Sunday, January 30, 2011

13th in Germany World Cup

After the Europa Cup in Switzerland last week, we drove to Grasgheren, Germany, for the next Ski Cross World Cup. We had two days to kill prior to the race, so we decided to train some GS at Oberjoch. This mountain doesn’t bring back great memories for me. I raced in my first Europa Cup slalom here four years ago and it turned out to be a disaster; a night race in gale force winds, torrential rain, no operating chair lift (which meant hiking) and a broken thumb. Not my idea of fun! Four years on though and how things have changed! From Europa Cup slalom to a World Cup Ski Cross.

On Thursday we did ski testing with the Swiss Team in order to figure out which skis were fastest on this type of snow.

(Ski testing)

Training was held on Friday in Grasgheren. When we arrived, there seemed to be a lot of hype surrounding this particular World Cup. Media vans filled the car park, as well as fans just to watch training. The course was equipped with 18 cameras to capture the race for live TV coverage; almost as many cameras as the Olympics! Apparently Ski Cross is huge in Germany after the sport’s success at the Olympic Games. It was the second most watched sport in the nation (behind biathlon of course!), with over 3 million viewers. Germany is right behind the new and exciting sport.

(Course inspection with a view!) 

(Anton on top of the step-down)

The course was the longest track on the World Cup so far, over 1 minute and 15 seconds. Tiring and leg burning when you’re taking four runs in under an hour, including hiking to the start.

On Friday night, an athlete presentation was held in the town square. There was a massive turn out, with a huge number of people showing up to support the athletes. It definitely established some hype and excitement for what was to come on race day tomorrow.

(Team Australia) 

Yesterday was qualifications and finals in the one day. Fans lined the entire course for a view of the action. I qualified in 12th position, with a couple of minor mistakes. It’s difficult to ski a perfect run, especially when you’re pushing it and taking risks. In a 1 minute 15 course, I was just over 2 seconds behind the winner and current World Cup leader, Heidi Zacher, of Germany.

Between qualifications and finals, I made the most of the stationary bike we travel with by doing some spinning in the back of the van for recovery, trying to remove the lactic acid from my legs. I needed to be fresh for finals in the afternoon, not slow and lethargic.

(Spinning in the van before finals)

In my finals heat was Katrin Mueller of Switzerland, Andrea Limbacher of Austria and Nikola Checova of Czech… a tough heat! I had a great start and pulled into second position off the first jump and around the first turn. I maintained this position right down the course, staying tight to Mueller who was less than a ski length in front of me. Coming around the second last turn, Limbacher managed to pull into my draft, and in the long straight section before the finish, she pulled out and accelerated past me. I was pipped right at the finish line, and finished in third. Devastated! So unbelievably close to making semi-finals and a top 8 result. My qualifying time put me in 13th place, still a great World Cup result.

(The crowd at the bottom of the race) 

Although it was extremely disappointing to be beaten on the last turn, I was happy with how I raced. The head-to-head racing is definitely improving, and my confidence is building. I know I can mix it with the best girls in the world; it’s just a matter of time, and each racing is getting better and better!

What made my day was when the Australian national anthem was played for Andreas Matt of Austria, who won the men's event. I thought it was strange whilst watching the prize giving ceremony why I knew the words to the supposed Austrian anthem...

I am now at Munich airport, waiting to board my flight to Salt Lake City, Utah. Next on the schedule, World Championships!!!

(Packing for the States. One way to save money on an airline ticket!)


Will keep you updated!

(Traditional gondola)

(Team shot for our hotel owners)

(Interesting benches at a German cafe)

Monday, January 24, 2011

7th in Europa Cup, Zweisimmen

Yesterday I finally got a chance at racing finals. We had a week break in the World Cup circuit, so we decided to come to Switzerland to compete in the Europa Cup in Zweisimmen. I raced here 3 years ago; it was actually one of my first ever ski cross races (after my World Cup debut in France).

Racing were all the Europa Cup athletes, as well as a bunch of World Cup athletes from Switzerland, Germany, Japan, France, Russia… There was a solid field of over 35 girls. The track was pretty easy compared to a standard World Cup course. No major jumps, extremely flat (to my disadvantage!) and no major technical sections. This was mostly due to lack of snow, but also not to scare the living hell out of young racers new to ski cross!

