The chapter Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass in Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass shows how Western-based the scientific community is. The research project described in the chapter is based on traditional knowledge of the importance of harvesting sweetgrass. When the research proposal was submitted, lots of criticism was placed on the fact that the background information came from oral knowledge and that it seemed to rehash established science. This criticism comes from the fact that 'science' comes from Western ideas of data and objectivity.
The results showed that research based off of traditional information, conducted with Western methods of measurements, control variables, etc... is feasible. In fact, we need to move away from not just a single disciplinary view to a transdisciplinary view but also to a non-Western view. Traditional views such as Native American knowledge is often not even counted as a discipline despite the hundreds of years of observations and knowledge sharing.
Louise Boyle's article The Winter Olympics and the true cost of fake snow dominating the slopes raises many of the problems associated with artificial snow. 'It takes 200,000 gallons of water to cover an acre with a foot of snow', which is a major issue in the water-scarce American West where many ski resorts reside. Luckily about 80% of the water returns to the watershed when the snow melts.
Boyle mentions the financial cost of snowmaking but this is only a problem for the smallest and most local ski areas. The cost of '$500,000 - $3.5 million each season to make snow' would be afterthought to Vail Resorts, which had $2.27 billion in revenue in 2019. In fact only 0.9 - 6.2% of revenue would be taken up for snowmaking on the 40 ski resorts owned by Vail Resorts when using Boyle's figure.
The real impact is in the propagation of the myth of a normal ski season. Although it may be obvious in the Olympics that snowmaking is used, there is no natural snow, in the US many people won't realize the extent of snowmaking. Even if the snow season is terrible, most ski resorts will be open for Thanksgiving due to the power of snowmaking and significant financial backing. This can make many visitors to ski resorts not see the true impacts of drought and climate change. Why would they when the ski runs are open (albeit artificial snow)? Ski resorts make money selling the facade and idea of a 'winter wonderland' and they will always deliver it, at the expense of the environment and by misleading their customers.
"DYSBIOSIS TO PLURIVERSEBIOSIS"
The article, Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teaching of Grass focused on a scientist, Laurie, who wanted to research the effects of indigenous people harvesting sweet grass. Her proposal was belittled by men in her department and deemed a “waste of time”. Determined to prove them wrong, Laurie continued with her experiment and in the end concluded that harvesting of the sweet grass yielded more sweet grass than not harvesting did. The inspiration of Laurie’s study came from the philosophies of the indigenous people which state “...never take the first plant that you see”, “take only what you need”, and “if we use a plant respectfully it will stay with us and flourish. If we ignore it, it will go away. If you don’t give it respect it will leave us.”
Everyone comes from a different background and is primarily shaped by the environment around them. Some bits of knowledge are taken for granted; they are assumed as common knowledge. For instance, someone from the east (John Henry) may know how to tie sailing knots and think everyone knows this but they may not know what wind is, where someone from the west (Trevor Phillip) is well versed on the nuances of the wind and take that knowledge for granted. The scientists that belittled Laurie’s proposal could have been more helpful and not eaten their words in the end had they been open to disciplines outside of their own. The transdisciplinary approach could potentially yield the same results for each individual because “experiments are not about discovery but about listening and translating the knowledge of other beings.” For instance, an anthropologist would be interested to see how the indigenous people would harvest the sweet grass and how it was used ceremoniously, and a modern scientist would be interested in how it is harvested now along with all the climate impacts and implications. The results would be similar, just different interpretations and methods.
- M.J. Williams
This chapter outlined the struggles of a graduate student and her battles against westernized ideology. I think this chapter highlights the damage that a narrow scope of understanding and appreciation can do. The committee belittles the graduate student because a lack of transdisciplinary thought. Because of this, her discoveries are wrongly dismissed. The use of transdisciplinary research could lead to a more well rounded and complete solution. The very science and results basis of westernized thought might work well with the traditional methods of raising crops. However, this would require both parties to value the other's perspective. I think this is a major issue in western culture.
