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Posts from October 2008

Preparing for My 30th Birkie!
Posted October 27, 2008

There's an envelop leaning against my computer monitor. It's from the Hayward, Wisconsin Ramada; I put it there to remind me to complete my room reservations there before the November 15th deadline. Completing those reservations reminded me that this February I plan to ski the Birkie for the 30th time. You know about the Birkie don't you? Just in case, it's that 32 mile ski race in Northern Wisconsin, the largest ski race in North America!

30 years of fun and excitement. Maybe a lot of luck thrown in too. As I think back over the years since my first race in 1979, I wish I had kept some notes on each one. Some stand out vividly in my mind but other memories have sort of faded away.


My good friend Bill Blunk (1902) and I (2351) at the Birkie Finish, 1979.
To read the whole story of that first race click HERE.

Looking back they were all fun. I definitely remember them quite clearly. Good friends, great snow, big hills, fast skis, fantastic grooming, and the thrill of skiing under a brilliant blue sky down Hayward's Main Street to the finish line all come to mind.


Juliane Bantz captured this photo of me skating up Main Street in 2006


Above is the start of the Fifth wave in 2008. I'm in there somewhere. Photo by Juliane Bantz.


I'm in back of a gal with a pink outfit and turquoise skirt. The top of my hat is blue. See if you can spot me.
Photo by Juliane Bantz.

Were all Birkies fun? It seems so. But to keep things in perspective Bill Blunk always reminds me about "Restrospective Falsification." This is a process where your brain filters out the not so fun times and enhances the fun ones. The farther back in time the more filtering occurs.

Every now and then some of those maybe not so fun times creep in. There's the year that the trail was groomed on Friday during a thaw and a cold front turned the course into the consistency of concrete for the race. I fell several times that year and got beat up pretty bad. Or the year no one thought to groom the 8 inches of fresh snow and we skied through sticky wet mush for hours. Or the year that a big thunderstorm on Friday washed out the whole course and the race was cancelled. Or the year the race began during a freezing drizzle! My glasses got so iced up I could see where to go. I missed several sharp turns in the trail and crashed into the woods often taking one or two others with me. Those things couldn't have happened. No way!

The fun times are what's remembered. And that is good. What will this year be like? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, I'm getting ready to ski my 30th race and the process of getting to the start line should be fun. Might even have to train a little, eh? Wish me well and, if you can, join me and about 7,000 others on February 21, 2009.


Ski Walking
A Dryland Imitation of Ski Technique
Posted October 21, 2008

Way, way back when I first started cross country skiing I would start the season after the first big winter storm. Some years I didn't start skiing until my family's Christmas trip to the Wisconsin Northwoods. I would be all pumped and motivated to ski fast and smooth but my body was not ready. Those first few outings were always quite tentative and very tiring. But I didn't know any better. It usually took a couple of weeks (or even a month if snow was sporadic) to get back in the skiing groove. I often suffered minor injuries and had really sore muscles.

As I got more and more into ski instruction though I learned there are a bunch of dryland exercises that could help get the body conditions for skiing and are fun. Nikolai Anikin, Olympic Gold and Bronze Medalist and World Cup Silver Medalist, taught me several of these, one of which is Ski Walking.

Ski walking approximates the body positions of the diagonal stride. Start by walking with a good forward lean. Include a longer step and an arm swing like the diagonal stride. Hold your head in a relaxed neutral position with a point of vision approximately four or five feet in front of you. Lifting your head high will results in tension and a reduction in muscle efficiency. Go ski walking with your friends on your favorite trail. Try to visualize good skiing.

As you begin to feel more relaxed at ski walking you can include more dynamics of the diagonal stride. Add a complete push with your leg. Keep your foot flat until after the push-off has begun. The stronger push off will result in a longer step, greater than three feet for most people. Your legs should feel the stretch with each forward reach and push-off.

During the entire ski walking phase maintain good forward lean. If the sun is out use your shadow for a poor persons video. Look for your upper body leaning forward forming a more or less straight line from your head, through your back and down your rear extended leg. This lean can be approximated by falling forward from the feet.

WaWalglking Walkialking
Left: Jennie has good forward lean seen here as her feet and hands pass each other. Her near leg is flexed and the foot is flat just as push-off begins. Her far leg is swinging forward in a relaxed, natural, pendulum motion. Center and Right provide straight on views of her relaxed shoulders. Push as if poling then relax the arm and should letting it follow through naturally.


Once your body movements become natural you can add a pair of poles. Simulate the push and relax of poling while ski walking.

The basic diagonal stride is easy to learn but more advanced motions require practice, practice, practice and more practice. Having a coach or instructor is also helpful. While this description focused on the diagonal stride the movements and timing are similar in skating. I'll try to describe some more skating specific dryland exercises in the coming weeks.

Before we know it the snow will be here and we can save the dryland for next fall.

One more thing: The First Big Storm that I wrote about last week brought 2-3 feet of snow to the Bridger Mountains just south of Bozeman, Montana. Places farther east like Red Lodge got even more. Grooming was sporadic but Bohart Ranch did open to season pass holders for several days. West Yellowstone also got snow but only about 6 inches and that melted in the following days. I did see a few ski tracks in front of the warming shelter on the Rendezvous web cam!


First Big Storm!
Posted October 14, 2008

The second weekend in October brought a huge winter storm to Montana. Most of the action was in southwest and south central Montana. Some areas got between 20 and 30 inches of snow over a three day period. A long stretch of I-15 was closed Sunday morning due to the dangerous driving conditions. The Billings area was under an Emergency Travel Only order as well. To see just where this storm brought the most snow go to the Montana Snow Depth map on my Montana Ski Report page.

