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The Methow Olympic Festival
By: Georgina Tobiska, Ed.
Inspired by Olympians training and racing on the Methow trails and the Olympics in our own backyard at Whistler, B.C., the MVSTA presents the Methow Valley Olympic Festival, February 12-28, 2010.
The festival is designed around family sports and activities with all the excitement of world class competition in close proximity. To kick off the festivities, live broadcast of the Opening Ceremony at the Winthrop Ice Rink will be accompanied by a torch lit parade at the Town Trailhead. Celebrations, races, clinics and fun family events are scheduled every day for the entire Olympic week ahead.
The broadcast feed of Olympic
action on big screens will
continue at the Rink throughout
the week and will also be shown from the following locations: the Twisp Brew Pub, the Winthrop Brew Pub, Methow Cycle and Sport and the Mazama Store. Beyond viewing the Olympic races with friends and family, the Methow Valley Olympic Festival offers a series of Nordic races, hockey games and clinics, snowshoe softball, ice skating events and instruction, Biathlon, snow sculptures, art walks and more.
Perhaps most exciting will be the skills and experience offered by former Olympians, who will be on hand as commentators for the Olympic events and instructors in a variety of clinics. Some of the highlights include skate and classic ski camps and Learn to Biathlon camp. Additionally, professional hockey players will show their stuff on the ice and offer instruction at camps and clinics.
If your family is as inspired by the Olympic action as we are, this festival is the venue to choose for the next best location to Whistler, without the cost and travel!
Olympian Torin Koos
By: Georgina Tobiska, Ed.
Torin Koos is one of only three men named thus far to the United States Nordic Olympic Team. He is also a native of Eastern Washington who has enjoyed a long history of racing and training on the Methow Valley trails. When I spoke with Koos this summer, it was clear that his success is a testament to the excellence of Nordic ski culture in our region.
A member of the US National Team since 2001, Koos is slated to represent the US at the 2010 Olympics at Whistler and is looking like a strong contender for the podium. That outcome would not surprise those of us who grew up seeing him on the tracks, be they on Methow Valley or Leavenworth trails (Koos’ hometown is Leavenworth, WA where he regularly returns to volunteer in the schools). Regardless of the race or the trail, Torin has always been at the head of the pack. And, it’s what he has always envisioned as well. “Competing in the Olympics has been an aspiration pretty much my whole life,” says the two time Olympian.
Achieving his goals on an international level has recently become a regular occurrence for Koos. He says his proudest accomplishment thus far was his first World Cup podium in Otepaa, Estonia in 2007. “For the first time, I had it confirmed to me, absolutely, that I have what it takes to achieve my athletic ambition.”
Koos says that being from the Pacific Northwest, and east of the mountains specifically, has given strong inspiration to his passion for Nordic racing. “That’s definitely made an impact,” says Koos, “to live so close to the trails, it was something fun I could do with friends every day growing up. The culture and vibe I grew up with also play into being able to ski at this level.”
That Nordic culture is strong in the Methow, where Koos has always enjoyed racing the trails. “Racing the Ski Rodeo is something I like to do every year around the holidays,” says Koos. “It’s a great local race, and this year I plan to compete again.” When it comes to training, the US Nordic A Team is highly scheduled, but for some brief periods during the winter, team members must find their own training venues. So, where will the strongest Olympic Nordic man be training individually this winter? The answer is the Methow Valley.
Koos says he “plans to be on the MVSTA trails for a ten day individual training camp to maintain good form throughout the season.” When asked why the trails here are so impressive to a world-class level competitor, he explained that “they are unique because there are so many. There are point to point trails, race type trails up near Sun Mountain and endless variety.”
In terms of his goals for Whistler, Koos says his aspirations are to compete in the classic, individual sprint (his specialty), the sprint relay, the 4 X 10K relay and the 50K. “Beyond the goal of competing in those 4 races, I’ll let my performance speak for itself.”
And, in the Methow, we’ll be watching with anticipation, because that performance
is sure to be one to remember. Koos says “at Whistler, I look forward
to seeing all the local people from the Pacific Northwest cheering us
on—and we plan on putting on a good show for you guys.” Cheers to
By: Georgina Tobiska Georgina Tobiska is a Methow Valley native, mother of two, the
MVSTA editor and a lover of the trails.
Methow Valley SuperTour
By: Georgina Tobiska, Ed.
