The Road to Klosters – Packing for an International Trip

This is Part 9 in a series of posts about training and preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters Switzerland in early March 2017. See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 for an overview, specific training plans, strength training, an evaluation of the required pace to podium in the M07 and F06 age classes, critical assessment of the efficacy of Block Periodization, fleet evaluation, racing weight, and race course profile analysis, and peaking.

Packing for an international ski trip to compete against some of the best age group skiers in the world is no easy task. Skiing both classic and skate only adds to the complexity. Add the modern ultra-complex waxing needed to have fast skis and, on the surface, the exercise can be overwhelming. In such instances, it is often a good strategy to break down the process into the functional areas that each need to be addressed. There are many approaches to this but the following is how I break it down:

  1. skis and related equipment
  2. boots
  3. wax and related equipment
  4. comments on traveling with others

How one proceeds with each of these packing/travel categories is specific to personal details but there are overriding general approaches that will work well for most travelers. The following is what I do- there may be some information here that will be of use to others.

skis and related equipment

As a competitive skier that participates in both classic and skate technique races, one will find that there will be many skis that would be possible “race day” skis during an international trip. For the Masters skier, it is generally not possible for one to bring an entire fleet ( due to expense and other travel issues), not to mention somehow managing to get numerous pairs waxed and ready for race day testing and a final decision. So it is important to make informed choices for which of the skis in the fleet will be the most likely skis to be used during the competitions. This can be accomplished by ensuring that you have good and current testing data on all of your skis combined with the best reports that you can get on the conditions at the race site prior to, and those predicted for, race day. Fortunately there are reasonably detailed and reliable weather and snow conditions reports available via various websites for many ski race venues. Klosters has a few although the information is fairly limited, particularly as it relates to snow conditions on the Nordic trails. A call to a local ski shop can often give the best information and it is recommended that one contact such a local shop to ensure that you have the best information possible for decision-making. Note that, although skis do make a difference, your training leading up to the races is by far the most important. So I suggest that one not get too “strung out” about ski selection and have confidence in your training program to deliver on race day.

Race site webcams can also be quite useful. here are a couple from Klosters in the area of the start finish the last few days.

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View of the surrounding hills in Klosters, Switzerland from the Sportzentrum on 21 Feb 2017. There is definitely a lack of snow and a base of about 12″. The start finish for all of the races at World Masters are across the street from the Sportzentrum.

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View of the surrounding hills in Klosters, Switzerland from the Sportzentrum on 24 Feb 2017. Some predicted snow (2-5″) did materialize but there is very little snow in the current forecast for the World Masters period.

We have gathered as much information as we can (and we will continue to monitor the situation right up until we leave for the airport) and mapped the expected conditions onto the ski fleet specifics. The Klosters Valley area has about 14″ of snow depth as of today 24 Feb (assuming that the new fallen snow compacts into the base). However, it has been warm and fairly dry for the last few weeks and other than the snow that fell in the last day there is no appreciable snow in the forecast for the World Masters period. This means that what snow there is will likely be old, dirty in places, and quite granular. The expected high temperatures are continuing on the warm side (above freezing) with lows getting down to about 20F (-7C) but averaging 25F (-4C ). In general the highs will be above freezing and the lows just below freezing, a typical freeze-thaw scenario for which there are well established approaches for waxing and structure.

Since ski flex is the most important variable in choosing a ski for a given race condition, it is important to know what the deck conditions are. Right now the decks in Klosters are fairly soft and it is expected that they will stay soft or get softer prior to the first races at World Masters due to the just-below-freeezing overnight low temperatures. So softer skis are a likely choice at this point although under certain circumstances in such general conditions a slightly stiffer ski may run better.

The next task is determining the right grind selection. The expected warm daily high temperatures and the not so cold overnight lows will favor “wetter” grinds that are focused on water management. However, if a dry front comes through during the week-long competition entirely different grinds are likely to be running faster. So it is best to hedge and bring along both a softer ski and a stiffer ski with a “dryer” grind just in case. These “hedge” skis could also serve as a warm-up and training skis as well.

Ok, now double that thought process if you are also doing classic races and think about classic ski choices in soft conditions with slushy to dry-slushy snow. This could mean difficult waxing and possibly zeros if it snows.

The most important part of this selection process is to know and understand your skis and how they each perform in various conditions. This information can only come from rational, repeatable testing. Typically this is done by “zeroing” out the fleet by waxing all of the skis with the same (usually non-flouro) wax and then sequentially skiing each pair on a 1-2km loop of varying terrain (ups, downs, and flats). Use the same effort level for each loop and record your time and note any particular “feel”- like if a pair are “slippery” or if a pair feels “slow”. Skiing “feel” is your best tool for getting a good understanding of the ski fleet although the lap times will help solidify your observations. If you have this testing information then your ski choices for those to take on an international trip will be fairly straightforward.

boots

Boots are the one piece of equipment that are very difficult to replace if lost, stolen, or misplaced. So it is highly recommended that you take your boots with you in your carry-on luggage. They take up a lot of space but you can stuff them with clothing or other items to maximize the content of the carry-on. Finding a boot that fits properly once on the  ground at your destination is a low probability occurrence. So keep your boots close and protected!

wax and wax related equipment

This is the “bogeyman” of a trip to an international event. Packing, lugging around, setting-up, taking down, and keeping track of all of the paraphernalia associated with modern cross country ski waxing is not a simple task. When traveling to an international ski race it is highly recommended that you arrange for a waxing service at the race venue. This will allow one to truly enjoy the challenge of the race, without stressing over wax. Sure you may not get the very best waxing, but your training will be much more important than the waxing, particularly as a Masters skier. With a few exceptions, the waxing services are usually quite good, if not very good. Team Bumble Bee has combined with a small group of skiers to bring the “ski whisperer” to do waxing for us at the World Masters- it’s fairly expensive but when viewed in within the context of the total cost of the trip and having the cost spread over a small group, it will be well worth the expense to have an expert ski wax guru preparing and testing skis for race day. We can now concentrate on being ready at the start line!

Do take a few basic tools however, just in case. A travel ski profile (like the 3-part one from Swix), a scraper, a couple of brushes, and small selection of waxes. Hotels at the Worlds should all have wax rooms available with benches and some sort of iron. These tools will give independence from your guru (who may be quite busy just when you need to wax your skis for training) and others who have brought a full suite of equipment. It is another stress reliever and every bit of stress you can eliminate will only have positive effects on your performance.

comments on traveling with others

Traveling, on it’s own, is stressful and traveling with others can be very stressful. This is because it’s one thing to have to deal with your own schedule, priorities, and peculiarities but it is altogether another thing to have multiple such things to coordinate among a group of travelers. In addition each individual has their own unique way of handling these travel stresses. So it can be difficult to try to proceed through a long and sometimes complex travel itinerary with others. I suggest that unless you like to or, as in the case of most of my now-gleefully distant Corporate travel, have to travel with others, don’t. Traveling with a group will always involve some compromise, additional stress, and may end up delaying your schedule.

Managing stress is a very important part of the pre-race period 
of your training.

If you do travel with others, try to establish some boundaries about how you might (or might not) respond to certain situations should they develop. If you are traveling to an “A” race the shorter the travel and the fewer the variables (and other co-travelers) the less will be the stress. Managing stress is a very important part of the pre-race period of your training.

Remember that a travel day is equivalent to a hard training day and a two day travel itinerary is equivalent to three hard training days. Adjust accordingly, do not minimize the impact of the travel, and make sure you get sufficient rest and some deliberate relaxation.

concluding remarks

An international trip to an “A” race should be an enjoyable experience, particularly for a masters competitor. So make sure you have some fun along the way and when you get there. Being overly-serious will likely detract from your overall experience and could adversely affect your performance. Being relaxed and ready at the start line to give everything you have trained so hard for is the ultimate goal. A bit of forethought, planning, and a positive and focused demeanor will serve you well!

Salomon Sense Pro Max – an Improved Pro Pulse and a Trail-Worthy Cushioned Option

In August of 2015, Salomon introduced their first truly “cushioned” shoe, the Sense Pro Pulse. I reviewed that shoe and summarized it as follows:

"Salomon fit with Hoka Clifton cushioning at Stinson weight. 
Life is compromise!"

Lamenting the 335 gm weight of the Pro Pulse did not prevent me from using the shoe extensively in hill bounding and other higher impact activities as I worked through an intensive cross country ski training regimen last Summer and Fall. Shoe fit is key in successfully executing upon this type of “agility+power” workout and the Salomon fit technologies (EndoFit, SensiFit, and QuickLace) make all the difference. Other cushioned shoes that I have tried have marginal-to-bad fit and this combined with the large stack heights make the shoes a dangerous choice for these workouts that require significant off-axis force vector stability. I found the Pro Pulse to have sufficient grip for the mostly steep (20-30% grade) and super steep (>40% grade) “dirt roads” that made up the staple of the hill bounding workouts. I also found that the cushion was essential for my 60 yo connective tissue to accommodate an elite-level of training stimulus in cross country skiing-specific sessions that include significant high impact repetitions (e.g. hill bounding, plyos, and other “agility+power” exercises). The Sense Pro Pulse shoes were “enabling” for my ski training schedule.

I was pleased to see Salomon announce the Sense Pro Max as a Pro Pulse replacement last summer with a shoe that is slightly lighter (276 gms for my US 7.5/ EU 40 2/3 or 18% lighter than the Pro Pulse) but with a much more aggressive outsole and some new dampening technology that will be described below.

I received a pair of Sense Pro Max in early February and have put only about 20 miles (30 km) on them- we are currently in the middle of an epic snow year (20+ feet and counting) and my current focus is on competing at the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in early March (see elsewhere on this blog). But I did want to try these shoes out and get a better understanding of the design approach and execution. What follows is a “first impression” look at the Pro Max and I will follow-up with updates as usual.

