Posts from October 2009

I Need a Grind
Posted October 29, 2009

Another good winter type storm rolled through Montana this week. It brought plenty of snow. I had to shovel snow twice so far this season and it's still October. More snow is forecast for southern Montana and I suspect some ski areas will be opening soon.

After setting up my waxing area and cleaning some of my skis, I noticed that the bases on my best skis don't look as good as they used to. Some of the structure is worn away and the bases are not as flat as they once were. I think they could use a little refreshment in the form of a stone grinding.

Structure on a ski base refers to the tiny grooves or pattern ground into the base. The depth, size and directionality of the grooves can affect the way the ski performs. More importantly the type of structure put into the base can be customized to specific snow and temperature conditions. If you have several pairs of performance skis you might be using one pair for warm wet snow and another pair for cold dry snow. Each of these skis might have different base structures. If you generally ski in all conditions on one pair of skis then a general all purpose grind is best.

The base of your skis is flat in two directions. If you put a straight edge across the ski base at right angles to the length of the ski it should touch the ski evenly all the way across. Three should be no high or low spots. The same goes for the length of the ski except that there is a smooth curvature from tip to tail. Still there should be no severe dips or bumps along the base.

New skis come with some type of structure on them and many of us clean the base and wax for the trail. But when you ski abrasive conditions will begin to slowly erode the surface and begin to remove the structure. Severe scraping of your base when removing ironed on wax can also erode the structure. Using too hot an iron when waxing can damage ski bases resulting in a base that will not hold wax well. A ski base that shows white or worn spots after only a short ski is indicative of one that may have been overheated.

I suggest having your skis stone ground to solve these problems and return the base to something more like it was when new. This is exactly what I plan to do with mine real soon.

It may seem daunting at first to think about have material ground off the base of the skis but it will make the skis perform better and extend their useful life.

Alpine skiers have had skis tuned this way for years but most of use don't have access to someone who knows how to grind a cross country ski. I suggest finding a good shop that specializes in cross country skis. This may mean shipping your ski off via UPS or FedEx but it will be worth it.

Stone grinding may cost between $60 and $130 so be prepared to spend a little cashola. Compared to suffering with continually decreasing performance or the cost of new skis, the price for a good stone grinding is worth it.

If after cleaning you see that your skis are severely damaged and need replacement, then click on the shopping link at the top of this page and let ERNie fix you up.

I'm Preparing My Skis for a Great Winter Season
Posted October 23, 2009

We've had one good cold snap and several unsettled periods where the mountains have received some snow. While it hasn't really accumulated much depth in the valleys the summits are turning white and the ski season is not far away.

I've cleaned up the garage some and even got the broken door repaired. Since we are often skiing on some kind of snow in November and November is just around the corner, I decided it was time to get my skis ready for winter.

Last spring I followed my own advice and 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 this fall you should check out the article on Base Preparation from the archives.

Ski Preparation:
If you coated your skis with a storage wax for the summer you are ahead of the game. Let's get that off and prepare the skis for the approaching season. Follow these simple steps which apply to skating skis or the glide zones of classic skis.

  • First clean out your work area. Put away all those summer tools and toys and make sure you have a nice clean area in which to wax your skis. 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.
  • 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! Allow the wax to cool only 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 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.
  • 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.

If you just through your skis in a corner after last season most likely they are pretty dirty. After cleaning the dust and grime off the skis I would clean the bases with a good ski wax remover. Let the skis dry over night then follow the rest of the steps I discuss above. You might, however, do an extra soft wax cleaning to make sure all of the wax remover and dirt is off the bases of your skis.

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

  • Remove the grip wax you put on for storage. Use a scraper to get as much off as possible 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.

Now let's hope the snow comes quickly and we can ski every day until the end of April.

Cleaning Waxing Brushes:
When I got out my wax box and set up for waxing my skis I noticed that my wax brushes were kind of dirty. Especially the nylon brush that I use first after scraping. They definitely need a cleaning.

Cleaning them is simple but I never do this when my wife is home. Put the brushes in your automatic dishwasher, add the dish washing soap, run the normal cycle and let the brushes air dry. They should come out clean as a whistle. I clean old greasy baseball caps the same way. But don't try to clean your dishes at the same time!

When you're all done cleaning your skis go outside and do some ski imitation with poles. That will get all the kinks out and you'll feel good.

There's Skiing in Montana!
Posted October 13, 2009

Not sure how the rest of the country is doing but in Montana we've had record cold for the past five days. Polebridge, Montana reported -10F Sunday morning while here on the Rocky Mountain Front it was down to 0F on Saturday. We spent Friday through Monday with temps in the teens or lower.

The map shows southwestern Montana was favored by this storm.
Looks like Homestake Lodge and places like Lone Mountain Ranch benefited most.

The cold was accompanied by snow. Only a few inches on the plains, but I did have to shovel once. In the mountains there is more. In fact Homestake Lodge reported Friday they were rolling some trails and skiing on Saturday. The snow wasn't perfect because the ground underneath was not frozen but according to them, it was real skiing. And I agree with their definition that real skiing includes kick and glide (or pushoff and glide for skaters).

Unfortunately the weather forecast is calling for warmer weather by the end of this week. The mountains should stay mostly white though.

Monday morning featured one of the first sunny sunrises in over a week. I drove up the Canyon Road to try to capture some panoramic images of Ear Mountain. Here's one of my trials.

