Late December 2017:
Better Late Than Never. And Witnessing Unforeseen Change.
Cold temperatures and a
little snow finally arrived near Anchorage. The further
north or west you go from Anchorage, the more snow there is.
But as the above photo shows, there is still a lot of open water
that has not frozen up yet. In the above photo you can see
condensation, where the relatively warm (mid to low 30's degree
F) open water of the Big Susitna River meets air that is 5 below
zero F. This mist sends a clear message: "Stay on the
trail and don't come near me!" Creeks and streams in the
Susitna River are still running with open spots abundant.
So time to be careful and let cold temps make travel safer.
When I was younger I would read about Alaskan
communities that are no longer. Names of these places are
still on maps of Alaska, but now no one lives there full-time,
or at all these days. People left these settlements
because of falling gold, mineral, timber or fur prices. Or
because technology made salteries and remote fish processing
plants uneconomical. Or because railroads and roads made
port settlements unnecessary. Or because the military left
after WWII or the Cold War.
I always found this Alaskan history of human outposts
interesting. But I never thought I would witness the
demise and exodus of such a community. But, to a certain
extent ... I have now witnessed this.
In the 90's, Alexander Creek was a bubbling
community. Several lodges created jobs for people.
Old-timers were homesteading there still. 40 or so people
lived year-round in the area.
But then salmon fishing was shut down due to
pike infestation. The lodges, that profited from sports
fishermen support, went belly up and are now rotting away from
neglect. People that worked at the lodges left. The
old-timers have mostly died off or left. Remote living off
the grid is no longer hip or economically feasible with younger
Alaskans. And older property owners often do the snowbird
thing and are gone a lot of the year.
So a community that was vibrant year-round in
the 90's, now has no full-time residents.
I was remembering the buzz of activity 25
years ago at Alexander Creek, as I recently traveled on
snowmobile out there with 3 part-time residents of the area.
They said we were the only people out there. They would
know. When we got to a trail junction in the woods near
Alexander Creek we stopped, said goodbye and went our separate
ways to our cabins.
different world now. No lights. No sounds. No
trails. No other people. Gotta say, I like it out
there way better now than in the 90's. But I never imagined
this place would go backwards in time. 25 years ago I
never imagined I'd witness a community come to an end. And
become yet another name of a place on the map of Alaska where no
one lives full-time.
Update, Late December: "No! A cross country
skier welded up a snowmobile freight sled!? Pfffftt!
I don't believe that!" Well, believe it! I tested
out the Susitna Valley style freight hauling sled I recently
welded up in my garage (see post below). I did a 25 mile
trip with 900 lbs of 16 foot 2x8s to test it out. Worked
great and was easy to pull. It was fun making this, and I
am glad the first trip didn't end up with a pile of metal
wreckage out in the middle of nowhere!
This is a skiing picture.
Really? Yep. Note ski bag attached to snowmobile.
Late December 2017:
Another Skier Gone
Some surprising news from
Christmas Day. Former UAA xc ski racer Dan Fleener takes
his life during a confrontation with the Anchorage Police
Department SWAT team. Tragic. Here's
I knew Dan and was friends
with him back in his UAA ski racing days. I was 10 years
older than Dan and had some epic ski racing battles with him. Dan
worked at a sports store named Gary Kings in the 80's and got
sponsored through them by Kastle skis. Back then I won the first
Tour of Anchorage. But Dan showed up with his Kastles for the
2nd Tour of Anchorage. We put the hurt on each other and
Dan did me in. Dan won and I was 2nd.
I remember doing long roller ski workouts with
on the just-built Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Super-nice
roller skiing on perfect pavement. I remember Dan had some roller skiing
rules: Never roller ski before July 4th (run instead). And
never double pole on the Coastal Trail bridges (roller ski
ferrule tips would get stuck in the wood and rip out). I
still think of and follow that rule of Dan's. I also did a lot of early
season skiing above Glenn Alps on the north side of Flattop with
Dan. Back before GCI graded the Powerline Pass trail (to
run fiber optic cable) and made it smoother, we had a secret
early season ski track up on old jeep tracks in the tundra.
Dan worked as a delivery
truck driver over the years. I remember several times
walking sidewalks of downtown Anchorage and a passing truck
driver would bellow at me: "Hey Tim Kelley!". I'd look up
and see Dan Fleener with a big grin on his face. A
character, he would always make me chuckle.
I don't know the story of what got Dan to where it all ended.
And I don't need to know. My memories of Dan are all good
UAA Nordic ski team, ~1988. Dan is the
tall guy in back row. Photo from Facebook.
Mid December 2017:
How's That "Cooler Than Normal", La Nina Winter Going For Ya?
On September 19, 2017 it was
reported in the Anchorage Daily News that the National
Weather Service was predicting this winter to be a "cooler than
normal" Alaskan winter, thanks to a La Nina event. Well,
it's mid-December ... and folks in Anchorage are definitely not
feeling that La Nina love the NWS predicted. La Nina!
Where are you!? La Nina! ...
Tour of Anchorage Trail, Mid December 2017
Mid December 2017:
More Sad News. Mendeltna Creek Lodge Burns Down.
On December 10th the historic
Mendeltna Creek Lodge, at mile 153 on the Glenn Highway,
burned down. This is very sad news. Owners Mabel
and Russ Wimmer are super nice people. I've stayed at
their place a number of times and have gotten to know them.
Tragically their pets perished in this fire. Lost in the
fire were their two huge English mastiffs and a hairless cat.
These dogs and their cat were friendly and fun to be around.
Mabel and Russ did something that is rare for roadside lodges
these days. They maintained a nice cross country ski trail
system. Many times Mabel and Russ have hosted skiers, snow
bikers, ski-jorers, mushers and winter adventurers. Their
lodge was often a checkpoint for the Copper Basin 300 sled dog
race. I don't know what is next for Mabel and Russ, but I
wish them the very best.
Kelly Allain photo, 12/10/2017
Early December 2017:
Ski Trails Covered With Ice. What To Do?
Skiing was good. Now
the trails are covered with ice. What to do?
Let's see. Do the gerbil loop thing at Kincaid? Put
the IceBugs on and run? Mountain bike with Nokian studded
tires? Or hmmm, maybe
go down to Maui and back with Alaska Airlines' best ... an
all-female flight crew from Anchorage that includes my wife and
sister-in-law? Let me think about
that. OK ... that was an easy decision. Hello Maui!
So, if you need a break from another late-starting, warm and
rainy Alaskan winter, Alaska Airlines can take you someplace
good where you can press the reset button. And who knows,
maybe you will get lucky like me and get a chance to fly with
Alaska Airlines' all-woman A-Team flight crew.
Alaska Airlines' best (by far!)
flight crew, an all-woman crew from Anchorage, was nice enough
let me pose in a picture with them.
The woman behind me in the captain's
hat is seen in a lot of pictures on this web site.
Upper body and core workout.
