Andrew Newell – Professional Cross Country Skier, US National Nordic Team, 2006 & 2010 US Olympian
Sponsors: US Ski Team, Salomon, SMS, Swix, Fischer, Bank of Bennington, Karhu, Rudy Project, Power Bar, New England Nordic Ski Association, T2 Foundation
Vermont native Andrew Newell brings a whole different light to the sport of Cross Country Skiing. He is one of a kind, pushing the limits of what can be done on XC Skis. He skateboards, surfs, mountain bikes and produces extreme XC Ski films; not what you would think of as a typical XC Skier. On the course, Andrew holds in his trophy case 3 World Cup podiums, 2-time US Olympian (2006, 2010) and is internationally recognized for his sprinting abilities. I recently got the opportunity to catch up with Andy while he was on the road and pick his brain a little on the present and future.
Q. What was your inspiration or driving factors that made you begin to think about X Ski Films and extreme XC Skiing?
A. Well I started X Ski Films over 10 years ago when I first started training with the US Ski Team. Then and now my goal was to show people in the US what XC ski racing was all about and to capture the excitement of skiing. It’s one of the most popular winter sports in the world but it’s not really seen in the mainstream media here in the states. It was always funny to fly to Europe where there are 70,000 people in attendance at races and skiers are considered celebrities, and then to come back to the US where most people think it’s just a sport that old people do in the woods. In addition to the ski racing I tried to capture the life of an XC skier, the fact that we’re out training is tough but we always have fun with it. All of the tricks and extreme skiing on XC skis was just kind of my personality coming out in the films. I always grew up trying to go as fast as I could on the down hills or as big as I could off jumps and to me that’s what XC skiing is all about. It’s about being able to concur the uphills, descents, corners, jumps, and all kinds of terrain in all types of conditions. Cross-country skiing was meant to be the ultimate outdoor adventure. X Ski films kind of found a niche at the time because although every race was televised live all around Europe, finding world cup ski racing in North America was tough. Nowadays all the fans of skiing can tune into all the races by streaming them online or watching them on Universal Sports but that wasn’t the case back then. So now X Ski Films is more or less out of production, aside from short videos online when I have time to post them, but the X Ski Films lifestyle always lives on!
Q. How do you envision the future of Cross Country Skiing and Team USA Nordic Skiing?
A. Right now is an exciting time to be part of XC skiing on the US team. We’ve gone from being one of the underdogs on the world cup circuit to one of the most successful teams in a fairly short period of time. In 2006 I reached the podium for the first time in a world cup sprint race, which at the time was the best result in over 25 years for the US. Since then our team size has tripled, we’ve won World Championship medals and we’ve established ourselves as a team that can accomplish anything. It’s cool to see how the momentum can build from year to year and how we’ve grown as a team while having tons of fun pushing each other. When I was a kid it was a huge goal to make the Olympics, but that was basically because we didn’t know what was possible. We didn’t have fast US skiers to look up to. Now young skiers in the US grow up motivated not only to go the Olympics but that it’s possible to win and be the best in the world. It’s been amazing to be part of that process.
Q. Could you provide the general public a glimpse of the training regime for an elite XC skier?
A. Being a world-class skier for sure takes a lot of endurance training, strength, and technical work. Just like most endurance sports like cycling or triathlon we log the majority of our training hours in the off-season, which is why skiing is such a full time job. In the summer months we are training twice a day working out for several hours a day on roller skis and a lot of running. Because we race such a variety of competitive distances, everything from sprints to marathons, we also need to constantly be working on intervals, building our Vo2max and speed training. So even during the summer we have to do intervals and hard training pretty often. We will typically get on snow several times throughout the summer in New Zealand or Europe but we are also lucky that we get to do a lot of cross training. We’re not stuck doing laps in a pool or spinning laps around a track we get to enjoy different modes of training like running in the mountains, biking, weightlifting, we keep exercise interesting. When you need to log between 800-900 hours of training in the year it’s important to keep it fun.
During the winter, all of our training is on skis but we also taper a lot and don’t put in too many hours. In a typical season I will race up to 40 times in 15 different countries, so with all the travel we focus on building our fitness through intervals and most of all racing.
Q. What type of technologies are you incorporating into your training and racing?
A. Technology is always pushing our sport not only in how we train but also in our equipment. Training theories are always evolving and we use a lot of technology to test our bodies and make sure the training we are doing is having a positive effect. At the US Ski Team training center in Utah we have treadmills that we can ski on and they measure how our lungs and heart are working at high intensity. Having a high Vo2max is really important in cross country skiing but also studying what kind of technique and movements to use at certain speeds. We also use machines to measure our blood volume and hemoglobin mass and are constantly keeping track of how many red blood cells we’re building throughout the training year. We also use very basic technologies like heart rate monitors and lactic acid testing on a daily basis to make sure we’re getting the most out of each workout.
The technology behind equipment is mind-blowing, so I wont even get into it. But a very cool side of XC skiing that most people don’t see is what goes into the race skis and the waxing of skis. Each country on the world cup has their own staff of anywhere from 5-15 wax technicians who’s job it is to test different types of skis and different types of wax for the bases. Because snow conditions can be different at every venue and constantly changing throughout the day wax techs are basically like scientists trying to find us the best combinations of wax and grinds (which is the structure that is pressed into the base of the skis). When I travel I usually have around 30 skis in my quiver at a given time. The days leading up to the races I work together with my wax tech to pick the skis with the best flex and base for the snow conditions and then they apply the race wax which has tested best before the race begins. It’s incredibly complicated so I’m glad I just have to focus on racing most of the time.
