Ralph's Nordic Web Archives
Page 3
Previously Posted Articles on Cross Country Skiing
History, Instruction, News, Wax, Skating, Classic, Racing, Backcountry, Whatever!
Last Updated: Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 10:44:22 AM

Ski Fest
Posted January 10, 2005

The Cross Country Ski Areas Association has designated the first weekend after New Years Weekend as "Ski Fest." Many Nordic areas participate and Izaak Walton goes all out. There were reduced room rates, free introductory classic and skate lessons, equipment demos provided by Rocky Mountain Outfitters and the Ski Haus, free trail passes, and sleigh rides.

This is usually a quiet weekend at ski resorts after the busy holiday season. It provides a great opportunity to attract some new folks to our sport. There were a lot of smiling faces both in the lodge and out on the trails.

Left: Ski instructor Mark Umro demos a skating move as his students watch from below. Right: Bronco Bob drives the sleigh up to the inn to take on passengers. Behind him a couple of pusher engines return from assisting a train over Marias Pass.

Return to top of page.

Lost in the Woods
Posted January 4, 2005

Skiing groomed trails can be like skiing little circles through the woods where you never get anywhere. The reward is the exhilaration of skiing fast.

Sometimes backcountry skiing can be likened to hiking around with big planks on your feet. The downhill runs through deep powder is the reward.

The last few days the temperatures have plummeted to well below zero and light fluffy powder snow fell over the mountains. It was time to put on some stiffer boots and wider skis and head for a powder cache.

We skied up into the valley of Waldron Creek. I had skied there many times and thought I knew the way just fine. Our route followed a logging road, then a narrow trail and finally included a bushwhack ski through the forest. The goal was to continue up hill on the north side of the creek until reaching the big basin below Mount Lockhart. The photos below (taken a few years ago) show the skiing and scenery can be wonderful.

Everything went fine until we entered the forest. Somehow instead of continuing up the valley staying north of the creek, we managed to cross the creek. We kept looking for the open bowl and continued to climb but we had no clue that we were skiing east instead of west.

Eventually we popped out into the open near the bottom of a big talus slope. It was the first time that we could see the landscape instead of the dense trees in front of us. We were amazed to see Choteau Mountain in front of us when it should have been behind us. John suggested I determine our location using the GPS I usually carry. No luck there as the GPS was safely tucked into a box and stored with most of my climbing gear.

After some discussion we figured it was getting too late in the day and it was time to try to find our way back. But the powder on the talus slope was irresistible so we made a few turns before heading out.

Going downhill we looked for the creek. I found it when my skis plunged through a snow bridge into the water. Snow turned to slush and slush became a load of ice on my skis. I had to scrape what felt like a hundred pounds of crud from my skis. Continuing uphill now we struggled through fallen trees. A few minutes later we found our tracks going in.

We were totally amazed. We had skied down the valley almost a third of the way! A few more downhill runs and we were back at the car only a little chagrined. We agreed that since we had no real destination in mind that we couldn't have been "lost." We were merely "confused!"

Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, Montana
Posted December 27, 2004
Izaak Walton is located in Essex, Montana just west of the continental divide on the mainline of the former Great Norther transcontinental railroad and just across the river from Glacier National Park. Cross country skiers and rail fans find a winter haven here. Cross country travelers can ride Amtrak to the front door.

The Inn is a two hour drive from my home in Choteau and the closest groomed trail system. The weather at home was windy (25-45 mph) and warm (45 F). At Essex it was calm and cool with temperatures in the 20s all weekend. Snow has been scanty so far this winter but the week before Christmas Santa delivered several snowfalls to make every thing nice for the holidays. The groomers got out early and the trails were ready for use Christmas Eve.

Only I had been on groomed trails previously this winter. Most of our group spent the day getting their ski legs and having fun. We're a mixed bag of skiers but we all have fun.

Left: The inn as seen from the ski trail head just before sunset December 26, 2004. Scalplock Mountain in Glacier National Park is behind the hotel. Right: Nancy just reaches the top of a hill and catch her breath.

About half of the trails are neatly tucked into the valley of Essex Creek. Others go over Dicky Hill, up Dicky Creek and along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. This pretty much means that as you ski away from the Inn the trails trend uphill. Eventually they begin their inevitable and wild ride back to the valley floor.

