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Posts from January 2008

A Tale of Three Skis!

Posted January 28, 2008

The weather can and often does change quickly around here. This was brought to light this past week. Here's the story of three different ski trips on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday of the same week.

Ski Number One: Backcountry Skiing in Glacier
The cold and snowfall of earlier in the week had moderated. The weather forecasters predicted a sunny by cool day. We jumped at the chance to ski from Marias Pass to Lubec north of highway US 2 in the southern part of Glacier National Park.

Skiing past Three Bears Lake below Little Dog and Summit Mountains.

Left: Crossing a meadow below Little Dog mountain. Right: Terry Sherburne scoring the pow!

It turned out to be the best ski of the week. Lots of fresh powder on a fairly firm 3-4 foot base. Views of the mountains were fantastic. We even had the opportunity to make some great turns in the untracked powder.

We stopped to play and admire the scenery often enough that it took us about 6 hours to ski the 9 miles. Turned out to be the perfect day. There's a few more views below.

Ski Number Two: Classic Skiing at Izaak Walton
The forecast for Friday was for light snow and temps in the 20s. Great day for skating I thought! Figuring the snow to still be cold from the prior few days I waxed up my skies withe Toko LF Gray mixed with Red. Stepping out of the vehicle I thought it felt a little chillier than 20 so I checked the thermometer. Yep, it was +2 F. So I changed over to classic skis, waxed up with Toko Carbonline Mint and headed out.

I guess it was too cold for most folks because I saw no one else out on the trails. It was pretty frosty out there all right. The skiing was pleasant but the glide was a little slow.

Ski Number Three: Skating in the Rain
The forecast for Sunday was for snow with temps starting around 28 F and falling to around 10 F by 5:00 PM. Total snowfall for this weather system which was to last a few days was predicted at 10-20 inches. We wondered if we would even make it over Marias Pass to Izaak Walton Inn.

As we approached Browning we encountered snow packed roads and falling snow. The snow got heavier as we drove between East Glacier and Marias Pass. It looked like they had gotten at least a foot or more of new snow already. Coming down the west side of the pass the snow let up some and the driving was better. By the time we reached Izaak Walton Inn though the snow had turned to rain mixed with some flurries.

Left: Jen and Ron at the Izaak Walton Inn trailhead where giant mushrooms of snow are waiting to fall on unsuspecting skiers. Right: Ron skates the mush on the "Training Loop."

We've skied in the rain before so that didn't bother us. Because it had rained all the previous night though the trails were pretty mushy. The soft snow had a thin ice crust that caught our skis. Skating was truly an adventure. After thrashing around in the soft mush for a while we settled on a plan. There is a short loop on the lower Pileated trail. By skiing the loop multiple times we mushed the mush and were able to ski with some semblance of technique.

All skiing has benefits and this was no exception. It was one long balance drill. After three to four laps around the "training loop" I began to use more V-2. It was a real trick trying to stay over my gliding ski in the bumpy mush. Fortunately I only did a "Bruce" once. If you're not familiar with that term it is when you pole on or between your skis and auger in.

After 10 laps we were thoroughly soaked and all trained up so we headed in. I arrived home that evening to find the temperature at 43 F. There was an unusual cloud bank coming from the north though. Within 10 minutes the wind had shifted and the temperature had fallen to 15 F. By the next morning it was -19 F and the winds were still blowing 20-30 mph. No skiing today!

Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder arrives at Izaak Walton Inn.

Remember Cold?
Posted January 21, 2008

This week brought a significant pattern change to the Northern Rockies. We've had plenty of snow but the temperature has remained quite comfortable for skiing. The warmest ski day prior to this week was 34 F and the coldest around 16 F. Perfect temperatures for enjoying winter.

A push of cold air with snow came last Tuesday and another more significant storm with more snow and even colder air began Saturday. As I write it is -18 F. The sun just peaked over the ridge though and it promises to be a beautiful day.

When it gets this cold though I am reminded of colder times in the past. The first time I ever cross country skied was during a camping trip to Wyoming. Temperatures plummeted to -37 F on two of the nights we spent in the Grand Tetons. To see the whole story go the Archive and visit "My First ski Trip."

