Sugar Bowl Academy Attacks VO2 Testing

Sugar Bowl Academy Nordic Head Coach, Martin Benes, offers his thoughts on the importance and value of Vo2 testing his athletes…

A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to bring our U18 athletes down to the Silver Sage Sports and Fitness Lab for VO2 max testing. While it was certainly fun get VO2 values for our athletes, there is a lot of feedback from these tests that we can use as coaches.


While VO2 max is trainable, more so at this age, we are really interested in a couple of other pieces. The first is the purely mental challenge of pushing yourself hard on a treadmill indoors. One of the great joys of endurance sports is being outside and having the scenery flash by in a blur. The treadmill clearly takes that away, and with no finish lines in sight, it becomes a mental battle to see how long you can stay on; how much steeper can the treadmill get?

For our purposes what we really like to see is efficiency. What that means from an endurance perspective is how close is an athletes’ anaerobic threshold to their VO2 max? The closer those values are, the more efficient our athletes’ “engines” are, and more importantly a good indicator that they are responding well to the training plan. If not, we need to reevaluate what that athlete might need.


We can also glean data from the test results to determine the proper training zones for individuals. This helps us as coaches because we can individualize training zones and plans in order to pinpoint strengths and areas for improvements. While we always want to improve on our weaknesses, we also need to remind ourselves to maintain our strengths. As competitors, our athletes are often seeking out every opportunity to improve. The VO2 testing showed a path to improvement but also reminded us of our strengths.

Our training is on the right track. We saw that with the efficiency of our athletes’ respective “engines” and also with their mental tenacity. With a few months until our major championship event, we still have time to make those small improvements and get even stronger.


Sugar Bowl Academy Dials up Dry-Land Training

Below a post from Sugar Bowl Academy, Head Nordic Coach, Martin Benes…

In the past couple of weeks, we have done two time trials. While many of our workouts were hampered by the smoke, we found some clear windows in the mornings before school to get out and do some hard efforts. One of these was an old standby, the Drifter uphill running time trial. The other was new, a skate rollerski race from Rainbow Lodge up to Soda Springs, just over 10 km. These hard efforts are always important, regardless of the time of year. In the fall, we will try to do more time trial efforts as they better simulate the demands of racing: both physically and mentally.

The Drifter time trial is a Far West Nordic mainstay, with records dating back to 2006. We meet just of the Donner Lake Interchange exit off of I-80 and warm up by walking and jogging up the trail a ways. The race itself is around 1.5 miles of uphill running, finishing just by Tahoe Donner XC’s Drifter Hut. It is a hard effort no matter your fitness and an opportunity to push and go hard. For us skiers, there is little technique to running up a hill, but there are tactics and race smarts. We always mark the halfway point, so that the athletes can try to really nail the second half of the race. We hope for pretty even splits between the first half and the second half, but we’re really excited when someone races the second half faster. We do Drifter a few times a year, giving the athletes an opportunity to dial in their pacing and effort, but also to show some improvement. Everyone’s body type affects their uphill running a little differently, so what we’d really like to see is personal bests.

Our second time trial was on rollerskis, so definitely more specificity than our uphill running. We felt like we needed a good skate rollerski time trial with enough terrain so that our skiers could use their different techniques and gears, but without any major downhills. A downhill is obviously good practice for a race too, but people have different rollerski speeds, and different comfort levels. As an added bonus, the road was pretty quiet at 7:30 AM and we could run a mass start. We wanted to make this one feel as much like a race as possible. We had a starting line, a double pole zone, cones marking off sections of the course, and meter marks close to the finish. We wanted it to feel like a race and for people to push hard, both physically and mentally.

They were both great time trials and what we saw was our athletes push their limits and see how hard they could go. While there were no prizes or medals on the line, both were good opportunities to get comfortable with competition. To get used to lining up with your friends and peers and laying it all out there, finishing feeling like you’re totally spent. You don’t need more than a handful of friends or teammates to have a time trial. Pick a start point and a finish point and you’ve got a race or time trial. It’s good to get the experience of racing head to head before it really counts.

Sugar Bowl Academy Nordic Ski Team, Coaches Corner

Below a post from Martin Benes, Head Coach for Sugar Bowl Academy Nordic Ski Team. We at Silver Sage Sports and Fitness Lab sponsor the Sugar Bowl program, lactate threshold testing these talented athletes in summer, fall and winter.

sba-rollerski2I was recently at a USSA Nordic National Under-16 camp in Jackson Hole, WY. We had four athletes from the Far West division, including 2 from Sugar Bowl Academy. We spent two afternoons working on agility courses on rollerskis. During setup I was chatting with a coach from the Norwegian National Sports Academy in Oslo. “We never do agility workouts on rollerskis”, he remarked. I was a little surprised because in the US, we have been spending an increased amount of time working on it. “Our kids just play on rollerskis and sometimes go into the skate park when they are younger,” was the practically the next words he uttered. That made a lot more sense.

I began to wonder what place agility has in our training. It struck me that in Norway they never do specific agility “workouts”.  Rather it is often built into longer workouts as part of the warm up or even as games when kids are on skis younger. It almost seemed to me that US coaches were trying to make for lost time, for those kids who hadn’t grown up skiing to school. The athletes who didn’t drop into their local skate park on rollerskis as a twelve year old. Our cross-country skiers are often good endurance athletes, but still need work on technique. To me it still held a large place in how we train on rollerskis.

Agility training enables skiers to be more comfortable on their skis; improving their balance, building strength, and developing natural speed. It pushes the comfort level and allows skiers to fail. It provides intrinsic motivation as skiers try to master skills in an agility course and set small, personal goals for themselves. In one of the bigger pieces, it also challenges athletes on a mental level. Forcing them to complete new motor skills will, in theory, allow them to be more adaptable to technique work later in the same session. In short, agility training on rollerskis (and on skis) makes us better skiers.

The next piece of this is how to incorporate some of these pieces into your own skiing. There are a couple of ways to do this. One option is to set up a line of eight or ten cones (or articles of clothing, water bottles, etc.). Before you begin your workout, ski through them on one ski only. Alternate legs, and ski on each leg three or four times. This will work on single-leg balance, but also force you into making quick adjustments to your body position and weight shift. Two other drills you can throw into your skis are 180 jumps going both directions, and backwards skiing. There are many options for exercises, and it is important to switch drills up frequently. Channel your inner Norwegian kid and play around on your skis, trying new things, pushing your comfort level, and become a better skier.