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Blog 7- Can We Get To The Top Before It Closes?

Wednesday it is Meg’s turn to head to the track with me for the skeleton training session (we hoped).   It is a glorious morning and Meg and I make it to the track for just after 8.  Sun is coming up over the mountain and every thing is frosty.  The coaches keep talking about this snow that we are supposed to get but right now it is just beautiful. This is Meg’s first training day at the track so I cannot wait to show her the spot for pictures and hope to catch a few more.   I plan on being down there all day with bobsled training in the afternoon.

The buzz around the track is that training is hanging in the balance.  Coaches and athletes alike are antsy and no decision is being made.  With one day canceled and race on Friday, one more training canceled is not good for the athletes.  Meg and I let Tuffy know that we are headed down the track a ways to check things out.   As we keep walking down the track, it is a steep descent down.  The camera crews are there starting to set up the cables for the TV camera’s.   We walk past two of the Luge Start houses and make it  to curve 10 of 19.   It is a stunning view.   As Meg walks out I just have this picture in my brain that was amazing!   Thankfully I was able to capture that picture and not just in my brain!  It was just too cool to see her looking out at the mountains and overlooking the rest of the track to not get a few neat pictures!   The one thing missing though was the skeleton athletes coming down the track…a decision should have been made by now, canceled?…     Meg and I depart the curve and start to head up the track path to the top.   Remember how steep it was, yup back up we go. This is what I needed when I was training to walk the Project Athena Rim to Rim to Rim Grand Canyon adventure.   Great incline and the snow gear provided some great resistance!  As we make it to the top no one was in sight. Training canceled.  We hop in the car and head back to the hotel.
Rick had been working out of the spa and had a full morning.  He checked in on a couple of illness cases we had, treated a few of the team members and then we were back.   At lunch we found out that the bobsled training had also been canceled.  That never happens, but the track needed to be worked on so that skeleton could train and compete.   Since med staff planned on being at the track,we decided to take a few hours and head to the Bellecote Glacier at the top of the mountain.  Skeleton had been talking about, but there was no free time till now!    Nick Cunnigham said this is the first time in his career that a training has ever been canceled for bobsled.   Some athletes were using it for sprint training, other were going skiing and some were chilling back at the hotel.
The sun was shining, spirits were high and Rick even convinced Lenny to join us!  …Now, how do we get there?…   The language barrier is pretty good and we got some directions that we have to piece and part together.  All we know is that once we get  to the top the last gondola going down is at 3:15 and it is a 45 minute ride to get to the top (well, three different gondola rides).   Every thing is up from where we are at.  We take off and we get to a spot that we can either take the road around or cut through and go up a snowy hill.   I take the lead and we walked up the snowy hill of course!  We get up to a part of the Bella La Plagne village.   Now we have to get a tickets for the gondola. We strike out a few places as they did not do well with English and our French was  limited to magic words like please and thank you.   Meg and I decided to go into a shop and ask about it.  We run into Jimmy Reed’s big smile, Dustin Greenwood and Steve Holcomb’s eyes shining bright getting ski gear…if I only had more than 2 hours I would go skiing with these guys…  We find our way to the ticket booth and end up running into a big group of athletes who chose to take advantage of the off training day!   They are headed to the Glacier too!
These gondola’s seat 6 with ski’s on the outside of them. We wait in line to get in the first one get to the turn style to go through and I am the ridiculous tourist who cannot figure it out…way to look like you are a tourist…the line is getting bigger behind you…    The nice European couple(in their 70’s to make matters worse) who spoke wonderful English, and kids who are educated and work at Harvard,  were kind enough to show us that they are tech savvy and you just wave the card in front of this  stand and the light turns green and you get through. In my defense they still had the old style where you insert the card INTO the reader and then it spits it back out. I am going to throw Meg, Rick and Lenny under the bus too because they didn’t know either:)
Off we go up the first gondola on this beautiful sunny day!  You can see for miles and miles… are you seeing this?  are you taking it in? are you enjoying THIS moment?…   We keep going up and up and up! As we get to the top of the  1st  gondola the sun is still out and skiers are sunning themselves sitting in chairs and we are waiting in a big line to get to the next gondola and run into more  US athletes! We all look very sharp in our US Bobsled and Skeleton jackets!  Very proud to be part of this team right at this moment.  Next thing I know Coach Zach Lund  goes skiing by with a BIG smile!   He is from Utah and loves skiing…he is bigger than me but I think I could take him and get his skis…  Up the next gondola to the next gondola and then we finally get to the top.
