Melanie Schwartz

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2010 Blog

Copper - December 26, 2010

Photo of Melanie skiing slalom in Chile Race season 2010-2011 has finally begun. I spent two weeks in Colorado which included both training and racing. We started with four days to train for the upcoming races. It was a nice advantage to have a few days on the race hill before the race. Although I have trained and raced on that run many times, I prefer to have time to get a good feel for the snow and weather conditions before a race.

We competed in two GS and two Slalom races over the next four days. I finished third in each of the first three days of racing and fourth in the final race. My skiing in those races was definitely some of my best skiing so far this season. I made some mistakes, and I had hoped for better results but I put forth my best effort and I am trying to be satisfied with that.

After the Nor Am races at Copper Mountain were finished, we were supposed to train super G at Vail. However, after the first training day at Vail, it became clear that there was too much fresh snow to train. The next day we had a chance to free-ski in the powder at Copper Mountain instead of training. I switched from a Volkl race ski to a Volkl powder ski for the day and I really enjoyed the ski. It was a the first day of the season that I had a chance to simply ski and not train which was a welcome change and a reminder about why I love the sport.

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On Deck - November 27, 2010

I just returned from the last pre-season training camp for the season. My next trip will be the kick-off for the race season in Colorado. So far, I've attended three pre-season training camps in Chile, Switzerland and Nakiska. I had never been to any of these three places before so I had some great experiences and adventures. But now it is time to get down to business.

I am thrilled that the race season is going to start and I can't wait to compete. However, I still don't feel ready. The truth is that I will probably never feel ready because there is always room to improve. Every year I feel like I should have more training so that I will be better prepared for the races. But, ready or not, there are races to be skied. And I must ski my best at the upcoming races.

Unfortunately, I have difficulty skiing my best on demand. It seems that I cannot control when my good skiing decides to present itself. Sometimes I can make it happen, and sometimes I just can't pull everything together despite my best efforts. Every once in a while I ski well. So it is obvious that I am physically capable of performing. It is just a question of busting out my best skiing on demand (ie. in races, not in warm-up courses). It has been a long time since I pulled off a great race-day performance.

Luckily, the team's sport psychologist will be at the upcoming Nor Am races. He helps me organize my brain and focus on what is important. It probably seems silly that I need assistance to prepare my brain for a race, but it is clear that I could ski much better if my head weren't such a mess. My coach loves to remind me that all my problems are in my mind.

I've run out of time to procrastinate. can no longer justify my poor skiing with the excuse that I still have plenty of time to train. It is time to perform and I need to be mentally prepared. I will attack the course with everything I've got.

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Nakiska - November 23, 2010

The training camp in Nakiska was a fine example of the unpredictability of ski racing. Skiing is sometimes foiled by its dependance on a careful balance of snow conditions and weather. Our training camp is a perfect example of what happens when mother nature does not provide the necessary balance.

We were supposed to train in Panorama. But Panorama suffered from a lack of snow. So it was decided that we would spend a few days in Nakiska before heading to Panorama. A few days into our trip it became clear that we would not be skiing in Panorama at all. Due to the last minute changes in our plans, we ended up staying in four different hotels over nine nights. It was a constant marathon of packing and unpacking. In the worst case, we had only 20 minutes to pack our bags. As a result, athletes and staff accidentally left a number of items in hotel rooms, never to be seen again. Luckily, I only misplaced things temporarily didn't lose anything permanently on this trip. I must admit, I have accidently left things behind in hotel rooms in previous trips.

In addition to the constant moving, we also had a variety of ski conditions. The first few days were relatively normal. But the normalcy was interrupted by a large snowfall of nearly 60cms over three days. Contrary to popular belief, fresh powder is not conducive to ski racing. After the dump of snow, the temperatures plummeted and we spent the remainder of the camp battling temperatures of -20 to -30. We also fought poor visibility. By the time we reached the end of each day we were struggling to see through dense clouds created by the snow guns. In fact, our last day at Nakiska was cancelled due to the lack of visibility which was not helped by temperatures close to -40.

Despite the inertia sending us from one hotel to the next and the sporadic ski conditions we had a great training camp. I was both sad to see it end and happy to return home and spend a night in my own bed.

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Saas Fee - November 5, 2010

Neutral describes the country but not the training camp. We spent two weeks skiing on a Swiss glacier. It was an incredible experience. The town of Saas-fee is a mecca for snow sports. It is one of the few places in the world that offers skiing and snowboarding year round. And hill space is a highly sought-after commodity in October.

