Nordic Notes with Noah: Start of the World Cup season brings excitement | AspenTimes.com

Nordic Notes with Noah: Start of the World Cup season brings excitement

Noah Hoffman
Special to The Aspen Times

When the rooming list comes out for Kuusamo, we know whether we will have a washing machine in our unit. (The triples have machines, the doubles do not.) When flying out of Oslo, we arrive at the airport a little later than usual because of the efficient security lines. We know where to go to the doctor in Davos and where to play tennis in Predazzo.

Simi Hamilton and I have been travelling and competing on the Cross-Country World Cup for a long time. The coming season, which starts Friday, will not feature a single new venue for either one of us. The Pyeongchang Olympics in February will be Simi's third and my second, if we qualify.

I am currently on a flight to Finland from a training camp and tune-up races in Norway. The familiarity of this setting is both a blessing and a curse. I no longer get awestruck by my competitors, but I do feel frustration at not having improved from years past. The best races of my career, so far, were during the 2013-14 season, and the intervening years have been a struggle with just enough success to keep me believing in myself.

And I do believe in myself. I am coming off my best training season ever. I am fit and healthy. I am skiing as well technically as I ever have before. My support, from my community at home (in Aspen and beyond) to my family, teammates and coaching staff, is as rock solid as ever. I have everything I need to succeed, and I have no excuses. The only thing left to do is execute good races.

I have a soft spot for the resort of Ruka in Kuusamo, Finland, up near the Arctic Circle. As I travel there now to open the World Cup season and compete for the eighth time, I can't help but feel a sense of anticipation and excitement.

Yes, it's dark and cold. Yes, even on the rare clear day the sun only crests the horizon for a few hours. Yes, there are generally so many snow guns blasting that ice clouds envelope the mountain, frozen water particles hovering in the air. But there is so much to love about Ruka. The village is charming, the reindeer with lingonberry sauce is delicious and the shopping is surprisingly good.

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More importantly for me, Ruka comes with memories of some of the best races of my career, and the courses couldn't be better suited for me if I'd had the final say in their design. The 2.5-kilometer loop, which we will navigate six times during Sunday's skate race, is like racing in a giant halfpipe. There are exactly two hills on the course and virtually no flat terrain. Skiing six times up the first hill on the loop is like skiing six times from the base of the gondola on Aspen Mountain straight up Little Nell for half a kilometer.

Needless to say, I can't wait to get the racing started. Things kick off Friday with a classic sprint. While this is the premier event for Simi, it will act more as an overture for me before the distance races on Saturday and Sunday. Thanks for following along as we begin this Olympic-year journey!

Editor's note: Nordic Notes is a weekly column written by Aspen-raised cross-country skiers Simi Hamilton and Noah Hoffman as they compete on the World Cup circuit ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.