Ralph's Nordic Web
Posts from November 2005
Welcome to my Blog on cross country skiing.
History, Instruction, News, Wax, Skating, Classic, Racing, Backcountry
with a bias toward the Big Sky Country of Montana.
Last Updated: Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 10:45:22 AM

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Pattern Change!
Posted November 28, 2005; Updated December 1, 2005

When I lived in the Chicago area we used to say, "When you don't like the weather wait a minute." Sure enough the weather changed quickly from day to day.

Here in the Northern Rockies the weather often gets stuck in a rut. If the rut is the wrong kind it can be a real bummer. This is caused partly by the mountains themselves and how they interfere with the flow of air (weather).

Our weather guys talk about ridges and troughs. Ridges are broad areas of high pressure and resultant lack of precipitation. A great ridge typically occurs in summer and can last for more than a month. That is why summer is so beautiful. Ridging doesn't usually last long in the winter and is almost non-existent in spring when we get most of our precipitation.

Troughs are broad areas of low pressure bringing lots of precipitation or "precip" as the locals call it. If it's cold enough then it snows, too warm and it rains. Either of these conditions can occur in any month of the year. In mid August 2002 the snow plows were called out to sand mountain passes and we had snow as low as 4,000 feet on the plains.

In this relatively dry climate, locals may complain about hot weather, cold weather or dry weather. They never complain about precip. Any form of precip is welcome be it a blizzard, snow flurries, a brief rain shower or a torrential downpour. Only after 3-4 weeks of flooding do locals same maybe we've had enough for a little while.

This fall the Northern Rockies have been dominated by ridges with only occasional precip. The last ridge lasted two weeks and was accompanied by temperatures in the mid to upper 60s. Obviously very little snow can accumulate under these conditions.

Elevation can also play a big role in weather. High elevation places like West Yellowstone (6,900 feet) are colder and get more precip than low elevation places like my home (4,100 ft.). So West Yellowstone gets early snow and holds it much better than many other places in Montana.

The orientation of mountain ranges also plays a major role in patterns of precipitation. Bozeman may have only a foot of snow on the ground while 25 miles north in the Bridger Mountains snow depths can be 10 times deeper.

So we've been looking for the weather guys to say, "A pattern change is coming!" That means the ridge will break down and low pressure will move in and precip will follow. Thanksgiving Day was the last day of high pressure. It was sunny and warm Friday morning but by afternoon clouds formed over the mountains. By Saturday light snow was falling in the mountains and a general snow began over the mountains and plains on Sunday. We had a pattern change.

So, we went from the ridge rut to the trough rut. Hopefully the moist air will continue to dump snow for some time and this will be a great winter.

Update: It's been a week since Thanksgiving and the snow keeps falling. We are measuring it by the foot in most mountainous area already. On the plains it has snowed daily but it has been a dry light snow that can fall for weeks and only add up to a few inches.

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My Take on Nordic Jibbing
Posted November 14, 2005, Updated November 21, 2005

November 21, 2005 Update: Fischer is introducing a twin-tip skate ski, the Jibskate, designed specifically for terrain parks at West Yellowstone’s Thanksgiving Ski Festival.

Doug Edgerton, West Yellowstone’s renowned groomer, created a Nordic terrain park at the new Rendezvous trailhead. The BMX style terrain park, built this fall from dirt, includes a start ramp, two tabletop jumps, several rollers, and a banked turn. The park will have snow making on it to ensure good features as well as lighting for night use. Fischer will have two fun-box style rails to jib and a large demo fleet of the market-ready Jibskates (hit shops in early December) to demo. The Jibskates will come in three sizes (151cm, 161cm, 171cm) with each size featuring its own freestyle-inspired color scheme. Come to West Yellowstone November 23-26 to jibskate the new terrain park.

Original Post of November 14, 2005: I hadn't heard this term either until a poster on the Nordic News Group (rec.skiing.nordic) asked how to pronounce the term. Turns out I'm behind the times, but that is nothing new. Ron Bergin (in Cross Country Skier) described Nordic Jibbing as Nordic freeride skiing usually done in terrain parks.

