Nordic

Making It Work

January 20th, 2017 by Kaitlyn Patterson

–By Alex Vanias, Nordic Skier and Cyclist

I moved to Ann Arbor around the beginning of August. It isn’t the most optimal place to be a cross country skier, but I’m making it work. It took me about a month to find some convenient roads and trails to roller ski, but unfortunately after the time change in the fall I would get kicked out of said parks at sunset. Apparently downstaters are scared of the dark… Ok, I’ll go play with the cars. So much safer! It took me a few more weeks in November to find new roads with minimal traffic. I ended up finding some great suburbs with minimal traffic and nice pavement. The only annoying part about suburbs is that between 5-8pm after work, everywhere I go smells like dinner and it absolutely kills me when I’m starving a couple hours into a workout.

A quick side story; When I was searching for roller ski training spots, I came across the short track speed skating club in Ann Arbor and absolutely needed to try it out! I actually competed in a short speed skatingtrack race in Midland before ski season. In the image below, I’m the guy in fluorescent green. I’m actually very bad at short track. It is very much a technique sport, and my VO2 helped me very minimally. It may or may not have made my skate skiing more efficient, though!

I knew ski training would be a struggle, so in October I was lucky to find a used Ski Erg. This device has transformed my training and is currently saving my season. It allows me to work my weakness even when the trails are bare, and the roads are icy. It also allows me to train with power. I have done a couple 20min power tests so far with lots of improvement. The picture below is worth a thousand words.

ski erg

In December we got dumped on with snow and all the local trails were groomed and amazing. The Michigan Cup racing kicked off and I won a couple of the season openers. It was great to get that early season lung burn over with! That great snow only lasted 2-3 weeks before a series of unfortunate warmups.

Where did all the snow go?

Where did all the snow go?

speed max

Classic boot with full carbon sole offers superb control of the skis while remaining lightweight!

I was on the fence about going up to SISU Ski Fest the first weekend in January, but not having been on great snow in a couple weeks lead me to sign up for the race a few days before it started. The forecast for the race was a frigid -5F to 0F. It’s tough to go from 50F training all the way down to that, but I have awesome cold skis so I couldn’t turn it down. The drive to Ironwood is about 10hrs in one directions, and of course there were blizzards to drive through. On the way up I stopped my Northbound Outfitters for some wax and Fischer’s new Speedmax Classic boots (These boots are really worth the upgrade!).

The weather for SISU was looking straight forward all week- frigid cold. I planned on using my coldest, softest ski with TB1x grind no matter what. My TG1-1 grind on a stiff ski just happened to be testing the same as my TB1x at the start area. I knew using the TG1-1 was a liability, especially since it was starting to snow, but 10min before the race start I grabbed the risky ski hoping that the snow was packed and the snow would stop. The forecast didn’t call for snow until the afternoon so it was worth a shot.

ski testing

ski testing at -5F

All was going fantastic and I was calm and relaxed following in the draft while I watched Matt Liebsch start opening a gap. I thought “no problem, I’ll let him do some work and then bridge up to him.” I finally got around and opened up a gap on the hills. I felt great- possibly better than last year. Then the snow started getting deep, up to 2-3” in spots. My skis suddenly felt terrible. I know everybody’s skis slowed waaay down, and I’m sure others made a mistake picking skis as well, it’s just that some skis are less slow than others in this situation.  Turns out the skis I planned on using all week would have been the way to go. Lesson learned.

Matt got out of sight, and Joel bridged up and eventually dropped me. I couldn’t drink because my face was frozen. I was on the struggle bus, big time! I was actually doing V1 technique on the flats. V1 is a  technique usually reserved for going uphill but that’s how slow the conditions became. In the last few kilometers I saw Cory coming up behind me. At this point the wind and snow was so bad I couldn’t see the trail in front of me. My eyeballs were so cold and I would try to ski short distances with my eyes closed to warm them up. My left eyelid wasn’t even closing all the way! In the end, I held off Cory for 3rd place. It was a good, tough race. That’s what I drove 20hrs for. There is so much to learn with ski racing which is why you don’t see many young guys at the top of races. Experience and equipment tends to trump everything in difficult snow conditions.

 

sisu ski

Limiting my losses at SISU

Unfortunately the weather is still not cooperating in Ann Arbor to do much on-snow skiing so I’ll have to continue my mix of using the Ski Erg, riding the trainer and running. Training for ski season this year has made me feel more like a fitness enthusiast than a skier!   I’m looking forward to getting some more racing in and my next big test is the Noquemanon Ski Marathon in Marquette the last weekend in January!

