After what felt like one of the longest extended periods of staying in one place, it was once again time to head to the Calgary Airport. Maybe it is just me, but it felt very unusual to have been in Canmore for over five weeks in a single stay. A nice change of pace to what my schedule has been like over the past twelve months. I guess I'm used to the constant on the go that was my usual schedule. Not sure how I’ll feel in a few months time but normal service has resumed…!
Over the past decade, the end of July means only one thing, time to travel to the snow! I’ve done that by traveling South, way South, to the South Island of New Zealand. To the Snow Farm Lodge near Wanaka. Over that same decade, I can call the Snow Farm Lodge my second home, as I’ve spent the most nights there besides my place in Canmore. It might be nearing thirty outside in Canmore, but I’m packing up my skis, switching Roller ski tips for proper baskets and collecting tuques and thicker gloves. At the time it feels strange to leave Summer behind, and when I get back, it always feels that Fall has begun. New Zealand acts like the end of the Summer, beginning of Fall and where I start thinking about when the North Hemisphere’s snowflakes will begin to fall. Year after year I make the long journey to the Snow Farm because I believe it is the best place to make gains for the upcoming competition season. Three weeks of the best quality training I can hope for, from snow conditions, grooming, and food. There is not much more I could ask for from my training.
Since my first trip there that, I’ve skied the trails at the Snow Farm, I’ve seen my progression as an athlete. I remember the first year, thinking how tough this section of the Highlander trail was. I struggled to ski up it, almost dreading everytime I neared it. I always had to get out of the tracks and herringbone. By the end of that first trip, I eventually could fight my way up, but I needed super grippy skis. It is almost funny now; this section is a short, slightly steeper pitch, nothing to it. Now I Double-pole up it, barely breaking stride. In the first few years, a trail that took me over an hour to complete now takes 45 minutes (with an additional 2.5km or so). To see the evolution of my skiing is a great reminder of the hard work that has gone into becoming one of the best. And that there is always something else to work on! This years’ trip was my biggest in terms of hours skiing or kilometers skied. No pesky snowstorms to disrupt the training. I wanted to push the body further and see how much I was capable of training. No doubt there were a few days where I was fatigued, but I seemed to rebound each time quickly. It is not all about skiing either. I used the on-snow opportunity to work on my shooting. Despite a heavy training load and fatigue, my shooting remained extremely consistent and accurate. The way I like it!
It’s not all work; I do get one day off over the three weeks spent in New Zealand. Most years the team chooses some local activity or destination to explore. For 2018, we visited Mt. Nicholas Station. A historic, family-run, High Country Sheep Station. The third largest sheep station in New Zealand, with over 29’000 head of Merino sheep. Not baaaahd! Sorry, couldn’t help myself. The Station spans over 100’000 acres. From the lakeshore of Lake Wakatipu to the towering mountain ranges that surround the property. It was great to explore the Station, though, it was only a small portion of the vast property. There was a calm about the place! With all the excitement and action to begin in a few days. All the sheep would be rounded up for the Spring sheering. Over the following few weeks, the place would be a bustling hive of activity.
The timing of when the team was in New Zealand, unfortunately, didn’t work out for us to participate in any official competitions. So we planned a time trial. To add some international flavor to the event a Japanese team that were training at the Snow Farm were very excited to join us. A Classic 6.6km & 10km Time Trial was set up (or I as I started calling it; the Second Annual Xavier McKeever Birthday - Snow Farm Invitational Race). That was potentially the toughest classic race course I have done in a long time. I’m satisfied with my effort on the day, but it felt so rough. Once I had an opportunity to step back from the fatigue of the training camp and racing and looked at the specific aspects of the race I started to become more and more pleased with my race.
This year was my tenth trip down to the Snow Farm in the past eleven summers. There have been countless great days, a dozen amazing days and then there are a few days that are even better. August 18 was one of those days. This day easily ranked in the Top-3 days of all-time at the Snow Farm for me. Freezing temperatures at night, a starting temp of around -5 and warming slightly through the day. Blue skies and I mean blue, not a cloud could be seen anywhere. To make the day all that more special the groomer had made his way up the Top Beat trail. The entire team raced to the trail and started making our way up. Continuously climbing switchbacks through the Pisa Conservation Area. At the top, you can look out across what seems like the entire southern island. Seeing Aoraki/Mount Cook (New Zealand’s highest peak) in the distance. If you dream of the perfect ski day, that was what the day ended up being!
After a very successful camp at the Snow Farm, it was then time to travel to my next destination- Prince Edward Island. Over the span of three days, I traveled from the Snow Farm to Queenstown then flew to Sydney. Enjoyed dinner under the Sydney Opera House before spending the night near the Syndey Airport. The next morning boarded the long flight from Sydney to Vancouver then to Calgary. Drove to a smoky Canmore, where I essentially dumped my entire duffel in the washing machine, before switching my jackets for shorts and skis for roller skis. Spent my only August night sleeping in Canmore. The next morning I was back at the Calgary Airport to continue flying east and arrived in Charlottetown. Arriving just in time to be the Bestman for my Brother’s Wedding. A gorgeous weekend for the wedding with the reception dinner outdoors. Enjoying an incredible meal with lobster, mussels, and locally grown steak. And of course the rolls, who could forget the rolls. It has been a while since I got to enjoy the heat of summer on the Island, it was amazing. But before too long it was time to head westward to Canmore for a bit before the Fall training camps begin!