The fastest Nordic competitors on the continent will convene in the beautiful Methow Valley this year for the MVSTA’s first ever SuperTour. Slated for January 16 and 17, 2010, the SuperTour will be a close second to the thrill of watching the Olympics in British Columbia, just one month later. The competition will include the top Nordic Olympians from the U.S. and Canada at their peak of performance as they finalize training for Whistler.
Sanctioned by the United States Ski Association (USSA), the SuperTour race series is the highest level of cross country ski competition in North America, and a requirement for Olympic qualification. The Methow Valley SuperTour is one of only thirteen races nationwide that fills the criteria for Olympic hopefuls. Cash prizes and series points are awarded to top competitors.
The Methow Valley trail system is nationally recognized as one of the best training and racing venues in North America, and this year it is particularly sought after because of its similarities to the Olympic venue at Whistler. Not only are the elevations similar between the Methow and Whistler, but the quality of climate and snow conditions are highly comparable.
Kristen Smith, MVSTA’s co-director of events, says that “a combination of the timing and the course makes this a great SuperTour offering. This is exactly one month before the Olympics which allows competitors one more big race before the Olympics. Our course was specifically created for such competitions. It is set at about the same elevation as the Olympic course and the profile of our course is also very similar, so it gives Olympians great practice for what they will encounter in Whistler.” That, along with the Methow’s close proximity to Whistler, means that “we’ll be watching the fastest skiers on the national and international level” says Smith.
The racing conditions and level of competition at the SuperTour are also expected to be excellent due to timing. Scheduled for Martin Luther King weekend, snow conditions should be at a peak for quality. In recent years, this particular weekend has proven to be one of the best for snow pack, weather conditions and therefore performance and fast times.
Though this is the first SuperTour hosted in the Methow, the top dogs on the race circuit have long known of our trail system as a haven for training. Ex-Olympians live here because of it, and make the competition fierce throughout the MVSTA winter race series.
Smith explains: “the Methow Valley is viewed as the‘Shangri la’ of skiing, but because there has never been a world class ski race here, these athletes have never been able to visit the valley. When we called the United States Ski Association about hosting this race, they were very excited that the Methow Valley finally had the facility in place and the community support to put on a ski race like this. There are no other SuperTour ski races on the West Coast so to have this in the Methow Valley is a big deal.”
The caliber of competition provides an unprecedented
opportunity for junior racers and ski teams as well. Junior
Olympic Qualifying Races are a part of the SuperTour
weekend, and this allows junior racers to compete with
some of the world’s best. Youth ski teams, collegiate teams
and Senior and Master’s teams are expected to pour into
the Methow for this tremendous opportunity. Given that
the Methow boasts some of the top junior national Nordic
skiers in the U.S., even the non-Olympic level of racing
should be fast and furious.
The SuperTour kicks off on Saturday, Jan. 16, with a 1.3K skate sprint race. Races continue on Sunday, Jan. 17, with a 15K classic race for the men and a 10K classic race for women and juniors. How does this all add up for those of us who don’t compete on a world class level? We’ll be cheering on the most exciting elite ski competition available—and hopefully picking up on some form techniques as well. Smith says that “this is the public’s opportunity to come see these athletes in person allowing them to better relate to the athletes when they watch them compete at the Olympics.”
Julie Muylleart, MVSTA’s co-director of events along with Smith, says that the race courses offer extremely good spectator viewing. Muylleart explains that “racers will start and finish in the high school stadium, so there are great views from the covered grandstands. Spectators will also be able to see racers as they come through the stadium part way through the distance races on Sunday. This, combined with the announcers’ commentary and music, contributes to a very festive and fun experience.”
The race course was specifically created for high-level competition and is located just adjacent to Liberty Bell High School in Winthrop. The course can be well viewed from either the grandstands or along the trails and makes a number of loops allowing for perfect spectator viewing. Will the SuperTour have a future here in the Methow beyond the 2010 Olympic year? Smith says that “our goal is to host the SuperTour every year and bring these worldclass skiers to the Methow year after year.” That future will likely depend greatly on the support and enthusiasm of the Methow Valley community for the event. So, come on out to race and cheer, because our future Olympic champions will be here.
The MVSTA would like to give a big thank you to our local Methow Valley SuperTour title sponsors: AeroMech and Nordic Ultratune.
Additional race sponsors are Backcountry Coffee, Bear Creek Lumber, Central Reservations, The Chewuch Inn, Methow Cycle & Sport, Mazama Ranch House, River’s Edge Resort, Methow Valley News, Sun Mountain Lodge, Winthrop Mountain Sports, Sunflower Wash Works, the Winthrop Red Apple Market, Swix, Fischer, Salomon and Rossignol.
