Ralph's Nordic Web
Posts from December 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 10:45:31 AM

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Improving My Classic Skiing at West Yellowstone
Posted December 26, 2005

There are many reasons to ski the Rendezvous Trails at West Yellowstone. For some it is the early season snow and the wonderful ski festival in November. Others prefer the Rendezvous Race in March. I like to ski West Yellowstone in mid winter because of the superb grooming and relative solitude on the trails.

I love skate skiing but when I get to the Rendezvous Trails it's hard to decide which technique to play with. Doug Edgerton has plenty of trail width to work with so he sets the classic track a full three feet in from the side of the trail. Doug's track is smooth and clean and he keeps a uniform radius around corners. His expertise provides a solid area for pole plants and plenty of room for maneuvers when the track is on the outside of a fast corner or twisting downhill. Sticking in the track while cruising fast around curves provides some exciting skiing.

Mid winter at West Yellowstone usually mean cold conditions. Last week snow temperatures varied only slightly from -18 C the three days John and I skied there. To me these are the perfect conditions for classic skiing. I glided through the woods; zoomed around corners; tucked on the fast downhills and worked hard on improving my uphill technique.

The matter of uphill technique is important. There are few, if any hills on the green and blue trails that require a herringbone to climb if one uses proper diagonal stride. Since it is still fairly early in the season, though, I found some of the hills a little difficult. To overcome problems on climbing I focused on technique. Here's what I did to improve my classic technique.

First, before heading to West, I watched some videos. I have several tapes from World Cup and Olympic races as well as a copy of Lee Borowski's Simple Secrets of Striding. In reviewing these visual images I focused on observing some of the visual cues to good classic skiing developed by the Professional Ski Instructors of America.

When I began skiing I refocused on the visual cues, transferred them to what I feel when I ski and tried to make my skiing become more like the images I saw in the videos. One advantage of thinking about technique using the visual cues concept relates to the fact that skiers have varying body types and athletic abilities. The visual cues allow for variation in skiing. The visual cues are divided into the following groups: Ski to Ski Balance, Flexion and Extension, Poling, Relaxation, and Rhythm.

In my ski last week I focused on Flexion and Extension because I felt improvement in this area would provide the most benefit to me. John took a series of images of my skiing. I compiled four of these images into the photo below. Look over the visual cues for Flexion and Extension below and see how they compare to my actual skiing.

Flexion and Extension

  • Maximum flex off all the joints occurs as the feet pass.
  • During pushoff the leg becomes fully extended.
  • When the back leg is fully extended, it is in line with the upper body.

I definitely improved my uphill technique, my skiing became more relaxed and I managed to get up more of the steeper hills while skiing in the track. All in all I'd say it was a successful experience. More importantly, though, I had a great time!

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The Spam Cup
Posted December 19, 2005

The Rendezvous Ski Trails web site says this race is, "The first in a series of citizens races sponsored by West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation, the Spam Cups are designed to be fun for everyone. Participants range in age from 5 to 75 and first place is a can of Spam! Come join the fun!  Distances for this race: 1 k, 4 k, 6 k and 12 k."

John and I decided to check out what seemed like a fun event and ski a 12 k race. The morning was pretty cold at -5 F. The sun was bright and hoping for a little mid day warmth we headed over to the Rendezvous trails, checked our grip wax and skied 2 k to the start area wearing all the clothes we brought along.

Registration was just beginning and few folks were around yet. We started looking for the 75 year old to see if he/she might be beatable. Apparently the older folks hadn't arrived yet. We signed up, checked our wax again and began to ski some warm up laps to keep from freezing our toes off.


The Start/Finish area was near the biathlon range. A few more folks had arrived and things were getting going.

Returning to the start area after one lap there were many more participants. Watching others ski around and checking out the competition we noticed several skiers that looked to be a little off in their technique. These all turned out to be parents of kids on the West Yellowstone Ski Team. Still no 75 year old racers in knickers. Time for one more lap, so off we skied to stay warm.


Above: Members of the West Yellowstone Race Team (left) and other racers wax up just prior to the start.

It was almost 11:00 am. Start Time. Skiers were putting the finishing touches on their wax jobs. The temperature had warmed to about +5 F! We shed our extra clothes and got in position so as to not get in the way of any real racers. The 75 year old guy in knickers didn't show! Boom, the gun sounded and off we went. The start area was pretty wide but the course made a sharp right turn and narrowed quickly. Everyone was pretty cautious and there were no wrecks. Soon the fast guys were spread out leaving plenty of room for me to ski.