No icy trails.
60 y/o Alaskan dude. First
time on a water slide
Early December 2017:
Coming Soon. A Ski Technique Coach In Your Phone.
I recently developed an
iPhone app for cross country skiers. I'm currently doing
final testing on the app and should have it in the Apple App
store by mid-January.
The app is called SkateCoach. And it helps you improve
your skate technique on skis.
Pretty much ever since skiing was invented, technique analysis
has mostly been subjective. "Get your hips more forward."
"Glide more." "Keep your hands closer to your body."
Common coaching phrases. But there is nothing objective
about this. There is no quantitative feedback as to
whether technique changes make you faster or slower or by how
much. The idea is if you look like you are skiing a
certain way, you might be skiing faster. Maybe. Who
I figured that with available
technology, it was time to try and get better at cross country
skiing technique analysis. So I put a ski coach, who was
good at physics and statistics, into a smartphone.
To use SkateCoach (more info below) you run the app and then put
the phone in a belt clip or stick it in your jacket with the bottom
wedged under your drink belt strap. The phone is close your your
body's center of gravity. And it is at the "quietest" part
of your body. Arms and legs are flailing when you skate,
but your abdomen is relatively stable, and body core's forward
movement is the result of what you do with your arms and legs.
As you skate, the phone measures the the motions that your
center of gravity makes. And from that data you can
determine metrics, like: is your weight shift symmetrical
between sides, is your weight shift angle the same on each side,
is your acceleration and glide balanced and is there any
deviation in your velocity as you skate (are you gliding too
Here are a few screen shots, in the order you might use the app
when you first get it. I'll post here when the app is for
sale in the Apple App store. Will there be an Android
version of SkateCoach? Maybe. I like to do apps as
iPhone apps first. Then if the iPhone app gains traction I
will create an Android version of it.
your technique quality level. Each level is associated
with a percentage that is your target. For example, at
expert level you are trying to get your weight shift to be
within a 5% tolerance on each side. That is a 95% quality
When you start the app in recording
mode, you enter a countdown and a sample time. The
countdown is the time it takes to put your phone in your jacket
(or holder) and start skiing. The sample time is the
length of time your skiing is measured by SkateCoach.
When SkateCoach is done collecting
data on your skate skiing motions, it shows you your score.
I didn't quite hit the expert target level of 95%. I got a
94.8, and 4.5 stars, and it looks like I should focus on my
weight shift and ski angle symmetry and keeping my speed per
skate more consistent.
SkateCoach allows you to go back
and view your skate motions. Green indicates small
intervals where you were accelerating. Red where you were
decelerating. You can scroll back and look at your
individual skate motions to see if any of them look out of
And finally, if you want to
submerge yourself in data ... the report screen, shown above as
a stitched-together image, allows you to
scroll through many lines of detailed data about your skate
technique. All of this data is explained on the app's help
You can use SkateCoach by putting
your phone in your jacket and held in place by your drink belt.
Or you can get a belt clip phone holster to hold your phone
... and clip it to your drink belt. Of importance ... is having
the phone firmly attached so it doesn't wobble. If
it wobbles it will be less accurate.
You can get belt clip phone
holsters cheap on ebay. I got mine for $5 with free
shipping (from China).
Late November 2017:
A Skiers' Skier Is Lost
(Erik Hill / ADN archive 2009)
lived in Alaska for a long time, the list of friends and people
you know that have died in Alaska is long. Just ask my
Alaska-born, 91-year-old aviator father-in-law. His list
is many pages long.
My list is
much, much shorter than my father-in-law’s, but still … it seems
too long. And now, sadly, fellow skier Randy Bergt is on the list.
was a skiers’ skier. He easily moved between the worlds of
backcountry, alpine and Nordic skiing. Most people chose
one or the other skiing discipline. Not Randy, he skied
them all. And he skied them all well.
Randy, who was my same age, for a long time. My wife was in the
same class at Dimond High School with Randy in the 70s. I met
Randy through my wife in the 80’s and had been friends with him
ever since. Mostly our paths would cross on the Nordic ski
trails in Anchorage. And when we saw each other we would always
have conversations about skiing issues.
conversations with Randy are what I’ll miss the most about him.
Talking to him made you quickly realize that he was a very
smart, yet humble, person. Randy had strong opinions about
things. But his opinions were based on critical thinking.
It was always a breath of fresh air to hear rational and
well-thought out logic from a skier like Randy (as opposed to
the nonsense babble some skiers feed the media these days).
There is good and bad to everything. It’s never simply black or
white. Randy knew this. Randy was wise.
About Randy being humble: An incident I remember occurred during
the 2003 Masters XC Nationals in Anchorage. Randy was in my age
group. I won our age group and Randy finished 3rd,
just a couple of seconds behind Audun Endestadt. At the finish
Randy said to me: “I can’t believe I was just behind Audun!
It’s Audun! I don’t deserve to be skiing anywhere near Audun!”
I smiled and said: “No Randy, if you are skiing as fast as
someone, then you paid your dues … and you deserve it. Good race!”
When I would run into Randy he would always give me compliments
and encouragement about the web projects I do, namely this
backcountry cross country skiing web site and the
Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project.
Though complimentary feedback is not the reason I do these web
sites (public service and preserving skiing history is the reason for ALSAP, and a remote
trail skiing obsession is the reason for this web site) ... it showed that Randy was a genuinely nice person.
and I were young we apparently both made the same vow. We vowed
that we would be skiers for life. Real skiers. Not skiers
until something cooler came along, like snowboards or fat bikes.
Or until skiing got inconvenient because of jobs and family.
We’d be hard-hitting skiers for as long as we possibly could be
his skiing vow to the end. Randy was a real skier.
Randy was a
Mid November 2017:
Getting A "Firm Grip" On Retail Reality
I was walking down an aisle
at Home Depot and saw something that made me laugh.
Chinese "Firm Grip" ski gloves for $3.30 (yes, three dollars and
thirty cents a pair). Wow! ... How low can Sino-glove
prices go!? Crazy.
So I bought a pair of Home Depot's Firm Grip
gloves and have been skiing in them for a while. They seem
like they fit the bill for the 5F to 20F range in terms of
warmth. And they are not bulky, so you get good pole
control with them. I like my Firm Grips!
These gloves show well the economics of
branding. In reality there is little difference between
these gloves and Swix and Salomon product, besides the label.
Likely these gloves are made in the same or similar Chinese
factories, using the same materials that come from the same
Chinese fabric mills, using the same machines and using workers
getting paid the same. Yet the unknown Firm-Grip
brand retails for $3.30. But with a Swix or Salomon
branding, this same glove would go for 10 to 15 times as much.
So why am I not a cool kid that uses hip
brand name gear? Maybe because I have a firm grip on
retail reality. And I don't like to get ripped off.
Plus, any ski glove these days is going to wear out faster than
they used to. So that's no big deal if the cost to replace
your ski gloves is less than the cost of 2 Snickers bars.
