Finding Joy on the Gerbil Loop
By: Garrot Kuzzy, OLY
It’s that time of the year. Temperatures are cold enough for snow, and chances are pretty good that there is already an artificial snow loop open close to you. In a year where long-distance travel to chase natural snow is almost impossible, here are a few reflections to help enhance your enjoyment of your local gerbil loop.
First, a bit about snowmaking itself. In German, it’s called Kunst Schnee, which translates to art snow. I like this concept as making snow is truly an art, along with a lot of science. In English, artificial snow is a close match. It’s the term I prefer. In 2020, it’s time we stop saying man-made
snow, the same way it’s time we stop addressing a group of girls and boys as guys.
How important is artificial snow to the ski industry? A study of 310 alpine ski areas in Europe found that without artificial snow, 37% of the areas would not have reliable snow to operate profitably [an industry-standard measured by 100 days open, including the Christmas to New Year’s holiday for a running average of 7 of 10 years]. In the Nordic ski world, the German region of Saxony calculated that hosting a World Cup in Dresden on artificial snow would have a smaller environmental impact than hosting a World Cup 30 miles away in the Ore Mountains on natural snow.
As a skier, what are the benefits of skiing on an artificial snow loop? The social aspect is one of my favorites. It may have been eight months since seeing many ski friends. I love alpine skiing because of how easy it is to cruise with friends, run after run. Similar to alpine skiing, the chances of seeing someone on a short cross country loop are way higher than on an extensive trail network. Don’t worry; there will be more time to lose yourself in the quiet woods later this winter. Now is the time to pull up your buff and cruise with your buds.
For coaches, a short loop is an opportunity to work with many different athletes. Perhaps you pull one skier aside to work on something specific, then they can jump back in with their teammates the next time the group skis by, while you connect with the next athlete.
One of the best ways to learn technique for beginner skiers is by following a better skier and trying to match their technique, tempo, and glide. You might not be able to keep up for long, but even a quick lap behind someone better will teach a lot. You can recover and work on whatever you learned until you’re rested enough to jump in behind the next fast skier that cruises past.
For advanced skiers, there is so much you can do on a small loop. If you added new skis to your quiver, it’s a perfect chance to test your new boards against your old favorites. With the impending wax regulations, it’s also a great opportunity to test new wax and structures. Changing skis each lap is great practice for your next skiathlon too.
After a summer on rollerskis, getting comfortable with the transition to skis is also important. While coaching at the Green Mountain Valley School, we practiced this transition by setting up a rollerski agility course in the parking lot next to the snowmaking loop, where we set up an identical agility course on snow. Skiers could go back and forth and feel the similarities and differences between snow and pavement immediately.
For youth and skiers of all ages actually, playing games like tag or ultimate frisbee on skis is a great way to build a positive relationship with the sport. Nordic Centers often cater their snowmaking loops to racers. Preparing flat areas for beginners and wide areas for kids to play games makes the experience better for everyone and helps bring more people into the sport.
My favorite aspect of an artificial snow loop is the ability to perfect the loop. As a sprinter, it’s common to race the same 1.x km loop four times in one day. In the days prior to a big race, I might ski the same loop 30 to 40 times. Whether I’m skiing intervals or going easy, I’m testing how to apply pressure to each undulation of the trail on every lap to find just a little more speed. This practice can be almost meditative as you become increasingly comfortable with the trail. And it’s even more fun when it’s time to go fast.
However, you want to frame it; there are countless benefits and ways to find joy on the gerbil loop. Enjoy!
Garrott Kuzzy is a retired Olympic ski racer, living out his golden years in Innsbruck, Austria, where he does his best to avoid life in a gerbil wheel. Kuzzy spends his spare time running Lumi Experiences, a travel company offering cross-country ski vacations to some of the world’s best destinations and events. This year, they have launched several new self-guided trips in the US to places like Yellowstone, Vermont, and Utah.
Learn more at www.lumiexperiences.com.