Melanie Schwartz

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2014 Blog

Race Season Begins - December 14, 2014

Me on the slalom podium at Aspen Highlands I just completed my first series of races of the 2014-2015 season. They were a great start to the season and I am excited to see how the season progresses from here. We were lucky to have fantastic conditions at Aspen Highlands for two slalom and two GS races last week. The entire Canadian and American teams competed in these races along with a handful of racers representing various countries including Chile, Japan and New Zealand.

It was great to be able to race at home. To race on the same slope where we train is invaluable. Unlike many of my competitors, I did not have to pack bags, board an airplane, or stay in a hotel. Most importantly, I kept my regular routine throughout the race series. I woke up at the same time as I would on a training day, ate the same breakfast, and kept my stuff in the same locker room and sat in the same chair to put on my ski boot. Since I didn't have to worry about my routine, or where to find things, I wasn't distracted by trivial things and was able to focus on my skiing.

While there is always room for improvement, I am pretty happy with my skiing through this race series. Some of my runs could have been better, but I also had some runs where I set specific goals for myself and achieved those goals. I brought home two silver medals (both for the slalom races) as well as a bronze medal in GS. It was also great to see some of my new Aspen teammates kick ass in their first IPC races ever.

Now that these races are over, it is time to start speed training. I am excited to try out my brand new Super G skis and prepare for the next set of races which will take place at Winter Park in early January.

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Snow Fairy - November 22, 2014

Me with Aspen Highlands in the background Snow is always a concern for early season training. When a new ski season dawns, everyone wants to get out on the mountains, but mother nature sometimes has other ideas. I must be pretty lucky because it seems like there is a snow fairy following me around. So far this season I've showed up at a few places that were struggling for snow and each time we've ended up with great conditions for training.

A couple weeks before we went to Portillo, Chile, I saw pictures of people skiing there in shorts and heard that it had been a bad year for snow. A number of other teams planning to go to Portillo cancelled their reservations and stayed home. Within a few days of arriving in Portillo, we had a couple of powder days followed by some incredible training. Similarly, my first day on the Hintertux glacier in Austria was a little scary. There was hardly any snow and teams were training on pure glacial ice. We got some snow in those first few days and were able to train on great terrain. We also had a epic dump of snow near the end of our trip that caused the entire mountain to shut down for a day.

When I arrived in Colorado the snow situation looked bleak. Both Aspen Highlands and Vail postponed their openings for pre-season training. The weather had been warm and prevented snow making. We went to Copper Mountain which had limited terrain open. As soon as we arrived, the temperature dropped, snow making kicked into high gear and we got a couple feet of natural snow.

A week later we moved to Aspen to train at Highlands. The first few days were worrisome. While the top half of the run was amazing, the bottom half was a disaster. There were rocks everywhere and I trashed one of my old skis. The amazing national team staff shuttled our skis so we could train on our race skis and wear old skis through the rocks. While we were skiing on rocks, operations was busy making snow and within a couple days it started improving. By the 6th day at Highlands, once the national team departed, we had perfect conditions from top to bottom. The past couple years we could not ski at our Highlands training venue until mid or late December. So I am thrilled that we are training there in November this year. Investing in snow making for that venue is paying off!

Ajax mountain opened a few days before the scheduled Thanksgiving opening. I skied there on opening day and it was great. There was more terrain open than I expected. The mountain was full of locals stoked to be on snow.

I would like to personally thank the snow fairy that has been following me around and providing amazing early season training. Let the season begin!

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The Importance of Having Fun - September 16, 2014

Me ready to ski in Portillo A year ago one of my coaches asked me why I had chosen a career as a ski racer. I blinked. Isn't it obvious? I love skiing. Being a skier isn't like being an actuary. No one chooses skiing for a stable job with a nice paycheck.