Firm Grip ski gloves from Home
Depot. $3.30 a pair (not a typo ... three dollars and
thirty cents a pair).
Mid November 2017:
Why I Don't Want To Go First
A survival rule of mine is
to never be the first to travel on Susitna Valley trails at the
start of a new season. Let others have the glory ... and
the risk. This recent Facebook post regarding Big Lake
shows that Su Valley lakes are not ready for travel yet.
If the lakes are not ready for safe travel, then the moving
water of rivers and streams will certainly not be ready yet.
I'll stick to trails in Anchorage and give the hinterlands more
time to freeze up.
Early November 2017:
Making My Own Skis
Lately I've been making my
own skis. XC skis? No. Alpine skis?
Nope. I've been making skis that will go on a Susitna
Valley freight sled. A what? It's the kind of sled
that freight haulers pull behind snowmobiles
to haul heavy loads on the trails of the Susitna Valley.
I'll put a picture here of mine when it is done. I wanted
to get better at welding. So I tackled this big(ish)
welding project to up my welding game. Am I better at
welding now? We'll see this winter. If I find myself
with 2000 lbs of building supplies on a failed and collapsed
sled a long ways from where I want to be ... then the answer
will be no. If it works without failure, then maybe I can
claim to be a better welder.
What does this have to do with skiing? I've seen these
freight sleds a lot while skiing in the Susitna Valley.
It's amazing how much weight this design of sled can haul.
The unique feature of these sleds are the floating rear anchors
on the UHMW plastic skis. When the plastic flexes, the
anchor on the back of the ski moves. This gives the sled a
silky ride over bumps. I figured I could put a sled like
this to a lot of use. Folks that make them for sale want
around $3500 for them. The materials cost 25% of that (but
there is a LOT of labor to making them). I like doing new
and different projects. So I figured I'd build one.
Has been fun so far.
Perhaps the most defining feature
of a Susitna Valley freight sled - the floating anchor arm
bracket on the back of each ski. Makes for a smooth ride.
Update, mid-December: Finished the freight sled.
Wow, lots of work. And think I'm now a
better welder. Over 150 parts that had to be cut,
ground, jigs made, clamped and welded. Plus all the
running around to get materials. Fun project. But kinda glad the
project is finally over!
Finished freight sled.
This shows the metal I welded
together, before the deck was placed on the sled.
Welding projects mean lots of
quality time with a cutting wheel, chopping metal into the
shapes you need.
Early November 2017:
Propane Torch Troubleshooting Tip
Winter is about here and if
you are like me, you will be using a propane torch a lot then
next 5 or 6 months. Whether it's starting wood stoves,
thawing out locks or softening klister ... propane torches with
trigger starts are super handy. Just click it and it's
But the first time I tried
to use my trigger start propane torch this year ... it wouldn't
light. As usual, I ran to Google for guidance. Soon
I found a
YouTube video with answer to my problem. The fix was
simple. Just screw off the nozzle and push the little wire
up next to the metal tubing. An arc can be seen if the
wire is near the metal tubing. Too far away ... no arc and
no lighting of the propane. So if your torch won't start,
don't get frustrated and go buy a new trigger start. Try
this easy fix first.
Annoyed that you can't get your
propane torch started? Try removing the nozzle and pushing
the little blue wire closer to the wall of the metal tubing.
Mid October 2017:
Shouldn't Every XC Ski Area Have One Of These?
While biking in Moab, UT
recently, I came upon a simple and entertaining trail feature.
Two banked pits that make a figure 8. Soon I found myself
zipping around one of the circles and then popping in and out of
the other circle. It was fun, and addictive.
After about 40 or so
circles, I realized ... this was genius. Such a simple and
cheap to make, yet fun and safe, terrain feature. Then it
dawned on me - why don't xc ski areas make similar terrain
Yeah, some xc ski areas have
terrain parks. But they are a lot of work to make and
maintain. And they only appeal to a narrow spectrum of
skiers. These banked bowls would appeal to all. From
toddler beginners to elite racers to 60 year old plusers (like
me). And they could be used all year. Summer by bike
and foot, winter by ski and bike (and perhaps ice skates/Nordic
blades after meltdowns).
Such "ski pits" would add an
element of fun and skill building to any cross country skiing
Note: These pits are easier
to build in the desert. In wetter places, like Anchorage,
you would need a sump with a culvert drain.
Early October 2017:
Utah's Lone "Glacier"
During a recent hike up Mt.
Timpanogos, I passed by Utah's only "glacier". Some folks
say it is a glacier, some say it's not. Apparently it is a
rock glacier (rocks embedded in ice) that is not advancing.
So to some, that makes it a glacier. But to others, it is
not a glacier. Here is a good
history of the Timpanogos Glacier. Ski races were once
held on this glacier/snowfield. When I was there I saw ski
tracks on the snowfield next to the rock glacier, so this is
likely a spot that the TAY "Turns
All Year" skiers hit.
Seeing the Timp Glacier made
me wonder: how many states in the US have glaciers? Mr.
Google provided the answer. If you include the Timp
Glacier, it is 10 (reference).
By order of largest to smallest area of glaciation, the states
are: Alaska, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, California, Oregon,
Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. Nevada also only has one
glacier, a rock glacier on the north side of Wheeler Peak.
The Timpanogos Glacier
Looking down from the summit of Mt.
Timpanogos at the glacier
Late September 2017:
Trigger Memories Of Lost Skiers From A Different World
Recently I was getting some
exercise and doing a loop that went over Max's Mountain in
Girdwood. On top of Max's I noticed four smooth river
rocks that were out of place on top of this Chugach summit.
I figured someone must have carried them up to this point.
And likely they did it for training.
Seeing these rocks brought
back memories from the early 1970's. I was at a regional
junior cross country ski racer dryland camp at the late
Mike Gallagher's home in Plymouth, VT. During the camp
we did a speed
hike with poles workout up the nearby Killington ski area.
On top Mike pointed out two big piles of rocks. A few
years before, he and
Ned Gillette, also now deceased, were training together.
These guys were the best male xc ski racers in the country at
the time. And they had a contest to see who could build
the biggest pile of rocks on top of Killington. Lots and
lots of trips up Killington by these two and they raced each
other while humping packs filled with rocks. Not sure
who won, but the rock piles were impressive.
Definitely a different world
for xc ski racer training back then. No Polar heart rate
monitors, no VO2 testing, no meticulous training plans, no
flying to glaciers or New Zealand for skiing on set tracks, no
Internet or iPhones or Facebook for keeping tabs on your
competition. Just a canvas pack and a bunch of rocks.
Not saying modern stuff isn't good. Just saying that the
world of the elite Nordic skier has changed in the last 45
I also remembered another
Vermont skier-related story Ned once told me about the time he
and Mike were training together. This story
tells how much social attitudes towards those that exercise have
changed over the decades.
