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Posts from March 2008


Keep On Keepin' On!
or How Long Can You Ski
Posted March 31, 2008

Another big snowstorm brought good powder to Montana. While many of the groomed trail systems are winding down for the season there is an unbelievable opportunity for backcountry skiing this spring. Deep powder lies on an even deeper firm base in the mountains. In the valleys a deep snow pack has consolidated to present us with some incredible crust cruising. I'm betting this will continue for at least another month before we have to start searching harder for good skiing.

Bud, April, Brian and I enjoyed a wonderful sunny day ski up Flattop Mountain this past week. A snow the previous day provided some fresh powder The clear day provided great views into Glacier National Park. Here are a few photos from that adventure.

This past week I also gave skating lessons at Izaak Walton Inn. There were still quite a few guests on the trails there last week but it is now the "in between" season there. Things are winding down and their permit for grooming ends April 15. I'll begin the process of putting my skis in storage for the summer by working on my skis that I use on groomed snow.

I'll keep my backcountry skis waxed and ready to go though. More snow fell on Saturday and more is in the forecast. So I'll force myself to "Keep on keepin' on!"

Spring Cleaning and Summer Storage
Reposted March 31, 2008

The winter is almost over. Most groomed trail ski areas are closed for the season even though there is plenty of snow. This will be my last post of the season. Boy, another winter flew by. Even though there will be more opportunities to ski I will begin the process of spring cleaning and prepare my skis for next year. Here's what I do before putting my skis into storage.

1) End of Season Checkup:

  • I take a good look at the skis and bindings. Look carefully to make sure the ski has not been damaged and the binding is in good shape. If the base is worn or damaged I'll consider having the bases stone ground to return them to tip top shape.

2) Clean the Bases:

  • Skating Skis: I use a soft copper brush to remove dirt and any residual wax. Just run the brush lightly down the length of the base from tip to tail several times, then wipe with a clean lint free cloth like Fiberlene. Second I melt on and iron in a very soft wax like Swix CH8 or Toko System 3 Yellow. I scrape the wax off while it is still hot just after it turns solid.
  • Classic Skis: Do the same thing for the glide zones of classic skis. For the kick zone I remove all old wax with wax remover and let the base dry for at least an hour. This lets all the residual wax remover evaporate. Then I iron in a hard grip wax like Swix Special Green or Toko Green Base Binder.

3) Cover the Base with Wax:

  • Skating Skis: Iron in a soft hydrocarbon wax or base prep. I prefer Toko System 3 Yellow. Put on a thick layer, iron it in and leave it on the base for the summer.
  • Classic Skis: The glide zones of classic skis get the same treatment as a skating ski. For the kick zone I iron in a hard grip wax like Swix Special Green. Use the hardest grip wax in your wax kit. Be sure the entire grip zone is covered.

4) Storage: Skis should be stored in a ski bag or wrapped to keep them from getting coated with dust and dirt. Store them in a location that will not get excessively hot. Your attic is not a good place.

These simple steps will protect the skis and extend their life. If, in step one, you discovered some real damage it's time to start thinking of buying ski futures. Click on the "Contact Us" button at the top of this page. Give Ernie a call, he'll know what to do.

Take some time off from training. Enjoy the summer. Climb some mountains! Then start thinking of skiing next year. It'll be here before you know it!

The Never Ending Winter!
Posted March 24, 2008

It's now March 24th. Easter is past. The calendar says spring. But the winter just keeps going. For many cross country skiers throughout the country this has been the best winter ever.

Back in the day when I lived in the Midwest I never dreamed there might be midwinter type snow at the end of March. Yet this year skiers in southern Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as in New England are experiencing record snowfalls and new snow seems to keep coming and coming and coming.


Stanton Lake and Great Northern Mountain in the Great Bear Wilderness just west of Glacier National Park last Wednesday.
Photo by Bud Iszler

What if winter never ends? Doubt that will happen because there are signs of spring everywhere. Where I live Eureka Lake is more than half open water. A meadowlark was eating bird seed in my yard this morning. Bluebirds have been investigating the prairie. Killdeers are calling. Thousands of snow geese have congregated at Freezeout Lake south of Choteau. West Yellowstone and Bohart Ranch have posted ending dates for primary grooming of ski trails and a few bare spots have been reported here and there.

Given all that there was a bunch of new snow dumped on the mountains last night and the gang is preparing for some powder runs on Flattop Mountain on Tuesday.

This is the penultimate post for this seasons Ralph's Nordic Web so I thought I share a few of my favorite shots from this past winter. While I'm thinking about it, I also want to thank everyone who skied with me this winter! It is the camaraderie of friends and the friendships formed while skiing that make winter so magical.


