Bozeman Camp Brought Five Athletes Together For Dryland Season Boost
by Alex Abrams
In June, five athletes with different backgrounds and physical impairments came together to take part in a Para Nordic training camp in Bozeman, Montana.
The group included standing skier Dani Aravich, sit skier Erin Martin and visually impaired skier Max Nelson, who each made their Winter Paralympic debut in Beijing last year. Ty Wiberg and Elsie Hall, who are both college students and promising skiers, joined the group in Bozeman — where the grass is green instead of covered in snow this time of year.
All five athletes were invited to participate in an offseason training camp that U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing held from June 8-15. They spent the week roller skiing, practicing their rifle shooting and even playing some pickleball during their free time.
“If you don’t ski between April and November, that’s a long time to be prepping for the thing that you are really excited to be doing (skiing on snow). And it does require a lot of work to do that,” said Nick Michaud, a U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing coach who helped run the training camp in Bozeman.
“And so I think we do a really good job as a staff of making everyone’s dryland season fun and also very intentional. But it’s easier when you’re all together.”
Michaud said the training camp gave U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing coaches an opportunity to work closely with the five athletes in one location, which they sometimes can’t do during the year since not all of the athletes live in Bozeman.
Nelson is a student at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. Hall, meanwhile, skis for Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.
By getting the group together in June, the coaching staff — which included U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing director Eileen Carey — was able to help the athletes improve on their fundamentals around six months before the start of the 2023-24 season.
“There’s a strong sense of community if you know that you have people all over the country working on the same kinds of things you are and you can connect and chat about that,” Michaud said. “To be able to feel that and do that in person, that’s pretty intangible. That’s pretty hard to emulate. And then we can do fun stuff, too, like eat pizza together after practice and go play pickleball.”
Michaud said it takes quite a bit of planning to host a training camp like the one in Bozeman that included sit skiers, standing skiers and visually impaired skiers instead of simply athletes from one classification. It also requires more coaching than usual.
On June 20, five days after the training camp ended, U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing announced the rosters for its national and development teams. Aravich and Nelson were among eight skiers named to the national team, and Martin was added to the development team.
Martin, a Seattle native, has been busy this summer getting in as much training as possible. In mid-May, she was one of only two athletes to take part in a U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing development camp in Bend, Oregon.
Since there was still snow on the ground in Bend, Martin was able to go skiing at Mount Bachelor during the training camp in May. That wasn’t the case, however, when she met up with Aravich, Nelson, Wiberg and Hall in Bozeman.
Michaud said the training camp in June was set up so that the athletes “hit it hard” first thing in the morning. They got tested while working out on a treadmill at Montana State University, and they followed it up by taking part in a biathlon time trial during the day.
“And then we spent the rest of the camp breaking down all the little things that they’re trying to slowly build at this part of the year to have a good training year,” Michaud said. “The hope was that with the tests and time trial they’re reminded of what it’s like to race. They’re reminded of what they’re working on and why they’re working on these things.”
Michaud said coaches worked with the athletes to analyze every aspect of their training, all the way down to such small details as their shooting position and technique at the range.
Since Para Nordic skiers must be fast and accurate with their shooting while competing in the biathlon, every part of their training matters. The athletes then got the chance to put all their training together and test out their skills while competing in head-to-head shooting sessions and games.
“(It’s important) that they all understand that being excellent doesn’t happen by accident, and it requires a lot of breaking down of the process and naming those pieces of the process, bringing awareness to them, learning them, training them,” Michaud said. “But then at the end of the day, when it’s time to perform, it feels good. It flows.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USParaNordicSkiing.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.