Here's the story: Mike and
Ned are out on a training run on roads near Rutland, Vermont.
Like every skier in those days, they are wearing cotton
t-shirts, nylon running shorts and running shoes. So they
are running along and this pickup truck comes whizzing by them,
the driver slams on the brakes, jumps out of the truck and yells
at them. "Hey, what do you 'faggots' think you are doing!"
His fists are clenched as he walks towards them. He's
ready to pummel some skinny xc skiers for doing something
un-manly and offensive - running. In his world the only
acceptable place to run is around a football field while wearing
pads, for only a few months during one's life.
Shouting ensues between Mike and the redneck thug. Shoving
and punches. Mike gets knocked down into the ditch ...
where he notices a beer bottle. Mike grabs the bottle,
smashes the end off on a rock, gets up, starts screaming and
races towards the assailant waving the broken bottle. But too late, the good ole
boy gets in his truck, sprays gravel and races away.
I wonder when the last time
something this happened to the top xc skiers in the US?
And especially in the
once-redneck-now-ultra-PC-liberal-socialist state of Vermont?
It's probably been a very long time. And understandably.
Exercise, like running and biking, is now an accepted activity
in our society. But it wasn't always that way.
Four smooth rocks on top of a mountain. Just rocks to some
people. 45 year-old memories to another.
Mid September 2017:
Plans To Resurrect The Historic Herning Trail in the Mat-Su Valley
Around 120 years ago there was a dog sled
trail from Knik to the Lucky Shot Mine area in the Talkeetna
Mountains. Mining supplies were hauled over this trail by
freighting dog teams. This historic trail is known as the
Herning Trail. A part of the Herning Trail, also
called the Willow Creek Sled Trail, currently exists between
Houston and the Hatcher Pass Road west of Willow. I have
skied this section of the Herning Trail a bunch of times.
It's a great multi-use trail.
Presently the Mat-Su Borough is trying to
recreate the southern sections of the historical Herning Trail.
The idea, I assume, is to preserve this historical trail while
they can, before rapidly expanding real estate development
prohibits a contiguous trail from being possible. And to
restore the entire length of the historical Herning Trail.
The map below shows what the plans are so
far. The red line is the original Herning Trail route.
Much of the old trail route is now on private property, so
the MSB is trying to recreate the trail on section line
easements (the green line). And at present, the plans are
to only bring the trail to the Parks Highway. Not plans
yet, that I know of, to comment the Parks Highway to the
existing Herning Trail.
As a skier that spends a lot of time skiing
trails in the Mat-Su, I'm all for new trails. But with
this one, I have mixed feelings.
Pro: Trails are good. I hope this
Con: The MSB spent $164 million (of
mostly state money) not long ago on a now unused rail road bed, the
Port Mac Rail Extension, that will likely never be used
(a.k.a. the Railroad to Nowhere, that goes past the West Gateway
Road to Nowhere and the Point Mackenzie Dairy Farms to Nowhere
and on to the Port to
Nowhere that the Bridge to Nowhere never reached and where the Ferry
to Nowhere never operated ... all of these failed
"Nowhere"-projects the MSB had their hand in.)
If following the original
route is not part of the plan, then why not use this nearby
route? Turn the rail bed into a multi-use trail and you
nearly have your Herning Trail reroute. Trails already go
west from Knik to the rail route. All that is needed is
some trail link-ups through Houston. And then the
Herning Trail resurrection would be complete. And the cost
would be minimal. But of
course, for the MSB to do this they would be admitting error, waste and economic
with regards to the Port Mac Rail Extension boondoggle. So
... that won't be happening anytime soon.
MSB: Herning Trail Reroute map
Early September 2017:
Surprising (To Me At Least), And Cool (To More Than Just Me)
In May 2016, the historic Forks Roadhouse in
burned down. This was a sad event. Too many
historic Alaskan dwellings have met demise by fire. The
Forks Roadhouse dated back to the gold rush era over 100 years
ago. In the winter the Forks Roadhouse was only accessible
by trail, and it was a popular stop for snowmobilers, local
cabin owners and even a cross country skier or two.
Recently I was surprised to learn that the
Forks Roadhouse is being rebuilt. There's even a Forks
Facebook page with a few posts of the progress. The
goal is to have it open this winter. Yeah, it won't be the
real-deal. But remote, trail-only access roadhouses and
lodges are a very cool part of Alaska. So it's good to see
the spirit of the Forks Roadhouse has risen from the ashes and
Forks Roadhouse in 2011
Forks Roadhouse guard dog in 2011
New Forks Roadhouse in 2016, photo:
Late August 2017:
Biathlete Kidnapper, And Murderer, Out of Prison On Parole
In 1984 a young woman
Swenson was out on a training run in Montana when she was
kidnapped by a self-described "mountain man" named Don Nichols.
Why? It later came out that Nichols figured Kari would make a good bride for his son Don.
This horrific incident ended with a would-be rescuer getting
shot to death by Nichols, Kari getting shot by Don's son Dan and
both Don and Dan Nichols being sent to prison. Don got a
sentence of 85 - 115 years (accounts on the Internet of the
sentence length differ). Son Dan, who took part in
these crimes, was sentenced to 20 years.
came up for parole in 2012. But after calling members
of the parole board "cowards and fascists", his parole request
was quickly denied. Apparently 25 years in prison did not
instill any remorse on sociopath Don Nichols.
So what does this blog post have to do with Alaskan skiing?
Well, bad stuff similar to this once happened to a cross country ski
Alaska. About the same time the Kari Swenson incident
occurred there was an aggravated sexual assault of a woman on
the UAA ski team who was out training on roller skis.
This heinous event is probably unknown to younger generations of
Alaskan skiers. And it is a dark and fading memory to many
older Alaskan skiers.
Bad people don't just live in the mountains of Montana.
They are sprinkled around the world, everywhere. And
sometimes it seems like Alaska gets a double dose of sprinkles,
if you know what I mean.
Bottom line: Skiers need to watch over each
other while training. Be aware of your surroundings.
Don't train alone on roads or urban trails.
Early August 2017:
We Love Our "Ursa Security" Cabin Protection System!
My wife and I love the "Ursa
Security" system that looks after our remote cabin in Alaska.
This is a free service. You apply for the service by
building a remote cabin in Alaskan bear country. If you
are accepted for the service, the security patrols just start up
at no cost to you. Such a deal! This service is 100%
environmentally friendly. Patrols are fueled by renewable
resources, with no reliance on fossil fuels. Waste from
patrol operations is used to fertilize wooded areas. And
though the enforcement techniques are quite brutal, they are
indeed very effective (see the picture above of an intruder
about to get his face ripped off by an Ursa Security guard).
Maybe it's time you had Ursa Security guard your stuff (cabin,
house, vehicle, mountain bike, pets, kids ... well, maybe not
your pets and kids)!
Game camera images show that Ursa
Security supports a "family-friendly" work environment.
