Posts from December 2008

Happy New Year!
Big Snow!
Posted December 31, 2008; Updated January 2, 2009

Update: Another high plains blizzard is dumping heavy snow on the east side of the Northern Rockies on Friday. High winds creating white-out conditions and combined with sub-zero cold are making for dangerous travel. Heavy mountain snow and high winds have resulted in very dangerous backcountry avalanche conditions. Backcountry travel is presently not recommended. There is great skiing but the problem now is getting to it.

Looks like another good snow year for Montana. At least I'll say so good so far. Winter did get a late start but it seems to be making up for lost time.

I've received reports of snow depths over 5 feet in relatively mid elevation terrain around the Flathead Valley. Heck, there appears to be good skiing in Kalispell and that's pretty unusual. Even east of the Continental Divide out on the prairies we've been getting plenty of snow. Last year, a really good year for the mountain snow pack I only shoveled snow around my house two or three times. This year I've been shoveling three to four times a week since the arctic surge hit three weeks ago.

The severe cold has lifted. In its place we are getting plenty of Pacific moisture every couple of days and the snow is piling up.

The only negatives center around travel and stress. Travel on the highways has been difficult and Amtrak has had a hard time getting through as well. Stress on grooming machinery is also high and a few areas have had some equipment breakdowns

All in all though the snow is welcome. Now as soon as I get over this head cold I'll go skiing.

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Where Did the Road Go?
Posted December 29, 2008

Living where I do, out on the prairies of Montana, presents many interesting experiences. I had one of these last Saturday.

Anyone driving to a ski area must be good at driving in winter conditions. It goes with the territory and I consider myself a pretty good winter driver. Even so things don't always go according to plan.

I left home on a breezy morning well before sunrise to get in a day of skiing at the Izaak Walton Inn. This is a two hour drive under normal conditions but in winter I usually allow a little more time. A nice snow cover blanketed the prairies. The breeze was picking up the snow and skittering it along the ground. In a few places drifts had formed that extended out onto the road surface. The state highway department plows were keeping those pretty much in check though.

When about 30 minutes north of my home the wind began to increase. The drifts were reforming across the road within minutes after the plow had passed. The drifts were still pretty small and I kept driving.

The road began a series of curves winding through some hills. With the snow blowing around I slowed to around 40 mph. Visibility was good for a few more minutes.

As I came around a corner I was smacked with very high winds and blowing snow. Visibility dropped substantially. I took my foot of the gas and coasted while following the white stripe on the edge of the pavement and the line of reflectors off to the right.

After a few more seconds the pavement disappeared under the blowing snow and only one reflector was visible. Once I passed that reflector I saw nothing but white out of the windshield. My pick-up continued to coast and slowed some.

Another reflector appeared in the white out and I aimed to the left of it thinking it was the next one in line after the one I had just passed. I was wrong! The road made a little jog to the right and the reflector that I thought was next in line was actually on the left side of the road. On most Montana roads there are no reflectors on the left but this one was the exception to the rule.

Just as that little white reflector passed my passenger side window I realized my error. The truck coasted right off the road and into the borrow pit burying itself in about 2-3 feet of snow.

All I could see in front of me was snow blowing horizontally onto my windshield. Looking out to the left I saw the snow was piled up against my door. As the rig came to a stop it leaned quite a bit to the left down the slope into the borrow pit.

I engaged the low 4 wheel drive. Very fortunately I was able to back up the truck a foot or so. I began the back and forth rocking motion I usually use to get unstuck. The truck moved forward and back a few feet. It began to slip sideways further into the pit though and if I turned the wheel any the truck wouldn't move.

Keeping the front wheels straight I rolled forward and back extending the distance I could cover with each move. More slippage occurred but it was the rear end that was moving left. That helped aim the truck back toward the road. A few more attempts at backing and going forward, all the time throwing rocks, grass and snow from the tires, and I was able to make progress toward the road.

A second reflector on the wrong side of the road threatened to tear off my side view mirror but I missed it. The front wheels bit the gravel at the edge of the road and pulled the truck back onto the pavement. It was right then that I prayed no vehicles would be coming from either direction.