The tendency of western culture to dismiss every other culture and knowledge basis can be seen through many historical examples. One that comes to mind are the Native North American tribes that once living in what is now California. Over hundreds of years, they learned the importance of controlled burns to control wildfires. Now, Californian wildfires have never been worse. A western perspective would argue that their own knowledge is above that of other cultures. In this case, this could not be further from the truth. Via a deep understanding of nature and seasons, Native American people were able to learn things that still challenge us in modern times. Obviously, the dismissal of alternative perspectives is a toxic practice that only leads to the destruction of knowledge and a misinformed superiority complex
The increasing prevalence of man-made snow presents many issues to the modern day winter athlete. It is evident that winters have been shortening and temperatures rising causing many resorts and trail systems to turn to snowmaking. The issue is most noticeable when the 2022 Winter Olympics, the biggest winter competition in the world, relies solely on the use of snow blowers. In fact, the region hosting the Nordic racing historically gets low snow. This beggs many questions. What does it mean to be a winter sport, when natural snow is not even necessary? How much can we as a human race attempt change the natural weather patterns and change the planet to suit our needs?
It is ironic, to me, that ski resorts have become so reliant on snow making. The energy and water required to make snow only worsen the effects of climate change. In this way, ski resorts are only digging their own grave. This issue may show how capitalism may not be equipped to handle planetary problems. In theory, ski resorts should be on the cutting edge of environmentalism to prolong their business and profits. Unfortunately, most resorts are preoccupied with the short term problems and cannot see that their lifespan is quickly shrinking.
Over the course of our 2022 race season, we have explored many beautiful landscapes. With the help of Christi, Rachel, and fellow athletes, I have been able to learn about these environments as well as the people that call them home. Many small mountain towns have many similar characteristics. Crested Butte, Midway, and Leadville all seemed similar to me until the coaches were able to give me the context that I needed.
While many of these towns boast scenic ski resorts and more AirBnB's than actual homes, in the case of Leadville, this was not always the story. Leadville was a different kind of mountain town when both Christi and Rachel lived there. Surrounded by vacation towns, Leadville was home to many of the people supporting the ski resorts. This meant that a large portion of the town would commute hours everyday to towns like Aspen and Breckenridge.
These days, Leadville is experiencing a boom. Many people are moving to this secluded mountain town in search of an undiscovered Colorado paradise. This means that many of the original residents of Leadville have been pushed out to surrounding towns. Now they commute into Leadville to work.
This raises many questions regarding the nature of boom and bust towns. Are people really only allowed to live in a town based off the whim of a rich upper class? The people working restaurants and hotels should not have to change their entire lifestyle in order to support the people that necessitated that change in the first place. Ultimately this is a complex and multifaceted challenge that helps me to view these mountain towns in a new light
2/23/2022 0 Comments
This chapter discusses a variety of topics that pertain to our discussion of transdisciplinary research. One of the key points that the author talks about is the idea of the rigorous mold of the scientific process and how when she arrived at the idea of researching sweetgrass. She wanted to combine indigenous knowledge with the scientific aspects of botanical research, however this proved to be difficult given the nature of academia and the strict scientific method that allowed for little deviation.
This chapter helps to explore how we can utilize transdisciplinarity as tool within the scientific community. One way that this may be achieved could be to utilize participatory acton research (PAR), in this context with the basket weavers, and the biologist conducting the experiments on the sweetgrass. In my mind this may allow for the basket weavers to hold a higher position with the research and allow them to interpret the data that was collected that may aid in their basket weaving. This would allow both the scientists to collect the data needed for the experiments, but also heighten their appreciation for the sweetgrass by looking at it through the lens of the basket weavers.
The notion of transdisciplinary research looks different in many contexts and I believe that the rigid scientific method has its place in academia as it always has. However, there are instances where it may decrease the diversity to which a potential experiment may help a particular people, or hinder. Through the context of our class I believe the incorporation of many different disciplines can develop different aspects of each of the researchers, which will be beneficial in creating well rounded people and researchers as well.
-Silas Goetz for Dysbiosis to Pluriversebiosis
In this chapter a female graduate student is belittled by her committee for relying on traditional knowledge to support that tending and selective harvesting of Sweet Grass will help the population grow, while an undisturbed population will slowly deteriorate. I believe that this result is a combination of westernized outlook on traditional means of life, as well as a lack of transdisciplinary experience.
It is not uncommon for traditional medicine, agricultural practices and ways of life to be easily dismissed in the modern era. Rooted in the early colonization of America and the rest of the Western and Eastern World; anything that was not in line with European methods were deemed crude, and rudimentary. Despite being crafted to near perfection for thousands of years. As the modern age of science appeared anything that was did not have peer reviewed backing was thrown out. This mindset is still not uncommon today, which resulted in my disappointment while reading this chapter of Braiding Sweetgrass it did not surprise me.
