Posts from February 2014

The Approach to Spring
Posted March 3, 2014

The Birkie is over! One more race to go. That's the Yellowstone Rendezvous next weekend. I'm signed up for the 25 km Classic race. If your in West Yellowstone this coming weekend look for me. I look forward to seeing you there. Wish me luck in the race,

The weather forecast has just a hint of spring this week. Temps where I live are forecast to rise above freezing. Even in West Yellowstone daytime highs are expected to be in the 30s. March brings the end of my 10th season of Ralph's Blog. I wish all of you a pleasant spring filled with skiing those warm days under a bright sun. I hope to see you next fall. In the meantime to see what I might be up to in the warmer months check out the ChoteauCam page on my Ear Mountain Photography website or Like my Ear Mountain Photography Facebook Page. Adios!

Birkie Day
Posted February 24, 2014

The big day finally arrived. It was cold, clear and windy. Wind chills were down around -20 F. Nonetheless we were ready to go.

We got up at 4:15 am, dressed and headed down to breakfast. The Flatcreek Inn prepared a nice breakfast of pancakes, sausage, oatmeal, juice, coffee, etc. Soon after breakfast we loaded into the van for the drive through the snowy forests to the start. We found a parking spot close to the now closed Telemark Lodge and waited until it was closer to our start time. I start my classic race at 8:55.

About 8:15 we began the walk down to the start. That took about 10 minutes. Thousands of other skiers were doing the same thing. Once there we posed for a few photos.

By the time our photos were done, it was time for me to head into the start pens. Only 15 minutes to go. Then 10 minutes, 5 minutes and finally away we went on a 54 kilometer journey to Hayward.

The wind was brutal blowing ground blizzards of snow right in our faces. Everyone fought through that and soon we were in the woods. Skiing was really nice for the most part. At the top of the highest hills the cold wind was chilling to the bone but that usually didn't last long. There were feed stations every 4-8 kilometers along the course. Wonderful volunteers provided warm water, energy drinks and other treats. I stopped at every feed station to hydrate and have some Gu.

It's hard to describe the Birkie course in a short blog post. Suffice it to say though the trail climbs and climbs and climbs. Those climbs are interrupted with some great downhills and a few flat stretches. Eventually I crested the last big hill after Hwy 77, screamed down the other side and headed onto Lake Hayward. The wind came into play again, blowing snow directly in my face. There was no way I wanted to stop now because the finish was only about 2 kilometers away.

Once the battle of the lake was done, I skied onto Main Street. The Finish line was in sight. People were packed tightly along the sidewalks cheering on the finishers. It's always a heart warming feeling to complete this adventure. A few minutes later, after crossing the finish line, I was helped in getting my skis off by another wonderful volunteer.

I had a little ice buildup on my beard. Here's two pics one at the finish and another from the start for comparison.

Another volunteer stapled my 35 year completion pin to my bib. Let the celebration begin!

Return to top of Page.

Almost Ready to Go
Posted February 21, 2014

Skis are waxed. What's next? Well, we need to complete our check in, pick up some last minute supplies and get our bibs. A big snow storm is forecast for late Thursday so many of the 10,300 participants arrived at the Hayward Middle School the same time we did. Here's the line!

New this year are nifty Lycra bib like you see the Olympic athletes wearing in Sochi. We were a little concerned about how they would fit over our larger frames but, as you can see, we will be stylin on Saturday.

After completing our fashion show and doing some laundry we headed to Anglers for dinner. This nice bar/restaurant is on Main Street in Hayward. By the time we got there the snowstorm had arrived in earnest. Heavy wet snow was falling and it gave an eerie appearance to Main Street. You can just see the finish line way down the street.

The snow continued to fall heavily all night. Great big flakes plastered everything. Friday morning looks like this out the back door of our hotel.

The hotel staff began cleaning the parking lot and snow removal was in progress all over town. The Birkie Foundation insured everyone that the all preparations for the race will be complete by tomorrow morning. We are good to go.