Looking at the map you'd think the Northern Rockies missed all the action. Looking out my window Sunday morning brought some excitement. The entire Rocky Mountain Front was white with new snow. I couldn't get out there Sunday but I was able to sneak away for some exercise on Monday.


Ear Mountain west of Choteau on Monday morning.

Driving up Teton Canyon Road Ear Mountain dominated the scene. The wind was blowing pretty good and I could see snow banners on the summit.

I always get excited when the first snows come and this day was no different. About 4 inches of snow covered the ground at the Headquarters Pass trailhead. It was warm in the sun but in the woods the snow was that nice powder we all like to ski in. There wasn't enough for skiing yet but when good snow comes this early it promises a great winter to follow.

The trail goes up a valley for about a mile. Where ever the sun shone through the trees the snow was melting. But higher up where it was colder the snow was blowing around pretty good.

I thought I might be able to reach Headquarters Pass. But as I gained elevation the snow got deeper. I struggled through drifts one to two feet deep to reach the large basin well below the pass. The scene there was one of winter delight.

I thought I might be able to reach Headquarters Pass. But as I gained elevation the snow got deeper. I struggled through drifts one to two feet deep to reach the large basin well below the pass. The scene there was one of winter delight. Large boulders litter the ground and snow was blowing all around. I enjoyed my lunch while watching the wintery scene.

Soon the cold began to creep through my jacket. I needed to get moving again. So I headed back down the trail. It was a nice foray into winter but it didn't last long. Just long enough though to remind me I need to spend more time preparing for the skiing ahead.


The Seasons are a Changin'
Why Not Volunteer at Your Local Ski Area?
Posted October 6, 2008

This past weekend I joined a group for a hike in Glacier National Park. We thought we'd take a pleasant little walk to No Name Lake. It's only about 10 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. My goal was to get some exercise while enjoying the company of good friends.

When we reached the trailhead we found the winds blowing around 40 mph. Spitting rain added to the excitement. None of this deterred any of the group and off we went.

The fall colors were just spectacular. I was immediately reminded of some fall days I spent in Northern Wisconsin.

I'd drop in for a visit with Bert and LaNora Kleerup (owners of Eagle River Nordic). After chatting for a while in the ski center we'd often head out onto the ski trails for a walk in the woods.

We'd talk, bring each other up to date on the summers' happenings, tell jokes, laugh and have a great time. All the while we walked though we'd kick sticks off the trail and move fallen logs. Some times we'd carry a saw to clean up the bigger stuff. All this had the greater purpose of getting the ski trails in shape so they would groom up better with the first snow of winter.

Turns out we often ended up working pretty hard. But when the day was done we had accomplished something, got some good exercise and enjoyed each others company. And the warm glug LaNora made tasted all the better.

Many ski areas ask for volunteers to do similar tasks. I just got an email from West Yellowstone where a new trail is being built. Volunteers were being recruited to walk the trail and "pick up sticks." Why not give your local area a call to see if they are organizing any work days on the trails. It's a great way to get into the skiing mind set.

Back on the trail to No Name Lake I was brought bake to reality when I felt a sharp stinging on my face. Whoa! Snow pellets were flying through the air. It was a great feeling knowing that winter will soon be here.


Everyone is smiling at the view of Rising Wolf Mountain with its new dusting of white.


Left: Lana has an accumulation of snow on her parka. Right: Fall colors along the trail.


RSS Feeds
Posted October 1, 2008; updated October 22, 2008

I know many of you check in from time to time and find you've missed an interesting post. Or you just forget to drop by.

Now you can be reminded when I make new posts. The trick is to subscribe to an RSS (Real Simple Syndication) Feed for Ralph's Blog. When the feed page is updated your browser or news reader will let you know. All you need to do then is click to go to Eagle River Nordic, then click on Ralph's Blog. To learn more about RSS Feeds click HERE. To view the current RSS Feed click on the orange RSS Feed icon in the left column. Any questions? Drop me an email.

Want a Notification of New Posts by Email?
Use "Feed My Inbox," a free web site that will let you sign up to receive an email notification of new feeds. For more information go to Feed My In Box - How Does it Work?


It's October and I've Been Thinkin' Snow
Posted October 1, 2008

The aspen leaves are turning golden and are waiting for a good storm to strip them from the trees. We've had more mountain snows than I can count already but most of that has melted away in the warm days of autumn. Even so I'm starting to get juiced for the next great season: Ski Season.

If there are any skiing topics you'd like me to discuss just drop me an email and let me know. The link is in the left column. I always enjoy hearing from readers of Ralph's Blog.

This February I will be skiing my 30th consecutive American Birkebeiner ski race. It should be another fun event and I'm hoping the big party will begin after I cross the finish line. Everyone is invited to join me for brats and beer at Anglers on Main Street in Hayward.

In the meantime I've had another busy mountaineering summer. It started a little late because of all the great snow we had last winter. Snowstorms in May and June kept the backcountry skiing going but eventually summer took hold. I just finished what will most likely have been my last backpack, a six day trip through the Bob Marshall Wilderness to photograph the Chinese Wall. That trip provided some endurance training that I hope to carry through fall and into winter.

It's been warm and dry the last two weeks but our weather forecast is calling for a change to cooler, wetter conditions. The mountains will be turning white very soon!