Posts from January 2014

A Waxing Challenge!
Posted January 28, 2014

It was a beautiful day to ski. Sunny and warm in the mountains. Well maybe just a little too warm. But then glide was fantastic.

Nancy and I were headed to a Glacier Mountaineering Society event in Whitefish. We stopped on the way at Izaak Walton Inn to ski. It hadn't snowed much in a while so the first thing we did is check the trails. They were freshly groomed and looked good. I then measured the snow temperature. It was 30 F and by all indications things were going to warm up more.

I had waxed the glide zones of my skis with a 1:1 mix of Low Fluoro Toko Red and Grey. That provided plenty of glide so no problem there. I knew waxing for grip was going to be somewhat of a challenge.

At colder temperatures the snow is fairly stable and kick waxing is easy. But as the snow approaches 32 F the snow changes rapidly. Of course above 32 F the snow melts or at least get very wet. This would be the first time this winter I waxed for snow this warm.

My first choices was Swix VR 50 (Violet). For new snow Swix recommends this wax for moist to dry snow around freezing. For older transformed snow it can be used below freezing. Since the snow was somewhat transformed and it was 30 F this wax seemed like a good place to start. Unfortunately by the time we changed clothes, put on ski boots and bought a trail pass the bright sun had warmed the snow. So the VR 50 was not so good. Plenty of glide but grip? Not so much. I skied on it only about 100 yards then headed back to the wax box.

I measured the snow temperature again and found it right at 32 F. I crayoned on some Swix VR 55N. This wax is, according to Swix, best for moist snow around freezing and for older, more coarse snow just below freezing. I created a short thicker area of wax right under foot and thinned the wax toward the front and rear of my wax pocket. This is referred to as a pyramid. It really helps provide better kick in most conditions.

In the center of that pyramid I added a thin layer of Swix VR 60 (Silver). Swix says, "For moist snow around freezing." Then I was off to ski.

The combination of 55N and 60 worked well in the more shaded areas of the trail where I'm guessing the snow was a little drier. In the wetter sunny spots kick was a little elusive. Since I wanted to ski and didn't really want to spend my time waxing I compromised. I got good kick in the shady spots and I double poled in the sunny spots. Heck I needed the double pole and double pole with a kick practise any way.

The skiing was fast and fun. In retrospect a little longer application of the VR 60 might have been better. But it rally didn't matter because I was having a good time.

As time passed though the snow got more wet, especially in the very sunny spots. Looking there the snow was taking on that gray look where one thinks about using klister. You can see that gray in the sunny tracks of the photo. Fortunately we were running out of time before we had to leave and I didn't mess with any klister.

It's the Snow Temperature that Counts!
Posted January 21, 2014

After enjoying the delightful ski last week on fresh powder, warm weather made an appearance on the Rocky Mountain Front. Nancy and I decided to head down to West Yellowstone where we knew the snow would be deep and dry and the grooming wonderful. We were not disappointed.


The Rendezvous Trails trailhead features a nice warming shelter.


There's always something going on. Here biathlon skiers prepare for a series of biathlon sprint races.


Nancy on the In and Out trail.

The temperature was in the mid 20s when we arrived on Saturday. It reached 29 F on Sunday and Monday was cooler. What glide and grip wax would you suggest? Just looking at the air temperature I might have gone with the following:
Glide Wax: Toko Low Fluoro (LF) Red and LF Gray mixed together or Swix LF 7.
Grip Wax: Swix VR 40 or VR45 (especially on Sunday afternoon).

But then we don't ski on the air do we? We ski on the snow. It's the interaction of the snow and the wax that provides great glide and the key to grip if you are classic skiing. Take a look at this comparison of snow and air temperatures this past weekend.

Air Temp
Snow Temp
Glide Wax
Grip Wax
Saturday Afternoon
25 F
12 F
Toko Blue
Swix LF 4
Swix VR30
Sunday Morning
15 F
10 F
Toko Blue
Swix LF 4
Swix VR30
Sunday Afternoon
29 F
11 F
Toko Blue
Swix LF 4
Swix VR30
Monday Morning
0 F
-1 F
Toko Blue
Swix LF 4
Swix VR30
w/ V20

As you can see from the chart, the snow temperature didn't change all that much while the air temperature varied quite a bit. Using a wax based on air temperature would not have provided optimal glide and for classic skiers, a grippy slow day. So be sure to carry a small thermometer that you can stick in the snow to make a better wax choice.


Sparkling Snow on Deja View.


Saturday's races were the Freestyle Spam Cup.

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Ski the Middlefork of the Teton River
Posted January 15, 2014

Yesterday was one of those days when I skied slow and easy in ungroomed snow, all the time enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way.

