Posts Tagged ‘Ruhpolding’

“Don’t forget to also have fun, Susan.”

These were my father’s parting words of advice when I left Vermont after the holiday break and headed to Oberhof, Germany to continue the biathlon season. Over the years, I’ve noticed that my dad intuitively understands what motivates me to compete. His comment, and the fact that he felt the need to make it, caught me off guard. What was he seeing that I wasn’t? Of course I’m having fun, aren’t I?

But at practice a couple days later, I found myself wondering. It was “Oberhofing” out, a combination of freezing rain, fog and biting wind. After just a few minutes of skiing, I was shivering, encased in a shell of ice. As I lay down on the sopping wet shooting mat and struggled to load a magazine with numb fingers, the question began to creep in: why am I doing this?

Lots of rainy weather: I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned my rifle so many times before in a two week period.

Lowell racing in rainy Ruhpolding. (Photo: USBA/NordicFocus)

The rest of that week I continued to struggle. On race days, I went through the motions and did my normal routines, but it felt like a difficult chore. It wasn’t simply the uninspiring weather that threw me into the funk. I felt burnt out going into Christmas after racing while sick and probably didn’t give myself enough time to recover. Plus, while my results so far this season have been solid, I wasn’t living up to my own high expectations. Despite putting forth my best effort everyday, I didn’t come away feeling satisfied. Clearly something was missing. Biathlon turned stale because I was forgetting one of the key ingredients: fun!

And so the next World Cup week became a quest to find the fun again. Along the way, I looked for inspiration from my teammates, our staff, my competitors, and the thousands of Ruhpolding fans.

For the first day of training at Ruhpolding, I came up with two unusual goals and shared them with my coach. I felt a need to be a little goofy and creative, and to spice up my normal routines.
Goal One: Incorporate some telemark turns into the training.
Goal Two: Find an object somewhere at the venue and bring it back to decorate my hotel room; something that might make me smile when I see it.
Mission accomplished: I curved some big sweeping tele turns down the Fischer-S hill and rescued a chewed-up half of a pinecone from the middle of the ski track. It wasn’t the prettiest looking pinecone (or šiška as Gara our Czech wax tech called it), but interesting nonetheless, and a reminder that perfection is grossly overrated.

The best part about racing at Ruhpolding and Oberhof is the ambiance. Few other stadiums attract such huge crowds of passionate, drinking, singing, flag-waving fans. It’s a scene. They arrive hours early so they can find a good spot to watch and they’ll brave any sort of weather. Their enthusiasm is contagious and racing along the fan-lined fences is like skiing through a tunnel of pure sound. It’s easy to find zen-like mental focus when you can’t even hear yourself think.

Ruhpolding’s stadium has capacity for over 13,000 people.

Thousands more line the course. Photo: Hannah Dreissigacker

One evening, I was hanging out with the women’s team and we were chatting about various things we were each struggling with. Annelies came up with an idea to do some art therapy together. We started with a blank piece of paper and took turns drawing for 30 second bouts until we filled it up. Here’s what we came up with:

Perhaps my favorite moment from the week came during the men’s relay. Heading into the first exchange, Team USA was leading thanks to an incredible performance by Lowell. The TV cameras zoomed into the the second leg athletes waiting for the tag off. Our youngest guy on the the team, 19 year-old Sean, stood there grinning from ear to ear.

He was about to be tagged off to in the lead with the fastest guys in the world chasing after him. These guys were much older, stronger, and certainly more experienced than him but he was welcoming the challenge. In Sean’s smile, I recognized an attitude more important than results can ever be. It was the same spirit that brought me so far in biathlon in the first place, but one I had misplaced recently. It was a perfect reminder of what I really should be striving after.

Competing in the mass start at the end of the week and feeling back on the right track (photo: Hannah Dreissigacker)


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35 weeks per year. That’s the amount of time I spend on the road away from Craftsbury for racing and training with the national biathlon team. A big chunk of that time (the entire winter) is spent in Europe, thousands of miles from family, friends and familiar culture. Luckily our team has a home base that we visit a lot, a place where we feel very comfortable: Ruhpolding in Bavaria, Germany.

