MWC Report -- David Evans

Here is a picture of Seefeld, home of this year's World Masters competition!

Just kidding; this photo from the MWC2023 website is but a dream.  The reality was, as we know now, a slushfest, with skimpy wet snow and bare patches and even crocuses blooming, for crying out loud.  Never mind, there was racing to be done and David Evans gave it his all.  Here is his report:

Musings on the past week’s Masters World Cup


Seefeld, Austria, site of the recent Masters World Cup for cross-country skiing, attended by a number of Kongsberger faithfuls, holds a special place in the Evans Family heart. For it was to dear Seefeld, a few higher train stops than nearby Innsbruck, that the Evans family kept returning for amazing ski vacations each of the five years we taught overseas, 2009 - 2014.  Indeed, our cozy apartment each of those winters proved our Kongsberger Cabin for a half decade, our away from home.  Seefeld is where our boys became bona-fide skiers, giving the place a special glow in our hearts. 

So when word got out that Seefeld was the chosen as the site for the 2023 MWC, the siren songs began playing in my head and before long I was WhatsApping with our friend Remo, tickets were being booked, and I was staring at the very real possibility of leaving my Hamilton math students for an unprecedented six consecutive school days – at once unthinkable and unavoidable!  Alas, the allure of Seefeld, twice location for the Nordic events when Austria has hosted the Winter Olympics and many more times the site of World Cup and other top-drawer international ski events, was too much to resist, and in time I was begging my principal for time away, packing my Fischer ski bag to the gills, and preparing to return to our family’s snowy Shangri La. 

Of course, a lot has changed in this world of ours in the intervening 10 – 15 years, perhaps underscored most notably by the weather at the myriad lower Alpine ski areas sprinkled throughout Austria, and 1200m Seefeld cannot be confused with its higher Alpine brethren like St. Anton or Zermatt.  The December/January wintry wonderland of memory was soon confronted with the late March barrenness of 2023 and a heart-sinking 17 degrees C on the car thermometer as Remo picked me up at the Munich Airport and transported tired but excited me to his home town, the race venue. 

My first thought when arriving on that balmy Saturday, March 18, was that there was no way Seefeld could be actually hosting cross-country ski events.  A few folks were gamely walking around town sporting Nordic equipment, but the climes screamed shorts and T-shirt, sunglasses and SPF.  No matter, Remo assured dubious me that the races were happening, that all would be ready. 


What Remo didn’t explain, but which I gradually discovered, was that any actual, real snow had melted long ago, not long after the much-abbreviated late January/early February too-brief winter weather they had had, and that we would be skiing on a long, white ribbon of completely man-made snow, each night to be caressed and coaxed by mythic groomers and rendered anew for the next morning’s menu of skate and/or classic races.  After the first few days of molasses conditions and countless crashes and collisions on downhill stretches, forcing some skiers to emergency rooms in Innsbruck for X-Rays and slings, the technical crew took to seeding the snow with salt in order to create melt and then ice, in order to firm up the snow overnight for better skiing the next day.  It all worked.  Barely. It also provided a harbinger of what is and will be for many lower elevation ski areas… if they are to continue to be ski areas, that is, and not just in Austria but elsewhere.

900 skiers from 29 countries make for quite a party, particularly when many of those skiers are the best in their age, and not just in their region or country, but anywhere.  I knew I’d always been a runner/cyclist/triathlete masquerading as a cross-country skier, and there is probably no better place to underscore this loose affiliation than when mixing it up with the best skiers in the world - and on the very continent that distilled and gifted this incredible sport to the world. Over the years, perhaps nothing has said fast skiers better than the Alps, and host Seefeld was not going to misconstrue or disappoint. As an American endurance athlete who has spent a fair amount of time skiing and running, that fairly small 140 km corridor between Munich and Seefeld held extra special meaning.  In ’72 Frank Shorter won the gold medal in the Munich Summer Olympics, effectively kick-starting our country’s running boom and giving mid-‘70s runner me and my high school harrier buddies extra bounces in our strides as we blossomed into runners, while in ’76 Vermont native Bill Koch won a silver medal in the 30 km (it was only classic then!) in Seefeld, Nordic venue for host Austria’s Winter Olympics, laying the early seeds for a sport that would find me at Carleton College in Minnesota only a few years later, transferring my allegiances from running to skiing.  Not until 2018 when Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins brought home gold in the sprint relay did an American skier win another Olympic medal; Koch’s remains the only US Olympic cross country ski medal won by a male.

