Skiing without snow

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The University of Alaska Anchorage Nordic ski team trains indoors after having completed a workout outdoors in Kincaid Park. Photo credit: Young Kim

Skiers all around the state await the first snow fall impatiently. UAA’s ski teams are also eager to finally practice on the white surface that determines their season. A lot of snow means more efficient practices for the Nordic and, especially, the alpine ski team. But how do those teams train the six months out of the year that they can’t ski on Alyeska’s mountains or Anchorage’s trails?

For the alpine ski team, the season typically starts with a trip to Colorado during the second week of November. Colorado generally gets snow earlier than Alaska due to its high altitude, which enables the Seawolves to practice their downhill techniques around the same time as other NCAA competitors.

Graduate assistant coach Anna Berecz refers to the pre-season practices as preparation time for when the snow hits Alaska.

“As skiers, we are used to doing the bulk of the work from May through October. It is usually not as much fun as skiing, but it is necessary,” Berecz said. “I know skiers to be all-around talents. You need to be strong — not just the legs but your whole body — have good endurance, great balance, speed, explosiveness and coordination. The summer months are there to build all of these skills. So, that is what our athletes are expected to do, too.”

Even though coaches are only allowed to work with their athletes for eight hours per week during pre-season, the Seawolves still cover all the important parts of their training.

“Mondays, we do a tough core and agility workout. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays our athletes are in the weight room, where they do Olympic lifting. Wednesdays and Fridays are our anaerobic workouts,” Berecz said.

Anaerobic practice methods refer to exercises where the body’s oxygen supply is not sufficient. Hard running intervals with little rest are one example of such anaerobic training sessions.

Senior alpine skier Charley Field, health science major, knows of the diverse abilities and physical strength her sport demands. She uses long hikes in Alaska’s mountain ranges to stay in shape over the summer.

“Our sport is fighting against gravity. Having a strong core, lower body strength and great upper body strength is important,” Field said. “This is accomplished in the gym through Olympic lifting. Cardio is also very important as well so we make sure to incorporate hill sprints, sand dunes and stairs. We also like to incorporate agility ladders, balancing practice and explosive jumping.”

The alpine ski team also uses various alternative methods to develop every aspect of their physical fitness. They usually hike, and play soccer and water polo at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex.

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Martin Onskulis lifts weight in preparation for the 2017 alpine ski season. Photo credit: Young Kim

The Nordic ski team is often seen roller skiing around Kincaid Park or running on the Anchorage trail system to get their conditioning workouts in. Roller skis are short cross-country skis with wheels and the different equipment enables the Seawolves to imitate classic and skate skiing. The full-body workout mimics the feel of cross-country skiing.

Junior Nordic skier Toomas Kollo of Estonia knows of the importance of staying in shape during the long, snowless summer months.

Dry land training is really important for our sport. As long as you have a pair of running shoes, it’s not hard to find activities to stay in shape,” Kollo said. “We do a lot of running, roller skiing, strength training and biking in the training season to stay fit.”

Kollo enjoys long bike sessions during the pre-season. Even though it is not skiing specifically, it allows him to clear his head without thinking about his technique, while still getting a good cardio workout in.

“The most important thing to be prepared for the season is to train consistently through the summer and fall, whatever that may be,” Kollo said. “You have to keep building fitness in the warmer months to keep fitness through the winter and race well, and focus on long, threshold intervals to teach your body to clear lactic acid quickly.”

Marine Dusser, assistant coach for the Nordic team, also refers to roller skiing as one of their essential training methods. Ski bounding, running with poles, is important to incorporate for a successful season.

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The women’s Nordic team roller skis near Kincaid Park. Photo credit: @Adam Verrier

“Of course, we roller ski, classic and skating, ski bound, focus on strength and technique,” Dusser said.

The Nordic ski team can be seen lifting at the Alaska Airline Center’s weight room. There, they often take advantage of a ski ergometer, a machine to practice double pool and classic alternating arm techniques.

Only rarely do the Nordic and alpine ski team practice together, but the annual soccer tournaments, a couple sand dune workouts and other activities help them develop their general fitness or speed.

Dry land training, which the ski teams refers to as practices that don’t take place on snow, is essential for the Nordic and alpine ski teams’ success. With Alyeska potentially not opening until after Thanksgiving and the trails still free of snow, they stay busy working on their fitness, speed and strength levels before the snow hits the ground.