I qualified in 8th position. I was racing in heat 1 of the quarter finals, and made it through the first round with German World Cup racer Alex Grauvogl. I then proceeded to semi finals. Unfortunately with my qualifying time, I was given the yellow bib, meaning I had last pick of the start gate. In this course it was rather a large disadvantage. I was in the far left gate, and the far right gate was most direct to the first turn. I came out with a fast, strong start and ended up neck and neck in 2nd position with a Swiss girl. She had the inside line and so pinched me out. I was forced through the gate and therefore didn’t make it through to the big final.

In the small finals (to decide 5th through to 8th place), I came through in 3rd place, therefore finishing in 7th overall. It was a great day and fun to finally race some head-to-head competition.

I think this will give me a lot of confidence going into the next World Cup in Germany. All I have to do now is qualify fast, and then let everything I’m been training so hard for take care of itself in the head-to-head competition!

Here are some photos taken by Jenny Owens on race day.

(Ready in the start for the quarter finals)

("Racers ready.... attention...")

(Quarter finals)

(I get the hole shot in the first turn)

(Trying to make a pass in the small finals)

(Team Australia. Anton, Marcos, Matt, myself and Development Team coach Shawn)


Thanks Jen for the photos!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Backcountry ski touring in Verbier

I had one of the most incredible days yesterday in Verbier, Switzerland. We came here after the World Cup in Les Contamines for a few days of free skiing.

Yesterday, a friend (the coach of Swiss Ski Cross racer Fanny Smith) took us backcountry skiing off the back of Mont Forte, Verbier. The peak reaches a massive 3300m. As you can imagine at that height, the view from the top is incredible. It’s almost as if you’re in a helicopter, looking down on the Swiss Alps. You even get a close view of Mont Blanc. Guilliame, our guide for the day, lives in Verbier, and therefore knows the mountain like the back of his hand. There’s nothing like a local to show you around the mountain!

We started the day by hiring the necessary gear; touring skis, skins (put under the skis to grip whilst climbing up hill), a beeper and a parachute pack (designed to open if caught in an avalanche or in a dangerous situation and you need protection). There wasn’t a whole heap of fresh snow, so the likelihood of an avalanche was pretty slim, but it’s always better to go out there well equipped in case! Better to be safe than sorry.

Once we reached the peak, we skied off the backside of the mountain. It was steep, rocky and pretty intimidating. We skied down an impressively steep couloir and down into the first valley. It was a good two hours of skinning up hill from there. Tough work at 3300m! The air is thin and cold.

The scenery was incredible. There was just the four of us in the middle of the Swiss Alps, with not a person, house or hint of civilisation in site.

Once we made it to the top, the ski down was well worth the hike. There was one long open section where you could just hammer down with some big swooping GS turns, making fresh tracks. We finally made it to the bottom, well below Verbier and into another town, over 5 hours later. It was an epic journey and I was absolutely spent, but so excited to have experienced something so amazing.
(On top of the World at Verbier)

(View from Mont Forte, Verbier's peak, at 3300m)

(Impressive wind lip)

(Sami, myself and Matt, ready for an epic adventure)

(Above the couloir)

(View of the couloir we just skied from the bottom)

(Skiing through tunnels)

(Exhausted from a full days hiking and skiing)

(The beautiful Swiss town of Verbier)

(Looking down onto the massive mogul field at Verbier's peak)

(Traditional Swiss raclette melting by the fire)

(Bandit in the gondola looking as though he's about to rob me...)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The dreaded 17th position in Les Contamines

17th position in ski cross has to be possibly the most frustrating position to end up in. It’s like losing the AFL grand final by 1 point. You’d almost rather lose by 100 points than lose by 1 because of the utter frustration. I finished in 17th position in the Les Contamines Ski Cross World Cup this weekend. In reality, it’s a great result and my best finish this season, but to miss out on finals by only one position hurts!

Going back a few days, we took the drive to Les Contamines, France, from Alpes D’Huez the day after finals. What was meant to be only a 3 hour drive turned into a 7 hour drive due to an unfortunate car crash involving our ski technician, Marcos. Driving alone in his own car, somehow he collided with another car from behind. The result was not pretty. Fortunately no one was hurt, however the 12 pairs of race skis that were sitting in the roof carrier system came rocketing out the front, sprawling across the bitumen road. Not ideal for our equipment to say the least!

