Ralph's Nordic Web Archives
Page 4
Previously Posted Articles on Cross Country Skiing
History, Instruction, News, Wax, Skating, Classic, Racing, Backcountry, Whatever!
Last Updated: Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 10:44:32 AM

Lone Mountain Ranch
Posted February 13, 2005

One of the most interesting and diverse
cross country ski areas in North America.

Left: I'm skating on the Summit trail at 8,240 ft. Fantastic views of the surrounding mountains include this view of Lone Mountain and the Big Sky ski area.

Lone Mountain Ranch lies in a tributary valley above Meadow Village near Big Sky, Montana. 80 kilometers of exquisitely groomed trails wind throughout this and adjacent valleys. The ranch has very comfortable trail side cabins and excellent food and refreshment. There is a nice ski shop with rentals and Professional Ski Instructor of America certified instructors. If the groomed trail system isn't enough for you there are miles of back country trails nearby in Yellowstone National Park.

I spent a day skiing at Lone Mountain Ranch in early February. Conditions couldn't have been better. There was plenty of snow, it wasn't cold and the sun blazed through a clear Montana sky. Bill headed out for the Middlefork trail. Steve and I decided to ski to the summit.

The Lone Mountain Ranch ski center is at about 6,600 feet in elevation. The lowest trails down in the Meadow area are at 6,000 feet and the highest trail goes to 8,240 feet. That gave Steve an I an uphill ski of over 1,600 feet to reach the summit. The distance is around 12 kilometers.

We skied away from the ski center and immediately began climbing on the trail to Little Bavaria. We skied through pristine mountain forests, across beautiful sunlit meadows and along streams that tumbled over large boulders. We climbed and climbed and climbed. The higher we got the better the views became. We took every opportunity to enjoy the scenery and let our lungs and hearts return to near normal. Our path took us past Little Bavaria, across the Mountain View trail and onto the Siberia trail.

Two and a half hours later we were on the summit, a great open slope offering outstanding views. Almost all of the Big Sky ski area was spread out in front of us. The sun was warm and no wind blew to cool the moment. We enjoyed the view and the lunch snack that we had carried with us in a small day pack.

Left: Steve skis the trail to Little Bavaria. Right: Steve and I on the summit.

After our rest and refreshment there was only one thing to do - ski down. The trail drops off the summit in a series of marvelous downhills with sweeping curves. A few easy switchbacks separated other long stretches. The exhilaration was fantastic. We just kept going and going.

It took only an hour or so, even with scenery breaks, to ski back to the ski center where we rested in the sunshine and enjoyed the rest of lunch.

Bill saw a moose on the Middlefork trail and he decided to take another run there after lunch. A short downhill from the ski center leads to a tunnel under the Big Sky road. Once through the tunnel skiers access the Andesite, Beaver Slide, Tree Farm, Middlefork and other trails. The Middle fork trail follows the creek valley, gently gaining elevation all the way to the Lone Moose chair lift at Big Sky. It offers great set tracks and in some stretches, extremely wide skating lanes.

Left: Lone Mountain Ranch provided the set for a visit from the Opheim Junior High School. A wild mass of skiers zoomed down the hill from Joys Loop. Amazingly there were no crashes as they skied to a stop at the ski center. Right: Looking down the last hill on the Middlefork Trail toward the tunnel under the Big Sky road.

After my lunch I skied out to meet Bill. I didn't get to see the moose but the rest of the sunny scenery was superb. Coming back from the Middlefork trail I took a right turn to try the Beaver Slide. Any beaver that went this way definitely slid on the exciting steep twisting downhill at the end of this trail.

Our day was over all too soon but I began looking forward to my next visit to Lone Mountain Ranch.