Getting back on the road where I belonged I continued on my way. The white out continued in full force so I searched for a safe place to turn around. Having accomplished that maneuver I headed back home planning to ski some other day.

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Settling In to Winter!
Posted December 26, 2008

Jen leads April and Ron during a skate on the Pileated trail
at the Izaak Walton Inn.

The first blast of Arctic air that rolls down from the north is tough to deal with. Stepping outside into 10 degree air I feel the cold settle way in and a shiver goes up my spine.

Now, after a week or so of more cold arctic air and temps to -27 F it doesn't seem so bad. Heck, my nose hairs don't even twitch when it's zero or above!

The best thing about the cold is the kind of snow it brings. Wonderful soft fluffy powder graces everything it touches. It's a joy to ski in too.

Cold makes for easy waxing. On every ski outing so far this winter I've used the same waxes. For glide it was Toko Gray mixed with World Loppett Blue. For grip I used Toko Carbonline Mint over a layer of White. So simple. Go ski, Go home, and most likely go ski again without waxing in between. I love it.

The Christmas holiday brought a bunch of skiers to my local ski area and the ski school was busy enough to provide me with a lesson. My first student this season was a very interesting individual. Originally from Texas she now lives in New York City. Her hobby is flamenco dancing and her profession is cardiology.

She is a fit individual interested in trying cross country skiing again. She skied some when a youngster and was looking to get back into it. The lesson was a good one in that she had good balance skills to match her fitness level. Learning the basics of good classic technique came real easy for her. All I had to do was point her skills in the right direction. The lesson was pure fun for me as well.

Cross country skiing has so many attributes. Exercise, camaraderie, fun, and meeting a wide variety of new folks are just a few. Once the first onslaught of cold is dealt with and the body acclimatizes the fun comes on.

April, Jen and Ron on the classic tracks.

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Great Skiing! Great Skiing!
Great Skiing at Last!!!!
Posted December 18, 2008

We had a little weather this past week. Friday it was 44 F in the afternoon and by Saturday morning it was -3 F. Overnight winds blew to 52 mph. It snowed all night and all day Saturday but I couldn't tell how much we got because the wind kept moving it around so much. Turned out that there was only 3-4 inches of new snow. Then the temps dropped to -24 F. Brrrr! It was just a little nippy out there. I was able to spend some time on a skied in track along the road where the drifting snow had filled in the borrow pit.

Fortunately more snow fell in the mountains and when it warmed up to zero I headed over to Izaak Walton Inn for my first ski of the season on groomed trails.

Mark Ambre sends me regular emails on the conditions there so I took my rock skis expecting it to be a little thin. Mark was being a little conservative with his reports though. The trails I skied were in much better condition than I expected.

It was so much fun to finally get on groomed trails winding through a winter wonderland. Take a look at the following picture and imagine yourself on that trail. You're looking good skiing right toward the camera!

When I started skiing it was about +1 F. Skiing classic I used Toko Mint as the wax of the day. It provided very nice grip. Glide was little missing in action though. I just figured that the cold snow was to blame. My 2 hour ski through the woods was a real treat.

I warmed up during my lunch break by the fire in the lobby of the inn. By 1:30 I was ready to head out for some skate technique. I didn't expect much but I really wanted to spend some time skating. I was very pleasantly surprised by the good glide. While the snow was a little soft in places the quality was pretty darn good.

My skating skis seemed to glide quite well yet my classic skis had not. Why? I wondered. I had earlier blamed the poor glide on the cold snow but now I began to think the wax had more to do with it. I had waxed my classic skis with some Star Fluoro Blue that I've had for more than 10 years. My skate skis were waxed with Toko Low Fluoro Grey mixed with World Loppet Blue.

Thinking back 10 years I seem to recall almost never getting good glide when the snow temperatures were below zero. But recently I have been able to get good glide at those low temperatures. I'm more convinced now that the new waxes handle the cold sandpaper like snow so much better than they used to. I think I'll relegate the old stuff to use on my backcountry skis. I might just have to give Ernie a call, and order more wax.