(Spectacular drive down Alpes D'Huez, the famous Tour De France hill climb) 

(Marcos' car after the accident... notice the gaping whole in the roof coffin)

The training day on Friday ran smoothly, and I managed to squeeze in four training runs on the course in the allocated 1-hour session. Come qualifications day, I was feeling reasonably confident and comfortable with the course. Courses vary greatly from World Cup to World Cup. They range from long, fast with big jumps like Alpes D’Huez, to steep, icy and at night like St Johann, to fast and super-G-like here in Les Contamines. You really have to adapt your race approach and type of skiing to suit the course. 

(Launching myself off one of the jumps) 

I had a solid qualifying run with no major mistakes, and came down in 16th position from bib 25. I thought I was reasonably safe with only another 8 or 9 girls to go, however I was just pipped by one of the back runners; a French girl. It was a blow to the heart. I was so devastated that I just missed out on racing head-to-head finals; something I thrive on and am good at. A positive way to look at it is that my results continue to improve, and my confidence is getting stronger and stronger.

Once again I watched finals today (when I'd much rather be racing in them!). Scotty finished in 7th place; another great result for the Aussie. Anton finished 29th, and Sami 26th. 

(Scotty happy with his 7th place finish)

(Aussie physio Cassie and our Spanish ski technician, Marcos)

(The athlete VIP pass... Thank god I'm allowed in the "Kiss and Cry" area!)

We now head to Verbier, Switzerland, for three days of big mountain skiing. We’re planning on getting a guide to show us around the spectacular mountain, and hopefully get some powder turns in! Then we’re onto Zweissimen, Switzerland, for a Europa Cup Ski Cross at the end of the week.

Will keep you posted!

Plus, a few more photos from the past few days...
(The French and their love of cheese...)

(Yes... ALL of those wheels of cheese plus more, and about a tonne of potatoes were used in the tartiflette at the bottom of the race today. The diet of real athletes!)

(Interesting. The French call is 'Steak Tartare'. I call it raw mince with raw egg that probably should be thrown on the barby!).
(Our cute, cosy mini hotel in Les Contamines)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Brand new 2XU sports bra video...

A few months ago I did a shoot for 2XU and their new sports bra. Along with 4 other female elite athletes, we are promoting 2XU's new sports bra range for women.

Check out the mini movie!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Crepes, baguettes and Ski Cross racing

After our epic 13-hour journey from Austria, right through Italy and then into France, we finally arrived in Alpes D’Huez on Sunday night. I really enjoyed the race here last year. The course was a lot of fun; fast with big jumps, and the off piste skiing is phenomenal. Plus the hotel we stay at is great… there are not many times I can say that whilst travelling in Europe on the Freestyle ski circuit.

After our training day on Monday, I was feeling confident and excited to race. Like last year, the course is lots of fun. Definitely more of a real ski cross track compared with the last two races. It’s fast with some big jumps, as opposed to GS turns with a few small step-downs. Scary at first but once I skied it once, all I wanted to do was go around for another!

Yesterday in qualifications I finished 18th, just 0.2 of a second from qualifying for finals in the top 16. Frustratingly close! I was disappointed that I didn’t qualify, however 18th is still a great result; a big improvement from than the past 3 races. It’s a step in the right direction, and hopefully it will give me a boost of confidence going into the next World Cup.

Fortunately it decided to snow pretty hard after the race yesterday afternoon and into the night, so today I made the most of the blue skies, sunshine and fresh snow and went powder skiing. The amount of accessible terrain here is unbelievable. Unfortunately the very top gondola was closed due to avalanche control, however that didn’t stop us from finding some untouched deep powder. I dragged myself back to the race to watch finals, and support my teammate Scott Kneller. Unfortunately he didn’t make it through the first round.

Tomorrow we pack our bags again and head to Les Contamines, France, for the next World Cup. I’m feeling fit and strong and excited for another race ahead!

(Spectacular morning sunrise at Alpes D'Huez)

(Ski cross race start)

(The morning of Qualifications on Tuesday)

(Course inspection - step down)

(Exhausted at the bottom of the course after the training day) 

(Excited to use my fatty's for today's powder day)

(Windy at the top!)

(Anton's destroyed ski after he hit a rock)

(The track)

(Men's finals)