 

 

 


Birkie 2016- A Physical, Technical Test

February 22nd, 2016 by Kaitlyn Patterson

–By Kaitlyn Patterson and Alex Vanias, OAM NOW Nordic skiers and cyclists

birkie bibs

Each American Birkebeiner has its own personality and this year’s race definitely had a volatile and unpredictable flair. Taking place every February in northern Wisconsin, the race usually occurs under ideal ski conditions- plenty of snow and temperatures in the 20s. However, this El Nino year was going to throw some curveballs.

The Birkie is the biggest cross country ski event in North America, drawing 10,000 skiers from around the country and the world. It is a bizarre and awesome phenomenon that this quirky population gathers en masse every year to race 50 kilometers between the tiny towns of Cable and Hayward. Birkie is a date circled in red on countless cross country skiers’ calendars whether they are shooting for the win and huge prize purse, an age group award, a better wave placement, or surviving  the endless hills of the Birkie trail. Everyone wants fast skis for this iconic event and when the weather creates tricky waxing conditions, it causes something close to mass hysteria. Which is exactly what happened this year.

This is not what skiers want to see 36 hours before race time!

This is not what skiers want to see 36 hours before race time!

Early in the week leading to the race, the temperatures were very cold in Hayward- down to -15 F with 2-5 inches of fresh snow. However, the weather was predicted to warm up to the upper 30s and low 40s starting on Thursday, rain on Thursday evening and Friday, and remaining above freezing for race time on Saturday. In order to protect the snow base, the fresh snow on the course was not groomed and  was closed to all skiers on Thursday and Friday. The course was not groomed until overnight on Friday before the race.

Usually at Birkie, several ski shops and wax services perform wax and ski tests all week and have a very good idea as to what is going to be fastest on race day. However, with the rapidly changing conditions and closed course, testing was of relative little value in the days before the race.  Because of the wide range of possible snow temperature and structure, the professional skiers with wax service teams prepared many possible race skis in the days leading up to the race. Eventual women’s race winner Caitlin Gregg “narrowed” her ski choices down to 13 pairs the day before the race!

 

Since Alex and I don’t have a service team and have six skis between us (only one pair is mine but the varying flexes means I can often benefit from his fleet) meant that we had quite the task of preparing skis that could put us in the mix of the fastest skiers in the race. In addition, we have very little experience preparing skis for warm, wet conditions as it is quite uncommon during ski season in the Midwest.

We arrived in Cable on Wednesday night and went on a quick ski to check out the snow. We were met with fast, ideal conditions and a beautiful moon. Although we were wishing the race could be held before the weather became temperamental, we had no choice but to try to make the best of what we had. On Thursday, the research began in earnest and we headed to the expo in pursuit of bibs and a couple more tricks for optimal ski prep. We did not have any liquid fluoros and determined that it would be especially beneficial to add speed early in the race and help us make the initial separations. It also could be applied immediately before the start after our warm-up was completed (“fluoro” refers to fluorine which is a negatively charged atom that repels both water and dirt which are generally negatively charged. Fluro content is especially important in wet and dirty snow- which this year’s Birkie was both. For anyone interested in the physics, check out this article). After visiting the Swix tent at the expo and several ski shops, we finally found the swix HVC liquid flouro we were looking for. It was the last in stock at our last stop and likely the only one left within a several hundred mile radius.

Anxiety levels became much lower once Alex was confident we had enough tools to prepare competitive skis. Since we arrived in Cable early, we had all day on Friday to test and prepare skis. Friday morning offered comparable temperatures to race morning and although we didn’t have access to the course, we tested on a groomed section of trail that we hoped was similar to the race course.

Where the magic happens!

Where the magic happens!

We prepared all our skis with the same molybdenum high flouro baselayer to get an idea of which skis were running best. Despite the rain on Thursday and temperatures above freezing for a full 24 hours, the trail remained firm and surprisingly fast. It was pretty clear for both of us which skis were running best- my universal flex ski with a warm grind and Alex’s universal flex with an LS1 cold grind. Although Alex has invested in his ski fleet this year including a pair of Speedmax skis meant to be optimal for Birkie, the unusual conditions unfortunately made them irrelevant.

After setting our race skis aside, we then tested waxes and topcoats on the slower skis. Alex prepared one pair with Toko high-fluoro yellow paraffin and FC10 topcoat and the other Swix HF 8 with FC8X (red) topcoat. The yellow wax is meant for wetter and warmer conditions and was running a bit faster than the red which is a bit harder wax meant for slightly cooler conditions.  However, a complicating factor was the course would be tilled before the race- possibly bringing up colder snow that was insulated underneath. But we had no idea the snow temperature or how transformed the snow would be. Despite the warm and wet conditions, we decided the added durability and potential of colder snow made the slightly harder red waxes our choice for paraffin (Swix HF8) and topcoat (FC8X). This thinking was backed up by testing and wax recommendations from other teams.

The HVC liquid flouro was the final layer and we tested it on our pre-race workout- each of us applying it to just one ski. It was noticeably faster and we were happy to see it lasted over 10-k as one drawback of many liquid fluoros is the limited durability.