Between World Cup racing, winter break and our annual summer European training camp, we usually visit Ruhpolding 3 times a year. Several of our team’s staff live in the surrounding area and we have gotten to know them and their families. After staying at the same hotels over and over again, we have also gotten to know the people who run them. We know where all the grocery stores are in the surrounding villages and the layouts of each one. Bavarian-specific phrases and words like “habe die Ehre!” have become part of the team’s frequently used vocabulary and we are scheming how we might procure a pair of Lederhosen or a Dirndl for everyone on the team.

20130901-204436.jpgEnjoying life in the beautiful village of Inzell! We are in the middle of our summer European camp and just finished two weeks of training in Ruhpolding.

20130901-204103.jpgEnjoying a day off from training

20130901-203540.jpgFood and beer: always a central part of life in Bavaria

20130901-203020.jpgSometimes hanging out at the table after dinner we were visited by the local fauna. This hedgehog lives under an outdoor grill.

20130901-204348.jpgOne afternoon we visited a local mill to buy some flour and grains for bread baking. It has been in operation for over 500 years! (Yeah, I’m an American. That type of thing impresses me.)

20130901-203411.jpg A view of antique milling equipment on display inside.

20130901-203659.jpgEntering the Ruhpolding stadium.

20130901-202906.jpgSkiing under the mountains

20130901-203936.jpg Ruhpolding’s stockpiled snow- saved every year for the World Cup races in case Mother Nature refuses to cooperate.

20130901-204214.jpgSara made some friends as we skied up the Roßfeldstraße. They ran after us along the fence line as we rollerskied away. Some scenes from the Sound of Music were filmed at the top of this mountain road. Unfortunately we skied up on a cloudy day and couldn’t enjoy the view.

20130903-211212.jpg More friends! I took a short break to say hi on route to a mountain alm. (Photo: Sara Studebaker)

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For the past couple weeks, I have been training in Germany with the USBA national A team. We have spent time at some of the winter World Cup venues and shared the ranges with European national teams and club teams. The first couple weeks were in Bavaria, training at Ruhpolding. This week we are training in eastern Germany at Oberhof and using the indoor ski hall a lot. Unlike camps back home, we have almost all of our team staff together onsite, including coaches, wax techs, physios, etc, most of whom live in Europe.

One of my favorite things about being over here in the summer is that we can get out and see a lot of the surrounding area. In the winter race season, we are lucky if we see more than the venue, the hotel and maybe the grocery store.


In Bavaria we stayed in the town of Inzell, at the foot of a mountain. Our cabins had a pool out front, which helped us survive temperatures in the mid 90s. The pool was chemical-free and had recirculating water- the plant life along the edges filtered the water and kept it clean.


The valley was very green and idyllic, with lots of small farms. In some ways it reminded me of Craftsbury.



Former Craftsbury and Dartmouth teammate Chelsea Little came to visit on her way to start grad school in Sweden. We spent an afternoon at Konigsee near Berchtesgaden (photo: Sara Studebaker)


The team experienced all sorts of interesting Bavarian foods during our two weeks. Pictured above is Schweinshax’n, or roasted ham hock. My favorite meal was smoked trout, served whole. The most interesting was a lean unidentified chunk of meat that tasted a lot like corned beef. After I ate it, I was told it was cow tongue.


Training at the range. We shared the facility with many other teams, including Germans, Ukrainians, and a large group of French juniors. (photo credit: Chelsea Little)


Rainy days call for bright colors…


… and not just for us. I found a whole hillside crawling with 6 inch long Fire Salamanders one rainy morning. This sighting was very special for me. When I was in kindergarten, I used to have a pet salamander a lot like these (it was an Eastern Spotted Salamander), and back home it is really usual to spot them in the wild. (photo credit: Wikipedia).