A Nordic terrain park is a small scale version of the terrain parks we see now at most alpine areas for snowboarders and alpine skiers. There are fun features packed close together that provide thrills not usually seen on a regular trail system. The Nordic terrain park is often configured in a loop so skiers make a circuit of features like jumps, table tops, half pipes and even rails or tunnels. These features are built onto the ski landscape either by moving dirt in the off season or piling snow with a big groomer. The entire terrain park, unlike a long ski trail, might occupy only an acre or two and is usually located close to the ski center where it is highly visible.

At Eagle River Nordic Ski Center we had a place called the Bowl. It was a low hollow in the forest with a flat bottom for classic skiing and a variety of slopes leading down from the trails that surrounded it. Instructors used the bowl for lessons. Kids soon discovered the variety of hills and played there. They tried turns, built little jumps, powder skied through the ungroomed slopes, and set up small slalom courses. Every now and then we'd have a race around and through the bowl. The new concept of a terrain park takes the concept of the bowl several steps farther and provides an exciting play area where skiers can have fun, ski together, learn new skills and improve fitness.

I like the concept. It attracts the younger crowd as well as providing new tricks for old dogs. I've always noted that kids don't particularly enjoy long trail skiing like their parents might. But kids will play together for hours at a time. Give them a playground with plenty of variety and you have a formula for fun. At a time where kids don't seem particularly attracted to cross country skiing and seem less prone to get enough exercise the terrain park could act, like Ron Bergin says, a "carrot on a stick!" The park is not gravity fed. There are no lifts. The skier must either accelerate them selves or ski up to the top of a small hill that provides the downhill speed.

At least one ski company (Fischer) has a twin tip Nordic ski designed for jibbing. It is waxed like a skating ski and the skating technique is used to get from one feature to another, to gain speed or get to the top of a table or hill.

I'll even dig out my old Fischer Revolution skating skis, wax them up and try them out in the first place I go to that has a Nordic terrain park. Several resorts are building or have built terrain parks. West Yellowstone has added a play area near the trail head. I'll go check them out and see if this old dog can do a new trick or two.

Oh, the "jib" in Nordic Jibbing is apparently pronounced like the smaller sail in front of the mast on a boat. But the term also has a non nautical definition too. It is to kick back, shake or balk, to refuse to go forward, to move sideways instead of moving on. Seems an appropriate term to me.

Time to Get Those Season Passes
Posted November 7, 2005

I took a trip with my daughter Jen and her husband Ron to Izaak Walton Inn over the weekend. We needed to buy our season passes and wanted a little road trip. We often meet for these adventures at the Two Medicine Grill (aka The Diner) in East Glacier. It's a friendly little place in a tow where backcountry skiers and snowboarders tend to gravitate because of the wonderful skiing opportunities in and around Glacier National Park.

Snow was falling heavily and the roads were pretty slippery. Leaving the diner we headed west over Marias Pass. We encountered more snow, windy conditions, and icy roads. A great prelude to winter and a chance to bone up on driving skills.

After visiting the staff at Izaak Walton Inn we headed back into Glacier for a 5 mile hike up Ole Creek. Not enough snow to ski but enough to make you want to.

In the lower photo Jennie and Ron cross the creek on the only suspension bridge in Glacier left in place for the winter. This provides winter access to the Ole Creek canyon.

If we get plenty of snow, the ski down Ole Creek is a "trip of a lifetime." At least that's what John and April Carr tell me. I'm looking forward to this one later in the season.

A special note to all those Izaak Walton Inn regulars: The special prince on season passes ends December 4th. Get yours now at half price $50.

Base Preparation or Making New Skis Fast Skis
Updated November 7, 2005

Update: In the section below on waxable classic skis I say, "Never iron in glide waxes in the grip zone of classic skis." I received some information from Edgar Hee of Medford, Oregon He pointed out that Nat Brown, former owner of Ultratune and a former Olympic wax tech, says that NON-Fluro glide waxes can be applied to the grip zone to clean the base and during storage of classic skis.  His argument is that hydrocarbon glide waxes and grip waxes use similar base ingredients. I must have missed this one and have never glide waxed the grip zone. Apparently, though, some folks do iron glide wax into the grip zone and leave it there during storage or whenever the ski is to be cleaned and stored for a time before skiing.

I'll have to "test" this out during this winter. I'll do a base cleaning with hot glide wax on one ski of a pair. The second ski I'll clean and prepare as I usually do without ironing in any glide wax into the grip zone. Then I'll ski on the skis and see if there is any difference in the wax retention between the two skis. I'll report back.