However, after the testing and decision had been made, the rain began in earnest. A combination of rain and wintery mix fell much of the evening, creating a sheet of ice by the time we went to bed. With all the factors in play, Alex and I got up at 4am to check out the snow in case we had to make some last minute changes.

The course begins in a wide open field and we arrived in the pre-dawn darkness to find wet and soft conditions as the temperature remained about 38 degrees overnight. Although it was in contrast to the firm trail we had been testing on, our skis were moving well and hoped it would be enough.

The Birkie starts in waves with the elite women’s wave going off first and followed 20 minutes later by the elite men. Some years the leaders of the men’s race catch the female leaders and some years they don’t so that is almost a race in itself. The women’s elite field is very small- only about 60 racers and I was able to start on the front row of the huge start line with some of the best skiers in the world. This was probably one of the cooler moments of my ski career.

Start of the elite women's field  (Photo credit- American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation©2016)

Start of the elite women’s field
(Photo credit- American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation©2016)

Despite a front row start, I fell back in the field a bit because the opening section was quite variable with sections of soft powder and icy patches. It took me a while to find a rhythm and by that time, the lead group was off the front. However, I was able to find a good group of five women to ski with and we took turns pulling. After the starting field, the course changed to be hard packed and fast- much different than anything we had tested on but my skis were great. Because of the high speeds, drafting was crucial and it felt very much like a bike race.

Meanwhile, Alex was fighting to stay with the lead pack- dangling off the back and having to make up the gaps once guys were dropped. Since the conditions were fast, drafting became so important to the race dynamics that many guys were skipping feeds instead of risking losing the draft. Although Alex’s skis were among the fastest in the soft snow, they were too soft to be optimal for the unexpected hard-packed trail. Eventually, Alex lost the pack and joined a chase group that had formed just behind. Although the pace was comfortable in the group, a fall at about 24k caused him to lose the group. Despite chasing hard to reestablish contact, the group acted like a peloton that is essentially impossible to catch. This left Alex to race the second half alone, stuck in no-man’s land and missing the benefit of any draft.

birkie hr

TrainingPeaks tells the story better than anything else

 

With about 18k to go I heard the sound of the lead snowmobile and I moved over as the lead pack of about 15 guys sped by followed several minutes later by a chase pack of 10. I was bummed to not see Alex but soon after he caught me solo. I was able to match him just for a few strides but is helped me to get enough of a gap on my group that they lost my draft and I took advantage of the next several steep climbs to shake them for good.

In the final 3 kilometers racers cross Lake Hayward before finishing on Main Street in Hayward. The recent rain made for a slushy crossing with some ankle deep standing water which made for an especially challenging final push to the finish.

The American Birkebeiner finishes in downtown Hayward to a extremely supportive crowd

The American Birkebeiner finishes in downtown Hayward to a extremely supportive crowd

Alex stopped the clock at 2:14:09 averaging over 14 mph for 31 miles, claiming 25th place and 13th American in a very competitive international field. I finished in 2:40:24, taking 18th in the women’s race as the 12th American. We were the first male and female finishers from Michigan including both upper and lower peninsulas. It was also an improvement over last year’s Birkie finish for both of us.

Both men’s and women’s overall titles were won by Americans as Caitlin Gregg won her fourth Birkie title and David Norris overtook six Europeans in the final kilometer for an upset win.

Although we had both been hoping to crack the top ten, the course conditions did not play to our strengths and we were somewhat limited by a small fleet of skis. Considering the challenges of the weekend, it was a very solid showing from both of us.

Jon Morgan also represented Team OAM Now, skiing out of wave 1 and finished his 24th! Birkie in 2:53:26. Jon was content with his race considering the unrelenting hills of the course and the rebuilding he has had to do this year after his hamstring injury last year at Noque.

Team OAM Now taking advantage of the trails to ski and test before the race!

Team OAM Now taking advantage of the trails to ski and test before the race!

 

The ski season is almost done for the nordic team with only two more race weekends. This weekend is Black Mountain in Cheboygan followed by Great Bear Chase in Calumet the first weekend in March.

 

The complete searchable Birkie results can be found here and an article about the winners by FasterSkier.


Nordic Immersion- Watching, Writing, and Racing

January 13th, 2016 by Kaitlyn Patterson

-By Kaitlyn Patterson, OAM NOW Nordic Skier and Cyclist

To kick off 2016 I made the trek to Houghton, Michigan to attend U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships (also known as U.S. Nationals) held the first week in January. But instead of lining up as a competitor, my job was to be a professional observer for the week.  Since November I have been writing for FasterSkier, one of the primary sources of North American cross country ski news. I mostly cover World Cup events remotely but since U.S. Nationals were held in the Midwest, I got my first shot at on-site reporting.