The wind was nice and calm but the near 0F temperature made for some cold fingers. Clouds moved over the mountain soon after sunrise so I was back in the car quickly and headed home while warming my fingers around a hot cup of coffee. The image above can be printed out 40 inches wide if one has a wall big enough to hold it.

In answer to last weeks question -- I am not ready for winter. My skis are not waxed and my ski clothes are still in storage. I'll have to work on that real soon. Next week might be a good time to refresh our memory about preparing skis for the coming winter.

Are You Ready for Winter?
Posted October 5, 2009

It's been a very warm and dry end of summer along the Front Range of the Norther Rocky Mountains. In fact some recent days have been in the 90s -- Pretty darn hot for me!

I've been going along enjoying my usual summertime activities like backpacking and mountaineering. Last week I embarked on what I planned to be a nine day adventure in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I hiked over Headquarters Pass, down to Gates Park and then, the next day, went another fifteen miles up to the 7,000 foot high My Lake. My goal was to photograph the Chinese Wall, a thousand foot high escarpment deep in the wilderness that extends unbroken for almost 12 miles.

The weather was warm and dry. But milky clouds began to cover the sky during the afternoon of my second day. That night I was awakened by the slippery sound of snow on the tent. I looked out to find everything white. Morning brought a subdued and cold daylight. Man, I thought, I'm not ready for this!

I spent some time taking photographs of My Lake. Golden larches provided some color but the light continued quite dim. Just before noon the sun broke through the clouds and I thought things were clearing up. Not so. Fifteen minutes later it began to snow again.

I hung around the lake waiting out the weather. I took short walks on the trail to Larch Hill to keep warm. The snow kept falling. That afternoon and the following night several more inches covered the footprints I had left around my camp. I began to get concerned that if enough snow fell hiking out would be difficult.

The continuing snowfall through the following night made my decision easy. I began the two day hike back to the Headquarters Pass trailhead. The snow thinned as I descended the Rock Creek valley. It disappeared almost completely by the time I got below 6,000 feet. I was not complacent though because I knew that I had to go over Headquarters Pass at 7,743 feet. Snow there could be a problem if I waited too long.

As I ascended toward the pass I traversed a wonderful alpine area of stunted trees and meadows. The sun tried to peek through the clouds. As I rounded a bend in the trail I heard a light clucking sound. Hmm! I wondered what was that. I didn't see any thing at first but there in the snow at my feet were some small bird tracks. I put down my pack and followed the tracks toward a small clump of trees. Just then my eye caught some movement in the snow.

Ptarmigan! There were four of the plump little grouse-like birds that live in alpine areas. I could readily see that they were almost ready for winter. All of them had lost most of their summer time golden brown mottled plumage. They were almost all white! How did they know winter was so close?

I watched the ptarmigan for a while but soon realized that if I didn't get a move on I wouldn't reach the trailhead before dark. Two hours later, as I was walking up to my pick-up it began to snow again. Within minutes the whole area was white and slush covered my windshield.

Now, three days later it continues to snow. Not much out here on the plains but the mountains are turning real white. The weather service is predicting temperatures near zero by Friday. Those ptarmigan were on the ball! Now I'm thinking it's my turn to get ready for winter. Yes, we will have some more warm days but this week is a wake up call.

Welcome Back for the Sixth Year of
Ralph's Blog (formerly Ralph's Nordic Web)!
Posted October 1, 2009

I can't believe this will be my sixth season of Ralph's Blog. The time passes so quickly. I'm looking forward to another great winter of skiing fun. At the same time I'm still out in the mountains on a regular basis enjoying the transition from summer through fall and into winter.

What will this winter bring? Well, it's pretty hard to predict. But here are some of my goals for 2009/2010.

The Birkie! After skiing 30 consecutive American Birkebeiner ski races it will be pretty tough to not give it another go. I'm looking forward to the big race as well as my annual visit to the Midwest. That will hopefully include some of LaNora's world class cuisine and a bunch of camaraderie with her, Steve, Juliane, Kyle and all my other Midwest friends.

Skiing! That goes without saying I suppose. I want to ski and improve my skiing. I also want to visit some new Montana ski areas along with visits to old haunts.

Camaraderie! This one should be on top of the list. The camaraderie of friends and the joy of time out on the snow with them is the main reason I ski.

I also hope to bring all of you a look at Montana's winter!

So stay tuned. I will be posting on a regular basis, usually once a week. You can check back often to see the latest from my Montana Winter. Or, better yet, subscribe to the RSS Feed and be automatically notified each time Ralph's Blog is updated.

Now, since winter hasn't come to Montana just yet (although some winter like weather is in the forecast for this week) I'd like to share with you a few pics of one highlight of my summer of fun.

Mount St. Nicholas in Glacier National Park is generally considered to be the most difficult peak to climb. It is hard to get to and rises quite vertically above it's base. Ron Gruber and I tried to climb this peak in 2008 but a storm forced us to retreat when only 300 feet or so from the summit. A second try in 2009 brought similar results. But the third time was the charm.

The climbing was fun and challenging. Above left Ron is making his way up a cliff leading to a "canon hole" which he will climb through. Mount St. Nicholas requires the use of ropes and protection for safety.
Above right Ron making the third rappel of six during the descent from the summit.

Ron and I congratulate each other on the summit!
To see more of my summer entertainment visit the ChoteauCam at Ear Mountain Photography.