Last weekend concluded the OPA Cup Circuit in central Europe for the 2017 ski season. Teams from Italy, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Slovakia, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, Andorra, Great Britain, Poland and the United States competed. The USA OPA crew had seven athletes and four coaches/ techs and represented athletes from every region of the country.
One of the best parts about being a part of the OPA trip is the opportunity to join athletes from different clubs and at various stages of their ski racing career. Athletes represented the USA wearing the national team suits but also represented their home clubs of APU [Alaska Pacific University], Stratton [Mountain School], LNR [Loppett Nordic Racing], Steamboat Springs [Winter Sports Club] and Sugar Bowl [Academy]. We were joined by juniors from Ski and Snowboard Club Vail and Stratton Mountain School.
The OPA Cup trip is a great opportunity to get competitors from different teams together and share ideas, strategies and support each other as Team USA while in Europe. This year’s OPA Finals trip also had athletes ranging from those who were experiencing their first trip to Europe and first time competing outside the US, to those who have competed at the World Juniors, U23’s, World Cup, World Championships, and Olympics. The chance to live and train with athletes at so many levels is incredibly valuable for development and confidence building.
The venue for OPA Finals was Seefeld, Austria which was an incredible opportunity to ski on the courses for the 2019 World Championships. We used the opportunity to compete in Seefeld as a way for both athletes and staff to familiarize ourselves with the area and the accommodations that would be used by the USA 2019 World Championship Team. Our hotel was the Hotel Hochland, and it was a quick 10-minute walk to and from the venue. We welcomed the chance to get a little pre-workout/ race warm-up walk through the village gazing at the beautiful snow covered mountains that completely surround the Seefeld Valley. The atmosphere at Hotel Hochland was very welcoming with all kinds of opportunities for us to rejuvenate between training sessions and races. The Hotel has an amazing swimming pool, a workout room, saunas, hot/ cold baths and most importantly plenty of nutritious food from the surrounding region. Breakfast did not disappoint with an endless spread of breads, cheeses, meats, pastries, cereals, fruits and jams. Lunch and dinner were served in multiple courses providing us with authentic Austrian specialties and presented almost as though it was a work of art.
The race venue has a few final adjustments before the Championships in two years, mainly widening the stadium and moving the waxing area, but most of the race courses are completed, and it’s awesome to have them encircle the outrun of the massive ski jumps that rise high above the stadium. The courses were challenging, to say the least. The climbs were steep and long, and the downhills were just as steep and offered a series of twists and turns that kept you on your toes and offered little in the way of rest. At nearly 4,000 ft this meant that pacing was a major factor.
Our first race was the prologue skate race and was either a 2.5K for women or a 3.3K for men. Both courses featured a gradual section before hitting multiple hills for the men and a final climb that both the men and women skied that would be the most challenging part of the race. We were encouraged to start conservatively and build throughout the race so that we were at full speed by the final climb and last 400 meters through the stadium.
Race morning brought firm, fast conditions that made ski selection easy and allowed us to focus on our efforts. The wax team nailed the wax, and everyone noted how great our skis felt compared to the athletes around us on course.
At the end of the day, Team USA had it’s most successful day of OPA Cup racing since these trips started a number of years ago. Thanks to the support of NNF, Bryan Fish from the US Ski Team, Justin Beckwith (former GMVS Head Coach), Jon Filardo from the Jackson Hole Ski Team and Garrott Kuzzy (Olympian and former GMVS Nordic Director now living in Innsbruck, Austria and earning his MBA) this first day was another testament to the level our country has reached across all levels of the sport. It’s been an ongoing effort, and it will continue to develop, but it is nice to see the results of our efforts heading in the right direction.
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