What did surprise me was the committees lack of knowledge on pruning, selective harvesting and crop management practices. While simultaneously dismissing traditional practices for being without extensive research or proof of results; they have immediately dismissed common practices in westernized agricultural. This is due to the committee's lack of transdisciplinary knowledge and narrowmindedness. Fruit farms across the world do not let their orchards grow wild and untended to produce the most fruit, as the graduate committee would suggest, they carefully prune and tend trees maximize output. Often this will include removing some of the fruit while it is immature, allowing the remaining fruit to grow larger and healthier.
Had this graduate committee had a broader range of knowledge they would not have been so dismissive. I would assume they would still as for more documented experiments to be administered to add to the greater scientific literature; but they would not claim that the proposal didn't even have any "theoretical framework".
Getting to ski at Happy Jack the Wyoming Ski team is very lucky in the fact that we are able to ski on natural snow for the entire season. One might find it strange that it is lucky for a ski team to ski on natural snow; but as the trend in snowfall continues to decrease the amount of time skiers are spending on manmade loops are steadily increasing. I remember not too many years ago manmade snow loops were something to get on early in the season, pre-thanksgiving skiing. However now it seems almost every USSA or FIS race we have attended were racing on a hard pack manmade concoction.
This Christmas I raced a 10km race around a 1.6km loop. At US Senior Nationals by the end of the week what was not the ski course the grass was poking out. It is only by some miracle the Sun Valley super tour was on natural snow as all the natural snowfall landed only a week before the races. It seems as if the trend for any race venue to be able to reliably host races is to have a well-established snowmaking system in place.
Thankfully the race locations used for USCSA races are held at high-altitude heavy snowfall areas, such as Leadville Col. and the Grand Messa, so for now our 'regular' season races have been held on 100% natural snow. But the question must be asked, how many more years until the USCSA's natural snow safe havens also fall victim to climate change?
Throughout our travels around the western United States and soon to be Eastern United states. Our coaches Christi and Rachel have challenge myself, along with all of my teammates to analyze the complex social and environmental challenges faced by the many ski towns and resorts that we travel to race over the course of the season. To me the social aspect is the most interesting whereas the environmental is the most shocking. Many of our races are held in small, beautiful mountain towns nestled in the foothills of breathtaking mountains and buried under enormous snowfall. It is often the case that half of these houses within the town void of families; Air BnB's make up at least half the real estate and the houses that are not open for short time lodging are mini mansion easily worth over a million dollars. As beautiful as the mountain towns are its hard to shake the feeling of a gentrification and a cardboard main street that could fall down at any moment revealing the façade. It's clear that there is a lot of new money within city limits, and you cannot tell where those that keep the town supported live. On the other side of things, it is shocking how from weekend to weekend the weather that use to be so reliable can change so fast. One week we will be racing in frigged temperatures worrying about athletic and cold endused asthma and the next we will be discussing if we should race in T- shirt. As an Ecological Studies major I have been aware of climate change for quite some time and have studied it extensively within the classroom; but this winter it has become more apparent then ever of its drastic effects upon the world.
Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass, a chapter in Braiding Sweetgrass - Melding Science with Indigenous Ways of Knowing, by Robin Wall-Kimmerer examines the disparities between traditional scientific knowledge and the indigenous ways of knowing.
Throughout this chapter Robin mentions that she and her graduate student have had to challenge the current way of thinking within academia to observe sweetgrass and the people that utilize it to understand and appreciate these indigenous perspectives.
Part of their trouble was that they wanted to conduct observations that were outside of the traditional scientific method. To do this they first needed approval from the research committee. She states that there were challenges related to getting the research approved because it strays from the traditional scientific method. The purpose of this experimental study is to understand the plant without sticking to a rigorous method, but rather listening to the grass and understanding our relationship with it.
The utilization of transdisciplinary research for Robins study may look like asking those that are the basket makers what their management of the sweetgrass is. This would allow for a perspective shift and enable the researchers to engage is disciplines outside of academia. Additionally, while the book aims to break from the traditional scientific method, it may serve them to apply PAR to their experiments in the form of qualitative research questions and utilize coding of responses to understand the indigenous perspective through a different lens. These are a couple of ways that the author could utilize transdisciplinary research methods within the context of an academic setting.