Bill cresting a hill as he climbs out of
the valley on the Middlefork trail.
Waxing: February 3, 2005

Classic Skiing
Snow Temp:
Varied between -14 and 0 C
Grip Wax: Rode Special Green in the cold snow in the morning. Toko Carbonline Red (Toko Fluoro Dark Red) worked best in the warmer snows of the afternoon. Some areas got pretty wet though and grip with red was marginal to non-existent. These warm sections were relatively short so it was easy to double pole or skate across them.
Comments: Track firm and fast. The power tilled snow was abrasive and a binder helped wax longevity.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red mixed with Low Fluoro Gray.

Snow Temp: Varied between -14 and 0 C
Comments: Fresh tilling and grooming brought cold snow to the surface. I was lazy that day and didn't feel like rewaxing. I used a second pair of skate skies already waxed with Toko Low Fluoro Yellow. It was a little slow in the cold snow of morning, but worked very well the rest of the day.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Yellow.

The Rendezvous Trails of
West Yellowstone
Posted February 7, 2005

The Rendezvous Trails are located within walking distance of almost anywhere in West Yellowstone. The almost completed new warming shelter has heated bathrooms and plenty of room to enjoy your lunch or change boots.

The trails are managed by the US Forest Service. The trail fee from December 1 to the end of March is $5/day or $25 for a season pass.

It's been warm in Montana. Snow pack in the Rockies is at an almost record low for this time of year. It was 50-60 degrees at home during the previous two weeks. Skiing has not been good. Yet, West Yellowstone was reporting groomed powder conditions on the trails with some of the best skiing of the season. I was just a little skeptical as Bill, Steve and I began the drive south from Choteau. Five and a half hours later we were in skiers heaven.

Above Steve Bantz skates on Windy Ridge in front of a magnificent mountain backdrop. Below Bill Blunk (left) and I ski classic ski the Rendezvous loop. As you can see in all three photos the classic track is set in 3 feet from the edge of the trail providing firm poling.

If you haven't skied the Rendezvous Trails I encourage you to plan a trip to West Yellowstone in winter. The place is known as a snowmobilers Mecca and that it is. The new Yellowstone National Park snowmobile regulations though have put limits on the number of machines allowed in the park and all riders must be accompanied by a guide. This has reduced the snowmobile crowds and improved the skiing atmosphere, especially during weekdays.

Many skiers are familiar with the Fall Festival (formerly the Fall Ski Camp) when the trails are crowded with skiers. But during the rest of the winter the Rendezvous Trails are far less busy.

None of us ski to train. We ski for fun and the training benefit comes along. These trails are perfect for both.

The elevation of West Yellowstone is just over 6,000 ft. so we started with easy skis the first day. In a couple of days we were cruising over 40 kilometers a day over the Volunteer, Dead Dog, Windy Ridge, Rendezvous and Deja Vu trails. The trails make short and long climbs with fast downhills through sweeping curves. The skates lanes were smooth. The tracks were firm. The absolute perfect in skiing conditions.

There was also signs that we were sharing the trail with some four legged critters. In the left photo above a tree on the Rendezvous Trail has been scarred by bears marking their territory. Of course the bears sleep through the winter so these scratches were from some other time of year. In several places we saw fresh elk tracks. On the Dead Dog Trail we found some brown elk klister pellets.

The Rendezvous Trail also has a biathlon range. The terrain is perfect for biathlon training and racing. As you can tell by Steve's smile we definitely had a great time.

You can't spend a week around West Yellowstone without also skiing the trails at Lone Mountain Ranch. It's Just an hour north to more fantastic skiing and scenery. I'll post the story of our Lone Mountain Ranch ski next week.

I'm skating away on the Windy Ridge trail.
Waxing: January 31 - February 4, 2005

Classic Skiing
Snow Temp:
Varied between -14 and -4 C
Grip Wax: Toko Blue or Rex Special Green in the cold snow in the morning. Toko Carbonline Violet (Toko Fluoro Dark Red) worked best in the warmer snows of the afternoon.
Comments: Track firm and fast. The power tilled snow was abrasive and a binder helped wax longevity. I still find that one wax warmer than recommended by Toko works best.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red mixed with Low Fluoro Gray.

