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Tim's Blog About Skiing Stuff

Early December 2018: Pants On Fire! But Not A Liar Liar.

I'd never refer to myself as a "real Alaskan".  That title is reserved for people that were born in Alaska and have Native blood.  Like my wife.

But that doesn't mean I hold back from kidding about Alaskans.  Like ...

"You might be a real Alaskan if you own a pair of Carhartt overalls ... and occasionally set them on fire!"

It happened.  Winter transportation welding project hiccup.  Time to get a new pair of Carhartt "ski trip warm-ups".

"Gee, something's not right.  My leg feels hot.  Oh, I get it now ... I'm on fire!"

Carhartt overalls make good warm-ups for snowmobile-supported ski trips.  That is, as long as the Carhartts are not on fire!
 
Early December 2018: Earthquakes Show Obvious, And Not So Obvious, Risks In Our Lives

Earthquake cracks in ice showing where sandy water spewed out.  Big Susitna River, late January 2016.

 

On November 30th, 2018 at 8:29 AM, Southcentral Alaska got hit by a big 7.0 earthquake.  After the quake and aftershocks ended, Alaskan skiers had time to contemplate the earthquake-related risks in their lives.  The obvious risks that an earthquake can present skiers with are when a quake happens while you are skiing on a steep slope.  Or while you are skiing on an ice-covered river or lake.  And of course there are the risks when you are driving 65 mph to a trailhead and the road you are on starts cracking and falling apart.

But this recent earthquake made me realize risks closer to home.  More specifically, earthquake risks IN your home.

Building codes exist for earthquake straps on hot water tanks in your house.  This is a good requirement.  A full hot water tank has a lot of weight, and momentum should it be disturbed.  Without restraint it can cause inlet plumbing to fail and water to flood your house and cause massive amounts of damage.

But this quake made me realize that there seems to be an obvious building code that is missing ... wood stoves should be anchored to the floor.  Just as hot water tanks are required to be restrained, wood stoves should be required to be anchored.  But woodstoves do not have this safety requirement in Alaska.

If a wood stove has a fire burning inside of it, an earthquake hits, the stoves bounces around and dislodges from the stove pipe and tips over ... that would be very bad.  A dampened-down, smoldering fire would likely have an unlimited source of oxygen and the fire would roar to life.  The house would quickly fill with smoke and the risk of a house fire would be very high.

A relative of mine had a wood stove that did the earthquake dance.  And it almost detached from the stove pipe (see picture below).  Luckily no fire was burning inside the stove.  But it illustrated the risk of woodstove use in the event of an earthquake.

Sure, the chance of an earthquake causing a woodstove to tip over and start a house fire is minimal.  Chimney fires are a much greater risk.  But should this scenario ever happen, and a fire inspector reports it to an insurance company, regulations will likely follow.  If homeowner insurance will not be underwritten unless you have your wood stove anchored to the floor, then building codes will require anchoring.  And stove manufacturers will start making stoves that can be anchored, which they mostly do not do now.
 

A wood stove that was moved by the 2018 quake, and almost dislodged from the stovepipe.

A modern Jotul wood stove leg.  Not designed to be anchored.
 
Late November 2018: A Van Essential ... An Interior Ski Rack

I plan on doing a bunch of van-based ski trips in the coming years.  So yes, I will be living in a van down by the river.  But unlike Matt Foley's river, my river should be frozen and have a snowmobile trail on it!

Not surprisingly, the van I got was missing an essential.  A ski rack!  And because of the rampant crime in Alaska, an indoor ski rack.  Skis inside might be a bit safer than those in a rack or ski box outside.  Emphasis on "might".  But then again, maybe I worry too much.  After all, these are cross country skis ... so they're probably not nearly as high on the thief target list as compared to backcountry or Alpine skis.

Anyway, it was a tight fit getting 4 pair of xc skis racked onto the back doors.  The key piece needed for this project was a tray, for setting the tails of the skis in.  I had some diamond-plate aluminum lying around. so I decided to fabricate a couple trays.  I cut the aluminum, welded it into two simple trays and mounted it on the doors with self-tapping metal screws.  I then added some hardware higher up on the doors to position the ski tips and restrain them.  I also added hangers for poles.  Nothing fancy, but it worked out okay.  This same technique could be used to make a Sprinter van door ski rack for backcountry or Alpine skis.  Or even snowboards.

Simple aluminum trays for use as the base for van door ski racks.  If you don't have a welder, you could make similar trays with a few more bends in the aluminum and then use nuts and bolts to hold it together.
 
Late November 2018: Back When Short Poles Were The Rage?! ...