At the top of the glacier, we saw avalanches, helicopters, and crevasses. Luckily the avalanches were beside the ski area and no one was caught in them. But everyone turned to watch and listen when they happened. The helicopters served two purposes. They pulled injured skiers off the hill to medical care and dropped numerous loads of water on the hill to create a solid icy slope for training. Every once in a while there was a seemingly bottomless hole in the ground. These crevasses are a scary breed because anything or anyone to fall through those holes will never be seen again. Someday when global warming gets the better of the glacier, someone will find a large collection of drill bits, gates and other paraphernalia at the bottom.

Every day we rode two gondolas and an underground train to get from our hotel to the top of the glacier. The trek takes nearly an hour. Once we reach the top, we put on our ski gear and head towards the T-bars that turn the glacier into skiable terrain. I struggled with the T-bars because I missed the opportunity to rest that is inherent with chairlifts. Despite the challenges, I managed to accomplish some good skiing. And I am happy with my skiing in Saas Fee.

Most of the trip was blessed with fantastic conditions. However, there were a couple days that were foiled by the wind. The T-bars cannot run in extreme wind. We lost a day of training to the wind and had to end early on another day. Luckily all the athletes made it off the glacier before the T-bars were shut for the day. The staff weren't quite as lucky and they were forced to hike up the hill while carrying their skis, bags etc.

Life at the top of the glacier feels like a separate world from the town below. We watched the sun rise over the seemingly endless mountains from the top of the glacier but the town itself cannot be seen and there are no signs of buildings or civilization below.

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Video Clip: A Day in the Life of CPAST - November 1, 2010

Take a peek at a typical day of training for the team. This clip features various staff and athletes at our October training camp in Saas Fee, Switzerland. Thanks to the Josh Dueck and John Coleman for recording and editing the footage.

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Chile - September 21, 2010

Photo of Melanie skiing slalom in Chile September marks the start of the 2010-2011 ski season with our first on-snow training camp in Valle Nevado, Chile. We wrapped up two weeks of spring skiing in the Southern hemisphere a couple days ago. The trip indicated a lot about the upcoming season.

Many emotions were brought out by my struggles and successes at the Chile training camp. These emotions are not new. They were simply rekindled after a summer of idling. I tend to get frustrated when I do not ski as well as I think I am capable of doing. I have high standards for myself. And I am usually disappointed when I see video of myself on the slopes.

In addition to the frustrations I have felt in the past, a new frustration was introduced for the upcoming season. I have multiple coaches with differing theories on how I should strive to ski. It is really tough to work towards something if you don't know exactly what you are working towards. At one point I almost stopped trying because I didn't know what to try. Eventually I decided to focus on the aspects of my skiing that everyone agrees upon.

Given my frustration, it is easy to think that I might get fed up with skiing. But it is quite the opposite. I am a very stubborn person, and these types of difficulties simply solidify my resolve to work harder and achieve more. When my frustration is high, each small success is even more valuable.

Photo of Melanie skiing super G in Chile My time skiing in Chile was a great reminder of my good fortune. I am lucky to have the opportunity to travel and ski around the world. While most people are working, or attending school, I am able to do what I love at the top of the Andes or on a glacier in the Swiss Alps. I am grateful for the chance to chase my dreams around the globe.

It was incredible to see the rugged beauty of the Andes Mountains and the sunsets over Santiago. Valle Nevado feels like an alternate universe since the mountains are sparsely inhabited and Santiago seems like a distant land. It is land where ski teams wake up before the sun and are nearly finished training by the time the tourists finish their leisurely breakfasts and hit the slopes. By the time the tourists are finishing lunch, we've already had an afternoon nap and are heading for the gym. It can be grueling to wake up so early, and test the strength of both body and mind day after day. But I wouldn't change it for the world.

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Cross Training - August 26, 2010

Over the past couple summers I have made an effort to try some new and different sports. Some might say that I am using other sports to train for skiing. But the truth is that I am simply having fun.

This past weekend I learned how to waterski in a program through Waterski and Wakeboard Canada and Muskoka Wharf Adventures. It seems logical that alpine skiers should know how to water ski and vice versa. I am still a complete beginner at water skiing and I don't know if it really helps my alpine skiing. The only thing I know for sure is that I had a great weekend despite gloomy rainy weather. We even had an introduction and a chance to try sledge hockey courtesy of Graeme Murray from Canada's sledge hockey team. I can't wait to spend some more time learning water skiing and sledge hockey.

I've also been taking trampoline lessons at Just Bounce. What could be more fun than bouncing on a trampoline? Enough said. As an added bonus, my coaches claim that it is good for body awareness and cardio.