Snow Temp: Varied between -14 and -4 C
Comments: Fresh tilling and grooming brought cold snow to the surface. A blend of Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray worked well. After grooming on Wednesday the snow temperature dropped to -14 C and Toko Low Fluoro Blue and Low Fluoro Gray provided better glide.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Gray mixed with Low Fluoro Red or Gray mixed with Blue.

What Is It?
Posted January 30, 2005 (updated February 7, 2005)

The left photo is the question. The photo on the right shows the answer. It's definitely the latest in cross country ski gear. No one came up with the correct answer although Bill and Dean might have been on the right track if they didn't go off on a tangent. Four interesting responses are below the photos.

At Izaak Walton Inn we have to cross the main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad on a pedestrian bridge. The deck of this bridge is a steel grate that tears up the bottom of your ski boot something fierce if you are not careful. Bruce and Rhonda White came up with this idea for a boot protector. Buy a pair of these custom made beauties and your boots will last a few extra seasons. I remember some Birkies where we walked what seemed like miles on the blacktop road from the airport parking lot to the start area. These boot protectors would have worked well there too.

If you want a pair let me know and maybe the Whites will make them for you. Now if we could only do something about the pink tights.

I just received another idea from Jeff McGuire in Moscow, Russia. He suggests using rubber galoshes. The low cut pull-over kind go right over my ski boots and then fold up in a small ball to go into a fanny pack or rear pocket in my ski jacket. I saw a guy here in Russia using them and have tried them with great success. I usually need to walk a ways, or use the subway!, to get to trails so they have helped save my boots. I was able to find some in the States after a little hunting. Happy skiing, Jeff

And just in case the "younger generation" doesn't know what galoshes are, he sent, from Moscow, the picture at the left.

Bert from Eagle River, Wisconsin guessed a mini golf ball washer or mini trail groomer.

LaNora from Eagle River, Wisconsin guessed that it's an individual personal step in doormat.

Paul from Takoma Park Maryland thinks it's a cheese-grater like snow removal mat for the bottom of your boots, so you get a clean connection with the skis. Comment: Most of us have had snow clog up on the bar at the front of our ski boots that made closing the binding very difficult. We probably need a boot cleaner but this is not it.

Dean from Three Lakes, Wisconsin thinks they are a new type of neoprene climbing skins. Either that or they are Montana toilet paper. But they could be a non slip pad so that when you are corking your wax you don't fall and break your fanny. They could probably also be used for glissading when there are no garbage bags available. Comment: No comment.

Bill from Channahon, Illinois says, if the attachment on the front is a soft bungee cord, it could be a new "high tech" climbing skin. If the attachment on the front is a cable (I really can't tell which it is from the picture.) Maybe it's a traction device to attach to your cars drive wheels to get out of the unplowed parking lot after a long ski? For both of these applications, you'd need two of them, but perhaps you are sneaky enough to only show one to throw us off the "track"! Comment: Close but no cigar .

Jeanette from Takoma Park Maryland thinks it is an ice cube tray for the after ski cocktail! Comment: Not a bad idea.

Fast Skis/Cold Snow
Posted January 24, 2005

They've come a long way baby! Snow temps dropped to -20 C (-6 F). Not that long ago temperatures like this meant slow glide. I'd often forego skating on these days. That's what I was suspecting when I began skating the other day. It was simply delightful to have great glide with a simple wax job. What's the secret to great glide in cold snow? It's as easy as a quality wax job with the right wax.

I tested two pair of skate skis, one with Swix CH4 the other with Toko Dibloc Low Fluoro Blue and a pair of classic skis with Toko World Loppet Blue. All performed way above my expectations. In fact I didn't notice any difference from the previous test with softer waxes when the snow was much much warmer. Here's how I did it.

