Posts from February 2012

Heading Home on Amtrak's Empire Builder
Posted February 26, 2012

I'm heading home. Boarded the Empire Builder in Columbus, Wisconsin. I was welcomed aboard by my sleeping car attendant Gul. He got me settled in my room, arranged for my dinner in the dining car and poured a nice glass of champagne. This should be a pleasant relaxing ride home.

My 33rd American Birkebeiner
Posted February 25, 2012

Here's three pics from this years race.

Suffice it ti say the course was in great shape and I had a good time. A little sore now though. I'll post more details in my next main post on Ralph's Blog.

Tomorrow I'm beginning my trek home on Amtrak's Empire Builder.

Testing the Glide
Posted February 24, 2012

The Birkie 2012 is Tomorrow!

Today is basically a resting day. My skis are waxed and I'm as ready to go as I can be. The only thing left to do is enjoy some resting time.

Steve prepared two pairs of skis for the Birkie. They are waxed slightly differently. To determine which might perform best we drove to the Mosquito Brook area of the Birkie trail to test them out. He skied the same short stretch of trail that had a little uphill and some downhill. He will ski the race on that pair that he feels work best on the snow conditions that are present this close to race time.

Tomorrow is race morning. It'll be and early up at about 4:15 am. The hotel is serving a buffet breakfast at 5:00 am and right after eating we will head to Telemark for the start. Keep us in your thoughts and wish us well for a good ski tomorrow.

Will this Grip Wax Job Work?
Posted February 23, 2012

Only 2 days until Birkie 2012!

As I've mentioned in previous posts I've been using the new Toko Nordic Grip waxes these past few weeks. In general I've had good success until last Monday when I had some real problems in new snow and warm conditions. To learn about that scroll down to the post from February 20th. Toko posted their suggested grip wax for the Birkie and I waxed my skis this morning following those recommendations.

The first thing I did was to clean off all the previous grip wax from my skis. I then applied the glide wax to my skis. I ironed in a layer of Toko Low Fluoro Molly to the tips and tails. After scraping and brushing I ironed in a layer of Toko Low Fluoro Blue and again scraped and brushed. This done it was time to wax the grip zone.

I followed the Toko recommendation for the grip zone as follows: First I applied a layer of Toko Base Green, then ironed it smooth and corked it well. After the base wax cooled I corked on a layer of Toko Nordic Grip Blue. This done I corked in successive layers of Base Green, Nordic Blue, Base Green and a final layer of Nordic Blue. These six layers of grip wax covered the entire grip zone of the skis.

In addition to the six previous layers of wax Toko suggested additional layers of grip wax in a shorter zone. So I next corked in Base Green, Nordic Blue, Base Green and Nordic Blue. This made a total of ten layers of grip wax on my ski.

When we picked up my bib and went to the ski show this afternoon I talked about this wax sequence with a rep from Toko. He told me the concept is to build up a layer of wax that is thin at the front and rear and gets progressively thicker toward the center of the grip zone. I definitely accomplished this with my wax. I plan on carrying a wax for warmer snow should the temperatures rise before I finish my race. I'll also carry a cork and scraper and possibly another wax or two, just in case. Wish me luck!

Steve and I both waxed our skis in the ballroom of the Flat Creek Inn where we are staying. The photos above show Steve ironing in a layer of glide wax and myself corking in some Toko Nordic Grip Blue. Our skis are ready for the race. Depending on conditions tomorrow we might test the wax jobs to see how they perform.

On to Hayward
Posted February 22, 2012

Only 3 days until Birkie 2012!

Our visit with LaNora was simply wonderful, as always. Great food and conversation highlighted the three days. Sadly we said our good-byes and made the drive to Hayward, Wisconsin.

Our first stop was at the point where Hwy OO crosses the Birkie trail. This is the 22.5 kilometer point for the freestyle course and 26 kilometers for the classic skiers. It snowed about 3 inches on Tuesday and Tuesday night north of Hayward and maybe only an inch in town. With the new snow on the trail we wanted to see how the things compared to the conditions we skied in there last week. At Hwy OO short sections of the trail there were groomed for skiers. There was some set track. Temps were near 30 F and the trail looked very nice. The new snow really dressed things up.

Next we stopped at the Wheeler Road crossing. This is at about the 47/51 kilometer point of the race trail. The photos above show the view each way at that location. The trail had been rolled to pack down the new snow and allow it to bind with the older snow underneath. The Birkie Foundation says they will groom the trail later in the week. The final grooming will be on Friday night and tracks will be set then. This will definitely make for the best trail conditions possible for race day, now only 3 days away. If any of you are hesitant about skiing the Birkie, I'd suggest you put that aside and head to Hayward for the big race.