You may have heard the phrase “do what you love and love what you do”. There is no question that I love skiing and embody this motto. I'm sure my non-skier friends get sick of me talking about skiing all the time. Amongst the throngs of people who enjoy skiing, few are as passionate about it as I am. Most people would get bored of skiing the same run over and over or tired of skiing day after day. Not me. I always find ways to challenge myself and keep it exciting. That's not to say that everything is perfect all the time, I enjoy some days more than others.

I recently returned from a national team training camp in Portillo, Chile. My teammates complained about skiing 14 days in a row and wished for a day off. Many of them were bored of skiing the same terrain all the time and were ready to go home before the trip was over. Most days I skied more than anyone else. Yet, I never felt bored or tired. I never longed for a day off, which truthfully was a surprise to me. Usually I get tired and sore and relish a sleep-in and a break from my ski boot after skiing many days in a row. But not this trip. After being off snow for a month and a half, I couldn't get enough skiing. There were days when I had to force myself to quit when 4pm rolled around. I told myself that five hours was enough skiing for one day, I had things to do before dinner, and I should leave some energy in the tank for the next day.

On the other hand I also had moments when I was cold and frustrated. But then the sun would peek over the mountain and my mood would instantly brighten. The sun warmed my cold fingers and I was eager to continue skiing.

The ever changing snow and weather conditions kept it interesting. There were times when I dealt with flat light, and fierce winds. I experienced the kind of wind that turns an eight minute chairlift ride into 40 minutes of contemplating the drop from the chair to the rocks far below.

One day, after a dump of fresh snow, the lifts opened late because ski patrol was doing avalanche control. Only the magic carpet was running. I spent nearly two hours making laps on the magic carpet and the accompanying beginner terrain. It was a memorable morning. I had a blast messing around with my teammates. We took air off a jump, skied 3-legged-race style, practised skiing backwards and tried imitating each others' disabilities. We fell on top of each other and laughed until our bellies hurt. Once the chairlift started running we made the first tracks in the fresh powder. It was an incredibly fun day and a great reminder about why we love skiing.

The simple answer to my coach's question about why I ski, is that I love it!. I couldn't be a ski racer if I wasn't passionate about the sport and having fun every step of the way. I feel incredibly lucky that I do what I love and love what I do.

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Déjà Vu But Better - July 25, 2014

Me on my balcony I recently attended a training camp in Mt Hood, Oregon. I feel like I've come full circle from my very first blog in which I described my 2009 trip to Mt. Hood. A lot has happened in the past five years and yet this trip reminds me of that first training camp in Oregon.

Both my 2009 and 2014 trips to Mt Hood were with the Aspen team. However, the Aspen team has changed significantly in the past five years. My first trip to Hood was with Challenge Aspen, but now the Aspen team is under the AVSC (Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club) umbrella. I've switched countries too. Five years ago I skied with the Canadian team. Now I ski with the American team. Many of the faces have also changed. Only myself and two of the coaches attended both Hood camps. Despite organizational changes, both trips featured incredible training.

The only downside to my first trip to Mt Hood was a broken laptop. At some point during the journey home from Oregon, the screen of my laptop stopped working. It was not worth fixing, so I got a new computer and put a picture from my Hood trip as the background. I am still using that computer with the same background picture today. Unfortunately, another reason that this year's trip is reminiscent of my first trip is that I have broken another laptop. This time it happened on the journey to Oregon, rather than the journey home. Once again the screen is broken and I am currently using it with an external monitor. Apparently travelling to and from Oregon hazardous to laptop screens.

During all my training camps at Mt. Hood (2009, 2013 and 2014) I've always stayed at the same condos. I absolutely love staying there and my favorite part is the balconies. I admire the view from the balcony during all my meals, sunrise and sunset. I love summer training camps because it is incredible to ski in the mornings and enjoy summer activities in the afternoons. I've discovered a few things in the past five years and I participated in a wider variety of summer activities this year. I went on numerous bike rides, picked wild berries, swam in both a river and a lake, and spent July the 4th in the nearby town of Hood River. I also extended my trip for a few days to spend time with friends. I was lucky to go zip-lining and adventure tree climbing in those last few days.

