Every year during Christmas vacation, I head north to Mt. Sainte Anne Canada, just thirty minutes north of Quebec with my cross country ski team, Cambridge Sports Union (CSU). The journey up is a seven-hour car ride. Nearly every year for the past six years that I have made this winter trek, I travel with my ski coach and a few other athletes. The car ride always falls into a predictable pattern: we always begin discussing Christmas presents and holiday festivities. The conversation will naturally turn to snow conditions, winter weather, and race predictions. Once these discussions and others are exhausted, my coach brings out a few books on tape, we vote, and settle into either sleeping or listening.
Upon arrival, the condo is a flood of activity — moving in, making dinner, and causing general chaos- of course, only up until the 10 o’clock “lights out” time.
Everyone is up by 7:30 AM and digs into a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, bagels, bananas, coffee cake, and maybe some leftover lasagna. Then, we prepare for the morning ski, a distance workout of two or more hours.
To start, cross-country skiing isn’t anything like downhill skiing. A two hour cross-country ski is analgous to running for an hour and a half. In brief, it’s hard. There are two types of Nordic skiing, and my teammates and I practice both. The first, called classic, is probably the more well-known type: it can be likened to running but with a glide in the middle of the stride. The more modern type of Nordic, created in the 1980s, is called skating and resembles an ice skating motion. During most of our distance skis we practice ski technique and hone our fitness on the hilly terrain. And, there are a lot more hills in Canada than in Massachusetts!
After the morning workout, everyone heads back to their condo for a delicious lunch, often grilled cheese, soup, and cookies, as well as a well-deserved nap. This probably sounds weird, but by the second day, no one complains; in fact, nap time is the best part of the day. At around two, we rally for ski number two. This workout is usually a little shorter and easier, about an hour to 90 minutes.
The car ride back to our condo is dominated by calls for the first shower and discussions about evening plans. The evening may begin with a frigid walk to the hot tub and an even more frigid walk back, or perhaps a snowball fight with the neighboring condo. However, there are some usual suspects that are always part of the evening agenda: hot chocolate, snacks, pillow forts, French TV, hide-and-seek, and of course dish duty. We play cards, explore the neighborhood, put Nutella on everything possible, and play some good-natured practical jokes on the other team’s condo. Whatever doesn’t get done that evening is pushed off to the next.
The days are wonderfully repetitive: eat, ski, sleep, ski, eat, sleep, repeat. There is something beautifully simple about having no commitments, obligations, or tasks to fulfill except skiing. There is something liberating about going to bed with an aching body, a full stomach, and a free mind. It even feels liberating to go out for a ski on a -12℉ morning when the snow is crisp and the sun is shining.
Every day really is the same except our third day. The third day we have a time trial, or a practice race in the morning. The event is called a pursuit race. We ski a 4 kilometer loop on classic skis, return to the start, transition to skate skis, and ski the 4k loop again, but this time skating.
The time trial always evokes some dread, but also excitement and friendly competition. There is always discussion about who had the fastest transition time when the race is all said and done. After such a hard workout, we take the afternoon off to tour Quebec City. Because my team is so large, we go in groups as to not overwhelm a single restaurant. There are a couple of popular spots where we often meet in groups such as Montmorency Falls and the infamous Quebec City toboggan run.
After two more lovely, somewhat rhythmic days, we make the trek back to the states. The trip always goes fast; and. this year, it was rather sentimental because I will graduate from my team this spring. My experiences Nordic skiing have been fast, but packed with fun. I know I will reminisce on these memories for years.