Posts from November 2008

A Foray into Winter
Posted November 25, 2008

They're skiing somewhere. I've gotten reports from West Yellowstone that the South Plateau is groomed very well. And Steve reported that ABR in Ironwood Michigan has very nice conditions for both skating and classic. There's some good Telemark skiing at Showdown near Neihart, MT If you don't mind hiking uphill there's beautiful snow near the Mount Brown Lookout in Glacier National Park.

The Rocky Mountain Front looks like a snow desert though. So on Sunday we decided to go hiking in the Two Medicine Valley of Glacier National Park. I pulled into the parking lot near the ranger station and almost got blown away by the cold wind. That was most unpleasant.

A quick change of plans saw us driving over to West Glacier and hiking the trail from Lake McDonald to the Mount Brown Lookout. There's hardly ever any wind over on the west side. The sun was out and it promised to be a nice day.

The trail climbs 4,200 feet in 5.3 miles. Up, up, up and up it goes. On the lower sections we climbed at a rate of 2 miles per hour. As we gained elevation we encountered snow. As the snow got deeper our speed dropped off. Finally after 4 1/2 hours of steady going up Jen mentioned that we were above almost everything else we could see. Then we reached the lookout and were treated to one of the most beautiful winter scenes I could imagine.

Looking 4,200 feet down on the 10 mile long Lake McDonald from the Mount Brown Lookout.

The snow was deep and we could have skied, if we had some skis. We enjoyed a nice luncheon at the lookout and marveled at the scenery. I am truly blessed to live in such beautiful country.

It's a harsh environment though cause the air was cold and the breeze stole away any warmth I had left from the climb. I put on more clothes and open my thermos to enjoy some hot coffee. It was cold! After eating and relaxing for all to short a time we began the long trek back down to fall.

The last mile or so the trail follows more open terrain to the Mount Brown Lookout.

Before long the snow thinned and the air got warmer. We stopped only briefly to take off some of the extra clothes and have another snack. 2 hours later, just as it was getting dark we walked out of the woods near the lake.

The 4,200 foot ascent and descent must have been good for the legs. Otherwise they wouldn't hurt this much.

4.4 Miles and 2,000 Feet
Posted November 18, 2008

If you've been a regular reader of this blog you might remember my talking about a "Pattern Change" or "Flipping the Switch." Well, that's what we need right now. We need the jet stream to dip south and bring cooler weather and more moisture to the Northern Rockies. We've gotten some snow, sure. But periods of warm weather have eaten into it like a kid eats ice cream.

When the sow falls you have to be right on the ball and get out there before Mother Nature or other skiers play havoc with it. Most of the backcountry skiing has been happening at alpine ski areas like Showdown that haven't opened yet for the season. There's enough ungroomed snow for a few runs by a few skiers but not enough for general skiing.

The Yellowstone Ski Festival begins in West Yellowstone next week. The trails near town have some snow on them but occasional "portaging" is still required to get past the bare spots. There is more snow up on the plateau south of town though and some skiers will be training up there.

This type of come and go snow will be the drill until the pattern changes and we transition into more winter-like weather.

I won't be at the festival this year. I will be making a pilgrimage to West Yellowstone the first weekend in December for some skiing and an education staff meeting. I know there will be good snow by then. Won't there?

In the meantime I'm still doing the dryland thing. This past weekend Jen and I hiked the 4.4 mile trail to Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park. We took our poles and focused on more dryland training.

This past weekend Jen and I hiked the 4.4 mile trail to Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park. We took our poles and focused on more dryland training. Lest you think this is an easy little stroll, I'll add that the trail gains over 2,000 feet of elevation. Going up that much higher means you experience a little bit of winter. Snow covered the ground and the lake was partially frozen over.

Once at the lake we enjoyed lunch and the scenery. Then it was 4.4 miles and 2,000 feet back down. We both reported a little soreness in the legs and shoulders the next morning.

The Weather is Teasing Me!
Posted November 11, 2008

Here in Montana we are being teased by the weather. There is no skiing yet but others are getting out on the snow.

In October a big storm rolled through the southern part of the state and Bohart Ranch opened for a few days. We got very little in the Northern Rockies.

Last week another big storm dumped up to 3 feet of snow on the Black Hills. West Yellowstone got enough snow that some folks were out on the Rendezvous trails. Again nothing in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

This past Sunday I noted that the ABR ski area in Ironwood, Michigan got nice snow and was ope to skiing. Again nothing in the Northern Rockies.

This mornings weather map has a winter storm watch for Yellowstone but only a high wind warning for the Rocky Mountain Front.

Being teased makes it hard for me to focus on dryland training. I want to get out and ski and I know snow will come soon. But right now I have to keep up the energy and exercise levels on bare ground.