Both 2009 and 2014 training camps at Mt Hood were incredible. This year's trip was reminiscent of my first trip. A successful 2010 season followed my first trip to Oregon. I hope the similarities between both Hood camps foreshadows an epic 2015 season!

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Fresh Start - June 4, 2014

Me on a snowmobile Spring is a time for fresh starts and going back to basics. I had a little break following the conclusion of the 2014 season and I am excited to start from scratch with new skis and build from there. Not only is a new season beginning, but a new quadrennial.

After the 2014 season ended, I took a little break. I did not go on vacation since my life is already better than most people's vacations. For me, a break means taking some time away from workouts. It means spending time with family and friends, having fun and doing things I normally don't have time to do. I spent some of my break time in Aspen where I had a blast skiing with friends and teammates. I achieved one of my life long goals. When I was a child, I had a ski instructor who did a number of consecutive whirly-birds (spinning in circles on skis). I vowed to myself that someday I would be able to do 12 whirly-birds in a row. I smashed that goal with 20 whirly-birds and starting teaching myself how to ski switch (backwards). I also hiked the Highland bowl and went snowmobiling. I joined all the Olympic and Paralympic athletes in DC to tour the white house and meet the President and First Lady. My break was a ton of fun, but it didn't take long until I felt ready to start training for the upcoming season.

I am back in the gym and eager to work hard. So far, I've been doing my own personal program. Eventually we will have a team training plan and schedule. Until then I am in charge of myself and I'm not slacking off. I am focusing on conquering my nemeses; namely the treadmill and the Wattbike. I am also doing long strength workouts and fun things like bike rides. For now I am happy to get in shape at the gym, but I am certainly looking forward to getting back on snow in July at Mt. Hood, Oregon.

A quadrennial is the four-year cycle defined by the winter games. Athletes and staff alike think in terms of quadrennials with the Olympic or Paralympic games as the ultimate goal. Personally, I prefer to think of my ski career one season at a time. To me, every race is an important race because it is an opportunity for me to test if my training is paying off. After the Games, everyone expects that many athletes will retire. However, as in 2010, not many athletes are retiring this year. Sport is addictive. The challenge to be faster, better, stronger always exists. Every athlete wants the opportunity to earn new titles or defend existing titles. Life as an athlete is a gift that I enjoy to its fullest. I am grateful to the CAS Group for giving me the gift of allowing me to purse my ski career by continuing as my head sponsor for another year.

This summer marks a new season and a new quadrennial. There is a clean slate in front of me. I am ready to start at the beginning and do everything in my power to become the best skier I can be.

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Дo cвидания Coчи (Goodbye Sochi) - March 20, 2014

Some teammates and I with the Agitos (Paralympic Symbol) The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games were an incredible experience. The highs and lows of the past couple weeks were heightened by simple fact that they occurred at the Paralympics. The highs of winning medals contrasted with the lows of severe injuries. The snow conditions were also extreme with great tracks for some races and other races postponed. The incredible adventures and the devastating heartbreak made it an unforgettable journey.

My heart burst with joy each time a teammate or a friend from another country stepped on the podium. I am honoured to know so many amazing skiers and I am proud of their accomplishments. Every single medal was earned with years of hard work and dedication.

On the other hand, my heart broke when I saw terrible crashes. Five of my teammates were airlifted from the alpine venue by helicopter. It is very difficult to be stuck in the stands wondering how a teammate is doing once the camera moves away from the fallen athlete and the screen shows another sport as the helicopter approaches. Luckily everyone will be okay. It is unfortunate that so many athletes lost opportunities to race at the Paralympics due to injuries. I am grateful that my biggest injury is a colourful bruise caused by slipping on a wet floor after closing ceremonies.

