Near the finish of the "Ice
Rink Birkie" of 2007.

For a list of this year's
articles, return to:
Ralph's Nordic Web


First Birkie-1979
Ralph's Bio
Montana Ski Report

Articles from
December 2007
Wonderful Winter
Marias Pass Ski
Kikkan Takes Gold
Go to a Race
Flattop Mtn Ski
Bert Passed Away
West Yellowstone Clinic

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Posts from December 2007

Wonderful Winter

Posted December 31, 2007

A good powder dump occurred last week with 2-3 feet of new snow in southern Glacier. That's the same sentence I used to begin last week's post. It's true again this week. I love it.

Izaak Walton before the most recent snowfall! Essex Creek on the left. On the right Ron Gruber skating the Essex Creek Trail.

I manged to get out four times this past week taking three trips to Izaak Walton Inn and one to backcountry ski near East Glacier. The trees are flocked with heavy snow and the powder is so light that when skiing through deep snow you feel no resistance on your legs. Man it just can't get any better.

Dancing Lady Mountain in Glacier National Park from East Glacier.

Skiing to Squaw Ridge
This is an easy ski into Glacier National Park from East Glacier. The trail climbs gradually to the ridge mostly through forest where you are protected from the wind. While the ski in is mostly uphill the return trip provides some nice downhill runs.

April leads the troups through the forests on the boundary of Glacier National Park.

Dancing Lady Mountain in Glacier National Park.

April Carr, Garry Seubert, Ron Gruber and myself on the ski out. Photo by Bud Iszler.

Izaak Walton Inn
Ron and Jen Gruber and I skied Izaak Walton Inn on Sunday. The snow was falling so hard that the groomers had a tough time of it. We'd ski a loop and when returning to our own ski tracks find them buried in the new snow.

Yep, that's a car in front of the camera.

Upon our arrival we found the inn comvered in fresh snow. Cars were buried in the parking lot. We hoped yo be able to skate ski and immediately wondered whether the trails would be groomed well enough. No worries. The grooming staff at Izaak Walton Inn have been doing a terrific job this winter. The trails were groomed well and the skiing was wonderful. So was the scenery.

Jen and Ron Gruber at the bridge over Essex Creek.

We got pretty wet and snow covered while skiing but we thouroughly enjoyed the downhill runs through the snow flocked forest. This was the perfect time to be cruising the trails.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a Happy New Year!

Breaking Trail at Marias Pass
Posted December 26, 2007

A good powder dump occurred last week with 2-3 feet of new snow in southern Glacier National Park and Marias Pass. More snow came Christmas Eve. And more is predicted this week. Skiers can rejoice and head for the backcountry.

Bud and I skied the Autumn Creek trail east from Marias Pass on Friday. Our first thought was to spot a car at Lubec and do a one way ski - Marias Pass to Lubec. There was no plowed parking area off US 2 at Lubec however so we went to Plan B. That was to simply park at the pass and ski in until we felt we had gone far enough, then turn around and ski out.

The Lubec trailhead and Calf Robe Mountain.

To reach the trail at Marias Pass we crossed the railroad tracks then headed toward the forest. A short ski brought us to Three Bear Lake and the view of Little Dog Mountain in the photo below.

In open areas the wind was kicking up snow and creating some interesting drift patterns. But most of the time we were able to ski through the forest where we were protected from the wind.

Breaking trail through this deep powder was very tiring. We changed leads often as we gained elevation along the base of Summit Mountain.

Besides the deep snow this trail crossed several drainages which we refer to as coulees. Crossing the coulees requires going down to a stream then back up the other side. Some of these coulees are only a few feet deep but others required substantial energy to get across.

Sometime in the early afternoon we reached the highest point on the trail between Marias Pass and Lubec. We rested there and enjoyed some hot beverages along with out lunch. Turning back it was much easier to ski following our tracks. If I recall properly I think it took us a little over three hours to ski in and only 90 minutes to ski out. Skiing in our tracks was that much easier plus much of the return ski was downhill.

Returning to Three Bear Lake we were treated to this fantastic view of Little Dog in the afternoon sun. We lingered for some time enjoying the view. Eventually the cold began to creep in and we headed home.

I hope all of you have an enjoyable holiday season!

Kikkan Randall takes Gold
Posted December 17, 2007

Congratulations to Kikkan "Kikkanimal" Randal from Alaska. She took the first ever World Cup Gold Medal win by a US woman and the first US World Cup Gold since Bill Koch in 1983 in the freestyle sprint races this past Sunday in Rybinsk, Russia.

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Go to a Race
Posted December 17, 2007

Congratulations also go out to:
Craig Pozega from Helena for his second place age class finish in the 14 K Classic Spam Cup at West Yellowstone on December 15, 2007. Great Job!

There are many ways to improve your skiing technique. I always recommend lessons from PSIA certified instructors. I also like seeing strong images of good skiers. One of the best ways to do this is to attend a race.

The Super Tour Series which began at West Yellowstone in November, came to Bozeman, Montana on December 8 and 9, 2007. The lack of snow in town resulted in a move to Bohart Ranch a few miles north. The more difficult trails there provided a strong challenge for racers and yielded an excellent opportunity to see quality skiers in action.

