Posts from January 2013
Rain - Yuck!
Posted January 29, 2013

Nancy and I drove to Whitefish, Montana to attend a Glacier Mountaineering Society Event. We planned to stop along the way and spend some time skiing at Izaak Walton. As we drove north from Choteau we encountered some drizzle. Not good.

On he west side of the divide the temperature was in the upper 30s. At Izaak Walton Inn it had rained hard in the morning, then snowed some wet sloppy mush. The snow turned back to drizzle. Neither of us wanted to ski in that slop so we continued on west. we figured that we could ski on Sunday while on our way back home.

It was still early so we spent a little time exploring the old Belton Bridge site on the Middlefork of the Flathead River. As you can see from he photo, fog and mist swirled around the mountains and the snow looks wet. Indeed it was.

Unfortunately when driving back the next day it was again warm, maybe 35 degrees, and it was snowing very hard. Driving was tough too. We kept on going and missed another chance to ski.

Sometimes the weather just doesn't cooperate. But this was the first weekend since early December that snow conditions were poor. And this week looks to bring a return to more normal conditions. Snow is falling in the mountains and a cold front has swept across Montana. Look like more Blue Extra conditions later this week.

The Birkie:
As most regular readers know, the highlight of my winter is usually skiing the American Birkebeiner race in northwest Wisconsin. This year is no exception. I'm planning on skiing my 34th consecutive race on February 23, 2013. Snow conditions there have not been that great but some recent storms have started to bring the trail into better condition. Check back each week, and perhaps daily the two weeks before the race. I'll be skiing several Montana and Wisconsin locations.

The Weather Flip Flops
Posted January 21, 2013

The Continental Divide plays a major role in the weather along the Northern Rocky Mountains in Montana.

Last week, when Nancy and I left home to ski at Izaak Walton, it was 47 degrees at our home and the winds were gusting to 40 mph. We arrived in Essex to find it was a chilly 10 F but there was hardly any wind.

Yesterday, when I drove to ski, it was -4, there was a low overcast and light snow was falling. As I hit the divide at Marias Pass the sky cleared and at Essex it was a sunny 24 F. What happened?

Most time the weather tends to move from west to east. Air coming over the divide onto the lower elevations of the plains is compressed and warms. These are the snow eating chinook winds we experience so often in winter. When a chinook is blowing a distinctive cloud formation called a chinook arch develops. Here's a chinook arch near my home photographed last week at sunset.

This weekend, though, a back door cold front snuck down from Canada. It brought very cold sub zero temperatures to northeastern Montana. The cold air flowed down like a river flooding a big empty field. It came back west toward the mountains. As it gain some elevation on the Rocky Mountain Front, the residual moisture that it held was turned into low clouds and spitting snow.

The Continental Divide acted like a dam and prevented that cold air from penetrating further west. So the mountains and western valleys remained warm. Spring type skiing conditions were reported in some areas while others had a groomed powder day.

Essex was kind of in the middle. It didn't get warm enough to make waxing tough but it was sunny and just the right temperature for a good ski day.

Here's a view of Little Dog and Summit Mountains in Glacier National Park above Marias Pass on the Continental Divide. Those aren't clouds swirling around the peaks. There are plumes of snow being blow by the wind.

What's the Wax?
Posted January 14, 2013

A common question shared among Classic skiers! Using a grip wax that's too soft often means slow skis and snow stuck to the bases. If the wax is too hard you get poor grip. So what to do?

Read the label was one common answer. But this does not often work. Here's the recommended temperature ranges for some common cold snow grip waxes. The temperatures are snow temperatures not the temperature of the air.

No Fluoro Grip Wax
Temperature C
Temperature F
Swix Red/Silver
0 C
32 F
new fallen snow on warm days
Rode Red Extra
0 C
32 F
Swix Red Special
0 C
32 F
with new fallen snow
Rode Violet Multigrade
0 to -2 C
32 to 28 F
Swix Blue Extra
-1 to -7 C
30 to 19 F
with new snow
Swix Blue Extra
-3 to -10 C
27 to 12 F
with groomed or transformed snow
Rode Super Blue
0 to -3 C
32 to 27 F
excellent used over Swix Blue Extra
Rode Blue Multigrade
-3 to -7 C
27 to 20 F
Rode Green Special
-10 to -30 C
14 to -22 F
Swix Polar
-12 to -30 C
10 to -22 F

The wax tins might show something different. Swix Blue Extra says to use it at 0 to -4 C or 32 to 25 F. There are similar differences on most of the other varieties. Why is this? Well I'm not really sure. it might have to do with where the was was developed and the specific snow conditions in that location. Or it might be an effort to provide more wax varieties so as to fine tune performance.