Skiing near Middle Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park on a sunny late winters day with Sinopah Mountain forming a great backdrop. Photo by Bud Iszler.


Mount Allen in the Many Glacier Valley.


The Barnebirkie in Hayward, Wisconsin where 1,400 kids race to the finish line on Main Street.

Two Medicine Crust Cruise
Posted March 17, 2008

Crust cruising condition most of this week have been perfect. The snow has firmed to a good solid base and it seems regular deposits of 3-4 inches of fresh powder has made for some wonderful skiing.

To take advantage of the conditions Bud Iszler and I decided to ski 7.5 miles into the Two Medicine valley of Glacier National Park.

The meeting place for adventures in the southeast part of Glacier is always the Two Medicine Grill in East Glacier. As I walked in the door I could here folks exclaiming about the great backcountry ski conditions this winter. Those that ski or snowboard high on the alpine slopes are ecstatic because of the good snowpack. Those of us that ski lower feel the same way. The skiing is ideal and should remain so for some time.

The weather forecast for Saturday suggested that the mountains would be shrouded in clouds and snow would fall. We decided to head into Two Medicine anyway. It's a long gradual uphill pull into the valley. At first clouds hung low over the mountains and another cloud bank over the plains kept the sun from shining. As we skied along though both sets of clouds began to thin. Eventually the sun broke through and treated us to some fantastic views.

Just past the head of Lower Two Medicine Lake we reached the bridge over the Two Medicine River. We detoured over to Running Eagle Falls. This interesting waterfall plays a trick on visitors in that during winter and other periods of low flow all the water above the falls flows into caverns and erupts about halfway down the cliff face leaving the upper part of the falls completely dry. When the big snow runoff begins the huge volume of water will overflow those caverns and water will flow over the top as well.


Photos by Bud Iszler.

As we approached the falls we could here the deep rumble of the water coming out of the big hole. The snow was deep, the stream was flowing briskly and the sun was warm. We ambled around, took photos, paused for a brief luncheon and enjoyed the spectacular scenery.


Running Eagle Falls and Rising Wolf Mountain.

Beyond Running Eagle Falls we had to gain about 400 feet before we could drop down into the lake. The sun was beginning to warm the fresh powder now and turn it into something that stuck firmly to the bottom of our skis. We found relief in the cooler shaded snow along the south side of the road. Eventually we began to struggle as the snow warmed everywhere.


Bud Iszler (left) and Two Medicine River.

The end of the road at Two Medicine Lake is a popular tourist destination in summer. There is a camp store and a rest room building near the parking lot. As I approached this area I noticed a steep little hill that I could recognize from my summer visits. Turned out that "hill" was a big snow drift covering the rest rooms. Only the pyramid shaped roof stuck out of the snow on top of the "hill."


The public rest rooms at Two Medicine were a little inaccessible.

On previous ski tours into Two Medicine we stopped on the porch of the camp store for lunch. This day though we looked down about 10 feet to the porch. Neither of us wanted to climb down there just for lunch so we went around the back of the store. A huge snow drift began on the top of the roof and extended all the way down to the ground completely burying the back of the building.


Photos by Bud Iszler.

The whole area was a photographers dream and I began to make photographs of the buildings and surrounding mountains. We skied around getting better angles for photos and checking out the facilities in the camp ground which were almost completely buried by the snow.


Pray Lake and Sinopah Mountain.

As we were well back along Pray Lake and snow squall moved down the valley. The sun disappeared and it began to snow tons of those big giant flakes that can accumulate quickly. We decided to begin our journey out in case the new snow got really deep.

The clouds and snow turned out to be a good thing. The lack of sunshine and falling new snow made for cooler conditions so the snow didn't stick so much to our skis. We also stopped to apply some Swix F4 to our ski bases to reduce the sticking problem too.

Soon the sun returned and the snow warmed. It warmed right through the sticky zone though and became wet enough that it provided much better glide. This permitted a fairly quick ski out.

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Time of Two Seasons
Posted March 10, 2008

Spring is beginning to take hold. High temperatures at my home have been rising from the 40s to the 50s with 60s predicted for today. Geese and ducks are searching for open water along the shore of the lake. The hearty horned larks are beginning to define their breeding territories.

Go a little higher and you can still encounter winter. The days may be warm but night time temperatures still dip down pretty low. Occasional snowfalls will grace the mountains with more fresh powder.

My skiing this week consisted of lessons at Izaak Walton Inn on Thursday and backcountry skis on Friday and Sunday.

Sundays ski was definitely the best so far this month. Bud, Terry and I skied a 15 mile round trip into the Many Glacier Valley of Glacier National Park.