-Silas L. Goetz
Mishkos Keher nomagwen: The Teachings of Grass, a chapter in Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass , illustrates the story of a graduate student researcher wishing to incorporate meaningfulness into her work. She decides to focus in on sweetgrass harvesting methods, and how such methods effect the surrounding environment. She is at first ridiculed, but ultimately shows that harvesting actually increases the health of sweetgrass fields, as opposed to just letting them sit.
The woman's research was inspired by those in the local native community, who had often talked of the best way to harvest the grass. One thing was certain between them all though, that harvesting the grass was better than letting it sit.
Had transdisciplinary research approaches been used in this research, the histories of the harvests could have been discovered as well. Furthermore, differing points of view could have aided in determining the actual biological reasons for why the plants did better with harvest, rather than just settling on that conclusion.
The research could have much more easily been done transdisciplinarily had the academic board sponsoring the research believed in such methods. The board was quite dismissive of any non "hard data" research, especially toward the generational stories of the native communities.
John Henry Paluszek is a new recruit to the UW Nordic team coming from a stellar career at Castleton University where he won Overall Individual National Championship accolades twice, 2019 & 2020. Due to COVID the 2021 National Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Championships were cancelled giving John Henry an additional year of eligibility. With a desire to continue his studies and to ski John Henry transferred to UW in the fall of 2021 to pursue his Masters degree in Botany. While learning and working in the Weinig Lab John Henry has trained hard through the summer and fall and started his career in Brown and Gold at a series of pre-Olympic Super Tour races, the United States National Championships, and regional NCAA Division I races..
He has been slowly lowering his US Ski & Snowboard points through this series of races and has been extremely competitive both the Super Tour races and the NCAA Division I races.
This past weekend was his first opportunity to test his speed against a United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association field at the Colorado Mesa University Invitational at Grand Mesa, Colorado. In the skate sprint he showed the Rocky Mountain Conference why he is the defending National Champion by dominating the qualifier and every sprint heat. Finishing the day easily winning the A Final.
In the 10km Classic race he skied with another UW skier, Kaj Taylor, and Western Colorado Universities Albert Hesse. He tried several times to pull away from the other skiers but they held on with persistence until the final 200 meters where John Henry was able to use his superior sprinting ability to take the win. This double win helped the men take the team titles for the weekend in what looks to be a great rivalry between UW and WSC.
When he’s not on the ski courses or in the lab John Henry has been leading a qualitative research study to examine the effect of the pandemic on ski training and racing for the past 2 years. He and the rest of the skiers who are conducting this study have received a grant through the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources to help fund their research.
We are extremely proud both of John Henry’s ski accolades and his scholarship. The true scholar athlete John Henry ROCKS OUR WORLD!!
The article written by Louise Boyle in the Independent titled "The Winter Olympics and the true cost of fake snow dominating our slopes: ‘It’s more dangerous now" is a great article that accompanies what we have been discussing throughout both our coursework and ski travels. One of the major goals we are trying to achieve throughout this course is how elite cross country skiing, bodily health, and planetary health are all interconnected. We have explored this by reading and analyzing literature and articles that are pertinent to this discussion.
This article shows a major link between elite ski racing and planetary health through the lens of climate change and how it has changed elite venues such as the Olympic venue in China. Snow blowers will be needed in order to supply enough snow for the games to commence in less than a week. I was interested in the portion of the article that discusses the additional resource use that will be necessary to supply this snow.
Throughout my course work in geology we have discussions surrounding resource allocation frequently. The article reports that 49 million gallons of water will be needed in order to create enough snow for the duration of the games. It is noteworthy that there are also more inputs of fossil fuels that will power the snow blowers as well. I believe a goal that should be reached should be to mitigate the effects of climate change that the nordic ski community may contribute due to the use of fossil fuels in snow production.
However, it may be difficult to find alternative sources of energy that are efficient and will provide ample power supply. One option may be photovoltaics or other "green" energy sources. Until this point is reached, everyone in the ski community will need to address snow production and its potential effects on the environment. More open dialogue within members of the community will lead to change and finding alternative natural sources of snow may become harder, but ultimately may be a better alternative.