This one goes straight down and up the other side. Look Close!
Me, Rick and Lenny
No sun up at the top. It is between a mist and snow and the wind is whipping pretty good.  We are literally in a cloud.  We walk up to what I think is the shack where we  pay our 5 Euros to go into the glacier.  Nope, it is the Ski patrol shack and they point up the hill. Because of the conditions, we cannot see the little shed where we pay the Euro.  We all make it up there ( air is a little thinner up there!) and then the glacier guy points to this hole in the side of the mountain.   I again happen to be the first one walking over to the hole in the side of the mountain…Why did I go first?  gulp… look brave and walk into the hole… phew, look at that toddler and her mom at the entrance of the glacier, bahahaa what were you so scared of…   As we walk inside, it is very comfortable temperature wise and nice to be out of the wind…we could all totally ride out a blizzard in here… It is just magnificent in there.  They have it lit and full ice sculptures at every turn!  Life size animals like rhino’s and polar bears and so much more. The picture’s of inside the glacier, make sure that you look at the size of the human next to the sculpture!
opening into the glacier   Polar Bear
Me and the Polar Bear                        Life size Rhino
Lenny and the Snake               Me and the Half Frog Half Shark
L to R Natalie, Carlo, Allen, Savannah,Karen, Meg, Rick, Nick
We spent  quite a bit of time inside and loved every minute.   As we left and walked down the hill again, Team USA decided to stop at the snack shack on top. Many of us hit the bathroom. No plumbing that high up so it is a cross between a port-a-jon  and a composting toilet.  I could not stand up and it was dark in there but I cannot image the guys who were much taller than me! Just thankful it was heated and not cold when the pants came down! Couldn’t tell you what it smells like as I held my nose the entire time.  As we make our way to the snack shack many had snacks and a beverage.  I decided to have one  with the guys.  All of us just relaxed and enjoyed each others company.  It was nice to get to know some of the athletes and find out about their backgrounds!  I spent a good deal of time talking with Nick Cunningham and Casey Wickline. I could never say enough good things about Nick! Such a great man. Knowing that Casey is a fire fighter, I enjoyed talking with him as that is the profession  my dad retired from and my brother still does part time.   I knew these athletes are more than just the sport they train for. This gave me the opportunity to get know them as people and enjoy their company…keep living and  loving this time!   keep laughing and being you!…
1664 Cold( frozen) Beer          L to R  Nick, Rick, Me, Codie, Casey,Carlo, Kyle B  CHEERS!
Front row kneeling: Meg, Lenny, Lauryn  Middle row L to R: Codie, Allen, Karen, Savannah, Nick, Natalie
Back Row L to R: Carlo, Ajla, Kyle, Rick, Casey
Me, Rick and Caleb Smith
Back down we go.   We got to see Coach Zach ski under us while we were riding down the gondola.   I had the pleasure to meet Caleb Smith and share a gondola.  He is  a very friendly fellow who was a US skeleton athlete that now works for the FIBT now IBSF (International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation) as the coach for small nations.  He gets to coach many nations who just have one or two athletes and cannot field a coach.  He had three of his athletes with him.  He is from the Lake Placid area and knows all the US athletes.  He is also in the wine distribution business (Sorry Caleb if I got that wrong, but wine business none the less).  He is someone that I could learn a lot from and look forward to seeing on tour next year.
 The sun comes back out as we get into lower elevation.  What a glorious day!   As we get back to Bella La Plagne it is the perfect opportunity to souvenir shop for the kids.   I am not the shopping type but manage to find some things made in France.
 As we were walking down to the hotel we could take the long way around on the road like I made everyone bypass on the way up or I saw an opportunity to slide down on my butt.  I took the opportunity to slide as did Meg…FUN TIMES!… Rick bought a few bottles of wine to take home so when it came to taking the road the long way around or sliding, he protected his investment and walk with Lenny.
What a day.
Now we had to head back and treat patients before dinner.   I was mentally rested and relaxed and ready to enjoy the athletes and use my God given brain to get them back in fighting form!  Side note: Steve Holcomb, who I find out at this point was a down hill ski racer before bobsled said that the slopes were icy. With my very beginner skills I am glad I went to the glacier!