Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Nordic Skiers conduct summer on-snow camp in Bend, Oregon

June on-snow camp is about high volumes of training — and team bonding

A group of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Nordic skiers ventured to Bend, Oregon for an on-snow training camp earlier in June. Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center is the site of the U.S. Ski Team's annual May training camp as well.
SSCV/Courtesy photo

For some, winter is long enough. Others would prefer it never end. For the latter, there’s a place that’s warm, where the groomed trails flow and dedicated Nordic skiers instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I little place called Bend, Oregon.

That’s where 18-20 Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Nordic skiers traveled to earlier this month. Coach Eric Pepper’s crew loaded up the vans and drove two days across the American west, arriving for seven more of twice-a-day sessions at Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center. The venue, home to the U.S. Ski Team’s spring camp each May, routinely grooms its extensive trail system for the public through Memorial Day. They kept the PistenBully running for SSCV and other Colorado clubs in attendance in early June.

“We had really good conditions this year. Sydney and her staff at Mt. Bachelor did an amazing job with the snow surface and we are super thankful to have had a fun and productive camp,” said Pepper, who believes SSCV’s debut Bend camp was in 2011. Albeit the COVID year and one other low-snow season, which forced a pivot to Moab, the Bend camp has been a calendar staple, characterized by high training volumes on the real stuff before months of rollerskiing on pavement back home.

“I know we did a ton of skiing,” said Will Bentley, whose favorite part of the camp, other than team bonding, was the fact that ‘the boys’ conducted every ski session in shorts, sans shirts. “So, we got tan!” the U.S. Junior national champion from this past March continued.

SSCV coordinated their off-season trip with Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and Summit Nordic Ski Club, achieving the critical mass of athletes required to make grooming financially feasible. There were other perks, too.

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“We really wanted the athletic benefit of training alongside these other strong clubs and the social benefit of getting to ski with friends from other teams,” said Pepper, who sees the collaboration continuing.

Bentley hopped in behind SSWSC’s Grey Barbier, a Junior National podium placer and member of the Team USA gold-medal winning relay at last year’s U18 Nordic Nation’s Cup.

“His double pole is really impressive. His striding is really good, too — he’s just all-around a smooth and powerful skier; it’s really fun to watch,” the 16-year-old said of Barbier. He said the Steamboat skier has inspired him in other ways as well, recalling a memory from a U.S. regional development camp in Sun Valley a few years ago to illustrate his point.

“All of us would be playing pingpong, or air hockey in the lounge, or watching movies, and every night when curfew hit and we went back to our rooms, he was always in his room stretching,” he said. “He was always very focused; the first one in bed every night. His skiing at this camp this year — I’d say it was unmatched at the camp.” 

Warm weather provided athletes with the chance to train on slushy spring-like conditions — and without shirts.
SSCV/Courtesy photo

Slush specifics

Hauling skis, poles, boots and wax halfway across the country isn’t undertaken to nab sick Instagram-worthy photos or catch crazy mountain skylines on the annual ‘Broken Top’ crust cruise, though both happen. In a sport where March championships often bring spring slush or icy crust, conducting speed sessions on those conditions whenever possible is essential for development — especially for Colorado clubs accustomed to weeks of dry, cold, stable snow.

“We’re kind of spoiled here with perfect snow always, but that’s not how all skiing is,” Bentley explained. The team even brought out the klister — an invincibly sticky substance which allows classic skis to achieve grip on ice and in impossible freeze-thaw conditions (it’s also notoriously loathed by coaches for its fickle nature and messy clean-up). Bentley said it propelled him through his best session of the camp: a classic striding threshold workout with around 35 total minutes of work.

“I was really focusing on holding the form and keeping the heart rate low, but you’re still doing threshold,” he said of the workout, one of two intensity sessions. Bentley’s biggest areas for improvement are sprint qualifying, the preliminary round of a sprint competition wherein each athlete is ranked by their solo time trial of the course.

Typically, the top-30 athletes move onto the quarterfinals, where athletes placed in heats of six fight to advance to the semifinals and finals. The potential for four 3-minute all-out efforts in one day doesn’t scare Bentley, and he doesn’t lack race acumen in the strategic knockout rounds either — he ended up third in the junior national sprint.

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But, he was 12th in the qualifier that day.

Knowing he needs to improve upon full gas, wire-to-wire racing, Pepper encouraged Bentley to race the 800-meters in track instead of the 1600 or 3200-meter events.

“I think it is about going all-out and increasing my power,” Bentley said. They touched on some of those aspects in the two interval sessions conducted in Bend; the main goal was fine-tuning high-intensity biomechanics on soft snow.

“We did a bit more intensity this year than we probably have and that was mostly because we wanted to use race-quality movements in challenging conditions,” Pepper explained.

Before or after dinner each night, coaches analyzed technique video with groups and individuals. Afterward, everyone went over the plan for the next day before talking about team values and discussing areas in need of growth and those deserving of praise.

“A general emphasis on treating each other well and supporting each other while competing with each other is something we have been discussing a lot,” Pepper said. 

Rose Horning, who also won a junior national title this spring and competed at the World Junior championships in Whistler in January, described camp’s daily grind this way.

“Usually we would ski early in the morning, which is hard for a lot of us, to get up early,” she laughed. “We did a nice long session in the morning; then we’d have a pretty chill day and in the afternoon, go for a run. Somewhere between 45 -90 minutes. Then drills, relays, something fun.”

For some, like Bentley, the total volume was over 20 hours, an amount he said is easily attained when the sole focus is working out, resting and refueling.

“It’s hard at home — like, right now I have a double session to do in a couple hours, on top of chores, and it’s just harder to crank out the double sessions,” he said in contrasting his present lot in life compared to the magical stint in Oregon.

Overall, Adele Horning, Rose’s older sister, relishes in the unique aspects of summer training.

“I mean, I love it; it’s probably one of my favorite training blocks of the whole year because I love volume,” she described. “Just getting out there for a long time, going easy.”

The elder Horning will ski next winter at Dartmouth, where her mom, Christine, competed in the ’90s. Mom’s familiarity with the Big Green’s head coach, Cami Thompson, helped in the college decision-making process.

“She could just tell me a lot about Cami and her personality and she saw me and her personalities fitting together very well,” Horning said.

Heading into the rest of summer, Pepper said the goal for his athletes is to “balance training and life,” while looking to be consistent.

“That to me is such a key, getting out the door consistently and moving well, looking for areas you want to continue to do well and areas you want to improve upon,” he stated, adding that Vail Recreation District’s local town series events provide just the right spice of midweek intensity. Personally, he prefers long runs and hikes.

“We make a real effort to take the team to various locations in the valley and surrounding area and show them what a great place we get to live in and all that is offered here,” he said. 

The standard dinner-time hustle-and-bustle includes a few pre-dinner taste tests for athletes eager to refuel after another two-a-day.
SSCV/Courtesy photo

Bentley, who also runs cross-country and track for Summit High School, will continue to balance both sports the next few months.

“They’re obviously two different activities, but I think the goals line up together,” he said. 

“Running, I love it because it gives me a new perspective on a lot of things, because I’m not even near the top. I’m looking forward to the upcoming running season and I’m also hungry for Nordic.”

“I’m excited for summer training. We had a really great camp in Bend,” added Rose Horning.

“I’ve been feeling good lately. It was a nice, big block of training. So, excited for more.” 

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