I skied easily knowing that the first 2 kilometers included plenty of climbing. I didn't want to frost my lungs in the cold air and I needed some energy off the top of the longest hill. I paced along with some other races, passing one and being passed by another. A guy with a big coat was skiing right behind me. I could hear his heavy breathing as we climbed a short hill.

After several short ascents and a few downhill runs we reached the long climb on the Deja Vu trail. My strategy worked and I reached the top with plenty of energy. The heavy breather passed me near the crest of the hill so I tucked in behind him.

He would gain a little on uphills but he seemed to be muscling his classic technique. When we crested a hill and skied on some flats he would continue flailing away with his diagonal stride. I changed to double pole and easily caught him. Another uphill and he would pull away, but once again on the descent I caught up. All in all I thought my pace was right for me and I felt pretty good.

I lost contact with John right after the start. I kept looking for him but didn't see him again until just after beginning my second lap. Shortly the 4 km racers turned right onto a separate course. Things thinned out dramatically then with only me and the heavy breather skiing together.

After about 5 km he mentioned the big footprints next to the track. Apparently a mountain lion had entered the race and was bounding along somewhere up ahead. The heavy breather pulled over on another long climb and I skied along side as we talked briefly about the lion. I began to pass but he wasn't having any and muscled back in front of me.

We approached the lap/finish area, I moved left to get into the lap track and I expected heavy breather to do the same. He surprised me though and pulled off the course. I skied past the finish around the lap area and back onto the trail. The second time up the long hill took a lot of my remaining energy. I had just enough left to make my second lap only a minute or so slower than my first.

I skied alone though and didn't see another soul until approaching the finish line. There up ahead was the 75 year old we were told would be wearing knickers in the race. He didn't race but collected bibs at the finish line and recorded times. I gave a little spurt, double poled across the finish and headed for my warm clothes. The old guy grabbed me and ripped off my bib. I got my coat on and the camera out just in time to catch John finishing his race.

After resting, drinking some water and downing some granola bars we began the 2 km ski back to the trail head. I had taken my gloves off to take a few pics and eat. My damp gloves got really cold and that began to penetrate quickly into the ends of my fingers. My hands really got cold so I skied as fast as I could. I probably skied that last kilometer faster than I skied any of the race. Reaching the warming hut at the trail head, I dashed inside to warm up and clean the ice off my beard. Fortunately there was no frostbite but my fingers hurt pretty bad and were tender the rest of the day.

I can always tell when I had a good time during a ski race. I keep talking about it. John and I discussed our strategy and the events of the day all the way home. It was a good time. The next race in the Spam Cup Series will be a freestyle race on January 7, 2006. Will you be there?

Waxing for the Spam Cup
Snow Temp:
-14 C (Real Cold!)
Grip Wax: Toko Carbonline White. Plenty of grip. In fact after testing it a while I scraped off the front 5 cm of the wax pocket. That improved glide but didn't seem to sacrifice any grip.
Glide Wax: Toko Dibloc Low Fluoro Grey Molly mixed with Toko Dibloc Low Fluoro Red. Glide was a little less than I would have liked. Perhaps a harder wax would have been better. Next time it's that cold I'll try some Toko System 3 Blue with X-Cold Powder mixed in.

A Cold Afternoon at West Yellowstone
Posted December 12, 2005; Updated December 19, 2005

I spent an afternoon skiing the Rendezvous Trails in West Yellowstone. I had originally planned to make it a longer junket but the weather was a little uncooperative. Last Wednesday it was -45 F at West for a morning low. It didn't get real warm that day either. Thursday morning it was a little warmer at -42 F. By the time I arrived it was -8 F. It was a Mint day. Toko grip wax Mint that is.

Other than having a fun ski my objective was to determine once and for all whether my new Fischer Centrix boots would work for me. I have many boots sagas but this one began last year. I ordered a pair of Fischer Centrix C9000 classic boots to replace my old worn out combi boots. The largest size available was a 47 and it was too small. I returned them for some Solomon Carbon Classic boots but those were too narrow for my big feet. I continued to ski in my combi boots but my feet had gotten larger and the boots hurt.

This year Fischer made larger sizes and a 48 seemed to fit well. I skied them for 20 minutes in November. The right boot lace loosened up and I got a big blister. I didn't want to ski the new boots unless conditions were right because I thought I'd probably be returning these too. I went back to skiing my old boots again but the liner had worn and I developed another blister on the same foot. I hate blisters.

