Checking In with Skimo Racer Jessica Phillips

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Pro cyclist Jessica Phillips has always raced road in the summer and taught skiing in the winter. The 32-year-old Aspenite admits that the switch is necessary, because women’s pro cycling alone doesn’t exactly bring home the bacon. This year, she’s taking her transition to a new level.

World Cup skimo competitor Monique Merrill hand-picked Phillips for a weekend of private lessons in Breckenridge, with the intent that Phillips would join her on the race scene this season. Merrill hopes that Phillips will bring some fresh blood to Worlds, where the US needs help in a sport dominated by the Euros.

Phillips’ debut race will be Nationals at Jackson Hole on January 8th. We caught up with Phillips last week to find out how she transitioned from bike racing with Colavita Baci to skimo racing, in case there’s something we can learn.
Jayme Otto

When do you switch from bike to ski?
That really depends on mother nature. Most of the time, it’s in December.  Then at the end of February or early March, we (Phillips is the girlfriend of road racer Tejay Van Garderen) head someplace warm like California or Arizona for two weeks to kick off our cycling season.

So do you keep skiing once your cycling season starts?
Yeah, technically you could start bike racing as early as February if you wanted, but I’ve found that people from warmer states who do that come in really fit in March and April, then tend to fade. I’d rather ease into the season, keep cross training with skiing through April, and continue to get stronger on the bike as the race season progresses. When it’s just cycling all year round, I think it’s too easy to burn out.

Are you biking at all now?
I like to spin for 45 minutes indoors on trainers a couple days a week in the morning before I head out to teach skiing. I’ve found that skimo race training really doesn’t have any way for active recovery, at least not when you first start training like I am. I mean, how do you recover when you’re hiking up a mountain? So I use the bike to spin out my legs, and do recovery rides.

So what does skimo race training entail?
Right now, a lot of snowshoeing and hiking up the trails just outside my house. It’s so intense that you only need about a half hour’s worth. As soon as I get my race gear in from Dynafit, I’ll hit whichever peak I’m teaching at that day (we have four in Aspen) and skin up it in the morning, then spend about an hour skiing. I need the practice — rando skis are so different than downhill. They’re almost like shorter versions of old-school skis, back in the days when skis were narrow and straight. And the boots are so much more flexible – they feel like wearing tennis shoes compared to my downhill setup. Ideally, I plan to structure my skimo training similar to cycling. I’ll race on weekends, take Monday totally off, skin or hike up and ski down on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and then do a recovery spin on my trainers on Friday. I also do Crossfit 2-3 times a week, which I’ll continue. Strength training is really important for skimo.

Interesting that the training schedule is so similar to the one you did for cycling. What’s different?
When I’m training on the road bike, it’s so much more controlled in that I measure watts and heart rate. With winter training on the slopes, I just go out and go hard, but I don’t control it the same way. It’s a really good mental release from the structure of training for cycling.  And it’s the same with the events – they’re a lot more laid back. Everyone goes out and races really hard, but then it’s a big social event, with lots of beer.

Sounds fun. Besides the beer, what else draws you to skimo?
I like that the races are about 2 – 2.5 hours, similar length to women’s bike races. And it’s funny that most skimo participants think of that as a “sprint.” To me, a sprint is something you do for 15 seconds.  Skimo is really a different world in that it draws the uber athletes – the Primal Questors, and 24-hour racers, the ultra runners. It’s exhilarating enough to power yourself up a mountain and then race down it, but then you throw those people into the mix and it’s just such a rush. Plus, who doesn’t want to travel the world visiting ski mountains and resorts?

You’re expected to produce major results your first year racing skimo. How are you handling the pressure?
I’m taking it seriously, but definitely not taking myself too seriously. You really can’t, especially when you consider what you have wear when you race skimo. It’s ridiculous looking – a fill spandex skinsuit with a hood. Mine is pink and I totally blinged it out – I took it to this lady who adorned it with rhinestones. As far as my personal goals, let’s just leave it at I’d love to qualify for Worlds. And I’m looking forward to the mass start with the men at Nationals. I think they’ll really push me to keep up with them for as long as I can.

To read more on Skimo, check out 7 Essentials for a Female* Randonee Beginner.


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