Another summer sport I learned, is rowing. Normally, I tend to stick to individual sports. So working with a boatful of people was a new experience. I enjoyed the teamwork. I was motivated to work harder because I didn't want to make a mistake and let my teammates down.

Waterskiing, trampoline and rowing are only a few of the sports I've enjoyed this summer. I also spent time swimming, canoeing, cycling and rock climbing. Although team sports aren't my forte, I played some volleyball and basketball too.

My summers of trying new sports have taught me many things. Most importantly, it is always fun and exciting to try new sports. Even the sports that I don't want to try again. I really enjoy the challenge of something new. And being new at a sport or activity often means that there is a steep learning curve with lots of small successes. Each little piece of success provides a boost in self-confidence.

While skiing is truly my sport, I will continue to pursue other sports as well. Variety is key because it prevents boredom and keeps me motivated. Each sport enhances a different skill set. I already know that my activities make me happy. I hope that the collective result of my various activities will also make me a better skier.

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Summer Dryland - July 30, 2010

Now that the excitement of the 2010 season is dying down, I've been looking ahead to next season. The team has made its decisions for next year and the athletes and most of the staff for next year were announced.

I was named to the development team yet again. It will be my fourth year on the development team. It certainly doesn't feel like it's been that long. We will have a smaller team this year. In fact, there are only two athletes on the development team. So we will be training with either the senior team or the prospect group which is comprised of younger athletes from the provincial teams.

I am really excited for the coming season. I want to focus on training and it sounds like I will have lots of training opportunities which is fantastic. I know that I have tons of room to improve. I want to challenge myself to ski better so that I can return to the World Cup circuit when I am more competitive.

I attended a dryland camp in Whistler at the end of June. It was my first real dryland camp with the team. We spent the mornings in the gym and the afternoons on our bikes. Despite the Weather Network's gloomy predication of rain, we enjoyed sunny skies every day. We were able to take advantage of the outdoor pool, hot tub and barbeque.

I'd never been to Whistler in the summer before. It was strange to see Whistler when it is green and warm and without many people. The extra chairlift and fencing that had been installed for the winter games was all gone. The dryland camp in Whistler provided some much needed motivation. I've been consistently working hard at the gym since I returned home from Whistler. The camp also helped kick start my dryland season because I wanted to be in decent physical shape for the camp so I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of my teammates and coaches.

I will be going to Chile to train in the first half of September with the team. I am very excited! I have never been to the Southern hemisphere before. For the next month I will use Chile as motivation for training. And I also need spend some time coordinating all my ski gear for next season and making sure that I have everything I need.

Although it is summer and it is supposed to be the "off-season", there are still plenty of ski-related activities happening. Every time I go to the storage room where I store and tune my skis I see my skis for next year and I smile to myself. Only five weeks until Chile.

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Athlete Reunion - May 3, 2010

The infamous 2010 ski season is finished, but the sentiments of the winter games linger. All the athletes from the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games were brought together a couple weeks ago. We participated in some special events that brought the spirit of the Vancouver games east to Ottawa and Montreal.

Photo Melanie and teammate Andrea in front of parliament buildings The first stop was Ottawa. Upon arrival, it was great to see friends, coaches and teammates that I rarely see away from ski hills. The first event was a lunch for Gary Lunn, the Minister of State for Sport. 150 athletes wearing official Olympic and Paralympic clothing piled into buses to Hull for the luncheon. After a meal and some speeches we piled back onto the buses.

The next stop on our tour was Parliament Hill. We started in the Centre Block where we were recognized on the floor of the House of Commons. The floor is reserved for very special guests such as the Queen. So it was quite an honour. The athletes completely filled the floor in the House of Commons. The politicians were incredibly enthusiastic. They gave us a standing ovation and spontaneously sang "Oh Canada". After the Speaker of the house gave a short speech and read the names of all the athletes, we filed out of the House of Commons to another standing ovation. It was an absolutely incredible experience. After leaving the Centre Block, we headed for the West Block for a reception. The prime minister presented each medalist with one of the Canadian flags that flew on Parliament hill during the Winter Games.

When our time at Parliament Hill was over, we said goodbye to our coaches and boarded a train to Montreal. I went to sit with some of my teammates but there was a makeup bag on my seat. I opened it to look inside and then I tossed it underneath my seat assuming that it had been left by a previous passenger. I soon learned that Ben Mulroney and the crew from eTalk were on the train to conduct interviews with athletes to create a special Team Canada episode of the show. We had unknowingly taken the seats reserved for eTalk. Once the train started moving, a flustered eTalk producer came to the area where we were sitting and asked if anyone had seen Ben Mulroney's makeup. Why yes, I knew exactly where it was. I reached under my seat and presented the makeup case to a thankful producer.

