For the past ten days I have been living and skiing out of Meribel, France... otherwise known as the three valleys... or the largest ski resort in the world. For two years now, I have made it a point to find a break in the middle of the season to take my mind away from the pressure and stress of racing to allow myself to relax. This year it worked out perfectly to go right before U23's, because this way I would get a short altitude block of training before the altitude racing at U23's. I also get the side effect of spending ten days with my boyfriend who is French, and spends the winters working as a ski instructor and coach out of Meribel.
Skiing in the sunshine (Greg Stafford photo)
kids biathlon race that was going on one day during my workout.

Last year I did a shorter block and didn't really get a chance to ski many trails, or get to know many people; but this year I got to know more of the trails, the bus systems, and some of the nordic instructors. Little did I know there were trails everywhere, going all the way to the next valley over!! Trying to live the most "vacation" mode I could, I would wait until later in the morning to go out for my skis so I could enjoy the sunshine as well as a bit warmer temperatures. I also took the time to do some  alpine skiing, seeing as I was living in the "alpine heaven". I actually made the decision that assuming you ski under control, and somewhat smart- nordics can learn a lot from some alpine skiing. We go down hills too- so why not become confident and comfortable with the idea!!??

One of the ski instructors I made friends with in Meribel
Sun chairs on the top of the mountain- BRILLIANT!!
As hard as it was to watch my teammates race on the TV over the weekend, and not be there with them- I have learned that a mid-season mental break is a necessity for me. Sometimes it's difficult to be in constant charge mode, with your head down, your muscles tight, and living the mental roller-coaster that accompanies it. So for ten days, I trained, enjoyed the sunshine, baked, met new people, did some schoolwork, spent time with my boyfriend, and learned some good old French talk.
The one humiliating thing about wearing a US Ski Team jacket on the hill is you don't always live up to what people would expect a "US Ski Team Alpiner would look like" :) "yep, im actually a nordy".
Valentines Day, Jo and I skinned to the top of the ski resort and watched the sun set- not too bad :)
A little toast
Watching some night events.
So much snow in Meribel!! This guy has some digging to get his car going!!
Yesterday morning, I set out early for my next adventure... TURKEY!! Starting at five in the morning, I headed down the hill in a snow storm for the train station. With Jo busy with work, I bought a train ticket and was prepared to head to the airport that way. Shortly after arriving, I realized that my pre-bought ticket was not being recognized with the system- so I started my day of travel on a train with no ticket, no french-speaking language skills, and not much of a plan. Luckily I met some nice alpine skier from the french side of Canada who helped me explain to the ticket man that I had in fact bought a ticket, it just wouldn't come out of the machine. From there on this awesome dude name "Gabriel from Canada" helped me maneuver through my three train changes with all my luggage and ski bag all the way to airport.

From there- the adventures started. As I was headed through the security line- just about to put my bags through, the entire airport lost power. After waiting for what seemed like forever, they managed to syphon the passengers through one "non-lit" security check zone- so luckily I made it to the other side. With all the monitors down though, I didn't know my gate number, so after going to the wrong terminal and then having to do a marathon race to the other side.. I made it to my plane just in time. As I loaded the plane and headed out, the pilot seemed to be on "french time", so running about an hour late. Part of my trip included going through customs in Istanbul, picking up my bags, rechecking them, and continuing on my journey. I knew all my connections were tight- so as we left Geneva way behind schedule, I knew I was going to be screwed for the day!! The minute the plane landed, I looked at my watch, realizing I had 40 minutes to: buy a Turkish Visa, get through passport control, round up my two bags, bring them to check in, go through security, and board my new flight. Turns out the Istanbul Airport is incredibly confusing, not many people speak english, and there is about a mile between the domestic part of the airport and the international. (the distance you carry you bags for re-check) To my luck, some incredibly friendly man from Pennsylvania, who does business in Turkey saw me franticly running and decided he was going to help me. He managed to guide me through the whole Visa process, help me round up my ski bag (which took forever to come out), ran with one of my ski bags across the airport, while I carried the other- and saw that I got to the plane.... with about 2 minutes to spare. At the last minute when I was re-checking in my bags and they were doing last minute call for my plane, I simply dropped my ski bag in the middle of the airport and ran for the security check. I figured there was no way I was going to get my bags anyways, but at least it had a tag on it, so it couldn't get too lost. (at least this is what I was trying to convince myself)

Leaving France
Entering Turkey
What a surprise, once again the plane sat on the run-way for an extra 45 minutes, the exact amount of layover I had on my next connection in Annarka. As we landed, and I knew I had 5 minutes to run to the next plane- I simply gave up. Having been on an adrenalin rush for about 4 hours now, I couldn't take it anymore. I noticed the Czech Team was on the plane with me, so at least I wouldn't be the only one missing my flight. To my surprise as I walked down the steps of the plane, one of the skiers waved me over to a van. I jumped in, and magically someone was personally delivering us to my next flight!! We jumped out of the van, walked the steps up to our new plane, and took off about five minutes later..... WHAT!!! During the flight I knew two things. I was going to make it to Erzurum today, and I was not going to get my bags!! NO WAY!

As I was sitting there, waiting for the two other Americans who were on the last connection flight I watched both my bags come out on the belt in disbelief!!! After all that chaos, and all those short connections, and all the hope I had lost with Turkish Airlines... somehow it had all worked out. All I could think was thank god for those random friendly people that decided to help me just out of pure kindness!! How incredible!! Also, thank god I didn't live that experience as a junior when I had no experience traveling. HOLY COW!!

So, I am now in Turkey- where I have seen very little. Arriving late didn't allow for us to see much around, and it has been windy, snowy, and storming since we arrived- so again I haven't seen much. What I can gather is; there is an alpine hill beside us, our hotel is very fancy, we are staying with the norwegians, there is a certain "lack of air", the courses seem fun, Turkish people drive with no rules and a strong use of the horn, I can't figure out a single word the turkish people are saying, it is a bit sketchy around here, we have a team full of new awesome juniors, and this trip is going to be one big adventure!!

Venue view- with not a whole lot going on :)
Fun fact of the day- Gus has enormous feet!!
With that, I am headed to dinner where they have been serving an impressive display of interesting mixtures of food. No bad... just interesting!!

More news soon when we get to see more!!

On another note, I got to watch the World Cup on TV today. Kikkan fell in the finals and still went on to finish 3rd, and Devon Kershaw pulled the most impressive finishing speed to win the race today!! Lots of screaming at the TV- sooo fun!!