The past week has been a challenge weather wise. Especially if you want to ski. Warm weather accompanied by extreme winds seemed the norm. My weather station recorded winds of 62 mph on Monday. Nearby stations reported gusts to 95 and 119 mph was noted near Browning, Montana. This knocked a semi truck onto its side, halted Amtrak passenger service, brought down power lines and trees and stripped the roofs off buildings. My home was without power for a little over an hour but Choteau was out for quite a bit longer.

The winds calmed down in the afternoon and the weather turned really nice. Nancy and I went to our regular 4:15 PM spinning class at the health club in town. But walking out at 5:30 we were amazed to see everything being plastered with heavy wet snow.

Tuesday dawned clear and the fresh snow was beautiful. I did my shoveling and prepared my skis. This ski would be a backcountry adventure on ungroomed snow and I planned to use a pair of Fischer metal edge no-wax skis. The day was getting warm and I knew the snow would get a little sticky. So before heading out I put a liberal coat of Swix F4 on the bases.

Swix F4 is a fluorinated liquid wax. After it dries I buff it up like car polish. It does an excellent job of keeping wet fresh snow from sticking to the no-wax pattern on the bottom of my skis.

The next challenge was driving the Teton Canyon Road west from my home to the mountains. The wind was kicking up some and the snow was beginning to move.

The Teton Canyon provided enough shelter to block the wind and things got better, I drove to the Cave Mountain Campground and parked. Within minutes I was in a winter wonderland. I followed the campground road to the Middlefork trailhead, then took the trail up the valley. I had 2-3 hours to ski and didn't rally care how far I went.

I guess you can say my goal was to enjoy being out in the winter. The skiing was easy except for one place where I had to take off my skis to crawl over a fallen tree. A few other downed trees could be skied over or around.

A little ways up the valley the trail passes through a nice grove of aspens There are ruffed grouse drumming in there in the spring but I saw only a few squirrel tracks as I skied along.

I soon cross a steep little coolie and climbed onto a ridge. The view up the valley was wonderful. Snow was being blown in banners off the mountains at the head of the valley. Moose tracks wandered along the creek.

My time was beginning to run short so I only skied a little farther before stopping for lunch. The valley was peaceful with he only sound coming from the winds blowing up high. After enjoying my lunch I turned around and started back. The ski down the valley was quicker as I was going downhill and I had my skied in tracks to follow.

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Castle Geyser Rainbow
Posted January 15, 2014

The trip to Yellowstone National Park was so much fun that I couldn't resist adding one more photo.

This is Castle Geyser. It erupts about twice within each 24 hour period but the times of its eruption are hard to predict. The previous day it erupted around 4:15 PM. But the following night it had only a minor eruption. The National Park Service reported this and as a result could not predict when Castle Geyser would erupt again. Nancy, Jen, Ron and I reached Castle Geyser around noon. There are benches near the geyser so we sat down to lunch. As we ate, steam and water began to rush from the cone. Before long Castle Geyser was in full eruption. The sun created a beautiful rainbow in the steam and mist coming from the Geyser. It was the perfect end to out visit.

A Super Grip Wax Job!
Posted January 7, 2014

Learning to efficiently wax a cross country ski for grip has been a long process of experimentation and trail and error. Lot's of error for sure.

In the "old days" I used a combination of Swix and Rode Waxes. My kit contained Rode Special Green, Rode Multigrade Special Blue, Swix Blue Extra, Rode Super Blue, Rode Multigrade Special Violet and Swix Special Red. These worked well then and they continue to work fairly well now.

I couple of years ago I tried the Toko wax system of Green Binder, Blue, Red and Yellow. The learning curve with these unusual waxes was too steep for me and I was never able to get the best grip when the temperatures were anywhere above the cold range. So I gave up on them.

Last year I tried the newer Swix VR series. These are modern formulations of the older Swix waxes. Wow! They work well and are easy to use. I definitely recommend the VR waxes. The more budget minded can use the Swix V series which are not fluorinated and are more like updated versions of the older Swix waxes.


Skiing Up the 191 Hill on the Rendezvous Trails in West Yellowstone requires a well fitted ski, good technique and a Super Grip Wax job.

I recently took a look at the Swix Nordic Ski Preparation Manual and discovered that Swix pretty much follows what I have learned over the years. Or maybe it's the other way around?

I've discovered that the Swix Nordic Preparation Manual provides and excellent guide to waxing a classic cross country ski.

Keeping it simple has always been my mantra for ski waxing. But slapping on some wax in the parking lot often provides a ski that doesn't grip well, grips too well and is sticky or a ski where the wax doesn't stay on for the whole time I'm skiing. So here is what I've come to feel is the best way to wax a ski for grip under the normal cold conditions most of us ski in most of the time.