Security guards are encouraged to bring their kids to work with
Note the old skis mounted on the cabin. So yes, this is
indeed a blog post about skiing! ;-)
Early August 2017:
FlightSight iPhone App - Cousin of A Skiing App
After writing the
iPhone app, and the
peak bagging app, I figured I'd write an aviation app that uses some
of the same technology and coding. FlightSight is the app
that I ended up developing. Information can be found about
FlightSight from the links below ...
A couple of years ago I posted about the
sport of "boat-dotting".
It's a "sport", kind of, that I made up. And I do this
sport regularly in Prince William Sound. You anchor your
boat. And then you hike uphill until your boat turns into
a little dot. Recently I got a good boat-dotting picture
(see below). If you can't see the boat in the picture
below (or after you expand it), click
A few recent PWS pics ...
You can get a good upper body and
core workout by wrestling the fish your spouse catches.
An 80 pounder. And yes, this is actually a skiing-related picture. It
shows my wife's choice of halibut fighting pants are Sugoi
You can go "skating" on the ocean
in Alaska in the summer! Well, kinda but not really.
This is a fish called a
that my wife caught. A strange-looking and docile creature
that we released.
"What did you do after your hike?"
Well, I harpooned, shot, gaffed and wrestled a 135 pound halibut
my wife hooked into our boat. Made the hike seem like the
easy part of the day.
Mid July 2017:
Just Like In Winter, The Internet Often Fills In The Blanks
Often during ski trips I encounter things I
did not expect. A remote lodge I'd never heard of. A
mining operation. Remote property for sale. A sign
to a place I didn't know about. When I encounter such
unexpected things, I usually want to learn more about them.
So when I get home I check the Internet. And often the
Internet fills in the blanks.
The same holds true for summer adventures.
Recently my wife and I visited
Elrington Point. This is one of the more remote spots
in Prince William Sound (see map below). We anchored our
boat a few miles away and paddled our kayaks to the isthmus near
the point. The beach on the south side of this narrow spit
of land is exposed to the North Pacific, so I figured it would
be good for beachcombing. While beachcombing we noticed
the remains of a wrecked aluminum boat in the beach grass.
Letters on the hull identified the boat as "NOAA RA-3".
When I got home I hit the Internet and the
mystery of this shipwreck was quickly solved. The wrecked
boat was a hydrographic survey launch that was one of six such
survey launches of the NOAA ship Rainier (see NOAA pictures
In 2002 a
series of rogue waves capsized this boat. Three crew
members were on board. One person died. NOAA
surveys make boating for everyone safer, by mapping depths,
rocks and reefs. So it's definitely a sad situation if
someone died while working to make boat navigation safer for the
rest of us.
Location of Elrington Point
Heading to Elrington Point
Elrington Point isthmus
Remains of NOAA survey launch
Returning from Elrington Point
NOAA ship Rainier, with survey
launches (photo credit: NOAA)
RA-3 survey launch (photo credit:
Early July 2017:
AvyPal - Avalanche Awareness Safety Phone App
I recently wrote another iPhone app, that I
named AvyPal, that is
now for sale in the Apple App Store. AvyPal is an
avalanche awareness safety app that is targeted to backcountry
skiers, boarders, snowmobilers, hikers and climbers.
The AvyPal phone
app that can answer 3 basic questions one might have while
traveling in avalanche terrain:
1) Is the slope I'm considering crossing
2) Is the fall line that I am traveling up or down avalanche
3) Now that I am skiing down the fall line, am I getting into
(or out of) avalanche prone terrain?
below show screen captures for the three different modes of
AvyPal operation. Fall line and Slope modes are
self-explanatory. The GPS mode samples GPS elevation and
distance every 5 seconds. It then determines the angle you have
traveled. It graphs this data (see simulated data on graph
below). But most likely when you are skiing you are not going
to be looking at your phone. So when it detects you are in
avalanche terrain it beeps every 5 seconds. One warning beep
if you are in 25-30/45-50 degree range. Two beeps if you are
in 30-45 degree high-risk avalanche terrain. The app stays
quiet when you are in low-risk avalanche terrain. The app user interface uses a
color coding convention (green - low risk, yellow - warning, red
- high risk) for simulated LEDs, an inclinometer and display of
the slope angle.
has been fun to write, and especially to test (while playing, er
... working!, in the mountains). The features that set
this avalanche safety app apart from others are the "see through
the phone" use of the camera. Also, the GPS tracking and
real-time determination of the slope angle you are skiing is a
So if you want some help assessing
backcountry terrain for avalanche risks ... bring along a pal
Example screen captures for the three
operational modes of the AvyPall phone app ...
Fall Line mode
GPS tracking mode
Shows the angle of the slope you intend to
Shows the angle of the slope you are
Tracks and audibly alerts you of avalanche
slope risk as you ski.
I was running at Kincaid
Park in Anchorage and passed by a young bull moose who was
feeding on a downed tree. Soon I found myself doing a
double-take. There was some kind of large growth on the
moose's back leg.
I thought to myself: "Oh no!
Does that moose have a tick infestation?" I worry about
ticks showing up in Alaska, knowing that up to 70% of the moose
populations in some parts of Northeastern US have
died-off due to tick infestation.
But communications with a
wildlife biologist I went to school with, and information from
this Alaska Department of Fish and Game web page, informed
me that the bumps on this moose are virus-induced papillomas
(warts), that are not life threatening.
So, based on this case ...
no tick worries for our local moose. Yet.
Late June 2017:
Skiing And Paddling To The Beat Of Your Own Drum
If you are going to ski to the beat of your
own drum ... then you might as well paddle to the beat of your
own drum. Especially if it is a 55 gallon poly drum!
Two weeks before this picture was taken I bought a poly drum
from a lady in Palmer, AK. I used it to make a compost
tumbler. But instead of buying one, I should have known I
could find one on the beaches of Prince William Sound!
I found this drum
while on a ski trip in Prince William Sound, and it was in great shape. Looks like I will have two
compost tumblers now. And I did a small part in cleaning
up my favorite summer playground ... Western Prince William Sound.
Mid June 2017:
Sign of Bear Eating Bear Sign
This was kinda funny to see. There is
an interpretive on the Bird to Girdwood trail that tells what
black bears eat. It says that 80 percent of a black bear's
diet is vegetative. The back of the sign shows what else
bears eat. So the remaining part of the bear diet equation
is that bears eat 19 percent or more of animal protein and up to
1 percent of their diet consists of interpretive signs.
A common sight on the Bird to Gird
trail this year.
Late May 2017:
Kincaid Park Bear Den
Recently while running in Kincaid Park I did
a bit of bushwhacking to connect to a trail. While doing
this I noticed I had come to a bear den. You could see
where a black bear had dug a sizeable den in sandy soil under
the root system of a tree. You could also see that the bear had
brought in grass to make a "bear mattress" for the winter.
Of course, the black bear(s) that had hibernated in this den
during last winter were out and about this time of year.
