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Chugach National Forest provides world-class training ground for Olympic hopefuls


Members of the 2013 North American Women’s Training Alliance, including the U.S. Ski Team, train on Eagle Glacier in the Chugach National Forest. Skiers this summer experienced an unusual 15 straight days of sun on the glacier. (Courtesy U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach/Coach Matt Whitcomb)

Members of the 2013 North American Women’s Training Alliance, including the
U.S. Ski Team, train on Eagle Glacier in the Chugach National Forest. Skiers
this summer experienced an unusual 15 straight days of sun on the glacier.
(Courtesy U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach/Coach Matt Whitcomb)

Posted by Sara Boario, Chugach National Forest, U.S. Forest Service


America’s elite, Olympic-bound Nordic skiers have a high-altitude secret they hope will give them an edge in Sochi, Russia, during the 2014 Winter Olympics in late February.

 

Team members take a 10-minute helicopter ride from sea level up to Eagle Glacier on Alaska’s Chugach National Forest, the most northern national forest in the U.S. The environment there mimics what they expect to find in Sochi.

 

The glacier, 5,500 feet above Girdwood, Alaska, is home to the Thomas Training Center, operated under permit by the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center. The ski center was established in the late ‘90s as a model for creating international success in American Nordic skiing.

 

“Right now we have three ladies who have skied in the top 10,” said Erik Flora, center director and head coach. “We have Kikkan Randall, who is the overall sprint World Cup leader last year, and World Champion Holly Brooks, who is fifth in the World Cup, and Sadie Bjornsen, who is also in the top 10 in the World Cup. Right now we are one of the only clubs with three ladies in the top 10 in the World Cup. And a lot of that is due to skiing up here.”

 

Ski athletes come from all over the world to train on the Chugach National Forest, spending 25 to 30 hours a week in the challenging, variable conditions found on Eagle Glacier. The Alaskan Pacific University operated seven camps, each with about 20 athletes this summer. (Courtesy U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach/Coach Matt Whitcomb)

Ski athletes come from all over the world to train on the Chugach National
Forest, spending 25 to 30 hours a week in the challenging, variable conditions
found on Eagle Glacier. The Alaskan Pacific University operated seven camps,
each with about 20 athletes this summer. (Courtesy U.S. Ski Team Women’s
Coach/Coach Matt Whitcomb)

The glacier presents variable conditions like those that skiers are likely to encounter when they race overseas in the world championships or the Olympics. Whether it’s soft, slushy snow or hard snow, it all helps to build technique and fitness. The regular presence of fog and clouds require skiers to sharpen all of their senses.

 

Flora and his team have used those conditions to their advantage, re-creating the trails and experience that racers will confront in Sochi.

 

Noah Hoffman, a member of the men’s team who hopes to compete in Sochi, described the trails in Russia as some of the most difficult  he has ever skied in the world, with the longest climb of any race course he has ever seen. Flora created a similar layout on the glacier.

 

“To be able to practice a climb of that length and that sustained effort is really important,” said Hoffman. “Sochi also has some rolling terrain with moderate steepness of hills, and on another section of the course out here [on Eagle Glacier], Erik was able to mimic that and get us a good feel for the upper part of the Sochi trail.”

 

Skiers arrive on Eagle Glacier in the Chugach National Forest by helicopter but sometime choose to hike down from the 5,500-foot glacier. The hike out takes about five hours and requires roping up to cross the glacier. Helicopters transport both skiers and pallets of food for the week-long training camps. Skiers say the place is special because you feel isolated but are within a 45-minute drive from Anchorage. (Courtesy U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Nordic)

Skiers arrive on Eagle Glacier in the Chugach National Forest by helicopter
but sometime choose to hike down from the 5,500-foot glacier. The hike out
takes about five hours and requires roping up to cross the glacier. Helicopters
transport both skiers and pallets of food for the week-long training camps.
Skiers say the place is special because you feel isolated but are within a
45-minute drive from Anchorage.
(Courtesy U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Nordic)

From the moment they exit the helicopter, walk off the rocks and onto the glacier, skiers recognize what a special place it is. Globally, there are four or five major summer skiing snowfields or glaciers that cross country skiers practice on in the summer. Eagle is unique in that they can stay in a warm dormitory right at the glacier’s edge.

 

“There’s no other place in the world that’s like Eagle Glacier,” said Holly Brooks a member of the U.S. Women’s ski team. “This is the only place you can sleep right next to a glacier and train twice a day. You wake up in the morning and walk out on snow.”

 

US Forest Service
Last modified October 17, 2013
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