Melanie Schwartz

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2015 Blog

Panorama Race – December 13, 2015

Photo of the Slalom podium in Panorama with Fred from Canada, Ursula from Spain and myself I attended my first race series of the Northern Hemisphere season at Panorama Mountain Resort in British Columbia. It was a great race series and a good start to the race season.

The conditions at Panorama were pretty good. We had surprisingly good snow conditions given that our race run opened for the season just in time for our races. Usually when a new run is opened, it is a little rough (the surface is often composed of ice balls known as death cookies) for the first few days until it gets skied out a bit. So I was a little nervous to find out that our first day of racing was going to be the first skiing on that run. I was pleased to find that the surface was great and there were few death cookies. Visibility was an issue for some of the races. I was lucky because the fog affected the men's field more than the women's.

I enjoyed some races with times very close to my competitors. I love being head-to-head with other racers and knowing that mere fractions of a second can make a difference. It is always exciting to go into the second run with only tenths or hundredths of a second are separating me from other women.

I had fun in Panorama and collected one gold and four silver medals. I also had the opportunity to see some people that I haven't seen since last season. It is always nice to catch up with old friends. Overall, Panorama was a great race and a great way to kick off the northern hemisphere race season.

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Training on Home Turf – November 16, 2015

Photo of me skiing GS in Vail It is starting to feel like winter in Colorado. Snow has been falling all day and will probably continue through tomorrow. In addition to the natural snow, the ski resorts are blowing as much man-made snow as possible to get ready for opening days, and the influx of visitors expected during the holidays. Before the storm started, I skied at both Vail and Aspen Highlands. Both mountains had impressive snow conditions. The natural snow will only serve to improve the pre-established solid base.

Today was a rare gem because I had the opportunity to make some fresh tracks and I also had a great day of training with the national team. There was not a huge dump of powder, but it was enough to be fun on a race ski. I am grateful to the team staff for their hard work creating a fantastic track despite less than ideal conditions. They worked hard to slip the extra snow off the course and added blue dye to the snow to combat the flat light which otherwise would have hindered visibility. In addition to their work on the hill, the staff battled traffic for an hour and a half to make it to Highlands and the techs prepared all of our skis.

Yesterday was my first day skiing on my home mountain. It was wonderful to ski without traveling or commuting. The previous couple days required commuting to Vail. Going to Vail was a good decision because we had good training there. But they were long days due to all the driving. We left at 8am so that we could get on the chairlift at 11:15am. Due to the popularity of Vail at this time of year, we had to be off the hill by 2pm. The amount of time driving far exceeded the amount of time on snow. Training at home means getting more time on snow in addition to a significantly shorter commute.

I am excited to continue training at my home mountain because it means that the season has definitely started. The great snow conditions, the easy commute and the terrain make it a great venue.

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First Powder Day of the Season – October 15, 2015

Photo of Hintertux covered in snow Not many people get the opportunity to ski fresh powder in the middle of October. I am currently at a training camp in Austria. We are skiing the Hintertux glacier.

Our first two days on the glacier featured ideal conditions for getting back on snow. We had decent visibility and a consistent snow surface which we used to free ski and do drills. We even managed to find some perfect corduroy in the late morning. Rather than going up the gondola at the same time as 3000 other people, we slept in a bit and went up to the top of the mountain a little bit later so we did not need to deal with the morning craziness.

Our third day was a day off, due to the conditions. It had snowed overnight, the snow continued to fall, and the visibility was poor. It was nice to relax after two exhausting days. I felt like I needed that day to get past jet lag.

Today, was our fourth day here. Although the conditions today were similar to yesterday, we went skiing. The visibility was poor. After two days of snowfall, there was a decent amount of powder off the groomed trails. I am glad that I brought a powder ski with me! I love my Volkl Kendo because it is great in powder up to about a foot deep and it also carves great turns on the corduroy. I skied with a couple coaches and teammates and we found some great stashes of untouched powder. Many teams were put off by the visibility and snow accumulation, so the mountain was relatively quiet. It was a fun break from training. Although I was exhausted after skiing the powder, it was worth it!

According to the forecast, we will probably have some more powder days while we are here. I hope we also get a chance to train while we are here. No matter what kind of skiing happens, I cannot complain about skiing on a glacier in October!

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A Taste of Winter in The Summer – September 2, 2015

Photo of Me surfing in San Diego I don't know what season it is anymore. I was enjoying summer in Colorado before going to San Diego where the heat emphasized that it was really summer. Then I went to New Zealand with the team, where we found ourselves skiing in frigid winter weather. Now I am back in Colorado where it feels like summer but people keep talking about autumn things like the start of the school year and pumpkin spice lattes. In addition to feeling like I don't know the season, I am also jet lagged my body doesn't agree with the clock on the time of day. I am wide awake in the middle of the nights and exhausted when my alarm chimes each morning. My jet lag and seasonal confusion is for good reason, I just returned from an amazing team camp.