The following morning was the Montreal parade. I had no idea what to expect from the parade, but I was blown away by the parade itself and the cheering crowd. There were nine floats of athletes, the first float carried Alpine athletes (both able-bodied and para-alpine). We were surrounded by Cirque de Soleil artists on stilts, a drum group, and a vintage Rolls-Royce convertible carrying Joannie Rochette, Alex Bilodeau and Montreal's mayor. An estimated 150,000 people were watching the parade from the windows of their workplaces, the roofs of their homes and, of course, the streets. At the end of the parade we were introduced on stage and then went to an area to talk to the media and spectators and sign autographs.

Soon after the parade, I was on a plane heading home. Although the trip was only a few days, it was filled with a sense of Canadian and athletic pride that I will never forget. The nation came together to celebrate its athletes with extra enthusiasm since the games were on home soil. I probably won't have the opportunity to compete in another Canadian Paralympic Games so I cherish every experience.

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Paralympic Review - April 2, 2010

The Paralympics are finished and the season is over. And yet nothing has changed. My brain is still in "ski" mode. I still dream about skiing and wake up thinking about my technique and what I can improve. The quest for next season has already begun. But before I can begin another season, I must wrap up the 2009-2010 year by telling you about the Paralympics.

In some ways, the Paralympics were just like any other race. In particular, the race courses and on-snow environment was familiar. We had the same competitors, coaches, and staff. Just like any other race day, we woke up early, inspected the courses carefully and focused on the task at hand. We raced on similar courses and we knew in advance which athletes had medal potential. Based on our experience at Whistler World Cup Finals in 2009, we knew that we would have an amazing crew of course workers, called the Whistler Weasel Workers. Once again the Weasels did a fantastic job of maintaining the race course despite really tough weather conditions. The races themselves were the same as any World Cup race up until the finish line.

After crossing the finish line, it became apparent that these races were not like any other. We looked up to see grandstands full of cheering spectators with flags and posters. Our times and results were posted instantly on large electronic screens. There was a busy media area that we skied past and a VIP building.

Unlike any other race, our families and friends were waiting for us at the finish line and after our races were complete. I was lucky enough to have six of my family and friends fly to Vancouver to watch my races. It was unusual to have my family and friends at Whistler since they are rarely seen at ski hills. I managed to find a day to ski with my family which was great. Especially since they had never skied large mountains like Whistler Blackcomb. In addition to those who made it to Whistler in person, I also received tremendous support from friends and family back home. I was impressed with the outpouring of support from people I've never met.

The differences between the Paralympics and other races continued once we clicked out of our ski bindings too. Security was tight and many areas were closed off to the general public. We needed to show our ID and go through metal detectors regularly. The athletes village was different than the accommodation at any other race (see my previous blog10.shtml, Pinch Me, for more information). Each country had a wax cabin for tuning skis and storing gear.

Although the Paralympics were similar to other races, there is something that makes them special. And I will end this blog10.shtml with four important words found on the snowglobes from closing ceremonies: See you in Sochi!

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Video Clip: ParaEmotion - March 11, 2010

The footage was filmed in June by Jon Izma. You might recognize some of the footage from the video clip I posted in December. It was recently edited and posted online by the International Paralympic Committee. Click here to check out more of Jon's work.

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Pinch Me - March 9, 2010

It's here. It's now. It's real. I still can't believe that I am in the Whistler athlete's village at the 2010 Paralympics. I hope no one pinches me, because I don't want to wake up from this dream. Three years ago, a friend asked if I would try to make it to the 2010 winter games. I burst out laughing. It did not occur to me that it was possible. As I sit here in the athlete's lounge, I realize that I've far exceeded my expectations.

The athlete's village is a pretty cool place. It is similar to a university campus. We live is varying types of dorms and we go to the food tent for all our meals. The food tent is open 24/7 and it is set up like a cafeteria with a number of stations offering different types of cuisine. We have a variety of services on our campus including a gym, medical clinic, and games room. Like first year university students, everyone wears lanyards around their necks with their ID. This ID card is very important. Without it, an athlete cannot or enter the food tent, the village, or their competition venue.

Unlike a university, the inhabitants of the village are brought together by world class sport, rather than academics and tuition. Instead of being loyal to a particular residence or floor, we are loyal to our country. Each country its own headquarters, lounges and mission staff who act like dons or RAs. During the day, we are dedicated to a particular sport, rather than an area of study. My first couple of days in the athlete's village reminds me of my first year at university.

