OPA Cup Athlete Blog: Ben Saxton, Learning to Live in Europe


Photo: Logan Hanneman


Ski racing has the ability to take you to some of the most singular destinations that the globe has to offer. From the Scandinavian tundra to the Swiss Alps, the places ski racing brings us rarely seem like anywhere else. This year, as part of a preparation camp for OPA Finals, we had the opportunity to compete in Italy, and it did not disappoint.  

Most people travel to foreign lands with a vague notion of what they might be like already swirling about in their heads. Most of the time, these notions are nothing more than the misinformed projections of a Hollywood image we’ve seen in movies and on TV. We say “most of the time” because sometimes real life ski racing isn’t any different that the dreams in your head.

Photo: Logan Hanneman

Mals, Italy, and the valley it lies within is everything you imagine Italy could be. Mountains rise up from the pastoral valley floor with alacrity while their snow covered peaks stare down upon several Reformation-era churches and dozens of old men walking slowly through their vineyards.

Our hotel was inside the limits of a small town called Glurns which, like the macroscopic Alpine view, strained belief. The town was wrapped in a medieval wall built in 1304 to keep out the plague and floored with cobblestones of every shape and size. Though there was no snow in Glurns, there was plenty of snow at the venue which was perched up in the mountains at nearly 5700 feet, only half visible amidst the white shroud of snow. The road up to the venue was a series of switchbacks straight out of a James Bond film; and every time we headed up, we learned new lessons in the limits of a manual gearshift.

Photo: Logan Hanneman

Food in general, and (more specifically) eating on a regular schedule is one of the best ways to quickly adjust to the time change and the exhaustion that can come from flying across the Atlantic Ocean. The Steinbock Haus was where we adjusted.

As a group of athletes who regularly consume more than 6,000 calories a day, it is difficult to take our word on food portions, but believe us when we say, this was a LOT of food. First came the salad course, which was reasonable enough, but it was quickly followed by the pasta. Oh, the pasta. The heaps of linguine, the piles of ravioli, they were incongruously large; as if mere humans were incapable of consuming them. Then came the main course. Here was any sort of hammered meat, cooked to perfection and served on a bed of vegetables (a suspicious number of which were zucchini) and, as if the pasta had not been obscene enough, some sort of carbohydrate. Last, came dessert. Every night there was a new treat, and whether it ventured into the realm of chocolate, fruit, or cream, it was exquisite.

Photo: Logan Hanneman

We understand that in theory there must be gray cities somewhere in the world, but after living in the radiance of Mals, we find that very hard to believe.

But why does any of that matter?

Photo: Logan Hanneman

The truth is that skiing is a European sport. There have been 40 FIS Nordic World Championships to date: 37 of them took place in Europe, so it’s safe to say that we need to learn how to succeed over here. How do we do that? We have to learn to live here first.
It’s not easy to function in places where you don’t speak the language or read the street signs, and simply knowing what to expect for supper isn’t a given. We have to spend time in foreign countries, and see their sights, eat their food, and learn their culture because the more we immerse ourselves in a foreign land, the more comfortable we become; we can manage our stress and spend energy when it really counts, on race day.

Photo: Logan Hanneman


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This is my first time out of the U.S. and competing at the U18 Scando Cup in Finland. This has been the best experience and I am so motivated to get to the next level. Kittos (Thanks in Finnish)

- Mattie Watts

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