Posts from February 2010
Birkie Prelim...
Posted February 25, 2010 - 2 Days 'til the Birkie!

I left Montana on February 15 and arrived in the Midwest the following day. Over 8 days Steve and I completed an odyssey of skiing across northern Wisconsin visiting Hayward, Eagle River and Minocqua, Wisconsin and Ironwood, Michigan. I'll post a few photos later but here's the story.

Steve and Juliane met me in Minneapolis and we immediately headed for Hayward to check out the Birkie Trail. The day was spectacular. Weather perfect, snow perfect, and the skiing just about the same. We skied from the North End Cabin to Hwy OO, a distance of about 18 km. This part of the Birkie Trail features few flats and is mostly up and down with challenging runs and sharp corners.

After skiing we headed to Ironwood, Michigan and the ABR trail. Three more days of fantastic skiing on groomed powder snow. We skied 20-30 km each day on challenging trails including Bard's Bump, Blueberry and the Hautennen Highlands. Evenings featured great food at Tacconelli's, Manny's and Don and GG's.

The Hautennen Guard

A beautiful sunny day on Sulu's Loop.

Steve climbing the wall.

Skating the Hautenin Highlands

After skiing on Friday we headed to Eagle River Nordic where LaNora provided some fantastic hospitality. We ate, drank wine, ate and drank beer. Oh, we also did a little skiing. The Forest Service had groomed up part of the Nicolet North trails and the Anvil Trail system.

Ski tracks lead to Bert's Island.

Feeding the chickadees on the Anvil Trails.

Left: The Roller Coaster on the Nicolet North Trails. Right: Juliane satisfying her appetite.

Skiing was on groomed powder and was fantastic. We had skied these trail many, many times over the years but I had not skied there in a long time. Each hill, turn and twist of the trails brought back great memories of skiing, teaching skiing and the wonderful friendships.

The Base Chalet at Minocqua Winter Park.

We skied about 30 km on Monday including this portion of River Run.

The Island Hop.

After two days of skiing near Eagle River and then two more at Minocqua Winter Park we headed back to Hayward for one more ski on the Birkie Trail before resting up for the big race on Saturday. Juliane dropped us off at Hwy OO and we skied south past Hwy 77 to Wheeler Road, a distance of about 22-23 km. There had been a couple of inches of new powder and the trails were freshly groomed. The sun was out and the air was cool. Another perfect day of skiing.

Skiing Hwy OO to Hwy 77. Steve is just leaving the OO Cabin.

Climbing the B-Hill. Steve is nearing the top. The guy in red is pulling his girlfriend up the hill with a bungy cord.
You see just about everything on the Birkie Trail!

Only two more days until the Birkie! We'll rest and relax, wax our skies and be ready to go on Saturday morning.

Posted February 15, 2010 - 12 Days 'til the Birkie!
Photos by Stephen Smith and used with permission.

Variety is the spice of life. This week I joined a group of dedicated backcountry skiers in the forests around Teakettle Mountain not far from West Glacier, Montana. Our goal was a fun day exploring the mountain and enjoying the camaraderie of skiing.

The group was quite diverse. We had very accomplished skiers who used alpine tour gear to make turns through the trees, a few were on typical backcountry gear and some were just getting their first taste of backcountry skiing. There was something for everyone on the trip.

The weather was warm and a little damp. We were treated to a little drizzle, some occasional fog, and some heavy wet snow. The snow on the mountain was that heavy moisture laden stuff that had the consistency of mashed potatoes.

We all met at Stephen's home. We started our ski right out his back door and enjoyed a few hours of uphill. Remember, in the backcountry there are no lifts. To get those downhill runs you have to ski uphill. None of us minded the effort because we knew there would be a reward. The casual uphill ski also provided plenty of time to chat and share experiences.

The trail was easy at first but got steeper and steeper as we approached the ridge of Teakettle Mountain. Those with full length climbing skins on their skis were able to ski straight up the slope. I only had shorter "kicker" skins that didn't grip in those real steep spots. So I sidestepped and herringboned a whole bunch up there.

Eventually the forest opened up and the group stopped for a luncheon. This was the high point for this trip. From there on most of the way would be downhill. I was quite warm while climbing but as soon as I stopped for lunch I began to cool down. Some nice warm soup in my thermos and a parka kept the chill away.

The downhill opportunities were diverse too. I opted for the easiest way down. There were some short traverses through a couple of brushy areas and some longer runs across more open slopes.

