Tracks on the Middlefork Trail
Be Careful What You Wish For
20Km on My Birthday
Views from the PSIA XC Academy
For a complete list of
Posts from December 2016
The Holiday Season is a busy time. Family activities and tasks to complete take up a lot of time. This year was no different. Instead of driving to a ski area and spending half the day behind the wheel I snuck away to the National Forest in my backyard for an afternoon of backcountry skiing. The spur road to the Middlefork Teton trailhead is not plowed in winter and that added some distance to my ski. Didn't matter though because the narrow road had deep snow. There were no ski, snowshoe or other tracks from humans at the trailhead. The familiar sign there remminded me of numerous warm season backpack trips in the wilderness. Now all was quietly burried under a blanket of snow.
Tracks on the Middlefork Trail
The Middlefork Teton trail provides views of Wind Mountain. I've made the climb of the pointy peak many times. The afternoon sun illuminated the summit. Wind the light winds of this day I thought it might be a pleasant climb. Instead I turned and began skiing up the trail.
Before long I encountered some tracks. The three toed close set tracks were easy to identify. These were grouse tracks. Most likely roughed grouse because the tracks were near a grove of aspen trees. Rough grouse like that kind of habitat and nibble on the aspen buds for food.
The second set of tracks had recent snow drifted into them and were harder to identify. I first thought they were moose tracks. I was prooved wrong when I reached the back of the campground. There is a wire fence there and the animal easiy stepped over the bottom wire and under the middle wire. A moose would not do that. So I began to investigate more. Following the tracks up the trail I looked in each one to see if there were any more details that might help identify what made them. Since most were partially filled with drifted snow details were hard to come by. But in one spot I noticed what looked like a paw print with rounded toes. That could mean wolf or cat. There were no claw marks so I eventually decided these were cat tracks. The only cats in this area with feet that big are mountain lions. I continued to follow the tracks to see what the lion was up to. Eventually the tracks veered off down a steep slope toward the creek.
Once the track mystery was solved to my satisfaction I skied along the trail west until I reached a spot with a good view up the valley. It was getting late in the afternoon so after enjoying the view and drinking some water I turned back. I wasn't prepared to spend the night and it was best to get back to the car before dark — especially with me sharing the trail with a mountain lion.
Cross country skiing offers many adventures. That's why I enjoy it so much.
Winter got a slow start in Montana this year and every skier and snowshoer I know was wishing for winter to make a strong appearance. Well sometimes you have to be real careful what you wish for. Since Thanksgiving winter has come on strong. A few early light snows started the ball roling. And a series of bigger snowstorms have produced good ski conditions. I left home early Wednesday morning and headed back to Izaak Walton Inn. The full moon set behind the Rocky Mountain Front as I drove north.
Roads were good until I approached Marias Pass. There they became snowpacked and icy. But it was cold (-18F) at the pass so the snowpack was not slippery. Little Dog and Summit Mountains sure looked pretty nice. Hard to keep your eyes on the road when there is so much scenery to enjoy.
After skiing at Izaak Walton Inn on great snow (but no set track) last Saturday, trail reports indicated more grooming. And I did find some great track to ski on. It was just a tad cool though. It wasn't -18F like at Marias Pass but skiing in the -5F temps were still a challenge. It took about 20 minutes for my hands to warm up. The snow squeaked under my skis and glide was slow. But the scenery and good track made up for that. It was gorgeous!
There was no one else skiing the trails that cold mid day. After a couple of hours I was beginning to chill. I thought I'd head in for lunch. Ah, take a selfie though before going in since there was no one else to photograph. That photo produced the best "Beard Frost" photo of me ever. Friends commented that I blend in with the snow covered trees. Whaddya think? Pretty cool eh?
A couple of days later the temperature at my house dipped to -20F. I thought that was a little too cold to ski so I confined my workouts to the gym. Turned out -20F was nothin' compared to some of the temperatures reported across Montana Friday night and Saturday morning. Take a look at the chart below. Next time you wish real hard for winter remember how cold it can actually get and be prepared.
While it was cold that night, Montana got a ton of snow before the cold set in. West Yellowstone reported up to 24 inches. Plenty of snow fell across all of the ski areas and winter is in full swing. Temps are forecast to warm this week so get out there and ski!
My birthday (December 10th) comes at the transition time between late fall and early winter. Some years I can ski, some years not. This year I hit the big 70! AND I could ski!