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Salomon Sense Pro Max includes new midsole dampening technology called “Vibe” that utilizes “Opal” dampening inserts placed in the forefoot and heel in cavities in the Energy Cell+ EVA midsole material.

construction

The Sense Pro Max has a much reduced “rocker” profile when compared to the Sense Pro Pulse model that it is replacing. Although the forefoot still has a significant upward curve, the midfoot to heel is nearly flat to the ground. It is not clear why Salomon have made this change but I will assume it was based on testing by and input from their athletes.

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The Salomon Sense Pro Max has a reduced “rocker” profile when compared to the Sense Pro Pulse that it replaces. This profile is in contrast to many other highly cushioned shoes most of which have a very prominent “rocker” profile.

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The Sense Pro Pulse from 2015 had a very prominent “rocker” profile typical of highly cushioned shoes.

All of the Salomon fit technologies are present including Endofit (a separate inner sock-like element engaging the foot), Sensifit (outer polymer overlays integrated with the QuickLace system), and the QuickLace system. The tongue is minimally cushioned.

The shoe is quite flexible for such a cushioned construction but still includes the Salomon ProFeel film technology that provides protection from rocks, etc. Salomon have figured out how to design with the ProFeel film and yet yield flexible constructions that still give significant rock protection along with better trail/road proprioception. Such improved proprioception is one of the factors that distinguish the Pro Max (and the previous Pro Pulse model) from many other highly cushioned shoes.

As mentioned above, my size US 7.5 (40 2/3 EUR) weigh in at 276 gms (9.7 oz) which is getting close to the weight range for a racing shoe. This shoe is not a Salomon racing product as it is intended for general training and trail running. Note: It appears that Salomon have dropped the “CityTrail” concept that the Pro Max predecessor was part of but was never well explained by the company. The Pro Pulse was a part of the “City Trail” group but the Pro Max has a much more aggresive outsole more intended for rougher trail use.

midsole

The Sense Pro Max midsole has a number of new technology features, the most prominent being two dampening elements that are inserted into the midsole at the forefoot and heel. The primary midsole material is Energy Cell+, a dual density EVA that is compression molded in a way that achieves firmness in some sections and a softer feel in others. The new dampening elements are called “Opal” and these (approximately 75mm X 100mm X 15mm thick- forefoot and 50mm X 50mm X 15mm thick- heel) “pucks” are inserted in cavities in the top of the midsole at the interface with the footbed. Here’s how Salomon describes the Opal material:

Opal is a cushioning compound that is inserted into the midsole that
provides a soft and comfortable underfoot ride with the benefit of
high-rebound. Cushioned and bouncy, the best of both worlds. In 
addition, Opal is extremely lightweight, durable and maintains its
performance in extreme temperatures.

Looking into this a bit more, it appears that the Salomon Opal material is a low density open cell foamed polypropylene (PP) with the possible addition of butyl rubber.  The known high mechanical dampening properties of certain PP compositions combined with significant open cell void space seems to allow for a unique combination of properties for use in running shoes.

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The Salomon “Vibe” dampening technology includes a proprietary midsole insert material called “Opal” that is claimed to reduce mechanical vibrations imparted to the runner.

The combination of the Energy Cell EVA and the Opal inserts makes up what Salomon call the “Vibe” technology that is being used in a number of 2017 Salomon models. It is claimed that this technology significantly reduces mechanical vibrations imparted to the runner during footstrike. These vibrations are thought to reduce the efficiency of running, increase muscle fatigue, and lead to connective tissue and muscle damage. Sounds like another “Holy Grail” of technology that is able to mitigate the most detrimental mechanical forces and impulses in running- we shall see.

The other models that offer the Vibe approach are in the road-specific shoe line and include the S Lab Sonic 2, Sonic Pro 2, and Sonic. The Vibe technology and initial impressions reviews of the road shoes is nicely summarized here and more specifically, here. I will not be reviewing or using any of these road shoes as they all have traditional laces- something that I have no interest in putting up with particularly when the speed laces work so well, are lighter, are less prone to absorption of moisture, and make putting on and taking off the shoes quick and easy.

Of course the Pro Max is a highly cushioned shoe (at least for Salomon) and the stack heights are the same as were extant in the Pro Pulse and consist of a 30 mm (heel), 24 mm (forefoot) stack with a 6mm drop. Add about 3mm to total stack heights to include the outsole.

Upper

The upper is a very breathable (maybe too breathable) 3-D knit mesh. The entire upper is quite cool and drains water well as I found out whist running during a brief melt-out and the trails, roads, and walkways were flooded with up to 6″ of water. I expect that this material dries fairly quickly, at least in the low humidity conditions typical here in the Northern Rocky Mountains, but only testing will tell. The upper mesh seems like it may be too “open” and allow significant fine dust to accumulate inside the shoe. This will be obvious once I out some miles on these on dry dirt- stay tuned.

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The toe bumper looks to be sufficient for rocky trail running and the polymer toe overlay looks thin but needs to tested to see how well it protects.

The ankle cup is symmetric and there is a stiff structure around the ankle cup and heel. A solid polymer element is integrated into the back of the heel. A continuous, but very minimal polymer overlayer stretches across the toe area and a reasonable toe bumper sufficient for trail use are present.

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The typical Salomon rigid construction and symmetric heel cup are utilized on the Pro max.

outsole

Other than the new Opal dampening technology, the other big change in the Pro Max relative to the Pro Pulse is the outsole. Salomon have totally redesgned the outsole and made it much more aggressive and suitable to a wide variety of trail types. The aggressive outsole will, however, limit the amount of running you might want to do on roads with this shoe.

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Perhaps the biggest change in this shoe from the Pro Pusle is the much more aggressive outsole that is clearly intended for use on rugged and rocky tails.

The mostly diamond-shaped lugs include isolated elements as well as overlapping “echelon” groupings. I have only had this shoe on snow, wet snow, and wet pavement so mud performance will be documented in an update after I get more miles in the dirt and muddy trails.
Salomon have narrowed the outsole planting width at both the forefoot and the heel when compared to the Pro Pulse. In size 7.5 US/ 40 2/3 EU, the Pro Max is 103 mm at the forefoot and 93 mm at the heel whereas the Pro Pulse was 105 mm and 95 mm. The Pro max also looks and feels narrower although it did not affect the comfort for me. The shoe is very comfortable.
The outsole composition is the “Wet Grip” ContraGrip material that Salomon started using in the S Lab XA Alpine shoes introduced over the summer. This material has very good grip in wet conditions on hard surfaces, submerged algae-covered rocks and logs, and on snow and ice.
running performance

With very limited miles my first impressions of this shoe are mixed. They definitely feel nicely cushioned and the fit technologies give a very good sense of control on firm and loose surfaces even with the large stack heights. The more aggressive outsole is a welcome addition as the grip on the snow, wet snow, and wet pavement that I have been on is much superior to the Pro Pulse and more in line with the S Lab Sense Ultra and S Lab XA Alpine shoes. These shoes look to be a Pro Pulse that is fully intended for rugged trail use.

I have not noticed any reduction in mechanical vibrations compared to the Pro Pulse or even the S Lab Sense Ultra but, with such limited miles, I will defer any assessment at this point.

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The lower weight is also noticeable right away and will be a nice feature for the hillbounding sessions that I intend to do with these shoes. The exaggerated above ground movements of the foot in hillbounding can be highly affected by an overly heavy shoe. The Pro Pulse was right on the edge of being too heavy so the Pro Max should work out well.

On the downside, I can very much feel the “Opal” inserts under the forefoot and they give a sort of uneven, disconcerting feel during footstrike. Perhaps with use this will fade away but right now it detracts from the running experience.

I’ll be putting more miles on these but probably not in the near future as we will likely be skiing well into May this year. An update will come a bit later than usual.

price

$150US. In line with other highly cushioned trail shoe offerings, but this one has great fit, good proprioception, and some new (unproven) dampening technology. All of which is likely worth the minimal added cost.

bottom line

A premium fit, trail-worthy, highly cushioned, “almost-racing-weight” trail shoe with dampening technology from Salomon.

The Road to Klosters – Race Course Profiles, Peaking, and Training Update

klosters logo

This is Part 8 in a series of posts about training and preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters Switzerland in early March 2017. See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 for an overview, specific training plans, strength training, an evaluation of the required pace to podium in the M07 and F06 age classes, critical assessment of the efficacy of Block Periodization, fleet evaluation, and racing weight, respectively.

Training for any event should include some race-specific sessions that will simulate what one will see on race day. Since cross country skiing competition dynamics are significantly driven by the details of the race course terrain, it is important to establish an understanding of the race course profiles, climb sequencing, and downhill challenges to both simulate racing but also to develop pacing strategies. This analysis all starts with elevation/distance data for the race courses.

The MCW Klosters website has .pdfs of each of the race courses that will likely be used at the events. I say likely because there could be last minute course changes due to weather and conditions at the time of the races. The resolution of the .pdf files is marginal and with 60 year old eyes, getting accurate and precise elevation/distance data from the files is a challenge.

I contacted the race organizers in Klosters and asked if they had the digital gps files that were used to construct the .pdfs on the website. The person I contacted responded promptly and wanted to know what I would do with such data and I told her that I would use the data to have an accurate digital file of the profiles so I could make comparisons with the trails here in Sun Valley. I suggested that there should be digital files of the courses since they would be needed to produce the .pdfs on the website. I further suggested that it would be productive if the organization could make the .gpx or .tcx files  for the courses available (or whatever digital files they used to make the .pdfs) so the competitors could have an accurate representation  of the profiles. I indicated that the Chief of Course might have access to the files. Unfortunately, I have never heard back from the race organization. So what follows has been derived optically from the website .pdfs and, as such, will have some errors and be of lower resolution that typical digital data. However, the profiles presented here will be representative and largely applicable to any comparison exercise.

klosters world masters course profiles

There are four courses that will be used at Klosters-

  1. Doggiloch – an easy “geezer” 5 km couse for the M10-M12 and F09-F12
  2. Aeuja – the 5km relay course for M01-M09 and F01-F08
  3. Schwaderloch – a 10 km course for the distances races for M01-M09 and F1-F08
  4. Schindel Boden – a 15 km course for the distance races for M01-M09 and F01-F08

I did my best to translate the elevation/distance data from the website .pdfs and made some .xls files that could be plotted with comparison courses that are available here in Sun Valley. The data are presented in “normailzed elevation” form* to facilitate comparisons. Distances are in km and elevation is in feet. Sorry for the mixed units but I am helping some fellow competitors here in Sun Valley (USA) and they are most comfortable with elevation expressed in feet.  Peak actual elevations (in feet) are noted where appropriate.