After skiing down the slope a ways we crossed a logging road. This provided a more gentle route and several of us skied down the switchbacks on the road. Others looked for more thrills and cut across the turns and twists in the road for a more direct descent.

There were some who searched for snow fleas. Jim was making his way through the trees when he reached the logging road. A nifty little drainage ditch stopped his skis but he kept going. The perfect face plant. I'm not sure if he found any of the snow fleas though.

All too soon the terrain began to smooth out. We had to use our own muscle power again instead of gravity. A larger road came into view and within a few more minutes we were back at Stephens place enjoying some refreshments.

February Fun
Posted February 8, 2010 - 19 Days 'til the Birkie!

February is always my favorite month for skiing.

  • The winter is well along and I'm in a good skiing routine.
  • The sun has crept higher in the sky providing more daylight.
  • Temps are warm but usually not too warm.
  • The snow is nice and deep.
  • The trails are in great shape.
  • Anticipation is building for the Birkie.

There's just so much skiing fun in February. This past weekend I drive to the Izaak Walton Inn through a dense freezing fog on the plains. Heading west from Browning the clouds began to lift. By the time I reached East Glacier the fog was behind me and the sun shown brightly through a gorgeous blue sky. I just knew a good time would be had on the snow.

This was RMO Race Day at the inn. The place was busy with skiers signing up to race and warming up at the start. Since the sun was out and the snow was so nice, our group decided to head out on the trails instead of watching the race starts. I did hang around long enough to see the kids race get under way.

The kids race began with a flurry of poles and skis.

April bought Gary some new skating skis from Ernie and he was itching to try them out. Gary is an accomplished skier but had never tried skating before. Jen and I gave him a quickie 10 minute lesson before heading out on the trails. He had a little trouble getting the timing of the V-1 but by the time we were 2-3 km down the trail he seemed to have it in hand. Gary had no problem with V-2 because he used that technique to skate to the lift line on his alpine boards.

Jen leads Gary along the River Trail.

All he needs to do now is learn how to get up and over his gliding ski and balance on them a little longer. I'll tech him more tricks as we go along but as soon as I have trouble keeping up with him the lessons will end.

The group included (left to right) Jen, Gary, April (in the back), Mark, and Lana in front..
We stopped several times to enjoy the scenery along with the warm sun.

All he needs to do now is learn how to get up and over his gliding ski and balance on them a little longer. I'll tech him more tricks as we go along but as soon as I have trouble keeping up with him, the lessons will end.

The weekend skiing was in contrast to my skiing last Friday. While the drive over still featured the freezing fog, the ski trails were quiet. I skied continuously for 3 hours making several runs up the 400 foot of elevation gain on the Essex Creek complex of trails. The sky was cloudy, the forest was dark and I was alone on the trails.

The Rocky Mountain Front in the early morningshine. Most of my drive featured dense freezing fog but at the crest of one hill I was treated to this view. I had to stop for a photo of my back yard.

It doesn't seem to matter though. To me the feeling of gliding over the snow, breathing hard as I climb and the excitement of cruising down the long hills made for another fun day on skis.

February is like that. Lots of variety and lots of fun. I'll soon be heading to Wisconsin to meet Steve and Juliane. We'll be skiing at ABR in Ironwood, Michigan, Minocqua Winter Park in Minocqua, Wisconsin, the Nicolet North trail near Eagle River, Wisconsin and of course on the Birkie Trail near Hayward, Wisconsin. If you see me on the trails there be sure to introduce yourself and say hello. Who knows, we might take a pic and put you on the web!

Waxing Izaak Walton Inn, February 5, 2010
Snow Temp:
around 20F. The snow was frozen granular with some powder mixed in during grooming.
Air Temp: +24 F.
Grip Wax: I skated all day so no grip wax.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray. Glide was fast on the frozen surface.
Comments: Grooming produced a hard frozen surface with a few death cookies scattered about.

Waxing Izaak Walton Inn, February 7, 2010
Snow Temp:
around 32F. The snow was loose granular with some powder mixed in during grooming. The bright sun produced soft wet areas.
Air Temp: +30 F with warming during the day to +35 F.
Grip Wax: Mark reported good results with Swix Yellow. I would have tried Special Red or maybe Toko Violet Grip Spray.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray. Glide was quite good except in the sunny wet spots.
Comments: Where the sun hit the trail Jen reported that she had to give it her all to maintain good glide..