Nationals consists of four days of racing including an interval start race (racers go off one by one and race the clock, just like a time trial), two days of head to head sprint racing, and a mass start distance race. The event is held early in the season because it allows athletes a chance to qualify to represent the U.S. in international competition the remainder of the season. Since it is held so early, I didn’t plan on racing to give me more time to transition to ski season after an intense fall of cycling. However, teammate Alex Vanias prioritized roller skiing all summer and fall and would compete in the 30-kilometer mass start freestyle event despite having only one week of on-snow training prior to the race.

Michigan Tech did an amazing job hosting the event with limited snow and skiers from all over the U.S. and Canada converged in Houghton. I enjoy watching races almost as much as I enjoy competing and I got to see some great battles. I also had a chance to meet some really impressive, down to earth athletes and coaches including another Caitlin Patterson of the nordic ski world who had a great weekend and won both distance races (together we confuse a lot of people).  Our hotel was filled with skiers making for a fun and quirky place to hang out. Basically the week could be best described as doing quirky things in a quirky place with quirky people.  And it was great.

My FasterSkier partner Gabby and I even had official "media" bibs allowing us access to any part of the course.

My FasterSkier partner Gabby and I even had official “media” bibs allowing us on any part of the course

On my “days off” from race reporting I got to enjoy some of the best skiing in the Midwest at the Michigan Tech trails. We also had amazing weather with temps between 15 and 30 degrees and a couple days of sunshine!

 

Ski trails the width of a highway!

Ski trails the width of a highway!

Enjoying the Houghton sunshine!

Enjoying the Houghton sunshine!

 

Finally the day of the mass start freestyle event arrived.  It was a great field and I was excited to watch the race up front and see what Alex could do. The day didn’t disappoint with an impressive win by Tad Elliott who came back from a rough couple years battling mono and Epstein-Barr virus.  Alex moved up from starting position 76 to finish 43rd against a talented field of collegiate and professional athletes.

Alex competing in the 30k freestyle at U.S. Nationals

Alex competing in the 30k freestyle at U.S. Nationals

After watching races all week and feeling great skiing, I was itching to race. Alex planned on racing the 42k event at the SISU Ski Fest in Ironwood two days after his 30k. After working out some logistics, I decided I could join him and return to Houghton to wrap up U.S. Nats reporting.

Ironwood is a small, old mining town on the border of Wisconsin with strong Finnish history. Everyone is incredibly friendly and the town rolls out the red carpet for racers including traditional stew and pasties at the “Finnish” line. Hundreds of snow-deprived skiers from across the Midwest arrived excited for the new snow and great racing conditions.

Sisu is a Finnish word meaning determination, bravery, and resilience. 

Sisu is a Finnish word meaning determination, bravery, and resilience.

The course wound through the ABR trail system before heading north to finish in downtown Ironwood.  Both Alex and I started in the elite wave and after narrowly avoiding a pileup in the first 100 meters, we were off!

I settled in a train of guys along with the one other female. It was great to be racing again but I noticed pretty early in the race that I had underestimated the stress of skiing and working all week. I attempted to ski relaxed but the spent too much time accelerating and trying to pass other racers on the narrow trail. At about 30k, the first female took off and by the time I passed the racer in between us and began chasing, she was out of sight. I had also fallen behind in my fuel intake and sat in the back of the train to regroup.  I was able to rally but it was a bit too little, too late and I finished second- just over a minute off the lead.  The winner was Jan Guenther, an accomplished skier and triathlete who also owns Gear West- the biggest nordic ski shop in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Alex was fighting a much tighter battle for the win against Matt Leibsch. Matt is one of the top cross country racers in the country with a previous Birkie win and a two top-10 results at U.S. Nationals this week.  Alex and Matt dropped the field early and despite Matt’s efforts to drop him, Alex was skiing strong and it became apparent it would come down to the finishing kick.  Matt overtook Alex the last kilometer to win by just 18 seconds.

SISU 42k freestyle men's podium. The quick lumberjack is Matt Liebsch, followed by Alex Vanias, and Nicholas Power. (Photo: Vic Calore)

SISU 42k freestyle men’s podium. The quick lumberjack is Matt Liebsch, followed by Alex Vanias, and Nicholas Power. (Photo: Vic Calore)

It was a great two races for Alex and a testament to his off-season training and potential for the season. It was an epic week for both of us and I’m excited that winter has finally arrived in Traverse City so we can train and race!

The OAM Nordic Team will be back in action this Saturday, January 16 for the Cote Dame Marie in Grayling, right in the backyard of our ski shop sponsor- Cross Country Ski Shop!

