Thursday, September 5, 2002 - Athlete Perspective
Aussie Report: Hoppet Week

By: Sarah Peters

There are three things that hooked me to racing. The first obviously is my love for cross country skiing. The second and third are a tad more peculiar. These are the challenge of racing and that you never quite know what will happen. The hoppet was both of these - very, very hard and surprising! But I am a bit ahead of myself.

On Sunday evening after Aussie Champs, I headed over to Falls Creek where the Hoppet is held. This is about a 4.5 hour drive through spectacular country. I drove with Heather, a masters skier, and her cockatoo, Les. Though exhausted from the days racing, the drive was good with lots of kangaroo sightings and hot chips (french fries) in Corryong. Late that night we arrived at Howman's Gap Alpine Centre where I would spend the week.

Howman's Gap is a camp/lodge located 5 km down from Falls Creek Resort and about 25 km up from the town of Mt. Beauty. The road up from Mt. Beauty is extremely windy so I was happy I would not have to drive it every day. For Hoppet week, Howman's runs a shuttle up and down to the nordic centre at Falls Creek through out the day. Breakfast, a brown bag lunch, snacks and dinner are all included with your stay. I was lucky enough to get a two person room to myself as most rooms are multishare with sturdy bunk beds and cupboards. Michelle and Ken own and manage Howman's with an excellent staff, that includes top Australian skiers Belinda Phillips, Dave Hunt and Nick Grimmer.

For Hoppet week, Howman's is a popular spot for Hoppet participants and racers. One could spend hours in the dining hall and recreation room talking to skiers from all over Australia and the world. I met a Swiss man who had competed in cycling at the 1964 Olympics in Rome and a Tasmanian woman who had represented England in Nordic skiing at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Others were such nordic enthusiasts that they used their vacation days for a week or two on snow and the participation in the Kangaroo Hoppet.

The Hoppet course is run over a 42 km figure of eight loop. You start out of the nordic bowl, loop through Sun Valley, cross the dam wall and continue along the lake. This first section is flattish with some gradual up and downs. Just before 10 km you turn to the left and take the Paralyzer climb to the high plains. The route through the high plains has gradual and steep climbs with a downhill back to the dam wall for 21 km. After lapping through the start/finish area you head back out to Sun Valley and continue along the lake to some steep forested climbs. Riley's revenge takes you back up to another high plain area for a few bends. You descend down gradually ending up at the far side of the lake. Another 7 km to go, over the dam wall and into the bowl to finish. The course is wonderful, challenging and the groomers worked over time to enable us to use the whole course.

Although the week had started off with clear days and cold nights, a new system blew in on Thursday. It rained most of Thursday night, Friday and into Friday evening. On Friday morning, the track was still a bit icy and solid. It was no longer solid on Saturday morning. I knew I was in for it - as in I had prepared the wrong skis - after walking up to the nordic bowl and arriving with wet feet. The once firm track had become like deep, wet oatmeal. I am told that this is a common Australian occurrence but, as I had not encountered it during my three weeks, I was a bit surprised!

The next unpredicted event was a race delay due to high winds in the upper plains. As the nordic bowl is a hike up from the nordic centre, I stayed near the start skiing lightly to keep myself warm. At 9:55 they announced a go ahead and we started at 10:10. There were two lines of elite starters and I was lucky enough to start on the first line. This line included National Team Australians, a Dutch and Norwegian woman, along with American, German, Slovenian and Czech men. The Hoppet event attracted starters from some 20 different countries!

Off the start, I knew that this race was not going to be fun. Even with a few skiers ahead the trail was already a mess. The slush was heavy and soft. I quickly passed most of the girls except for Belinda Phillips and Camille Melvey. I worked hard and passed Camille by the end of the Sun Valley loop. I had Belinda in my sights and the chase was on. Unfortunately, though I could see her up the Paralyzer and I was working as hard as I dared, she was not getting any closer. Once up on the high plains my skis went from too stiff and sucky to really, really sucky. All of Belinda's 46 kg looked liked it just floated over the porridge and by 21 km I was 3 minutes behind.

For the next 17 km, I entered survival mode as my hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes burned. Once back by the lake, I realized that Camille was charging and I would have to find some strength to hold her off. I got in with two men who helped to push me through the last 5 km. I finished totally exhausted, cold, happy to have held Camille off and far out skied by Belinda Phillips. Belinda finished to cheers from the hometown crowd as she won for the second year in a row! On the men's side, the Czech man, Rezac Stanislav finished ahead of Cameron Morton and Anthony Evans both of Australia.

That night brought barbeques, excellent Australian red and an awards ceremony down in Mt. Beauty. The prizes included money, a goodies bag, and the best plaque ever. It is made out of native Australian wood, cut in the shape of Australia and has a wood kangaroo in the centre. It will have a very honoured spot on my apartment wall! To find out more about this excellent event, check out www.hoppet.com.au.

A huge thank you to Belinda, Dave, Mario and Frank for there welcome and care. I need to thank Nick very, very much for untangling a cold and delirious me from the snow fence as I tried to make down to the post-race presentations. Thank you also to Alan Marsland for his Hoppet "invite" and Michelle, Ken and their very friendly staff at Howman's Gap.

Next week: a short and quick goodbye to Australia and PHOTOS!


Sarah Peters on the podium at Australia's Hoppet Loppet, with Belinda Phillips and the Victorian Minister of Sport (Photo: Finn Marsland)


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