So there was no danger in taking a peek inside. Because
Kincaid Park is so chopped up with trails, it should come as no
surprise that this den was 30 feet from a popular trail.
Yep ... when you are skiing or snow biking at Kincaid, you may
be passing right by a sleeping bear.
A safety tip regarding bear dens: If you decide to enter a
bear den, make sure you tie a rope around your waist and have
the other end outside the den. Because once you enter the
bear den you will most likely start to feel sleepy. Eyes
heavy ... sleepy ... oh so sleeeeepy ... so comfortable in here
... just have to go to sleep ... zzzzzzz. And before you
know it you will be off on a 6 month hibernation nap. The
rope is so others can drag you out of the den. Because if
they go into the den, then may fall asleep too.
If you or someone else ends up in bear den
hibernation mode, it's good to know how to wake up a hibernating
person. The best way is to take smoked salmon or blueberries and hold it under their nose. If that doesn't
work, get some garbage from Hillside trash cans, a coveted
delicacy of Anchorage bears, and hold it under the sleeping
person's nose. That is guaranteed to wake them from bear
Mid May 2017:
So What Is This A Picture Of?
I took this picture on a recent ski trip.
What is it? Click on the above image and a linked picture
should give you the answer.
Mid May 2017:
Save Alaska's tourists! Keep our bears from eating them!
With oil production, Alaska's main resource,
in decline, the growth of tourism will hopefully help support
our economy. But tourism won't grow if tourists are scared
away from Alaska. So I'm doing my part to protect tourists
that come to Alaska. Last year I wrote the HeyBear! bear
safety phone app (more
info). This year I internationalized the HeyBear! app
to support a number of languages. Bears know to run when
they hear Alaskan voices. But what will they do if they
hear Chinese? Or Korean? They may approach to see if
the strange sounds (to them) are coming from edible prey.
This new version of HeyBear! supports app button labels in
foreign languages, but the human voice options are still in
bear-scaring Alaskani. So help save a tourist. If you encounter a foreign tourist in
Alaska, tell then to buy and use the HeyBear! phone app ... or
they will die! ;-)
Early May 2017:
OMG! Your windows are BAD! Time to call a skier!
When it comes to windows, it's easy to
procrastinate cleaning them. Like for years, and years.
But when you finally clean them, you can't believe you went so
many years with windows that were so dingy. So if you are
one of these procrastinating types (like me), if you are selling
or know someone that is selling a house and needs it buffed or
if you know folks that need windows cleaned but can't do it
themselves ... give Andre Lovett a call. Andre is a APU
Elite Team skier (but more importantly, he is a good guy!) that
has started up a window washing business in the Anchorage area
this summer. Andre's info is below. And his email
Late April 2017:
The Latest iPhone App I Developed - PeakPal
I've been peak bagging for a
lot of years in Alaska. And often during peak bagging
forays the question will come up: "Uhm ... it this the top?
Or ... is that summit over there higher?" At times it can
be hard to know if you are on the highest point of a ridge that
Knowing that this situation is unavoidable in peak bagging, and
being a computer programmer, I figured I'd take a shot at solving
this problem. The end result ... an iPhone app I call
PeakPal is a backcountry height comparison and
slope angle measurement iPhone camera app that is targeted towards peak
baggers, climbers, skiers and backcountry travelers. It
uses the iPhone's motion processor to determine angles to
distant objects and tells you whether they are higher or lower
and by what angle.
It's simple to use. Position the red crosshairs on your target. PeakPal tells you if the target is higher or lower than you (yellow
line), and by how many degrees off of your phone's elevation (the yellow
line). You can press the app button to take a
picture. A photo is then saved with PeakPal lines and GPS, elevation and
compass bearing data embossed on it. PeakPal can also warn you if you are on an
Late April 2017:
Anchorage Airport Free Roller Ski, Bike, Dog and Kid Wash
<sarcasm alert - start>
Great news! Now if you are roller skiing or biking on the
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage ... now you can easily
keep your gear looking clean. No more rainy day recreating
resulting in trail grime coating your roller skis or bike.
If your gear gets coated with grime, just stop in at the free,
yes ... FREE, washateria off the north end of Postmark Drive.
Hike down to the tidal flats and dip your skis or bike into the
mountains of detergent suds flowing out of the airport storm
sewer. Soon your gear will be sparkling clean. And
did I mention ... it's free!
Yeah, that this detergent is coming from a storm sewer might
sound bad. But hey, it's detergent. So how can it
not be clean and safe?! If your dog is dirty, just throw a
tennis ball in the detergent stream. The dog will jump in
after it and voila ... super-clean canine! Young kids been
playing in tidal flat mud? No problem! Just hold
them by the ankle and dip them into the airport's
industrial-strength "clean-up creek".
After cleaning up your gear, dog or kids ... marvel at how
Anchorage is doing its part to keep Cook Inlet clean. When
the tide of dirty water surges into Anchorage, we treat it with
the strongest detergent available. That way, when the
water flows back to Kenai and Homer, the skanky and dirty water
they sent us is now super-clean!
<sarcasm alert - end> Picture taken on April 28th at
Mid April 2017:
Weirdness From The Woods
This winter, while
skiing near our cabin, I found this bizarre burl on a toppled
birch tree. It reminded me of a gargoyle. So I
harvested it, peeled it, varnished it ... and now a "burl
gargoyle" hangs in our house.
Early April 2017:
Avalanche In Anchorage
Looks like there was
a good size avalanche in the Anchorage Bowl. And at a
place you wouldn't expect to see one, and where there has never
been one ... on the Hillside ski jump. The slippery
plastic grass that was recently installed for summer jumping
proves to be slippery when it's covered with soggy snow.
Enough snow slid that if someone was on the landing hill (a very
low possibility), they could have been buried.
This is not the
first time I have seen an avalanche in a place I would not
expect to see one in Anchorage. Once I was skiing on the
roads of Fort Rich. To the east I noticed that avalanches
had slid off the west side of the Anchorage landfill. So,
if warm spring temps saturate the snow pack ... don't let your
kids play on the Hillside ski jump. Or at the Anchorage
Early April 2017:
XC Ski Racing In Alaska, Circa 1910
Recently there was
an old postcard for sale on ebay with the image below on it.
I bought the postcard so I could put the image on the Alaska
Lost Ski Areas Propject web site,
It shows a ski racer getting ready to start a race in Nome,
circa 1910. This is one of the better photos I have seen
that shows the gear and clothing of the earliest Alaskan cross
country ski racers. Click on the picture and you can see
Early April 2017:
What A Difference A Year Makes
The two pictures
below, taken at Alexander Creek, show the difference between
last year and this year. Last year people started boating
on Alexander Creek after the ice broke-up on March 31st.
