A lot goes on behind the scenes of the 9-to-5 life of a ski racer. I’m not talking about waxing or fundraising or the blogging of our daylight hours, I’m talking about our most consistent 9-5 hours: 9pm to 5am, the time when we sleep. These are the waking hours of a group of people who have contributed unseen amounts of toil to ski development.
They are the men and women who have made art of their work, who obsess over tiny details, study weather patterns and snow chemistry. They sacrifice rest to the benefit of racers. They believe in their work and the growth of the sport. They think skiing is really cool.
They are the groomers.
Here in Houghton, Michigan, I’ve had the pleasure of staying with the trail manager for the Michigan Tech trails, Jim Meese, and his family. In addition for his talent of browning a perfect buttermilk pancake, Jim’s passion and endless energy has taken us aback and reminded us of how much happens while we sleep.
During nationals week, Jim’s schedule typically involves 9pm-2am rounds around the race course. If there’s new snow, you can count on him staying out until 5, or waking up at 3 and going out until sunrise (which is 9am here). As races draw near, he makes sure to be on course during the day to check corners and track lengths. He also sticks around during race days to watch the action. You know what, nevermind trying to track him. If it’s race week and there’s snow on the ground, you can count on Jim and his team being in or around the grooming shed at all hours of the day.
It’s funny because, before this week, I knew all this about grooming. I knew that most of the work is done at night, that it takes years of practice to get ahold of a piston bully, the the process is both tedious and expensive and altogether draining. As a racer, I’ve practiced saying “thank you” to volunteers, but, honestly, when it came time to put on a bib, lost sight of the work that had gotten me there beyond mine and my teammates’. Living with Jim has changed that mindset. In four days‘ time, I’ve gone from appreciative to astounded to apologetic and all the way back again.
What he’s helped me realize is that there are a lot of people that care about our sport, that are working to develop it and make it as accessible and professional as possible, who practice those beliefs in quieter ways. Their presence is measured in a perfectly groomed track, a meticulously lain finish line or hours of data input into a timing system. Their cheers aren’t heard online, but in real time, through brute work and tired smiles.
Turns out, support doesn’t just come from hitting the donation button online. It comes from the cumulative energy of many individuals who embody the spirit of our sport: working until or past the edge of exhaustion to create results, and not even noticing how hard it is. I guess that’s what struck me about watching Jim and is team work this week: that they have the same semi-obsessive but altogether positive attitude that carries us through our most challenging workouts.
What an inspiration, to see every person in every level of this sport loves it that much, to throw themselves into working on the details that will deliver success to skiers on each tier of development.
With a culture like that, how can you not succeed?
-Annie Pokorny skis for the SMS / T2 Team and sent back this report from U.S. Nationals
The NNF's mission is to support athletic excellence in developing nordic athletes in the United States.
“To the people behind NNF: Simply put we couldn’t do it without NNF behind us! Rallying the country behind us, making sure our athletes get to the camps and races… You guys rock!”- Kikkan Randall