Return to top of Page.

Waxing Skis
Posted February 21, 2014

Steve and I spent a few hours Thursday waxing our skis for the Birkie. For glide I first applied a layer of Toko Low Fluoro Blue. This was ironed in, allowed to cool then scraped and brushed. The next layer was Toko High Fluoro Blue ironed in, allowed to cool then scraped and brushed. For grip I ironed on a binder of Swix VG35 and a cushion of V40. This was followed by 6 layers of Swix VR40 rubbed on and corked smooth. I'll test my grip at the start on Saturday and adjust as needed.

Steve is presently out testing skis to determine if an additional top coat of fluoros might help with the glide in the new snow that came yesterday. Steve reported that the best glide in the new, fairly cold snow comes without adding a top coat of pure fluoros. so we'll go with just the way we waxed em up.

Return to top of Page.

Ski, Ski, Ski
Posted February 20, 2014

We left Hayward on Sunday and headed for Eagle River. The snow blanketed Northwoods were beautiful. The forests near Butternut Lake are mixed hardwoods composed of older, larger trees. Species include maple, butternut, birch, hemlock and pine.

After helping LaNora get several tons of deep snow off of her roof, we enjoyed a delightful evening of conversation, good food and some wine. To continue our preparation for the Birkie Steve and I spent some time on the ski trails at Minocqua Winter Park. This ski area contains many kilometers of trails at every level of difficulty all very well groomed. Our days there were snowy and the skiing was quite good as the following two photos indicate.

The time spent near Eagle River went by all too quickly. Before we knew it the time had come to head back to Hayward for the big race. We arrived in time for a little skiing at the Seeley Hills trails near Hwy OO. We also got to watch the Birkie Foundation begin final preparations for the race. The finish line of the Birkie is on Main Street. So the street must be buried in snow which is then leveled and groomed for skiing. The businesses along Main Street were all beautifully lit. The scene reminded us the race is only days away.

The final days before the race will include waxing the skis, resting and a variety of other mundane tasks. But the highlight was a huge snowstorm forecast for Thursday.

Return to top of Page.

Skiing Near Hayward, Wisconsin
Posted February 15, 2014

Steve, Juliane and I spent the last three days skiing some of the many fine trails near Hayward, Wisconsin. Conditions varied from bright sunny, cold days to somewhat warmer weather with heavy snow. The latter conditions were quite challenging but all the skiing was fun. The trails were hilly and challenging and during the week there were few skiers. We continued to use the hard Toko LF Blue wax for glide and mostly Swix VR 30 for grip. Only in the warmer conditions of today did I add a little VR 40 to my skis. Some warmer weather is in the forecast and some days may actually be above 32 degrees this coming week. What will this mean for waxing for the Birkie? Check back and find out.

The photo below of Juliane was taken on the Seeley Hills trails on a cold sunny morning.

On Thursday afternoon heavy snow fell and covered the trails to a depth of almost 6 inches. Man, it was tough skiing through that stuff. The classic tracks were completely covered and skating for Steve was a challenge. Nevertheless Steve and I managed to cover 15 km on the Birkie trail. We ended the day pooped. Friday and Saturday was much nicer. On Saturday we skied from the North End Trail Cabin to OO the approximate mid point of the Birkie trail. I skied classic and covered about 25 km while Steve took the skate trail and went 19 km. He wasn't tired enough though so after a brief rest he got in another 5 km at Fish Hatchery.

Hayward is getting ready for the big race next Saturday. Decorations are going up and, more importantly, course preparations are in progress. Meantime we will heady over toward Eagle River Wisconsin for more skiing and a visit with good friend LaNora before coming back to Hayward for the race.

Return to top of Page.

Traveling to Wisconsin
Posted February 12, 2014

I traveled from Montana on Amtrak's Empire Builder. Heavy freight traffic on the Burlington Northern Railroad through North Dakota has created a difficult time for Amtrak to maintain on time service between Chicago and Seattle/Portland. Luckily though my train ran only a few hours late.