Recently Eric Fuglestad sent this picture to me for use on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project (ALSAP) web site.  It shows a skier named Chuck Hightower ski racing in downtown Anchorage during Fur Rendezvous in the early 1950s.  I thought this picture was interesting for several reasons: 1) That they once had races on downtown streets of Anchorage as part of Rondy.  2) That so many people are gathered to watch an xc ski race in Anchorage.  Heck there are even people on the roofs!  And 3) holy crap look how short Chuck's poles are!  Bending over like that for an entire ski race has got to hurt!  He could use another foot of length on his poles!  His bare hands shows he's a tough guy, and technique-wise he has got it going on.  But dang, Chuck could sure use some longer poles!

 
 
Late November 2018: Anchorage's Best, Though Forbidden, Low-Snow Skiing Venue

Here we are yet again.  Another year in Anchorage with warm temperatures and little snow.  This seems to be our skiing trademark these days.  They are now opening Alpine ski areas early, with natural snow, in Vermont.  And for the last month there has been great xc skiing in BC, AB, Rocky Mountain states, Minneapolis, New England and Fairbanks.  But in dark, wet, warm and grim Anchorage ... xc skiing is a very challenged sport.  Not enough snow to cover most trails.  Too warm for snow making.

Thanks to some meteorological nuances, and luck, at least there has been half-way decent skiing on the Beach Lake Trails in Chugiak, AK.  A packed one inch or less of snow on smooth trails allows you to get 44 millimeter time in.

After skiing at Chugiak recently, I was driving home and figured I'd go look at the Moose Run Golf Course on JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson).  I figured Moose Run would have great skiing conditions.  And I was right.  A perfect white blanket covering manicured fairways.

But I didn't ski at Moose Run, because "skiing of any kind" is now forbidden at this military base venue.

Skiing has not always been banned at Moose Run.  Before a "one size fits all" contractor was selected to manage all military golf courses at US bases, Moose Run was the low-snow go-to location for Anchorage Nordic skiers.  The Alaska state high school skiing championships were held here in 1982.  I remember racing Anchorage Nordic Skiing Association 'Chevron Cup' citizen races here several times.  And this venue was frequently the savior for warm, low-snow years, like the one we are having again this year, for local racing and recreational xc skiers.  There are decent-sized hills on the east side of this golf course, so the terrain here is good for xc skiing.

So, what would it take to get Moose Run back in the low-snow skiing game?  How could xc skiing be made "legal" at Moose Run again?  It looks like Anchorage's future calls for more minimalist, survival skiing much of the time, like we have now.  Moose Run is one of the best places for skiing on 1 inch of snow.  So how do we get Moose Run back?

To get Moose Run back, it will take advocacy.  It will take someone to champion the cause.  Who will that be?  Well, I'm not the person.  There are probably younger folks in Anchorage more linked to cross country ski racing that should be the ones to push this. 

How to make this happen?  In concept it seems that it would be simple.  Though in reality, probably not.  In concept one would go to the "top", to our Washington, DC elected officials.  Plead the case for Anchorage skier support, and have Murkowski, Sullivan or Young get a federal military exemption to allow skiing at the Moose Run golf course.  Allow the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage or vetted volunteers to groom a minimalist track along the edges of the golf course on occasion.

Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Dan Sullivan always seem to be very quick to arrange photo ops with Anchorage Nordic skiers that have success.  Well, this would be a chance for them to actually DO something to support Anchorage Nordic skiers.  Something that is probably a minimal amount of effort on their parts.

 
Mid November 2018: Home Depot, Your Source For Nordic Skiing Gloves

It's Nordic skiing glove time again at Home Depot.

"What?  Cross country skiing gloves at Home Depot?  Come on!  Really!?"

Yup.  Home Depot is my go-to location for xc skiing gloves, at great prices.  The pictures below show what they now have for sale for us Nordies ...

They started selling these minimally-insulated gloves at HD this fall.  I've been using them and like them.  They actually have reinforcement between the thumb and index finger.  Something that is rare with budget Chinese gloves.

I wore these Firm Grip insulated gloves a lot last year.  I like them as they are a good balance of warmth and dexterity.  They are still for sale at the Abbot Home Depot in Anchorage.  The price of them cracks me up.  $3.30 a pair.  Easy to stock up on them for the years to come.  Three pair for under $10.  Ha!

 
Mid November 2018: "New Wave Nordic Skiing!" by Jeff Potter

Outdoor writer and journalist Bob Woodward was a prominent voice of cross country skiing in the 1970’s and 80’s.  Without the Internet back then, the Nordic community consumed articles in xc skiing magazines.  And Bob wrote many articles about cross country skiing.  Bob was a good writer and seemed to always know what the Nordic world needed to know.

Not long ago I read an astute and poignant comment of Bob’s about cross country skiing today: “Cross country ski racing is alive and well in the US.  But recreational cross country skiing is on life support.”