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I will not comment on the “geezer” 5km course but the Aeuja 5km relay course would appear to have a “crux”, nearly continuous, 170 ft climb starting at about 1km and ending at about 2.75km. This climb should do a reasonable job of spreading the teams out but it could also lead to some very hard individual efforts to keep teams in contention- should be exciting to participate and watch!

The Schwaderloch 10 km course is the same as the relay course for about the first 3km and then begins to climb a second and third time to a peak elevation of 4179 feet. Likewise the Schindel Boden 15km course is the the same as the Schwaderloch 10km course for about the first 9km (to about the highest point on the Scwaderloch course) and then continues to climb steeply to a peak elevation of 4267 feet before descending back to the start through a few small hills.

Although possible, it is difficult to get a feel for a course just from the elevation profile so it is informative to plot a race course along with a local training loop at one’s home area. From such a comparison one can evaluate the steepness of the climbs and descents, the lengths of the flat sections, and the sequencing of the course challenges. Plotted below are comparisons of the Schwaderloch 10km course with a loop at the Sun Valley Nordic Center, known as the White Clouds-DiamondBack Loop and the Schindel Boden 15km loop with another loop at the Sun Valley Nordic Center known as the Trail Creek-Boundary-Proctor-SideWinder Loop.

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As can be seen, the net elevation change and absolute magnitude of total elevation change are comparable with the Klosters courses having a bit more corrugation (short ups and downs). However, there is nothing in the Klosters courses that is as steep as some of the climbs in Sun Valley with the possible exception of the last 75 feet of ascent on the climb to the high point on the Schindel Boden course. None of the Klosters climbs are as long as a number of the climbs in Sun Valley. With the exception of the super fast descent off of DiamondBack, the downhills are quite comparable. The Klosters courses are also about 2000 feet lower in absolute elevation.

This analysis enables one to do some simulations and familiarization of the Klosters courses on one’s home trails. In our case, the TC-Boundary-Proctor-SideWinder-TC loop is a good proxy for the Schindel Boden course from both a total elevation change perspective and in steepness/length of climb (the SideWinder climbs are very similar to the steepest parts of the Schindel Boden course).

Another functional comparison is the Schwaderloch 10km with the 7.5 km Lake Creek Loop in Sun Valley. The Lake Creek trails are the primary trails that the local nordic team trains on, including the National-level athletes. It has a big mix of terrain and a stadium area where competitions are staged. Nearly all of the climbs at Lake Creek are as steep as or steeper than those on the Scwaderloch course but the climb lengths are similar and the total elevation gain is similar. In a different way, the Lake Creek Loop is also a good proxy for what we will see in Klosters.

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Another analysis is to look at elevation/distance data for some interval loops and hills that one does regularly and then compare to the race courses. One interval hill we use regularly is a steady climb that takes about 6-7 minutes, depending on effort level and conditions. This hill is plotted below along with the Schwaderloch course. The ascent grade of this hill is the same as the grade in the start of all of the courses out of the stadium area at Klosters. Given that I use the local hill as a double pole workout, it looks like I will be double poling for at least the first 4 km in the classic races (and all of Aeuja 5km relay course)- and probably 80% of the rest of both the Schwaderloch and Schindel Boden courses as well. I’ll need to consider going without kick wax, or maybe going with skate skis and combi boots.

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A local interval climb vs the Schwaderloch course. The interval is done as a double poling workout- looks like much of both the Schwaderloch and Schindel Boden courses will be double pole in the classic races! But we will have to wait until we get there to ground truth and confirm.

Of course there is no substitute for training on the real courses and I am certain we will be surprised by something once we get to Klosters, but it is worth the effort to develop some level of feel for the race courses prior to arrival.

peaking

As any experienced endurance athlete will know, developing a robust peaking program for an “A” race is critically important. Young athletes have great difficulty with this because takes time to discover the type of peaking progression that works best. And “best” is a very individual thing, a thing that requires some experimentation. Having been active in competitive endurance sport for over 40 years, Team Bumble Bee has pretty much figured out what type of peaking program works for us as individuals. Given that we are both “high responders” to interval training, our peaking program is tailored around this advantage. Without going into the details (as it is highly individual and not reliably transferable to others) the basic program includes the following steps:

  1. cut training volume about 4 weeks out from the “A” race and
  2. increase the intensity until about 10 days out from the “A” race, then
  3. cut both intensity and volume for those last 10 days
  4. focus on being fully rested as we are seated on the plane to Europe
  5. minimize interactions with others and wash hands regularly
  6. glue your feet to the floor

Team Bumble Bee is now well into the increased intensity portion of the program where we are doing intervals every other day until about 21 February. Then everything is easy skiing and resting until we toe the line at the first race. This program has worked well in the past so we are going with it for the World Masters.

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Bee finishing up a VO2 max fartlek-style interval session with a smile- we love intervals!!

training update

In part 7 of his series I put a goal in place to add weight- a lot of weight, like 8 lbs or 6% of my then extant body weight of 128 lbs. This goal came about after an analysis of the racing weight of competitive cross country skiers summarized in the part 7 post. I realized from this analysis that I am way underweight for a competitive skier and that my performance is likely being negatively affected. Adding 8 lbs would just get me onto the charts for the competitive athlete group of my height- but this 8 lbs cannot be fat, it must be lean muscle mass.

So I continued the strength progression program rather than going into “maintenance” mode as planned. I also upped calorie intake by about 500-700 calories per day (20-25% increase) whilst ensuring that protein levels were more than sufficient. What happened? Well, I gained just 2 lbs in six weeks but I also became even leaner, reducing body fat from about 8% to about 6%. Though I succeeded in adding lean muscle mass, the rate at which this can happen (for me anyway) is too low to allow the original goal to be achieved in the timeframe that I have. But I am stronger and I can feel additional power on skis so it would seem that I have done what can be done in the time allotted and I will just have to play those cards at the Wolrd Masters races. However, I will continue the program for increased weight (in the form of lean muscle mass) after a short hiatus from the strength work for the competitions in Klosters.

I also had the opportunity to work on technique with a couple of current World Cup skiers and it was very valuable. We worked on double pole and V2, did some video, and had some longish skiing together. I managed to put some tweaks in place that have led to increased power and efficiency.

Overall the training has gone well with no injuries or chronic issues other than a minor hip flexor strain (while shoveling the copious amounts of snow that have come down this year). It took about a week to come fully back but the strain occurred just before a rest week where I was slated to do a bunch of ski testing and feeding during a race, so there was no real set-back.

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Near-record snows in the Sun Valley area has led to great training and racing conditions… yet we still hear people complaining here- #getalife!!

The two per week interval sessions have been very high quality and the results are obvious. Hopefully that continues in this last stretch of interval work concentration in the peak progression.

Downhill skills have also improved although this is still a weakness and one that I continue to focus on in every workout. I have found “my edges”- both on the skis and in my current skills. Most of the work is in proper body position and I am slowly getting there- but not without some scary moments!

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Bumble testing his ski skills on a fast downhill turn!

travel and travel stress

Travel to an international venue can be very stressful, perhaps even more so than a lot of one’s training. Therefore it is important to manage this stress and minimize the impact it might have on your performance. Everyone is different but what works for me is to consciously go from “control freak” mode that works well for day-to-day training to a much more relaxed “whatever happens happens” mode whilst traveling. You cannot, in any real way, take much control over what happens once you are in the “transportation channel” so it is best to concentrate on relaxing as much as possible and making good decisions along the way. So, put some time buffers into the travel schedule, take some reading, some headphones, and take an interest in watching what’s happening around you to make the best of a fundamentally stressful time.

packing

We are taking 8-10 pairs of skis, 8 pairs of poles, and four pair of boots so packing is going to be a challenge. If I have time I will put up a post about how we managed to get everything into suitable ski bags and carry-ons… and within the weight restrictions.

final thoughts

It’s been nine months of concentrated and focused training for the Klosters World Championships. There have been significant gains in VO2 max, LT pace, max strength, and power on skis. I’ve learned that even a 60 yo can do “elite-level” training both with respect to volume and intensity- albeit at a slightly slower pace and with significantly reduced accelerations. Averaging in excess of 15h of “certified” training per week with peak volume at 24h on a diet of blocks of intensity and endurance follwed by a more traditional race season structure convinces me that there might be yet another, even higher, level to which this training can be taken.

As far as the efficacy of the “block periodization” approach, we will have to see as the results come to fruition at Klosters. I certainly enjoyed the “block” approach as it allows one to focus on a singular aspect, fully develop that ability, and then move on. Bringing it all together for the race season has gone smoothly from a cardio, strength,  and endurance perspective as my position in races has been right there with former top National performers and retired Olympians that make up the competitive group in the citizen races. My biggest challenge- sticking with the lead pack on the technical downhills… I’m getting there but there is still work to do.

I will write up a full training analysis after the World Masters, but I feel very fit, well rested, and ready to attack the starts and accelerate on the climbs- hopefully with good results!

