Posts from January 2010
1,300 Kids Equals the Barnebirkie
Posted January 22, 2010

Ever see 1,300 kids all on skis at the same time? It happens every year at the Swiss Miss Barnebirkie. I received the photo below from the American Birkiebeiner Ski Foundation. It's a reminder that the Birkie is now only 36 days away. I've got my tickets and room reservation. My entry fees are paid. Steve is all jazzed and so am I!

Photo by Darlene Prois and used with permission of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation.

The Barnebirkie is a kids fun race. Skiers aged 3-13 ski varying distances and all of them finish on Main Street in Hayward. Their reward is a nice looking medal and cookies and hot chocolate.

Barnebirkie 2009 photos by Ralph Thornton.

When in Hayward for the Birkie I always make it a point to watch the Barnebirkie. It is very emotional to see so many kids having fun on skis. The Barnebirkie is set for 12:30 PM Thursday February 25 this year.

A Nice Rain

Posted January 18, 2010

Rain on the ski trails is not often thought of as a good thing. But this weekend was an exception.

After the fantastic skiing the week before the weather turned warm. Very little snow fell and warm days turned the beautiful powder to a frozen granular state.

This past weekend featured Ski Fest at the Izaak Walton Inn. I was asked to provide lessons. I jumped at the chance to spend three days at the inn. I was able to get in a bunch of skiing in addition to the lessons. All without having to commute from home.

Arriving Friday I found the well groomed trails fairly frozen. The skiing on the frozen granular surface was, as Jennie puts it, "frightingly fast!" While the skiing was fun and faaaaast for me I worried some about how the beginners we expected on the weekend would handle the conditions.

I awoke Saturday morning to find it had rained some during the night and the temperature hovered in the upper 30s. The combination of warm air, a little rain and drizzle and Jesse's good grooming softened the surface of the ski trails just enough. The base was firm but there was enough give to the surface to provide good grip and good control of the skis.

We had close to 100 skiers in lessons and many more on the trails over the weekend. A little drizzle on Saturday kept the snow soft. Sunday brought cooler temperatures but there was some sunshine to keep the conditions from icing up.

Everyone seemed to have a great time; I got in a ton of skiing; and Saturday's rain turned out to be a nice rain.

Waxing Izaak Walton Inn, January 15, 2010
Snow Temp:
30 F. The snow was a groomed granular surface, hard and firm.
Air Temp: 32 F with warming during the day to 40 F.
Grip Wax: Toko Grip Spray Violet.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray.
Comments: The skiing was fast, like way fast.

Waxing Izaak Walton Inn, January 16, 2010
Snow Temp:
32 F. The snow was a groomed wet granular surface.
Air Temp: 37 F with warming during the day to 42 F.
Grip Wax: Toko Grip Spray Orange or a no-wax ski.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray.
Comments: Some drizzle and rain softened the surface and prided the nice wet corn skiing.

Waxing Izaak Walton Inn, January 17, 2010
Snow Temp:
31 F. The snow was a groomed granular surface, hard and firm.
Air Temp: 30 F with warming during the day to 32 F.
Grip Wax: Toko Grip Spray Violet or a no-wax ski.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray.
Comments: The brilliant blue sky and bright sunshine made for a great day skiing.

Skating Sequences

Posted January 12, 2010

After our morning long ski, and a little lunch we decided to spend some time photographing skate skiing. I enjoy putting together merged sequences of various techniques. This time though, the camera didn't quite catch the perfect spots. The point and shoot olympus I often carry only takes about 1-2 frames per second so it is easy to miss the critical moments.

V-2 on Easy Terrain
Most recreational skiers learn the V-1 technique and pretty much stick with that most of the time. Learning some additional ways to travel along the trail provides greater efficiency while letting some muscles relax. The V-2, when done properly can be used on flat and easy uphills by recreational skiers. Jen is showing us a relaxed recreational style of skating the V-2 technique.

Her arms swing in a nice relaxed rhythm without much follow through behind the hips. I quicker tempo to the arm swing than in the V-1 allows Jen to use a pole push on each skating push-off.

Racers will also use the V-2. To provide more power they add more forward lean and stronger pole and skate strokes.

