The men’s nordic combined team departed a few weeks ago for their first European training camp of the season. So far, their time has been spent in Austria skiing on the Dachstein glacier and jumping in Ramsau and Bischofshofen. These are all things the young but experienced team has done before. However, last week first-year head coach Nick Hendrickson brought something new to the training camp- a hut trip.
Hendrickson lived in Innsbruck, Austria while finishing his college studies. During that time he explored the area and came to know the surrounding mountains and their hut systems extremely well. Hendrickson and wax technician Raphael Bechtiger wanted to show their athletes the beauty of the Tirolean mountain range and offer a new experience.
The team of six athletes and two staff departed into the mountains on the outskirts of Innsbruck last Thursday. The day’s effort contained 4,500 feet of elevation gain in just 3 technical miles. With that much elevation gain in such little time, calling the trail exposed would be an understatement. The team had helmets, harnesses, carabiners, and ropes. Most of the trail was via ferrata, an Italian word which means the mountain route is equipped with steel cables, ladders, and other fixed anchors.
The challenge of this technical climbing style, not often found in America, helped the athletes push some of their boundaries. When asked about the highlight of the trip, Taylor Fletcher responds, “The highlight for me was definitely doing something new and challenging the fears I have of vertical heights.” Grand Andrews stuck with a similar theme when posed with this question, “My highlight was walking across this tightrope in the middle of the via ferrata, that was crazy.”
Newly appointed wax technician Bechtiger is an Innsbruck local and enjoyed this time in his home mountains with the team. “Everybody was just enjoying themselves and having a great time together. Having these guys experiencing and loving our Austrian hut culture was just awesome,” says Bechtiger.
At the top of Thursday’s climb, a hut awaited the team. They relaxed on the deck enjoying the last hours of sunshine, gazing upon the mountains, replenishing with food, and reliving their experience.
The team slept in the hut on Thursday night then awoke on Friday am with a huge day ahead. The goal for the day was to climb over the remaining mountainside then descend over the backside down into Scharnitz, Austria. In total the day would be 19 miles of, as coach Hendrickson puts it, “Climbing, scrambling, descending, jogging, and cliff walking.”
Early Friday morning, the team hit the summit and savored the surrounding landscape. “Hitting that peak was awesome. The climb up was super cool along the ridge and the descent was pretty tacky and aggressive,” says Jasper Good. After hitting this peak, the day was far from over. The final destination of Scharnitz was still a 12-mile descent away.
After 12 miles of fast and tricky descending, the team crossed the imaginary finish line in Scharnitz. Muscles were sore and showers were needed. Eventually, the soreness would reside and the dirt would be shed. The memories of those Austrian Alps, surely they’ll live on.
The men’s nordic combined team will stay in nearby Seefeld for a few more days training and jumping at the nearby Stams ski jump. The team will depart Friday morning for Predazzo, Italy to compete in Italian National Championships, before flying home on Monday.