Here at Ciclissimo!, the cycling season is fondly viewed as a pleasing summer diversion until it’s time to apply the winter season’s first wax to the skinny skis and look forward to days on the cross country ski trails: As every true Euro-Cyclist knows, winter sports are the only serious option when it comes to filling the time between cycling off-season espressi stops; Adam Hansen and Edvald Boasson Hagen are no strangers to the ‘langlauf loipen’ in the off-season and even Maître Jacques himself was never far from the sun-dazzled pistes as soon as the juant around Lombardy had been taken care of. It was high time a piece dedicated to my passion for Nordic sports graced these pages, so when I heard that Team WNT were headed off to Austria’s Tirol region for a winter cross country skiing camp the necessary arrangements were made… Multiple National Champ jersey winner, Hannah Walker, was drafted in as special guest writer to tell the tale and take some snaps.
“I always used to say to myself I’d never go skiing; if I was to have one holiday a year (I don’t normally even have one) it’d have to be something relaxing on a beach in hot weather, to make up for England’s lack of sun and nice beaches. Plus, whilst still racing bikes, I didn’t want to risk putting myself into unknown territory and end up causing myself some serious damage like breaking a leg! However when a trip to Austria was mentioned as part of a team-building exercise with my Team WNT team mates and the WNT sponsor, I just could not miss it for the world- and boy, am I glad we got the opportunity to do it!
Let me set the scene…
We’re cross country skiing in Reutte, Tyrol in Austria, doing ‘classic style skiing’, in which you’re in two prepared, parallel tracks. Once you get the hang of it, it’s relatively easy (I say relatively) as compared to skiing ‘freestyle’ on the snow without the tracks. It’s a sunny blue sky yet the ground and mountains are covered in thick layers of snow. There are picturesque buildings with restaurants where people stop for mid ski lunch, also known as a café stop to us cyclists, but you don’t just have a coffee and maybe a piece of cake if you’re feeling generous to yourself, you have a full blown meal with options such as Wiener Schnitzel, Currywurst or Leberkase with a good glass of Apfelsaft mit gas (apple juice with fizzy water). All around there are little kids as young as 4 years old skiing better than us girls and our team manager: Slightly embarrassing. But we’re athletes, right? We’re strong, fit and competitive (too much sometimes), right? Wrong! Skiing was a whole new level of fitness and strength, we all woke up not being able to get out of bed or walk, having to physically lift our legs with our hands when walking up stairs or to get out of the car!
So you might ask why XC skiing as opposed to a weekend riding our bikes together or a hike in the Peak District? Well, Claude Sun, the Global MD of WNT, knew the majority of us had never skied before and with four new girls joining the team for 2016 he thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to help us integrate and get to know each other better off of the bike in a somewhat less cycling environment. Claude wanted us to have a great experience whilst on this fantastic journey with Team WNT, staying in the Tannenhof, a family run small hotel, eating local traditional food with most of the food produce sourced locally to Reutte. One night whilst we were in Austria we hiked up a mountain with head torches and ski sticks for an hour to a small family run restaurant, which only seated around 25 people. We had a traditional meal which was pasta with a medieval cheese, using the exact same recipe from the medieval era to make the cheese!
For a few years now I’ve watched cross country skiing & biathlon on Eurosport during the winter months, and it always astonishes me how deep in effort the skiers can make themselves go: Every single one of them collapse at the finish line, showing you just how tough a sport it is. I was recently told that amongst athletes, cross country skiers typically have one of the highest VO2 max (the maximum rate of oxygen consumption as measured during incremental exercise/fitness testing). Whilst doing some research, within the top 10 highest ever recordings of a VO2 max an 18 year old male cyclist came out top, with two other cyclists in the top ten (Greg LeMond and Kurt Asle Arvesen), accompanied by five cross country skiers and two ultra-endurance runners. Well I was totally sold; I think I’ll go cross country skiing every winter as you use similar muscle groups and the fitness gains are huge…clearly. And everyone loves GAINZ!
Anyway I’m sure you’re intrigued to know who the best and worst skiers were. The best was probably Corrine Clark. For natural technique it had to be Natalie Grinczer; she looked like a seasoned pro. On the flip side, hands down worst of them all was our team manager, Marcus. I think he’ll agree with me and the rest of the team though, from being stood still not moving to flat on his derrière without knowing how he got there, certainly made for good entertainment for the weekend!
OK- we all crashed, just some a little more than others! All in all, if you were ever debating a cross country skiing trip, even though you’re an athlete from a different discipline, I totally recommend it.
Top 3 reasons:
* The lifestyle: Ski, food, drink, ski some more, eat a bit more food, drink a bit more apfelsaft, SLEEP!
* Unlimited fun and laughs giving you rock hard abs (no need to go to the gym and do boring sit ups!)
* The scenery is incredible; it WILL take your breath away.
To finish our jam packed three days we had a quick dash to the Guinness World Record longest ‘Tibet-style’ footbridge located close to where we were staying in Reutte. It’s called the ‘Highline 179’: It’s 406m long and 114.60m high! It was one of those moments which sent your legs like jelly and your stomach upside down… your instincts knew it wasn’t right and, despite it being a solidly made structure, something in the back of your mind kept telling you you needed to hold on! I’m not really selling it to you, however if you’re ever near this area it’s definitely worth the experience to walk the bridge!
Anyway I’ll leave you with some pictures to paint a picture of everything I’ve been waffling on about, it was truly an amazing weekend, thank you WNT and Claude Sun for such a great experience!
Follow Hannah through the 2016 season on twitter @spannawalker or over at her website, www.hannahwalkercycling.co.uk
(All images courtesy of Hannah Walker)