The highest bar is the hardest to hurdle.

If you haven’t watched tonight’s relay yet — you should.  It’s yet another seat-of-your-pants, pedal-to-the-medal (!) Olympic ski race with drama, surprises and a razor-thin margin of victory.

But if you’re watching just to see a possible American medal — spoiler alert — it doesn’t happen.  Team USA skied a helluva race, but came up short.

The hype around this relay race got a little heavy.  Yes, we had a shot.  But the world is filled with great teams and the Olympics brings out the very best in everyone.  (Do you think that OAR didn’t have something to prove tonight?)

My only request is that you put tonight into context.  A few years ago — especially on the women’s side — the USA was strictly back of the pack.  The idea of World Cup points, nevermind a possible Olympic medal was a daydream.  Then Kikkan came along and a great coaching staff gelled.  Sophie showed up.  Jessie made herself known.  Sadie.  Ida.  People like Liz Arky finally tackled World Cup basics like a waxing truck.  (Until this year, our waxing resources were the same as the Freeport Ski Team at the Maine Class C State Meet.)

And the next thing you know, we’ve got a team fighting for podiums and medals.  It’s a remarkable achievement.  And the good news?  I photographed the World Junior/U23 Championships last year and we’ve got some kickass kids coming through the pipeline.   And this year’s WJC/U23 team performed even better than last year’s team.

So how do we clear that final bar?  It won’t happen with letters to FasterSkier about team selection, race order or criticizing this leg or that leg.  That’s a colossal waste of time and gets exactly zero accomplished.  Want to make a difference?  Donate money to the NNF.  Work with your regional division like NENSA or CXC. Sponsor an athlete (Many of our athletes spend over $25k a year on travel).  Sponsor a team.  Renew your USSA membership.  Ask the USSA about their budget priorities and nordic funding plans.  Better yet, one of the most pressing needs in the ski community is middle and high school age coaches.  Take a coaching course and convince some kids to slap ’em on.

Because that’s how we become a real skiing nation.

And clear that final bar.

The mass start.  I picked this location because when the athletes were in the start area, you could see the Olympic rings in the biathlon stadium.  And then a giant truck drove by…
Sophie Caldwell (USA)
Sadie Bjornsen (USA)
I mentioned this in a tweet earlier tonight, if Charlotte Kalla doesn’t go on the list of “greatest clutch athletes of all time” list, there’s something wrong.  WOW — what a relay leg.
Breck’s Mom (USA)
Jessie Diggins (USA)
Team USA post-race hug.
This shot was from my remote camera.  I was half-a-stadium away and the Swedish team was posing for Joel Marklund.  (Swedish photographer)  This makes up for him getting in my remote shots last year.
Another remote shot.  My position was blocked by athletes running out to see their teammates.
Not sure who the older gentleman is, but the Euro press went nuts.

Packing, Part #2

It probably speaks to my photography skills that I’ve received more questions about clothing than camera gear.  So here’s a quick look at the apparel that I’m packing for Pyeongchang.

Apparel choices start with weather.  And according to flyingpointroad’s Chief Meteorologist, Seth Wescott, here’s what I should expect in South Korea : “Pyeongchang was usually quite cold in the bitter, humid Maine way, but generally windy as well.  So being prepped for a good cold Sugarloaf day should have you all set!”

Bitter, humid cold?  Like Maine? Like a Sugarloaf wind-hold day?  That’s my sweet spot!  As a result, 90% of my gear is stuff that I use every day I’m shooting.


Footwear :

  • L.L.Bean Mountain Treads.  (I think.)  This pair is a few years old.  Gore-tex, made in Italy and truly awesome for stomping around all day.
  • Salomon Toundra Pro CSWP.  When I was coaching my very first ski race, one of the other coaches told me “If you’re fond of keeping all your toes, you need to buy a pair of NEOs.”  And if you look around at any cross-country ski meet in the East, you’ll see that nearly every coach is wearing NEOs over another pair of shoes or ski boots.  They’re fantastic and I typically wear them over the Mountain Treads.  The only challenge is that with two pairs of boots, they’re heavy and a little clumsy.  Given that I’m going to be doing a lot of walking during the Olympics, I wanted an alternative.  After doing a bit of research, I came up with these Salomons.  They’re light, crazy warm with an Aerogel insert and were fantastic during the “Miracle on Ice” test.

Baselayer :

  • Craft, Craft and more Craft.  Tops and bottoms.  Layerable if needed.
  • Grid Fleece.  A couple of pieces here.  A long discontinued L.L.Bean micro-grid pullover and a new Arc’teryx full-zip that my kids gave me for Christmas.

Jackets :

  • L.L.Bean Primaloft.  I think this piece was also discontinued and I’ll admit that I’m “teetering” just a bit.  It’s a little heavy and I have alternatives that would also work.  But the primaloft is fantastic if we see any rain or wet snow.  Bonus points for the flyingpointroad logo that my kids had embroidered on it.
  • L.L.Bean Neoshell.  This is either called the “Bounder” jacket now or was discontinued.  Kikkan Randall turned me on to this jacket — it’s the outerwear of choice on APU’s Eagle Glacier summer training facility.  Breathes well, resists everything but a sideways monsoon and packs up surprisingly light.

Pants :

  • Craft Storm Tight 2.0.  Great for cold weather x-c skiing and equally good as a “wear all day in the snow” pant.  Nylon shell in the front and a crepe fabric in the back.  Dries quick.  Awesome for kneeling in the snow.  Drawcord.  I buy a pair every year.
  • Patagonia Galvanized Pant.  These are a “soft-shell” type ski / alpine pant and after trying them at the Colby race, I wish I would have bought them years ago.  GREAT pockets.  The suspenders are incredibly useful.  And – unlike other manufacturers – the length is spot on for a relatively normal build.  (I’m looking at you Strafe)  If it gets crazy cold, I’ll wear them over the Storm Tights.

Assorted :

  • Bates Skiing Hat.  Need to represent.
  • Skida Hat.  Lighter weight than the one above.  On a cold day, it’ll be both hats.  And huge shout out to Corinne and Margie for their continued support of the “cranially advantaged” over the years.
  • Buffs.  Assorted.  One of the mysteries of life is why it took humans so long to figure out that a simple tube of stretchy fabric had infinite functionality.
  • Outdoor Research Overmitts.  I think these are technically ice climbing mitts, but they’re perfect for wearing over shooting gloves on “Narrow Gauge” type days.
  • Black Diamond Liners.  I’m not even sure when I bought this pair, but they’re fantastic.
  • YOKO “Kikkan Randall Edition” Gloves.  XC skiing gloves are the best shooting gloves imaginable.  They’ve typically got sticky rubber on the fingers and palms.  I’ll bring over a pair of Craft gloves and these YOKOs, but we’ll give the pair shown the sentimental nod for this trip.
  • Black Diamond Backcountry Gloves.  These aren’t shown and seem to be missing in action.  But they’re a bit warmer than traditional race gloves and still have enough articulation to work the camera dials.  I need to find these before I leave…

Three weeks is a long time, so say a small prayer that I find a washing machine over there.  If that doesn’t happen, pray that you’re not on the plane with me on the way home.

(Incidentally, Packing Part #1 “The Gear Edition” is here.)