We left the end of the plowed road just as the sun began to light up the mountains on a mostly clear and warm day. The snow was pretty icy but the route in was along an unplowed road without any steep hills to cause grief. It looked to be a glorious day.


Photos by Bud Iszler

Moose had left plenty of tracks along the road along with some other sign. We also saw lynx tracks in one aspen grove.

In just a few hours we were deep into the valley with spectacular snow covered peaks rising all around. The wind was only a mild breeze this day but often during the winter it blows pretty hard. The wind removed much of the snow from the road and as soon as warm weather came the road melted bare in a few places. This required some creative snow hunting techniques. We could frequently find a narrow strip of snow in the borrow pit next to the road but we did have to portage in a couple of spots.

The Many Glacier Valley is one of the busiest tourist spots in the summer. But on this Sunday there were only 7 people in the valley. There were two guys working as winter caretakers for the Many Glacier Hotel, two more Glacier National Park Rangers patrolling the valley and the three of us.

The hotel, cabins and motel facilities were deeply buried in this winters normal snowfall. It was fun to ski around the buildings looking down on their roofs and boarded up windows.

We spotted a few mountain sheep high on the slopes of Mount Henkel but none were low down in the valley. Apparently there has been a pack of wolves cruising around the valley this winter and that kept the sheep up high.


Photos by Bud Iszler

The sun was warm, the skiing was easy and the scenery was utterly spectacular. All too soon it was time to begin the long ski back down the valley. Fortunately the wind came up and we had a little help as it pushed us on our journey. A couple of hours later we arrived at our vehicle and enjoyed some barley pop in celebration of the great day!

The Barnebirkie
Future Birkie Skiers
Posted March 4, 2008

Over 1,300 Barnebirkie Skiers ages 3-13 years old participated in the 2008 Swiss Miss/Salomon Barnebirkie. Skiers enjoyed sunny skies, a finish to a cheering crowd on Hayward's Main Street and cookies and Swiss Miss hot chocolate at the finish line. Congratulations Barnebirkie Skiers! There is no better way to describe the Barnebirkie than through photos. I hope you enjoy them.

Left: Every skier won a medal. Photo courtesy of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation.

Photos below by Ralph Thornton.


Barnebirkie skiers hit main street after skiing their initial distance on Lake Hayward. The street is lined with spectators cheering on the future American Birkiebeiner skiers.


Looking up Main Street toward the finish line of the 2008 Barnebirkie.

Note: Did your son or daughter ski the 2008 Barnebirkie? I have over 300 photos of Barne skiers. Email me their bib number and I'll send you an email with a photo if I have one.

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Congratulations to Montana's Birkie Skiers!
Posted March 4, 2008

Montana was well represented in the Birkie this year both in the number of skiers and in their overall results. I've included a few photos of those I know. Congratulations to all Montana Birkie skiers! What a great ski it was and Way to Go Craig!


Randy Beckner

Craig Pozega

Jeff Clausen
Name Town Time Race
Andrey Golovko Bozeman 2:07:50.1 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Rebecca Edwards Kurowski Bozeman 2:13:29.4 Kortelopet Freestyle
Randy Beckner Helena 2:23:15.7 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Daniel Purpura Bozeman 2:37:53.0 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Joel Howard Helena 2:39:08.5 Kortelopet Freestyle
Craig Pozega Helena 2:40:06.7 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Michael Myers Missoula 2:45:06.1 Birkebeiner Classic
Jeffrey Lepley Helena 2:46:30.3 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Lucas Osborne Helena 2:49:10.5 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Jeff Claussen Whitefish 3:13:27.3 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Oj Kober Livingston 3:17:40.6 Kortelopet Classic
Martin Miller Whitefish 3:20:31.5 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Thomas Osborne Billings 3:37:45.0 Birkebeiner Freestyle
 David Brownlee Livingston 3:43:52.4 Kortelopet Classic
Amanda Osborne Helena 4:34:40.5 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Mary Maddox Helena 4:39:29.6 Birkebeiner Freestyle
 Ralph Thornton Choteau 4:40:25.7 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Larry Jent Bozeman 4:41:52.9 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Christopher Buslee Helena 4:51:36.8 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Jason Brent Helena 4:54:44.3 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Martin Kaare Whitefish 5:04:41.8 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Ginny Heimann Bozeman 6:07:40.9 Birkebeiner Freestyle
Sarah Bilal Kalispell 6:09:52.7 Birkebeiner Classic

Mary Maddox

Yours Truly, Ralph Thornton

Christopher Buslee

Click to see my post from last month on the Beautiful Birkie

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