Louise Boyle’s article “The Winter Olympics and the true cost of fake snow dominating our slopes: ‘It’s more dangerous now’” raises some serious concerns on the future of skiing and man-made snow. A staggering “91 percent of US ski areas make artificial snow”. This statistic is indicative of climate change forcing ski resorts to find ways to supplement the lack of snowfall occurring each year. The solution for most ski areas seems to be snow-making, but this snow making is expensive and resource intensive, making it inaccessible to many small ski areas. The major problem of snow-making is that the power used is still mostly coming from fossil fuels, which in turn is changing the climate to produce less snow each year, making it quite the juxtaposition. However, some resorts have made the effort to make snow using renewable energy sources, which is great and headed in the right direction but not affordable for most.
Some research suggests “ ‘Within 50 years all ski resorts below 1,200m won’t have a chance and will go out of business,” Michel Revaz, of Liechtenstein-based Alpine conservation society Cipra, told The Independent back in 2006.” 1,200 meters is just shy of 4,000 feet. I am curious if this means ski areas above 1,200 meters with snow-making capabilities or if they think ski areas at that elevation will still have enough natural snow, although I assume it is the former. This will have a big impact on all ski towns as well as all towns in general. Many ski towns are already as big as they can get because they are enveloped in national forest and park land with nowhere to build. If these ski towns can no longer offer skiing, the ones that can will become even more exclusive and people will be required to travel further to access them. Skiing already has a high barrier to entry with the price of equipment, lift tickets, and lodging but the prices are only increasing as ski resorts have to make up the money lost when they open in the late season due to a lack of snowfall. Much needs to be done to remedy this situation, making snow may be an option but it needs to become more sustainable and environment friendly in order to be a viable long-term option.
- M.J. Williams
Between all of the traveling that we have done for elite ski racing throughout the last month and change, no place is more iconic, or rather more uncooperative than Soldier Hollow Nordic Center. Having grown up skiing in Wyoming I have had the pleasure of skiing here my fair share of times and I have found that every time I go to Soldier Hollow the weather never is ever exactly the same. Whether it is 0 degrees the first day at US Nationals this go-around and raining the last day, or anything in between.
The variability of the snow that we have in Laramie has forced us to look too other locations to ski. In previous years it seemed that the Snowies were able to hold snow that we could ski on. However, recently it seems that dry land may become the norm for nordic skiers wanting to stay close to home, but still looking to train.
With all of this talk of climate change and the future of snow sports and of particular interest nordic skiing I am curious how we will continue our training and racing patterns into the future. Of course we travel great distances to compete at enhanced levels, but are we going to see a worsening impact of no snow compounded by planetary health that may be diminishing. I am apprehensive to find out...
The article in the newspaper The Independent "The Winter Olympics and the true cost of fake snow dominating our slopes: ‘It’s more dangerous now’" relates quite a bit to our current classwork. Furthermore, it is all about the rather unwell future of nordic skiing given the current and future snow forecasts. Additionally, the article relates snow levels to ski dependent economies, another subject we have delved into in class. I particularly thought the article's perspective on man made snow was interesting. This is something relatable when skiing at Soldier Hollow in Utah, or even at early season Kincaid Park in Anchorage AK. The article notes how nearly indestructable compared to normal snow the manmade substance is, but how it is much icier, and requires much more time, money, and energy to create. Furthermore, the article notes how parts of the skiing industry are becoming almost solely reliant on manmade snow, and how it is not sustainable. Skiing on a ribbon of snow is unnatural, and marks a last ditch attempt to save the industry in certain areas. The future for skiing right now is a bit murky. While it should be able to survive in higher elevations and colder latitudes, places like the Rockies Western slope might be out of luck. The industry will be continually forced to rely on manmade snow, making the sport more expensive than it already is. It will be interesting to see how the sport adapts to its unwelcoming future.
The emergence of the Coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) disease has obviously had the largest impact on skiing and our lives in general recently. The alarming rate of transmission between people initially stopped all social interactions in early 2020. For myself, I had online classes and had my high school track season cancelled. Luckily the use of masks and the availability of vaccines has allowed most activities to resume, especially ones I value like skiing.
The interaction between Nordic skiing and Covid-19 presents an interesting dynamic. Nordic skiing is an individual sport held outside while it also has a strong team element with close interactions. There is a really low chance of disease spread when I just go skiing on my own but a high chance when sitting in the van for hours or warming up by the heater. Both of these elements are necessary; I individually have to perform in a race but I also need a team for the overall team results, knowledge, and keeping sane.
