climb, which was around 200 vertical ft. Cresting the climb, which will be the closest feeling I’ll ever have to riding a Tour de France mountain stage, brought you into the downhill section of the course. Much like cycling, when you’re skiing in a pack your speed on the descents gets ratcheted up 10-fold. There were a couple sections of the downhill where we were exceeding 40 mph and at the bottom you would get spit into a 90 degree corner where they had to lay pavement down between the threshold of the road and the sidewalk just so you would have enough room to make it out of the corner. Exciting to say the least. Unfortunately for me, a broken pole on lap 2 resulted in my getting shelled off the back of the group I was skiing in, and it was a serious chore to try to get time back after I got a new pole. Still, I was psyched with how the day turned out result-wise, and with how hard I was able to push my body classic skiing (I’ve always been a much better skater, both sprint and distance racing). It’d be pretty tough to have a bad day, no matter how your body felt or where you ended up on the results sheet, with a race atmosphere like the one found in downtown Trondheim, on a perfect sunny day. I have to give a huge shout out of gratitude to the organizers of Toppidrettsveka; they made our entire two week camp possible for us and gave us a ton of support while we were there. When it comes down to it, the xc skiing world community is ridiculously awesome and selfless, and it shows when you can fly half way around the world and have everything from meals to lodging to transportation to racing completely lined out for you. So thanks.

Sophie and I will spend a few much needed recovery days back in Colorado, adventuring in the high peaks, sleeping a ton, and eating a ton of the brown cheese we brought home, before we head back to the east coast to kick off the fall training season. Thanks for checking in, come back soon for stories and photos from our recovery week in Colorado.

Jessie nearing the finish line of the opening running hill climb stage. The race started down by the water in the background.

Jessie nearing the finish line of the opening running hill climb stage. The race started down by the water in the background.

Liz and Noah crushed the uphill running stage, both placing 3rd in an extremely hard field. My teammates have seriously big engines and can run up mountains QUICKLY.

Liz and Noah crushed the uphill running stage, both placing 3rd in an extremely hard field. My teammates have seriously big engines and can run up mountains QUICKLY.

The Hoff sporting his sweet life jacket that he won for his 3rd place in the hill climb. I suggested he wear it on the plane home to see what kind of looks he got from people. He didn't

The Hoff sporting his sweet life jacket that he won for his 3rd place in the hill climb. I suggested he wear it on the plane home to see what kind of looks he got from people. He didn’t

Digging deep, striding up the Burbakken during the final stage of Toppidrettsveka

Digging deep, striding up the Burbakken during the final stage of Toppidrettsveka

With a day to kill in Trondheim after the race were over, we did some trail exploring with our friend from home Conor Bolger, who works for the Norwegian University of Science and Technology

With a day to kill in Trondheim after the race were over, we did some trail exploring with our friend from home Conor Bolger, who works for the Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Most of our crew, catching some final Norwegian rays on the trails above Trondheim

Most of our crew, catching some final Norwegian rays on the trails above Trondheim

 

08.25

2015

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10 p.m. Sunshine

Topic: General News

Norway’s been great to us. It’s always amazing being here. Great food, good living, cold fjords to jump in on all the hot days, and driver’s don’t give you the bird when they pass you during your roller ski. I feel like after leaving New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, my body has almost caught up to what the watch on my wrist reads, and I’ll probably be 100% synced up the night before I get back on a plane to head home. Oh well. I can’t complain too much. Highlights of the trip so far include: getting out on a fishing expedition on our off day, hucking big back flips off a big bridge, skiing on the best roads I’ve maybe ever skied on, and seeing the sun set a little after 10 o’clock each night. Look for an update after our races this weekend. It should be a good time as we sprint thru a small seaside town on the coast, on a paved roller ski loop in the middle of the forest, and thru downtown Trondheim with tens of thousands lining the course on Saturday.

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Caught a big one! (and then dealt with the killing and cleaning). Photo: Noah Hoffman

Liz and Team Fjord

Liz leading the charge. Photo: Matt Whitcomb

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Finding big bridges and cold water on hot days. Photo: Noah Hoffman

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Andy and I mid-skate speed. Photo: Matt Whitcomb

 

08.18

2015

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