Photo of Candian flag made out of lights on balcony I really enjoy the village experience. It probably helps that I have plenty of space. I am lucky enough to have a 2-bedroom suite to myself. I use the couch in the living room for my afternoon naps, and I keep stealing extra pillows, towels etc. from the second bedroom. The best part of the village is the atmosphere. It is hard to describe, but it is seen in the flags hanging from balconies and windows and the pride with which athletes wear their country's clothing. One of the Canadian balconies - one that is visible to everyone entering the village or leaving the food tent - is covered in red and white Christmas lights in the shape of the Canadian flag.

Being, the host nation, we get extra support from Canadians. The route from the airport to Whistler passes numerous homes with Canadian flags in the windows. The lifties at Whistler made a special snow sculpture for the Canadian athletes. It is a giant maple leaf with the words "we believe". It is truly inspiring to see the Canadian spirit.

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Kimberley - February 13, 2010

I am spending the majority of February in Kimberley, B.C. for training and racing. Kimberley is Canada's closest thing to a mecca for disabled skiing. There have been numerous races held here and the local disabled skiers association is even building a Paralympic training centre at the base of the ski hill. I spend time here each year. It is an ideal place for training because there are often races held here and there are great coaches who live nearby. Kimberley does not have lift lines or masses of people on the slopes.

When I arrived in Kimberley I was looking forward to some quality training. The two previous ski trips were packed with races and I craved a chance to practice my technique without race-day pressure. There was only one other disabled skier here, so I enjoyed some great training with a fantastic coach to athlete ratio. But as the Nor Am race approached, skiers started appearing. It was a huge advantage to train on the race run before the Nor Am, especially since the race is composed of speed events where knowing the hill is an important factor.

I am satisfied with my race results. I received three silver medals from the four races. I was disappointed in the results from the first downhill race. I was skiing well and I was having a great race, until I made a big mistake. My knee buckled on an easy turn near the bottom of the course and I fell. I got up and finished the course, but it took a long time. When I reached the finish area I found out that the best woman in my category had fallen as well. If I had not fallen, I would have won the race. It is unfortunate that I could not take advantage of her mistake. But mistakes and falls are inherent in racing.

Now the races are finished and most of the athletes have left. There are only three of us still here in Kimberley. Once again I am excited for a week of intense training. It will be an opportunity to focus on my skiing and prepare for upcoming races.

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European World Cups - January 28, 2010

My last blog10.shtml had a pessimistic outlook. A lot has happened in the past month, and I am happy to report that the latest news is very positive.

For starters, I qualified to compete in all the World Cup events except for one. So I spent three weeks in Austria and Italy at World Cup races. It was a hectic and exciting trip that spanned three mountains and six hotels. Most importantly, I achieved my goal for the trip. After a year of uncertainty, I earned a trip to Whistler. I'm not referring to your average ski vacation, I will compete at the 2010 Paralympics in March.

I really enjoyed skiing in Europe. The weather and snow conditions were fantastic for the whole trip. In Abtenau, Austria a Super-Combined race was replaced with a slalom due to a lack of snow. That was fine for me because it helped me qualify for the Paralympics. To make a great trip even better, we were surrounded by breathtaking views of the alps every day. I even managed to avoid the cold/flu bug that plagued the Canadian team for most of the trip despite rooming with a sick teammate.

Competing against the best in the world, showed me that I still have a lot of work to do. All the women were much faster than me, which is what I'd expected. The experience certainly fuelled my drive to train hard and ski faster so that I can become competitive on the international stage. I am flying to Kimberley, B.C. in a couple days so I can train and compete at some North American races.

I also enjoyed the European culture. The only thing I didn't love were the European breakfasts of bread with meat and cheese. Luckily we had great dinners (especially in Italy) which more than compensated for the breakfasts. I was entranced by the architecture, the hot air balloons, and courteous people. It was incredible to see how skiing is an integral part of Austrian culture. Many small mountain towns run a municipal chairlift which connects the town to a system of ski hills allowing people to ski from one town to another. The runs are completely integrated into the local population as they pass houses, farms, and roads. I only had one day to experience this Austrian style of skiing and it was an amazing experience.

After our last race, we had a fantastic day in Kitzbuhel watching the able-bodied men's slalom race. The men showed incredible talent on a tough course in front of thousands of spectators bearing flags and air horns. Our team sat in the VIP section and cheered all the Canadians. By the end of the day our throats hurt and we'd lost our voices.

Overall the trip was a huge success and an unforgettable experience. I achieved my goal of qualifying for the Paralympics. Throughout the trip there was always something happening. From watching my teammate Chris Williamson pop open a bottle of champagne upon receiving his 50th World Cup win, to seeing a pony on the ski hill it is a trip I will never forget.

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