I will spend the next two days in final preparation for the race. There's a ski show to take a look at and bibs to pick up. I'll wax my skis with Steve on Friday. Be sure to check back to see all the fun.

Birkie Trail Report
Posted February 21, 2012

Only 4 days until Birkie 2012!

I received the following trail report from the Birkie office this morning. It sure get the juices flowing for a good race.

"We are now in full race prep mode. The trail has been completely patched and reinforced with snow for it's entire length as of today. The trail is in very good condition with 3"-6" of solid base. The patching was mostly digs from track setting and low snow on the edges under pine trees. It is now snowing in Hayward and this new snow will now make all the repairs perfect! We will be grooming over the next three days on course, but we will not set track any where except around "OO". Wednesday night the snow will be put down on Main Street in Hayward."

"What ever you have heard, this is fact, the trail is in very good to excellent condition for it's entire length. Very few thin spots and all South facing slopes have very good coverage. There is enough snow for Main Street in Hayward, Lake Hayward has the best ribbon of snow in 5 years, the road crossings have plenty of extra snow, and the Start is completely covered!! Race ON!!!"

Tough Day to Wax for Classic Skiing!
Posted February 21, 2012

Only 4 days until Birkie 2012!

The last few days the temperature reached into the upper 30s each afternoon. Last night it snowed but the temps remained warm. When I started skiing I chose Toko Nordic Grip Yellow but it iced up badly. I ended up spending a lot of time trying different wax combinations and finally found one that worked. Snow conditions were 3 inches of fresh powder snow at 32 F over a groomed wet surface.

After suffering with icing I tried Toko Nordic Blue, Toko Nordic Red and Toko Nordic Yellow, all after cleaning everything off my ski from the earlier wax job. The blue and red didn't grip but the yellow iced up. I then tried some Rode Multigrade Special Violet and that gripped just OK. Unfortunately some of the yellow shown through and that iced up.

So the final try was to clean the ski, apply a good layer of Rode Multigrade Special Violet then add a very short thin amount of Rode Rossa. Finally good grip, good glide and no icing. Also, unfortunately, it was now time to drive home.

Minocqua Winter Park
Posted February 20, 2012

Only 5 days until Birkie 2012!

Minocqua Winter Park, one great ski area, is one of my old stomping grounds from the days before I moved to Montana. While snow in the Midwest is pretty thin there was good snow cover and very nice grooming at Minocqua Winter Park. Temps warmed into the mid 30s today making for some interesting waxing. I found that Toko Nordic Grip Yellow worked in most of the areas where the track was not glazed too heavily.

After waxing up I skied for about two hours. In the photo below I'm working my way around Nepco's Cruise.

One neat feature on the trails is the Tea House. Nestled deep in the woods out on the trail system, the Tea House is a pleasant place to stop for a warm beverage.

Day Two at Swedetown
Posted February 19, 2012

Only 6 days until Birkie 2012!

The skiing was so good yesterday that we decided to skip Maasto Hiihto and spend the morning at Swedetown.

The sky had been clear overnight and the snow cooled off from yesterday. The snow temp was 15 F. This still put it in the Toko Nordic Grip Red zone so I corked in some more wax. Before long Steve and I were again out cruising on those excellent trails.

We only skied for about 90 minutes then had lunch. We planned to drive down to Eagle River and spend a few days visiting LaNora, owner of Eagle River Nordic. Soon after leaving Swedetown we crossed the Portage Lake lift bridge seen in the photo above.

During our stay near Eagle River we plan on skiing some of the trails in that area. So plan to visit the Birkie Blog during the next few days to see how it goes.

The Swedetown Trails near Calumet, MI
Posted February 18, 2012

A new day and a new ski area, our fourth of the trip. The Swedetown Trails are a nicely laid out group of exquisitely groomed trails. There is a chalet where you can warm up, rest and purchase some basic food and refreshments. Steve and Juliane enjoyed pasties, a northern Michigan tradition. I had some soup.

Steve and I skied a 14 km loop before lunch. It was so much fun we skied it again after resting in the chalet. In the photo below I'm back to classic skiing.

Around 1 pm we were joined by the Tigers. About 100 kids aged 5 - 10 joined us on the trails. What a treat it was to see so many kids having so much fun in the snow.

The Tigers ski at Swedetown one Saturday and then go to the Mara Trails on alternate Saturdays. Lots of parents were there to keep every thing moving along. Steve asked one youngster how far he skied? "A looooong ways," he replied!

Only 7 days until Birkie 2012!

The Nara Trails in Houghton, Michigan
Posted February 17, 2012

We left Ironwood and drove to Houghton, Michigan. A couple of inches of new snow cleaned up the older snow nicely. In Houghton we skied the Nara Trails right on the edge of town.