*the elevation data are transformed to reflect a starting elevation of zero feet

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 – X-Series With a More Aggressive Outsole

Last summer Salomon announced that they were splitting up the S Lab Sense line to include two product branches- the “traditional” low drop, low cushion, “Kilian” shoe and a new product branch specifically for those runners who desire a bit more cushion and mid-foot support. The “traditional” shoes are continuing the evolution of the S Lab Sense line with the S Lab Sense 6 and S Lab Sense 6SG models.

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Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra for 2017. A new model and a new direction for the S Lab Sense product line. A direct replacement for the S Lab Wings? Possibly.

The new line of cushier shoes is called the S Lab Sense Ultra. Although the “ultra” designation has been used in the S Lab Sense line previously, this shoe is clearly designed for the demands of longer distance ultra trail use. But the differences in this shoe with the rest of the S Lab Sense line for 2017 are numerous and truly make the S Lab Sense Ultra a quite separate entity.

The question has come up in the comments as to whether the Sense Ultra is a direct replacement for the S Lab Wings 8. Although the Wings 8 is still in the SS 2017 line-up for Salomon it may have a short life. The Wings 8 is definitely a different shoe but the crossover with the Sense Ultra is so substantial it seems to lead to quite a bit of duplication at this point; we shall see.

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A reversed color scheme for the Sense Ultra from the rest of the S Lab Sense line is distinctive.

upper

The S Lab Sense Ultra for 2017 has a reversed color scheme from the rest of the S Lab Sense line with a black body and a red heel (compared to the red body and a white (Sense) or black (Sense SG) heel). The new S Lab graphic is also in evidence. Sensibly (pun intended), speed laces and a lace pocket are included.

All of the industry-leading Salomon fit technologies are incorporated including EndoFit, SensiFit, and OS Tendon. These fit technologies are the basis of what makes Salomon shoes such high performers.

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The Sense Ultra has a substantial toe bumper and (thank the heavens!) speed laces and a lace pocket.

Beyond colors, there are quite a few features that differentiate the S Lab Sense Ultra from the S Lab Sense starting with the significantly thicker toe bumper and what appear to be heftier materials in some of the overlays and the tongue. The tongue is also more padded than in the S Lab Sense, presumably to allow for additional comfort at long distances. For me, such long distance comfort has been an issue with the S Lab Sense line and I switched to the much more comfortable (and supportive) S Lab X-Series and S Lab Sonic for ultra distance races. I still will do 10 km to 30 km rugged mountain trail races and runs in the S Lab Sense however; the superior trail feel at higher paces is important. But if the race trails are buffed I will still use the X-Series/Sonic even at the shorter distances since these shoes are about the same weight as the S Lab Sense but have a larger outsole area with a less aggressive lug set-up, both of which can positively affect pace in smoother conditions.

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A trim but not too narrow silhouette looks to be a good fit for D-width feet. Wider feet may want to look elsewhere.

The toebox of the Sense Ultra is slightly narrower than the X-Series/Sonic but not as narrow as the S Lab Sense 5 (I have not examined the Sense 6 yet). The polymer overlays have the same pattern as recent editions. The mesh used in the upper forefoot and medial/lateral midfoot is also the familiar material that Salomon has been using in the Sense line for the past couple of years. The polymer overlay at the toe comes up a fair distance onto the top of the forefoot and also up the lateral and medial midfoot to protect this mesh from wear-out in high stress/high abrasion areas. Such mesh wear-out was problem with early editions of the S Lab Sense.

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The heel area has the familiar beefy and stiff, symmetric construction used in the Sense line for years. The heel counter is nicely padded and rolls over the top edge and down a bit. The liner material in this area appears to be a bit “loose” (see plan view photo above) but once the shoe is on there is no extra material being bunched up. This heel liner material is the one area on the X-Series/Sonic that actually wears. I have worn holes in the material after about 500 km but the wear does not adversely affect the comfort or performance of the shoe. Based on the construction here I expect this sort of wear will be seen on the Sense Ultra- but only time will tell.

midsole

The midsole is where the largest differences between the Sense and the Sense Ultra lie. All models utilize the “Dual Density” EVA compound that has been used in this line for a while but that is where the similarities end. First, the Sense Ultra has a drop of 9mm compared to the 4mm drop of the Sense 6- this is a big difference.  Second the cushioning in the Sense Ultra is much increased over the Sense. With a 25mm heel and a 16mm forefoot the Sense Ultra stands in a different category when compared to the 18mm heel and a 14mm forefoot of the Sense 6.  This is a substantial difference in midsole thickness, particularly in the heel. All of the Sense models have been increasing midsole thickness over the past few years indicating that even the Salomon athletes have been pushing to get a bit more comfort out of the Sense. But the Sense Ultra has taken this cushioning to new level. The 2017 Sonic 2 also has similar degree of thicker  cushioning as the Sense Ultra, but actually offers another mm of cushioning at the forefoot. A review of the Sonic 2 is forthcoming.

Both the higher drop and thicker midsole lead to increased comfort. The higher drop gives substantial midfoot support that is highly appreciated the longer a race (or run) is. The added cushioning in the Sense Ultra should not only give a cushier ride in general but also allow for speedier descents (particularly in buffed terrain) and give some reprieve for inattention to sharp rocks and other features known to lead to foot bruising. While running, the added cushioning is most notable in the heel  as will be addressed below.

Also new in this model are the Hoka-like lateral and medial chassis supports that approach the mid-plane of the shoe. This support system can help highly cushioned shoes from being too tippy- something that many runners have complained about for years in “maximal” shoe designs.

outsole

The outsole of the Sense Ultra is of a new design pattern not seen previously. The pattern is asymmetric and is made up of sparsely arranged diamond shaped lugs with a substantial (3mm) depth. The outsole is purely trail specific and you will want to limit the number miles on pavement. The compound is Salomon’s Premium Wet Grip ContraGrip material and this outsole should perform just as outstandingly as it does on the S Lab XA Alpine shoes reviewed earlier.

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A new outsole lug shape and pattern looks to be a good mud performer- but mud performance needs to be done on all of the variants to truly evaluate the performance. Given the epic snow year here in the central Idaho mountains, we will likely have an epic mud season as well!

The ProFeel TPU film rock protection is included, as expected and, combined with the added midsole cushioning, should make these shoes pretty bombproof on even the most technical of terrain. Mud performance will likely be good but this always has to be tested in the various types of mud as the outsole composition plays a big role in mud adherence. But again, if the mud performance of the XA Alpine is indicative then these shoes will be a good choice in muddy conditions.

running geometry

Historically the S Lab Sense line has been a “flat” and neutral shoe tending toward a minimalist user base. With the introduction of the X-Series in 2015 and continued with the Sonic in 2016, a significant “rocker” geometry is slowly taking hold over many models in the Salomon lineup. This is continued here with the S Lab Sense Ultra where a significant “rocker” is present even to the point of being very much like that seen in Salomon’s “Hoka”-like  Sense Propulse (2016) and Sense ProMax (2017).

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Not quite a true “Hoka” rocker but the Sense Ultra sure does have the “rocker” DNA built in. A “rocker” geometry is important with any highly cushioned running shoe.

The “rocker” geometry is an important part of any cushioned shoe since the foot-set deformation at impact into the midsole cushioning leads to a noticeable barrier impeding forward motion. The “rocker” geometry can help overcome this issue by allowing for just a bit more rotation that makes the foot-set deformation less problematic. This geometry also promotes a forefoot-midfoot strike.

weight

The S Lab Sense Ultra shoe is quoted as weighing in at 275 gms (9.7 oz) for a size 9 (US). My size 7.5 (US) (40 2/3 (EU)) tipped the scales at 259 gms ( 9.1 oz). This is substantially heavier than the quoted 218 gm for a size 9 (US) in the Sense 6. So there is no free lunch as all the cushioning and support in the Sense Ultra comes with added weight. Weight matters- a lot, particularly for lighter weight (sub 125 lbs) runners like me. But in long races comfort will trump weight- and some will argue the same for longer training runs. The older I get the more I like comfort and this shoe tips to the side of comfort with a reasonably low weight. Not perfect but getting there.

initial running impressions

It has been an epic snow year here in the  central Idaho mountains- over nine feet of snow and counting. So there is no dirt to test the Sense Ultra on but there is plenty of packed powder trail for running. I’ve had the Sense Ultra out for about 30 km of mixed running including nice packed powder, some ice, and reasonable vert. As expected the fit is superb and the feel is that of a slipper with great grip. Proprioception is excellent and I find the midfoot support to be similar to the X-Series/Sonic.

The added cushioning is immediately noticeable, particularly in the heel and accentuated on downhills. Although cushy, the run feel is not overly so as is the case in so many highly cushioned shoes. The ice performance is very similar to that of the XA Alpine- good grip but one will still need spikes on any icy downhill.

I did one run with a new X-Series on one foot (I stockpiled some X-Series because Salomon put “traditional” laces on the Sonic for 2016) and the Sense Ultra on the other. The Sense Ultra has a slightly more cushioned forefoot but otherwise the feel is the same as the X-Series. The S Lab Sonic 2 (2017) has a similar amount of  cushioning in the heel and what appears to be a bit more cushioning in the forefoot compared to the Sense Ultra. As indicated above, I will be reviewing the S Lab Sonic 2 once we see some pavement and dirt here in Sun Valley. Unfortunately Salomon has continued with the “traditional” laces on the S Lab Sonic 2- a big mistake.

Although I will need many more miles to confirm this, the S Lab Sense Ultra seems to strike a nice balance of cushioning and proprioception much like the X-Series and Sonic. In fact I shall suggest that these shoes are very much a trail-specific X-Series/Sonic- which is exactly what I have been hoping Salomon would produce. The more aggressive outsole of the Sense Ultra will likely handle even the most technical trails from a grip perspective. This means that we might have something here that gets just that much closer to the never attainable, near-perfect ultra trail mountain running shoe.

price

$180 US. Steep as always, but likely a good value given the usual durability of the S Lab shoes.

bottom line

Finally, a cushioned Sense for the trail with good midfoot support and light(ish) weight. This may be my go-to shoe for the upcoming season. Stay tuned.