Skate Those Corners
Most recreational skiers don't apply much power when going around corners. This results in a loss of speed and momentum that must be regained when the trail straightens out again. I suggest learning to skate with the leg on the outside of the corner with quick skate strokes. Good strong skate pushoff will help force the upper body over the inside ski. Skating corners can maintain speed or even increase speed when cornering.

Being able to change from one technique to another without a break in rhythm is extremely important to good skiing. Good recreational skiers should be able to use all of the techniques listed below AND be able to smoothly change from one to another. Remember each technique has a "most appropriate" place. Being able to switch smoothly maintains rhythm, speed down the trail, and efficiency of motion.

  • Diagonal V Skate
  • V-1
  • V-2
  • V-2 Alternate
  • No Pole Skate
  • Skating Corners

If you are not familiar with any of these techiques send me an email. I'll try to discuss them in more detail in future posts.

The Best! No Other Way to Say It!
Posted January 11, 2010

There comes that day when everything comes together. The snow is perfect. Grooming is great. The weather is perfect - mid 20s and some nice sunshine. The wax on your skis provides unbelievable glide. The skis run like never before. Even your body cooperates and you can ski up those big hills like they were nothing.

The upper part of the Dickie Road trail provides some very nice winter scenery.

That all came together at Izaak Walton Inn this weekend. Ron, Jen and I began our Sunday ski by heading out Essex Road down to Dickie Creek. Then across the tracks to the River Trail. The sun came through the low clouds. I chased Ron all the way to the end of the trail and he chased me back.

Ron and I do a little V-2 on the Pileated Trail. Photo by Jennie Gruber.

The River trail provide an opportunity to work on technique transitions. There are no long uphills - just a few quick up and downs. Lots of short curves where the trail twists through the trees. And some nice straightaways for V-2.

It's important to be able to change techniques quickly and smoothly to maintain momentum down the trail. We had the opportunity to use almost everything on this run including V-1, V-2, V-2 alternate, skating without poles, step turns and fast skating turns. We discussed the skating turn technique a little more because it seemed most important on that trail.

To cap off our 22 km morning we skied up the Essex Road trail to the top. This trail starts flat but soon climbs a 200 foot rise. After dropping back down it rises another 400 feet where it cross Marion Creek. For me it was the first time I've ever skied that 400 foot of rise in a smooth continuous ski.

Once at the top we all split up. Jen skied back down Essex Road, Ron skied down Highline and I went down Towering Pine. Jen beat us back to the trail head by three minutes. We were definitely pumped.

After lunch we cliniced each other and took some photo sequences of V-2 and skating turns. I'll post these in the next day or two.

Waxing Izaak Walton Inn, January 10, 2010
Snow Temp:
20 F. The snow was groomed powder.
Air Temp: 15 F with warming during the day to 32 F.
Grip Wax: A skating day so no grip wax.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray.
Comments: The perfect wax for this snow type and temp. Fantastic glide..

Waxing Izaak Walton Inn, January 8, 2010
Snow Temp:
5 F. The snow was cold dry groomed powder.
Air Temp: -10 F with warming during the day to -2 F.
Grip Wax: Last week's wax - a mix of Rode Special Blue, Super Blue and Special Violet.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray.
Comments: This was the first fairly long classic ski. Three hours in the cold. Not much glide but bomber kick. Next time I'll remember to bring the wax box.

Shrinking Hills

Posted January 4, 2010

I first noticed this phenomenon at Eagle River Nordic back in the mid 1980s when I was learning to skate. I've experienced it every year since then. But the strange occurrence of the shrinking hills really became evident this past weekend on the Izaak Walton Inn ski trails.

The Izaak Walton Inn Essex Creek complex of trails rise a little over 400 feet from the trailhead to the highest point. There are three trails in this complex: Essex Road, Pileated/Giant Pine, and Essex Creek/Highline.

The Essex Road trail just goes right up the 400 feet. There is no break in the steady climb. The 400 feet seems more like 4000 feet and you ski up, up, and up the road.

The other two trails go mostly up as well but there are a few flat stretches and even some short downhills.

Each season, as I begin to ski, I find myself unable to go from bottom to top without a pause to catch my breadth. But on subsequent outings the breaks become fewer and shorter until finally I can go from bottom to top without stopping. It literally seems like the hills are shrinking -- or getting easier and easier.

