Far West Elite XC Team Raise the Racing Bar at US Nationals

Silver Sage sponsored and Far West Elite Team member, Emily Blackmer recounts her recent US National race campaign…


Spencer and I spent the first week of January representing the Far West Elite Team at U.S. Nationals, hosted by Michigan Tech University in Houghton, Michigan. Nationals is a four-race series: a 10/15k individual start skate race, a classic sprint, a 20/30k mass start classic race, and a skate sprint.  It was quite the week: the daytime temperature averaged about 5 degrees (before wind chill), the thermometer spent a single afternoon in double digits, it snowed over two feet, and I hardly saw a single ray of sunshine.

Racing in these conditions is tough. It’s difficult to warm up before a race, much less stay warm while out there in a race suit; the cold air hurts—and can even damage—your lungs; and cold, accumulating snow is so slow that races take longer than usual, and you have to keep pushing through sections of the course that might otherwise be counted on for recovery.

So, we had to adjust our preparation, tactics and recovery accordingly. First and foremost: layers upon layers upon layers. Most days I wore my down jacket for the first 10 minutes of my ski, because the cold sucks away body heat so quickly that it becomes difficult to get the system going. We also added a few extra minutes onto our race warm up to give time to change into as many dry layers as possible before actually racing: sweat can be dangerous in that weather. While we never ski much during an big block of racing, our training days were even shorter than usual, because the cold is so draining: one day I skied for grand total of 20 minutes.  And of course, we ate enormous quantities of food to compensate for the extra calories expended on staying warm.

To add one more complication, we were also racing at low elevation. This can be a pretty big change after training around 7000 feet. On the one hand, you feel like a superstar: “I can recover so quickly after hammering up this hill!” But on the other hand: “My legs HURT.” Racing at altitude, you’re inclined to feel the cardiovascular effort first, and by the time your legs are flooded, it’s often too late to bring the effort back under control. At sea level, the legs will turn to jelly but you can keep pushing the cardiovascular system. Additionally, you can achieve and sustain greater speeds at low altitude, because your body simply doesn’t need to work as hard to go fast. So it’s a mixed bag, coming down from altitude: you can recover more quickly, but you are not accustomed to skiing at the speed or pace that your sea-level competitors are. In a race, this means push hard, push hard again, and then push harder. I was caught off guard in the first races of the week, and I think I just didn’t ski hard enough or fast enough to achieve the results I was looking for. But hopefully, lesson learned – our next big race series is in Vermont, another low elevation venue, and I’m already excited to put this experience to good use!


Far West Elite XC Team, Early Season Race Report

December racing has taken the Elite Team across the globe. After the season openers in West Yellowstone, Sabra, Emily and Spencer traveled to Bozeman, MT for a second weekend of SuperTour racing. The Bohart Ranch course is known for its long, steep uphills and technical downhills, a killer combination that quickly made clear who has the best early-season fitness. Our crew is not aiming to peak in the early season, and as a result we are still working into the type of max-effort fitness required to hammer up those big hills. With more hard intensity efforts, in training and in the upcoming races at Auburn Ski Club, our “race shape” will continue to improve – just in time for US Nationals in early January!


Anja didn’t accompany the rest of the group to Bozeman because she went to Europe to race the OPA Cup, which is analogous to the US SuperTour: the leader of the race series qualifies for World Cup starts. Unfortunately, it turns out Europe is pretty low on snow and qualifier races and the first OPA Cups were canceled. Luckily, Anja was able to race a Swiss Cup instead of first OPA Cup and was happy to end up in 3rd place and 1st German.


Patrick Johnson spent Thanksgiving in Canmore, Alberta training and preparing for not only his first races of the season, but also his first biathlon races ever!   The 10km sprint and 15km mass start race in Canmore were the largest ever biathlon races in North America, with over 300 competitors.   After only missing four targets in the sprint, Patrick ended a very respectable 5th place. He ski time for the mass start was also great, but there is significantly more shooting in a 15km – a disadvantage for a novice biathlete. Excited about the start to his season, Patrick is now in Minnesota racing the IBU Cup trails and hopes to keep improving his shooting!



