Nordic Ski team preparing to brave Birkebeiner

By Daniel Kerwin

The Nordic Ski team has been forced to live in the shadows of Macalester Athletics ever since it lost its varsity status three years ago. Nonetheless, the members of the team subject themselves to intense training, putting themselves at the mercy of the elements every time. Frostbite is a constant threat to exposed skin, and even threatens places you don’t want to know about.
You could dismiss them as people who have gone crazy in the Minnesota climate, but the reality is these are probably Mac’s most hardcore athletes.

“I think a lot of people just love doing it, and have been it a long time so it’s a habit” Collin Cousins ‘10 said.

To prepare for races, which can be in excess of 50 km, it is essential to ski as much as possible while also going through a strength training regimen.

“For skiing you’ve got to put in one to three hours a day” Jakob Wartman ’10 said. “It’s hard to be a college student, a skier and have a job at the same time.”

The job Wartman refers to is the head coaching job at his former high school. Wartman thought that he would be competing for a varsity college team coming out of high school, but literally days after he accepted admission to Macalester the team was demoted to a club sport.
With the demotion and the subsequent removal of cross-country skiing from the MIAC, the team races in public events. Last week in the Mora Vassaloppet in Mora, Minnesota, Wartman placed 19th, with Cousins finishing 10th.

Although he only started competing in his last two years of high school, Cousins has developed a strategy that has led to success.

“I try to ski with the top of the pack until I die” Cousins said.

This isn’t as overstated as you might think. Cousins describes the potential of being knocked over in the first couple of kilometers, and the need to stay in the draft of the faster skiers to stay in the race. There’s also the factor of wearing spandex in sub zero wind chills.

“Sports like skiing and swimming are the hardest sports because they are so physically and mentally demanding” Wartman said.

The biggest test of the year will come when the team races in the Birkebeiner next Saturday, February 24th.

“At the beginning of the season I asked people what their goals were, and pretty much everyone said ‘to ski the Birkie,'” the team’s coach Marc Beitz said.

The Birkebeiner is a 51 km race from Cable to Hayward, Wisconsin. It’s the biggest race in the continent, with top class racers competing from around the world in a field of about 10 000 racers.

Despite the commitment needed to participate in races such as the Birkebeiner, the recreational side of the sport is not lost.

“We strike a balance, giving world-cup style training to some and to others more recreational” Beitz said. “I’d really like to get more people involved on a recreational level.”

After all, it is only a club sport. But those involved don’t treat it like it’s just a club sport. The team has maintained its varsity spirit, so look for the Mac racers to mean business next week when they take on the Birkie.