We spent one afternoon at the University of Salzburg’s indoor shooting hall. They hooked our rifles up to various force places and lasers that recorded things like trigger pressure and the path our barrels trace over the target. (photo credit: Armin Auchentaller)


My favorite afternoon recovery workouts involved hiking through alpine cow pastures to mountain alms and maybe ordering a coffee or beer. The Stoisseralm high above our cabin had a great view looking down onto Salzburg. On the way back down we took breaks to pick blackberries and blueberries. (photo credit: Sara Studebaker)


Mountain yoga over Inzell with Sara

This past weekend we relocated to Oberhof, where we spend our mornings training on snow in the ski tunnel and our afternoons training outside. We are working closely with our team techs to test new skis for the coming season.


Ski hall from above (photo credit: Thueringen tourism website)


The view from inside. The smaller branches depart from the corners of the hall and the loop is surprisingly hilly.

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Biathlon World Championships Sprint 2012

A beautiful day in Bavaria!

Behind the scenes: what the team wax cabins and changing areas look like from the outside...

... And from the inside. With about 20 staff and athletes sharing this room, it can get a little crowded.

Race day surprise! I failed equipment control on the first attempt today for too light of a trigger weight on my rifle. (The humidity and warm weather caused it to change slightly since I last used it for the relay a couple days ago.) While Coach Armin (left) quickly fixed the trigger, I took the opportunity to take a couple pictures. Coach Jonne (right) reassured me that I'd still have plenty of time to zero afterwards.

Range officials and coaches preparing for race start.

The post-race exodus of 30,000 fans as seen from a hill on course. Thanks to all the spectators who stayed until the very end of the race!

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Our homebase in Ruhpolding

When I was a college ski racer, February felt crazy. It was the culmination of 6 weeks of winter carnival racing season, in which we raced every Friday and Saturday and missed a day and a half of class every week. Staying healthy, keeping caught up with school work and making time for ski training required super human time management skills. Now, as a full time biathlete with nothing to worry about except training and racing, February is a piece of cake. However, this year there weren’t any February biathlon races on the domestic schedule except for the World Cups.

So what is a biathlete to do? If you are Lauren Jacobs, you make the pilgrimage up to Fort Kent and forerun the World Cup. (Check out a neat article about the TV test race that she helped out with: http://fasterskier.com/2011/02/19-miles-of-cable-and-one-espresso-machine-how-biathlon-gets-on-television/) If you are Hannah Dreissigacker, you prepare to go kick some butt at the Birkie, America’s biggest ski race. If you are a US Junior biathlete, you might decide to stay in Europe following Junior World Championships for a couple extra weeks to race in Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. Another option is to rent an RV or “Wohnwagen” for 3 weeks and follow the German race circuit, which is what the Barnes twins and MWSC’s BethAnn Chamberlain decided on. (Read about their adventures here: http://bambambiathlon.blogspot.com/). Since I already had a plane ticket to Europe for U-26 Championships at the end of the month, I decided I’d fly over a week early and rendezvous with the Juniors and the Wohnwagen posse in Ruhpolding, Germany. A weekend of German Cup racing sounded like a perfect tune-up before heading down to Ridnaun, Italy for U-26s.

Juniors Raleigh Goessling, Casey Smith and Ethan Dreissigacker enjoying a spring-like day from the top of a Bavarian cow pasture.

My friends in the WohnWagen. Notice the impromtu drying rack they created to deal with Ruhpolding's damp weather.

The Guest House that we are staying at has three cats. When we leave our room door open, they like to come in and make themselves at home.

Ruhpolding is a biathlon Mecca. Every January, tens of thousands of spectators descend on this tiny town to watch the World Cup. Biathlon paraphernalia lines the shelves of local shops. Biathlon is Germany’s most popular winter sport and many of their top athletes live in this region. As I was traveling in, I had no shortage of people volunteering to help carry my giant ski bag, rifle case, heavy backpack and overflowing tote bag when I changed trains in Traunstein. They all wanted to know where I was coming from and they wished me good luck in Ruhpolding.

Ruhpolding is the site of the 2012 Biathlon World Championships. I'm hoping to be back next year...

With beautiful rugged mountain peaks on all sides, Ruhpolding is one of my favorite biathlon venues to visit. However, last weekend I understood why the World Cup team nicknamed the town “Rainpolding.” On the first day of the German Cup races, it down poured. We went through several changes of clothes and still were drenched and cold. Nonetheless, it was a successful day of racing.