1. Sand the Grip Zone. I do this maybe only once or twice a season when I have a clean base. Right before the Birkie is one time I'll sand the base because I know I'll be skiing 33 miles (54 K) and I want a wax job that lasts. I use 100-120 grit sand paper. As the photo from Swix shows, I use a waxing cork as a sanding block. I sand only the grip zone and sand in the direction of tip to tail. Three light passes should provide a good base for the wax without removing too much base material. After sanding I'll wipe the base several times with fiberlene. Sanding should be done after glide waxing to keep glide wax from getting on the grip zone.

2. Apply a Base Binder. This is a wax that strongly adheres to the base. Waxes applied on top will adhere very well to the binder. Use of a binder is especially important for long ski sessions, marathon races and when the snow is fairly abrasive. Swix recommends their VG 30 or VG 35 binders and these are good. I often use Rex Power Grip. The binder is best applied to a warm ski base when the binder itself is cool or cold. I use a warm hair dryer to warm the base but you can also use a wax iron set to a fairly cool temperature. Apply a thin layer of binder to the grip zone. I smooth it out and ensure it completely covers the base by using my thumb. While smoothing the binder I keep it warm with the hair dryer.

3. Apply a Cold Hard Wax. After the ski cools apply some hard wax. Use the hardest wax in your kit. For me that is Swix VR 30 or 40. That's equivalent to the older Swix Blue or Blue Extra. If the ski base is still a little warm I'll just cork the wax smooth. If the ski has cooled too much I'll heat it again by making a quick pass with the hair dryer.

4. Apply the Wax of the Day. There's some art to this part depending on the snow conditions and type of snow your skiing in. Generally though, I cork in at least 4 thing layers of wax. If I expect conditions to change some while I'm skiing I might vary the wax I use. If I expect the snow to warm up during my ski I might apply 2-4 thin layers of a warmer wax, then cover that with 2-4 layers of a colder wax. As the cold wax wears off and the snow warms the softer wax will take over and provide grip. Another thing I always do is to cork from both ends of the wax pocket toward the middle. This tends to drag wax from the ends toward the center. Having the wax a little thicker in the center provides additional grip when you really push off on the ski like when climbing steep hills.

I might go through the entire process before a marathon race but I don't do this every time I ski. I usually do not clean the wax off my ski at he end of the day. Before the next ski, I'll warm the base, smooth out the old wax and then apply new layers of the wax of the day. Keeping a nice cushion of wax on the ski usually improves grip.

The other part of getting good grip is knowing the snow type, snow temperature and which wax works best in the conditions of the day. I'll try to cover some of these topics in future posts later this winter. For now though, wax 'em up a go ski!

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Yellowstone Color
Posted January 6, 2014

I can't leave the topic of my recent visit to Yellowstone National Park without sharing some photos of the hot springs.

The temperature of the water dictates the species of algae and other biota that can live there. And each species seems to have its own color pattern. Green algae grow in the cooler waters while the hottest springs are a deep blue color. The super heated water also contains dissolved silica which precipitates out as the water cools. This forms bluish gray deposits on the margins of some springs. Seems like almost every color of the rainbow is present. Here's a sampling of the many hot springs in the Upper Geyser Basin.

Finally a view across the Upper Geyser Basin. The Firehole River flows through the valley in the lowest part of this photo. The many hot springs and geysers keep the river warm and open all winter.

Ridin' Sally to Old Faithful
Posted December 31, 2013

I spent the week after Christmas in southwest Montana with Nancy, Jen and Ron. It was a great time. The trip included two days skiing in West Yellowstone, three days in Yellowstone National Park and two more days skiing in West. Whoopeee!!!

Saturday morning we left our vehicles at the Alpen Guides base in West Yellowstone and caught a snow coach to Old Faithful.

This was not just any snow coach either. An "oldie but goodie" Bombardier Snow Coach named Sally was built in 1956. Our departure from West Yellowstone was delayed by about 30 minutes while a mechanic replaced a brake line on Sally. Jack, our guide for the ride in, said that the brakes aren't needed much, but they would get them working well before we left just in case. Riding the old coach was like sailing a boat over the snow. The coach seem to float this way and that but the ride was pretty smooth.

It's about 30 miles from West to Old Faithful and the coach can easily travel 35 mph. But Jack made plenty of stops so that we could enjoy the scenery and wildlife along the way.

Jack stopped for us to see trumpeter swans, bison and elk. He described the geology and natural history of Yellowstone. He found something new and interesting to see around every corner.

We arrived at the Old Faithful Geyser area just in time to see it erupt. Most of the folks there were day visitors. This would be their only chance to see Old Faithful. We planned on spending that afternoon and the next two days exploring the geyser basin so this view of Old Faithful was the first of about a dozen eruptions that we got to see.

After watching Old Faithful do its magic we were ferried over to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. This is a special lodge with wonderful accommodations. The atmosphere was great and so was he food.

After checking in we walked across the Firehole River and hikes the short loop around Old Faithful. I'll show you more of the Upper Geyser Basin later this week.