So true.  The days when cross country skiing was cool just for the sake of cross country skiing seem long gone.  Now basically … it’s xc ski racing, or nothing.

From watching the Nordic scene in Anchorage for almost 40 years, I have my own saying:  “Cross country skiing is something kids do, until they can afford a fat bike or backcountry skis.  Then they get a Subaru and a dog that wears a bandana and they rarely ever xc ski again.”  A common xc-exit path.

Take all the old group pictures of the thousands of former Junior Nordic participants in Anchorage.  Then circle those who now avidly cross country ski for recreation in their 30’s, 40’s and beyond.  Not many circles, that's for sure.

The death of recreational xc skiing phenomenon has been easy for me to see.  I did a “controlled experiment” for 35 years in Anchorage.  For over three decades I would ski after work at the same time.  The vehicles in the parking lot were the metric.  The cars told the story over time.

Today, when there is no Jr. Nordic session, only a relative handful of cars are in the parking lot for skiing, most of them for masters’ Nordic programs.  The rest of the cars are for fat bikers and dog walkers.  Sometimes my vehicle is the only skier’s vehicle in the lot.

But back in the 80’s and early 90’s it was much different.  The parking lots would be packed with vehicles owned by skiers.  Not Jr. Nordic skier parents.  Not masters group skiers.  Just lots of skiers out skiing for the sake of skiing.  Recreational skiers.  You sure don’t see this phenomenon today.

So now we get to the “well dang it, what should we do about it” part of the discussion regarding the death of recreational cross country skiing.

If that question is directed at me, my response is to go and ski.  Do my own thing.  Use skis to visit new places, like I have since the 60’s.  Set a “skiing for the sake of skiing” example.  And maybe share what I do by posting some pics and info on a web site.  That’s my limit though.

But there are people that are much more passionate about “saving” and resurrecting recreational cross country skiing than I am.  Some people think recreational cross country skiing should be the coolest of sports again.  They think that even though the ski industry abandoned the recreational xc skiing sector and even though a warming climate is limiting when and where you can ski, that xc skiing should unquestionably be “the rage” again.   These skiers are driven to spread the word about the cult of cross country skiing and to recruit new members.  They enthusiastically organize events for skiers of all abilities.

Such people are Nordic skiing evangelists. 

And one of the leading Nordic skiing evangelists these days, in my opinion, is a guy in Michigan named Jeff Potter.  Jeff recently wrote a great book about why recreational cross country skiing should be cool again, and how it can be cool again.  The title of Jeff’s book is: “New Wave Nordic Skiing”.

Jeff offers many ideas about how to ski in low snow conditions, how and where to find ski-able snow, fun events that attract people to recreational ski no matter what the conditions, skiing mountain bike single track, sharing ski sport with fat bikers and fun ways to boondock on skis.  And that’s just for starters.  Jeff lives in a snow-challenged part of the Midwest.  So he is no stranger to struggles when it comes to practicing the religion of xc skiing.

“New Wave Nordic Skiing” is a good read.  Lots of good ideas and insight.  And, as an Alaskan, it was fun to view how the recreational xc ski world ticks in the Midwest.

Back to Bob Woodward’s quote: “Cross country ski racing is alive and well in the US.  But recreational cross country skiing is on life support.”

Recreational cross country skiing wouldn’t be on life support, and it would be awesomely cool again… if there were more Jeff Potters in the US.

 
Early November 2018: A Little Known Nordic Skiing Factoid

Did you know ... that the preferred riding jackets of jackalope riders are Swix Nordic skiing jackets!

 
Late October 2018: Update On The Moen Homestead Skis

I gave the Moen Homestead Skis that I refurbished (see information below) to the Anchorage Sons of Norway organization.  The skis should end up being displayed at their Bernt Balchen Lodge.  This is  a great home for these historic Alaskan skis, with deep Anchorage roots.  They were skis of a Norwegian, so Norwegians should have them.  Plus, Norwegians are passionate about preserving and honoring their heritage.  Thank you to SoN members Tom Falskow and Martin Hansen!

I am working with SoN on a sign that tells the story of these skis, to be placed near where these skis are displayed.  This is a draft (subject to change) of what the sign text might be:
 

The Moen Homestead Skis


These skis were used by Norwegian-American Harold Moen, an original Anchorage, Alaska homesteader.  Harold came to Anchorage from Wisconsin in 1936 and established a homestead in what is now the Goldenview Drive area.  Harold used these skis to travel between his homestead and the Potter railroad stop.