It Takes a Community to Build a Trail
By: James DeSalvo
There is an old Nigerian Igbo proverb--”Ora na azu nwa”--which means, it takes the community/village to raise a child. I think that proverb could easily be applied to our community based trail system. I have always appreciated the MVSTA trails. It is hard not to when you play in a valley that is so filled with trails for every season and interest. Often, between a few skate strides, a few cranks of the bike wheels or a few bouncing strides across the suspension bridge, I would wonder how this place came to “raise” such a vast and functional trail system.
Most users of the MVSTA trail system have similar thoughts and questions even if they are only fleeting or subconscious. I used to briefly guess at the people, the time, the money, the equipment and the relationships that must have made all of what I was enjoying possible. But by the time my hour adventure was over, those questions left me until the next time when I returned to another trail that lay ready and waiting for my use. Then the questions would come again. Who maintains this? How much does it cost? How long does it take? Why am I so lucky? All my questions quickly got answered a little over a year ago when I became the Trail Manager for MVSTA. Now answering those questions is my work, and it is amazing what each and every mile of our 125+mile system requires and receives each year. I promise that after looking at the maintenance requirement per mile you will never look at a section of trail in the same way. Annually every mile of trail requires the hours, dollars and energy shown in the pyramid to the right. These numbers are a “best estimate” based on an average year and an average mile of trail. This pyramid represents the minimum resources for one mile of trail in direct maintenance costs.
More impressive than the list is that all of it happens year after year and has happened for over 30 years. By far the most important factor in “raising” our trail system has been, and continues to be, the Methow Valley community. Annually, there are over 1,500 volunteer hours of blood, sweet, tears and smiles that maintain our trail system. These are the people you may see lifting, pulling, screwing, cutting, shoveling, raking and hammering the trails inch by inch as you cover it mile by mile. The next time you see these “trail heroes” please thank them for their efforts.
Moreover we have 160+ landowners who graciously provide trail easements through their property to create critical links to state and federal lands. The community has played such an immense role in developing and maintaining this trail system that we talk about it as a “community based trail system.”
Each mile of trail sees at least 30 hours of “grooming” work which mainly consists of the winter grooming, but also includes seasonal mowing. We employ about 12 operators who have an average of 10+ years experience with our most senior groomer, Steve Taylor, having 20+ years of experience. To cover the entire system we have 5 Pisten Pulley snow cats (heavy groomers), 8 snow mobiles (light groomers), 1 tractor/ mower and 2 brush mowers. The cost structure above covers the maintenance and operating cost per mile of these vehicles but does not cover the initial cost. To give some idea of the initial overhead, a new PB100 snow cat would run you around $150,000 plus another $35,000 for the actual grooming implements.
So, the next time you head out for a 6 mile ski and wonder, ‘Who maintains
this?’ ‘How much does it cost?’ ‘How long does it take?’ You can easily do the
math and know that: 7.8 land owners said yes; 120 hours of volunteer, trail
crew work was donated; 180 hours of grooming was completed; $5,100
in maintenance costs was spent (plus initial equipment costs); and
hopefully the outcome is that all this made your experience on
our community trail system perfect! And if you wonder, ‘Why
am I so lucky?’ It’s because you are here in
the Methow Valley! Thanks for getting out there, thank you all for your support of our community based trail system, and hope to see you on the trails soon.
James DeSalvo is the MVSTA Trails Manager
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World Class Trails Make for World-Class Athletes
By: Georgina Tobiska, Ed.
Nordic athletes from the Methow are not only leading the competition in the Pacific Northwest, they are also putting our valley on the map internationally. World-class ski trails here have created a community ski culture that is extremely supportive of young skiers and make growing up in the Methow tremendous fun. Whether you are out on the trails for love of the ski or have serious racing ambitions, the Methow trails are some of the best in the nation and provide a training paradise for competitive skiers.
Three young Methow natives have taken full advantage of our world-class trails throughout their lives and are now training here this year in the hopes of landing their places on the US Olympic team. These accomplished athletes are Sam Naney, Sadie Bjornsen and Erik Bjornsen.
|Sadie Bjornsen at the Senior National Championships in January,
2008. Many top juniors compete at the US Senior Nationals as well
as their own Junior Nationals. This photo was taken during one of
the elimination heats in the sprint at US Senior Nationals. Photo
by: Adam Johnson of brockit.com.