At the Rendezvous trail head is a new warming shelter. I put on the boots, waxed up my skis and headed out. The sun felt warm but glide was a little slow. I thought I'd ski a half K loop. If the boots didn't feel just right I'd take them off and send them back. 15 kilometers later I returned all frosty to the trail head. The boots felt fine.

This model was introduced last year but there seem to be several complaints. Some people developed sores or blisters on the bottom of their feet. Others didn't like to tie their boots or had trouble keeping the laces snug. This years model has a softer sole and a speed lace system. The boot sure felt good and snug on my foot. I also like the way the cuff prevents snow from getting into the boot.

December 19th Update: I spent three more days skiing 15-20 K each day in the new boots. The right boot pressed on my toes a little when they flexed but this seems to have stopped as the boot broke in. My feet feel fine. The Fischer Centrix C9000 classic boots have a very interesting feel. The sole is wedged so it is slightly higher at the heel than at the toes. This seems to made the correct forward lean of classic skiing easier. Hill climbing seemed easier too. I'll definitely keep skiing these boots and recommend them for classic skiing. In fact, not I want to look at the top end skate version and see how those feel on my big feet.

Enough of the commercial. The trails were groomed perfectly. Snow depths were 2-4 feet. Even with the cold temps skiing was fun. After an hour and a half though it was time to get warm.

Waxing for Classic Skiing
Snow Temp:
-22 C (Real Cold!)
Grip Wax: Toko Carbonline Mint. Plenty of grip.
Glide Wax: I thought it might be warmer there so had Toko Dibloc Low Fluoro Grey Molly on my skis. A better choice would have been Toko System 3 Blue. The System 3 waxes have no fluoro carbons and the hard blue would have worked very well in the cold, cold snow.

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Clinician Training and Kids Instruction
Posted December 12, 2005

As a clinician for the Professional Ski Instructors of America in the Northern Rocky Mountain Division I attend annual training and development programs. This year we spent a morning looking at how kids ski and learn. A primary focus was to understand how children's movement is different from adults and how teaching children must be adapted to these differences.

Kid's movements were broken down into six categories relating to skiing. These are balance, flexion/extension, edging, poling, relaxation and rhythm. In each category we examined the ideal movement, the real movement seen in kids, why this was the case and what instructors could do to help children learn to ski.

My group focused on flexion/extension. Ideally kids should move from ski to ski with maximum flexion when the feet pass and maximum extension when the kicking leg is most extended. Typically though kids, especially very young kids, move from ski to ski with little, if any, flex in the leg joints. This is because coordinating the movement of several muscle groups at the same time is difficult for young children. Also strength and coordination of large muscles develop before the small muscles.

We decided to use a fun activity that would improve flexion. We created a sort of limbo poles with a piece of flexible surveyors tape and asked the kids (other clinicians) to ski under the tape while imitating an animal. Below are the results. On the left James goes under the tape with leg flexion while making like a gorilla; center is Bill as an elephant; and right is Angela like a mountain goat.

This and several other activities got us thinking of how to modify our standard approach to teaching to meet the needs of different people. We will pass these concepts along in our clinics to other instructors over the course of the season.

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Kick Out the Kinks Race, Izaak Walton Inn, December 4, 2005
Posted December 5, 2005

This is the first local race of the season and a fund raiser for the Glacier Search and Rescue group. Several ski teams from Kalispell and Whitefish made for stiff competition. We noticed they were all planning to skate so we prepared our classic skis to provide some comic relief.

Pictured above left is the main trailhead at Izaak Walton Inn. The mountains behind are in Glacier National Park. We took some time in the morning to stretch our legs, test our wax and enjoy the camaraderie of friends. Above right is our classic group just prior to the start of the race. From left to right are Bruce White, Rhonda White, John Carr, Ron Gruber and myself. Not pictured is our official photographer Jennie Gruber who can be seen the above left photo second from the right.


The mass start of the 10 km main event.

Below Bruce leads the classic group onto the course (below left in blue tights with yellow legs), I follow with Rhonda right behind. Then comes John and Ron. The first kilometer was the most exciting as far as group dynamics are concerned. The course was slightly downhill and everyone was jockeying for position. Then an abrupt right hand turn and steep descent started to mix things up.