Left: Jen uses a Diagonal V-Skate to climb steeper sections. Right: Bruce leads the pack working on his V-1. The elevation ranges from about 3,600 to 4,200 feet. Skiing fast keeps the heart pumping and the chest heaving.

We skied classic style in the morning. Some of us changed to skate gear in the afternoon. Two days of skiing brought the balance under control. A few more months and we'll all be in great shape.

December 24, 2004
Snow Temp:
-4 C
Grip Wax: Toko Violet
Comments: Track soft in places. Snow had that silky smooth quality. Due to elevation changes and cooler temperature higher on the trail system, there was more grip up high.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red

December 26, 2004
Snow Temp: -6 C
Grip Wax: Toko Violet
Comments: Warmer snow below the surface required the softer wax even though air temperature fell through out the day. Cooler temeratures at higher elevations resulted in more grip up high.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Gray and Red.

Left: Skiing the Essex Road trail.

Return to top of page.

Getting Desperate or What to do when the Snow is Thin
Posted December 20, 2004

Warm temperatures have been cutting into what little snow pack we have. It's getting harder and harder to find even a little snow to ski on. The Great Falls Tribune reported that Teton Pass, the local downhill ski area west of Choteau, was going to open on Saturday. John and I decided that if they have enough snow to open there must be something up there to cross country ski on.

The left photo pretty much describes the conditions we found. About 4 inches of firm refrozen snow with a little powder on top. The center of the road was ice and the shoulder was narrow. We first skied down the Teton Canyon Road (left photo above) hoping to reach the West Fork Trail head. It's very pretty country and when the snow is good you can have a lot of fun there. About a half mile down the road we encountered to many rocks and the snow got real thin.

We then explored the ski hill and found conditions there pretty bad as well. The best we could come up with was some snow at the back of the parking lot (right photo above). We skied in a track there that was all of 75 yards long. We figured to get in a 25 kilometer ski we'd have to ski that little track about 350 times. Oh boy! What fun!

We put our snow time to good use, though, and worked on various aspects of the diagonal stride. Some visual cues for flexion and extension are listed below. How many of these can you observe in this photo?


  • As the feet pass, the body is forward from the ankle and joints are at maximum flexion.
  • The new foot lands in front of the old foot with an exaggerated flex of the ankle and glide begins on the new ski.
  • As the glide continues, the lower leg straightens.
  • As the ski starts to decelerate, joints collapse (flex) preparing for the push off.
  • The ski stops, while the feet are passing. (Classic only)
  • There is strong push -off and the leg extends.
  • When the leg is most extended, it appears in line with the upper body.

The good news is that as I write this a cold front has moved across Montana and snow has begun to fall in the mountains. I couple of days of "flurries" should improve things quite a bit. All I want for Christmas is good snow.

Skiing in the Rain - Yuck!
Posted December 13, 2004

Almost daily snowfall created great conditions at Izaak Walton Inn (IWI) by last Thursday. Unfortunately I was not there to enjoy. By the time the weekend rolled around things had changed dramatically.

A push of warm tropical air, supposedly the remnants of one of the typhoons that ravaged the Philippines, roared in from the Pacific coast. It was 58 in Choteau on Friday with winds blowing around 50 m.p.h. At IWI temps got well into the 40s and heavy rain turned the powder to mush.

So, what's a skier to do? Hey! Go ski!

We waited out the heaviest rain squall looking at summer vacation photos. When the downpour relaxed into a mild drizzle the smartest of our group left for home. The rest of us went out to ski. The snow was pretty mushy and all tracks from previous grooming had disappeared. No worries though, we made new tracks.

We skied the Essex Road trail first. This was all up hill. Once at the top we turned around and had tracks for the downhill. A few more loops and we were all pretty soaked so we retreated to the inn for lunch. Believe it or not we actually had fun. Skiing down in the mush brought some crazy moves and tons of laughter.

After lunch we worked on some technique drills and shot video. The skis were slow and the flattest of trail sections felt like mountains. I doubt the tape we shot would tell us much but it will be a benchmark for later in the season when we are in top form.

