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Posts from January 2007

Skiing in Glacier - Lubec to East Glacier
Posted January 29, 2007

The skiing highlights from this week include skiing some fast frozen snow at Izaak Walton, a delightfully sunny day skiing the granular but very well groomed trails at the Glacier Nordic Center in Whitefish and a backcountry ski from Lubec to East Glacier in the southeastern section of Glacier National Park.

Bud reported excellent powder snow conditions last Tuesday and he suggested we get out and ski. We planned a trip for Thursday. At my home north of Choteau the high temps were 54, 60 and 64 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week and this impacted the nice powder snow we had anticipated. That didn't deter us from getting out though.


Bud skis in at the Lubec Trailhead. Our route would go straight toward the mountains then turn right (east)
and follow the base of the mountains to East Glacier.

The Lubec trailhead is named after a Metis trapper and an old ranger station in Glacier National Park. The trail head is near a false summit. Trains approaching the Continental Divide cross Midvale Creek in East Glacier and climb to a high point between that drainage and the drainage of the South Fork of the Two Medicine River. They descend somewhat before beginning their final push to the Continental Divide at Marias Pass.

The ski from Lubec to East Glacier begins with a climb to the Continental Divide Trail. That trail begins in New Mexico at the Mexican border and enters Glacier at Marias Pass several miles west of Lubec. From Marias Pass it follows the base of Little Dog, Summit and Calf Robe Mountains, crosses Railroad Creek, climbs to a ridge off Dancing Lady Mountain and descends a series of great runs to East Glacier. The total distance from Marias Pass is about 18 miles. We planned to ski in at Lubec though cutting the distance in half. The trip usually takes between 3 and 6 hours. We got to east Glacier in around 4 hours after stopping numerous time to enjoy the sunshine, scenery and consume several luncheons.


Looking west from the Lubec Trailhead toward Little Dog Mountain, Summit mountain and the Big Toe.

We left a vehicle in East Glacier and drove to the trailhead. False summit is often windswept and much of the snow that falls there is blown to North Dakota. The trail, however, follows a low ridge where the snow collects in drifts. This allowed us to ski the entire way with no portages. We skied quickly hurrying to get into the thicker forest up high and out of the wind.

As we skied along the day warmed. The snow was frozen crust in the morning and sloppy mashed potatoes during the mid-day. In East Glacier where it is lower and warmer the snow had transformed to wet corn. Even so we found shady pockets of dry powder snow and were blasted a few times by swirling clouds of snow driven by 40 mph winds.

The sky was a deep blue. The trail lead through deep forests, aspen parks and across open meadows. The scenery was simply fantastic. The only ski tracks on the trail were quite old and very faint. We would have felt like pioneers exploring a new route except for the metal trail markers. Those were on trees at about hip height. Now we know from hiking this area in summer that the markers are actually 7-8 feet above the ground but the deep snow made them appear much lower.


Steve Berg and Bud Iszler ski across a branch of Railroad Creek (left).
We passed large snow cornices on the ridge below Dancing Lady Mountain (right).

Shortly after lunch we climbed to the highest point on the trail, the high ridge coming off of Dancing Lady Mountain. From there we cruised a long series of downhill runs, some steep but most fairly gentle. In no time at all we crossed the Park Boundary and approached Midvale Creek. Fortunately we were able to ski across the creek and reach our vehicle without getting wet.

Variety in Skiing Spices up the Fun
Posted January 22, 2007

I tend to spend a great deal of my ski time on skinny classic skis or skate skiing on groomed trails. I suspect many others focus on one type of skiing over another as well. Variety can add spice to life, as the old saying goes. I wholeheartedly agree.

It's a real blast to cruise through deep powder on an open slope at a lift served ski area or, even better, in the backcountry. Skis provide a way to explore many more areas than are available on groomed trails. The skills developed in each type of skiing can add a lot to your abilities in all skiing. And variety is just plain fun.

This past weekend I skied at Izaak Walton Inn Friday and Sunday working on my skating skills. My main goal was to increase the distance skied between rest breaks. The Birkie is only about 30 days away and I always like to be able to ski the 51 kilometer distance without overtaxing myself.

To add variety to the weekend I joined a group on a backcountry ski to Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park. We originally planned to ski up to a fire lookout for views into the Park but heavy snowfall limited visibility. So we opted for the lower elevation ski to Bowman Lake.

Steve Berg invited the group to spend the weekend at his cabin on the North Fork of the Flathead River 12 miles north of Polebridge. After a hearty breakfast we drove into Glacier National Park and left our vehicles at the Polebridge Ranger Station (above).

The six mile road to Bowman Lake is a narrow track with steep grades and sharp curves. It is actually more like a back country ski trail than a road especially with several feel of snow covering everything. Skiers the previous weekend packed a track that was covered by the new snow falling that day. Temps were comfortably in the 20s.

Much of the area around Polebridge was burned by the Red Bench forest fire in 1988. The first three miles of our ski was through this old burn. In some sections the new growth of trees was quite thick. Much of the way, though, the views were more impressive.