This year the crust skiing was good on Alexander Creek on April
2nd. And there is probably still two to three weeks before the ice
31st, 2016 (Mike Mason photo)
Late March 2017:
Something I Used A Lot This Winter
Seems like I'm
always doing outdoor projects during the dark months of Alaska's
winter. You can get by doing a lot of these projects with
headlamps alone. You can also use plug-in work lights.
But earlier this winter I got his rechargeable LED work light
(see below) as a gift and I ended up using it a lot. It
throws a lot of light, has good battery life and really augments
the lighting situation. And not having a power cord is a
big convenience. I like setting it up in a corner
of my work area. I still use a headlamp, but this work
light really fills in the voids and makes project work a lot
more fun (because you can see things better). This light
is good to carry in your vehicle, in case you have to change a
tire, put on chains, load a trailer, dig out of a snow bank at
night ... or do some early morning ski maintenance!
You can get this light at lots of places, including
Costco (sometimes) and
Late March 2017:
Fat Bike Trails Herald The Return Of The Marathon Skate
I like to ski the
fat bike trails in Bicentennial Park in Anchorage, AK.
When I ski these trails, or any trails for that matter, I don't
think much about technique. I just use whatever technique
gets me down the trail. But the other day I started
laughing while skiing fat bike trails ... because I realized I
was using the marathon skate technique a lot. I was
time-traveling back to the 70s and 80s!
Back in the early
80's there were technically no skating ski races. Instead
there were "freestyle" races. Groomed classic tracks were
set for races, but you could use any technique you wanted.
In the races of this era, this hybrid of skating was often used.
In a way, fat bike
trails are like a single classic track. The bike tires
make a rut down the middle of the trail. The rut and
narrow width of the trail makes it difficult to V1 or V2 skate.
So the prominent techniques for skiing fat bike trails, on skate
double poling and marathon skating. When marathon skating
fat bike trails, you keep one ski in the tire groove do a
constrained marathon skate
with the other ski. Thank you fat bikers ... for keeping
the marathon skate alive!
video shows marathon skating on the World Cup level.
Mid March 2017:
Trails, A Connection Between Species
Many Alaskans use
trails made by animals. Bear trails make good hiking
trails in Prince William Sound. Caribou trails make good
hiking trails in the Brooks Range. Moose trails in
Anchorage parks have become primitive "social trails" for
mountain bikers, runners, orienteering racers and walkers.
But it goes both
ways. Animals also like to use human trails. We of
course see this in winters when there is lots of snow.
Moose will gravitate towards firm human trails so they don't
have to struggle in deep snow.
Recently I saw
another situation where a moose decided to follow a trail made
by humans. In the Knik River Gorge there is now a narrow
bottleneck where the Knik Glacier comes up to the steep slopes
of a mountain. Here fat bikers, hikers and skiers have
been sneaking through this narrow gap to explore the upper end
of the gorge. If there were no tracks here, it would
likely seem impassable, to people and to moose. But it
looks like a moose noticed the trail and followed it. Evidence:
moose poop. Whichever way the moose was traveling, he or she is
now in country they have never seen before, as this passage is
impassable to moose in the summer.
narrow gap used to get past the Knik Glacier at the Knik River
Gorge this winter.
poop, evidence that this is not just a recreational trail of the
Mid March 2017:
Susitna Station, More To This Place Than Most Know
Every year thousands
of travelers pass a location on the Susitna River, two miles
south of the mouth of the Yentna River, called Susitna
Station. As people go by via snowmobile, dogsled, bike,
foot or skis - most don't realize that they are passing the
location of a former large and vibrant village. 100 years,
and more, ago Susitna Station was a thriving "jumping off"
location for gold mining activities in the Cache Creek and
Iditarod areas to the north. Steamships would bring
supplies up the Big Susitna River and offload them at Susitna
Station. Smaller boats or dog teams would then move the
supplies north from here.
100 years ago
Susitna Station was at its heyday. Hundreds of people
lived at this thriving outpost. Stores, a school, a church
and many buildings stood here. But then two things
happened that led to the demise of Susitna Station. The
Alaska Railroad was built, making it easier to transport gold
mining supplies to the Cache Creek area. And in 1918 an
influenza epidemic decimated the large Dena'ina population that
lived here. Now only one original building still stands
here, along with a few recreational cabins (see above picture).
Also still here is a
defining feature of Susitna Station, a rock outcrop that sticks
out into the Big Susitna River. The Native name for this
place references this rock outcrop: Tsat'ukegh "Beneath the Big
In the summer this
outcrop can create a small whirlpool off of its point. The
size of the whirlpool depends on the level and force of the
river. When boating here in the summer I often go by
to check out the whirlpool. Sometimes there is no
whirlpool, sometimes it is a hissing and gurgling hole in the
river that looks rather ominous. It probably looks more
bad-ass than it really is. If you went into it with a pack
raft, you'd probably be stuck and spinning for a long time, and
get really dizzy, but would probably still stay upright in your
boat. I figure it could tip over a canoe though.
canoeing: Canoeing in the sweeper-lined, powerful, cold and
silt-laden Big Susitna is not smart, in my opinion. The
Susitna River has a long history of killing canoeists. I
once talked to an Upper Cook Inlet setnetter that told me
a story of finding a dead canoeist in his setnet near the mouth
of the Big Su. Grim.
And then there is
the story my father-in-law once told me. It was the late
1930s and a Native couple had paddled their canoe from Susitna
Station down to Alexander Creek to fish for salmon. After
catching their salmon, they had a long and brutal paddle against
the current to go back upstream, so my father in law offered to
take them, and tow their canoe, to Susitna Station (it was rare
to have outboard motors back then). As they were coming up
the East Channel of the Big Su, a few miles below Susitna
Station, the Native woman started crying, screaming and hitting
her husband. My father-in-law asked what the problem was.
The Native man said: "This is the place where her brother tipped
over in his canoe and drowned." Indeed, the Big Su has a
long history of being a harsh place for canoeists.
More information about Susitna
Station can be found in "Shem Pete's Alaska", by James Kari and
James A. Fall, pages 89-91. Some good pictures of Susitna
Trivia: Nagely's General Store in downtown Talkeetna started out
as a log cabin at Susitna Station. In 1922 the cabin was
moved to Talkeetna.
Mid March 2017:
Trying To Avoid Death By Otter Sled
A very popular
snowmobile sled these days is the Otter sled. We have one
and use it a lot. It's a good sled for the price.
But the catch with Otter sleds is the narrow tracks they leave.
If the sled goes through wet snow and leaves its narrow tracks,
when the snow freezes the narrow ruts become xc ski traps.
Nordic skis don't fit in these icy tracks, they skitter in and
out of the ruts. And the tracks are good at catching ski
edges and causing you to fall. Hard.
A few years ago I
made replacement Otter sled runners that are the width of a
cross country ski track. I have these wide runners mounted
on our Otter sled. The reason for them is not as much to
set classic tracks, but to leave ski-able tracks in case these
ruts freeze. Just doing my part to help avoid "Death By
made by an Otter sled.