Weather and snow conditions were constant concerns throughout the games. The final day of downhill training was cancelled due to poor track conditions. That morning also featured a torrential downpour. A member of the Australian team predicted that we would not be able to have any of our races. Thankfully, he was wrong. The rain stopped after an hour, and the downhill race proceeded the following day. During inspections we were not allowed to ski down the pitches in an effort to preserve the thinning snow. I've never before seen a situation where inspection involves skiing down a run next to the race run but I understand that it was necessary to ensure the races could be held. The race schedule was juggled after fog forced the SG run of the Super Combined race to be cancelled. Both men and women faced very tough slalom conditions including poor visibility and a rugged track. The GS track was modified to take advantage of the best possible snow conditions. The last minute alteration for GS worked out really well and was probably the best track despite being the last event of the games. Ironically, it dumped a foot of snow within hours of our departure from the mountains.

Emotions are heightened at the games. The athlete's village quickly felt like home. Part of me feels like I was there for ages and the other part feels like everything happened in the blink of an eye. The highs of winning medals were contrasted by the lows of injuries. The constant struggle with the weather and snow conditions was the backdrop for an emotional winter games experience.

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Welcome to Sochi Part Three: Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort - March 6, 2014

The view of the mountains from my balcony As a skier, the most important place at the Paralympics, is the alpine venue. The mountains are absolutely spectacular. Since the ski resort was essentially built for the winter games, it is designed to suit competition needs.

The gondolas and 6-pack chairs contribute to the sizable uphill lift capacity. To get from the race finish area at the bottom of the mountain to the very top you can either take four chairlifts, or one chairlift followed by a gondola with a mid-station. None of the races start at the peak, so we do not need to go all the way to the top when racing. However, going to the top is worthwhile just to see the incredible view. There is a plenty of challenging and steep terrain at the resort which makes is ideal for seasoned skiers.

There are numerous tunnels in the resort. They allow people to easily access all parts of the mountain. During a race when certain runs are fenced off from the public, people can ski through a tunnel to get to the other side of the race without disturbing the race.

Unfortunately the weather is very warm and rainy it is a struggle to keep snow on the mountain. Hopefully everything works out. There is plenty of manpower, salt, and grooming equipment. With a little cooperation from mother nature Rosa Khutor will be a great alpine venue.

The resort is huge and some areas don't have enough snow right now. I've only skied some sections of the mountain and I wish I had a chance to explore a bit more. But I probably won't have the opportunity to be a tourist because I am racing on the final day of the Paralympics and I am focusing on my races. Although my building in the athlete's village will essentially be ski-in/ski-out accommodations next season, I must take a shuttle bus to the other side of the resort where the wax cabins and my skis are located. Many of the staff are taking a gondola which loads by the athlete's village to ski over to the alpine venue and avoid riding the shuttles.

Rosa Khutor Resort is designed to be a world-class resort that can accommodate both competition and tourists. Russia has poured money into building and hosting the winter games and I hope that the region can attract tourists after the games are complete.

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Welcome to Sochi Part Two: Village - March 5, 2014

Photo of the World Plaza in the Athlete's Village The athlete's village is where I spend the majority of my time. It is where we sleep, eat, workout, and spend our leisure time. It is a complete village with everything we need. The Olympic village was much larger and a number of buildings are empty for the Paralympics.

Our lodging is somewhere in between a dorm room and a hotel. My room has two single beds and a bathroom. The white walls and grey floors, and thin walls remind me of dorms. We have everything we need as well as a balcony. The cafeteria and laundry room are downstairs.

I spend plenty of time in the cafeteria and the food is pretty decent. There is a lot of variety in the food and plenty of international influence. There are food stations for Russian cuisine, Asian, Pizza/Pasta, Grill, Vegetarian etc. I like to peruse all the stations and eat whatever looks best. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are severely restricted in Russia. I really like knowing that all the fruits and vegetables here are not genetically modified. The kiwis are incredible, not only are they delicious, but they are huge.