When we reached the long lake it was snowing so hard we could see only a short distance. The only sound was the scratchy sound of snowflakes falling on our parkas. We gathered under some trees for lunch. The snow let up some and the view down the lake improved.

Our hopes for a little sunshine were put off until another day as the snow began to fall heavily again. A raven flew over giving us a croaking call.

We saw quite a few animals tracks on our ski but no animals other than a few birds. On our drive out early Sunday morning we were greeted by a bull moose and two herds of elk.

The mostly uphill ski in took about three hours in the deep snow. But now that the trail was packed and the route mostly downhill we made it back to Polebridge in well under two hours. The camaraderie of the day and the hospitality at Steve's cabin made for a delightful time. Variety does add a lot of spice to skiing life.

Cold Snow - Great Classic Skiing!
Posted January 15, 2007

Weather wise, Montana is an interesting place. Two spots, not all that far apart, can have very different weather. The difference in elevation is one factor but there are many others some probably known only to the weather gods.

We planned to meet Sunday for skiing at Izaak Walton Inn. It had been fairly cold this past week, allthough I did wash Nancy's new car on Tuesday when it was 51 degrees at my house. Most days though it was in the single digits for highs and below zero at night at my home which is at 4,100 feet.

It would be impossible to know temperature differences at other places without the RWIS (Remote Weather Information System) remote sensors. These are installed by the Montana Highway Department so they can remotely track road conditions. Some of these even have a camera that takes a photo every few minutes. While the sensors are primarily used for highway maintenance the data they produce is available on line and can be accessed with a web browser.

OK, I was getting ready to leave for skiing Sunday. It was +8 F at my place. The forecast for home was a high in the 20s. I had skied at Marias Pass near Essex the day before and the temps there were comparable to those at my house. I checked the Essex RWIS and was amazed to see it was -19 F there at 7 AM. Ooooh, might be a chilly ski, eh?

While getting ready to ski in the inn everyone was wondering if we'd be warm enough and how long we might last out there. While it had armed there to -12 F it still seemed darn cold. We decided to put on classic skis and headed out.

We don't look all that cold (YET!) in the photo above but we began to chill down quickly. Many of the trails at Izaak Walton are in a deep shaded valley. This is good because they are protected from the sun on warm days. We decided to take advantage of whatever sun was shining, though, by skiing the River Trail which is located on the wider valley floor of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and much more open to the sun.

We left the trail head and skied the Essex Road trail for a few kilometers. The trail climbs gradually and we began to warm up nicely. Then the trail runs down a long hill to the valley floor. While the glide is fun on the downhill the cold started to sneak back in.

We crossed the tracks and US 2 and found ourselves skiing through sunlit woods with great views. It was a cheery sunlit day and we put aside all concerns about being too cold. The round trip out and back is about 17 kilometers. It was a joyous time. As we approached the end of the ski, however, we all noticed how hungry we were and how it might be nice to go inside and warm up.

Sometimes it hard to get motivated after warming up and having lunch. Our group was not to be denied another good ski so we were soon back at it again. By now the temperatures were pretty balmy at +2 F. I looked at Jen and she said, "Dad, we used to ski in Wisconsin all the time when it was this cold." I agreed that we must be getting soft.

Waxing on January 14, 2007
Snow Temp:
-23 C (-9 F). The snow was fairly abrasive and very cold!
Air Temp: -24 C (-12 F) with warming during the day to -17 C (+2 F) if you call it that.
Grip Wax: I used Rex Power Grip Green. Bruce had Swix VR 40 on his skis and reported that while grip was great he would have gotten better glide with VR 30. Jen and Ron used Swix Special Green and April enjoyed Toko Mint. The Power Grip really stayed on the ski in the abrasive snow. Grip was wonderful and glide was pretty darn good considering the cold snow. The only place the Power Grip was too slow was in some areas of ungroomed fresh powder.
Glide Wax: Toko System 3 Blue with Toko X-Cold powder made for good glide on my skis. Bruce and Rhonda reported that Swix LF 5 was good and everyone else had on last week's glide wax.

The Autumn Creek Trail - Glacier National Park
Posted January 14, 2007

This trail begins west of Marias Pass, climbs up the valley of Autumn Creek below Elk Mountain, crosses a low saddle and continues 16 miles more to East Glacier. The southern end of this trail is fairly open and often exposed to screaming winds and blowing snow.

Saturday it was calm and cold. We decided to ski uphill to stay warm and keep any wind at our backs. The day was clear in the morning but clouds began to move in and it looked like it would begin to snow by evening.

We followed the tracks of a few hearty Telemark skiers for a short while but they soon turned uphill looking for a powder cache in the big bowl of Elk Mountain. We continued on northeastward following the trail through the forest until reaching the open slopes between Elk Mountain and the Blacktail Hills.

As we skied along Bud spotted several Mountain Sheep feeding on the wind blown slopes above us. Little Dog Mountain in the photo above drew us onward.

The snow was deep everywhere except on some of the most exposed slopes. Even there the snow was deep enough for good skiing. There were no tracks of other skiers and the solitude and scenery was superb. What a wonderful way to spend the day!

It did begin to snow, just as we reached our car at Marias Pass.