Skating the flat part of Pileated. Photo by Jennie Gruber.

The same thing happened when I first learned to skate. Every uphill seemed to be a killer. But over time they shrunk in size and I was able to ski right over them. Some hills even disappeared.

What's going on here? I speculate the shrinking hills can be attributed to two things. First my fitness level increases as the season progresses. Second, and more importantly, my skiing technique smooths out and becomes much more efficient. The three aspects to good skiing recognized by the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the United States Ski Association are coming into play.

Body Position:
As I learned to skate and as I begin skiing each season my body position is a little off. I'm just not in that good flexed ready position that is required for good skiing. I'm aware of this and work on it. Before long I've smoothed that out.

Without proper body position and good timing of movements there will never be speed and efficiency. I'm a klutz. Each season I start skiing like a rag doll flopping along the trail. But soon the timing of my poling strokes and pushoffs become more refined and skiing gets easier.

Power or Propulsion:
Good relaxed body position and exquisite timing of the movements required for a technique result in better propulsion. As strength and fitness improve this is combined with body position and timing to increase speed and efficiency.

The combination of body postilion, timing and propulsion also result in smooth transitions between techniques. All this adds up to better skiing and, before you know it, shrinking hills.

For more info on the three aspects of good skiing check the archived article: West Yellowstone Clinic.

Bert's Island. Photo by Ralph Thornton.

Waxing Izaak Walton Inn, January 3, 2010
Snow Temp:
+30 and rising F. The snow was powder early in the morning but became somewhat wet as the air temp rose.
Air Temp: +30 F with warming during the day to +40 F.
Grip Wax: We skated all day so no grip wax.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray. Glide was quite good in the morning. The snow had that silky frictionless feeling but as the day warmed the skis slowed.
Comments: This was the first fairly long ski on the skis I had stone ground last fall. They definitely are like new. Great glide and control.

Frosty West Yellowstone!
Posted December 29, 2009

It's been a long time tradition in our family to spend the Christmas to New Year period skiing. Before moving west we would spend the week at our cabin near Alvin, Wisconsin and ski at Eagle River Nordic. This year Ron and Jen joined Nancy and I in West Yellowstone, Montana for two days of skiing on the Rendezvous Trails.

These trails provide fun for any ability. They are perfectly groomed and the skiing is great. If you haven't been cross country skiing in Montana, you haven't been skiing the best of the West!

Left: Jen photographed the train as it left the station.
Right: Jen and Ron in the cool crisp air on the Rendezvous trail.

West Yellowstone can get a little chilly but the sunny days provide plenty of time and warmth to ski. I do suggest bringing some warmer ski clothes, heavier gloves or mittens and a warmer hat. The cooler mornings are great for classical skiing. When the sun warms the dry high elevation air switch to skating gear and lighter clothing.

The trails are gently rolling with plenty of ups and downs. Corners are smooth and the track is always perfect. There is no better place to develop a good rhythm to your skiing.

Clearings along the trail provided plenty of warmth from the sun.

There are plenty of lodging possibilities in town and some pleasant eateries. After skiing we checked into the Brandin Iron, soaked for a while in the hot tub and walked to Bullwinkles for dinner.

Sunday morning was a little cooler. Skiing in the -20 F air created a little frost around the face. Yet by the noon hour it was nicely above zero.

Looking at the photos from West Yellowstone you might think there is plenty of snow. And indeed there was maybe 1-2 feet on the ground. But you can tell from the height of this sign that winter will bring much more.

The Rendezvous Trails are regularly groomed from mid November through early April. The deep snow pack allows for some good May skiing as well and the trails are groomed when conditions permit.

I'm looking forward to more skiing before the holiday period ends. It's time to get into the rhythm of skiing.

Waxing West Yellowstone, December 26-27, 2009
Snow Temp:
+5 F but probably cooler on Sunday morning. The snow was fairly abrasive and very cold groomed powder!
Air Temp: -20 F with warming during the day to +10 F.
Grip Wax: I used Rode Multigrade Special Blue with a little Rode Super Blue on top in the warmer afternoon. Grip was generally solid except in a few very sunny spots.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray. Glide was a little slow in the very cold of Sunday morning but was good in the afternoon.
Comments: The dry, cold groomed powder was fairly abrasive.