The Road To Klosters – Racing Weight for Competitive Cross Country Skiers

This is Part 7 in a series of posts about training and preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters Switzerland in early March 2017. See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 for an overview, specific training plans, strength training, an evaluation of the required pace to podium in the M07 and F06 age classes, critical assessment of the efficacy of Block Periodization, and fleet evaluation, respectively.

racing weight – an achievable goal

Dialing-in your racing weight as a cross country skier is an important consideration if you wish to be competitive. The pace degradation penalties associated with excess weight (primarily as fat) can make all of the difference in any competitive race whilst underweight athletes (primarily due to low upper body strength-to-weight index) will struggle to produce sufficient power to keep pace. In addition, training at the right weight will allow for proper technique and strength improvement feedback so that one can tweak training plans to focus on the most important areas currently challenging an athlete. As a masters athlete there is the additional challenge of increasing body fat driven by age-related reductions in HGH and testosterone and therefore puts further emphasis on getting to one’s optimal racing weight for the racing season.

So what is racing weight? It is the combination of body weight and body fat percentage that allows one to perform at their optimal level- some call this “optimal performance weight/composition”.  Racing weight is not just about body weight, but, importantly and functionally, about an optimal body fat percentage in concert with one’s total body weight. Being under-weight or with too low a body fat percentage is just as limiting from a performance perspective as being over-weight or with too high a body fat percentage.

Finding one’s specific racing weight is a process, not a calculation. Fitzgerald does a very good job of describing this process as well as many other aspects that play into understanding and getting to racing weight in his book Racing Weight. I reviewed this book and analyzed my diet in a previous post.

Fitzgerald offers a three-step approach to an initial calculation of a target racing weight as follows:

  1. Weigh yourself and obtain a reasonably accurate value for your current body fat percentage. From these values calculate your current lean body mass (current weight X current lean body mass percentage (= 100 – current body fat percentage)).
  2. Look up on the table (table 2.1) that he supplies for body fat percentages as a function of percentile of population and age. Choose a target body fat percentage value that you feel is appropriate for where you are in your training/fitness “reality” and calculate. You may look to the 80th, 90th, or even the 99th percentile depending on your goals and ability to commit to the process.
  3. Calculate your racing weight by dividing your current lean body mass by your target lean body mass percentage (= 100 – target body fat percentage).

Using my values as an example, I currently weight 128 lbs with a measured body fat of 7.9%. This gives a current lean body mass of 117.9 lbs (128 X 0.921)). Looking up on table 2.1 for age 60+ males the 99th percentile is at 7.7% body fat. Given my current body fat percentage and my goals, I will choose the 7.7% value. I can now calculate a target racing weight as my current lean body mass (117.9 lbs) divided by my target lean body mass percentage (92.3%) or 117.9/0.923 = 127.7 lbs. This suggests that to be in the 99% percentile of 60+ year old males I need to loose 0.3 lbs, i.e. I am already at a target racing weight (no surprise).

This calculation process gives a good starting value but it is based on where your current weight  and body composition is today. I have been training extensively and rigorously for just about 5 years and it is no surprise that I might be near an optimal body weight/composition percentage but as will be discussed below, I actually think that for cross country skiing I am substantially under-weight. For distance (and ultra-distance) running I am just about right. This highlights an issue with maintaining a “racing weight” if you are a multi-sport athlete like me since your “racing weight” will change with the race seasons. This presents a significant challenge for ensuring that you are at racing weight for the most important competitions.

Attaining and sustaining one’s racing weight is a venerable goal and one that is very much achievable for any cross country skier with sufficient drive and motivation to be competitive in their respective racing category. Many coaches argue that optimal racing weight will follow directly from a comprehensive race-season-focused training plan that has been rigorously executed upon. My experience is similar but I would add that diet is also important, particularly for masters athletes given the additional body fat production challenges presented by our ageing bodies. I will not speak to diet here since the topic is “religious” in nature and seldom leads to constructive input due to considerable (and widely distributed) mis-information coming from nutrition “professionals”, many exercise physiologists, diet supplement companies, anecdotal “stories” from athletes, and popular media. For my approach to diet please see the post referenced above.

the weight of elite cross country skiers

Although the process outlined by Fitzgerald for going about determination of one’s target racing weight is efficacious, it is not centered around any actual examples  in one’s sport of choice. It is based on statistical population percentile body fat ranges, not active athletes or better yet, those athletes who are committed to excellence. However, in the case at hand, one can look to the elite cross country skier population to obtain reasonable, data-based support for target body weight and composition values that are tested on the “real world” stage of international competition. Though analysis of this kind of data will yield some target ranges for weight/composition, the process by which one goes about attaining such a target racing weight is still very important so I will again encourage you to read Fitzgerald’s book as it contains a lot of great information and unique perspective.

In the analysis here we will follow the convention of the well known exercise physiologist researcher, Stephen Seiler. This post will present data and analysis on the heights and weights of Olympic (and, therefore, World Cup) cross country skiers as a basis for understanding the topic of racing weight specifically for cross country skiers. Seiler (and others) have studied the training, fueling, and recovery details of Olympic and World Cup champions (in cross country skiing as well as other endurance sports) as a means to establish efficacious training protocols that lead to championship-level performances. Seiler sums up much of his recent work on training intensity distribution very nicely in a lecture given a couple of years ago- something that I will come back to in a future post. The point here is that the operative principle that drives Seiler’s work is:

looking at the very best skiers and how they train, we can learn what training methods and protocols are most effective in achieving full development of one’s potential 

Similarly, in the case of height/weight optima for cross country skiing, studying the data from world-level competitive skiers should allow for insight as to what range of racing weight is appropriate to aim for. This is what is detailed in this post.

Presented in Figure 1 is a plot of the weight vs. the height of all 2014 cross country skiing Olympians with the exception, unfortunately, of the Norwegians*. There is data, however, for Norwegian Olympic cross country skiers in 2006 and prior years. Analysis of the 2006 data reveals that the height/weight trends seen in the 2014 Olympic cross country skier data are consistent with the 2006 Norwegian Olympic cross country skier data and it is asserted here that the 2014 dataset is representative of the entire 2014 Olympian cross country skier population, including the Norwegians.

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Figure 1. Height vs. weight for the male (red) and female (blue) 2014 Olympic cross country skier population*.

What is seen in these data is an expected result of a direct, nearly linear, positive relationship between weight and height, i.e. the taller you are the more you weigh and that this is an approximately linear function. Also seen are ranges of values for weight at a given height (and, likewise, a range of heights at given weights) as is expected from the variations in anthropomorphic profiles (i.e. body types- ecto, meso, and mega-morph) within the elite skier population. Figure 1 also illustrates the expected difference between male and female skiers, i.e. that the female population is much lighter as a group but this population still falls on the same linear trendline functionality with height.

It is widely reported that elite cross country skiers are, as a group, the leanest of all endurance athletes with an average body fat percentage around 5% for males and 11% for females. Elite distance runners are a bit less lean at an average 7% body fat for males and 12% for females. The primary difference between these two populations is body type, where cross country skiers trend much more toward mesomorphic proportions and distance runners trend much more toward ectomorphic proportions. Clearly, the primary importance of upper body and core strength for cross country skiers is what drives the predominance of mesomorphs. Similarly, for distance runners the energy costs associated with carrying a significant upper body musculature outweigh any advantage the additional upper body strength might otherwise yield.  What this means is that cross country skiers are substantially more muscular (particularly with respect to upper body muscle groups) than distance runners, so even though cross country skiers are more lean, at a given height they weigh a lot more*** (data to support this will be presented below).

Presented in Figure 2 are the male 2014 Olympian height vs weight data along with the individual medal performances** for those skiers in the database (the Norwegian medalists (Hattestad- Gold in Sprint, and Sundby- Bronze in 30km Skiathlon) are not presented due to lack of weight data). A few of observations are worth noting:

  1. there are no skiers that weigh less than about 135lbs, independent of height
  2. there are no skiers shorter than about 66″, independent of weight
  3. the “center of mass” of the population distribution is at about 71″ tall and 168 lbs
  4. there can be as much as a 40 lb range in weight for some heights
  5. the Olympic medal performances are predominantly near the “center of mass” of the population, i.e. about 71″ and 168 lbs
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Figure 2. Height vs. weight for the male 2014 Olympic cross country skier population highlighted with the medal performances for individual distance events (black border on medal color) and individual sprint events (blue border on medal color). The two Norwegian medal performances in individual events are not shown due to lack of weight data for all Norwegian athletes.

Based on these observations and given the very lean nature of an elite cross country skier, it is clear that substantial upper body and core muscle mass is required to be competitive. With an average of about 5% body fat, an elite cross country skier athlete that weighs 165 lbs will have 157 lbs of lean muscle mass, fluids, and bones. That is a lot of muscle- as is obvious when looking at such athletes. This reiterates the arguments in a previous post about the primal importance of strength training for cross country skiing regardless of competitive level in the sport. There are no “scrawny” competitive cross country skiers, regardless of VO2max or lactate metabolism enzyme profile. One must put on the muscle mass to be able to perform in this sport at the highest levels. There does appear to be less of a penalty for higher weight than there is for lower weight which indicates, again, that muscle mass is critical to performance. But this will hold only if body fat is at the sub-7% or so level. Being heavier because of high body fat, is very much different (and very much more detrimental) than being heavier because of additional lean muscle mass.  Although skiing efficiency will clearly play an important role, an inability to generate sufficient weight-indexed force will ultimately limit the ability of an athlete to generate power levels required for competitive paces. This is what analysis of the height vs. weight data from the Olympians reveals.

