Birkie Stories and Stuck in Wisconsin!
Posted February 28, 2011

I'll post my Birkie stories as soon as I can. I'm stuck in Milwaukee, WI with transportation problems and don't know when I'll make it home. Storms in Montana and severe cold have impacted travel. Stay tuned.

Birkie Week!
Posted February 24, 2011

Steve and Juliane Bantz and I arrived in Minneapolis Last Sunday on Amtrak's Empire Builder. We planned to drive to Eagle River but a big Midwest snowstorm put a kink in our plans. We ended up in a small motel in Cameron, WI.

Monday saw us continuing on east with a stop in Minocqua Winter Park to ski. While there had been a foot of new snow in Minneapolis, the storm missed Minocqua and points further east. There was only about an inch of new snow on the Winter Park ski trails. This was on top of a hard frozen base. Their groomers had done a fairly nice job though and skiing was good.

We spent two days with LaNora Kleerup. It was a good chance to catch up with good friends and enjoy her fantastic cuisine. We also planned out some ski and equipment testing for the end of the week. I'll bring some news on this next week.

We skied at ABR in Ironwood Michigan on Tuesday. Their snow had experienced the warm weather that plagued the entire Midwest the previous week but there was still plenty on snow. Unfortunately the ABR staff choose not to groom their trails the day we visited and the skiing was poor. I was very surprised at the poor conditions because ABR had a reputation for always having good grooming. It was interesting that the snow in front of the ski cabin was nicely groomed while the rest of the trails were rock hard ice.

After visiting LaNora, we left for Hayward and the Birkie. Steve and I skied the southern half of the Birkie trail. There too the thaw had caused some rough conditions but the new snow of the previous Sunday night helped quite a bit. The Birkie trail was groomed nicely and the skiing was fantastic.

Today we watched the Barnebirkie, a fun ski race for kids ages 3 and up. It's a blast watching these kids ski. I'll post some pics next week when I return home.

It's now two days until the Birkie. I expect a firm base with new well groomed snow on top. The steepest downhills, though, might be pretty difficult. It is common for the multitudes of skiers to scrape away the top layers of snow when the snowplow down the hills. This year, I'm sure the new snow will swept aside on those hills and there will be channels of ice to negotiate. If I get through those areas safely the rest of the course should provide a great ski.

Check back next week for photos from the events leading up to the Birkie and the story of my race.

Only 2 Days 'til the Birkie!

A Week of Montana Skiing!
Posted February 18, 2011

Steve and Juliane Bantz arrived Sunday on Amtrak's Empire Builder. We planned to spend the week skiing several venues before heading to Hayward, Wisconsin for the American Birkebeiner ski race.

The week featured a variety of skiing conditions that included frozen granular, wet granular and corn, frozen pine needle hardpack and a lot of fresh snow that came by the foot. Here's a report on the week.

Izaak Walton Inn, Monday February 14:
For a warm up Jen, Nancy, Steve, Juliane and I skied at Izaak Walton Inn. The previous several days saw high winds and very warm temperatures.

Nancy and I recorded winds of 79 mph at our house on Saturday. Winds of 114 mph were reported at the Choteau, Montana airport before the wind gauge broke. These were chinook winds that brought temperatures into the 50s and literally ate up the snow. By Monday morning it cooled into the 20s and skiing at Izaak Walton Inn was on frozen granular stuff that was at one time snow.

Homestake Lodge, Tuesday February 15:
Juliane, Steve and I planned on spending the rest of the week in West Yellowstone. To break the drive we stopped at Homestake Lodge. This delightful ski area is at 6,300 feet just east of Butte, Montana near Homestake Pass on the Continental Divide.

The lodge is a fantastic structure that offers a warm and friendly atmosphere. Our hosts for the day were Chris, Mandy and Lars.

The temps were pretty warm but Chris had groomed most of the trails that morning and skiing was great, especially early in the day. The scenery at the ski area included open aspen glades and pine forests all on a rolling terrain.

Steve and I decided to ski to the pass where we got a long view over to the Tobacco Root Mountains. The trail gained elevation steadily but it was not too steep. At the top we could see far off to the east but the warm air was quite hazy.

Skiing back down the trail brought more thrills as we passed from warm, sunny, wet snow areas into cool, shady, dry snow spots. Our skis would take off in the dry powder snow and slow down quickly in the sunny spots.

After a delicious lunch of a sandwich and soup we headed out to explore more of the trails. The Prospector, Busy Beaver, Meadow Road, and several other trails kept us busy until we were pooped.

