March 29, 2011 (Engadin, Switzerland) – I just returned home to Hayward after a week long adventure in St Moritz, Switzerland for the 2011 Engadin Ski Marathon. The crust cruising is at its finest right now and, after skiing all day, I am finally able to sit down and recap the events from Switzerland.
The 2011 Engadin was the inaugural CXC Masters Team Worldloppet trip. Originally, my plan was to compete in the Elite Wave and go for the win. That plan changed when I came down with appendicitis two days before the Birkie and ten days before leaving for Switzerland. Although it felt agonizingly slow at the time, my recovery was actually very swift and smooth thanks to the help of my friends and teammates (I had a cowbell in my room and, when I rang it, Caitlin (Compton) and Brian (Gregg) would bring me any food I requested-so long as it was liquid). The day before the trip, my doctor took out the stitches and gave me the go-ahead to fly to Switzerland. Instead of fighting for the win, I was fighting to simply make it through the airport with my luggage.
Now I was able to really enjoy the finer aspects of the trip and no worry as much about the racing. We ended up doing lots of easy skiing to check out the course, drank Rivella (the official sports drink of Switzerland) by the gallon–or liter, rather, while sitting out in the sun, and even spent an afternoon sledding in the Swiss Alps.
For the race itself, I followed the Toko wax recommendation and waxed up my best skis, along with the rest of the CXC Masters, with the straight-forward combination of an HF Red/Yellow mix, JetStream Red block, and topped it off with JetStream Red powder for good measure. The one thing I forgot was a riller, but the temps were supposed to stay cold and the snow dry.
On race morning, we toed the line. I had barely done any skiing, let alone intensity, in over two weeks since the surgery, so I decided to line up toward the back of the Elite Wave and start easy. Over 11,000 anxious skiers danced around in the gates while we waited for the gun to go off. Immediately after the start, I realized I was feeling great and decided to get up front with the leaders-passing about 500 people on the wide lake start and tucking into third place in the lead pack with the likes of Cristian Zorzi, Bjorn Lind, and Remo Fischer. The first 15km of the Engadin are totally flat as the trail goes across frozen lakes to the town of St Moritz and we were flying with a swift tailwind.
Before I left for the trip, I ran into Ben Husby at Junior Nationals on my home trails of Wirth Park in Minneapolis. When I told Ben I was going to the Engadin, he gave me some advice about “how to win the Engadin.” Specifically, “when you hit St Moritz, there will be a steep climb, wide enough for three lanes of skiers coming off the lakes. Make sure you are leading one of those lanes.” At the time, I thought, ‘Okay, Ben, I can barely ski right now, there’s no way I’ll be leading the Engadin at 15km next week.’
However, I surprised even myself (pretty hard to do) and found myself in third place going into the St Moritz climb! Sure enough, the skier in first went right, the skier in second went left and I found myself leading the middle train up the steep climb. Remo Fischer punched it over the top and I hopped in close behind him. We skied together down into the Expo Area at St Moritz and Remo kept the throttle wide open-we were flying! Shortly after St Moritz, he backed off the pace a little bit and I looked behind me, expecting to see hundreds of skiers over my shoulder. To my surprise, there was no one; I’d just made the two-man break off the front of the Engadin-thanks Ben!
I was feeling great. Unfortunately, as we got into the woods, the snow changed from dry and wind-blown, to wet and soggy. We soon hit a downhill and Remo pulled away effortlessly. I was in no-man’s-land doing my best to earn time back on the climbs, but on every descent, he’d pull away more. Soon, the pack we’d dropped had caught me and I was losing even more ground on the descents. I’m not sure how much of it was the fact that I hadn’t skied for the two weeks prior to the race (maybe that’s what got me into trouble-feeling so fresh) or how much was the fact that I had forgotten to add structure (my cold skis had a cold grind: faster than ever in the windblown snow, but way too much suction in the wet snow). At any rate, I slogged it out for the final 20km of the race and still finished much better than I’d expected going into the race. I was satisfied with the race and happy that I didn’t bust my gut in the process. Remo ended up capitalizing on our breakaway and winning by over two minutes.
In the Engadin, I learned an important lesson about the value of structure. Now that the weather is getting warm and the snow is getting soft, it is more important than ever to have the right structure. Go out and enjoy the spring crust cruising, but don’t forget to rill. And have fun!
Muffy Ritz Commentary from Masters WC
I had a very successful Master’s up in Silver Star. Despite being very sick with bronchitis for the 2 weeks prior and even into the racing week, I somehow managed to ski myself into a Gold in the 10 km FS, a Gold in the Relay, and a silver in the 15 KM CL race. I have to make a very interesting remark about the TOKO wax. We ended up using Blue all the way- for every race ( LF Moly, HF Blue, Jet Stream Blue, blue structurite tool) It didn’t matter the temperature, blue always ran the fastest. The temps were very consistent throughout the week- with only about 5 degrees of warm-up during the days. Lows would be around 21 and highs around 26 degrees F. Every night or during the day, a little bit of new snow would fall. What would appear as a red/blue mix – according to the thermometer- blue was always faster. In the rockies, with new snow, blue seems to be the best choice despite the temps. However, if snow temps went upwards of 32- blue would probably not be the fastest choice. I think all winter long in Sun Valley and other nearby races, I never strayed from Moly, HF Blue, JS Blue all season!
Thanks to the Toko Tech Team of their efforts and wax tips at the Masters.