We started our camp with four days in San Diego. It was a great opportunity to have fun with teammates off snow. We participated in summer activities that we normally wouldn't do together. We went paddle-boarding/kayaking, did a ropes course, and went surfing. It was my first time surfing. I am still a complete beginner with plenty to learn, but it was great to try something new! I hope that someday I can go surfing again. After our fun vacation in San Diego, we went to the airport and began our journey to New Zealand.

It was fantastic to get back on snow in New Zealand. It took me a while to get my skiing leg back. By the end of the training camp I felt like I was back on track. We were lucky to have great weather and conditions with the exception of one day where the chairlifts stopped running do to high winds and a couple days with poor visibility. Both GS race days started out clear and sunny until the race was scheduled to start when clouds rolled in and enveloped the slopes. As soon as the races finished, the clouds lifted and the sun returned. I skied five days at each of Cardrona and Coronet Peak with an emphasis on training, despite having four races. New Zealand is still the beautiful country with friendly people and nice slopes that I remember from my first visit two years ago.

I might be unsure of the current season and time of day, but I am certain that I enjoyed unforgettable experiences in both San Diego and New Zealand.

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Summer Skiing in Mt Hood – July 10, 2015

Photo of Mt Hood and the Palmer Snowfield Did you know that it is possible to ski in the Northern Hemisphere all year round? Timberline is the only ski area that offers lift-accessed skiing and snowboarding throughout the summer. Timberline is located on the south side of Mt Hood in Oregon and home to the Palmer Snowfield. Salt is used to maintain the surface in the summer heat. Just a week ago I was enjoying a summer training camp at Timberline and I already miss being on snow.

Mt Hood is the tallest mountain in Oregon and is the namesake of the Mount Hood National Forest. It is a volcanic mountain located 80km south east of Portland. In addition to Timberline and the Palmer snowfield, five other ski areas and 11 glaciers reside on the mountain. In the winter, the six ski areas boast an impressive 4600 acres of skiable terrain. The Palmer Snowfield is the only terrain open throughout the summer and is accessed by the Palmer chairlift. Timberline skiers utilize the lower parts of the mountain during the winter. The Palmer Chairlift does not operate in the winter due to extreme snow, wind and ice.

The Palmer Snowfield is sometimes called the Palmer Glacier. A snowfield is a large amount of snow that lasts all year. It melts and shrinks in the summer and grows when snow falls in the winter. Glaciers are large masses of ice that move slowly and usually have crevasses. A crevasse is a deep crack in the ice caused by the variations in the movement of one part of the glacier compared to another section. A snowfield does not move and thus does not have crevasses. The towers of the Palmer Chairlift are securely dug into the rocky ground. Most glacier skiing is only accessible by surface lifts such as T-bars due to the movement of the glacier and and lack of something solid in which to build lift towers.

The use of salt on the Palmer snowfield to maintain the surface might seem counter-intuitive to anyone who knows that salt lowers the freezing point of water and causes snow to melt. The salt works by melting a thin top layer of snow which then freezes in a smoother surface. This process can be compared to a Zamboni covering an ice rink with a thin layer of water which freezes into a glassy smooth surface. During the summer months, salt is used daily on the Palmer snowfield. During our recent training camp we began free-skiing at 7am and our lane received its first salting at 8am. After the 8am salt was given a chance to set-up, we began training in our lane. We took a break at 10am each day for the second salting and finished skiing at 11:30 or noon. By the end of the morning the snow in the public lanes – which do not get salted multiple times each day – was heavy and slushy due to temperatures in the 90s Fahrenheit or 30s Celsius. The salt levels are monitored to ensure that salt content in the rivers and lakes that are part of the snowfield's drainage system are safe for wildlife and drinking water.

My fourth summer training camp on the Palmer Snowfield was as useful and fun as my previous training camps at Mt Hood. The snowfield itself, and the extensive use of salt make it possible to have world-class summer training right here in North America.

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Building a Base – June 18, 2015

Photo of me doing a pull up at the Strength and Conditioning Cener at the OTC For many people summer means camping, barbeques, and swimming. Snowy mountains are the last thing on their minds. Unlike most people, I'm focused on getting in shape for skiing. I still find time to enjoy regular summer activities. I went camping, and enjoyed a carnival. I also like to go on bike rides and play games with friends. These fun activities are a great way to relax and keep life interesting. While I enjoy all the usual summer activities, I am also preparing for the next ski season.