We have done our best to embrace both of these sides while minimizing risk of transmission. Some exercises, especially morning runs, are done on our own while others are done as a team. We mask up indoors and in the van to keep healthy. We take Covid tests before trips. So far these measures have worked well enough for us to compete at events like Senior Nationals and the Montana State Invitational and have a generally normal season so far. I can’t say how Covid-19 will impact us the rest of this season but I know we will figure out a way.
As our environment changes, so do we. We must do our best to curb the negative effects but in some cases we must adapt. No example seems more fitting than the one our team experienced this Fall. We were all set to travel to Grand Targhee, however the day before we were to leave, we heard harrowing news. West Yellowstone had canceled their annual Thanksgiving race for the first time in forty years and forty years' worth of nights. Rachel and Christi were forced to pivot, something that has become old hat at this point. So, they switched one Grand for another, Grand Targhee to Grand Mesa. They say the gods laugh when we make plans, but I think Mother Nature is often the culprit, which more accurately is a human occurrence due to our refusal to acknowledge climate change as something we must fix.
Location was not the only change experienced on this trip. The team was split up amongst five different cabins, some of this was because of Covid, some of this was because the cabins were a mere five-minute drive from the ski trails. Either way, it is something the team has had to adapt to. At one point we had to rent three houses because our team had grown by ten skiers, a promising sign of prosperity but a touch melancholic that we could not all be under the same roof. Some real bonds were formed on this particular trip, living in such proximity to each other, in a cabin that you could hear someone sigh upstairs if you were downstairs. It was cozy, in the best way imaginable. With all these bonds formed between the cabin’s inhabitants it feels like there was a bit of a disconnect between members of different cabins. I think this was just a moment in time. At that particular moment there seemed to be inside jokes I was missing, oh well, that’s the game, we had our own as well.
- M.J. Williams
Covid-19 has now been a part of life for nearly two years. As one would expect, this has upended the world of Nordic skiing. Furthermore, this has greatly changed how we approach our racing season.
The 2020-2021 season was rough and variable. Due to the prevalence of covid in our school environment, we socially distanced, masked up, and limited social interactions to those within our teams. To start of the 2021-2022 season, it would not snow in Laramie. Due to the lack of snow in our environment, we had to continue dryland training, leading to a shared social anxiousness waiting for snow.
These are just two examples of how intertwined environment and social groups are. Highlighted is the cause and effect relationship between the problems effecting the two. These often can go either way. For example, a society could determine it needs more land for agriculture, so it drains a wetland. As an unforeseen consequence however, there is no longer any suitable barrier between the society and an unpredictable body of water, and so flooding becomes more common.
This is a very simplified case, but again connects social and environmental challenges through a cause and effect relationship. Now, scale this to a global population, and an ever changing environment, and this harmony becomes increasingly fascinating. When this harmony is altered, chaos ensues, and the cause and effect relationship compounds wildly. Attempting to understand the finer complexities of relationship between environment and society is the first step in taming the chaos. At least it will help in preventing brash decisions, further compounding the chaos.
It's been a while since I came back from the University of Wyoming and I have to say everything has been unforgettable. There are several times I dreamed about the old days that we raced together and coaches cheered for us. But it’s not real which made me depressed. This is the most precious pearl in my memory. I do miss skiing on the snow, like flying in the sky .There are sunshine , birds, and animals I don’t even know its name, everything is just right, as if in the magic world. Now I am busy looking for a job and graduation, but every time I think of snow, I feel very sacred, and my heart is very peaceful and quiet. I have to say that I really miss my coaches and teammates a lot. They are the most beautiful scenery in my journey. They have taught me a lot both in skiing and life. I will keep this precious experience in my heart and wish all the best for my caring people over the Pacific! Love you all!
I love being outside. But sometimes, it’s kind of hard to drag myself out the door and get started. I always feel better after I’ve spent some time hiking or backpacking or skiing. That’s why when I came to college, the ski team was such a big part of my self-regulation. We traveled together. We spent practice in the mountains going on long trail runs or gorgeous skis. We would wake up early and start the day with a jog and strength workout or get through a long week with core and yoga in the evenings. It’s was easy to be outside all the time when I just had to be ready to jump in Zima and spend the day hanging out with the team.