The big double decker train rolled into Shelby, Montana a little before noon on Tuesday.

Since it was lunch time, I headed to the diner. Around 3:00 PM it was time for wine tasting. Passengers in the sleeper cars were offered four wines to sample. They included two whites and two reds, all from the Columbia Valley of Washington State. Not everyone liked the Cabernet Sauvignon but this is one of my favorites. My attendant left the remaining third of a bottle on my table. Reading while enjoying some wine was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Diner and conversation filled the rest of the day. Before long my attendant had my bed ready and I hit the sack.

Morning came quickly. I showered, dressed and headed back to the diner for breakfast. The Silver Streak that is the Empire Builder arrived in Minneapolis at 10:00 AM on Wednesday. Steve and Juliane met me at the station. As soon as I picked up my checked bag and skis we headed to Hayward, Wisconsin. A quick change of clothes and before I knew it Steve and I were on the Birkie ski trail. The snow is deep and the skiing very good.

We skied about 12 kilometers before the sun began to get low in the west. The Wisconsin forests are quite diverse but the section of the trail we skied is dominated by a hardwood forest of mostly sugar maples and a few oaks. We plan on skiing in the Hayward area for a few more days after which we'll drive over toward Eagle River to visit LaNora of Eagle River Nordic.

Return to top of Page.

More Moose!
Posted February 10, 2014

My ski adventures at Izaak Walton this week once again featured the moose and some cold skiing, The temp on Friday was about -3 F. Skiing for 3 hours got me just a little frosty. But the American Birkie is now less than two weeks away so I just had to get out and ski.

Snow temps were about -15 F and I used Toko LF Blue for glide and Swix VR 30 for grip. Lots of grip in snow that cold!

Sunday I returned to Izaak Walton with Nancy, Jen and Ron. We made it about 3/4 of the way round the Pileated trail when we encountered the same cow and calf moose that I saw last week. The snow is getting deep and they prefer walking on the groomed trail where they do not sink in.

After watching the pair for a while we skied a big detour around them so as not to disturb them too much. Other skiers were encountering the moose on a variety of trails that day. By afternoon, just about everywhere we skied we saw moose tracks and moose droppings.

Returning to the trailhead I skied past this old truck. I see it every year and there are photos of it on blogs from previous years. But this year the snow is really piling up on that thing.

A Wildlife Ski!
Posted February 4, 2014

It was a beautiful day to ski. Sunny but a little chilly. The groomers were just finishing up as Nancy and I headed out on the trails at Izaak Walton Inn. Looked to be a good day to ski.

Nancy wanted to ski some easy terrain through the forest so we went up Essex Road a little then cut over to the Pileated trail. We spotted some wolf tracks in the snow. looks like at least three wolves cut across the trail system. The tracks were fresh on the Pileated loop but were wiped out by the groomer on the Essex Creek loop. Hmm! Looks like we missed seeing wolves by about 20 minutes.

I wanted to get in at least 3 hours on the skis that morning so I began wandering the trail system. I call it wandering because I didn't have any set plan as to which trails I would ski. I just went skiing and enjoyed the snow, terrain and scenery. I eventually began an ascent of the Essex Creek trail. I goes across the creek, then follows the rushing water upstream for a while. At the next junction I headed back down the valley. It's a nice downhill and I was cruising nicely in the track. After making several easy corners there's a short flat stretch, a tight right hand turn and quick uphill. Coming up the hill I spotted two moose in the trail ahead. I put on the brakes and came to a stop. Yep, a cow and calf moose were coming up the trail toward me.

I took out my phone to get a photo. Unfortunately the above photo is the best I got because my lens fogged up. It kind of looks like an impressionistic water color. But I think you get the idea. I didn't want to stress the moose any more than they were all ready so I followed some ski tracks off trail and downhill to the lower part of the trail.

All in all it was a great ski. I used Toko LF Blue for glide and Swix VR30 for grip. An easy day to wax.

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.