This is the time of year to build a good general fitness base. Once a basic level of fitness is established, I will move into building strength in late summer and power in the autumn. I also want to be in shape to make the most of pre-season training camps. My first races of the season are only two months away in New Zealand. Although I do not plan to reach my peak level of fitness in August, I don't want my physical fitness to prevent me from having success at early season races.

Unlike last summer, I started a regimented program in May and I've been making slow but steady gains for the past six weeks. Last summer I did not have a program or a trainer until late June. I have a decent knowledge of gym workouts and was able to implement my own personal program. However, I am grateful to be working with a professional for the whole summer of 2015. It is beneficial to have a trainer that works with me daily, and customizes my program to my needs. He has some cool ideas and I'm trying out new exercises to find what works best for me. Together we've tweaked my program to challenge me. I was in good shape last season, and I'm on track to be in even better shape next season.

In addition to my work in the gym, good health contributes to my ability to succeed in ski racing. The Sports Medicine department takes great care of all the athletes. Luckily my annual physical and blood-work showed that I'm healthy. Nutrition is very important. I am lucky to have healthy and tasty food available every day at the Olympic Training Center's cafeteria. I eat a balanced diet with lots of vegetables, fruit, lean protein, and grains. Some of my favorite foods include Phad Thai, guacamole, sweet potatoes, spinach, eggs, carrots, and every type of fruit available.

Building a base of fitness involves more than just working hard at the gym. The support of my trainer, Sports Medicine, the cafeteria food fuelling my body, and having fun things to do in my spare time all contribute to the base I am building.

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Making the Switch to Summer Mode – May 19, 2015

Photo of the Tats and I dressed on a boat in Mammoth Once again it is the time of year when I switch from winter mode to summer mode. I spent about a month in transition and now I am two weeks into full-blown summer training.

Transition month involved plenty of skiing, both at home in Aspen, and a little trip to Mammoth Mountain in California. I was skiing for the fun of skiing and not worrying about gates or training. It was a blast and the only thing that would have made it better was if Aspen had stayed open a week longer. I enjoyed some summer activities in Aspen like hiking, cycling, and rafting. I also had plenty of time to relax, pack, and move to my summer home in Colorado Springs.

My home base for the summer is the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs. This is my third summer at the OTC and it was great to be reunited with my Colorado Springs friends. I quickly fell into my summer routine which is totally different than my winter one. I felt very unfit when I arrived here. I am hitting the gym and the bike trails and slowly getting back into shape. I think I am right on track for where I need to be for the 2015-2016 season.

As I make the switch from winter to summer, it is interesting to talk to athletes from other sports at the OTC. There are plenty of sports in which the athletes don't have an on-season and an off-season as I do. Many of them live at the OTC year round and also compete year round. It seems that a lot of athletes go through the same daily grind for months and years on end without a chance to move, or mix things up. I fear that these athletes are more prone to feeling burnt out. As much as I miss skiing during the summer, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to change my routine and prevent burn out or boredom. Although it can be a hassle to move every six months, it is nice to have breaks from both training on snow and intense gym workouts. Being forced to take time away from skiing makes me appreciate the snow even more when it is winter.

I miss winter and I am excited for the upcoming summer at the same time. I have just entered summer mode and I have plenty of work to do before I am ready to head back into winter mode.

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May the Schwartz Ski with You – April 15, 2015

Photo of the CAS Group and I dressed in our Star Wars costumes Every April the US Adaptive ski team ends the season with a bang. We spend a long weekend at Vail for an annual fundraiser known as SkiTAM. It is a fun event for everyone. It is a busy weekend with events (both on and off the hill) scheduled throughout each day.

Each athlete is matched with a corporate team for a dual GS race. I am incredibly lucky because I get to ski with the CAS (Convergence Acceleration Solutions) Group each year. The CAS team doesn't worry too much about being the fastest, our goal is winning the best dressed award. I had no idea what I was getting into my first year of SkiTAM and arrived on race day to discover that my team was dressed up in their 1920's gear. For my second year, I dressed up as a superhero alongside my CAS Group teammates. This year was my third time attending SkiTAM and we dressed up as Star Wars characters. As always, we won the best dressed award. Unfortunately, Hans Solo broke his collarbone the day before the race. Darth Maul stepped up and filled in for Hans Solo at the last minute. Although Princess Leah and Darth Maul were unable to race (due to their lack of helmets) it was a great showing and we had fun.

We had a session in self-branding at a team camp almost a year ago. One of our tasks in that session was to create a motto for ourselves. I came up with “May the Schwartz ski with you”. This motto is a reference to “May the Schwartz be with you” from Spaceballs which, in turn, is a reference to “May the force be with you” from Star Wars. This years' Star Wars theme gave me the perfect opportunity to use my motto.

