North American Rivals Became Training Partners At Mammoth Lakes Camp
by Alex Abrams
Dani Aravich has had a hectic past few months between working, traveling and preparing for the upcoming Para Nordic skiing season.
As busy as this fall has been for her, Aravich wasn’t about to turn down the chance to train for nearly two weeks around Mammoth Lakes, California, located more than 7,800 feet above sea level.
The two-time Paralympian spent the last few days of September and the first few days of October taking part in a training camp that was unique because it wasn’t with her U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing teammates as usual.
Aravich instead trained in Mammoth Lakes alongside members of the Canadian team, including two of the top female standing skiers in the world in in Paralympic medalists Brittany Hudak and Natalie Wilkie.
Hudak and Wilkie will be Aravich’s rivals once the Para Nordic skiing season begins this month. That didn’t matter, though, while the three of them were training together in eastern California to improve their conditioning and ski technique.
Aravich said Hudak, in particular, has become a good friend over the past few years.
“We’ve become like this little North American duo of buddies. We have a friendship,” said Aravich, who made her Winter Paralympic debut in 2022, just a few months after competing in the Summer Games in Tokyo as a sprinter. “Obviously, we’ll always try to throw down on the ski course, but I really want to see her succeed just as much. I think it was just really beneficial for all of us to get to ski together and train together because ultimately we all want to make this sport better.”
Aravich said Nick Michaud, her ski coach with U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, was looking at ways for her to train this offseason with other athletes. He thought she could take part in workouts with Team Canada.
Michaud got into contact with former visually impaired skier Brian McKeever, who’s Canada’s most decorated Winter Paralympian with 16 gold medals, two silvers and two bronzes. McKeever was hired to coach the Canadian Para Nordic team after retiring following the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympics.
Aravich said Canadian Para Nordic skiers regularly train in Mammoth Lakes because they find it beneficial to have workouts at such a high elevation. At the same time, they’re able to hold workouts less than an hour away in Bishop, California, which is lower in elevation at around 4,100 feet above sea level.
Aravich trained with Team Canada for more than a week, and she received valuable tips along the way from McKeever. She said his tips about her classic skiing technique were particularly helpful.
“I feel like they have already been pretty game-changing for me,” Aravich said. “The volume (of the training) was terrific and fabulous, and it’s going to very much prove itself come this winter.”
The training camp was set up so Aravich and the Canadian skiers did a high volume of training when they were in Mammoth Lakes and then did more intensive workouts at the lower elevation in Bishop.
“So it was my highest volume weeks of the year so far, and it involved a lot of roller skiing, a lot of mountain running, as well as some biking,” Aravich said. “It was really great because where we were in Bishop and in Mammoth, there were a lot of really good roads for roller skiing. And so I got a ton of roller skiing in, probably more than I ever have in a small chunk of time.”
Aravich competes in the biathlon in addition to cross-country skiing. She, however, didn’t work on her rifle shooting for the biathlon while in California.
“Nick and I considered bringing a rifle and a target just for me to set up and be able to shoot,” Aravich said. “But he really wanted me to immerse myself in the camp, so do what the Canadians did and really feel like I was a part of it.”
There was a sense of camaraderie while Aravich was training in Mammoth Lakes.
She said there wasn’t any animosity between her and the Canadian skiers because they compete against each other during the season. It was instead the opposite, and it gave all of them the chance to train together and learn from one another.
“I think ultimately in Para sport as a whole a lot of people are A) open to collaboration and B) very friendly when you’re on whatever sport circuit because we’re all trying to fight for the same thing, which is to be recognized for our athletic accomplishments as people with disabilities,” Aravich said.
“And so I think there is a natural sense of camaraderie at any Para competition of any sport because you are all fighting for that opportunity to highlight people with disabilities.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic and Paralympic 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.