West Yellowstone, Wednesday - Thursday February 16 ad 17:
We spent these two days in West Yellowstone skiing the Rendezvous Trails. If you are not familiar with this incredible ski area go to the Archives page and look for the many posts from there. The trails begin right in town.

Our first ski was on a hardened groomed surface but the recent winds dumped quite a few pine needles and other debris on the trails. This made for fast but difficult skiing.

The hardpack didn't last long because by Wednesday afternoon it began to snow. And snow. And snow. By the time we left West it had snowed well over a foot and it was still snowing.

The trails were regroomed on Thursday morning but by mid morning they were once again buried in new snow. We classic skied a variety of trails and the sun popped out for a while.

On Thursday afternoon the snow came down so hard that our skis were lost to view under the snow as Steve and I skied a 22 km loop that included the Volunteer, Dead Dog, Rendezvous and Deja View trails.

Lone Mountain Ranch, Friday February 18:
Leaving West Yellowstone and heading for home we interrupted our drive with a few hours of skiing at the Ranch. This excellent location features 100 km of groomed trails that cover a wide variety of terrain.
Once again heavy snow fell while were were skiing and the normally fantastic views were obscured. So here's a photo on the Ranch Loop from a previous trip.

The four ski areas featured in this post offer some of the best groomed trail cross country skiing in the United States. If you get a chance to visit Montana in winter you just have to ski these fantastic locations.

Only 7 Days 'til the Birkie!

Ravens Attack Snowmobiles!
Posted February 18, 2011

Ravens are pretty interesting birds. They are intelligent and can solve many problems relate to finding food. During a rest period in our motel room in West Yellowstone Juliane head some commotion out the window.

A bunch of ravens were systematically searching several snowmobiles and opening various compartments. When they found goodies they pulled them out and ate anything edible. This included the owners lunches and trail snacks. In the photo above two ravens are pulling out plastic bags of goodies from one snowmobile while another raven watches. Several items are already on the ground awaiting further inspection.

Only 7 Days 'til the Birkie!

Skiing Along the North Fork
Posted February 7, 2011

I was fortunate to get out three times this week.
Wednesday: I skated for over 2 hours at Izaak Walton Inn. The snow temp was -10 F and that made for some slooooowwwwww glide.
Friday: I skated for 2.5 hours at Izaak Walton Inn. The temp was a warm 25 F and but it snowed 6 inches during my ski. I thought I had a white bedsheet draped over me ; )

On Saturday I skied with a group of Glacier Mountaineers along the North Fork of the Flathead River on the edge of Glacier National Park.

Our original goal was to ski down to the river, cross it, and ski up into the Kintla Valley in Glacier National Park. Kintla Lake, only 3-4 miles up valley from the river lies at the base of Longknife Peak (photo above). The lake was reported to be frozen and we anticipated skiing up the lake for more mountain views. The weather looked to be clearing and the temperatures were in the teens.

After a 30 minute ski we arrived at the bluff above the river. Holy cow there was a lot of water flowing down there! It wasn't long before we began to get concerned about finding a good place to cross. We skied down to the river bank for a look see.

Too much water! So we skied further downstream to a spot that looked a little better for a crossing. Potential crossing spots always seemed to look better from a distance but as we got close, not so much.

Steve decided this spot looked OK. So we all put on our waders and watched as Steve made a test wade. The water was crotch deep on Steve, any deeper and his backpack would have been in the water. The current was moving right along as well. Any slip meant Steve would be carried quickly downstream where there was more ice. The hard part though, was to get out of the water and back up onto the ice shelf that extended over the river.

Hmmm! Not so good. After a fairly long confab we all agreed that maybe we'd come back for another attempt next year.

Linda wasn't convince that we were done though. She spotted a place upstream where the ice went all the way across the river and though a dry crossing might be made there. So we skied up stream a ways then climbed back up to the top of the bluff. The sun was out and the scenery was pretty darn spectacular so we stopped for a snack.

As we were resting on the bluff an eagle soared over the river. The mountains were beautiful from this vantage point as well.

After our luncheon we skied to the "ice bridge" for a look see. The first thing that happened was that the ice broke right at the shore. Not good. Moving a little downstream Steve began slowly skiing onto the ice. When about 30 feet from shore the ice began to crack in front of his skis. Definitely not good!

Steve inched his way back to shore. We then agreed no crossing would be made that day. We skied back to our vehicles and enjoyed another luncheon. After lunch our momentum for more skiing seemed to have disappeared. Three of us skied up the road toward Bowman Lake for a ways but the rest of the group headed home.

Still it was a great day. Our original objective wasn't reached but the skiing was fun. Kintla Lake will be there next winter.

Only 19 Days 'til the Birkie!