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One Crazy Week – March 30, 2015

Photo of me in Revelstoke, BC 14 Race Runs
7 Races
4 Slalom Races
3 Giant Slalom Races
4 Colours of Gates (Red, Blue, Orange, and Green)
4 Travel Days
1 Flight
18 Hours of Driving
2 Countries
4 Roommates
3 Beds in 3 Different Locations
3 Bronze Medals
2 Silver Medals
1 National Slalom Champion Title
1 Crazy Week

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Stoked on Revelstoke – March 15, 2015

Photo of me in Revelstoke, BC
I just returned home from the first ever national team trip designed purely for free-skiing. We spent two days skiing at Revelstoke without any intentions of training or racing. It was great to spend time simply skiing with teammates. I had never skied at Revelstoke before and it is always fun to check out a new mountain.

There is a ton of terrain at Revelstoke and not very many people skiing it. While many skiers were sticking to the groomed terrain, my teammates and I explored the open bowls and the glades. Revelstoke has the most vertical in North America at 5,620feet and I only skied the top because the snow conditions at the bottom were pretty dismal. In the words of a ski patroller “I don't recommend skiing below the Stoke chair because there are patches of mud the size of a football field that are only marked by a piece of bamboo”. The mountain was lacking the copious amounts of powder that make it a desirable destination. Despite the lack of snow, I managed to find some stashes of nice soft snow to ski.

I had a blast in Revelstoke and appreciate the opportunity to discover a new mountain with my teammates in a relaxed setting. It was a chance to remember why we starting skiing and why we love the sport.

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World Championships Begins – March 3 2015

Photo of the whole team at World Champs People often forget about amateur sports in years when there aren't any Olympic or Paralympic games. However, there are multiple World Cup and continental cup races each year. Once every couple years there is a special event known as World Championships. Although I've competed in two Paralympic games, my first World Champs experience is just beginning.

Tomorrow will be the first race. We have already run two downhill training runs and I am ready for the races to begin. I am excited that I will be competing in all five events over the next week.

Despite being my first World Championship races, everything feels familiar. It is quite similar to a World Cup race although there are a few more athletes competing. We are at Panorama in BC, Canada. It feels like home because we are still in North America where the food, language, and culture are “normal” and we don't need to worry about jet lag. In addition, I've trained and raced here numerous times so I know the lay of the land and I've spoken to some of the locals that I recognize.

This is the most important race on the IPC alpine circuit aside from the Paralympics and it is right here on North American soil. I plan to take advantage of my familiarity with Panorama to have a successful first World Championships!

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European Adventures – January 25, 2015

Photo of me in Tignes, France January has been, and continues to be, a busy month of traveling and racing. At the beginning of the season I decided that I wanted to stay in North America for my training and racing. But, my plans have changed and I find myself in Europe for the second time this month.

A number of athletes retired after the 2014 Paralympics and other athletes are either taking the year off completely, or only skiing part-time this season. Since there are always fewer women than men, many of the North American races have small women's fields. So, instead of sticking to my original plan of only attending races in North America, I find myself on the World Cup tour.

I competed in the first set of World Cup races in La Molina, Spain at the beginning of January. There were two Giant Slalom and two Slalom races scheduled. However, due to a lack of snow, the races were changed to four slaloms. It was a whirlwind of a trip. In one week, we traveled to Spain, had a day to familiarize ourselves with the mountain, four race days, one night in Barcelona and flew home.

I was at home in Aspen for only ten days before leaving again. In that time I had eight great days of Super-G training. It was my first opportunity to train Super-G this season and get comfortable on my new skis before my first Super-G race. I also watched the mono-skier X event at the X-games. Five of the eight semi-finalists were my former or current teammates which made it very exciting to watch. One of my current teammates, Chris Devlin-Young, won the event. The X-Games are just finishing up now and by the time I return home, all traces of the event will have vanished.

I am currently in France for a set of speed World Cup races in Tignes. It is absolutely beautiful here. Everything is above treeline and the resort is huge. The Tignes and Val D'Isere ski resorts are connected and I hope to explore both while I am here. The race venue is conveniently located across the street from our hotel. The athletes and staff from every country are staying in the same hotel which makes an interesting dynamic. It is rare to attend a race at which a single hotel can handle everyone. Usually, there are a number of hotels each hosting a handful of teams. I am looking forward to racing Super-G in a couple days.

When we leave France, we will head to Switzerland. The final set of World Cup races for the 2015 season will be held at St. Moritz. It will conclude a very adventurous month of my first visits to each of the three European ski resorts; La Molina, Tignes, and St. Moritz.

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