The Birkie is Full!
Posted February 1, 2010

Update: February 3, 2010
I just received word that registration for this year's American Birkiebeiner and Korteloppet race is closed.

“We have received a large number of race registrations since we announced that race registration would close on Wednesday, February 3rd at 2:00 p.m.,” said Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF). “At this time we are still processing those entries and we anticipate that we will have our largest field of skiers ever, with around 7,900 entrants.”

I'll say Wow! again!!!!! 7,900 skiers in the Birkie/Korte. It will be a spectacle to behold. Only 24 days to the Big Dance!

Wow! 7,500 skiers have registered for this year's Birkie. Here's the latest news from the Birkie office:

  • Last Spring the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation Board of Directors voted unanimously to set a registration cap on the Birkie and Kortelopet of 7500 skiers. The cap was established to insure the quality of the race. We have reached our registration cap.
  • Due to the fact that we reached the cap over a weekend we will keep Birkie/Korte race registration open until 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 3rd. This will give skiers one last opportunity to register for the events. Birkie/Korte race registration must be done online at or by fax at 715-634-5663. Race registrations will no longer be accepted by mail.
  • There are currently 150 skiers registered for the 12K Prince Haakon. The Prince Haakon event has a registration cap of 250 skiers. Race registration for the Prince Haakon will remain open until the cap is reached for this event.

Breathe Right!
Posted February 1, 2010

I'm not talking about the little flexible thingies you stick on your nose. I'm talking about controlling your breathing while skiing.

When climbing long steep hills or trying to cruise as fast as I can, maybe to keep in eye contact with Ron before he dusts me completely, I often focus so hard on my skiing that I neglect my breathing. Before I know it I'm going anaerobic, my breathing is out of control and my technique begins to fall apart. Naturally speed suffers and I lose site of Ron.

Paying attention to breathing can go a long way in keeping up with the rabbit out front.

It's not that important when cruising along at a relaxed "long slow distance" kind of pace. But as soon as the trail steepens I find it very useful to synchronize my breathing to my skiing. Everything falls into place then and I can continue up those long hills and, more importantly, ski fast over the top.

In V-1 skiing I tend to breathe in on the off side and exhale on my poling side. I don't change breathing cadence though, if I change my poling side. I just keep breathing in rhythm to my skiing. This usually causes me to slow my uphill skiing tempo a little (or a lot depending on the steepness and length of the hill). It's that slower, more powerful tempo that lets me ski right on over the hill and be ready for whatever the trail throws at me next. If my breathing gets faster than my skiing tempo I might slow my skiing tempo the just a bit. Again this provides for a more relaxed ski up the hill and results in much less fatigue.

When classic skiing up hills I again breath in rhythm to my poling strokes -- in on one pole push and out on the next. As the hill steepens or if I'm pushing too hard, my breathing will increase. Again I might have to slow my skiing tempo to allow my breathing rate to fall back in line with my poling.

In either case the idea to maintain an aerobic state where I can keep skiing without stopping to catch my breath. The end result is I can keep going longer and faster. I like that!

There are times when you have to push it though. Just be sure to get in some "rest" time to bring your breathing back in line with your fitness level. Skiing anaerobic for very long usually results in poor outcomes.

Technique and conditioning come into play here as well. The better your ski technique the more efficient you become at using your energy. As your conditioning level improves you can use that efficient technique to further your ability. This naturally yields more speed or stamina. Any way you look at it you have more fun skiing and that is the name of the game.

Essex Creek flows over cascade and around rocks piled high with snow at Kendi's Crossing on the Izaak Walton Inn trail system.

Ski conditions are beginning to improve locally. A few light snowfalls have mixed some powder into the loose granular snow. This allows one to use hard wax while classic skiing and provides more control while skating.

Waxing Izaak Walton Inn, January 31, 2010
Snow Temp:
around 20F. The snow was loose granular with some powder mixed in during grooming.
Air Temp: +20 F with warming during the day to +25 F.
Grip Wax: We skated all day so no grip wax but I suspect Swix Blue Extra would have been good.
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray. Glide was quite good. Seem like it's my favorite wax combination.
Comments: Jen, Ron and I skied a continuous 26 km run that included 2 trips up the 400 feet of elevation gain in the Essex Creek complex. At the end of the ski my skis seems to glide just about as good as they had at the beginning.