Day 9 of the U18 Nations trip had the team up by 7 am for one last shot of the Baardshaug Herregård hotel breakfast buffet. Team leader Chris Harvey advocated a large breakfast this morning, as we would be packing up and hitting the road for a skiing workout. The main destination of the day was the famed Meråker ski area about 75 kilometers east of Trondheim (and within 20 km of the border to Sweden!). The Meråker has a history of producing some of the most successful Norwegian skiers, even though the population is fairly small.
The drive from Orkanger to Trondheim is filled with tunnels, but at least this time we were traveling during the day and could see some of scenic views of the fjord and valleys. North of Trondheim, we headed east on Hwy E19. The road parallels the Stjørdalselva river, and after a while it becomes a river canyon with mountains on both sides. As we drove, the landscape changed from quite brown to eventually snow covered. Approaching Meråker, the snow coverage still seemed low, but we were headed for the Grova trailhead, which is roughly 400m above sea level. Climbing the winding road, the seasons changed to full on winter with significant snowfall, including about 6″ that appeared to have fallen in the last 24 hours.
At the Grova trailhead, the skiers unloaded their gear, put on the rest of their skiing clothing, collected some food to take on the workout, and headed out onto the trails. Chris Harvey and Andrew Kastning went with the boys while Jason Hettenbaugh lead the girls.
The Meråker trail system is quite large, with numerous trailheads and varying levels of difficultly. The trails had been beautifully groomed that morning, and with temperatures right around freezing, it was a little soft and slow. In fact, it was breathtaking – in both senses of the word. Winded from skiing (especially some of the long climbs in the soft snow) but also breathtaking in the scenery. The trails run well above the valley, so you’ll see plenty of mountains and vistas. And just looking at the trail ahead, winding and climbing, was just gorgeous.
The girls ended up skiing a loop that climbed and climbed… and climbed, eventually reaching a small plateau near the top of one of the mountain ranges, where there was a tiny warming hut. Crowding in at a table, the group took a break for water and a snack after being out for almost an hour and a half. Putting back on the skis, it was at this point that Ezra Smith broke a pole. Considering we had 10-15 kilometers to ski back to the Grova trailhead, there was some unvoiced concern, but Ezra shrugged and set off with the group, doing a great simulation with that one broken shaft and almost effortlessly kept right up with the group! From the hut back, it was, as we had hoped, almost entirely downhill. Some of the runs were quite long, and fast (GPS tracker clocked 31 mph on one of the descents). Along the way, we passed other skiers, most classical skiing in a single track (which had a slightly icy base, making it faster than the skate lane), and some who even had their dog along (quite a long ways from any trailhead).
The ski adventure wrapped up around 2 pm, after three hours of exploring the trail system, and needless to say everyone was quite hungry. The coaches had made a grocery run that morning, so it was a roadside lunch of self-made sandwiches with fruit.
Before leaving Meråker, the group stopped at what appeared to be a tourist shop, but turned out to be a sewing center. However, after coach Kastning chatted with the proprietor and mentioned our group, she asked us if we had been up to visit the Arena Meråker, a sports school in town. When we explained we had not, she put in a phone call that connected Kastning with former World Cup and Olympic skier Frode Estil! Estil now works at the school, and agreed to meet us their for a tour.
Arena Meråker has had a number of great Norwegian skiers in attendance over the years, and entering the school, you are reminded of that with a hall of fame of some of the more famous ones, including Petter Northug. Estil showed us the classrooms, weight rooms, outdoor and indoor biathlon ranges, part of the rollerski loop, handball courts, indoor soccer field, dormitories and cafeteria, and perhaps the highlight for most of the team, a giant rollerski treadmill, which he fired up and raised to a 30 degree angle! Estil also shared some of his training insights, including an emphasis of quality over quantity (hours), and the feeling that many athletes are overtraining – not rested enough for racing. His tour and discussions was extremely welcoming, something that has been a hallmark of all the Norwegians we’ve interacted with, and he encouraged us to come back again. It was late in the afternoon when we departed for the journey to Trondheim for our new lodging for the next two days.
After checking in and getting settled at the City Living Schøller Hotel, the team headed out for a scroll across the city to a pizza place on the Nidelva river in downtown Trondheim. As the meal wound down, the team ended up crowding into a single booth to watch some of the World Junior Championship sprint heats livestreaming on a cellphone. Before leaving the restaurant, an impromptu team meeting has held to discuss the schedule for our final full day in Norway, and then the group wandered back to the hotel for the evening.
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