Edgar asked Ultratune about the use of grip wax to protect the base during storage. Mark at Ultratune replied,

"I'd say that your method [of using kick wax] is just fine. Since you're removing the old wax, cleaning the ski, and then applying a couple of layers of kick wax, you're performing the same function [as when using glide wax]. The important thing is to keep the base covered so that the p-tex doesn't dry out. The kick wax itself might harden a little bit (mostly on the outside, exposed part over the summer, but that shouldn't be a problem - just scrape it off in the autumn and put some new wax on.

The only disadvantage to using grip wax for storage is that it has a lower melting point. A lot of people store their skis in the garage or an attic where temperatures can get pretty high and the grip wax can ooze down off of the ski (a mess). I recommend keeping the skis at normal temps (i.e. not in the attic or garage). The most important thing is to keep all of the base covered. Lots of skiers wax the tip/tail and leave the middle dry and exposed and it really dries them out."

Original Post (Posted October 31, 2005)

I'm frequently asked what to do with new skis. How do you prepare them for skiing and how do you make them fast. The answer is fairly simple and involves only a few steps.

New skis come from the factory closer to being ready for skiing then ever before. There are some things to do before skiing however.

A few years ago I prepared a little booklet with the help of the Ski Research Group at Eagle River Nordic. It covers a variety of topics pertaining to preparing new skis and waxing skating skis. If you'd like a copy of this brochure just send me an email and ask for one. I'll email it back to you in Adobe pdf format.

Another source for information can be found online at the SWIX School ( http://www.swixschool.no/ ). This site has a series of online videos that cover numerous ski and waxing topics. A broadband connection is recommended.

Here's some basic info though, on what to do with your new skis. Feel free to send any questions.

Glide Zone (Skating or Classic Skis)
This is the entire base of a skating ski or those sections of a classic or backcountry ski that do not provide any grip.

  • Clean the base: Use a wax remover or base cleaner made specifically for skis. The new gel type solvents are especially good because they stay on the base and do not run off. Apply the solvent and use a lint free cloth like Swix Fiberlene to spread the cleaner. You’ll see dirt collecting in the cloth. Wipe with a clean cloth and remove as much solvent as possible. Let the skis air dry at least an hour. Overnight is better. Let all of the solvent evaporate from the base.
  • Apply Base Preparation: Iron in a base preparation. Let it cool at least 30 minutes or until room temperature. Scrape the skis. Repeat the cycle at least once more. After the skis cool completely, scrape and brush thoroughly to get all of the base preparation off the base of the skis. Now you are ready to begin waxing the skis to make them fast.
  • Begin Soaking the Base with Wax: Iron in at least 3 layers of a soft warm snow hydrocarbon (non fluorinated) wax such as Swix Yellow (CH10) or Toko System 3 Yellow. Let cool and scrape lightly between each application.
    Consider ironing in a layer of a mid range wax like Swix Violet (CH7) or Toko System 3 Red. This prepares the base to hold well the entire range of waxes you might use while skiing.

Grip Zone of Waxable Classic Skis
Clean the base, sand the grip zone to improve wax adhesion, and cover the grip zone with the hardest grip wax in your wax box. When you wax for the conditions of the day apply softer waxes directly over the hard wax. Never iron in glide waxes in the grip zone of classic skis.

Grip Zone of No-Wax Classic Skis
Clean the base and apply a protective glide coating such as Swix F4 or Maxi-Glide to the patterned area. I'm not quite sure what to do to the new chemical grip zones on some of the new skis. If you have a pair of these send me an email and I'll find out what is the best way to treat these bases.

The First Sign of Winter in Montana?
Posted October 26, 2005

This past weekend the slopes above Comeau Pass were covered with several feet of snow that has been accumulating this fall. At left is the slopes on Gunsight Mountain, on the right is Mount Edwards.

We've had several snow storms so far this fall. I even had to shovel some slush off my deck here at 4,100 feet. It has all melted away though. There's no snow left at elevations below 7,700 feet. To reach the area around Sperry Glacier and Comeau Pass required a hike of about 10 miles with a gain in elevation of 4,700 feet. We carried gear and camped below the snow line for the weekend. We didn't bring skis! Dumb!