It was Friday evening and most of the World Cup teams were arriving in Albrosaggia, Italy to preview the course the following day. I was at the Chamonix hockey rink eating popcorn with my 2 ½ year old and watching my 5 year old play mini hockey after picking him up from school. My plan was to leave for the individual ski mountaineering World Cup in the Italian Dolomites the following morning. It was going to be a solo adventure as my teammate, Lyndsay, could not make it for this event. This would be my first World Cup race of the season. I raced in one last year in Switzerland.
The following day, the boys woke up at 6:40 am- no chance of sleeping in at the Silitch household- they are early risers even when there is no school. I am glad that it is no longer 5:30 am! I managed to get them breakfast and dressed- pop in their favorite show- Caillou’s Winter Wonders while I got my self dressed, packed and out the door.

I set off about 9am, thinking I was had left plenty of time to travel. Little did I know what adventures lay ahead. Firstly I thought I would get the car washed at our favorite gas station in Martigny. It looked like a big car wash- no problem for the ski box, I thought. But what was I thinking…there I stood outside in the cold watching my car get cleaned and then for the blow dry…it ran over the roof rack and it did not go quite so smoothly…it caught and rip…oh no…is the whole roof going to rip off? Fortunately no. Just damage to the ski box. I could not do anything but stand there and watch it happen. I pushed the urgent button but it was too late.

So 1 hr into my trip and my first mishap. Breathe….Breathe…it is these moments that lessons are learned. The box was not repairable….. Do I leave it here?-abandon it?…No I can’t do that; this is Switzerland. I would probably get fined. I had to find the decheterie. (dump) I brought it to the dump like a good Swiss citizen would and then off I went (sans) ski box.

The cool thing about the Alps is how you can travel so quickly from region to region and see the changes as you pass into the other country. I started in France and then to French speaking Vallais, Switzerland, through German speaking Switzlernad and en route up the Simplon pass, a gorgeous mountain pass, that leads into Italy.

Getting to Italy was 1/2 the battle. The route was supposed to be about 5 hrs. Just a little more that driving from Kingfield Maine to Boston or a little less than Boulder, CO to Moab. No problem. I had also driven across country tout seul (this means alone for those of you who don’t speak French) many times. The navigating should be ok. I had my trusty Michelin FR directions printed out and my highlighted map (done by my husband).

Navigating toute seul was ok until Milan…then the traffic and smog started in Milan. Man, Italians drive fast in their nice cars! And if they want to pass you, they blink their lights. Then it was through at least a dozen tunnels that would put the Eisenhower tunnel to shame. I think getting to this race is ½ the challenge.

World Cup Italy here I come! I am the soul USA team member driving across Europe to this race. Hmm. Not many signs yet, but I know I am close. I ended up asking an ol’ Italian granny to help direct me to the Polisportiva. She explained to me in Italian that her granddaughter would lead me there and sure enough, younger women in an old fiat Panda led the way just in time for me to register and make it to the briefing at 6pm.

It was loud –the briefing had not started so I grabbed water and took a seat next to a few others. It turned out to be the Swiss coach and a few athletes. He had skied the course today and talked to me about the course and conditions, the ascents and descents and transition zones. The briefing covered the rules and the route in Italian, French, English and Spanish and handing out bib numbers to the top athletes.

Food and bed is what I needed. I did not get to do my 1 hr of training with pre race accelerations but I did eat some good Italian pasta which will hopefully fuel me through the race tomorrow.

This is what the course looks like;

1750 meters+ 1750 – descent
1. +740/ -230 meters
2. +240 / -270 meters w/ 30 meters of boot pack
3. +460/ -430 m meters w. 200 meters of boot pack
4. +280 / -830 m
5. +40 meters just test your transitions at the end

13 world cup women / 40 world cup men- over 250 Italian men and 9 Italian women.
The level of competition in Italy is high for the national racers. My goal is to finish as this will be my first big race of the season

Race Day:
I was offered a ride up to the start of the race by the Swiss team. We were to be “rolling” at 7:15 Swiss time. So I did not want to be late. I made it with plenty of time- in fact I was the first one there and we were waiting on someone on their team as well. I hoped through osmosis I could get a little strength and force from the Swiss team. We will see.

The road to the start was a windy switch back secondary road- it was essential that vehicles have 4wd or chains- there was a bit of a block up when a van from Aosta Italy needed to put chains on part way up the route to the start. (Thank God I got a ride w/ the Swiss- it would have been me fumbling w/ the chains if not) We all managed to get to the start in time.