Results for U.S. Nationals 30k freestyle

Results for SISU Ski Fest


Summer Skiing Secret to Winter Success

September 29th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors

By Alex Vanias, Team OAM Now Multi-Sport Athlete

Cross country skiing is often considered one of the toughest sports. It is aerobically demanding and requires continual explosive movements. As you can imagine, doing repetitive single-leg squats while doing pseudo ab crunches to push the ski poles can be very fatiguing over time. In addition to the physical demands, technique is crucial to skiing. The most fit athlete does not necessarily win ski races unless they have efficient technique. It becomes increasingly difficult to maintain proper form when fatigue sets in. This is why it is important to train for skiing in the summer.

I don’t do structured workouts for skiing in the summer, but I try to ski 2-3 times per week. This is primarily to maintain my technique and sport-specific efficiency for skiing while I am building fitness by riding and running. As a multi-sport athlete, I do not spend a lot of time on off-season training since I am training and competing in summer sports. However, because maintaining technique in skiing is so important, I do prioritize fitting in summer rollerski sessions.

skiYou may be wondering how somebody can ski in the summer. Well, there are these sketchy contraptions called roller skis. These are essentially long roller blades with a wheel on each end and a ski binding mounted to them. Regular winter boots fit into the bindings, although lighter and cooler ski boot models are available. I use regular ski poles but replace the baskets with special roller ski tips. The tips are carbide and need to be sharpened with a diamond file roughly every 50mi so they bite into the pavement.

One of the biggest challenges of rollerskiing is stopping. Rollerskis generally have no brakes, so stopping safely takes careful practice. The wheels and bearings are not made for speed since they are intended to mimic the speed of skiing on snow. I generally average about 10-13mph on a normal ski, but can reach speeds of over 30mph on downhills. Because of the speed and difficulty stopping, I always wear a helmet; all it takes is a pebble or crack in the road to send me through the air. I make sure to scout out the roads I plan on skiing to make sure there are no stop signs at the bottom of hills and there is an appropriate shoulder and low traffic.  There are many suitable areas for rollerskiing in northern Michigan, but it becomes more challenging in more populated areas. The US Ski Team (sarcastically) explains some various rollerski stopping techniques here.

Rollerskiing is a quirky activity, but it is a valuable component to my training. Juggling the demands of multi-sport training can be tricky, but varying my sports and training make me a better athlete and help me improve in each individual sport. In addition, challenging different muscle groups helps keep me injury free. I understand the importance of sport-specific training, but I think that many people underestimate the value of variation in training and racing.

Overall, I’m excited to start to ramp up my running and ski-specific training this fall for hopefully my best ski season yet!


Nordic Ski Season Recap: Building for the future

April 8th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors

A few short years ago, when Dan Yankus convinced Alex Vanias to give nordic skiing a try (why not? Alex tries everything!), he likely didn’t imagine that in a few short years, Team OAM Now/Athletic Mentors would be making a huge mark on the nordic ski circuit here in Michigan. However, the 2014-2015 ski season was one for the record books. Not only did the team reach recruitment and participation milestones, but both the team and individual members were able to reach some pretty impressive goals resulting in a largely successful season for the Team OAM Now/Athletic Mentors Nordic Ski Team.

IMG_0348Let’s start with recruitment. As mentioned, a few years ago, the team was rather small, and by small we mean Dan Yankus. In just a few years, the team has grown to include 6 members including:

Dan Yankus
Alex Vanias
Kaitlyn Patterson
Jon Morgan
Rebecca Davis
Mike Davis

At the start, one of the big concerns was recruiting youth to the team. Just 4 years on, the team has dropped its average age from over 30 to under 30, predominantly by recruiting summer sport athletes to winter sports. For many, the natural athleticism and dedication to training has translated quite well. The team continues to pursue more interest by increasing the nordic “foot” print in Michigan, particularly the lower peninsula. In fact, the most popular race in the LP this year featured a clinic for kids hosted by Team OAM Now!

Perhaps one of the best ways to spread the sport, is by modeling how it’s done well and bringing attention to Michigan skiiers. Team OAM Now was able to do that with plenty of local kudos, but also on much larger scale. At this year’s Birkie, 5 Team OAM Now men placed in the top 100, as did 1 of the women.

K2As the skiiers will tell you, each race has as story, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of them over the past few months, but if we look at the season, what’s most interesting are some of the impressive numbers and notable achievements from the team:

1700 total kms skied by all members.
Over 50 race entries combined within a 10 week span. (That’s a lot of traveling)
4 different members of the team won a race. (Dan, Kaitlyn, Alex, Rebecca- Complete Teamwork)
Overall Michigan Cup winners – Men and Women (Dan and Kaitlyn in back-to-back years)
Top 10 Michigan – Men (3) Women (2)
Top 5 Noquemanon Marathon 50km Classic – Men(1)  and Women (2) (Dan, Kaitlyn, Rebecca)
1st Overall North American Vasa 50km Freestyle – Men and Women (Alex, Kaitlyn)
Top 30 Overall American Birkiebiener – Men (Alex)
Top 31 Overall American Birkiebiener (4th wave start, passed over 2000 skiers–Women (Kaitlyn))
Kids Clinic – Brighton, MI (Jon and Dan)
Cote De Marie Kids Race (Mike,Rebecca)

podiumSo what’s lead to that success? Lots of amazing teamwork, support from incredible sponsors who see the work we’re doing and help us make those medals a reality, a lot of training and hard work, and the knowledge that we have a strong foundation and team to continue to build on.