I admit that the constant schedule for an outdoor adventure was something I really missed when I packed my life into boxes and moved to Spain for a semester. It was wonderful in a different way, until it wasn’t. A year ago, the world stopped. As many people familiar with lockdowns can attest, being trapped inside a small apartment does something to you psychologically. The fact that I was isolated with a family I’d met only weeks before in a country I was still new to was really just fuel to the fire. After the first few days, I was daydreaming about going for runs through the city. Which would be fairly normal, except that I hate running. The itch to go outside, do anything outside, was becoming unbearable. There was a near-constant ache in my chest for the days of ski camps, where I’d wake up to the sounds of Ella’s laughter or the smell of coach’s oats and then spend the day outside, surrounded by snow and the gentle sound of skis in tracks. I was jonesing for the mountains. In fact, it was the first time in my life I’d ever been homesick.
So when I finally took the treacherous journey through three airports and a hotel to get back to Wyoming, I thought I would feel better. The mountains were there, right in my backyard. I could go on runs (or less torturous activities) to my heart’s content. But the switch had flipped. I couldn’t stand to leave the house. It was more than that initial hurdle to get dressed and drive to the trail. All I could think about was the family I left behind. As the days added up, I thought of my young host sister, who hadn’t left her apartment even for a walk in weeks. Is there a term for guilt about being able to go outside? As I paced my childhood home in some sort of sad solidarity, I only felt worse. But the idea of hiking a trail or just walking around the yard felt exhausting to me. The trauma of March knocked me down hard. I spent the spring trying just to sleep through the night and not gasp for breath every time I woke up and remembered the world was radically changed.
After 6 weeks, my host sister was finally allowed to go for walks outside. Still, the old version of me who spent hours every week in the mountains was nowhere to be found. When I moved back to Laramie for the summer, I was finally beginning to feel like myself again. I wasn’t living out of a suitcase. I slept in my own bed. And when I finally got settled, I woke up one June morning and drove to the mountains. When I reached the trailhead, there was my ski team.
For all those afternoons of Spanish lockdown where I daydreamed about adventures outside, I hadn’t actually been out in the mountains since I’d gotten home. But that summer morning, I remembered what it felt like to be a part of an outdoor community. There was the whole SUS team, smiling at me. There were Christi and Rachel, ready to hear all about the last few months of my life on our run. There were all the other skiers I’d missed.
I took a deep breath. The air smelled like pine and sunlight and home. And I started to run. Slowly, that March girl started to melt away into the woods.
The week of nationals is always a trying time of the year for Nordic ski racers. I have had my fair share of stressful race weeks throughout a 15-year racing career ranging from junior nationals, to USCSA collegiate nationals, and a few endeavors overseas to the world university games. Nationals during the spring of 2020 was a new experience for me though, I would be approaching this week through a new perspective. I was now a coach.
While some races are forgotten almost as soon as they are over, others stick in the memory bank like klister to the base of a ski. I’m unsure exactly what criteria my brain chooses to filter which races are special enough to remember. Maybe it is specific accomplishments in the race, or events that unfolded between teammates within the race, or even such challenging conditions that grittiness plays a bigger factor than any wax ever could. I may never know exactly, but I do know that the 15km classic race in Lake Placed during nationals will forever stay in my mind. One of the few races that has made its way in since transitioning from athlete to coach.
That race started as it always does for coaches, in the wax room the night before. We had tested glide waxes over the racecourse at various times of the day, and finally decided on the perfect wax for the morning. The conditions were supposed to be very challenging the next day. Just about freezing, rain/snow, and as always in the east, very icy man-made trails. We needed wax that was warm, tough enough for surviving being slowly ripped off by ice for 15km, and that had the ability to repel dirt since it hadn’t snowed in a few days. Yellow black wolf was the choice for the day. My fellow coach Bryan and I spent hours in the wax room putting 3 layers of wax on each ski. A warm base wax to help open the ski pores, slightly cooler wax to harden the base, then the black wolf to make the skis rocket fast. The skis all still needed kick wax and structure (grooves in the ski base to help the ski base better repel water and reduce suction), but that was a job for the morning and for the wax goddesses Christi Boggs (snowflake) and Rachel Watson (the cougar). Rachel had been testing kick waxes all week long and had a series of waxes ready for the morning testing to hopefully find the perfect wax for our skiers.
