This last week I had the opportunity to race in the Norwegian Junior National Championships. Pete Phillips, a coach at the Burke Mountain Skiing Academy in Vermont worked with Bjorn Ilsemann, who coaches a club in Oslo, to form an exchange program between the US and Norwegian junior nationals. 11 other american juniors traveled to Lillehammer in late February to compete with Norwegian skiers under the age of 20.
After the sprint racing in Madison, I departed for Oslo, Norway. My trip over was pleasantly uneventful with all of my connections working out. In Oslo, I met up with the rest of the crew and drove to our cabins near Lillehammer.
We stayed at a skiing resort, called Skeikampen. Out of our front door there was a very impressive network of cross country trails that wound around the surrounding valleys and up on top of the Alpine mountain. Our first night, I went for a night ski with two of the guys and checked out some of the trails that wound around our cabins; there was just enough moonlight to see where we were going and take in the surrounding hillside dotted with evergreens.
We raced three consecutive days skiing a 20k freestyle, a 10k classic, and a 4x5k relay. The course was just recently created for the world cups that Lillehammer will hold next fall, so there were no lack of climbs to stretch out the field. My races were consistent with the rest of my season, but I was very pleased in working into a large accumulation of lactate on some of the climbs.
After the weekend of racing, we spent another day in Lillehammer, before we drove back down to Oslo. Here we spent two days before returning to the states.
Coincidentally, a biathlon world cup was going to take place the following weekend, so we got to see the stadium in fully working order with famous biathletes zooming around the course in preparation. It was pretty incredible to ski through the course and do finishing sprints in the same stadium where the likes of Petter Northug won his medals at the 2011 World Championships.
I was definitely sad to leave such a great place, but I had a bit of luck that brightened up my trip home. Over the 8 hour flight back from Europe, one of the flight attendants, who was from the upper peninsula of Michigan, recognized my Northern Michigan shirt. She was so pleased to see someone from her home that she gave me all of the first class food service back in my economy seat. It seemed that every time she walked down the aisle, she had another meal, drink or treat that she would give me; at the end of the flight she even gave me a little bag with snacks for my trip up to Wausau.
On the whole, the trip was a great experience seeing a society where Nordic skiing is the most popular winter sport and recreation.