We’re looking forward to an incredible season next year, when we continue to ski our way to podiums and hope to continue some of the Michigan Cup winning traditions. For now, it’s back to pavement, and bikes, and sunshine.


Team OAM Now’s Davis Takes 1st Women’s, Patterson takes 3rd, while Yankus and Vanias take 2nd and 3rd at Black Mountain

March 5th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors

By Rebecca Davis, Team OAM Now Nordic Skier

img_0583Racing this weekend at Black Mountain turned out to be my strongest weekend yet, so it was a nice way to wrap up my season. On Saturday, I went with a colder wax choice, which seemed to work pretty well. I managed to get both good kick and glide for most of the 31k classic race.

The race course started on a lake and then climbed up, and up, and up. Eventually, racers made their way back down onto the lake and finished. This was one of the hardest courses I have seen. My biggest women’s competition was teammate Kaitlyn Patterson. She is obviously a top notch skier, and although Freestyle is her preferred technique, she is still very competitive in the classic races. I knew she was still high from the Birkie, but probably a bit tired from racing four 50k races in five weeks. I decided to push the pace early, hoping I could get some space.

I noticed at about 10k she was right behind me and decided to relax a bit in case she made a move, hopefully saving enough to hang on. I was able to shake her about half way, and added to the lead the rest of the way, while passing quite a few of the men.

I finished 1st woman and 11th overall. Kaitlyn felt her marathons catch up with her, but still managed to finish 24th overall and 3rd women’s. The OAM men all had great races, with Dan Yankus finishing 2nd, Alex Vanias 3rd, and Mike Davis 6th.

After a hard effort on Saturday, I had low expectations for the race on Sunday, partially because it was a freestyle race which I don’t feel as strong at, and partially because I was very sore. Having seen the hills on Saturday, I knew they would not be easy on my already screaming legs.

We started on the lake again, climbed onto a very hilly 10k, and finished back on the lake. Taking off, I felt stiff, and a junior girl got a pretty good lead on me. I headed into the climbs with a group of guys I felt were at a good speed for me. About 5k into the race, I passed Mike stuck in the snow bank on an uphill after he was run off the trail when the men went three wide on a one person trail. He was in good spirits, but decided to ski in at a more leisurely pace instead of stressing to get back up to the front group. At the top of the climbs, I felt a little weak and was passed by another woman, but she encouraged me to stick with her. After another kilometer or so, I started to feel much better and was able to really work the down hills. I passed both women in front of me, and never looked back.

Coming into the finish, I was surprised the race was over so quickly, and sprinted into the finish with a smile on my face. It was a really rewarding way to end my season. Now it’s time to pick up the paddles again.


Team OAM Now: A Tale of Two Birkies

March 4th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors

By Kaitlyn Patterson and Alex Vanias, Team OAM Now Nordic Skiers

B1Kaitlyn: The American Birkiebeiner is the largest cross country ski marathon in North America and attracts over 10,000 skiers for the 24k and 51k events. The race is held in rural northern Wisconsin, beginning in the tiny town of Cable and ending in Hayward. Alex and I made the journey for the first time, while Dan Yankus was racing his 6th Birkie 51k. Alex registered for the 50k freestyle race. Thanks to a good time at last year’s VASA 50k, Alex was able to get into the elite wave.

Freestyle skiers take off in 10 waves and wave placement is determined by previous Birkie races. With no previous Birkie finishes, I was placed in wave 4. My valiant efforts to improve my wave placement were fruitless and I knew my biggest challenge would be navigating through thousands of racers.

Alex: The week leading up to the race was stressful as Kaitlyn and I had to move into a new house in Traverse City. Fortunately training the week before an “A” race requires less time. Unfortunately, I still didn’t get to go out to train a few days that week so I was lacking a bit of speed work to keep my top end form going.

 Kaitlyn: The atmosphere of the town and the expo was electric. It was amazing to see so many excited skiers taking over these tiny towns. We stopped by the finish line in Hayward the day before the race and checked out the finishing stretch on a snowcovered Main Street.

The morning of the race I watched Dan and Alex take off in a very competitive elite men’s field and made sure I had a good starting position in my wave of over 500 skiers.