Although skiing efficiency will clearly play an important role, an 
inability to generate sufficient weight-indexed force will ultimately 
limit the ability of an athlete to generate power levels required for 
competitive paces.

Similar results obtain for the female elite skier population. Figure 3 presents the female 2014 Olympian height vs weight data along with the individual medal performances** for those skiers in the database. Unfortunately, the Norwegian women took 8 of the 12 individual medals and no weight data is available on these athletes. Analysis of the 2006 female Olympic cross country skier data reveals that the height/weight trends seen in the 2014 female Olympic cross country skier data are consistent with the 2006 Norwegian Olympian data and it is asserted here that the 2014 dataset is representative of the entire 2014 Olympian cross country skier population, including the Norwegians. So, although no direct medal performance data for the Norwegian women can be presented, it is expected that the Norwegian medalists are indicative of (i.e. not outside of) the height weight distribution of the rest of the women Olympic cross country skiers for 2014.

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Figure 3. Height vs. weight for the female 2014 Olympic cross country skier population highlighted with the medal performances for individual distance events (black border on medal color) and individual sprint events (blue border on medal color) . The 8 Norwegian medal performances in individual and sprint events are not shown due to lack of weight data for all Norwegian athletes.

The average elite female cross country skier has a higher body fat percentage than elite male skiers at around 11% so these data indicate that, as expected, the female skier population is less muscular than the men but as will be shown below, much more muscular than elite distance female runners. The available data also show that the medal performances are toward the heavier side of the overall distribution. However, given that 8 of the 12 2014 individual Olympic medal performances are not represented in the dataset, no firm observation can be made. It is noted that among the 6 Norwegian female athletes that won individual medals in 2014, three are clearly “lightweights” estimated to be sub-125 lb weight at heights ranging from 63″-66″.

Comparison of elite cross country skiers to elite distance runners

Given that I am a competitive mountain runner and therefore participate in two competitive seasons, it is pertinent to take a look at the height/weight distributions for elite distance  runners to evaluate potential optima for athletes who are multi-sport competitors. In the following the “distance runner” population consists of those athletes that competed in the 2012 Olympics in the 1500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, and marathon. The 1500m athletes were included for three reasons- firstly many elite 1500m athletes eventually compete at the highest levels in the longer events, secondly typical training for the 1500m event is not radically different than that for the 5,000m and 10,000m, and thirdly 1500m running athletes are more closely aligned with cross country skier sprinters so capturing this population will make comparisons more complete.

Figure 4 presents the height vs. weight distribution for the 2012 Olympic male distance running population (as defined above).

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Figure 4. Height vs weight for 2012 Olympic male distance running athletes. *”Distance running” events included in the dataset are the 1500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, and marathon.

Once again, Norway does not report weights for their athletes so no Norwegian data are presented. In addition a few other athletes from other countries did not report weights, and in some cases, heights. 96% of all athletes are represented in the dataset (this also holds for the female dataset presented below).

The data indicate that in comparison to the elite cross country skier population, at a given height the distance runners exhibit significantly lower weight, as noted in the discussion above. Figure 5 presents a graphical comparison of the elite distance running population with the elite cross country skier population along with linear fits to the data for each population. The data yeild remarkably similar linear slopes indicating that the height/weight functionality for elite endurance athletes is similar across disciplines when corrected for needed additional muscle mass in a particular sport.

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Figure 5. Comparison of the male 2014 Olympic cross country skiing (red) and male 2012 Olympic distance running athletes (blue) along with linear fits to each of the athlete populations. *”Distance running” events included in the dataset are the 1500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, and marathon.

Evident is an approximately 20 lb difference, on average between the athlete populations. Given that the average body fat percentage is not very different (5% for the cross country skiers and 7% for the distance runners) this means that the cross country skiers have about 17-20 lbs more lean muscle mass than the distance runners. This muscle mass is certainly primarily due to increased upper body and core muscle groups, although there is likely some additional muscle mass in lower body muscle groups in the skiers as well due to the power required to manipulate and push off skis.

There also appears to be evidence that the distance runners are generally taller for a given weight throughout the dataset. This would indicate that, in general, height is a greater advantage in distance running than it is in skiing as might be expected.

The 17-20 lb difference between athlete populations in weight at a given height shown above is huge! And for any athlete it would be difficult to shift form one “type” to the other within a single year of competition. This is an even greater challenge for a masters athlete where putting on muscle is already difficult due to hormone production declines. So striking some optimal compromise between the increased muscle mass needed to be a competitive skier and the advantages of a “chicken wing” (or “strong chicken wing”) upper body more typical of elite runners needs to be struck. This is what I am currently attempting to conquer. I will outline my approach below.

The 17-20 lb difference between athlete populations in weight at a 
given height shown above is huge!

And again, similar results are seen in the female populations as well. Presented in Figure 6 is a graphical comparison of the elite female distance running population with the elite female cross country skier population along with linear fits to the data for each population.

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Figure 6. Comparison of the female 2014 Olympic cross country skiing (red) and female 2012 Olympic distance running athletes (blue) along with linear fits to each of the athlete populations. *”Distance running” events included in the dataset are the 1500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, and marathon.

In the case of the female populations the average weight difference between cross country skiers and distance runners is 10-12 lbs which is reasonably similar to the difference seen in the male populations based on percentage of total body weight. So the female cross country skiers are similarly more muscular relative to distance runners as is the case for the male groups. In addition, the data indicates that, for females, height is no different for the two populations. This shows that, independent of height or weight, upper body and core muscle mass is critical to success in cross country skiing and may be detrimental for distance runners, particularly shorter runners.

Summary

Height and weight data for populations of elite cross country skiers and elite distance runners have been analyzed and compared to identify possible optimal weights as a function of height for the sport of cross country skiing and, secondarily, distance running. The following are a few take-aways from simple observations:

  • elite cross country skiers are significantly heavier than distance runners even though both groups have similar total body fat percentages
  • the higher weight of elite skiers is due to required upper body and core muscle mass needed to generate power and maintain sufficient pace to be competitive at the world level
  • at similar heights the average weight difference of about 17-20 pounds between the male elite skiers and the male elite distance runners and the average difference of about 10-12 pounds for females is very large highlighting the critical importance upper body and core strength in force generation in skiing
  • there are no “scrawny” elite cross country skiing athletes
  • there are no elite male cross country skier athletes below about 135 pounds, independent of height
  • elite male cross country skiing athletes are taller than 66″
  • it is apparent that, relative to the skiing athletes, in the male distance running population, height provides a slight advantage for performance whereas for the female distance running population this is not the case
  • it would be very difficult to attain an optimal skier weight and an optimal distance running weight in the same year due to the difficulties associated with adding muscle mass for a competitive ski season and then eliminating much of this muscle mass for a competitive running season
personal reflections

Going into this analysis I did not expect to see such large differences in total body weight between the elite skiers and the elite distance runners. The 17-20 pound difference for male populations is much larger than the 5-10 pounds that I expected might prevail. This realization has had significant impact on my progression projection and on the details of the associated training plan.

My current weight of 128 lbs is way too low for a competitive 67″ cross country skiing athlete. At a minimum I need to add more than 8 pounds (6% of total current body weight) of lean muscle mass to even appear on the graphs of elite skiers presented above. For me, adding 8 pounds is huge! I have not weighted in excess of 135 pounds since retiring nearly 9 years ago and that higher weight was extant only because I sat for too long in too many useless corporate meetings and “important conference calls” when the extent of my exercise was a 25 mile daily bicycle commute through polluted air. That additional weight was also mostly fat, not muscle mass. Adding lean muscle mass is a very different and much more difficult as any reader of this will attest to.

So the task is to somehow add at least 8 pounds of muscle mass in the next nine weeks to allow for optimal body composition (weight and body fat percentage) at the World Masters Championships in early March. This must be done in parallel with the cardio work and the racing schedule. The ATP had me going into strength maintenance as of 1 November. That did not happen because I hit a max strength plateau that took two extra weeks to break through and another two weeks to finish the progression. The key (for me) in breaking through this plateau was to increase the max strength sessions to three per week from two. This made all the difference and so much so that I decided to not stop the max strength progression on 1 December and have continued with the three strength/max strength sessions per week as of this writing. Based on this analysis I will continue the max strength progression for at least another 6 weeks to see if I can add the needed muscle mass. I am already at over 150% of body weight for the weighted pull-ups (65 lbs in the weight vest) so it looks like I am going to go into a strength level I did not expect to- if I survive! It will be challenging to get the quality cardio work in and continue to build strength and participate in races, but it is worth attempting. Time will tell.

Of course the muscle mass cannot be added if there is not the required collateral consumption of appropriately balanced calories. This has been a problem I have always had and was highlighted in my post on diet where I found that, although I had no issue with getting the macronutrient balance correct, I was physically unable to consume the proscribed amount of carbohydrates based on total training hours. Having never been “a big eater” I find it difficult and unpleasant to stuff myself to achieve a calorie intake goal, but it would appear that this is what I will need to do if I want to put on the kind of muscle mass that the analysis above indicates I should.

As far as running, I will to go into the mountain running season with the additional muscle mass and I plan to continue to progress with the strength program. The strength part of the equation for cross country skiing is so critical that one cannot afford to take a break from the strength work as the muscle mass takes a very long time to add. This is particularly important for masters athletes who will have additional challenges with muscle mass development due to reduced HGH and testosterone production. So this is hypercritical for a 60+ year old like me.

Carrying the upper body muscle mass in mountain trail running competitions may lead to disadvantages but given the time it takes to put muscle back on I will just have to deal with the consequences. And who knows, perhaps I will find that I have been under-weight for mountain running as well and that the upper body and core muscle mass actually leads to better performances for me- at least I can hope so…

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*  Norway no longer reports the weights of their skiers and they have admitted to significant “weight dysfunctions” on the ski team, particularly on the women’s team and so much so that they no longer accept any athlete that currently has an eating disorder, regardless of performance or potential. This issue with the Norwegian team is obvious in some of their top female athletes.

