BY ROB UMSTEAD
Just flying back from a three-week world cup tour of New Zealand and Australia. What a great trip it was. We did some training, racing and even had a little time to be tourists. This was our first time traveling down under and we really loved both countries. Our first stop was the small dairy town of Methven, New Zealand. The plan was to get a little super G training in as prep for our speed races there later in the trip. The weather was not very cooperative so we were limited to one day of freeskiing before heading south to Queenstown where we would compete at the NZ Winter Games.
Queenstown is a great spot with big snow-capped mountains surrounding Lake Wakatipu. Right on the shore of the lake is the city. We really loved the downtown area. There were lots of good restaurants filled with adrenaline junkies. You can do it all there from jet boats to bungee jumping. A couple of our teammates bungee jumped at AJ Hackett’s.
Being on the mountain at Coronet Peak is incredible. The backdrop of the Queenstown valley is so amazingly gorgeous it looks like a backdrop painting. The snow line gives way to green rolling hills and pastures full of sheep. It is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been.
The races went very well for how early in the season it was. Danelle had a fall on the fourth gate in the first run of slalom, but quickly popped back up and was able to finish the day with a second place. This was a happy occasion because our teammates Staci Manella and guide Kim Seevers earned their first world cup podium by winning the race. We were proud to be standing up there with them.
Day two of slalom was even better for us. We put together two solid runs and won our first world cup slalom. All the training at Mt. Hood in July is starting to come together. Our spacing was tight and that was our focus during summer camp.
Next we drove back to Mt Hutt for the super combined and super G. The snow at Mt
Hutt was perfect for racing and hockey. It was some of the hardest snow we have been on. So hard that inspection was not an easy task. Danelle caught an edge in compression and spun out, so our day was done early in the super combined.
The SG on Day 2 went better at we were able to ski to a third place finish. We were a little disappointed with the time but then we realized that that was our first full super G run since March. Putting that into perspective made us feel much better. We will get faster in speed as the season goes on.
New Zealand was a really good start to the season for us. We really enjoyed the events there and all the people we met were welcoming and friendly. It is a place we want to get back to one day. It was time to move from the land of sheep to the land of Kangaroos!
BY DANELLE UMSTEAD
We arrived in Sydney. What a spectacular city. Our team got to spend two days being tourists and exploring Sydney. Rob and I walked about five miles the first day. We went from one end of the harbor to the other end, getting a little lost somewhere in between. I was so impressed by the public transportation. They make it so easy not to drive. Commuting by trains, buses, and ferries you could get anywhere you wanted. The second day we explored the beaches with our friend Jono who is a local. (He is a visually impaired athlete on the Australian ski team.) We had fun spending time with him and learning about Sydney. The weather was in the 70s. We ate seafood almost every night and it was spectacular. I could not believe it was winter there and we were going skiing soon.
Driving to the mountain we rode with Coach Kevin Jardine and teammate Laurie
Stephens. The car’s main objective was to see kangaroos. They all did too. I cannot tell you how excited Kevin was when he saw his first one (even if it was road kill). It made me smile from the inside out. He was like a little kid. By everyone in the car’s descriptions it was like I was seeing kangaroos too for the first time. They were always far away so they did not get a close encounter yet.
Time to race! Four world cup races scheduled: two slaloms and two giant slaloms. The bad news is my cough that started in New Zealand became a nasty flu. The good news is there really is snow and mountains in Australia. It was one of the worst snowfall years in Thredbo, so there was not a lot of snow … but still enough snow to get three out of the four races off. We woke up at 4 a.m., loaded the vans at 5 a.m., were on the lift by 6:15 a.m. and had our first race run at 7 a.m.
We were done with the second run and racing by 9 a.m. every day. Considering how sick I was, we did very well. Podium in all races — three bronze medals: two in giant slalom and one in slalom.
Every day our car saw kangaroos; they loved the car headlights in the morning and would jump out in front of them. Thankfully no accidents… we had an excellent driver. In the early evenings, Rob and I would go on a kangaroo search (Roo-con). He would see them and try to capture them on video. The kangaroos were really fast but he did manage to get some good pictures.
This was our first time to New Zealand and Australia. There is no way possible we could have trained this summer or traveled that far without the support of our sponsors TD Ameritrade Institutional and Ericsson Corporation. We are honored to be a part of Team USA’s Team TD Ameritrade this Olympic/Paralympic season. With our season starting this early we are really excited about our results and training so far. There is a lot of work ahead on our Road to Sochi.