We got to the racecourse about 2.5 hours before the race that morning and got to work. Bryan and I set up the waxing station while Christi and Rachel slapped on some wax and did initial tests on a few of the nearby hills. After they had narrowed in on the wax it was up to Bryan and I to test out some toppers, or the very last coat of wax applied. We went through our normal wax-testing motions. Ski a section of the course, change each ski to the other foot, ski again, trade with the other person, ski again, change skis to the other foot, and finally one person gets the best ski from each pair to hone in the best wax in the group. We are looking for how sticky the ski is, how much glide it has, if it changes drastically with different snow conditions (shady or sunny), how durable it is, and how it does in vs. out of the tracks. We had found what we were sure was going to be the winning wax but there was a problem, it had started precipitating. It felt like half snow half rain and was coming down in a way that we just knew would last all day.
Back at the wax bench we gave Rachel our wax recommendations. I could see a little panic in her face as she was contemplating the wax with the new weather conditions but being one of the most knowledgeable people about klister in the world we all have nothing but confidence for her incredible wax decisions. One of the best things about Christi is how she somehow manages to think of any possible options and have something up her sleeve to handle things as they come. So, while Rachel was thinking about endless klister combinations to give the skis the perfect combo of kick and glide, Christi sent Bryan and I back out to test both zeros and hairies. Zeros have a strip of what looks like sandpaper on the base where the wax pocket is, and hairies are made from roughing up a normal ski kick zone with sandpaper and then adding a hardening substance like silicon so that the hairs on the sanded surface stay standing. Both these options are used when the snow is right about 0 C and there is new snow falling. These options both turned out to have slightly worse kick than the klister, but seemingly better glide. We provided Christi and Rach with our new results and now the coaches race was about to start.
As the male athletes arrived (they raced first) and started warming up we gave them a few options about their race skis, slightly less glide but more kick or slightly less kick but more glide. It seemed like we had an almost even split of racers wanting klister, zeros, and hairies. We spent the next hour applying wax as fast as humanly possible. Rachel and Christi were applying klister, Bryan and I were preparing the zeros and the hairies while also adding structure to the glide zone of all the skis. As mass start classic waxing always happens, it was right down to the wire. We were finishing the last of the men’s skis as the racers were lining up to start, and I even ran the last pair down to one of our athletes named Leon and got him clipped in with about 2 minutes to go. They were off!
The weather did not let up throughout the men’s race. I believe the conditions that day were the most challenging racing conditions that exist in the world of Nordic skiing. Absolutely drenched from the rain, skiing through pine needles, leaves, and puddles, dealing with washed out icy downhills and chopped up slushy corners, the skiers all fought with everything they had. I have images burned in my mind of Nathan and Silas striding up the hill, both having great days but basically skiing blind from soaked hair in their eyes. Ben and Matthew were each slipping but showing what we lovingly call grit and giving the race everything they had anyways. All our racers from Shanghai, who had just started skiing that year, were looking so strong! Harry smiled as he ran past a racer from another team on the steep uphill I was standing on. Shortly after, Andy came whizzing by on a downhill right behind James and yelled at me “I didn’t fall this lap!”. It was easy to see how much fun everyone was having even though the conditions were less than ideal. A common theme began to appear. Every one of our skiers was actually enjoying themselves, despite the adverse weather, some not having much kick, and poor snow conditions.
Maybe this race stuck in my mind because it was such a hard day and yet all our athletes seemed to truly love being there in that moment. It’s easy to be happy as a racer when your skis are fast, the sun is shining, and you are feeling on top of your game. But is a true test of character to enjoy the race when every external factor sucks. I was so proud to be a part of the Wyoming team! After the guys finished they all changed clothes and got back out in the weather to cheer on the ladies. We went through the same waxing challenges with the ladies skis, but most of them ended on klister after getting tips from the guys. Ella looked strong and poised, Kat was beasting her way up the hills passing girl after girl, and Maddy was looking smooth in her stride, and gave me a confident smile when I cheered for her knowing there was a lot of double pole in this course which is one of her strong suits. The rest of the girls followed the same trend as the guys, each one looked in their element despite the rain still coming down strong.
While I have had very memorable racing days due to similar weather situations, that feeling of overcoming everything stacked against you and still racing to your fullest isn’t really something you can really explain or teach an athlete as a coach. That specific feeling must be earned. I think this day was so special to me because I got to watch each skier find that feeling through the 6 laps on the rain-soaked course. Getting to observe that growth from the coaching view was 1000 times better than any achievement I have had as an athlete. Even though the results from that day weren’t exactly what everyone was hoping for, it is still on of the favorite races of my life.
Madison Tinker and others of the University of Wyoming Ski Team