** As of this writing, the 2014 Olympic cross country skiing results are the subject of numerous alleged doping violations by the Russians (and perhaps others) and a number of these individual medal performances are by those that are reportedly being investigated for doping, specifically Legov (Gold in 50 km) and Vylegzhanin (Silver in 50km). So this puts a bit of a damper on direct interpretation of these medalists height/weight characteristics being exemplary. The Russian Olympic authorities have now admitted to facilitating doping coverups for many 2014 athletes.

*** This difference is glaringly obvious in races that attract both distance runners and cross country skiers, one of the most prominent examples being the Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska. Here many top national (and some international) cross country skiers mix it up with top international distance runners and other mountain athletes to see who can get to the top of a very steep coastal mountain and back down the fastest. Historically, the race has been dominated by cross country skiers (e.g. Bill Spencer, Eric Strabel, and this years winner David Norris who set the “up” record and a new record besting Kilian’s effort last year) but in recent years international distance mountain runners have been at the front, including Rickey Gates and Kilian Jornet. In the following video from the 2015 race, the anthropomorphic difference between a cross country skier like multiple-time winner Eric Strabel (70″ tall, 168 lbs) and distance/mountain runners like Rickey Gates or Kilian Jornet (67″ tall, 128 lbs) is obvious, yet both types move efficiently and quick on this terrain at this distance. But put Rickey or Kilian in a cross country ski race with Strabel or Norris or put Strabel or Norris  in a mountainous 50 km running race with Rickey or Kilian and there would be no competition between these athletes (even though Kilian grew up as a cross country skier and is a dominant International Ski Mountaineering competitor).

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Cross country skier Eric Strabel (left) and dominant International Ski Mountaineer and distance mountain runner athlete Kilian Jornet (right) at the finish of the 2014 and 2015 (respectively) Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska. Note the substantial difference in upper body musculature. Photo credits: Strabel- Alaska Dispatch, and Jornet- Lugares de Nieve.

…and the 2016 race where Norris sets the “up” record and the overall record:

Salomon S Lab XA Alpine Shoes – a great hybrid shoe for mountain running adventure

Born out of requests from Salomon athletes for a shoe that would combine the proprioception of an S Lab Sense with the technical terrain capabilities of the S Lab X Alp Carbon GTX, the Salomon designers have created an outstanding hybrid shoe that is likely to find much more use than just off-piste mountain exploration.

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The XA Alpine- a shoe that is ready for some high mountain adventuring!

background

A couple of years ago Salomon, working with Kilian Jornet and other Salomon athletes, developed a “fast and light” alpine shoe with very high mountaineering technical terrain performance- the S Lab X Alp Carbon GTX shoe. This shoe is lightweight for the category (500 gms size US9), has  a Gore Tex upper/gaiter, a unique “carbon edging chassis”, accepts crampons for glacier traverses, and is suitable for lower level alpine climbs- in short a very versatile shoe for playing in places like the high Alps and other such terrain. This shoe, however, is not intended for running nor would running in it be the least bit pleasant primarily due to the stiffness.

Continuing development and testing with athletes that wanted to run (not hike or trek) in places like the high Alps and not be deterred by glacier crossings, Class 3 scrambles, or knife-edge ridge ascents that may be a part of a desired route, the S Lab XA Alpine shoe emerged from the prototype studio in Annecy. This shoe represents a hybrid design from a mash-up of technologies from the S Lab Sense mountain running shoe platform with the S Lab X Alp Carbon mountaineering shoe platform.

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The XA Alpine has a distinctive colored graphic on the lower mid-foot to heel area. The gaiter zipper works more smoothly and effortlessly than any other gaiter or boot zipper that I have ever used (including all of the zippers on the Salomon cross country ski boot line).

construction

Starting with the super responsive S Lab Sense running shoe as a basis, a slightly increased drop (from the 4mm of the Sense to 6mm here) is used to increase mid-foot support and a modified “carbon edging chassis” is added to give lateral edge stiffness for scrambling and to allow crampon use whilst still retaining substantial longitudinal flexibility for running comfort. For protection in snow and ice, limited water resistance, and to prevent intrusion of debris inside the shoe, a full-wrap gaiter is employed that includes a water resistant lower half, a highly breathable upper half, and (what appears to be but is not) a waterproof zipper as well as ankle pads and a padded cuff at the upper termination of the gaiter.  There is also a thick rubber toe cap for rock protection.

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Plan-view of the XA Alpine shoes showing the water resistant lower part of the gaiter, what appears to be a waterproof zipper, and the breathable upper half of the gaiter (which seems to have a DWR coating). The shoes are not waterproof and water does intrude rather quickly in streams. It seems that the water resistant layer is intended to minimize water intrusion in “wet snow” or “melting snow” types of conditions.

Inside, the foot cavity consists of what appears to be a S Lab Sense upper and footbed- and it definitely feels like the Sense as all of the fit technologies are present (EndoFit, SensiFit, Speed Laces and lace pocket, etc.). Due to constraints from the gaiter structure the shoe is slightly more difficult to get one’s foot into, however, once in, the feel is very much that of an S Lab Sense.

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Gaiter unzinpped and pulled back to reveal the inner “shoe” that appears to be a S Lab Sense. The fit is very good as expected from all of the fit technologies included.

This construction of an S Lab Sense upper combined with the lightweight gaiter is grafted onto a deeply lugged outsole that utilizes Salomon’s latest “Premium Wet Traction” ContraGrip rubber compound. The lugs are highly separated to help facilitate responsiveness, grip, and to allow for more efficient mud and snow release.

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The outsole utilizes Salomons’ “Premium Wet Traction” ContraGrip compound across the entire surface. This compound is astoundingly good in wet and in typical trail ice conditions- at least compared to the standard ContraGrip.

The outsole also has a specially stiff section in the medial toe area to help with footholds on more difficult scrambles and to allow for secure insertion into snow. Salomon calls this the “climbing zone” and they actually label it on the outsole.

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“Climbing Zone” section of the medial toe area.

fit

When you put this shoe on it definitely feels like a S Lab Sense, that is until you start walking around- this is when you immediately realize that there is a much stiffer outsole and chassis underfoot. It is not a “bad” feeling, just different- and different for good reasons:

Where most of us would not take the Sense across any potentially dangerous snow field, glacier, or up a challenging and consequential scramble, the XA Alpine will perform quite well and provide the confidence one needs to proceed safely.

While the chassis stiffness is important for mountain performance, it is not a drastically different feel and one that you will likely get used to quickly, as I did.

One initial issue that I have had is that the gaiter causes rubbing on the top of my middle toes near the foot proper. This was very noticeable on the first run but has become less and less noticeable as I use the shoes. It would seem that the gaiter is “wearing in” as the water resistant layer flexes and forms to the topology of my foot. I also wear super-thin S Lab Sense socks that give no padding whatsoever so wearing a thicker sock might make this rubbing entirely absent.

weight

These US 7.5 (40 2/3 EU) weigh in at 334 gms (11.8 oz). Although heavier than a 7.5 US S Lab Sense Softground (247 gms (8.7 oz)) and noticeable whilst running, the additional mountain performance more than offsets the additional weight. And remember is was not so long ago that a 350 gm trail running shoe was considered a “lightweight racer”!

Initial Running impressions

I have had this shoe out for about a total of 50km of buffed and rocky trail running, off-piste scrambling, snow field crossing (thanks to some snow above 9,000 feet), icy steep trails, and some hill bounding intervals in muddy, wet conditions.

The buffed trail running is definitely compromised from a trail feel and speed perspective (compared to usual running in the X-Series, Sonic, and Wings 8) as the stiff nature of the shoe leans more toward a structured product. However, there is still a reasonable amount of trail feel that allows for pleasant running, although I would not exclusively run in these shoes. On mountain exploration runs where there is significant off piste terrain and possible snow these will be a go-to shoe going forward.

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Once the ski season is over and the access clears up a bit next spring, these high ridges are where these shoes will be headed…

The performance is excellent on rocky and more technical trail terrain, dry or wet and is outstanding on off-piste scree, rocky steep ridges, boulder fields, and snow fields, once again dry or wet. The “Premium Wet Traction” ContraGrip really is much better than the standard composition in any wet and slippery conditions. Traction on submersed rocks at stream crossings is as good as anything that I have experienced. One note: drainage of the shoe is limited by the water resistant lower half of the gaiter. I found however that water is “pumped” out as you run.

I have had limited experience with the shoe on ice at this point but, so far, I have been astounded as to how grippy they have been- I have both ascended and descended some steep trails that have become icy with what feels like solid grip. They will eventually let go but since they accept crampons** I would suggest that anyone wanting to cross significant ice (or glaciers) might want to consider using crampons. It is not obvious why this compound would be so superior to the standard ContraGrip but there are basically three ways to get better grip in wet conditions and on ice- increased surface area, low-Tg rubber, and nano-sized particulates with sharp asperities. Based on a brief perusal of the recent patent literature all of the approaches are used by various manufacturers singularly or in combination. However, if one is to believe the data in some patents, it seems that the nano-sized sharp particulates are the key to increased grip in wet and icy conditions. I am not sure if the “Premium Wet Grip” ContraGrip outsole has the particulates though. But if it does, the grip should last if the compound has a uniform distribution of the particles throughout the thickness. If it is a surface layer only then there might be some decrease in performance with wear. Only time will tell.

I have had good performance in mud- both sandy aggregate and clay types with good grip and mud release. Much superior to the Sense. A couple of Class 3 scrambles have gone well including one that has been a bit edgy on past ascents/descents using the Sense- much more secure and confident with the XA Alpine.

If you want to see what the XA Alpine can really do on the feet of someone who knows what they are doing, then read Kilian’s post about the 7 summits of Romsdal where he tackles a difficult 24 hour traverse across the mountains in that part of Norway. He does these ascents (and, more importantly, descents) with nothing other than the XA Alpine and a prototype super lightweight ice axe. It is a great read and the video below shows some of the terrain.