Enjoying Winter!
Posted January 8, 2007

Amtrak's Empire Builder dropped off a family from Seattle at the Izaak Walton Inn on Saturday morning at 9:00 AM.

The kids apparently never had the opportunity to play in the snow before. By 10:00 they were jumping into the 3 feet of sow on the lawn in front of the inn. By 10:30 they were climbing the mountains of snow piled up by the plows and sliding down. They tried their hand at making a snowman and marveled at the snow castle. They laughed, screamed and yelled with the joy only children can show.

After a warm up in front of the fire and a good lunch the family put on skis and headed out with Brian for a lesson. I passed them on Essex Road and the whole bunch had big smiles. That night the kids were in a room across the hall from me. I heard them go in but it soon became quiet. Not a peep!

It might be good for each of us to take some time out and just play. Don't think about improving technique or training for the big race. Just play, smile and laugh! Have a good time with friends. Enjoy winter! It will be gone before we now it.

This past weekend snow conditions provided just that kind of opportunity. It snowed over 18 inches. The groomers tried but couldn't keep up. The snow was deep and the temps warm enough that it was easy to stay warm.

If you crashed on a hill in the soft snow you only had to get up and brush if off.

Trees were flocked. The only sounds came from the sizzle of falling snow, the gurgle of Essex Creek and an occasional muted train whistle.

It was truly a glorious weekend. I hope winter treats you just as well!

Waxing: January 7, 2007
Snow Temp:
-2 C (+29 F). The snow was soft.
Air Temp: -2 C (+29 F) with little change throughout the day.
Grip Wax: I used Toko Red. Any lumpiness in the wax resulted in some icing, especially after standing around. The glide was good though once I got those lumps of snow off.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red was OK but maybe yellow would have been a better choice in the afternoon. I corked in some Streamline to smooth out the glide and get that nice frictionless feel.

In the top photo (and the one below) Jen, Ron and Brian play the disappearing ski act as they skate through the deep snow. The castle in the photo at the left won the snow sculpture contest.


Happy New Year!
Posted January 2, 2007

I really like the New Year holiday. It marks an important turning point in my winters.

The ski season is now in full swing and snow conditions can be expected to be great for some time. My apologies though to Midwestern and Eastern skiers because in many areas their season hasn't really got off the ground yet.

The big holiday rush with all the important obligations is past and winter settles into a nice routine.

My muscles have finally adapted to skiing and don't complain so much after long outings. This enables me to ski longer and farther each time out.

Izaak Walton Inn was busy over the holidays and all sorts of interesting things were observed on the trails. I even saw Pluto striding up Essex Road (left).

Waxing on December 31, 2007
Snow Temp:
-13 C (+9 F). The snow was fairly abrasive.
Air Temp: -10 C (+13 F) with little change throughout the day.
Grip Wax: I used Toko White with a little Toko Blue. Bruce had Swix VR 40 on his skis and reported good grip. He thought that VR 30 would have been a better choice. The very abrasive snow wore the wax quickly on the edges of the wax pocket. A binder might have been a good choice.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray mixed together made for that nice greasy fast feeling in the cold snow. Bruce waxed with CH7 but thought CH6 would have provided better glide.

Classic Technique Review
Posted January 2, 2007

While we were skiing the River Trail last Sunday Bruce asked about Classic Technique. He said he noticed in most pictures of classic skiers that the rear leg is shown off the snow and he didn't think he skied that way.

"Is lifting your rear ski off the snow the correct thing to do?" he asked.

I replied that depends. Under normal diagonal stride conditions the pushoff leg flexes briefly then extends in a powerfull pushoff. Immediately after the leg relaxes there is a normal follow through combined with a good forward body position that results in the ski coming off the snow. So while you don't purposely lift your ski off the snow it does come off the snow after push-off.

Many skiers, even with a good push-off don't achieve this because their body position is not forward enough. Check out the photo sequence below taken last year at West Yellowstone. While this sequence doesn't cover all that is happening it does show a relaxed diagonal stride on a gradually ascending section of trail.

In the left most image I am preparing for the pushoff. It is already happening in the second image. The third image was captured during the recovery stage when the rear leg relaxes and swings forward. During this time I am gliding fully on the forward ski. I preload (flex briefly) the forward ski then pushoff that ski as the rear ski swings forward to become the gliding ski. Weight is usually transferred from ski to ski shortly after the recovering leg passes the push-off ski or shortly after the feet pass.

The second image shows a good forward body position for relaxed touring. The feet pass at the same time the hands pass. Knees are flexed and there is a forward lean from the ankles.

The third image was captured just after the end of push-off. Notice how my body is not bent at the waist and the rear leg is lined up with my upper body.

The fourth image show body position at the end of the push-off. The leg has completed the push and there is a slight flex in the leg as the leg relaxes and prepares to swing forward. The forward body position results in a ski off the snow.

Many folks also ask about ski slap. They hear the rear ski slap the snow as that leg begins to swing forward. The reason is often that your body position is not forward and you cannot glide long on the forward ski. You fall back onto the rear ski too soon.

Cross country skiing is a one legged sport where much of the time you are on only one ski. Achieving this good classic technique will usually permit a quick cross over to skating.