For the past two weeks, I’ve been in New Zealand, taking advantage of what is winter right now in the southern hemisphere to get in lots of on-snow training! Well known as one of the best places to go during (Canadian) summer to ski, I was lucky enough to live and train at what is called the New Zealand “Snow Farm”; a beautiful ski lodge located up in the snowy mountains above Wanaka, which is on New Zealand’s southern island.
The plan to come to New Zealand began to form in May. One of my main goals this summer has been to improve my technique (especially classic striding), and I knew that the best way to do that would be to spend time on snow. While roller skiing can be very helpful for certain technique changes, it just doesn’t make the cut for striding.
For the past 7 years, I’ve spent at least one week per summer training up at the Haig Glacier. Going somewhere new this year was a pretty big decision to make; disadvantages of heading to New Zealand include the cost and long travel, and advantages of New Zealand include a low altitude to train at, the ability to ski directly from the lodge, and, of course, real winter skiing conditions. In the end, after spending a lot of time talking with teammates and coaches who had already gone there, I decided that the trip would be worth it!
Luckily, my teammates Dahria and Emily were also keen to make the trip overseas. Since we weren’t able to have our coach come with us, we made plans to go at the same time as the Canadian biathlon and para-nordic teams.
After a long travel day involving two crazy sprints through airports to make connections, we arrived in Queenstown on August 2nd (minus most of our bags, which unfortunately hadn’t made it past San Francisco). The first challenge of the day was to make it to the snow farm in our rental car while driving on the left hand side of the road. Dahria, who was driving, managed to navigate through the many traffic circles on the way out of the airport, and after lots of cautious driving and turning on the windshield wipers instead of the signal lights (NZ cars have the signal light switch on the opposite side of the steering wheel compared to Canada), we made it to the snow farm.
Fortunately, as soon as we got there we were able to borrow some clothes and equipment from the biathlon and para-nordic teams and we headed out to ski. The feeling of going from the airport straight to skiing in fresh wintery snow was AMAZING! Sunshine, blue skies, and -5oC hardwax conditions are pretty much any skier’s dream come true. The first few days of the camp flew by quickly as we explored the ski trails and got used to the winter temperatures.
After a hard first week of training, we took advantage of an easy day and headed to Queenstown for the afternoon. We stopped for lunch at world-famous restaurant Fergburger, where you can get a delicious and gigantic burger topped with fresh produce and gourmet cheese for $12.50 (healthy food + huge portion sizes + low prices – it’s like that place is made for athletes!). We also took a ferry across the lake to Mt. Nicholas sheep farm, where we got to see how sheep shearing works and play with the sheep!
The camp finished off with a couple of 4-hour long slow distance days, and a classic 10km time trial with Justyna Kowalczyk, one of the world’s top female skiers who was training at the snow farm as well. Although Justyna kicked our butts (no surprise there; 10km classic is kind of her specialty), it still felt incredible to do a race simulation on snow.
Although I was initially a bit nervous about it, going to New Zealand ended up being a great decision! Not having a coach there and being able to direct our own training for the camp was a great learning experience and a ton of fun, and fortunately the para-nordic team and coaches were extremely helpful with waxing, giving us technique tips, and just keeping an eye on us in general. Getting back onto real snow was such a good reminder of how much I love my sport, and now I’m heading back to Canada with two hard weeks of training under my belt and plenty of motivation to train hard and smart through the rest of the summer and fall.