There's a tried and true expression in the European peloton, "A good summer is built in winter." While this is a bike racing expression, it is equally applicable in triathlon. In this series about winter training, we have been lauding the benefits of Nordic skiing for summer triathlon racing since the onset. For those of you keeping score at home, you've hopefully noticed the very logical progression in this series; why triathletes should Nordic ski, what to wear for Nordic skiing, how to shop for Nordic skis, how to properly wax Nordic skis and most recently, how to Nordic ski. What's missing from this list? Yup, where to Nordic ski.
The short answer to this question is there are lots of places to Nordic ski, but that is not really what this latest installment is about though, as any motivated athlete can figure out where to ski near their home, so the question at hand here is really where is the best awesome place to Nordic ski. And perhaps even more importantly, going full circle on this discussion, where is the best place to go to enable you to use Nordic skiing this winter to build a successful summer of triathlon? To tackle this lofty issue, I enlisted the help of over 20 elites skiers, world champions and Olympic medalists and have distilled their responses down to an exclusive list of venues that I will tackle one at time in our latest installment of how Nordic skiing will help your summer racing.
As a senior executive in another life and/or parallel universe, I spend my days toiling away, making money for an evil empire by optimizing their resource utilization. Good business strategy is all about ROI and TCO (sorry to go all corporate consultant on you, but the Man has the FBD flying all over creation these days and there is a bit more spillover than usual from the "real work" and the "fun work," thoughas a quick aside, currently neither of these is either).
What does all of this mean in normal English? Well, you are a triathlete. You work hard. Winter is long and if done incorrectly, it can really be terrible. As we've already discussed at length in previous columns, riding inside is mind-numbingly dull and riding outside is cold, dangerous and often impractical. Ditto on running. And swimming is always awful - I'm mean, come on people, you're staring at a black line for 2 hours with limited access to air, dragging your rapidly deteriorating skin through a repulsive slurry of urine and toxic chemicals (guess who's still a bit bitter about his swim splits?).
The point here is that you deserve a break. A nice one. And what better way to do this than to phone the kids, wake the neighbors and load up the Family Truckster for a much-deserved training camp?
And if you're going to go somewhere, why not go someplace where you can make the most of this investment (ROI)? And let's be sure to account for all of the factors in this investment (TCO).
At first blush, an obvious answer may be to go to someplace warm. We've all "done" Tucson. Yeah, it's nice, you nerded-out w/ a full diet of 5 hour ride/run bricks, punctuated by early am swims, you rode "The Shoot Out," you climbed Mount Lemmon and in the process figured out that it can still be cold in the mountains when it's hot in the desert, great. And sure, it's nice to ride in shorts, but that thrill wears off quickly (no pun intended) and the place quickly became quite dull, especially for your family. What if there was something better? Something much better? Something not only great for you, but also great for the whole family. I am here to tell you that such a place(s) does indeed exist and stop number one on our "How To Improve Your Miserable Life Tour" (HTIYMLT) is at a place called Sun Valley, Idaho.
Some of the feedback that we've received here at Slowtwitch on this column is something along the lines of, That FBD guy is a genius, where on Earth did you find him? And, How is someone so smart, so funny and so knowledgable at the same time? And more to the point, I love the concept of Nordic skiing, but there's no where to go near me. Well a trip to Sun Valley would obviously solve this problem, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg.
Firstly, it's called Sun Valley and as the name implies, it's often quite sunny. Since no one loves you like the FBD, I went there personally to check it out. It was picture-perfect the entire time I was there and I'm told this is the norm. Since I am too lazy/indifferent to fact-check anything, we'll just accept this as fact.
Next, is the fact that the Nordic skiing here is absolutely amazing. And I do mean amazing. But suddenly now you're thinking, oh FBD, you sneaky son-of-a-bitch, you've tricked me, this is not a triathlon training camp recommendation, it's a Nordic training camp recommendation. HA! Wrong. It is a triathlon camp recommendation. And more. Much, much more.
Another concern regularly voiced to us (well, Dan and Jordan, as I have remarkable ability to filter any and all negative feedback) falls into the category of, I like the concept of Nordic skiing, but how do I wade in to the water, instead of dive? This is where this column really gets traction, as Sun Valley not only has incredible trails, but it also has a fantastic overall infrastructure. The Sun Valley Lodge is without a doubt one of the nicest Nordic ski lodges I've seen anywhere in the world.
Here you can get high quality instruction, rent gear and really get your fledgling ski career off on the right foot. "This is one of the best places anywhere in the world to learn how to ski," said Ivana Radlova, Nordic Director for Sun Valley. "We have over 40km's of trails right here at the lodge, a wide variety of terrain for skiers of all levels and our team of instructors is some of the best in the business." So rent some gear, get a lesson, then come back to the beautiful lodge and have a nice lunch on the deck in the sun. Please note, when you do this, tell the hostess that I want my hundred bucks from the Broncos win (I knew their defense was too good for Carolina).
