Pretty much every national ski team’s speed group spent part of August or September training in the resorts spread across Chile and Argentina. From Canadians to Americans to the European teams, World Cup athletes are enjoying great conditions in the mecca for summer speed skiing. Trading summer conditions for winter has great benefits, particularly for speed skiers, who scour the globe for critical training days prior to the start of the World Cup.
Skiing on winter snow is the most obvious benefit, but it means a lot to speed skiers. “At the end of the day, we race in winter and winter snow reacts differently with the skis [compared to glacier snow],” says Canadian Cowboy Manuel Osborne-Paradis, currently training for his fourth Olympics season. “Especially as speed skiers, when you are trying to get your skis quicker and get the base really nice, it’s a lot easier on the skis to do that on nice, new fresh snow and not just on ice.”
Oftentimes — like in Ushuaia – athletes training in South America are skiing on manmade snow, also frequent to the World Cup circuit. Longer course distances and accessibility to a wide variety of slopes and terrain features also make the trip worthwhile. “Here in South America, you ski on terrain that looks a lot like the mountains we ski on in winter. On the contrary, glaciers are big plains with some rolls, but you can’t find any micro-movements of the terrain that you find on winter resorts,” says Alberto Senigagliesi, current head coach of the French women’s speed team.
Training in South America also offers also a different cultural experience for athletes. The veteran Osborne-Paradis has been traveling to Chile since 2002 almost every year and appreciates the country, the hospitality of the locals, and their passion for skiing. “It’s a very nice culture, everybody is there just to make sure that you are having a great experience in their country, and that ends up with you having a great experience.” The Canadians were welcomed on their first night in Valle Nevado, Chile, with a party at their hotel. “People are just very excited because you can pick everywhere in the world and you are picking their mountain, a little pin drop on a map.”
Now more than ever before, the South American camps are scheduled at a time when European glaciers are struggling with lack of snow due to warm summers. National teams take advantage training between a number of venues, hopping from one location to the other. This scenario encourages everyone to work together for better results. “The cooperation between different teams is perfect. Without team work, no downhill can be prepared, no jumps can be built, no fences can be set! It’s like a big family,” notes Roland Assinger, head coach of the Austrian women’s speed team, about his experience this summer in Chile.
LA PARVA, CHILE
In addition to hosting the South American Cup races, La Parva offered great training conditions to the U.S. men’s speed team, with Travis Ganong, Andrew Weibrecht, Bryce Bennett, Jared Goldberg, Kipling Weisel, Tommy Biesemeyer, and Wiley Maple all on site. The American Downhillers completed their first camp in La Parva Aug. 10-25, and returned to the same location for a second camp which ran until Sept. 16, finishing up in Corralco, Chile, for a last training block in South America. In between training sessions, the downhillers got to ski some deep September powder, as La Parva received over 50 centimeters of fresh snow between Sept. 9-10.
The Austrian women’s speed group has a La Parva training block running from Sept. 1-23, and they are taking advantage of the changing weather to practice in different conditions. “The goal of this camp is to get experiences with new ski equipment (skis, boots, bindings), to consolidate the technique in turning and in jumping, and to get confidence in high-speed skiing,” says Assinger.
VALLE NEVADO, CHILE
From Aug. 12-Sept. 2, the Austrian men’s team trained speed – first in La Parva and then in Valle Nevado. The team, including Hannes Reichelt, Matthias Mayer, Romed Baumann, Max Franz, Vincent Kriechmayr, Patrick Schweiger, Johannes Kroell, and Otmar Striedinger collected some positive training days. “Due to high wind, the snow was very dry and aggressive. We set the course the day before practice, then slipped it in order to simulate race conditions the best way possible,” says Austrian men’s head coach Andreas Puelacher. The team combined speed training with tech sessions. “Our goal was to reach as much diversity in our practice as possible as well as the improvement of the athletes’ technique. Mostly we worked on long gliding turns, tucking positions, and aerodynamics. Those aspects of training were also the focus of the athletes, and they applied the newly learned aspects very well,” remarks Puelancher.
Joining the party in Valle Nevado were the Norwegian men’s team, the Italian multi-discipline ladies’ group with Sofia Goggia, Marta Bassino, and Federica Brignone, and the Italian men’s speed group.
NEVADOS DE CHILLAN, CHILE
The Canadians, including Erik Guay, Dustin Cook, Broderick Thompson, and Osborne-Paradis, moved from Valle Nevado to Nevados de Chillan for the second part of their camp, where they were the only World Cup team in the mountain. “Training was good in Valle Nevado, but with the great elevation it was good to get down to a lower elevated mountain for the last two weeks,” reflects Osborne-Paradis. The Canadians were sleeping at almost 10,000 feet in Valle Nevado, while the base camp in Navados de Chillan is under 6,000 ft. of elevation. The team did have to ski on gray snow, as ash from a nearby volcano spread through the air.
The southern Chilean ski resort hosted the American Speed Unicorns, who relocated from their usual site of Portillo because the resort couldn’t host downhill camps this year. Corralco typically gets heavy precipitation, making for a great snow base. The team, which included Alice McKennis, Stacey Cook, Alice Merryweather, and Breezy Johnson, will finish their camp with a final week in Valle Nevado.
The French speed ladies flew to El Fin del Mundo – the end of the world. In the southernmost region of Argentina, they found quality conditions on which to practice both speed and giant slalom. “This year is great and there is tons of snow that allows us to do anything,” says Senigagliesi. The speed group consisted of Romane Miradoli, Margot Bailet, Tiffany Gauthier, and Jennifer Piot, plus Tessa Worley and Anne-Sophie Barthet who joined in as well. “For different reasons, in the last couple of years, the girls progressively lost confidence, both in the system and in themselves,” Senigagliesi says of his group. “We worked well this summer, with a lot of days on snow working on drills and technique, and now it’s time for speed. The girls are open and responsive, and know how to work well.” In Argentina, Senigagliesi added technical work to the speed sessions, skiing twice a day whenever possible. The Frenchwomen skied in Ushuaia through Sept. 18 and then moved on to Corralco, Chile, where they will focus only on speed, practicing jumps and gliding.
As idyllic as it sounds, South America isn’t the only place for summer training. National teams still spend time on European glaciers and also in New Zealand and Australia. “You need a little bit of both. You do need to go to Europe, and you do need to go to the glaciers. It’s good for you to connect with your ski companies and brands, and it’s good to connect with the European culture. You are very disconnected from the whole world in South America,” notes Osborne-Paradis.
Ready to book your family’s trip to South America in the summer? Consider the substantial costs that can be forbidding for younger skiers in search of speed. “Unfortunately, the costs are too high for our younger athletes, otherwise they could benefit from the location as well,” says Puelacher. This shouldn’t discourage younger skiers who plan to focus on speed and can’t get to the Southern Hemisphere in the summer. “If you are young enough and you want to be a downhill skier, just go downhill mountain biking or do other sports that make you work on your cognitive reflexes,” recommends Osborne-Paradis. “Once it becomes a job, there will be enough summer skiing for ski racers to get good at whatever they need to get good at.”