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Welcome to my Cross Country Ski Blog
(aka Ralph's Nordic Web).
History, Instruction, News, Wax, Skating, Classic, Racing, Backcountry
with a little bias toward the Big Sky Country of Montana

Welcome to the 13th Year of
Ralph's Blog!

Last Updated: Sunday February 19, 2017

Montana Ski Report
Latest report is Thursday February 9, 2017

Left: Early December 2016 at the Rendezvous Ski Trails
in West Yellowstone, Montana.

Birkie Trip 2017
Thin Snow and Warm Weather

Posted February 19, 2017

I enjoyed my Amtrak ride from Montana to Minneapolis. Steve and Juliane picked me up at Saint Paul Union Depot. We drove to Hayward Wisconsin and took a look at the Birkie Trail. As advertised there was 4-8" of hard packed frozen snow on the trail. But the weather was warm and the skiing on the icy hard pack was not fun.

The weather forecast for the coming week is pretty scary. Temps are forecast to reach the upper 50s for a couple of days. Even night time lows might remain above freezing. A little rain is also possible on Tuesday. The big questions are what will happen to what little snow is on the trail and will there be any new snow before the race? Only time will tell.

After a little more reconnoitering we packed it in. The following morning we drove to Houghton, Michigan where there was several feet of wonderful snow. The photo below is the lift bridge over the Portage Canal that connects Houghton with Hancock.

The Swedetown Trails are outstanding. The Keewenaw area gets tons of lake effect snow from Lake. Trails are well groomed and the skiing much fun.

We ended up spending three days skiing there. The temperatures were warm on the second and third day but with good grooming the skiing remained very good.

Saturday was Tiger Day at Swedetown. The Tigers are a group of local kids of all ages that come to ski. It was a great feeling to see so many kids with their parents all having fun on the trails.

We are now leaving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and heading to Wisconsin. Still hoping for improved weather and skiing conditions for the Birkie.

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So, You Want to Live in Montana, eh?
Posted February 9, 2017

We had a little snow last weekend in the Northern Rockies. My home was on the south east fringe of the BIG snow. Even so I got in plenty of shoveling. Didn't even think about traveling anywhere because of the impassable roads. Then temperatures dropped to -20F at my house and -30F a little further north. Things ground to a stanstill. Amtrak had two trains stranded when avalanches blocked the tracks over Marias Pass. The main east-west highway, US 2, was also closed for two days as well.

The map shows storm toals over western Montana. There was 64 inches on the east side of Glacier National Park.

Remember the snow people I showed you a week or so ago? Here's a before and after the big storm.

This view is in East Glacier where storm totals only reached 52 inches.

And a friends car near Babb, Montnana.

A plowed driveway near Babb (left) and the mainline of the BNSF Railroad just west of Marias Pass.

So what's next? This morning at my house it was +1F at 6:30. By 7:30 the winds kicked up and the temp was +45! Roads turned to slush and the forecast (above) is a mess. Some Montana ski areas are experiencing rain on the heavy snowpack.

I'm getting out of here if I can. I'm leaving next week for a trip to Wisconsin to ski my 38th consecutive American Birekebeiner race. Check back regularly after Tuesday next week for details on the trip and the race. And wish me luck!

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How Long Are Your Ski Poles?
Posted February 2, 2017

Both April and Lora took a look at the photos below. In the left view I'm skiing diagonal stride. In the right photo I'm doing a double pole with a kick. Both of them commented that my poles look longer than the ones thay ski with. They then aksed, "What length of poles should I be using?"
"Well that depends on the type of skiing you are doing." I replied. Here are some suggestions regarding pole length for different types of skiing and skiers.

Touring or recreational classic skiers choose a pole that fits under your armpit. If you ski slowly, fit it loosely under your arm. If you want to stride faster, go with a slightly longer pole. Straight-shaft, inexpensive touring poles are probably fine for this type of skiing.