Harold found these skis in an old building at Potter that was once part of a 1917 temporary camp used for the construction of the Alaska Railroad.  Many Norwegians worked in the Anchorage area building the Alaska Railroad.  And Norwegians staged the first known cross country ski race in Anchorage on March 4, 1917.  So perhaps a Norwegian railroad worker left these skis at the Potter camp.  Harold put cable bindings on these skis after he found them.  The cable binding hardware was removed during refurbishment of these skis to make them period authentic.  Stamped markings under the tips indicate these are manufactured skis.  Likely they were made in Norway.

In 2018, Harold’s daughter Janey Moen gave these skis to Anchorage skier Tim Kelley to refurbish, and to find a good home for them.

 
Mid October 2018: Anchorage's Oldest Cross Country Skis?  They Need A Good Home.
     

Recently I was given a pair of skis that may be Anchorage, Alaska's oldest known cross country skis.  These skis are likely close to 100 years old, and were passed on to me by Janie Moen, daughter of Anchorage homesteader Harold Moen.

From talking to Janie Moen about her father Harold Moen, we believe this is the likely story behind these skis:

In 1936 Harold Moen came to Alaska from Wisconsin.  He staked a homestead in South Anchorage in what is now the Goldenview Drive area.  His access to his homestead was via a trail, now known as the Moen Trail, from the Potter stop of the Alaska Railroad.  At Potter there were old buildings from the railroad construction work camp that had been built there in 1917.  In one of these old buildings, Harold found this pair of cross country skis that may have been left there 20 years before by Norwegians that had been working the railroad construction.  Harold added cable bindings to these old skis and began using them to travel between Potter and his homestead.

Many Norwegians worked building the Alaska railroad.  And these same Norwegians organized the first cross country ski race in Anchorage in 1917.  So it is possible these skis were used in that first ski race.  And perhaps they were used to travel between Anchorage and Potter back then.  Harold Moen was also of Norwegian heritage.

I plan on refurbishing these skis.  They are in rough shape, so I will do what I can.  Per the suggestion of antique ski expert Greg Fangel of Tofte, MN, I will remove the metal hardware to make them period-accurate.  I will leave the leather straps on them.

I do not want to keep these skis.  These are Anchorage skiing historical items.  Likely the oldest Alaskan skis in Anchorage, with a local history.  I would rather give these skis to some organization for historical display.  I’ve reached out to several people to see if there is a potential home for these skis that could be arranged.  Nothing definite yet.  If anyone has a good idea for their public display at a stable location, and can make it happen … contact me.  My email address is at the bottom of this web site’s home page. 

Side note:  In talking to Janie Moen, I learned that the Potter railroad work camp once had a baseball diamond.  Also, there was once a "fort" at Potter.  This was actually a WWII lookout for invading Japanese warships.   It was made of sand bags and logs and perched up above Potter.  I once found a similar WWII lookout while hiking on the south end of Fire Island.  Not sure where the lookout was at Potter, but I intend to poke around there to see if I can find the location.

Start of the first known cross country ski race in Anchorage, Alaska.  March 4th, 1917.
 

Mid October 2018 Update #1: I made a first pass at cleaning up the "Moen skis".  I will eventually sand them with finer sandpaper and put beeswax polish on them.  A basic discovery I made was that these are manufactured skis, not homemade skis.  Underneath the ski tips there  are faint stamp marks.  One numeric stamp looks to be the length - 230 (length in centimeters).  The other stamp is "00" on one ski, maybe "90" or "190" on the other ski.  Very faint, hard to tell.  Also one one ski you can see a faint stamp of an "A".  Maybe this indicates the wood, ash?

Historical note: Leather bindings were used up until 1929 when cable bindings were invented.  Here is a Wikipedia article about the history of cable bindings.  Wooden skis prior to the 1930s had mortises through them for the leather binding straps.

 

Mid October 2018 Update #2: I finished cleaning up the Moen Homestead skis.  I sanded off the decaying wood and applied beeswax polish.  In removing the remnants of the cable bindings that were mounted later on these skis, I found that hardware on one side was attached with screws.  But on the other ski it was nailed on.  This makes a statement about Alaskan homesteading days in the 1930's.  You used what you had.  No driving down to Home Depot or Lowes like today to pick up whatever you need.

 

Mid October 2018 Update #3: VILDA, the State of Alaska Visual Interactive and Digital Archives web site, has pictures of the temporary work camp at Potter Creek that was established during the construction of the Alaska Railroad.  When the railroad construction was finished, some of these buildings were left here and that is where Harold Moen apparently found these skis 20 years later (in 1936).

Potter Creek temporary railroad camp, November 9, 1916.  Reference link. Potter Creek temporary railroad camp, July 1, 1917.  Reference link. Baseball game at Potter Creek, July 1, 1917.  Reference link.  Note: baseball diamond was on west side of the railroad.  Seems like the tidal flats in this area are now too wet for this activity.  Probably because this area sank a few feet during the 1964 earthquake.
 
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