My experience, however, shows me that I don't need every grip wax in every product line. The waxes I list above are the waxes I carry in my wax box. Of those the Rode Multigrade Special Blue, Rode Blue Super, Swix Blue Extra and Rode Violet Multigrade and the ones I rely on most.

A case in point might be this past Sunday at Izaak Walton Inn. The temperature was around 10 F with a hard transformed base and a little powder on top. The groomed tracks were a mix of tansformed snow and packed powder. This is way below the recommended range for Rode Blue Multigrade. Yet this wax provided plenty of grip and very good glide.

I think its best to experiment with a brand of wax and listen to others. Also keep in mind the the more grooming a trail receives the less that snow is like powder. A ski area may report groomed powder or packed powder but the snow might actually be very transformed by the use of big machines to groom the trails. This allows a softer wax the ability to provide bomber kick while still giving plenty of glide.

If you have any questions or comments on my wax box, drop me an email using the link in the top left column.

In the meantime I thought you might enjoy a little video of what driving across the plains of Montana is like. Notice how on coming traffic sort of magically appears!

The winds here were in the 20 mph range, maybe a little higher. Winds today are forecast to gust to 75 in this same area. The snow will move around quite a bit more if that happens! And you can bet I won't be out there on the road!

A Nice Ski at Izaak Walton Inn
Posted January 7, 2013

Nancy and I decided to spend Sunday skiing at the Izaak Walton Inn. I had skied there on Friday and knew conditions were good. Deep powder snow with the trails nicely groomed. The only difference was that fresh snow was falling and the temperatures had warmed to almost 30 F.

I used a little Rode Special Violet for grip on my skis. I also made sure Nancy wouldn't experience any snow buildup on her no-wax Fischer Superlights by applying some Swix F4 to the grip pattern. I had waxed the glide zones with Toko LF Gray and Toko LF Red mixed together.

It was a beautiful day. The trees were heavily flocked with snow. Our skis glided smoothly on the groomed trail. New snow began to fill the tracks and added to the beauty of the forest. It was simply a magical time on skis.

There was even one spot with some object d'art.

Our weather forecast is now calling for a sustained period of accumulating snow in the mountains and cooler temps. This should keep the skiing going great for some time.

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New Skis Report
Posted January 7, 2013

It's been a long time since I've treated myself to new skis. With my recent emphasis on classic skiing I decided to ask Santa for a new pair of Fischer Carbonlite Classic skis from Eagle River Nordic.

I'm a big guy. 6 feet tall and I weight 215 pounds some times. A little more at other times. Because of my weight it's often tough to find good, fast classic skis that fit me well. I think I've hit the jackpot this year.

I scraped off the factory wax on my new skis right after Christmas. Yes, new Fischer skis come glide waxed from the factory. This is a great touch as it protects the bases and keeps dirt out. I did a cleaning wax with Toko LF Yellow and finally waxed for the expected conditions with a 50:50 mix of Toko LF Gray and Toko LF Red, my favorite glide wax combination.

Temperatures have been cool (temps in the teens F) with the snow well groomed powder. For grip I first ironed in a thin layer of Toko Base Green. On top of this I corked in 2-3 layers of Swix Blue Extra and finally added two thin layers of Rode Super Blue on top.

I used this wax combination for two days at West Yellowstone, one day at Lone Mountain Ranch and one day at Izaak Walton Inn. I re-waxed the glide zones once. I also added a little more Super Blue but that probably wasn't necessary as the wax was not wearing off, even after 80 or more km of skiing. That tells me the wax pocket is right on. I could probably even extend it a little farther forward if I wanted. The skis glide well, grip well, turn well and are simply a joy to ski.