Back-country skiers use an adjustable pole that can be lengthened or shortened depending on the snow depth and terrain. Long for striding, shorter for long climbs and shorter yet for descending.

Fitness classic skiers choose a pole that comes up to about mid shoulder when you're standing up straight with the pole held next to your body.

Faster classic skiers and racers choose a pole that reaches roughly the height of your collarbone.

Skate skiers use poles that come up to your chin or lower lip.

For classical or skating, higher performance poles have tapered shafts of aluminum or carbon fiber for lighter weight and better balance. You will love lightweight poles for skating, because you pick them up and set them down over and over many times as you ski. Light poles are really nice for classical, too, but you get to swing them down from your shoulder in classical, so the weight advantage isn't as immediately noticeable as in skating.

My description of pole selection might be just a little too complicated if you're just getting into skiing. I found the chart below on the web that I think makes pole selection easier. Just think about what skiing you are doing and select the pole length that corresponds to your height. I just double checked my poles. My poles for classic skiing are long enough to reach my collarbone and are 155 cm long. My height is 6 feet. My skate poles come up to my chin. If you have any specific questions about poles send me an email and I'll try to help.

Last weekend Nancy and I attended an event in Whitefish. That's about a 3-4 hour drive from home. We stopped on the way over to ski at Izaak Walton. Skiing was good there with plenty of snow and good grooming last Saturday.

After the dinner and excellent program we stayed in Whitefish for the night. Sunday morning we joined Jen and Ron for a little exploration of McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park. We had planned to snowshoe but the snow there was pretty crusty and firm so we carried our snowshoes on our packs and just hiked. We could walk without sinking in and the boots we wore provided plenty of traction.

The creek was running calmly and the scenery was wonderful. Beautiful bluebird day!

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Working on Efficient Technique Yields More Fun Skiing
Posted January 26, 2017

It's the third week of January - mid winter in Montana. I'm having a lot of fun skiing this winter. There's no doubt about that. But the American Birkebeiner 55 km ski race in Wisconsin is a little over four weeks away. And the Rendezvous Race in West Yellowstone is a week after that. I felt the past weekend was a good time to do a little check on my skiing. So Nancy and I headed down to West Yellowstone for a three day weekend.

The first two days there we got quite a bit of new snow. The temperature the entire weekend hovered in the low 20s. The trails were groomed each day and the skiing was fantastic. But the periodic heavy snowfall didn't allow for good photos. So I got in some distance skiing. One session was several hours long and I managed to get in a fun 30 km. It's always reassuring to know I can ski that far without any rest breaks other than for some liquid and a few small snacks.

Monday morning was clear and sunny. The trails had just been groomed. Nancy was gracious enough to photograph me while I skied.

In the photo above I'm skiing a nice diagonal stride. I'm pretty satisfied with my relaxed forward lean, good pushoff on the ski, nice poling position with strong pole push and, in general, the timing of all the movements. It's hard to use one photo to visualize good diagonal stride technique so I'm including a short video below. If you have any questions on what you see, let me know. Use the link in the left column of this page to send me an email.

I'm also trying to incorporate more double poling, especially double poling with a pushoff, into my skiing. This is a great way to change up muscle use and increase speed in certain types of terrain. Double poling with a pushoff is faster than a diagonal stride on flat sections of trail. The photo sequence below shows that technique. Basically it includes weighting a ski and pushing off followed by a pole push with both arms (poles) simultaneously. The arms push on the poles, follow through, relax and begin to swing forward. It's during that forward swing that the next pushoff of the ski occurs. I'm doing OK on the double pole with a pushoff and a little better on just double poling. I think I just need to smooth it out some and add more power.

Improving ski technique, be it skating or classic, allows for more relaxed skiing, greater speed, more endurance and definitely more fun.

There are many ways to enjoy winter. The snow people were created by some of the headquarters staff at Glacier National Park. They often get outside during their lunch hour. A warm day last week was perfect for playing in the snow while being creative.

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