March 28, 2012

It's spring! The calendar says it's spring, the weather is spring like, the birds know it's spring and I was able to hike up to the head of Clary Coulee without using skis or snowshoes. Yep, spring is here and this will be my last post for the 2011/2012 skiing season. To check out what I'm up to in the warmer months I invite you to visit my Ear Mountain Photography page on Facebook or just go to my Ear Mountain Photography website page. I post regular trip reports there on the ChoteauCam. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Eagle River Nordic for hosting Ralph's Blog and letting me share another winter with all of you.

A Walk Up Clary Coulee
March 28, 2012

This week Jim and I explored Clary Coulee. In most years heading up this valley on the Rocky Mountain Front in late March would require skis or snow shoes. But not this year. The snow was mostly gone, except for some areas in the more densely forested sections. There the snow ranged from a few inches to about 18 inches deep.

Our goals were to see how much snow was still there, get some exercise, enjoy the warm sunny spring day and, if possible look for the big horn sheep that frequent the upper areas of the valley.

In the morning the ground was frozen. This made the bare trail solid and the snow easy to walk on. We gained elevation quickly. Soon we were treated with some nice views of the mountains across the Teton Valley.

Then we got into the area of dense trees where the snow was deep. By now it had warmed up and the sun was softening the snow. We tried to tread lightly but every now and then we'd break through the crust and get that sinking feeling.

Once above the trees we began to look for the big horn sheep. We soon spotted four nice rams on the slope above and ahead of us. We stopped for lunch there. The sheep didn't seem to care that we were there. They kept on feeding on the grass and shrubs.

After our rest break we stashed our packs under a tree. We took our cameras and slowly hiked up toward the sheep. We didn't go straight at them but instead followed little gullies that kept us out of sight. Eventually we ended up on a slope that was out in the open. While it was obvious to us that the sheep knew we were there, they still didn't seem to care.

We sat and watched the big rams graze in the sunshine. A very enjoyable hour went by real fast. As the afternoon slipped by the wind picked up a little and we began to get chilled sitting there. It was time to descend.

Heading down the trail and into the trees, a little later, we found the snow was pretty mushy. We sunk in quite a few times. Fortunately though we were going downhill. Further down the trail the firm frozen ground was now somewhat muddy. But that's why they call spring, the Mud Season!

Winter Goes Full Circle

March 22, 2012

I started out this winter on my touring skis skiing the roads along the South Fork and North Fork of the Teton River. This week I returned to those locations. They are close to home and provide beautiful scenery and bountiful snow. As spring progresses I just drive farther up the road to reach the snow.

The mountains have been "in the fog" so to speak for the past five or six days. As the sun rose Wednesday I could just see the lower slopes from my house. They were white! Very white! I finished breakfast, got my skis and headed out.

There were only a few patches of snow at my house left from the weekend storm but as I approached the mountains the road went from dry, to wet, to slushy, to snow covered and finally to snow too deep to drive in, all in about two miles. I turned around, parked my rig, and skied farther up the road.

The other change from home to the "end of the road" was from sunny, at home, to cloudy and snowing in the mountains. The temperature was warm though. Right around 32 F. I could make a pretty solid snowball too, so I knew the snow was wet.

A common problem in the spring after new snow falls and begins to warm is that the snow can really stick to the bottom of my skis. Especially these Fischer Europa 99 waxless touring skis. To combat the sticking problem I applied a generous layer of Swix F4 to the ski bases. This fluorinated and easy to apply treatment is a regular traveler in my day pack while skiing the backcountry. I also use it regularly on Nancy's waxless skis.

I skied up the unplowed road until I was a little more than half tired then turned back. The river was open and flowing briskly. A robin kept me company for a short distance. Wind blew powder snow off the trees in swirling patterns across the road.

As I was heading back to my car I could see blue sky in the distance. By the time I returned home the temperature was a sunny 50 degrees and it was spring again. This will be a common pattern in the coming weeks. Snow will come and go. Skiing will get better and better in the backcountry until, finally, a big blast of warmth takes it away.

Then Go Out and Play!

March 15, 2012

The ice has completely gone from my lake and hundred of pintails are on the water. I've seen quite a few tundra swans too. And a couple of male robins stopped by yesterday. Spring is a comin.

So I put my skinny skis away for the season. Now what to do. Well it's time for some backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. The snow is firming up and travel will get a little easier. The avalanch danger remains darn high though, so I'll stick to the low country when skiing.

Later this week I might even do some hiking. The 60 degree weather makes me want to start the climbing season. So here's what I might get into:

Not too bad, eh?

So, What to Do?
First, Spring Cleaning and Summer Storage
Then Go Out and Play!
March 15, 2012

The winter is almost over. Take a look at the Montana ski report if you don't believe me. Many groomed cross country ski areas are closed for the season and others are reporting marginal conditions. So another winter flew by. Even though there will be more opportunities to ski I will do some spring cleaning and prepare my skis for groomed trails for next year. Here's what I do before putting my skis into storage.