I can also remember a time LaNora Kleerup posted a sign on the Eagle river Nordic Ski Center that said, "Ski Trails Closed, It's too darn cold! Come in and party!" It was -24 F that day and Steve and I skied anyway. Then we joined the party!

And then there was the time Bill, Dean and I skied behind my cabin near Alvin, Wisconsin when it was -37 F. It was so cold that day we had trouble starting my car. I had no electricity there either. To get the car running we removed the battery and placed it in a warm water bath in the kitchen sink and heated the engine oil pan with propane torches. Yep, the ole car turned over nicely after that.

A few winters ago John Carr and I headed out to Waldron Creek when it was -30 F. That story is in the Archives under "The Lake of cold Air."

There were quite a few other times when the temps dipped well below zero on ski trips. It never seemed to prevent us from having fun and getting outside to ski. The trick is to be healthy, keep a positive attitude and use your experience to dress properly. That is dress warm but don't over dress so you end up wet with sweat. Get out there, have fun, stay warm and retreat to a warm shelter when necessary.

Traveling on Montana highways was treacherous this past weekend so I cancelled my ski trip to Izaak Walton Inn. Still feeling the need to get outside in the snow I headed a short distance up the Teton Canyon and skied up the Jones Creek Trail. The valley of Jones Creek is a rugged defile that has been ravaged by past floods. The valley floor is wide open but the slopes on the west side of the creek are forested and have plenty of snow. There are also open areas with outstanding views of the line of peaks rising over 3,000 feet above the east side of the valley. Highest of these is an unnamed summit we all refer to a Guthrie Peak. (See photo below). I stopped on a high ridge to enjoy the view and have some lunch.

Shortly after making this photograph the wind came up and the sun dipped behind the ridge. I could feel the cold start sneak under my parka. I turned back and skied off the ridge heading for the warmth of home.

Quick Poling Recovery
Posted January 15, 2008

Folks watching me skate always tell me that I look fluid and relaxed. This sounds good but I've often thought that maybe I'm a little too relaxed.

At the instructors clinic in West Yellowstone last November we focused quite a bit on variation in skating tempo and power application while skating V-1 and V-2 techniques. As a result of what we discussed and experimented with there I've been focusing on a quicker arm recovery during poling.

This was hit home when Jennifer attended some of the Super Tour races at Bohart Ranch near Bozeman earlier this winter. She commented that the faster racers had a quicker poling recovery where the poling motion ended at about the waist. This was followed by a rapid recovery in preparation for the next poling stroke. These faster skiers managed to skate uphill further in a V-2 technique before resorting to the "lower gear" V-1.

Previously I used a long fluid arm swing where I applied power to the poles as my arms swung down and back. After this power phase I let my arms continue to swing or follow through, then relaxed them while they swung back forward in preparation for the next power phase. This follow through resulted in my arms extending well behind my body at the end of the poling motion.

This past weekend we used a continuous shooting camera to record my V-1 technique. The camera shoots 3 frames per second. The image below is a composite of nine images (3 seconds worth) from one uphill run. It isn't always possible at three frames per second to get just those images needed for a good analysis but this sequence comes close.

This sequence shows a more rapid poling recovery. Starting at the bottom of the hill (on the right) I have just planted my poles and am beginning the power phase of poling. The second image shows me at about the halfway point in the pole push. In the third image I'm completing the pole push. So it has taken me two frames or 2/3rds of a second to complete the power phase of poling in V-1. In the very next frame, taken only 1/3rd second later, I'm ready to begin another pole stroke. This rhythm of poling and quicker recovery continues through the entire sequence.

As I mentioned previously I used to let my arms follow through and then extend quite a bit behind my body. During that follow through my arms were relaxed and not really doing anything to push me forward. To complete a recovery in the shorter time demonstrated here was impossible.

Naturally a quicker poling motion requires a quicker skate pushoff in order for both parts of the technique to remain synchronized. This faster tempo results in more time spent under power and less time gliding (relaxing). The more rapid poling recovery (and skate pushoff recovery) allows for a fluid and dynamic uphill technique. I'm going to continue to work on this to smooth it out.

