Demystifying the Dachstein
By xcskiworld.com Contributing Editor Andrew Gardner Photos: M. Banks
In the Nordic ski world, there are destination names that carry monumental weight: the Engadine Valley, Lake Placid, Holmenkolen, Falun. Unlike these giant pillars of known Nordic locales, one has a hold on skiing year round, Ramsau am Dachstein.
“That’s Martin Koukal, he was seventh in Salt Lake City. He is skiing behind my son who was sixth last year in the Norwegian (jr.) Championships.”
It is our fifth day skiing in the dirty snow of the Dachstein glacier. The Norwegian man is wearing a jacket, hat and pants despite the temperatures reaching 18 C and his boasting seems to carry a jovial air. It’s endearing despite its absence of humility.
“I am Andrew Gardner.” I imagine saying to my fellow summer training partners. “I won the Colorado Rocky Mountain School Rat Race.” I could offer the result up as though it meant something. I could conspicuously leave out the number of racers in the rat race (50) or the average age of rat race participants (also 50). We are all champions somewhere.
On the Dachstein, I’m fortunate enough to be in the company of real champions including Koukal, as well as last year’s Vassaloppet champion Oskar Svard, a Swede on a ski holiday with his girlfriend. I’m also in the company of Colorado’s finest, the Rocky Mountain select team, an amalgamation of skiers from programs throughout Colorado selected to this European traveling team for their proven prowess in last year’s races. We are here to demystify the novelty of Europe, to make common the movement into another culture in the name of skiing, to lift some of the weight of the monumental Nordic venue that is Dachstein. It is a tall order and the daily tram ride over two thousand vertical feet to skiable snow doesn’t help. My god is this beautiful.
A Typical Summer's Day In Your World?
The dramatic landscape even seems to affect the gangly group of teenagers perched in the front of the Tram. This is especially significant considering that these kids wallow in mountain terrain, they are bathed in it constantly.
Most Nordic skiers know how the junior population of Nordic skiers are broken up into divisions, marked by geographical borders. The Midwest division covers Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa (when was the last National champ from Iowa?). Intermountain Northern covers Utah, Idaho, Montana, and parts of Wyoming. The Rocky Mountain Division covers Colorado. (The southern parts of Wyoming are also included in Rocky but as far as I’ve seen, the skiers from these parts spend all their time training with the athletes from Iowa.) Culturally, this provides some challenges to those who love Nordic skiing, what with energy-drink-sponsored-mountain-board-freestyle-backcountry-telemark-halfpipe-downhill-mountain-bike competitions getting more press in the John Denver state than our beloved Nordic racing.
Our trip to Europe then, has two goals: the aforementioned demystifying of Europe, and a clinging hope that the novelty of travel, the thrill of racing and the nobility of perseverance will keep our kids racing. Like I said, it’s a tall order.
From what I’ve seen during our time here, Ramsau seems to be able to fill it. The glacial snow softens early in the day but not before providing at least three solid hours of skiable snow. Shucking off the odd-feeling that long skis provide after months of rollerskiing takes the majority of the week for me. The kids are more focused on other things.
The Rocky Mountain Division Select Team
“Body position, body position, body position.” Inspired by a recent trip to a coaching symposium in Colorado Springs, Jeff Banks is big into basics. Our Austria week is as basic as Schwarzenegger’s California gubernatorial bid. We are pounding in key-concepts with the same simplicity as the Terminator. Technique. Strength. More Technique. More Strength. Our days revolve around early snow sessions, afternoon video, medicine ball workouts, lactate threshold tests and the occasional foray onto rollerskis. This is serious training, a serious trip, with a few distractions along the way for good measure.
Every afternoon the tour de France is broadcast on Eurosport. Evenings in the local swimming hole (replete with rope swing) are our excuse for “recovery.” A t-bar powered down hill go-cart racecourse help to educate the athletes on best line…or at least show them the consequences of not following the best line. The food is different. The cars are different. The music is different. Our kids are in Europe and they are soaking it up.
There is a transformation that is visible in our kids’ technique, their affects, their attitudes towards training. A few of the kids have seriously revelatory moments. The light flickers, “A-ha!” and suddenly they begin skiing more cleanly. You can see it in their faces, it celebratory. They are becoming serious athletes.
It is not unlike the realization that struck me when I found a back road entryway to the glacier from our hotel, the Kielhuberhof. We had two station wagons that transported the kids. Jeff was hopelessly behind us. The return trip proved even less fruitful for my colleague.
Desperate to find our shortcut, Banks blindingly followed us down a valley road that led us two towns away. I ducked behind a barn and watched Banks nimbly driving far far away from our hotel. Circling the car around, towards the REAL shortcut, I couldn’t hear the radio over the roar of our kids’ laughter. Banks pieced together what happened 45 minutes later.
“I hate you.” He claimed climbing out of the car. “We saw half of Austria.”
I smiled. Europe demystified. Mission accomplished.
Andrew Gardner skis for Atomic and the Swix Tech Team. He is the Director of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School Nordic Program in Carbondale, CO.