I skied one more day at Izaak Walton Inn. The temps were a little warmer so I added just a touch of Rode Special Violet in the center of the kick zone. That provided another nice day on the snow.

Thanks Ernie for finding this great pair of skis for me.

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Happy New Year Ski!
Posted January 2, 2013

Nancy, Jen, Ron and I celebrated the end of 2012 with a wonderful four day weekend sampling some of Montana's best cross country ski areas. The weather was good. No big storms, nice cold powder snow some sunshine and very little wind. The skiing temperature ranged from around 10 F to 20 F each day and maybe a little warmer on New Years Day. Nighttime lows were around 0 F to -10 F.

I waxed our skis with a mixture of Toko Low Fluoro Red and Gray for glide. For classic ski grip I used Swix Blue Extra with a layer of Rode Super Blue on top. Except for one cold morning when this was was a little too soft and grippy, the one wax combination performed very well. All I did each morning was to add a little more blue. Very nice.

We started our trip on Saturday with a drive to Homestake Lodge near Homestake Pass on I-90 east of Butte, Montana. Mandy and Chris have developed a wonderful set of well groomed cross country ski trails. This is complemented with a beautiful log lodge where you can warm up and enjoy some of Mandy's delicious soup, rolls and home made cookies.

Left: Nancy skiing the Busy Beavers trail at Homestake Lodge. Right: The Lodge.

The trails wind through open and forested terrain that provides plenty of variety and nice views over the countryside. One trail follows a narrow Forest Service Road to a high pass. From there you look out over miles of Montana landscapes including the Tobacco Root Mountains.

Jen and Ron skied to that pass while Nancy and I did Busy Beavers. We met up together back at the lodge for some soup, lunch and a rest. Then it was back out for another run. This time we sampled some of the meadow trails and also did Busy Beavers in reverse. Wow! That curve on the last hill of Busy Beavers almost did me in but I managed to get around it without mishap.

Trail conditions at Homestake were well groomed firm packed powder with hard firm tracks.

Sunday we drove to West Yellowstone. We bought our trail passes and did a little shopping at the excellent ski shop, Freeheel and Wheel, then headed over to the Rendezvous trails for the rest of the day. We did a bunch of loops enjoying the softer groomed powder conditions.

Skiing the Rendezvous Trail in West Yellowstone.

The trees were flocked with snow, fresh powder provided some trail decoration and the sun peaked out to brighten up the day. Temps were a little cool (15 F). But I would much prefer the cooler dry powder snow than the wet mushy snow of one day at West last year.

Enjoying my new Fischer Carbonlite Classic Skis!

After about three hours of skiing the sun began to dip a little lower in the sky and temps started to cool down for the night. So we headed over to our motel to freshen up and rest before dinner.

The next began quite cold (-11 F) so we spent some time at the Grizzly Bear and Wolf Discovery Center watching the animals. By 10 AM though, with the sun shinning brightly, temps began to warm up so we headed back to the trails.

Two of the beautiful wolves at the Discovery Center.

We all skied fairly leisurely the rest of the morning. During the afternoon we split up. I skied a long loop that included the Rendezvous, Dead Dog, Windy Ridge and Doug Doodle trail. Nancy contented herself with several laps of In and Out and Purple Haze while Jen and Ron skied the biathlon courses.

By 4:30 we were all pretty pooped so we headed back to the motel.

Sunday, New Years Day, we headed north from West Yellowstone and stopped at Lone Mountain Ranch. As we arrived the groomer was dressing up the 3-4 inches of fluffy new powder that had fallen over night.

Left: Nancy at the bottom of the looooong downhill. Right: Looking down the valley toward Lone Mountain Ranch.

Part of the North Fork Trail at Lone Mountain Ranch.

The sky began to clear and the bright sun warmed up the air to around 24 F. Skiing there is a little tougher than the other places we had been. Steeper hills and long trails sapped the energy quickly. Nancy and I skied the Ranch Loop while Jen and Ron skied over 1,600 feet of uphill to see the view from the Mongolia and Summit trails. I skied part way up there after lunch.

Nancy on the Ranch Loop/

All to soon, though, it was time to begin the 4 plus hour drive home. It was a nice family weekend. The skiing was pleasant, the snow was great and the camaraderie superb. We hope to do it again soon.