by Mark Nadell
June Lake, California
Far West Nordic juniors skiers recently returned from this summer's first High Sierra training camp, held in the Sierra Nevada region of June Lake, near the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park. At 7,600 ft., June Lake has proven over the past years to be a perfect location for high altitude training, with excellent access to hill bounding, roller skiing and mountaineering (not to mention some great lake swimming). This year's camp was once again led by 2-time Olympic athlete Nancy Fiddler, along with Far West Nordic's Head Coach Ben Grasseschi, and it featured 20 young athletes (including 14 from the Truckee/Tahoe area) of varying abilities and fitness who have expressed a strong desire to become faster skiers over the summer training months. Many of these skiers are veterans of the past Junior Olympics competitions, along with a mix of younger, motivated juniors who have realized that becoming a great Nordic skier means training year-round for the sport.
As is tradition, the camp began on Thursday afternoon at the beach of June Lake with a set of team-bonding exercises, which quickly escalated to a vigorous game of SpeedBall. Thursday evening also featured a trip to the famous Bachar Boulders for some serious rock climbing, lasting well into the darkness hours.
Friday's program featured some special new drills cooked up by Coach Fiddler, who emphasized that "If you can change something right now in the summer, you are going to ski better in the winter." With that in mind, Nancy put the athletes through a series of drills designed to improve their classic technique, with an emphasis on correct body position and forward motion. To complete the workout, all the athletes then worked on proper ski walking technique on the slopes of June Mountain itself, culminating in a long, level 3 time trial up the steep climb.
After a long break for lunch and some camp lounging (including the compulsory rope swing and occasional tree jumping into nearby Gull Lake), the workouts began anew with a Classic technique roller ski in the beautiful valley southeast of Mammoth Lakes, with incredible views of the Sierra Crest and Mammoth Mountain itself, still featuring a significant amount of snow on its upper slopes to tantalize cross country skiers longing for winter. After a series of drills led by the coaches, the athletes really found a need to focus on snow images, as the climb through the steep canyon near Crowley Lake led to temperatures in the 90's (F), and exhausted and parched skiers eagerly awaited the arrival of the shuttle van.
Saturday was the highlight of the trip for many, with all the athletes and coaches heading south to Rock Creek for an attempt to climb 13,760 ft. Mt. Morgan, a behemoth of a peak directly east of the main Sierra crest. Starting at an elevation of 9,600 ft., this 4,000+ foot climb was a significant endeavor for many, with more than half of the route scrambling off-trail over talus and snow. Amazingly, 100% of all who attempted the climb succeeded in reaching the summit, and were rewarded with unsurpassed views of the entire High Sierra. And being skiers at heart, the route down was filled with quite a bit of glissading on foot, rear, and even some frontal "penguin" sliding, led by Head Coach Grasseschi.
On Sunday morning, it was time to strap on the skate rollerskis and head back for some more ski-specific drills on the pavement, followed up by a strength workout on the grass at the nearby ball fields, with the imposing Sierra Crest and Mt. Morrison looming close above. Afterwards, it was time to pack up and head back home, whether that was south to Mammoth Lakes or Bishop, or north to Truckee and Lake Tahoe. This camp was notable for the strong bonds that developed between all the athletes, whether they were Junior Olympic athletes or younger, Development-age skiers. Many of these same campers are planning on heading back to the area for Far West Nordic's next camp in August, a 4-day trip to Yosemite itself in the Tuolumne Meadows area. Designed specifically for older, more experienced athletes, this camp will feature much of the same variety as the June Lake camp, but with a significantly higher level of intensity.
A gallery of photos is available on the Far West Nordic website at www.farwestnordic.org, and skiers are encouraged to email the office at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about training camps and programs for cross country skiers in the Far West division.