The athletes village is designed to become a resort village next year. The buildings have main floors that are set up for shops and restaurants with lodging above. All the amenities for the games are located in the lower levels of the buildings. For example, my building has the cafeteria, other buildings have a gym, medical clinic, athlete lounges, bank, post office, salon, stores etc. The buildings are connected by pedestrian pathways and a road that snakes through the hilly village. In addition to the windy roads above ground, there is a tunnel that goes underneath the whole athletes village. The unique roads will used to host a Formula One race after the games.

Everything is incredibly clean. They sweep the dirt off the streets and mop the floors constantly. In fact, today was the first time I'd ever seen someone mop a carpet. I have a visually impaired teammate with a guide dog. The dog had to do her business very badly and pooped in the lobby without my teammate noticing. The staff cleaned the mess before my teammate had a chance to do it herself. As a bit of a germaphobe, I am thrilled that the village is clean.

The athlete's village is a great place to stay. The lodging, food and cleanliness contribute to the village atmosphere which will lend itself to a future tourist destination.

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Welcome to Sochi Part One: General - March 4, 2014

Photo of me and my accreditation I am very excited to be in Russia and settled in the athletes village in the mountain cluster. The games organizers and volunteers are doing a great job. The village and the mountain venue are (almost) ready for the games to begin.

There are a ton of volunteers that make the games possible. They are just as excited to be here as the athletes. They are doing a lot of hard work loading and unloading our copious amounts of gear, driving shuttle buses, and helping out wherever possible.

Like any Olympic or Paralympic Games, security is crucial. Everyone wears their accreditation all the time. It is required to get in or out of the athlete village and the sports venues. It is also required to enter the cafeteria and other important areas. Each person's accreditation specifies their role (athlete, coach etc.) and which areas they have access to enter. I take shuttle buses regularly and they must scan the RFID chip in everyone's accreditation before leaving the accredited area and then tape all the doors and windows of the bus. When we arrive at the entrance to another accredited area, they make sure that the tape has not been broken (ie. nothing has entered or left the bus), check the outside and underside of the vehicle, and scan our accreditation again.

It was a bit of a relief to see that everything is in both Russian and English. Although I taught myself a handful of Russian words before I arrived, it is nice to be able to read signs and communicate easily. It must be tough for people that don't speak either Russian or English.

Everything was built from scratch in a relatively short amount of time so it is impressive how much was completed. Since Sochi won the bid for the winter games in 2007 they built the tourist, transport and power supply infrastructure in addition to the sport venues. Despite some glitches and oversights, many things were very well thought out during the planning and building stages. For example, the elevators in my building display the floor numbers wrong but the wifi network works great wherever I go.

So far I've had great experiences here in the mountains and I hope that will continue into my upcoming races.

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Go Time! - February 21, 2014

After a good chunk of time at home in Aspen, it is time to ramp up for the big show. I've enjoyed amazing training this past week with long and demanding courses. I hope my training and hard work pays off at the Paralympics.

I've skied the last seven days in a row and four of those days involved intense training. We were lucky to have full-length courses on challenging terrain. It was a battle just to make it through some of those courses which makes for great race preparation. Our training courses were much longer than race courses. After skiing a 60 gate GS course, a typical 40 gate GS course will feel short in comparison. By the end of those long course I was definitely struggling and pushed through the pain to ski the best I could. Somehow I managed to stay upright through the finish line and to the chairlift even though my leg was burning and wanted to collapse. Even Ted Ligety admits that his legs are tired by the end of a 60 gate GS course.

I have a couple days to rest and pack before heading to Europe. I will be in Tarvisio, Italy for the Super-Combined race at World Cup finals. Then we will head to Munich for a couple days where we will meet up with the entire US delegation for the Paralympics and go through team processing where we will get our uniforms. By the time I fly to Russia, I will only have to deal with a three hour time difference instead of the 11 hour time difference from Colorado to Sochi. Once we arrive in Rosa Khutor, I will have some time to train and fall into a routine before my first race. At the 2010 Paralympics, I found that time very helpful, so I am looking forward to it.