Alex:Basically, the day before Birkie I tested my only two pairs of race quality skate skis to pick the one with the best base structure and flex. I have a ski for cold/soft snow and a ski that rocks on hard/warm snow. Birkie was something in between, and both skis felt different, but performed roughly the same in my glide testing. I picked the cold/soft ski as it felt smoother.

The start was relatively stress free since the elite wave only had about 200 skiers and it was very wide. Getting a good position there was not essential.

K2Kaitlyn: After the cannon sounded, I found myself in a small group of 10 skiers that dwindled to three within several kilometers. It was bizarre to be skiing almost alone on the freeway wide trails, but I knew it would not last long. Within 3k, we began catching wave three skiers; it became progressively thicker and I was soon surrounded by an endless mob of skiers. I had space to dart in between the slower skiers in the flats, but it was a slow march up the hills and a dead stop at aid stations. I was expecting this and willed myself to be patient and conserve energy. The stream of racers was endless as we caught skiers from waves one, two, and three over the course of the race. With 25k to go, I still felt fresh from the controlled effort and finally had more space to hammer. I ended up finishing 31st female out of a field of 700+ women. I calculated that I passed roughly 1500 people over the course of the 51k race.

Alex: Before I knew it, the race had started and I double poled cautiously for a while to prevent any other skier from stepping on and breaking any of my equipment. Within a couple km, there was already a relatively large lead group that had a significant gap, and I had only just caught up to the chase group. As I was starting to figure out, my skis were lacking speed on the downhills, so if I was getting away uphill, I would get caught by everybody downhill. I wasn’t getting anywhere on my own so I sat on the back of the lead group to conserve energy for later in the race. After the halfway point, people were starting to break down, and I was only warmiing up. I was ready to start pushing the pace. That is when I started getting out front to shed some people from my group. I eventually dropped them all and started picking off stragglers from the lead group.

Kaitlyn: Each wave had different colored bibs and I got cheers from spectators and skiers through the entire course as I was one of the first wave 4 skiers. Overall, the atmosphere on the racecourse and camaraderie of the skiers was very impressive. Although having to ski out of wave 4 compromised my time and overall place, it made for a true Birkie experience. I definitely caught Birkie fever and am hoping that I can make it to race next year.

Alex: My legs could barely hold me up for the last few km, but I managed not to fall in front of the huge crowd at the finish, so that was good! I ended up with a solid 28th place. I am hoping to improve on that next year. There was definitely a lot to learn about the flow of things at Birkie.

The Birkie is certainly an amazing event. To catch a bit of the Birkie spirit and energy, check out the video from the finish line here.


Equipment Closet: Ski Poles

February 19th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors

By Daniel Yankus, Team OAM Now Multi-sport Athlete

As a professional and an athlete, not to be confused with a Professional Athlete, I balance my ambitions in life between my career and being an athlete. Along the way, I have had the luxury of some wonderful sponsors in my athletic endeavors.

On a return trip from a training weekend, I stopped by the United States Ski Pole Company in Cheyboygan, MI. They were one of the important relationships we sought out when developing our program (race team). What I thought was going to be a quick stop to pick up some poles I had purchased later revealed itself as, instead, a witnessing of the “American Dream.”

I met the owner, Andy Liebner, a handful of times and we had the opportunity to talk about some of the overlooked details of skiing, not just poles. Those little details, we agreed, often separate us from many things in life, not just skiing. For Andy and the USSPC, those little details are the foundation of the dream he started 2 years ago. I spent over an hour with Andy recently and he showed me all the work he has done, including the manufacturing process from start to end, which ended with the completion of my very own poles made by Andy and his crew.

One of the key pieces of this journey is an intense R & D process that includes testing against competitors and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of other poles available on the market. Each pole is tested. Each piece is tested. For every station in the process, the step must have been on Rev L (for non-engineers, Rev L only comes after a dozen or so changes), those changes reflect the perfection in every movement the shop seems to have. The sins of the past are discarded, but that is how manufacturing works: those who wait or become complacent are also often discarded; the manufacturing world waits for no one.

factory_wide2It’s also worth noting that all the pieces used to create these top of line poles are made in the USA. At a time when most carbon products, from bikes to hockey sticks, are made overseas, United States Ski Pole Company has built relationships with suppliers to build something rarely seen in the manufacturing world these days: a product made completely in the USA that can compete with the big players on the market. You can learn more about their production here.

ski poleThroughout the tour, Andy showed me features most of us with a ski pole consider an afterthought. Most of us grab a set of poles, lean on them and test for stiffness and weight. That’s all. However, as Andy showed me, there are many details we overlook when we buy ski poles. Each detail, from the basket to the grip, has been redesigned over and over until Andy has exactly what he wants. For example, the United States Ski Pole Company offers a strap that’s not just comfortable, but also has thermal properties. It’s a small detail most of us couldn’t imagine, but after experiencing we don’t know how we did without it. This is probably the best thing about Andy and his company: they’ve thought of all the things we didn’t and then make them a reality. In the same way that we progress as athletes, each piece of each pole has a story. Each piece had a journey from start to finish.