In this day and age of fruit fly-like attention spans, you've read (skimmed) almost two paragraphs and there's been no mention of swimming, biking or running, so your mind has likely defaulted back to, That jerk, I knew this was a trick, but hang in there with me people, as I'm a man of my word. So you're knocked out a day or two of Nordic skiing with the whole family and everyone has already told you that this trip was way better than that crappy condo in Tucson that smelled like a combination of feet and European cheeses left in the trunk of a car, so you're already way ahead. But since you've got your eyes set on that cool new TT bike for this upcoming season, you can't back off now, you need to pull out all of the stops and turn it up to 11 to get the green light from the wifey on yet another bike purchase. Not to worry, I've been there and I have your back on this.
Since you're an anal-retentive, obsessive/compulsive triathlete though, by the time you had walked back to the car from your delicious and nutritious lunch in the Nordic center, you have probably convinced yourself that since it's been almost two days since you've cycled, ran or swam, you're rapidly losing fitness and you can just feel that coveted Kona spot slowly slipping away. Well fear not my deluded friend, as here is where Sun Valley really comes on strong - it is probably one of the best winter training grounds anywhere. After ripping it up for a few days on the Nordic trails, I went out for a few amazing fat bike rides. Now you're thinking, Whew, okay, a bike reference, finally a concept I recognize in what is perhaps the strangest travel article I have ever read, so now you can check that box and perhaps breathe a bit easier.
However, as soon as you begin to relax and let your guard down for even one split-second, WHAMMO, it hits you faster than an age-grouper crashing out in mild corner on mildly moist pavement, But what about all of that run speed that I was sure I was going finally develop this year for the first time? Don't panic, as the running in Sun Valley is also incredible.
You can slay this dragon lots of different ways, but my advice is to go for the lightweight snowshoe option, as this opens up literally hundreds of miles of possibilities. And not just possibilities, amazing, scenic, breath-taking vistas type possibilities, possibilities vastly superior to the hot, dusty roads of Tucson. Trust me. I've logged miles and both and it is no contest.
Okay, okay, two of your three obsessions have been satiated, but you're still on suicide watch because you felt like you were finally on the brink of almost getting your body rotation in the water correct and "pressing the T" was starting to take on greater significance than just ironing race shirts. Are you really asking me to throw this all away just in the name of saving my marriage and actually having fun at a training camp? I'm going to pretend you might be asking yourself in this imaginary conversation. Don't be silly, of course not. There are a few pool options in SV, my favorite of which is the YMCA, where for $55/week you can buy a pass for unlimited gym and pool access, so now you're not only scratching that pool itch (remember our pathogen/irritant discussion from earlier), but you've also found a good way to keep up with the strength program that you're telling your coach that you're doing but you really aren't. This will help keep this ruse alive and well, therein killing two birds with one stone. You're welcome. Even though you are a bird killer, you bastard.
But wait, there's more. Yes, we've clearly established that this is a world-class place to learn how to Nordic ski and we've already made it ridiculously clear how and why Nordic skiing is good for triathlon. We've also established with equal clarity the many other triathlon-specific training options that Sun Valley has to offer, but believe it or not, we are still not done for after all, this IS supposed to be a vacation, a fact your SO will likely be reminding you of regularly, so let's talk about this for a minute (Remember, new TT bike…).
The alpine skiing/snowboarding here is also world class. Now, if you're like most triathletes, you got in to triathlon as a result of your complete lack of coordination and aptitude for any "stick and ball" sport or anything that doesn't involve wearing Lycra to the coffee shop on Saturdays, so this, combined with your pathological fear that you'll tear your ACL by even looking at a pair of alpine skis, means that this option may not be for you. But let's assume for one second that you've somewhat managed to marry a normal person and maybe you've even produced equally normal children who can exercise in more than one plane of movement, so even if you're deathly afraid of traveling at more than 22.3 mph in essentially a straight line on a paved, level surface, I bet the well-adjusted people around you would love shredding some deep pow on a sunny day in the mountains, I sure did.
Now the whole family is happy. You're getting more fit, there are tons of great activity options for everyone and if you're feeling really saucy, you can even take the whole family out for a Nordic ski lesson together. It can be hard to ride or run together as a family, in particular if you have younger children, but if everyone is learning Nordic skiing at the same time, this will be a life-long pursuit that can be enjoyed together as a family for years to come. You'll also sleep better at night knowing that you're introducing your kids to an activity to which you were likely never exposed as a child and who knows where this will take them in life. Maybe someday they'll even land a job as a smart-ass travel correspondent - one can only hope.
Once the training day is done, regardless of the chosen activity, the whole experience only improves however, as while Sun Valley is famous for its Nordic Skiing (It is known as Nordic Town USA), but depending on your social circles, it is even more well-known for its shopping and dining (I don't have many actual friends, but several of my Internet avatars have reported back to me on this phenomena). Combing some of the best skiing (alpine and Nordic) with some of the best triathlon training, with some of the best lifestyle/Apres-ski options is simply a winning combination.