1) End of Season Checkup:

  • I take a good look at the skis and bindings. Look carefully to make sure the ski has not been damaged and the binding is in good shape. If the base is worn or damaged I'll consider having the bases stone ground to return them to tip top shape.

2) Clean the Bases:

  • Skating Skis: I use a soft copper brush to remove dirt and any residual wax. Just run the brush lightly down the length of the base from tip to tail several times, then wipe with a clean lint free cloth like Fiberlene. Second I melt on and iron in a very soft wax like Swix CH8 or Toko System 3 Yellow. I scrape the wax off while it is still hot just after it turns solid.
  • Classic Skis: Do the same thing for the glide zones of classic skis. For the kick zone I remove all old wax with wax remover and let the base dry for at least an hour. This lets all the residual wax remover evaporate. Then I iron in a hard grip wax like Swix Special Green or Toko Green Base Binder.

3) Cover the Base with Wax:

  • Skating Skis: Iron in a soft hydrocarbon wax or base prep. I prefer Toko System 3 Yellow. Put on a thick layer, iron it in and leave it on the base for the summer.
  • Classic Skis: The glide zones of classic skis get the same treatment as a skating ski. For the kick zone I iron in a hard grip wax like Swix Special Green. Use the hardest grip wax in your wax kit. Be sure the entire grip zone is covered.

4) Storage: Skis should be stored in a ski bag or wrapped to keep them from getting coated with dust and dirt. Store them in a location that will not get excessively hot. Your attic is not a good place.

These simple steps will protect the skis and extend their life. If, in step one, you discovered some real damage it's time to start thinking of buying ski futures. Click on the "Contact Us" button at the top of this page. Give Ernie a call, he'll know what to do.

Spring is Sneaking In
Posted March 8, 2012

This past week saw warm temperatures mix with some cold. Out here on the plains it got to the upper 50s late last week and more of that is forecast for the next few days. Looking at the Ski Reports from the many areas I cover on my Montana Ski Report page, one can see comments about ice, slush and the end of grooming. So spring is on the way.

I'm sure more snow will come though. After all it's normal for us to get more snow in Marsh and April than in the rest of winter. But there will also be some great opportunities to enjoy bright sunshine and warm days while skiing.

And just to make sure I'm not saying winter in over, take a look at the West Yellowstone report for Wednesday March 7, 2012. It was -17 F there in the morning.

To Answer the Question:
Did it Work?

Posted March 8, 2012

For the Birkie 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.

I was really not all that confident in this wax job but I went ahead and gave it a try. To counter any difficulties though I carried several waxes in my fanny pack during the race.

Leaving the start area, with the temperature around 10 F, I was immediately disappointed in the grip. I didn't want to make any quick changes though because the snow conditions on the actual trail in the forest are often quite different from those at the start area. After about 3 or 4 k though I knew things were not going to work out unless I made some changes. I was having difficulty climbing hills that I knew I should have no problem with.

So I took the advice of the Toko rep and added some Toko Nordic Red to my skis. I skied on this for another 5-6 kilometers but it really didn't help that much. It is hard to apply the Toko waxes smoothly out in the cold and the red just didn't cut it.

So at the second feed stop around 9 km I applied a nice layer of Rode Super Blue. Voila! Good grip. For another 25 kilometers or so. But by the time I got past the Gravel Pit feed stop, temperatures had begun to warm and the sun was shining brightly. So I stopped again and applied some Rode Multigrade Special Violet. That took me to the finish line. Unfortunately, I had spent about 20 minutes of my total time on the course waxing my skis.

Looking back, I should have stuck with what I know. A good binder (like the Toko Nordic Base Green or maybe Rex PowerGrip Purple) with several layers of Swix Blue Extra and Rode Super Blue would have made for some good gripping skis. This wax would also not impede glide which for my race was very good. As the Blue Extra/Super blue wore off the Rex Powergrip Purple would start to show through and provide the good grip in the warmer snow late in the race.

The Toko Nordic Grip waxes did perform very well for me in many situations. Looking back on my trials I can see they are especially nice in groomed snow, especially where grooming occurs frequently. They may have also work all right in the birkie. But I will need a lot more experience with those waxes before I'll try them again in a long ski like that.

Maybe next time I'll follow my own long time advice. That is to not try anything new in the Birkie!

Ralph's Birkie 2012
Posted March 1, 2012

I'm skiing down Main Street to the finish line! Photo by Juliane Bantz.

My 33rd American Birkebeiner Race was another fun one. In addition to skiing the Birkie I spent two weeks skiing trails in various Norther Wisconsin and Northern Michigan locations. There are 15 posts in this series. Click on the title above or select individual stories from the left column on this page.

I'll be providing more photos and discussion on the Birkie next week.

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