Monday, June 23, 2014

Ben Smeltzer Excellent Norwegian Adventure

Here's a report from CSUer Ben Smeltzer who is now studying in Norway:

I wanted to send along a hello and share some of my experiences from over here in Trondheim, Norway, where I have been living for the past 10 months as a Master’s candidate in Physics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). So far the experience has been incredible, I am happy with the academic program, and the university has a very vibrant student life with a massive sports club (NTNUI). I am a member of the ski section, which I think has the highest membership of any sport! There are many fast skiers, and 4-5 group training sessions per week which are very high quality. A lot of skiers race some of the long distance classics, and the club has an incredible sponsor arrangement which allows everyone to be reimbursed for a good part of the entry fees and transportation to these major races, making doing these classics affordable to students! You can check out our webpage and blog here:
Theski culture here has been pretty cool to experience: rollerskiers everywhere in the offseason, skiers walking through the city center in ski boots catching buses up to the nearby trails in the winter, and the occasional shirtless Petter Northug on the tabloids. Following the Olympics was also pretty sweet: there was a long studio discussion over whether Randall or Bjørgen was the favorite in the sprint, a wax-tech on the front page of national newspapers after Norway’s alleged waxing fiasco, and broadcasters calling sprint finishes with the enthusiasm of a vintage Joe Castiglione calling a walk-off Red Sox win.
I have been trying to learn Norwegian, but have not had space in my academic schedule to fit in a formal course yet so have been learning on my own. As a result, I have a rather niche vocabulary - I realized the other day that I learned the words for stuff like V1 (‘padling’), V2 (‘dobbeldans’), etc , before other basic things like colors! And some of the first basic conversations I had were on the ski trails, discussing how the wax was working. I am getting better gradually, and hope to try to speak as little English this summer as possible!
The winter around Trondheim this year was unfortunately very dry with little snowfall, but I still managed to get lots of great skiing in. The first highlight of the season was racing a relay leg at Norwegian nationals in Lillehammer on the world cup trails. It felt like a world cup - they were all decked out with video cameras on the courseand sponsor banners.  I had briefly checked out the profile before coming, but hadn't paid much attention to the y-axis - this 10km course had 400m (~1300ft) of climbing on it. The climbs don’t look so long and steep when you’re watching WC’s on TV!
Going into the race, my team's main goal was simply to finish (not get lapped).  It turned out we had plenty of minutes spare, but doing the math before it seemed like it might be tight depending on how fast thelaps were being skied.  I was the anchor leg skier (skate leg), so my plan was to hammer the first lap pretty hard to stay ahead in case it was close.  We had fun joking about the various situations that might arise if things really came down to the wire - me sprinting to get to the lap as the likes of Petter Northug bore down on national TV heading toward the finish!
I tried to focus on skiing my own race, but it was tough not to be a little bit intimidated seeing a number of World Cup skiers skiing the legs, and bumping into Northug as we were both getting loose near the exchange zone, knowing his resume skiing anchor legs!  I was pretty pumped up when I got the tag, and as a result skied like a madman for the first couple k's.  On this course this was suicide and I really paid for it!  Still, it was an awesome feeling sprinting down the homestretch in the stadium (even if the cameras were more focused on post-race interviews than me at that point).
The NTNUI girls made some headlines though, with the 12th place performance of our first team, as well as a bit of controversy with one of our teams wearing old-school traditional skirts in the race. An executive of the national team was a bit displeased, but the skirts garnered Northug's approval - when asked in an interview he replied that he hoped more girls would wear skirts during races, and that perhaps he would join in on some training sessions with NTNUI (sadly, he has yet to show up).
I had planned to race the Birkiebeiner, but sadly it was canceled the morning of due to high winds on part of the course. We nonetheless skied out on the first 20km or so, which was incredible skiing. Many spectators were still out there picnicking anyway, and cheered us on as we skied up the 15km long climb at the start (tough especially with a 3.5kg pack, but at that perfect grade for striding). The skiing in that area of Norway is absolutely unbelievable – I returned for a weekend over Easter to Sjusjøen and was blown away with the many hundreds of km’s that are accessible. The terrain is relatively gradual and flowing, most above treeline on the vast expanses of tundra.
All this has got me very excited for next winter. I am hoping to race a couple of the ski classics – I’m officially registered for the Vasaloppet. So it’s time to start getting out and putting in some serious km’s double poling! Good luck to everyone at CSU with summer training, hope to see some of you out on the trails when I am back in the states over Christmas.

NTNUI enjoying some early November skiing in Bruksvallarna, Sweden.

January in Trondheim

Lillehammer stadium during Norwegian nationals

Grinding it out on one of the many climbs during the relay.

Tracks near Sjusjøen

 Skiing on the Birken trail

 A pause during some awesome crust skiing

Sunburned faces on the last day

Crust skiing near a trail network a 10min bus ride from my apt.

 Downtown Lillehammer from the top of the Olympic ski jump

The parade on May 17th (National independence day)

A hike in some nearby mtns in Mid-May, shoulda brought skis

Spectacular Reine, Loften from a recent trip

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