I am not alone is this assessment either, as some of the top professional Nordic skiers in the United States make Sun Valley their home. Matt Gelso is one such pro and he believe Sun Valley is a perfect mix of culture and athletics, "For someone who likes the outdoors, you pretty much can't ask for a better place," claimed Gelso. "As a professional Nordic skier, we are always looking to add variety to our training, so in addition to the incredible Nordic trail network, Sun Valley has so many other amazing options like fat biking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, trail running, rock climbing, etc., the list is just incredible." Gelso concluded with a very interesting observation, in particular for a professional athlete whose life choices, by definition, need to be centered on training, "Probably one of my favorite parts of Sun Valley though is how much culture it has to offer. We have an incredible collection of art galleries and music, whether it be our jazz festival or the world-class symphony. There are lots of places that have nice skiing, but not many places can match the culture and lifestyle of Sun Valley. It's the whole reason that I live here." Now you can almost see that new TT bike hanging in the garage.
Just to humor me, let's assume that you're even vaguely considering this. The next question becomes, when should I go? That all depends on where you are on the Nordic ski learning curve, how much you hate your job and how comfortable you are with dropping everything to get on an airplane to go do something cool. Since 99% of the people reading this are likely thinking, How dare that FBD dick make thinly veiled pool urine references, that's MY sport. I ought to go out there and wipe that smug look off his face next year. I know my functional threshold power is vastly superior to his and if I just had a few days on skis, I'm sure I could clean his clock in a Nordic race. Admit it, that's you, isn't it? Even just a bit, right? I knew it.
So here's what you do: head out there this season: take a few lessons, log some k's and get the ball rolling. I skied with Sun Valley's Nordic Director, Ivana, and she knows her stuff. She'll get you going like a pro in no time. Make the most of as many days as you can this year and then stay tuned to Slowtwitch (as I know you always are anyway), as we're going to have a full-blown triathlon-specific Nordic training program for you next year. Then do what I did and come out for one of the best races in the US, the Boulder Mountain Tour next year. To be clear, despite this confusing name, this race is in Sun Valley, NOT Boulder, so be sure to book those airplane tickets accordingly (and trust me, this confusing nomenclature is going to make for a VERY embarrassing expense report for me this year).
Unlike its slightly larger, arrogant brother, the American Birkibeiner, the Boulder Mountain Tour race directors are lovely, reasonable people who go out of their way to make you feel welcome. I had the opportunity to sit down with the race co-director, Kelly Allison and she made quite a convincing case for all triathletes to make the trip, "The Boulder Mountain Tour is a great event for skiers of all levels."
"Sun Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the world, we have over 200k of incredible trails and the grooming staff is the best that I have ever seen. The trails aren't just immaculate on race day either, essentially every day you ski here has essentially perfect conditions, so it's almost impossible to not have fun every day."
Allison continued, "There is both a 34k marathon and half-distance race, so regardless of anyone's fitness or experience level, there is an event for you. Some of the best skiers in the country do the race, but we have 7 different starting waves, so you'll be seeded in with skiers around your ability. This makes the entire experience safe and fun for everyone. I've done a bunch of triathlons and not only are Nordic races are great training for them, but triathletes usually do well in them right away as so much of the overall dynamic is similar with pacing, nutrition, tactics, etc. Plus, it's just really, really fun, especially here where the course is so beautiful."
To top it all off, the Sunday after the race has a great gear expo, which is one of the best ways possible to truly get your ski gear quiver dialed, as this event has demo skis, boots and poles from all of the major manufacturers, so you can ski several different set-ups back to back and pick whatever brand, flex and style is perfect for you. This is how I picked my skis and it is without a doubt the best possible system.
So there you have it, a perfect plan to right all of the wrongs in the world, well, at least in your little corner of it. Seriously, life is too short. CAN you put on layer after layer and go out and slog some frigid miles in the dark? Sure you can, but why? Triathlon is a tough sport, but it's a great one and the key to success and satisfaction is to keep it fun and to be able to include those around you. I've done training camps for literally decades now and they have been without a doubt a key ingredient in not only my success, but also in my longevity and more importantly, my happiness.
Believe it or not, Sun Valley can be economical too, as condos are plentiful and affordable. Do your homework, scour VRBO, Kayak, etc for lodging deals and consider flying into Boise. You don't need a car in Sun Valley, but it can be nice to have one, so if you are going to rent one anyway, you can save a lot of cash by making the relatively easy and very scenic drive from Boise instead of flying directly in to Ketchum. Plus, if and when you ever go back to your crappy office job, you can tell everyone that you just spend the week in Boise and hey, how many people can say that?
Now you're out of excuses: go get some skis, take some lessons, book a flight and hopefully I'll see you on the starting line next year. And in Whiskey Jack's for a post-race beer around midnight: you can buy me one as a thank you for that new TT bike you have in the garage.