The machine that Erich Schultze is standing in front of is called a SkiErg. Schultze, a law student from Boston, is about to attempt to set a world record for the fastest time to complete a simulated six-kilometre ski course in the men’s 19–29 age group.
Visually, the SkiErg is an unremarkable machine: atop a fanned flywheel sit two metal rods in a V shape, both ends holding drive cords with strapless handles. It stands at seven feet tall, only slightly taller than Schultze himself.
Eamon Kelly, a second-year undergraduate student and coach of the university’s ski team, explains that the SkiErg is a one-motion machine: it simulates a move called “double-poling” which is a key component of cross-country skiing.
The machine is also valuable to the team because it allows them to train when the weather outside is suited for wearing shorts. Because the city’s snowfalls are sporadic and quick to melt, the University of Toronto’s Nordic ski team relies on the SkiErg to supplement what they lack due to climate.
At exactly 10:00 am on Saturday, February 24, Schultz pulls at the handles of the SkiErg and the world record attempt officially begins. The whirring of the machine’s wheel is loud, and the sound bounces from wall to wall in the small, cramped training room.
Damian Langton, a newbie to the skiing team, records the attempt with his camera. If all goes well, this should last 20 minutes. Kelly, meanwhile, fills me in on the history of Nordic skiing teams in Ontario. He mentions that his team lost varsity status at U of T last year.
Varsity status is important to a university sports team: not only does it help with funding, but it also makes it easier to recruit members. As of now, U of T’s Nordic ski team has eight active members — all of whom stand at different levels. Langton and Schultze, who is still working away at the machine, are new to the sport, while Kelly has been skiing since he was very young. Langton vouches for Kelly, stressing that the coach is supportive and encouraging to everyone, regardless of their level.
Nordic ski teams are all but absent in Toronto. U of T is the only university in the city to uphold one — in the province of Ontario, there are only 10 university teams altogether. You would think that participating in a sport whose community is small and spread out would be discouraging, but all three members in the room assert that they receive nothing but support from other teams and alumni. In fact, Kelly tells me that there is an alumni ski event scheduled for the very next day.
Schultze is nearing his last two kilometres on the SkiErg. He concentrates on a small screen in front of him, which tells him his split, or time per metre, which is his favourite metric to focus on. He was originally only a member of the rowing team, but he decided to take up skiing to stay active throughout the entire year. Skiing seemed like a natural choice because its motions are similar to those of rowing — the teams even train on similar SkiErgs.
There are only 100 metres left for Schultze, so he speeds up and sprints to the finish. He completes six kilometres on the SkiErg in about 21 minutes — roughly 285 metres for every minute. Enough to set the new world record.
It’s an exciting, albeit calm, moment. This cements the end of the skiing season for the team, a nice send-off until next September. Outside, the snow is packed thick and high, a result of the city expeiencing back-to-back snowstorms, but U of T’s Nordic ski team is closing up shop.
Schultze, who broke this same record last year but was beaten later on in the year by a skier from Great Britain, likes to attempt records at the end of seasons to track his personal progress. The SkiErg is a relatively new machine, he explains. Records are in their infancy, only a handful of names deep. He expects his record to be broken within the coming years, but for now, it’s his.
Schultze won’t be returning to the ski team next year, but Kelly and Langton will continue to grow a team that, despite experiencing some shake-ups in the past year, has remained resilient and eager to compete.