Temperature: 42 with rain.
Snow: 32 F slush and mush.
Wax: Toko Orange Klister or no-wax skis.

Discussion: Most of us skied on no-wax skis. The klister choice was obvious.

West Yellowstone in Early December
Posted December 9, 2004

I spent a day skiing at West Yellowstone. After Thanksgiving and before the national park opens to snowmobiles West is a pretty quiet place. I arrived in the middle of a 12-16 inch snow dump. The groomed trail was buried so I classic skied. Some old tracks were under there somewhere. The snow was deep and silky smooth. My skis disappeared frequently in the beautiful deep snow. Heavy snow kept falling with pretty good wind. Great ski! Very pretty. I spent 3 hours on the trail then retreated to the Days Inn for a hot shower. I was the only guest in the motel that evening and the rest of West Yellowstone seemed just as quiet.

I saw only three other skiers on the trail but just as I returned to the trail head the local ski club arrived for their afternoon training session. The enjoyed the benefit of my track setting.

The new trail head building is not yet completed but it will be a welcome addition to the trail amenities.

Snow Conditions: deep powder, new snow
Snow Temp: -4C
Wax: Toko Carbon Grip wax Viola

I had a base of Toko green on my ski and applied some Toko Blue with a thin, short layer of Viola. Grip was poor to non existent. I applied a thicker, longer layer of Viola. This produced very good grip and glide remained excellent. Steeper hills still required a herringbone because the snow was so soft and unconsolidated.

Search for Snow
Posted December 6, 2004

Snow has been real scarce in Montana so far this season. Our group of Nordic skiers planned to ski the "Kick Out the Kinks" fund raiser race at Izaak Walton on Sunday but it was cancelled because they do not have enough snow to groom yet. Bummer.

We had a nice snowfall around the 25th of October and we all thought this would be a banner year for snow. But it has been quite dry since then. More snow finally came by November 27 and John, Ron and I drove up to Marias Pass in a search for snow. We found just enough to wet our appetites--about 8 inches at the pass with a little more higher up. The great scenery made up for the fair ski conditions. All the photos accompanying this post are from that ski.

We skied to Three Bears Lake and set a track for some warm up. In our photos we look pretty static but the pics were taken while we were in motion. The heavy backcountry skis make it less likely that the trailing ski will lift off the snow at the end of each push-off. Then it was off to the Autumn Creek Trail. This is definitely backcountry skiing. The trail crosses numerous little stream valleys we call coulees. Late in the winter, so they tell me, the coulees fill with snow and are easy to cross but on this day they were quite a challenge. Each has a small stream in the bottom. Sometimes it was quite a trick to cross them without getting our skis wet. Wet skis and cold snow make for some interesting icy bases.

Photos by Ralph Thornton and Dr. John Carr.

We tried to jump the smallest of these streams with mixed success. It was all a lot of fun though and definitely better than dry land exercises.

This past Saturday John and I went back to Marias Pass and tried to ski up the Pike Creek Road. Using my waxable back country skis was a good move. The lower mile or so was terrible--the snow was thin and some snowmobilers kicked up plenty of lots of rocks and ice. We ended up walking down this when we came back. Once about 400 feet higher than the pass things improved. We had about 6-10 inches of good snow. We skied up to the end of the road which takes about an hour then skied back down to the top of the icy stretch. The downhill takes about 15 minutes. There we rested and skied back up. Reasonably good classic skiing though and I was plenty stiff when I got home.

Waxing on these types of outings is always interesting. With the old skis I thought I'd use up some of my old waxes. At the pass I applied some Swix Blue Extra with Rode Multi-grade Special Violet on top. When we started skied my grip was poor. I've been there and done that so I struggled for a while up the road. As we went higher the snow cooled and grip improved. Near the top of the road my grip was almost too good and I was afraid my skis would ice up. This dilemma is a common one when choosing waxes in mountainous conditions. Add in the fact that on many days the temperature soars until about 2 PM before plummeting again and you see why so many folks out here use no-wax skis.

By noon the temperatures had warmed enough to bring out the snow fleas. Hundreds of them covered the snow. John and I discussed the possibility of collecting some to keep in our wax boxes but neiher of us brought along anything to carry them in.