Dave Gieck flew in from Wyoming to help USBA athletes with race support. Thanks Dave!

We competed in an unusual race format: a sprint race with extra relay rounds. We were allowed to hand-load up to 3 extra bullets to try to knock down missed targets, so very few people had to ski penalty loops. In addition to the Germans, we had a bunch of Brits, a Norwegian, and a Canadian in our race. I had some of my better shooting of the season, requiring only one spare round, and I finished 2nd, one second behind my US teammate Lanny Barnes.

Equipment control volunteers stay dry under cover.

The following day we competed in a mass start. We rarely get to ski in mass starts at NorAm races at home, and never against an international field, so it was a valuable experience. I got a little distracted during the first shooting stage when we approached the range in a big pack, and it caused me to miss 2 targets. I spent the rest of the race playing catch up, but I was able to focus better in the range for the remaining stages. Lanny had another good day and cleaned her fourth biathlon race in a row- that’s 60 consecutive hits during competition.

The American junior men were put into the senior men’s race for the mass start because they would have made the junior’s field too big. Craftsbury’s Ethan Dreissigacker had some of the better shooting of the field during both days of racing. He can be seen here winning the double pole sprint off the starting line in front of German Olympian Michael Rosch (#187).

On Monday, we drove to the town of Schleching to drop off skis at Bauer Rennservice. Muck Bauer gave us a tour of his ski grinding workshop and sports and shoe store. Muck grinds all the US team’s skis. Check out this giant poster of Tim Burke decorating his store.

Watching the Ft. Kent WCs on Eurosport was our favorite entertainment for the first few days. Now that those races are finished, we’ve taken up puzzling. Here Grace Boutot, Casey Smith and Kelly Kjorlien are hard at work.

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Siegsdorf, Germany

Happy New Year!

Last week a friend asked me how the Germans celebrate New Years.  I greeted 2010 from the balcony of our gasthof, which was a prime viewing location for the evening’s festivities.  The party lived in the streets and was fueled by fireworks, lots and lots of fireworks.  Everybody in the village was shooting them off and there appeared to be no regulations whatsoever.  It was impossible to predict where the next explosion would come from; perhaps half a mile across town, down the street fifty yards, or immediately below us in the parking lot.  For 40 minutes, it rained ashes.  Sometimes a rogue rocket would streak sideways through the smoky haze, wobbling in spirals.  I witnessed one bounce off a car parked in front of the hotel, reverse direction, and then fortuitously explode over the river.   Another crashed into the building next door, peppering the wall with a blast of sparks.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

Fireworks chaos in Siegsdorf

I spent New Year's morning at a natural history museum across the street from the hotel. Considering the size of the village we were in, it had an excellent collection, including a complete mammoth skeleton discovered locally. Here I pose with Rudi, the Siegsdorf Mammoth.

We spent our first week in Europe training in Ruhpolding.   The venue is nestled between a couple mountains and the ski course features some steep wall-like climbs.  Much of the snow we skied on was man-made as the first half of the week was warm and rainy.  We trained along side the British team (which lives there year-round) and German club teams.  Spectators flock to Ruhpolding in hope of glimpsing the German national team in action, so everyday there were people in the stands.  On occasion, we did share the range with some German team members.

A tour group heads towards the Ruhpolding Stadium. The building in the background is temporary, it's set up for the World Cup in a couple weeks.

At the end of the week, we finally got a snow storm.  Somehow, I had managed to miss every other snow storm this year.  I left Minnesota before it got dumped on and New England was hit soon after I flew to Europe.  There is something magical and invigorating about the first heavy snow of the year.  During our last day on the range in Ruhpolding, the snow came down so hard that you could see the snowy outline of a person on the shooting mat after they stood  up. On Sunday we spent nine hours driving to Altenberg in the middle of another storm.

A quintessential scene of the German countryside: complete with a train, a small flock of sheep (to the left), and Bavarian houses with solar panels. The day before the snowstorm it felt like spring.

Then the landscape transformed into a winter wonderland.

Coach Pat on the range

BethAnn, Laura and I loving the snow (Photo: Laura Spector)

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