About 9:30 the gun went off and we all were off! people loosing skins and poles of the first 100meters of steep descent. I just wanted to keep out of the fray and not break a pole. By the top of the hill the field spread out a bit. The WC athletes started in a line in front of the national athletes- men separated from women. It did not really matter though as everyone came together all at once. The first hill 780 meters – it was a long one- I tried to find my rhythm on this.

First transition –skins off and ski down. The first descent was not too technical. At the bottom, my skins were already starting to not stick so well which was not a great sign so early on. 2nd hill was a shorter climb 250 meters w/ a 30m boot pack up and over a nice crest (though here the wind started to whip pretty high on this ridge) and then a nice descent- the snow was definitely off piste- but broken up enough that the skiing was not too bad, but a quad burner no less.

I tried to keep my energy going eating every 30 to 45 minutes. I managed to choke down a power bar latte gel and it helped me up the 3rd ascent of 550meters- the last 250 meters a steep boot pack. Some might call this the master of all stair master. The track was good and I just tried to find my rhythm.

Up on top of the crest- people were cheering. Go USA. Di! Di! Brava Bella! Forte! Go Nina. OBAMA! OBAMA! (very fitting for inauguration day!) There was lots of great cheering and support from people at every transition and at tops of the hills. People were amazing to see someone from the USA racing. The suit from Texner was awesome and it was great to have our team suits so people knew where we were from.

This descent was more technical. A steep couloir off the top and then it meandered through the woods over jumps and skied out moguls. You did not want to carry too much speed here as you would be toast- into a tree or snow drift. I made it down to the transition area. Grabbed a nice hot tea and was continually cheered on by people- USA go USA. GO Nina! Obama yeah!. It was great and gave me some good strength for the last 250 meter climb which was a nice rolling climb. Not too steep and I tried to stay relaxed.

The last descent was the mother of “quad burners” It was quite technical too and long- though the woods and brush and shrubs.. Remember this is all off piste skiing far from any ski area so the terrain is what you have in front of you- you name it you ski it. Many people were slowing down here in the descent. I felt pretty good despite the burning quads and managed to pass a few people. The USA may not be as strong as the Swiss but I was determined not to be last in the field.

And then just to add a little more excitement we had to climb 40meters at the end of the descent up to the finish. My skins held up for the last 5th transition –the Pomoca Black Beauty’s as I am now calling them. I managed to pass a couple people at the end who were fumbling with their own skin issues. That could have easily been me.

As I crossed the finish line, the race director came over to me and said, “Thank you! You have made my race! Thank you. Thank you for making it such an international event!” I made it!
My goal to finish and I even finished in front of about 26 people.

I had to catch the Swiss team before they took off; they all had finished long before me. Just before seeing them someone said, “hey are you Nina?” It was Lou Dawson, the well known American skier- first to ski all of the Colorado 14er’s and skiing blog He was invited to the race as a guest of Italy’s Ski Trabb I think he was slightly humbled by the caliber of skiing and descending at such a fast pace.

Quick into the Swiss van. I climbed in and sat next to Florent Troillet- winner for PM and PDG, a young strong skier from Verbier. How did it go for you? “C’etais bien. Tres Bien.” He said humbly. Where did you come in? I asked. He modestly responded “j’ai gagne” Which for those of you who don’t speak French means he won.

I had a great talk w/ Natalie Etzeberger and older athlete on the Swiss Team, 40years old –mother of 3 children 10. 8. and 5. She is an alpine ski instructor in Brig. She is the winner of the PM and PDG last year. She is for sure inspirational. After competing on the Swiss Ski running team, she just started the sport of ski mountaineering just 4 years ago. She was humble in her efforts as well. A great role model for sure!

It was a pleasure to be able to get to know the World Cup athletes a bit more. So much of sports and racing can depend on so many variables from how you are feeling mentally or physically, to if you have technical problems on the course. And all of these happen to the best of champions. For me it was great to get to know some of these champions a bit more and seeing them humbly respond to their successes and challenges from the race.

So long….ciao… arrivedercci!….I headed out as I had a long journey ahead and I wanted to get home to kiss my boys goodnight. Rumor has it it is snowing in Chamonix so I needed to get on my way. I stopped at got an amazing Italian pizza- the really thin crust and not too much cheese – some veggies and fresh arugula on top! Delizioso!
Even the bikers from Boulder would approve! And then I plugged in the IPOD shuffle, with Willie playing “on the road again” to take me home.

That is all for now from this Italian World Cup.

Stay tuned for next week’s story we head to the 3rd individual ski mountaineering World Cup, La Pyramid D’oz in France.