Fortunately there are a ton of scenic places in which to get some exercise out this way. On Saturday Jen, Gary, April and I hiked the 13 mile round trip to Cracker Lake in Glacier. Some sections of the trail were snow covered but most of the precipitation that day was liquid instead of solid.

Cracker Lake, a 13 mile round trip walk in Glacier National Park.

I think I'll sooth my frustration by waxing some skis. Maybe that will bring on the snow!

Transition Time and Ski Preparation
Posted November 4, 2008

It's election day. I voted early this morning. Montana, like much of the country is expecting a record turnout. I hope you all managed to get to the poles and vote. This is an important election.

It's also transition time. That's the time you start thinking of finishing up your dryland preparation and getting onto real snow. As I was out ski walking today I could feel the change. It was 34 F. Blowing snow stung my face. My lungs could feel the cold. How long will the transition take? Only Mother Nature can answer that. I do hope it happens fast!

The dryland preparation is getting a little old. It's not nearly as fun as skiing. But it is an important part of getting ready for a good ski season. So I keep at it. But, to have more fun, I mixed in some longer hikes and climbs. In addition to ski walking my training last week included a 1,600 foot climb of Wind Mountain near my home, a 12 mile hike along the Middle Fork of the Teton River to Route Creek Pass and a 10 mile hike to Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park. Now if I can just control my urge to eat everything I see around home I'll be ready to start skiing.

Iceberg Peak in Glacier National Park rises over 3,000 feet above Iceberg Lake. The 10 mile round trip walk is a delight.

Winter weather advisories are posted for the Rocky Mountain Front and the Northern Rockies. Some snow has fallen and there may be enough in the mountains to permit some road skiing later this week. If there is I'll be out there on the rock skis to give it a try. Check back next week to see if it happened.

Transitioning to snow means having your ski ready to go. With the help of a good friend I recycled some kitchen cabinets and made a new workbench with storage areas above and below. This should be a much better spot to work on skis than I had before. I'll begin getting those skis ready soon. Below is my ski prep comments from last year. Now lets hope we get on snow soon and can ski every day through April of 2009. That would be great!

Ski Preparation
Last spring I coated my skis with a storage wax for the summer. Now it's time to get that off and prepare the skis for the approaching season. If you purchased new skis you should check out this article on Base Preparation from a previous season.

I'll follow these simple steps which apply to skating skis and the glide zones of classic skis.

  • First set up your waxing bench. If you don't have one just click on the "Shop on Line" link at the top of this page order one from Ernie. You just can't beat a good profile wax bench.
  • Clean the dust and dirt off your skis. If you kept them nicely stored in a ski bag they should be fairly clean. If not then use a rag to wipe them down and make them pretty.
  • Scrape the storage wax off the base with a plastic scraper. Try to get as much off as possible but don't overdo the process.
  • Melt on a layer of soft hydrocarbon wax like Toko System 3 Yellow or Base Prep Grey or Swix CH10 Yellow or Base Prep Glider. Iron the wax until it is all liquid and covers the base of the ski. These waxes melt at a low temperature so don't set your iron too hot! Then allow the wax to cool briefly.
  • Once the wax has cooled to a solid (this should take only a minute or so) scrape off all the wax. This hot wax cleaning technique is perfect for getting the last of the summer storage wax off your skis and helps remove any dirt that might have accumulated on the base. Scrape carefully to remove all the wax.
  • Let the skis cool thoroughly, then brush the skis with a nylon brush to remove the rest of the wax. I follow up the nylon brush with a horse hair or fine nylon brush. These finer brushes get the last of the soft wax off the base.
  • Next select a wax for the conditions you will be skiing in. If you are unsure then choose a soft to mid range wax. Iron in the wax, let the skis cool for at least 30-45 minutes or until the bases are room temperature. Then scrape and brush again.
  • Finally iron in another layer of the predicted wax of the day. If you are not skiing that day or the next leave the last layer on the skis. I usually scrape and brush the evening before skiing.

This results in nice clean bases that are ready for a season of skiing. A few more things should be done to the kick zone of your classic skis.

  • Remove the grip wax you put on for storage. Get as much off as possible with a scraper then consider using wax remover. This will get all the dirty wax off the base.
  • Let the wax remover completely dry. This may take more than an hour. If there is any stickiness or a greasy feeling to the kick zone clean them again.
  • Once the kick zones are clean and dry apply a couple of layers of cold wax in the brand of your choice. Put on a thin layer and cork it in. Do this two or three times to provide a good base for the wax of the day when you ski. Any of the warmer waxes should stick well to this base layer and your ski base will remain protected.

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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 on the link in the left column.

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.