Scott Johnston has coached all three for the MV Nordic Club and Team and says that these athletes are products of the excellence of Nordic ski culture in the Methow Valley. Johnston, who is coaching Naney and the Bjornsen’s without pay but with athlete funding from the Methow Olympic Development (MOD) project, explains that “for skiers who are seeking an international career, there are few avenues. There have been cutbacks at the national level of funding. To make the step from junior national racing to World Cup racing takes a community of support. One thing that’s unique about our program is that we are focusing on our local talent. We recognize that the Methow produces some top young skiers, and MOD is an extension of the ski community here.”
Having coached the US Ski team through World Cup races, Johnston knows what it takes to be the world’s best. A supportive community is key, and a hallmark of the Methow Valley, says Johnston. Sam Naney, who competed in his first Junior National race at age 14, gives insight into Methow ski culture. “There’s a real pride in the Methow,” says Naney.“It’s one of the last places that fosters community upbringing with diverse experiences possible—and look, we have internationally successful athletes!” Naney notes that MOD is founded on community principles similar to the MVSTA: “family involvement, grass-roots fundraising and a culture where everyone pitches in—it’s all exemplary of the Methow.”
The other crucial aspect of training for these athletes is the quality of the trails. Johnston explains: “I’ve skied all over the world and North America. This trail system is incomparable—there is nothing like it anywhere else in the country. The trails foster the love of skiing. When we’re coaching these junior kids, we rotate our practice around a number of trailheads and terrains. At most places around the country kids are training at the same venue everyday! Boredom may set in, whereas here, there is a lot of opportunity to keep the sport entertaining—we may see a moose or ski by a flock of geese on the river. It keeps kids interested and leads them towards a high level of skiing.”
The Olympic hopefuls support those contentions. Erik Bjornsen has skied the MVSTA trails his entire life and reflects, “I’ve spent a lot of time on about every trail in the Valley and they have always been amazing. I can wake up in the morning after a night of snowfall and know that I’m going to get some fresh corduroy and a beautiful ski.”
Erik Bjornsen, sporting the red bandana, at the Junior olympics in Truckee, CA, 2008.
Naney says that no other Nordic ski area in the US or Europe has the variety of the Methow Valley trails. He also points out that “the grooming is above and beyond other venues. Our impeccable corduroy is unheard of in most other places.” Sadie Bjornsen, a four time Junior National Champion, says that the trail system here is amazing. “I didn’t realize that until I went away. Not only do we have awesome trails, but the grooming is so good. And there are so many of them and so much variety.” Her coach says that “Sadie has a very strong chance to make the Olympics. In the 2008 US Champs races, Sadie dominated the junior field. Additionally, she beat all of the US top senior women except one in at least one of the races held that week. This means all the US Ski Team women including Kikkan Randall who was fresh from a World Cup victory in Russia 10 days earlier. A very impressive performance for an 18 year old. This year, with her renewed commitment to skiing, we hope to re-establish Sadie as one of the dominant forces in US women’s cross country skiing.”
In terms of the race circuit this winter, these athletes are particularly excited about this year’s MVSTA SuperTour. Bjornsen says, “it’s an awesome opportunity for people to be introduced to the Methow. People will get the chance to understand how great our community is and how great the training can be on the trails.” Naney says “when I heard about it, I was pumped! It could really establish us as an international location and open eyes in the Methow—it’s not only a recreational paradise, but we can produce and host international athletes.” Erik Bjornsen and Sam Naney both credit the trails and MVSTA in particular for some of their success. Sadie Bjornsen echoes that “the MVSTA has definitely created an atmosphere that’s made my accomplishments possible. Without the trail system, my competitive ski career would not have happened.”
The Bjornsens and Naney recall that MVSTA races have also spurred their careers. All three grew up participating in the Nordic race series and cite the Ski Rodeo as a particular favorite. Having skied the Methow trails and raced for years, these dedicated athletes are now showing the world what they can do. Sadie Bjornsen says “I wanted to see what was out there. I’ve always loved racing. I love the feeling of testing how far I can go.”
And, we’ll be eagerly watching to see just how far and how fast
she can go. She, Naney and Erik Bjornsen are likely to be strong
contenders at this year’s SuperTour and other Olympic qualifiers
throughout the winter. But regardless of how close they come
to the top of the podium, each are committed to represent our
Methow Valley well, and all have our pride and support.
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