The primary focus on good technique used by the United States Ski Team (USST) and the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) centers around Body Position, Timing and Power.

Above Left: Lindsey Dehlin from the US Ski Team and Northern Michigan University.
Above Right: Chad Giese
Photos by Jennifer Gruber

There is no question that the skiers pictured have all three concepts in their total package.

Above Left: Audrey Weber from Dartmouth University.
Above Right: unknown. Can anyone help?
Photos by Jennifer Gruber

Try to see some really good skiers live and in action at a race sometime this winter. It will help you improve your skiing and instill some excitement as well.

Remember though that the three concepts build on each other, You must start with good body position, then add timing and finally power. Having a great deal of power in your skiing will not produce fast or beautiful skiing unless it is built on the fundamentals of body position and timing.

Flattop Mountain Ski
Posted December 10, 2007

The skiing season is getting off to a slow start in Montana. Areas like West Yellowstone and a few others are reporting very good conditions but many others are struggling with inadequate snow depth. Bud Iszler, Bill Hedglin and I were itching to get out anyway so we decided to take a look at the conditions around Marias Pass.

Pulling into the parking lot at Summit we found about a foot of fairly wet snow with a frozen crust. We all agreed that we had skied in worse conditions before so we put on our skis and headed up toward Flattop Mountain.

22 folks joined me on Flattop Mountain on my 60th birthday almost one year earlier under almost ideal conditions. But things were quite different on this day.

As we climbed along the Pike Creek Road we continually broke through the thin crust making for an energy sapping slog. Water from recent rains puddled in low places and turned the snow to slush pools. Low clouds shrouded the nearby mountains and the wind was blowing pretty good too.

Even so we knew the road was a fairly easy ski and we all needed the exercise so we proceeded on. As we gained elevation the snow dried somewhat. The warm weather earlier in the week made for a hard granular surface.

Near the end of the road Bill decided that he would begin the ski back down. Bud skinned up. I changed to snowshoes. Bud is quite a bit lighter than I and he was able to ski on the surface of the crust. I could not. I kept breaking through and decided snowshoes would be a better alternative for the steeper climb to the summit of Flattop.

Bud, fearing the slopes above would be very icy, used a double skin technique. We usually carry only kicker skins which we apply to the kick zones of our back country skis. Bud put two skins on each ski to increase grip and help slow his descent on the icy crust. It worked very well. He was able to quickly ascend and safely descend the steep slopes.

Neither was really a good choice for me. Even with snowshoes I broke through the crust and wallowed up to my thighs in soft sugary snow. It was a tough slog but since Bud was out in front waiting for me I kept going, albeit quite slowly.

This area burned fairly extensively during the Skyland Fire of last summer. The burned out forests were easier to penetrate and route finding was less difficult as well. The breakable crust though was very frustrating and I considered turning around. As we gained elevation the views improved and so did my spirits. Taking short breaks helped and I eventually caught up with Bud who was waiting in a protected area just below the summit.

We knew we would be exposed to the cold winds raking the top of Flattop so we both put on another layer of clothing for the "summit push."

On top of Flattop the clouds hurried past. Blue sky patches came and went just as fast. The wind chilled our faces and flapped our parkas. It was darn cold up there but the views were pretty good.

Elk Mountain in Glacier National Park, all frosted with beautiful snow (above), rose into the clouds. All the nearby trees were covered with hoar frost. Patches of sunlight danced across the mountain slopes. We stayed long enough to enjoy the view but soon the cold began to creep in under our parkas. I posed for one more photo on the summit with Elk Calf Mountain behind me (below). Then we headed down to catch up with Bill.

Looking behind me in the photo above Bud and I agreed that we should make the trek to the summit of Elk Calf fairly soon. Hopefully it will be on a nice sunny calm day. Stay tuned for this adventure.

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Bert Kleerup Passed Away; I will Miss Him
Posted December 4, 2007

It is with profound sadness that I must report my great friend Bert Kleerup passed away on Monday evening December 3, 2007. His cancer returned with a vengeance, took all his strength and finally his life.

LaNora said he was at peace and held on to life until his brother arrived from California so that LaNora had company. There will be a short service in Eagle River on Friday morning December 7 at 11:00 am. 

Condolences can be sent to
LaNora Kleerup, Eagle River Nordic, PO Box 936, Eagle River, Wisconsin 54521

Bert and LaNora Kleerup founded Eagle River Nordic (which sponsors Ralph's Blog) and the Ski Research Group. They were among the first to guarantee proper ski fit, have a try before you buy capability, provide groomed cross country ski trails in the Midwest and actually conduct research on ski fit, waxes, cardiology rehab using cross country skiing and ski technique.

Bert was extremely instrumental in changing my whole notion of cross country skiing. It was one of those life changing moments. Prior to meeting Bert I skied on wood skis, mostly thrashing around in forests and parks. Bert and LaNora introduced me to the whole concept of performance skis and skiing. It radically changed the way I skied, the equipment I used and over time brought my skiing to a whole new level.