The next month is going to be very exciting! I will try to keep my blog up-to-date, so check back for the latest information.

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Powder and Speed Nationals - February 13, 2014

Photo of me racing downhill I just completed the Speed Nationals and Nor Am races here in Aspen. Before nationals we had some epic powder days.

Last Thursday and Friday training was cancelled because there was a ton of fresh snow. We skied the powder as a team which was a lot of fun. I skied all sorts of terrain, easy groomers covered in powder and gnarly moguls where I was simply trying to make it down the run. The snow on Friday was ridiculous. I've never skied powder that deep in my life. At times the snow came up past my waist. I'm not used to skiing in those conditions and it was challenging. Getting stuck on the flats was a very real problem. Luckily it didn't happen to me, but lots of people got stuck. At one point I was sitting on the chairlift and saw something in the snow that looked like someone had dropped something. When the thing in the snow moved, I realized that it was someone's head and the rest of the body was completely buried.

After a couple days of playing in the powder, I was ready to race nationals. Unfortunately the snow caused problems. Many people assume that all skiers love snow, but fresh powder can wreck havoc on training and racing. The first day of nationals was scheduled to include two downhill training runs. Unfortunately it was cancelled due to the poor visibility and unsafe track conditions caused by heavy snowfall on top of a week of fresh, soft snow. It reaffirmed the old adage that if you want fresh snow, schedule speed.

Speed refers to three of the alpine events: Super G, Super Combined (SC), and Downhill. The other two events; slalom (SL) and giant slalom (GS) are technical events. The races in Aspen included 5 races over 4 days. After the first day was cancelled, the schedule for the next day had to be readjusted. The second day we ran the downhill course three times in a row. The first run was a training run and the next two runs were race runs. It was definitely a unique experience to squeeze an event that normally stretches over three days into a single day.

The final two days were run as scheduled with super combined on the third day and Super G on the last day. It was the first time I'd ever attended a home race. I didn't have to pack any bags or move into a hotel room for the duration of the race. I stayed at home and walked to the mountain each morning. Staying at home removed some of the stresses of worrying about what to pack and allowed me to maintain normal meals and schedule.

Skiing deep powder and racing downhill seem like opposites, but I've done both in the past week. It was an exciting week and now I'm ready for a day off before I hit the slopes again.

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Mid Season Re-Group - January 22, 2014

Photo of teammates and I on the massive Panorama chair After three hectic weeks of racing, I am back in Aspen and ready to train hard. In the past few weeks I competed at three races (Winter Park Nor Am, Panorama World Cup and Copper World Cup). Almost every single day was either a race day or a travel day. It was exhausting and I didn't ski my best. I am looking forward to getting back into a regular training routine both on the hill and in the gym.

Through December I had almost no training. I only trained a handful of days. I spent many days free-skiing and enjoying groomers, moguls and powder days. However, I felt unprepared for the intense set of races in January. Due to all the races in January, I was unable to train in January either. My training was going well in November and early December and I am confident that with some effort and training days I can get my skiing back to where it was two month ago.

Through December and January my workout routines also fell off the waggon. December was tough because I didn't have any sort of schedule or routine and in January there were too many races. Usually the day before a race I like to spin on a bike, stretch and maybe do a little core work. It is a bad idea to do lifting before a race because I don't want soreness from a gym workout to hinder me on race day. Since I haven't done very many intense workouts lately, I feel out of shape. It seems like all my hard work over the summer is fading away. I know that with a few weeks of dedication I can regain what I've lost.

I have a lot of work cut out for me in the coming month or so. I am excited for the challenge and I am ready to work hard. I got stuck in a rut, but I'm not going to stay there. I am looking forward, I am not looking back. I am completely dedicated to the task at hand and I intend to fulfil my high expectations of myself.

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