While I've shown the V-1 here I'm also working on a quicker recovery during V-2. One coach mentioned it should look like your hands hit your thighs and bounce back forward for the next stroke. I can already report that this change in technique allows me to V-2 further up each hill than I previously could. I'll try to complete a V-2 photo sequence soon so you can see what I mean.

Posted January 14, 2008; Updated January 14, 2008

On Sunday January 13, 2008 two skiers were killed by a massive avalanche on "Fiberglass" Hill, a popular out-of-bounds ski area at the Whitefish (Big) Mountain Resort. David Gogolak, 36 of Whitefish, and Anthony Kollman, 19 of Kalispell, were buried by the avalanche. Snowmobilers reported that they saw at least two more skiers swallowed by the sliding snow but no one is presently reported missing according to the Kalispell Daily Interlake. The avalanche was a big one measuring over 800 feet wide and with a verticle run of 1,100 feet. Large snow cornices still hanging at the top of the slope and unstable snow below were of serious concern for more slides. This and low visibility due to fog resulted in the search for more victims being halted after dark. The search resumed Monday is continuing Tuesday. The avalache debris is more than a probe length deep and it estimated at over 20 feet.

As of Tuesday morning the search continues for the possible other victims. The avalanche danger has been raised to High above 5,500 feet becaue of new snow and wind blown additionl snow falling on unstable surfaces. All backcountry skiers are cautioned to be extremely careful in choosing where and when to ski the backcountry.

The Montana ski community is a tight knit group. All mourn the loss of our members in this tragedy. I extend my condolences to David and Anthony's families.

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A Festival of Skiing
Posted January 7, 2008

On the first weekend of January the Cross Country Ski Areas Association celebrates Ski Fest. Events are scheduled at ski areas all across the US to encourage new folks to try the sport of cross country skiing and learn to enjoy winter.

I thoroughly enjoy this weekend teaching skiing to mostly beginners at Izaak Walton Inn. Our guests come from all over the country including many from the local area. I met folks from North Carolina who had never seen snow 4 feet deep fore. There were also folks from Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, Oregon and Washing among other places. A lot of "locals" filled out the lesson groups. I had some breaks between lessons so I had plenty of time to free ski as well.

I actually began my celebration, though, on Wednesday January 2 with a backcountry ski in Glacier National Park with Bud Iszler, April Carr and Steve Berg. It was a beautiful morning. Kind of warm and maybe just a little windy. Meeting at the Two Medicine Grill in was a good time to enjoy a pancake and some coffee while forming our plan for the day.

We decided it was too windy to try to ski to the summit of Elk Calf Mountain our original plan. Instead we though the ski from Lubec to East Glacier would be better. The trail goes through forest so we would be protected from the winds. There were plenty of open areas too that provide great scenery.

Beginning at Lubec just off highway US 2 we cross the Burlington Northern railroad track just before Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder rolled through. I can't imagine what the folks on the train thought when they saw us skiing along the right-of-way with the mountains as our backdrop. I'll bet more than a few thought we were just a little nuts while other probably longed to join us.

Leaving the railroad the trail heads straight for the mountains and soon crosses the site of the former Lubec Ranger Station (above left photo).

After crossing the meadow and skiing through the aspens we began the long climb to the Autumn Creek trail junction. Where the trail was out on an exposed ridge the wind had blown much of the snow toward North Dakota. We had to pick our way around some open areas but the view was terrific.

Before long we were skiing in the forest through deep snow. Some friends from East Glacier had skied the same route the previous day so we had them to thank for making good tracks to follow. Where wind had drifted the snow the tracks were hard to see but we could "feel" them under our skis. The trail follows right along the base of Calf Robe and Dancing Lady Mountains as it winds across Railroad Creek and heads to East Glacier.

The day warmed into the upper 30s and the snow became soft in the sun. This cause some stickiness and time outs to scrape off the bottoms of our skis.

We stopped for lunch in a forested area protected from the wind. It was some sunny and warm there as well. It was a pleasant outing. The ski down the long hill into East Glacier was slower than normal because of the warm conditions but we still made good time skiing into town in the middle of the afternoon.

The Human Ski Rack!