After giving out the millionth tacky souvenir, handy travel kit, and plug adapter, I long ago realized I had to revisit how I approached my Christmas shopping.
Let's face it, airports and small mountain villages aren't known for their shopping potential (unless of course you live in Aspen and have the budget to go with it). Looking around at my fellow athletes, I started to wonder how we all deal with the challenge of Christmas shopping on the road. Do most shop early, late, or not at all?
Bouncing from remote mountain village to village from September through December, athletes are faced with inflated prices, isolation and little selection. For some, the stress of trying to maintain regular Christmas traditions can be rather overwhelming. And so, this is my guidebook to help them along - and give you some insight into a little unknown part of our world.
Plan (way) ahead
There are two main philosophies that most ski racers follow.
The first option has been widely adopted by the majority of our Canadian men's team. That is, to buy what you can on the 23rd or 24th of December when you finally get a break, or simply be happy that the likelihood of you actually being home for Christmas is slim to none. Therefore, gift expectations are often set aside until you retire from the sport.
The second option, widely adopted by the women's team (and some of our more evolved male counterparts) is to plan ahead - way ahead, as in September ahead. We have to be ready to jump at any Christmas shopping moment, because there may be less than five chances between September and December. Also, be sure to count that jumping as fitness training or something. It's all about multi-tasking!
Maybe the hardest moments our athletes face isn't jumps in Kitzbuhel or bumps in Bormio, but having to walk away from the elusive perfect gift because you know it won't fit into your bags. The torture!
As all travellers do, we face the ever increasing baggage restrictions on weight, size, and quantity (and believe me, without even one gift added to our bags, we alpine athletes travel with maximum pieces and weight!)
To tackle this problem, my first idea was to give the gift of air. However, this seemed rather hard to wrap and explain since, even though air is vital for life, it is free for all to enjoy, thereby diminishing it's value as a gift. Since giving the gift of air is no longer an option, I had to think of what else is light. Feathers. Yes, that's what I'll get people: down-filled items. Nothing big, though, so mittens it is! Next idea: carbon fibre is light. Perhaps a pen or watch made out of this material will do? They would be small too. I'm liking these options. (Dad, please forget the above paragraph. No spoiler alert here)Shop til you drop
The next biggest restriction we face is time. When some athletes have been known to train on Christmas day, it's no surprise that present shopping isn't a high priority (especially from the coaching staff's perspective).
Day to day, our focus is filled with training, video, meetings, food, rest, physio and fitness. It's no surprise that days rush by and Christmas comes upon us faster than Erik Guay can race down a mountain.
Shopping while on the road is an option if you can get to a nearby city centre. This can be difficult since most of us don't have access to a vehicle, leaving hitch hiking as the only viable option. However, standing on the side of the road with your thumb raised is dangerous at the best of times. On the side of an icy narrow mountain road, it's downright crazy. So let's scratch that idea.
Finally, it comes down to planning ahead. Yes, men's team, I said planning ahead!
On average, athletes will have five to 10 potential shopping days while home between September and Christmas. In those 10 days, realistically, half of them are spent attending to daily life activities - reading through your stack of old mail, coffee drinking with rarely seen friends, plucking your overgrown eyebrows... you know, the usual. So, two to five days of shopping is a more realistic estimate. That means efficiency is key. If you're a fast enough racer, you may own a luxury car fast enough to help you race form store to store, but most of us are left to normal modes of transportation.
So grab those days when they present themselves and shop till you drop!Exotic expectations
We are extremely lucky to get to travel the world as we do. Sadly, this leads some family members to develop heightened expectations for exotic and exciting gifts from abroad.
So I began to brainstorm for exotic items that are light, fast, inexpensive and widely available in our mountainous environment. Then it hit me: exotic Swill Alps snow! What better present - especially when asked frequently how European snow differs from Canada's. But be warned - even though it's exotic it doesn't differ in the simple property that snow melts. You can see where I'm going with this.
Therefore, I advise you to stick to the local nick-nacks for your first year or two with the team. However, by year 12 of travelling to the same locations, your family may wane from its previous excitement over receiving a coaster from Munich's famed Hofbrauhaus. Planning perfection
Again, this all comes down to planning ahead. As we ski racers have rather short attention spans (the basic reason for why we choose a sport lasting, at its longest, two minutes) this may be a lot to ask. Still, I know it can be done, and beginning your Christmas shopping in September is key.
Don't worry, there are some upsides to starting your Christmas shopping in September. One is that you never have to face a frenzied shopping mall. Another is never having to worry that shipped items won't make it in time for the big day. It does get a bit awkward when your presents arrive in late October, showing that timing is key here yet hard to master.
Luckily this ol' thing called the internet has helped with online shopping options. Now, if only there was someone at home to receive and wrap those packages. It just gets awkward when the recipients of the shipped gifts also have to receive and wrap them.
Next year, I'll have to find some little elves to help me out!
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