Q. How do you believe other sports you participate in like skateboarding, surfing, trail running and mountain biking contribute to your success on the snow?
A. I’ve always been drawn to sports like skateboarding and surfing because of how addicting and fun they are. That’s what I grew up doing and I still love skating. I think I enjoy sports like that because of how non-competitive they are and because of the style and flow you feel when riding a wave or a half pipe. Realistically though sports like skateboarding and mountain biking are great for skiing. Typically athletes who are drawn to endurance sports like running, road cycling, and cross country skiing lack athleticism. And people give me a ton of crap when I say that but it’s true. Endurance athletes are incredibly fit and strong but that doesn’t mean we have great ‘athleticism’; meaning agility, body awareness, speed, things like that. I think playing sports like soccer are great for building agility and of course sports like surfing and skating are great keeping up balance and learning to move your body in a specific way. Things like that haven’t necessarily helped my fitness over the years, but it’s improved my athleticism and has made me better at adapting my ski technique and learning how to move in an efficient way.
Q. Do you believe there are any other sports as physically demanding in regards to stamina as cross-country skiing?
A. There are a lot of tough sports out there for sure, and there are a lot of sports out there where athletes cross the finish line in complete exhaustion just like in ski racing. I think XC skiing is special because it is a unique combination of power and efficiency. We have races that last anywhere from over 2 hours, to as short as 3 minutes, so developing endurance and speed is important to being successful. Skiing is also a full body exercise which requires the use of literally every muscle in the body so the feeling you get after a hard race is pretty amazing.
Q. If you could only grab a couple items from the pantry before race day, what would they be?
A. On race day I keep it pretty basic with things like oatmeal, bananas, peanut butter things like that are what I like to eat before a race. When you travel for competitions as much as we do it’s definitely hard to be too picky about what you eat. I’ve adopted some pretty strange Euro eating habits like salmon fish paste on bread for breakfast or Norwegian brown cheese to list some of my favorites.
Q. What’s on the agenda in the coming years for Andrew Newell?
A. The big focus is on the Olympics in Feb. 2014 in Sochi Russia. To win an Olympic medal would be a dream come true for me and the whole XC skiing community in the US, so that is always a driving goal. It’s funny how a lot of sports truly revolve around the Olympics, I think a lot of athletes can get to caught up in the 4 year cycle of the Olympics and have too much of a one track mind. To me XC skiing is a lifestyle and that just doesn’t come around once every 4 years. We have an incredible world cup tour and we race as hard as we can each weekend on behalf of the USA. So yes the Olympics are very important, but I there is a lot more that goes into being a ski racer and I’ll continue to enjoy that lifestyle as long as it’s still fun.
Q. Could you share some of your favorite places to XC Ski and X Ski?
A. In the US I really like the skiing around home in Vermont. VT has a ton of small local ski areas that have some sweet old school winding trails. There is this one place near Stratton called Wild Wings that is a classic skiing only trail system. All the trails are super narrow and rolling and it’s great to go out with the buddies and hammer through the woods. Prospect Mountain outside Bennington VT is the ski area I grew up at and that’s also one of my favorites when I’m in the States. When it comes to Europe its hard to beat the amazing sun and mountains of skiing in Switzerland or Italy around the Alps. We spend a lot of time training and racing around Davos Switzerland and it’s incredible there. Finland, Norway and Sweden for sure have some of the biggest ski areas since XC skiing is such a part of their culture. Skiing around Oslo is awesome because there are so many trails connecting all the different towns. Holmenkollen ski stadium is right outside of Oslo and it’s kind of the home of skiing and has some of the coolest and most challenging terrain.
Q. What’s the vibe like on race day?
A. Race days on the world cup are what I live for because all of the pressure and excitement of racing on behalf of your country. One thing I didn’t realize about XC ski racing until I came to Europe, was how intense the fans are and the kind of atmosphere created by 80 thousand spectators around the ski stadium. Sprint races especially bring in the big crowds and you start to realize that, in a way, we are involved in the entertainment industry as much as the sport aspect of skiing which makes racing even more fun. Things like betting on ski races is hugely popular in Europe and with how unpredictable sprint racing can be it’s pretty exciting for the fans. Some of the rowdiest race venues are usually my favorites to compete at. Each year we have several sprints in downtown cities like Oslo or Stockholm where they lay down snow on the streets for us to race on. In a way it’s brought ski racing to the people and the urban sprints have a pretty incredible atmosphere.
Q. Lastly, A few tips for those wanting to progress in cross country skiing?
A. I would encourage anyone who’s up for an adventure and interested in staying fit to try cross country skiing. Even for folks who aren’t into the racing side of things can go out and have a good time on skis and enjoy the outdoors in a healthy way. For the skiers interested in pushing their limits and speed in the racing scene, I would encourage them to stick with it and not give up on the technical side of skiing. XC skiing tends to have a much slower learning curve than say a sport like cycling because of the balance and movements are more complicated. It’s easy for people to buy a fancy bike, put on a jersey, and all of a sudden feel like they’re ready for the Tour de France; but with skiing the technique can be as much a limiting factor as the fitness. So for people looking to progress, sometimes the best thing to do is break the movements down into sections. First work on the lower body movements and balance by skiing without poles, and then spend some workouts just practicing the upper body and poling motions. This is the best way to dial in your technique and also build strength.