We became very good friends. After moving from the Midwest to Montana I looked forward every winter to my visit to the Kleerups and a fill-up on LaNora's famous Minnesota chile and maybe a little of that glug she makes. It was always good times to exchange stories with Bert. He had so many stories. Even though I've heard his stories for almost 30 years there always seemed to be new ones to enjoy.

The Kleerups have been a close part of my skiing family for a long time. I think we will all miss Bert's quick wit when he just had to make some comment about skis, skiing, or Northwoods life.

The photo I included with this post captured Bert and LaNora in one of those typical good times. We were on a plane headed for the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norge. Bert loved Pendleton wool shirts and a turtleneck. When he and LaNora were together there were usually big smiles. On that trip, now so long ago, we found new stories. So many it takes more than one night to recall them all. It was a gloriously good time.

While Bert is no longer with us Eagle River Nordic is continuing to do business. Ken Lyon has been working with Bert on ski testing and selection for the past five years. Bert said, "I imparted my wisdom to Ken so I don't have to work so hard!" That's so typical Bert. I'm going to miss him dearly.

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West Yellowstone Ski Instructors Clinic
Posted December 3, 2007

As a certified instructor with the Professional Ski Instructors of America and a member of the Northern Rocky Mountain Division Education Staff I am required to periodically participate in education clinics. These are usually held early in the season and frequently on marginal snow. This year it was early but the snow conditions were perfect! Add to that a superb clinic leader, Scott McGee of the PSIA National Nordic Team. It was a perfect setup for a good time.

We began our session at the Three Bears Inn by getting acquainted and going over the agenda for the day. I was immediately impressed with Scott ability to keep the group focused. This continued throughout the clinic with little time wasted, plenty of opportunity to ski, critique and receive feedback on improving both our skiing and teaching abilities.

Scott split the day into a morning classic session and an afternoon skating session. He started slow and easy on skis since he knew most participants, me included, were on skis for the first time this season.

Working on body position, timing and power the three steps to good skiing.

The base for good technique, any technique is body position. We started with weight over the skis and initiated a fall forward from the ankles. Eventually as the body "falls forward" it is necessary to catch yourself by placing one foot forward. This is the essential body position for both classic and skating techniques.

Scott introduced some excellent body position drills. The first of these began with a walk on skis (left photo above). The point was to make sure each "step" included total weight transfer from ski to ski. Once one step was completed we focused on bringing the rear leg forward so as to land next to or slightly in front of the new stepping foot.

The next concept toward good technique is timing. Without proper body position and good timing there will never be speed and efficiency. We worked on timing using a double pole with a kick technique. The hitch was we did the pole motion with our arms but kept our poles off the snow. In order to get a good kick it is very necessary to have complete weight transfer and good body position. Scott broke the timing of this technique into three parts: kicking as the arm swings forward; recovery as the arms swing down during the simulated pole push; and making sure the recovering foot lands next to (and not behind) the forward foot. Practising on a slight uphill section of track made this drill quite a challenge.

The third concept in good technique is power. We worked on increasingly steep uphills with that double pole with a kick (again without actually using the poles) to help develop a powerful weight transfer.

Left: Scott McGee discussing timing in the classic technique. Right: Concluding our morning with a little "group therapy."

Then it was time to put it all together by skiing in pairs or in front of the whole group. The sharp eyes of six fellow instructors caught all errors in body position and timing. Before long it was time to come together for a frank analysis of what each person needed to work on. In my case it was getting more forward from the ankles up and without bending at the waist.

We skied back to the trailhead in pairs while developing more exercises to improve our technique. Two of the most valuable exercises to me were B-I-N-G-O and the pole pull. I'll talk more about these in a future posting.

Scott even managed to use our lunch period by presenting new information on future PSIA interactive web technique and instruction manuals that are being developed. Man, not a minute lost all day.

We returned to the trail on skating gear after lunch. Our goal was to put the body position and timing concepts of the morning into developing more power in skating up hills.

We spent the afternoon focused on power. We compared and contrasted two ways of climbing hills in the V-1 skating technique: fast tempo-short glides versus slow tempo-long glides. In the photo above Angela leads Scott up a fairly steep hill (although it doesn't look steep in the photo. The lead skier starts with fast tempo while the following skier climbs with the slower tempo. About halfway up the hill each skier switches to the others tempo.

We increased the tempo using a jump V-1 pushing our technique to the limits. Everyone was able to find some level where technique began to break down. We continued doing the transitions from slow to fast and came to the conclusion that neither is better. It all depends on snow, terrain and the skier's desired outcomes.

We pushed power to the limit using the V-2 technique, again alternating between fast tempo-short glides and slow tempo-long glides. Good long ski session mixed with brief discussion of technique and were each of us was made for a fast afternoon.

Scott concluded the day with another chance at individual technique critique and feedback. Since we were now about 5 km from the trailhead each of us had plenty of opportunity to work on those specific areas desired on the way back.

It was a wonderful day spent with great folks. Scott brought the diverse group together quite well. I felt very satisfied with my efforts and the fact that I now had plenty to work on for the beginning of the season. The only negative from the afternoon was that I had to leave the beautiful snow in West Yellowstone and drive home.