I refer to Swix and Toko waxes in this post because those are the waxes I'm familiar with. There are other brands of wax that are very effective. As always, I recommend using one brand of wax until you know how it behaves before adding more complexity to the mix. If you have any questions on waxing just click on Email Ralph at the left and fire away. I'll post some questions and answers.

These waxes are hard and a little more difficult to apply. They melt at a higher temperatures than warmer waxes and are quite brittle when scraping. I do almost all of my glide waxing with an iron calibrated between 225 F and 250 F. Some irons have accurate temperature setting but others do not. My Toko wax iron has suggested settings for various waxes but I found using these settings resulted in an iron so hot that avoiding damage to the ski base was difficult. Use welders crayons to calibrate your iron and check the iron temperature periodically during the winter.

Welders crayons are made to melt at specific temperatures. I use 225 F and 250 F crayons. I set my iron so that the 225 F crayon melts or leaves a mark on the base of the iron while at the same time the 250 F crayon does not. This tells me the iron is between 225 and 250 F. Iron temperatures above 250 F can serious damage the ski base unless you are extremely careful when waxing. I reserve these higher temperatures only for heating in pure fluoro products like Cera F or JetStream.

Resist temptation; don't turn up the iron when using cold hard glide waxes. Have patience, they will melt and you can iron them in with an iron in the range of 225-250 F. Using plenty of wax helps to insulate the base from undue heating. Iron in the wax as usual but on the last pass try to smooth the wax into a thin coating on the ski.

Scrap carefully. These waxes are brittle and will flake off if you're not careful. I'm convinced that if the wax flakes off it pulls wax out of the upper part of the base, just opposite of what is wanted. To minimize flaking, use a sharp scraper and scrape with even long light strokes to shave off the wax. Continue scraping in this manner until all the wax is off the top of the base.

Then use a nylon or copper brush. I prefer hand brushing because I get a better feel of what's happening to the ski base. Resist temptation and don't put too much pressure on the brush. Let the brush do the work. Brush with nice long strokes from tip to tail. Continue brushing until you don't see any more wax on the base. It should begin to look clean and shiny. If the base goes through a shiny phase then begins to dull you have brushed too much.

Use a roto type brush if you prefer. Resist the tempation to press hard. I find it way too easy to over brush with a power tool. Let the brush do the work.

Switch to a horse-hair brush and brush again. Keep brushing with long smooth strokes. You will probably see a little powder collect on the base as the finer brush get more of the was out of the structure. Resist the temptation to press harder and just keep brushing until very little powder is produced.

Finally, before skiing leave your skis out in the cold so they reach ambient air temperature. Then brush one more time with a fine horse hair or extra fine nylon brush. You'll notice a little more powder. This is wax that was squeezed out of the interstitial spaces of the p-tex as it cooled. Now go ski!

Under even colder snow conditions I add some cold powder to the wax when ironing. Either Swix CH3 Cold Powder or Toko Thermo X Cold Powder will do. Sprinkle these onto the warm wax then iron them in until they blend into the wax. Cold powders effectively harden the wax even more. Scrape and brush carefully. Oh, resist the temptation to press hard with the scraper or brush. Let the tools do the work and save your base.

For Backcountry and No-wax Skis: I'm amazed at how lackadaisical some folks are when it comes to performance on no-wax skis. These and all other glide wax tips on Ralph's Nordic Web pertain to these skis too! You'll discover a new excitement in skiing on no-wax gear if you treat them well.

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The Lake of Cold Air
Posted January 17, 2005

Left: Skiing along Waldron Creek near the Teton Pass ski area west of Choteau, Montana

Right: The below zero weather made things a little frosty.

It got so cold in Montana this week your nose hairs twitched when you stepped outside. "How cold is that," you ask? Most of north central Montana east of the Rockies reached -33 F for several days.

