With the first race in their competitive season just two weeks away, the Varsity Blues Nordic Ski team is gearing up for a snowy ride.
The team, which is comprised of seven women and ten men, trains all year round and is coached by Hans Fischer, who has been a team member since 1999.
Nordic Skiing encompasses all skiing events in which the heel of the boot is not attached to the ski. This contrasts with Alpine Skiing where the boot is attached to the ski at all times. The Varsity Blues Nordic Skiing team only focuses on competing in cross-country skiing events, however, and avoids other Nordic Ski events such as biathlon, ski jumping, and Nordic Combined.
Team tryouts, which take place in September, last for one week and include fitness testing, interval training, and weight training. Although team members are chosen based on their results, Blues skier Patrick Monette also remarks that participation on the team is “more [commitment-based] than performance-based.”
The team members are very committed to their sport, training six days a week.
“In the fall we’ll be on dry land and we’ll roller ski twice a week and run twice a week and go to the weight room twice a week,” says team member Hilary Mallinger. “Tuesdays and Thursdays we’re in the weight room and Mondays and Fridays we run intervals, so that could be a long distance run with hill-repeats in the middle. Wednesdays we roller ski in High Park. Sundays we roller ski by the lakeshore for two hours, slow and steady.”
The team attends a roller-skiing competition in Guelph every November. Roller-skiing was invented so that skiers could train on pavement; it’s meant to emulate cross-country skiing.
“It’s easier to perfect your technique on regular skis,” adds Mallinger.
While some of the athletes have been skiing for many years as members of private clubs, others have much less experience, only skiing on their high school teams. In fact, no formal ski experience is required to join the team, only a strong commitment to attending practices and competitions is necessary.
A few athletes on the team, however, show talent in other sports as well. Sisters Kate and Jennifer Sauks are Varsity Blues rowers, Melanie Belore played on the Waterloo Warriors Varsity Basketball team for five seasons before coming to U of T, and Mallinger is a Blues mountain biker.
January is the time for the athletes to start focusing on upcoming competitions and the team is ready to participate in a variety this year, including three major competitions as part of the University Cup, and four as part of the Ontario Cup. Each competition consists of a few races of different lengths: men’s races are typically 10 to 20 kilometres long while women’s races are five to 15 kilometres long.
There are two different styles of cross country skiing: classic and skate. For “skate” the skis move side to side, similar to the way a hockey player skates, while for “classic” the athletes are only allowed to move vertically.
“Classic is more technical [than skate]; there is always something to work on. You never get perfect at it,” says Monette.
“Skate is a much faster race,” adds Mallinger.
Races usually consist of 40 skiers but some races can reach around 150.
Instead of focusing on getting a better time than athletes from other universities, Mallinger says that she tries to focus on doing better than one of her teammates.
“You don’t know how well someone on another team has trained that year, but when it’s someone on your team you know where you stand with them so it’s easier to compare yourself [to] someone else on your team.”
Monette, however, has other aspirations, “Carleton can take spots one through eight easily. A bunch of guys from Whitehorse decided to go to Carleton together and they’re all [excellent] skiers. This one guy’s pretty quick but [I’ve placed better] than them before. My goal is to win a medal.”
Guiding the team through competition season is Head Coach Hans Fischer. Mallinger describes Fischer as very supportive; in fact he is responsible for the team’s very existence.
“[Hans] is the reason we still have a team; he’s great,” says Monette.
This season the women’s team hopes to improve on last year’s results, while Monette says that “for the men’s team, [our goal] is to show that U of T can actually ski.”