Measuring Progress: VO2Max Testing

Far West Elite XC Ski Team member, Spencer Eusden shares his take-aways from Vo2 testing at Silver Sage Sports and Fitness Lab…A few weeks ago I went down to the Silver Sage for their VO2 Max testing. This test measures the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use per unit time relative to body weight

I was excited to try this test out again since the last time I had done it was my senior spring of high school (May of 2008).  In the 6.5 years since I last measured my VO2 Max, I’ve logged close to 4,000 hours of training. So I expected to see some level increase in the test score. That being said, after puberty your VO2 Max tends not change as much with training as it does during puberty. (I had mostly stopped growing when I took the test in May of 2008)


The Results:

Date VO2 Max mL/(kg*min)
May, 2008 62.0
November, 2014 67.5


Hard work pays off!!! In my case every 730 hours I trained I increased my VO2 Max by one point. In reality, high intensity intervals, which we do mostly in the fall to get ready for ski racing, have a much larger impact on an athlete’s VO2 Max than the sheer number of hours trained. My main training focus this fall was to do lots of quality interval workouts, in order to be ready to race fast once the season started. Historically, I have been slow to reach peak racing shape, not usually until February. These test results showed that I was well on my way to starting the season off well. This was confirmed this past weekend at the first races of the year in West Yellowstone, MT with my two fastest November races ever.

Beyond just testing my VO2 Max, the crew at Silver Sage used the data from my VO2 Max test to refine my training zones. With their feedback, I changed the ranges of  my heart rate zones, which I will hit in different types of intervals. The goal is that these adjustments will help me continue to increase my VO2 Max and race even faster this winter.


CAPTION Spencer strapped in and ready to for the VO2 Max Test. The test measures the gas composition of exhaled air to calculate the amount of Oxygen used.

Far West Elite XC Ski Team reports in from West Yellowstone

The Silver Sage sponsored Far West Elite XC Ski Team returns from a successful West Yellowstone training camp and first series of races. Team member Sabra Davison reports in…


There was a collective excitement on the trails of West Yellowstone, as it was the first time so many of us have been on snow this winter.  For those that haven’t been to West Yellowstone, it has become a mecca for Nordic skiers to gather, connect, slide, and eat turkey for one week every year.  Each team groups among like-colored Lycra to do balance drills, no pole, and gliding exercises.  The elite team followed suit and joined the entire Far West junior division for a week on snow.  It was an incredible week!  We had great skiing, a mid-week snow storm, and two giant 22-pound turkeys.  We capped off the week with two races, a sprint skate race on Friday and a 10km skate race on Saturday.  Some of us were training through these races, while others went in with a little more rest.  So, the results were varied this weekend in one of the more competitive fields that we will see all year.

Anja and Spencer were our top finishers for the Elite Team.  Spencer finished 31st in the sprints, nearly missing qualifying for the heats by a fraction of a second.  He finished 32st in the distance race, making the weekend the best early season results he’s seen to date.  Anja finished in 27th and 33rd in the sprints and distance race respectively.  Patrick Johnson is in Canmore racing biathlon for the first time with polar temperatures and beautiful views.  Look for more updates as team heads to Bozeman for the next round of Super Tour races, while Anja is on her way to Europe.

Ready, Set…Ski and Shoot

Silver Sage sponsored, Far West Elite XC Ski Team member, and US Biathlon Development Group Member Patrick Johnson is in his final fall preparation phase, and will be on snow and racing within a few weeks.


Says Patrick “This time of year my shooting training primarily focuses on combination workouts, where I do high intensity running or roller skiing intervals combined with high intensity shooting. I’ve spent all summer working on the basics of shooting, to a point where 80-90% of the act of shooting is habit and needs minimal thought. When you come into shoot at 90% of your maximum heart rate, your mind will naturally be a bit foggy, so the fewer aspects of shooting that you have to consciously focus on, the better you’ll shoot. My current training is now focused on fine-tuning my shooting under high pressure and fatigue.”

If you are interested in trying out this challenging and exciting sport, Auburn Ski Club’s Winter Biathlon Program has weekly practices for all ages from December through March. Learn more at


Far West and Sugar Bowl Academy Time Trial Showdown

A post from Wyatt Fereday, Far West XC Elite Team Member, and Silver Sage Sports and Fitness Lab sponsored athlete…

The Far West Elite did a time trial with Sugar Bowl Academy junior Nordic ski team. It started on a slight downhill and went about a kilometer on the flats before claiming a steep 400m climb at a constant grade of about 10% to the finish. It takes anywhere between 8 and 12 minutes.

This video is a great example of using the upper body and core together. Notice that tempo increases as the hill steepens. Also, getting the hands and hips high at the start of each pole is essential for using gravity to one’s advantage – essentially falling onto the poles with gravity providing free energy. This one was a burner!

The race was actually in October (hence the scant clothing). The Juniors did great, and we even had one master skier join in. A true Far West ski community event!