Keeping Eagle in Perspective

I step onto the snow my third day of training on Eagle Glacier, and suddenly, I am slammed with a gust of wind, somewhere between 50-60 mph. Closing my eyes, I pull my hood over my head, hold on tight to my skis and poles to make sure they don’t get sent flying down glacier, and wait for it to calm. I am just thankful I am not Liz Stephen right now, otherwise I may have just gotten picked up and flown down glacier! As it momentarily calms, I quickly bend down, snap on my skis and poles, pull my sleeves down, my buff up, and secure my glasses. Although it is a complete white out, and I can hardly see my skis below me because of the dense fog… it is still bright as can be. This gives me hope the sun must be somewhere up there. 

Zip up, here we go!

As I start sliding down the hill, I proceed cautiously, searching for the wands every 10 feet that mark the trail. The fog is so thick, I can’t find the wands, so instead I start doing an awkward half tuck, half snow plow, searching the ground, looking for some corduroy. The wind is blowing so hard that the snow drifts are hiding the majority of the fresh corduroy… so I am going down the 1 km access trail from our little warm house slower than ever. If someone is behind me, and can actually see me, they must be laughing their heads off. I literally look like I just learned how to ski, turning hard right… realizing I am wrong, strongly overcorrecting right… realizing I am still wrong… goodness gracious, the darn trail is straight! Why do I keep expecting a turn?

Finally, I reach the “intersection”, the place where our 7.5km loop meets the steep downhill access trail. I drop my water belt full of sport drink and goodies, and set out on the loop. It is interval morning, so I make sure I start my warm-up slow. As I move around the course, I wonder where am I? I know I am on the first part of the loop… but which way is up, which way is down, which was is north… more importantly which way is the cliff that drops the 5,600 feet down to the ocean? (Thank god there are wands on the course, so I know to stop if I haven’t seen one for 10 feet). All I can think is thank god I don’t often get lost in the mountains. My sense of direction is terrible! It is so foggy and windy I don’t even know if I am going uphill or downhill. I am convinced I am going downhill, so I crouch down into a tuck… again searching the corduroy on the ground to find my way. As the wind takes a good slam, I realize I must not actually be going downhill, because my skis aren’t moving. In fact, I am on an uphill, and after being blown by this gust of wind, I am going backwards. Now I am straight up laughing, this is almost comical how crazy the weather is! I have forgotten how wild it can get up here, somehow I only have memories in my brain from those sports bra and shorts laps we were doing last year!

Corey and I, pretty stoked we made it back up to the building! (We started calling this 1 km. access trail back up to the building, Alpe Cermis… because it somewhat resembles a very shortened version of the final climb of the Tour de Ski)

But, it is interval day, so I must rally myself! Finding motivation on a day like today requires a little bit of a deeper dig, but somehow it is so much more rewarding at the end of training! While it is frustrating, I keep my mind in a light mood, and stay positive. Seriously, Swedish Olympic Gold Medalist, Anna Haag is out here training with us. It is still a great day to watch her, and try to improve!

This is just a glimpse into the first half of our glacier camp that was hit by a series of stormy days. I believe this is my 14th camp on Eagle Glacier in the past five years, so 14 weeks I have spent living in the little house on the rocks, training around the belly of this enormous and incredibly accessible glacier. In all those years, I have never seen the weather quite as wild as it was the first half of the week. Huge gusts of wind that kept your poles flying sideways, your head tucked down, your hoods and buffs up… and your mind incredibly exhausted from a full blown white out. Searching for the wands every 10 feet was often the hardest part of the 4-5 hours a day of training. 

Skiing with teammates often made these training sessions hilarious. If you were the one leading, you were the one looking out into this complete white out searching for the trail. If you were the one following, you were truly entertained, as the person in front of you, and your point of reference went wandering all over the place trying to find the trail. Even more challenging and frustrating was the grooming. All week, Erik Flora kept his patience together and experienced this same feeling, only 10 times worse as he sat in the cab of a Pisten Bully attempting to go straight as he searched his way through the whiteout to create a trail. In many cases, the wind was blowing the snow drifts so much, he would spend the whole training session driving around course, keeping a trail for us to follow… talk about a brain fry!!

Morning scenes inside the house. Erik preparing to head outside with the schedule posted above.

But it was awesome! It was a week of perspective. It was a week to remember how to find your motivation, how to find the positives in a less than ideal situation, and most importantly, how to be tough! Getting out in these often frustrating conditions, being constantly blasted by the wind that sometimes left hail flying at your face… it all felt like you were fighting against something. That fight throughout the season of training is what keeps me motivated. Those days when it is super tough for whatever reason, you feel like you are fighting against expectations, and you finish feeling accomplished! So, although many of my past glacier camps have been those incredible and sunny days where you feel like you can be out there forever skiing… this one kept me on my toes. It make me think a bit more about “if” I wanted to be out there training, and “why”. It was a great way to start the summer of training!

Still smiling!

And after all that hard work plowing through several feet of snow that fell, and huge gusts of wind; we got rewarded on the last day with one of those perfect Eagle Glacier beautiful days! The sun shone all day, and we enjoyed 3 hours of amazing skiing in packed powder. Funny enough, I bet that is the day I will remember when I think back on the first camp of this summer! Those perfect days somehow erase the challenging days pretty darn quickly!

Sunshine and Smiles, and some interesting styles! (BR photo)
Seems to me the sun has come out! (KR photo)

So, now I am back to Anchorage, 5,600 feet lower, and it is full on summer. Straight from winter, back to green summer! Crazy! Up next; my sister’s wedding, a few more weeks of training in town, and then another trip up to Eagle Glacier for “Take 2”.