Bruce was right in front of me as we went down into the turn. My skis were fast and I stepped to the right to make a pass. At the bottom of the hill I noticed a guy in the track trying to get up after a fall. Bruce stepped to the right and I tried to move further right to avoid him.

Ah, just then a skater came up on my right and there wasn't enough room to ski three wide. I yelled to Bruce, "Don't pole!" I ended up with one of my skis between his legs. I reached forward and pushed him in the small of his back just as we flew by the fallen skier. We soon separated and began a long ascent.

Somewhere in this melee I heard John exclaim, "Man, this is fun!" I wasn't sure what he was talking about, but since no damage was done I guess he was right.

As we climbed the long grade the skaters began to get by and we all had more room to maneuver. Shortly after we crested the hill, the 5km race group peeled off and the course opened up substantially. Ron crashed on a short steep downhill and we left him temporarily behind. Rhonda skied carefully through the crowds and followed us up the trail.

The next 2 km was all uphill. We climbed over 300 feet to the top of the Highline trail. Bruce muscled his way up and used his alpine skills to parallel turn the twisting descent to the valley. I lost sight of him on a curve and didn't see him again until I finished.

John stuck in my draft the whole way up saving his energy for later. I tried to make him lead some but he wouldn't have any. Ron worked hard on the ascent and caught John and I about halfway up. We lost Ron again when he crashed on the big descent. I think he caught sight of us again but he never really caught us. Rhonda skied easily following the group up the grade. I rested on the downhill (below left) and caught my breath.

John and I reached the bottom of the descent together, with John still skiing my draft. We cruised around a tight turn (above right) and headed uphill again. I finally got John to take the lead but I fell too far behind on one steep section. John powered up that steep hill and I lost sight of him for a while.

Over the top of that hill was a fast descent that included a sharp right and left turn, a short straight and another hard left. I caught up to within a few feet of John there but could never muster the energy to catch and pass him. One more lap of the Starlight trail brought us to the finish line. All of us were smiling at the end so we know we had a great time. The order of finish for the classic division was: Bruce, John, Ralph, Ron and Rhonda.

The 3 km Race for kids (above is the start) included a nifty little jump (below left). One other mom-kid combo skied the 5 km race (below right). They were the only ones in this class.

Waxing for Kick Out the Kinks: December 4, 2005

Classic Skiing
Snow Temp:
-12 C
Grip Wax: Toko Carbonline Blue. The blue is for snow temps of -10 to -4 C but the machine groomed snow acted like it was warmer than the thermometer showed. Swix VR40 with a little VR45 in the middle of the kick zone. Again VR40 is for snow temps to -12 but because the snow acted warmer Bruce added some softer VR45.
Comments: Track firm and fast. Machine groomed and packed powder.
Glide Wax: My choice for glide was Dominator Race Day Mid-Fluoro FX44. I know it's probably no longer around but I have a few Dominator waxes left over and they work well. Otherwise Toko Dibloc Low Fluoro Red mixed with Grey Moly or Swix LF 6 (Blue) would work very well also.

Skating
Snow Temp: -12 C
Comments: Fresh tilling and grooming brought warm snow from near the ground to the surface. Track was smooth and fast. Perfect skating conditions.
Glide Wax: Toko Dibloc Low Fluoro Red mixed with Grey Moly or Swix LF 6 (Blue). I also noticed some of the "Big Dogs" crayoning on and polishing in some Swix FC 1S 100% Fluorocarbon in solid form.

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Memorial Ski for Dan Tomsheck
Posted December 5, 2005

Our skiing, climbing, hiking group lost a good friend the day before Thanksgiving with the passing of Dan Tomsheck. He was an avid outdoorsman. Dan himself said, "I feel most alive when on the top of a mountain."

Bud Iszler organized a memorial outing to remember Dan. We met at Marias Pass and skied and snowshoed to the top of Flattop Mountain, one of Dan's favorite places. On clear days Dan could see much of the southern part of Glacier. There are also great views out onto the plains. The views were somewhat obscured by blowing snow. Even so the group held a short memorial service below the windy summit.

At the same time we all enjoyed the same wonderful place that Dan liked so much. The snow was nice and fluffy (below). The trees were all flocked and beautiful.

Below: Gathering in front of newly named Tomsheck Peak before our ski back down to the pass.

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Backcountry Skiing?
Posted December 5, 2005

Not everyone found the easiest way down from the summit! See if you can find Terry?
Having trouble? Check the image below. Ah, there he is!

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