The Nara trailhead Chalet was exquisite. The building featured a large main room with tables, lockers, restrooms, showers and a fireplace. Off to the side was a nice waxing area. The photo below is in the main room. We started a fire and soon had the room nice and warm.

Steve and I changed into ski gear and headed out onto the trails. The new snow covered the very recent groomed surface. This made for superb skiing. Skis glided through the silky smooth snow. The trails were very well designed and flowed through the hilly countryside. Even on the steep hills there were no killer curves. Instead the curves were very controllable offering some fantastic skiing. On top of that the forest surrounding the ski trails was quite nice. Large sugar maple trees dominate the magnificent scene. There is a scattering of pines and hemlock to add some color to the winter scene. The trails were so nice I decided to skate today instead of classic ski.

After skiing for a few hours we returned to the chalet and prepared our skis for tomorrow. I stripped off the Start Grip Tape from the grip zone, rewaxed the glide zones with Toko Low Fluoro Red mixed with Molly and ironed in a layer of Toko Base Green in the grip zones. Tomorrow I'll add the grip wax depending on the sow temperature when we start skiing.

Only 8 days until Birkie 2012!

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Wolverine Trail in Ironwood Michigan
Posted February 16, 2012

The Wolverine Trails are in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan about a 90 minute drive northeast of Hayward, Wisconsin. Because of the proximity of Lake Superior there is often more snow in the UP than areas further south. 4 inches of fresh snow fell on Wednesday morning and the trails had been groomed on Both Wednesday and today.

We found the skate lanes with fresh corduroy and the tracks with nice snow. Temps were in the upper 20s in the early morning but they climbed to near 40 by mid afternoon. That didn't seem to matter though because the snow remained dry on the trails skiing was excellent!

In the top image I'm enjoying the best classic skiing of the trip so far. I used the Start Grip Tape and it worked really well providing plenty of grip with no icing problems.

In the second image Steve is skating the very nicely groomed Wolverine Trail.

Only 9 days until Birkie 2012!

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OO to Mosquito Brook
Posted February 15, 2012

The icy trails of yesterday got us thinking of alternatives for waxing classic skis. We knew kilter would have been a good choice on the day before but this morning found an inch of new snow in the tracks. What would work in the hard firm tracks with that new snow?

We decided to give Start Grip Tape a try. This is a sticky material that comes in a roll like tape. We put strips on either side of the grove on our skis. The tape filled about 2/3rds of the normal waxed grip zone. It worked pretty good but we did have some icing problems at times.

In the photo above Steve and I are heading onto the Birkie Trail. We skied from OO to Mosquito Brook, a distance of about 15 kilometers. The trail was in great shape with an inch or so of new snow.

Only 10 days until Birkie 2012!

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Birkie Classic Trail
Posted February 14, 2012

The first half of the American Birkie course is separated into two trails. One is for classic only skiers while the older trail is for skaters. This year, I'm skiing classic in the Birkie. To prepare for the race Steve and I explored the new trail from the 3.5 to the 26.5 km marks. In the photo below Steve and I are skiing past the North End Cabin.

The classic trail is quite hilly and today's trail conditions were firm hard pack with icy tracks. I used Toko Nordic Red with Yellow early but the abrasive snow and ice wore that off quickly. I added some violet klister for the last half of the ski.

There are some interesting object d'art along the trail including this panther and pickup truck.

Only 11 days until Birkie 2012!

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All Aboard!
Posted February 13, 2012

It's an overnight trip on board Amtrak's Empire Builder from Shelby, MT to Minneapolis. I'll arrive there Tuesday morning. Steve and Juliane will meet me at the station and we'll head into Wisconsin to ski.

Only 12 days until Birkie 2012!

Skiing to Kintla Lake, We Made It This Time!
Posted February 9, 2012

I joined a group of folks from the Glacier Mountaineering Society for a ski to Kintla Lake in the far northwest corner of Glacier National Park. Several of us tried this trip last year but were foiled by high water and dangerous ice conditions.

This year the weather was perfect. Maybe there could have been a little more powder snow, but there was plenty to ski on and we had a great time.

The location for this adventure is quite some distance from my home. Steve, who organized the event, invited me to spend the night at his cabin up the North Fork of the Flathead River. I drove there in the late afternoon after my ski at Izaak Walton Inn. The light on the mountains across the valley in Glacier was fantastic. The view below is from in front of the Northern Lights Saloon. This nifty little saloon used to be open all year but it has become a little more touristy recently and is now closed in winter.

We awoke on Saturday to temperatures below zero. A valley fog hung over the mountains making it a little dreary. We were confident though that the fog would burn off and the day would eventually become sunny.