For winter running on packed powder these shoes will be fine without any additional traction devices, but on ice I always go with carbide studs of some sort- either imbedded as in the SnowCross and SpikeCross or with an added and removable “mini crampon”, of which there are many varieties that will work well with the XA Alpine shoe. According to Salomon the XA Alpine is compatible with some “real” crampon models but they do not say which ones**. This is a good thing because it will allow for pursuit of mountain adventures that include significant ice.

price

$250 US. A bit on the pricey side but this is a unique shoe with a lot of technology and sophisticated design elements that are enabling for the new sport of “Alpinrunning“. There are, to my knowledge, no existing competitor products in this category. Based on functionality alone I find the shoe to be a good value if you are serious about getting out into (and back from) the areas you have always pointed at and said “We should go over there and bag those peaks.”

bottom line

A high performance hybrid mountaineering-running shoe capable of going “fast and light” through highly varied terrain from buffed trail to Class 3 scramble ascents/descents to snow fields- and, apparently, with an ice axe in the hands of an experienced user, across real ice terrain. This shoe is the first true “Alpinrunning”-specific product and it is highly recommended for those that want to do some challenging mountain adventuring.

I intend to use these shoes throughout the winter for limited running, for the to-and-fro to skiing, and hopefully for some mountain adventures. I will post updates.

 

** Update 13 Nov 2016: I came across another recent review of the XA Alpine where an experienced mountain runner/explorer and  shoe reviewer has essentially the same experience that I have had with the shoe. Additionally, this reviewer has tried out numerous crampon options and found many of these to integrate nicely with the XA Alpine. This further confirms the fact that this shoe will be a go-to high alpine running/exploring option for anyone comfortable in that terrain. See the review here:

Salomon S Lab XA Alpine Review – All Mountain, Any Mountain, All Conditions

The Road to Klosters – Fleet Evaluation

This is Part 6 in a series of posts about training and preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters Switzerland in early March 2017. See Parts 1, 2, 3 , 4 and 5 for an overview, specific training plans, strength training, an evaluation of the required pace to podium in the M07 and F06 age classes, and a critical assessment of the efficacy of Block Periodization, respectively.

equipment matters – a lot!

Whether one accepts it or not, in cross country ski racing, equipment matters… it matters a lot! Having the right ski for the conditions on race day is critical to performance and will make all the difference in the race. Ski design and  technology has become complex and the functional gradations for conditions-specific ski performance has lead to the fact that, independent of successful training and proper peaking, one must have the right ski (and grind and wax) on race day to be competitive- there is very little margin for error. This is the sorry state that the sport is in at this juncture. By this I mean that there is a very large economic barrier to ensuring that a competitive, well-trained athlete has the right equipment on race day.

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Consider the ski fleets of elite skiers where some have over 100 pairs of skis comprised of multiple base compositions, flex, and grinds for each snow temperature,  each snow condition, and each deck condition.  In addition these athletes must keep track of all of these skis and be able to efficiently pick the right one for a given race. Hence, many elite competitors have full-time technicians that take care of the skis and help in the selection process on race day. In addition such fleets are added to and modified regularly (new ski models, new flex patterns, and new grinds) throughout the year. It is abundantly obvious that having a “complete” fleet of skis for today’s racing can cost upwards of $50,000 to $100,000 US (most elite skiers are sponsored by ski companies that provide skis so the ski cost is essentially zero for these skiers), plus the cost of a technician, plus the $5,000 – $10,000 per year for maintenance, modifications, and additions. And then there are the increasingly expensive waxes… poles…. and boots! Even some elite skiers have difficulty keeping up with these demands with National Teams and certain sponsored athletes with essentially unlimited budgets. Although needs are significantly smaller for a competitive masters skier, the cost associated with developing and maintaining a basic ski fleet for modern masters racing is substantial. We estimate that a minimum fleet would consist of three classic ski types (hard wax, klister, and zeros (or “hairies”) with perhaps some different grinds for the “wet” skis, and three skate skis (cold, wet, and softground) again with perhaps a couple of different grinds. This means a minimum of 10 pairs of skis at about $700-$800 US each (with bindings), so about $7,000-$8,000. While this price tag is about the same as current racing mountain bikes like this and this and this the referenced mountain bikes are not “minimum” models. These bikes are well suited to the most demanding cross country mountain bike race courses. Although a masters cross country MTB racer may have a second bike, one of these will certainly be a primary race bike used throughout the season.

Add to this that it is rather straightforward to double the number of fleet skis noted above for additional race conditions and this takes the cost for skis alone to well beyond anything that can even be bought in the mountain biking world. Lightweight, nimble race-level cross country mountain bikes are considered expensive (same with road bikes) but they are not as critical as skis are in cross country ski races. In ski races with optimally trained athletes, the ski can make all the difference in performance whereas in mountain biking with similarly trained athletes the bike rarely makes the difference. The same goes for many other equipment intensive sports. Cross country ski racing stands out as one of the most expensive sports to participate in at the competitive level, even for masters skiers. And this is not taking account of the $100 ski base grinds required, the $100 single race wax jobs, the $400 poles, the $500-$1200 boots, etc., etc.

Except for a very few, very wealthy individuals who compete as masters (and they do exist), a comprehensive fleet of skis and the needed assistance is non-existent in the masters ski world. But, one will need to have at least an approximately appropriate ski for the conditions on race day- which leads to the “minimum” fleet described above. So, as masters athletes, it is important to figure out how to efficiently cover all of the likely conditions one might meet on race day with a minimum of investment and this is where ski selection advice is important and, we assert, critical. You may have noticed in the Annual Training Plan (ATP) in part 2 of this series, a row for data input on “equipment preparation”. This is what that row is all about and is an essential part of your training.

Ski Experts, Ski advisers, ski Gurus, and the “Ski Whisperer”

Team Bumble Bee works with this fellow for ski advice, ski supply, fleet evaluation, ski grinding, and waxing. I cannot sufficiently stress, as a competitive ski racer, how important it is on race day to pick the right skis, the right grinds, and the right wax, in that order. For a given set of conditions, no grind or wax will make a ski with the wrong flex characteristics fast. Similarly, no wax will make a ski fast with the wrong grind for the conditions. So start with the right ski and go from there.

As it concerns skis, I have one basic rule- never ever buy a race ski from a rack in a shop. The details of your specific needs are rarely, if ever, accommodated by a ski that just happens to be on a rack in a ski shop. If you are serious about racing you need a ski with the right flex characteristics for your weight, height, and skiing style. This involves more than a “ski fit” with a thin card slid under the ski or even with the so-called “ski fit” machines that have appeared over the years. You need an experienced, highly informed, and enthusiastic ski expert to help with ski and grind selection. If properly chosen, you will be using these skis for many seasons. For the small additional fee (about $100 US) over and above the retail list for a given ski that ski gurus charge, you will get a hand picked ski from racing stock that will continue to perform.

Nordic skis are the Lambos of the ski world— precision and details 
matter— while alpine skis are a bit like your stock Mustang.
Jason Albert, Outside Magazine

What is racing stock? Well, it is the portion of so-called “race ski model” production that have uniform, smooth, and paired flex characteristics (the number of skis that meet these criteria typically make up less than 20% of all race model skis manufactured) . These critical ski characteristics are variable since the production process and materials are not sufficiently controlled to allow for high consistency. After production the race-quality skis are screened out and set aside for sponsored athletes, race teams, and “pickers” to choose from during visits to the factory. The other 80% of the manufactured race model skis go to the shops, and it is not likely that you will find a good “race-quality” ski among these skis. This is why we advise any one who asks us, that they find a ski expert that makes summer visits to select skis at the factories. The “ski whisperer” is one possibility and one that we highly recommend. Such ski advisers can not only pick the right skis for you, they can also help you build and develop a workable fleet (skis, bases, and grinds) for the racing you intend to do. Depending on your bandwidth for spending money, it may take a few years to fully populate a minimum fleet of skis, but since you are working with an expert these skis will be right for you and should perform well for years. After the initial fleet building period, modifications (e.g. grinds) and additions (e.g new technologies like the Salomon Carbon skate ski) can be made annually without significant economic impact. But you need to be methodical and efficient about the process.

annual “ski therapy” session

It is important to annually meet with your expert and conduct a fleet evaluation to ensure that you will have the correct selection of skis for the races you intend to do in the upcoming season. The “ski therapy” session will remind you, in detail, of what it is that you have, what gaps there are, which of the existing skis are working well (or not), and, likely, you will get some additional education on how when to use each ski. It is a great thing to do, especially with an expert; although you could go through the process by yourself if you are sufficiently knowledgeable and experienced enough. The point is to make sure you do this exercise- it is just as critical as the training if you want to be able to perform at your highest level.

We have recently had our annual “ski therapy” session with the “ski whisperer” and, combined  with some ski additions communicated earlier this summer prior to factory visits, we have decided to update a few grinds on existing skis. Working off a spreadsheet with all of the available flex, base, and grind data on each ski and with historic notes from racing, we discussed the entire fleet in detail, our “A” races and the likely snow conditions, and which skis are going to be “top of mind” for each race.

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We also took advantage of the extensive European racing, World Cup, and Olympics experience that the “ski whisperer” has to discuss what we will likely find for ski conditions in Klosters in March. This will help when packing since we will not be bringing our entire fleet with us and we will be in contact at that point when the conditions are more defined.

We ended our session with the feeling that we should have what we need for all but the most unique snow conditions and confident that we can concentrate on athletic preparation and not equipment acquisition going forward. It is definitely a good feeling. We highly recommend that any serious masters athlete consider developing a working relationship with someone like the “ski whisperer” or perhaps “ski whisperer” himself- he comes highly recommended.