Another push of arctic air is coming in today bringing more good powder to the mountains. It really looks like winter has begun. All I can say is, "Keep the snow coming!"

Posted December 9, 2008

I was getting in the groove last week and thoroughly enjoying some early season skiing on the South Fork Road. I may have mentioned this before but it seems no matter how I try to get ready for the ski season I'm still a little unsteady on the boards the first few times out. The nice snow up the canyon gave me an opportunity to work out the kinks.

A chinook came on Friday and took away the snow. A chinook is a warm wind from the west or southwest. Air coming in from the Pacific is forced up over the mountains. It cools and any moisture it contains is wrung out. As the air descends over the Rocky Mountain Front is warmed as it compresses and sinks to lower elevations. The warm dry winds eat away the snow through both evaporation and melting.

This is a normal and frequent occurrence here. In mid-winter I could still find snow in the mountains. But this early in the season the little snow we had quickly turned to mush. There was also enough moisture left to bring some warm rain on Friday night. So I put away my skis for a few days until the snow returns.

I still needed to get out for some exercise though. Fortunately April and Gary had the same idea. We headed into the mountains under a low, damp and gloomy sky Saturday morning. Approaching the trail head at the end of the South Fork Road I could see the remains of my ski tracks from the previous week. All that was left were two lines of slushy snow.

As we started to hike it began to rain. We almost turned back but said, "What the heck."

The rain let up soon and a few sucker holes appeared in the sky. As we walked along the wind picked up and the sky began to clear. The wet mushy snow got deeper as well.

After a couple of miles the trail begins to climb steeply into the basin below Headquarters Pass. Wet heavy snow lay deep here and the going got a little tougher. We plodded on thinking maybe we should not have left our snowshoes back in the pick up.

Reaching the basin we found the wind had piled deep drifts on the trail and the surrounding rocks were all exposed. The rest of the trail to the pass looked to be fairly well buried in steep snow.

Having missed the sunshine by only a half hour or so the basin was cold in the shade. Huddling out of the wind behind some trees we enjoyed our luncheon. All too soon the cold crept in so we headed back down the trail.

Arriving back home we found the temperature to be a balmy 54 F.

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First Ski!
Posted December 3, 2008

Monday was warm and windy. It was 62 in the afternoon and occasional gusts hit over 50 mph. Low clouds began to form around the mountain tops as the sun set and you could see a change was in the wind.

Some time after midnight the wind shifted and the temperature fell. It began to snow. By morning there was a couple of inches around my house. More interestingly though was the fact that the mountains were shrouded in heavy clouds. It was obvious that more snow was falling at higher elevations.

I waited for the weather to break a little and for the roads to get a little easier to drive on. After lunch I headed up the South fork of the Teton for a look-see.

As I entered the canyon the snow began to deepen. Still not enough for good skiing so I shifted into four-wheel drive and kept going up the snow covered road. The snow got deeper the farther I penetrated the canyon. I stopped near the Green Gulch trailhead, turned the truck around and got out to ski.

The trees were flocked and about 8 inches of wonderful powder blanketed the ground. Snow continued to fall and it was those nice big fluffy flakes we all love so much. I took a few pics and skied further up the road. The skis felt good under me. Swish, swish through the ever deepening snow.

No matter what preparation I've done for the ski season it seems that I'm usually a little shaky that first time out. This year though balance came quickly and I felt pretty good. I skied nice and easy several miles up the road.

When I reached the end of the road I noticed that the light was beginning to fade. It was time to turn around and head back. The return trip is always faster as it is mostly downhill and before long I was back at the truck. It was a joyful two hours on the snow.

Not knowing exactly what I'd find there I had brought my no-wax touring skis. The wax would have been extra blue. I'll be sure to bring the waxables along later today when I head back up the canyon.

Hopefully I can repeat the performance a few more times before attending the Nordic Education Staff on-snow meeting at Lone Mountain Ranch this Sunday.