We began our trek with a short ski down to the river. The North Fork of the Flathead River is a major river that flows south out of Canada. It eventually joins the Middlefork and South Fork to become the really big Flathead River that flows into Flathead Lake, the largest natural fresh water lake west of the Mississippi River.

Once at the river we changed from ski boots into waders. The temp was still about -5 F. In the photo above we are looking a little hesitant. But to reach Kintla Lake we had two choices. Ford the river, climb the bank on the other side and ski 5 miles or so to the lake or drive 14 miles to bridge at Polebridge and ski 22 miles to the lake. we chose the former option.

Steve got us moving and lead the group across the river. Only two to three of us crossed at a time in case some kind of mishap took place. Above, Steve is leading Paul across the deeper part of the ford. Carrying our skis and boots made for a cumbersome walk but everyone reached the other side safely.

My feet got pretty chilled. I really hadn't warmed up on the short ski from the cabin down to the river. Then, even though the river water was 32 F, standing around to put on waders, standing around to watch others cross, and standing around to take off waders got my feet pretty cold.

We changed back into ski boots and stashed our waders there for the return crossing. The snow was firm providing good footholds for the climb of the high bank along the river. Once on top we were able to begin skiing again.

After bushwhacking a little way we reached the narrow one lane unimproved and unplowed road to Kintla Lake. The snow was firm underneath with a few inches of powder on top.

The road all the way to the lake was filled with wolf tracks. We guess a big pack at passed that way he previous night. The tracks and the scat we very fresh.

A little way into our ski we reached Kintla Creek. The road crosses the creek on a narrow bridge, then climbs up onto the high bench on the other side. Steve called a break there and we all enjoyed a snack. By this time our feet were warm and the sun was pleasant. Most of us were able to shed a layer or two of clothes.

Another three miles of easy fun skiing brought us to Kintla Lake. We had followed those wolves to the lake. While we stopped there the wolves had kept going. Their tracks continued on the ice right along the shore.

Most of us brought a pad to sit on and we enjoyed a nice luncheon in the sunshine. The view of snow plastered Longknife Peak across the lake was glorious. We could have stayed there much longer but the inactivity was letting the cold creep back in. After an hour or so, we began the trip back.

The sun had now reached the river and the whole area looked a lot more pleasant.

We quickly donned our waders and headed back across the river. This time, with our feet all nice and warm and the sun shining bright, I didn't get cold. Once on the other side and after quick change to skis we were headed back to the cabin for a little comraderie.

Only 16 days until Birkie 2012!

Izaak Walton Inn Gets a Little Better
Posted February 9, 2012

On my way over to the northwest part of Glacier National Park I stopped for a ski at the Izaak Walton Inn. They had received a little new snow and about half of the trails were groomed. Tracks had icy bottoms but most of the trail was groomed powder except for the frozen death cookies where trees had dripped water on to the trail. All in all good classic skiing. The skate lanes were a little bumpy. Temps were in the teens and 20s. I used Rode Super Blue over my previous wax job. A little klister cushion might have provided more grip.

The views into the forest were pretty nice, especially with the blue sky and bright sunshine.

More snow fell there this week and conditions are reported to be a little better. I may give it a try there this weekend.

Only 16 days until Birkie 2012!

Posted February 2, 2012

Sometimes things don't work out quite the way you expect them to.

Izaak Walton Inn got about 2 feet of new snow during the big storm and quite a bit more after that. I ski condition page on the web indicated that 32 of the 33 km of trails at the inn were groomed for skating and classic. The driving conditions on Tuesday looked good so I headed over to the Inn.

Upon arriving I found the place a mess. What I mean here is that the snow was a mess. I walked over to the trailhead. The snow was deep and firm. It had been warm the previous few days so the base as well consolidated and firm. There was an inch or two of fresh powder on top.

If the trails had been groomed the skiing would have been great. But instead the trails were a frozen mass of churned up snow pummeled with deep footprints. There was no sign of any grooming activity.

Stopping by the front desk I asked if the trails were going to be groomed that day. Jennifer shook her head no and continued to talk on the phone. Seemed like the phone keep ringing and folks were on hold so she pretty much ignored my question as to why the trails were not groomed. So I left.

Spending 2 hours each way in my car and not being able to ski bummed me out. Unfortunately this has happened more than a few times. What is really disappointing is that the inn sends me grooming reports and posts trail conditions on the web. I think, for the benefit of anyone planning to ski there, they should also post the fact that they may not groom the trails. Most other ski areas indicate when conditions are unsuitable for grooming, when a machine breaks down or when something else comes up that prevents grooming. The Izaak Walton Inn seems to just ignore those days. I wonder how their lodging guest feel when the trails looked like they did last Tuesday?

Only 23 days until Birkie 2012!