Too cold to ski? Ah, I remember when Nikolai Anikan, Olympic Gold and Bronze Medalist and World Cup Silver Medalist for the former Soviet Union said, "School was cancelled when it got to 40 below! No school and we could go outside to ski!"

The cold air was expressed by the jet stream all the way from Nikolai's home area in Siberia to Montana. It was crystal clear and very dense. The barometer recorded 31.15 inches of mercury--very high pressure.

The dense air flows across the landscape and fills the valleys like a lake of cold water. As more cold air moves in the lake gets deeper. When the lake gets as deep as the passes along the Continental Divide the cold air flows over the mountains into the big valleys to the west.

Since these passes over the mountains provide a path for the cold air to escape, there is often a limit to how deep the cold air can get. The key to finding a place to ski comfortably then is to go up.

John arrived at about 10 AM. It was still -30 F. We lingered over coffee and conversation each not wanting to be the first to say, "Let's go freeze our butts off!"

Eventually we got up the courage and began the drive up into the Front Range of the Rockies. John's thermometer in his Blazer announced the cold at -28 F. Just before the entrance to Teton Canyon it read -18 F. It continued to rise as we drove up the canyon finally reaching +1 at the Waldron Creek trailhead.

We enjoyed several hours of skiing in 20 inches of fresh powder above the "shore" of the cold air lake. As the sun began to drop behind the peaks and our nose hairs got twitchy we began the drive back home. John's thermometer worked in reverse and announced that it was -24 as we returned to my house.

"Want to ski tomorrow," I asked? "You bet," said John, "How's about we try Marias Pass?

John enjoying the spectacular skiing and scenery along Waldron Creek.

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Teaching Beginners to Skate
Part One: The Classic Only Tourer
Posted January 10, 2005

Ski instructors work with all level of skiers. In our introductory skating lessons during Ski Fest we had quite a mix of participants. Some folks had done some skating a few times. Others had classic skied but never skated. A few had very little ski experience at all. Mix all these folks into one group and you get the picture. The instructor has to be at the top of his/her game to provide a quality experience for everyone.

Left: This student demonstrates some of the problems listed below. Right: Steve shows good form for a relaxed uphill skate.

One of the most difficult teaching problems is the individual who had tour skied for many years but never mastered complete weight shift. These folks have an extremely difficult time balancing on one ski. A few of the visual clues I see and one exercise or drill to work on are in the following table:

Pushing to the rear instead of out to the side. Stand on or off skis and take side ways steps being sure to step up onto one ski and letting the trailing leg pendulum along side in a relaxed motion. Repeat numerous times in both directions.

Transfer to getting forward motion by adding a forward lean from the ankles and a step onto a gliding ski.

Balance problems result in putting the ski down too soon. This is also seen as keeping the feet to far apart. I have students practice standing on one ski while gliding down a slight hill. Other moves to enhance one ski balance might also be tried.

Next I have them lean forward from the ankles and a step onto a gliding ski but add a twist called "Skating the Line." I draw a line down the center of the trail and tell students to put their feet down on the line. This keeps the upper body centered on the trail and forces the feet to be placed under the ski.

Arms are kept far out to the side when poling. This is very inefficient and results in rapid tiring and poor pole push. Other inefficient pole positions are also common. A good demo of efficient pole position with arms and hands close to the body is important here. I focus on double poling only without adding a skate with the legs on gradual downhill sections of trail. As efficiency improves I move to flatter and finally slightly uphill areas.
Bogging down on uphills. This is caused by all of the above and maybe a few other problems. Each of the previous drills will help. I also move to a more gradual slope to keep the frustration level down.

Perhaps you or someone you know had these problems and found a different solution to correcting them. Send me an email describing what you did so I can share these here.

Rick Garstka, President of the Pennsylvania Cross Country Skiers Association, wrote to say he feels most of the problems beginners show are the result of poor balance. He stresses balance drills continually in his lessons and finds that as balance improves the ability to skate improves as well.