For cross country skiers, the dryland season is a critical time for training, when hours stack up and a foundation is built in anticipation of winter. SVSEF cross country skiers have it pretty good in terms of summer training opportunities – the valley is teeming with trails suited for long runs, and a substantial, well-maintained bike path system features heavily in roller ski workouts. Ask any New England skier who grew up bouncing along on old rough pavement with traffic zooming by, and you’ll realize how ideal this situation is. How does one build upon this and maximize potential? With the Nordic Legacy Project, SVSEF, in partnership with Community School, has taken the initiative to advance the athletic level of its programming. Critical to athlete progression is technical work, calculated fitness assessment and targeted training. Phase One of the Nordic Legacy Project has focused on these facets of the sport in the form of acquiring a state-of-the-art roller ski treadmill and paving a 1.5-kilometer loop, specifically for roller ski workouts. Both elements of the new roller ski facility are located at Community School’s Dumke Family Sagewillow Campus.
As far as Program Director Rick Kapala knows, SVSEF is the only club in the U.S. with its own treadmill at its disposal. There are other treadmills around the country, but they are associated with university testing labs – meaning that club skiers may be able to use them for training, but they are not necessarily readily available.
A primary benefit of the roller ski treadmill is that it enables coaches to effectively assess fitness improvements. As a controlled environment, where speed, incline and length of time can be monitored, the treadmill allows accurate comparisons to be made when looking at an athlete’s fitness over time. Kapala noted that SVSEF has done things in the past like running assessments on normal treadmills, but this sport isn’t running; it’s skiing, and it employs the upper and lower body simultaneously. Therefore, the best way to get a measure of progress during training is to utilize testing protocol on a roller ski treadmill, which most accurately represents the movements made on snow.
Another advantage of the treadmill is the immediacy it brings to focused technique work. On the wall in front of the treadmill is a large mirror, meaning athletes can watch themselves and their body positioning in real time. As a stationary piece of equipment, coaches can now stand beside their athlete and give constructive feedback more effectively. Instead of instantaneously trying to keep up with the athlete, avoid people and cars and dogs, and assess the athlete’s form as they’re wont to do on the bike path, coaches’ attention is solely on the athlete. The adjustment features of the treadmill also make technique work more effective, as parameters may be set; a skier won’t run out of hill while focusing on V1 technique on the treadmill.
A third benefit of SVSEF’s new equipment is the ability to do specific kinds of workouts. Kapala gave the following example:
Let’s say somebody wants to work to improve his or her aerobic threshold. We can put them on a treadmill at exactly the speed and incline that they need to be at to work that particular heart rate zone and develop the capacities they’re focusing on. When you’re in an outdoor setting, the terrain is always changing. So it’s a lot easier to dial in exactly what we want to work on.
Kapala and his coaches have already seen the positive effect of having the treadmill for athletes with injuries. As it’s a very safe, flat, reliable surface, athletes on their way to recovery from injury can utilize the treadmill for workouts, both for rehabilitation of that injury and to stay on track. Whereas he or she may not be cleared to train outdoors, the treadmill adds a dependable alternative.
The cross country program is hoping to eventually develop the treadmill in concert with a robust sports physiology testing lab. Kapala explained that, “it will not only benefit our own team in terms of more accurately assessing aerobic and anaerobic development, but also may allow us to provide service to the community. By being able to partner with a university such as Boise State University, we can engage a level of expertise as a resource, and we really think that can help us down the road.”
THE SAGEWILLOW ROLLER SKI TRAILS
In addition to the treadmill, the Sagewillow Campus now features roller ski trails; 1.5 kilometers of paved road, with limitable access to cars in order to provide a safe setting for roller skiers. Without the distractions related to the bike path; namely, other users, dogs, cars at road crossings and unpredictable conditions, athletes and coaches are able to optimize their effectiveness with training. SVSEF, in conjunction with Community School, has already used the loop to this effect; the 2017 Cross Country NNF/U.S. Ski Team National U16 Camp was just hosted in Sun Valley, and featured workouts at Community School’s Dumke Family Sagewillow Campus. Coaches were able to execute high velocity training sessions with a large group of athletes in a safe setting, and were able to conduct some really great workouts. On top of that, the program is seeing that it’s not only the older, experienced athletes who are benefitting from the paving of the new roller ski facility. Said Kapala, “it’s a perfect place to take younger skiers to work on their roller ski skills. The pavement is super smooth, the terrain is very forgiving and there are a lot of terrain elements there that allow coaches to be able to work on V1, work on V2, and have it all be so close that it’s really easy to organize practices there.” He explained that, “it’s hard to manage younger kids on the bike path. With the loop setting at Sagewillow, they are constantly going by. The effectiveness of coaching goes up, because the facility lends itself to this looping, where you get a chance to work with kids in a variety of terrain, frequently.”
Even with the new loop, athletes still utilize the bike path for training, for variety and for specific workout goals. The proximity of the bike path to the athletic complex allows for flexibility; you can pull right out of Sagewillow, and you’re on the Elkhorn system. All in all, Kapala believes that the roller ski facility “really lends itself to creative and effective training design.” In looking forward, he noted that there is potential to do additional paving in future phases, which would only broaden the possibilities for that creativity.
Upcoming phases of the Nordic Legacy Project include renovations to the interior of the Lake Creek hut, which hasn’t seen any such improvements since building completion in the early 2000s. Another aim is to purchase both transportation and trail maintenance vehicles. If you’d like to learn more about the Nordic Legacy Project, or if you’re interested in contributing, please contact Rick Kapala (firstname.lastname@example.org), Cynthia Knight (email@example.com) or Sam Adicoff (firstname.lastname@example.org).
SVSEF would like to thank everyone who has helped make this project a success – from the donors, to the Community School Board of Directors, the SVSEF Board of Directors, and to all of the local businesses – thank you so much for your contributions and support.