I left home early and drove to the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana. Driving was a little tricky on US 2 from East Glacier over Marias pass and on to Essex. But the plows were out and the roads, while snowpacked were OK and visibility was generally good.
Arriving at the inn, the temperature was about 11 F, it was snowing lightly, there were a few breaks in the clouds and, most importantly, there was plenty of snow.
If you have never been to the Izaak Walton Inn you might be surprised. It is an old railroad hotel that has additional lodging in refurbished cabboses. There is also the Great Northern engine that has a king bed suite. Quite a unique place for sure.
I quickly changed into my ski gear and hit the trails. It had snowed about a foot the previous night and the groomer was out working. Izaak Walton has 33Km of trails but only about a fourth of those were groomed when I arrived. Another couple of Ks were groomed while I was skiing. The rest of the trails were still burined in the new snow. For skaters the groomed trails were good. But classic skiers like myself found that they had not set any tracks. Didn't matter though, I had driven 2 hours to get there and I was going to ski.
The snowy scenery was beautiful. I skied up Essex Road to the top of the trail system, then headed down the Towering Pines trail. I did a bunch of loops and also skied Starlight, Junction Circle and Pileated. After 21Km I was pleasantly pooped. I met a few folks I knew on the trails and everyone seemed to know it was my birthday. I received a bunch of well wishes from friends. The forest was genrally beautiful and quiet with the light falling snow.
The temperature remained pretty constant during my ski. There were brief periods of sunshine and, more often, light snow fell. I had glide waxed my skis with a mix of Toko Low Fluoro Red and Toko Low Fluoro Blue. While skiing I though perhaps just blue would have been better in the quite cold dry snow. My grip was was Swix VR 40 and that worked like a charm. Good climbing ability and good glide.
After my really fun ski, I had a quick lunch, drove home and went out to a great birthday dinner with Nancy, Jen and Ron. It was a great way to cap off a great ski-day.
Views from the PSIA XC Academy
The Professional ski Instructor of America (PSIA) is a national organization that trains and certifies ski instrucotrs in all disciplines. This includes cross country skiing. Early last week 35 ski instructors from across the nation gathered in West Yellowstone for the XC Academy. Some like me participated in all three days while others stayed for one or two days. The event was led by David Lawrence, the PSIA National Nordic Coach. David is an outstanding skier and ski teacher. He was assisted by Emily Lovette and Greg Rhodes, the two members of the PSIA National Nordic Team.
Each day of the Academy was devided into Classic Skiing and Skate Skiing sessions with each session having a variety of topics. Some of the topics were: personal skill improvement, improvement in teaching techniques, activitiesto increase skiing strengthm coaching Juniors and Master skiers, agility drills for skills, and tour and learn. There were also evening sessions on learning strategies and nutrition for better performance.
We had an event photographer present as well. Grant Nakamura shadowed the entire event. He will provide photos to the attendees eventually. I'll try to share a few of those as the winter progresses. I managed to grab of few snapshots with my phone as well and I'll share a few of those in this post.
This photo by Grant Nakamura captured 23 happy and excitied cross country ski instructors on the third day of the academy. Snow conditions in West Yellowstone were very good. Fresh snow during each day of the academy was groomed by the fantastic Rendexvous Trail groomers. The conditions made for a safe fun and learning experience.
Emily led a wonderful session on improving diagonal stride technique. As many of us instructors do with our students she started out by working on the fndamental body position of classic skiing. In the lower photo Emily demonstrated excellent flex forward from the ankels. Something that I need to work on, especially early in the season when I haven't been on skis for many months. To improve pushoff and balance we skied for quite a while without using our poles. This helped later in the morning as we focused more on skiing up hills.
Three of the classic track techniques were well demonstrated during a "Tour and Learn" session on our last day together. Tulie (infront) is skiing the diagonal stride, David is double poling and Zeke is adding a pushoff to the double pole. While we learned from the PSIA Nordic Team we also learned and shared with each other.
This photo sums up the XC Academy. Lots of ski instructors learning and having fun. We started each session with a "get together." I'll share more of the experience as I get to see Grant's photos. Hopefully that will include a few of me!
The day after I returned home from West Yellowstone winter returned to Montana. All mountain areas and many other locations got a good snow dump followed by cold air. This should permit many ski areas to open. It will allow me to get in more skiing this week. I hope to ski in the mountains near my home and visit Izaak Walton Inn on Friday.