Little has changed. When you come to Austria to ski race, you can still expect competition, and each age group seemed to be loaded with amazing skiers.  After my first race on Sunday, a sloppy 7k skate, and in an attempt to account for my obvious struggles, an American teammate gently reminded that if only a single better skier from each country beat me in an M7 race, I’d be already vying for at best 30th place.  What he didn’t say, but which I now only too well knew, was that just among the American squad in M7 there were four guys I couldn’t beat, including Kent Murdoch, formerly of Kongsberger fame.


The next day, Monday, proved the week’s nadir.  Not yet quite over jet lag, and the alluded-to chemical wizardry not having begun to improve conditions, I fell four times, twice into folks who’d fallen in front of me, the highlight being a garage sale crash during which I tried to jump over a fallen skier in my path, instead tattooing his jacket with parallel klister tracks while landing me, awkwardly cart-wheeled, into the slop and mess of the bottom of the hill, in full view of J.D. Downing, the US coach. 

Unsurprisingly, that was also the day the DNS (did not start) and DNF (did not finish) initials began creeping into the bottom of lists of racers in each age division.

In truth, the best skiers win pretty much in every condition, and particularly the tough ones. Seefeld proved no exception as the best skiers repeatedly mounted the podium each night to receive their medals, listen to a bit of their country’s national anthem, lean left and right to shake the hand of their podium pals, and soak up the sound of the richly deserved applause from their proud Nordic skiing peers. 

Much like at the highest level, where US women are commanding more of the Nordic skiing world’s center stage, so too at Seefeld, where the American women showed the world that age is no factor in success. For just one example, on Thursday evening, I took notes during the awards ceremony, and here is what the record shows for the US that day in the week’s longest skate event.  The US men boasted Barry Makarewicz (silver, M7) and legendary Bob Gray (silver, M11).  Meanwhile, the US women slam-dunked with Natalie Dawson and Lindsey Bengston (gold and silver, F3), Alison Arians (gold, F5), Jan Guenther and Allison Kelly (gold and silver, F7), Muffy Ritz (bronze, F8), Carolyn Tiernan and Peggy Willberger (gold and silver, F9), and Trina Hosmer (gold, F10).  And that was just one evening! 


All week the order of events flip-flopped by gender, with women going first one day and guys going next, and then vice versa.  For many of us guys, this allowed for wonderful opportunities to cheer on the women, which we did with abandon at every occasion with loud “HIYA, HIYA, HIYA!,” and I no more loudly than when our very own Suzanne Corkran proved on the week’s world stage that she is an age-grouper to be contended with, skiing with characteristic Kongsberger strength and style in her KSC race suit, and winning multiple medals in the process.

By Friday, after our limit of three races (since, wisely, I was not chosen for the M7 relay!), it was on to Remo’s school about 40 km from Seefeld, where he teaches English to high school students gearing up to be Kindergarten teachers, and where, apparently, many had never been in the presence of a bona fide native English speaker. So instead of nervously lining up at a start among the titans of our sport, I was holding forth during a Q&A about American high schools and their alleged musicals, Seattle neighborhoods, my own amazing students, American food, the latest popular music, American health care, our gun culture, and how is it I could be best friends with Remo, staying repeatedly in Austria, and having even taught for a year in Stuttgart, but not be able to speak any meaningful German!

The magic that is the 2023 MWC Seefeld is now past and in a few hours I will be with my students again. The flight back allowed for a reflection on the tremendous privilege it is to be able to race against the best, and to do so in Austria, a country that gets skiing as well maybe any and, last week at least, was able to pull off a miracle of sorts as it brought together a fit, grizzled tribe that repeatedly cheered each other on in one amazing performance after another.  And, naturally, Jeff Clark texts just now, Monday morning, that it’s snowing hard in Salzburg!