So, as I get ready to ski with my new poles, I know I’m holding something in my hands that is not just some cool lightweight shiny object. It’s easy to get caught up with the “bling” factor, especially as new products hit the market pretty rapidly.  That said, nothing beats the confidence I have, as a skier, in a product that’s had so much attention paid to the details…and nothing beats the performance. These poles are, in many ways, a reflection of who we are as athletes, and certainly who Andy is as a businessman: built from the ground up. As you prepare to hit the plentiful snow we’ve had this week, make sure your equipment reflects who you are, and works for you, not just the manufacturer.

To find United States Ski Pole Company poles near you, find a dealer here.


Vanias Takes First Overall, Patterson Wins Women’s in VASA 50K, Davis and Davis Take 2nd in 27K

February 16th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors

By Kaitlyn Patterson, Team OAM Now Multi-sport athlete

With blizzard conditions and road closures across the state, a troop of brave (or crazy) skiers lined up for the 27k or 50k VASA races on Saturday, February 14.  Leading up to the weekend, it was questionable if the races would be held or possibly shortened because of the dangerous wind chills.  In the early morning,  temperatures were at the 10 degree mark, but progressively dropped, settling near -20 degrees, with the windchill.

 Alex Vanias and I decided to stick with the 50k, although many racers opted to switch to the 27k or even skip this year.  After strategically selecting our clothing, we headed to the start line to find 3” of new snow already on the course and continuing to fall.  Despite the cold wax on my skis, they felt very slow in the powder, and I realized it was going to be a survival race.

alexAfter the start, I settled in the back of the chase group of guys and tried to keep my effort under control.  Alex skied away from the competition within the first 10k, despite a broken pole, and was the first to break the fresh powder.  I progressively moved through the pack and found myself alone by the end of the first lap.  The second lap of the 50k is significantly less sheltered than the first half and exposed us to horrendous wind and drifting.  I was attempting to ski conservatively, but the conditions were so slow that they allowed for no rest.

The final 8k converged with the 27k and I was thankful for a packed trail.  I had already been racing for longer than I had expected and knew the winning times would be slow, possibly record setting. The finish line and warming tent were a very welcome sight indeed.  After finishing 2nd and 3rd the past two years, I was quite happy to win my first VASA and finish 7th overall.  Alex also won his first VASA after finishing second the past two years.

Rebecca Davis and Mike Davis both pulled off podium finishes in the 27k.  Rebecca raced freestyle and Mike raced classic and both finished second overall.

The skiers and volunteers deserve major kudos for braving the elements for this memorable VASA. This week, the focus is on rest and recovery for the Birkie this coming weekend!


Kailtyn Patterson, Dan Yankus, and Alex Vanias Take 1st Women, 2nd and 3rd Overall, Respectively at White Pine Stampede

February 12th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors

By Mike Davis, Team OAM Now Nordic Skier

Team OAM Now had a full attendance last weekend at the White Pine Stampede, with the exception of Jon Morgan, who is still out from a fall he had at the Noquemanon. The White Pine Stampede is a point-to-point race starting at the Mancelona High School and finishing at the Summit Center of Shanty Creek Resorts. Each Team OAM Now member competed in the 50k skate race this week, with two members finishing in the top three overall and Kaitlyn Patterson winning the women’s race.

img_4070The White Pine course was well groomed, although some fresh snow fall from the evening before left some powder over the trail. Many of the racers used different waxing combinations, some of which worked very well. Between the fresh snow and warmer than expected temperatures, it was a difficult race to figure out.

The White Pine was my first 50k skate race, so I took a fairly conservative approach. Skate skiing is my weaker of the two skiing disciplines as I have more opportunities to train classic. My main goal for this race was to come in to the finish with something left. I did not want to get to the 25k marker and have no legs left for the hills in the second half.

The start took off a little slower than normal, so I was farther up in the pack than I had planned to be. I got nearly to the 10k marker and felt like I was going harder than I wanted. After that, I paced the rest of the race much better and came to the finish with some energy left in the tank. I was able to finish  18th overall with a time of 2:35:01.

img_4176Dan Yankus was able to finish 2nd overall in 2:12:37. Alex Vanias finished 3rd overall just 6 seconds behind Dan. Kaitlyn Patterson was the first woman skier and 7th overall. Her time was 2:26:55. Rebecca Davis was able to finish 31st overall, which made her the 5th woman, although she broke about 10 inches of her pole with 22k left in the race. Her time was 2:45:26.

Also OAM’s own Julian Kuz finished 16th overall.



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