Tracks made by my modified Otter sled runners.
view of the modified Otter sled runners that I made.
Mid March 2017:
Memories That Never Fade
It's interesting how
after decades of travel in certain areas, your memory is
triggered every time you pass certain spots. Here are a
couple of examples in my case, and the stories that go with them
The picture above is
of the Gasline Trail heading east towards the Little Susitna
River. As you can see, it is a well-traveled trail.
And if you look a bit closer, you will see a smaller trail
heading off to the right. This trail eventually connects
back with the Gasline Trail near the Little Su.
I've passed this
spot hundreds of times. But every time I pass this spot, I
remember the 2nd time I passed this spot. It was 25 years
ago, in 1992. I was coming back from a ski-joring/camping
trip with my young Malamutes Fraetre and Qutuq. We had
been on the summit of Mr. Susitna earlier in the day and were
heading back to the trailhead.
When we reached this
point, Fraetre and Qutuq veered right off the main trail and
onto this narrow side trail. I was surprised by this and
was just about to correct them. But I'm glad that I
didn't. Because it dawned on me ... this is the way we had
come! I had forgotten. Neither of us had been on
this route before. But they remembered the way back better
than I did. Instead of correcting them I praised them.
This was the first time, but definitely not the last time, I'd
be impressed at how much smarter sled dogs are than us lowly
Fraetre and Qutuq on
the slopes of Mt. Susitna.
Summit ridge of Mt. Susitna.
Communications station near the summit.
This island pictured
above is in the middle of the Big Susitna River, to the
west of Susitna Station. It's where the Old Iditarod Trail
branches off to the west. I've skied, boated and
snowmobiled by this island dozens of times. And each time
I pass this island I have the same memory.
It was 30 years ago,
in 1987, during the Iditaski, a 200 mile ski race from Knik to
Skwentna and back. One of the skiers in our lead group was
a very likeable guy from Switzerland that lived in Alaska.
His name was Chris Leibundgut, nickname: Krigi. It had
just gotten dark, we had our headlamps on and were were heading
past this island. Krigi was coughing a lot, so I asked him
if he was okay. He responded: "I'll be okay. I've
got strep throat. I probably shouldn't be doing this race.
But I didn't want to miss it!" Wow. One tough guy.
Sadly Krigi died two years later while
climbing Pumori in the Himalayas.
Ever since that
night in the Iditaski, I remember this incident when I pass this
island ... and think of this island as "Krigi's Island".
Early March 2017:
A Simple Therm-a-Rest Modification
You are breaking
down camp after a night out in winter. It's early morning,
dark and cold. Really cold. You are moving as fast
as you can, before your fingers get too cold. You fold up
your Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite pad. But where is that Therm-a-Rest
strap? Did I put in the tent? In my pack?
Where is it? Damn, my fingers are getting cold!
You won't have this
problem if you do a simple mod to your Z pad. Make
the sleeping pad straps permenent. Make two small holes in the pad, and
then tie loops of 1/8 inch bungee cord through them. Use
electrical tape over the knots so they don't come undone.
You will never again wonder where your sleeping pad straps are
Early March 2017:
Demise Of A Vole. One Day We Will Be The Vole.
While skiing across
the Chickaloon Tidal Flats I came to an area where there must be
a big vole community. Tracks everywhere. And an
eagle perched on a nearby tree. In this area I noticed a
vole that likely died of exposure from the recent cold high
winds we've had. Sad. On my way back I noticed that
all that remained of the vole were some small fur balls.
The vole's end meant life to another creature that lives on the
edge of survival in winter in Alaska.
This vole, in a way,
is a metaphor of our last day. We too will be fed on when
Chances are it won't be by a hungry eagle, owl, raven or coyote.
But instead we will be fed on by the medical and insurance
industry, heirs, the probate court system, lawyers, the IRS and
a funeral home/ cremation service. Like this vole, our
death will fuel the survival of other creatures. Our lives
are a lot more complex than a vole's. But in the big
picture, not that much different. And with this cheery blog post ... have a nice day! ;-)
Late February 2017:
DIY Smartphone Tripod Using A Gear Tie
I like the camera in my smartphone. But I wish my smartphone
had a tripod mount. It doesn't, so I came up with this idea
that uses a Gear Tie as a tripod (though I imagine I'm not the
first to figure this out). Yeah, I could buy a smartphone
tripod. But there are pros and cons to such tripods, as I
mention below. To make this simple tripod, you will need a 32
inch Gear Tie. You can get Gear Ties most anywhere (Lowe's,
Home Depot, WalMart, REI,
inch Gear Tie.
the Gear Tie like this.
Insert phone into Gear Tie, and you are ready to take self-timed
Pros of Gear Tie tripod:
Unbreakable, stronger than a plastic smartphone tripod
Easily stored inside or on the outside of your pack
Can be used for other purposes
Cons of Gear Tie tripod:
Not as stable as a real tripod
Slightly longer set-up than a tripod
Mid February 2017:
Big Indian Creek Cabin History ... In Ski Trip Pictures
looking at old ski trip pictures, those of
skiing to Burnt Island, and realized I have historical
pictures of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Big Indian Creek
the Big Indian Creek cabin was this old (and rather nasty)
framed cabin ...
2004, not far from the Big Indian Creek cabin, and on Little
Indian Creek, was this dilapidated old mining cabin ...
the Kenai Wildlife Refuge decided to salvage some of the logs
from the old Little Indian Creek cabin. They then razed
the Big Indian Creek framed cabin and
built a new log cabin in its place, using some of the logs
from the old Little Indian Creek cabin. Back in 2004 as I
skied by the Little Indian Creek cabin, I figured it would rot
away and disappear into the woods. I didn't imagine it
would live on (in part) as a nice new cabin at Big Indian Creek
Mid February 2017:
powder snow to a large corrugated container.
Shake for 25 miles.
Dribble Hershey chocolate sauce on snowballs and eat while still
Early February 2017:
Trail Groomers. "Again".
built a simple trail drag for grooming ski trails near our
remote cabin. After my wife used the drag to groom our
trail network, I asked her: "So, have you ever groomed the
trails you ski on before?" I figured her answer would be
"No". Instead, her response was a bit of a surprise.
And a bit of a memory jog.
groomed ski trails by skiing them in before we trained in high
thought about those days for a long time. Same with me.
In the early 70's we would make tracks to ski in by lining up
the ski team and stomping in a ski loop with our wooden skis. When my
wife was on the Dimond High School ski team in Anchorage, the
team would regularly make their own skied-in tracks on the
school football field, on undeveloped acreage to the east of the
school or on the first trails at Kincaid Park. Not much
manual setting of ski tracks by high school teams at Kincaid
these days. I did the
same in Vermont. Prior to high school, I would use
snowshoes to stomp in cross country ski loops on our farm.
So I guess
it's not that much of a surprise that we now groom our own xc
ski trail system these days. We both were "trail groomers"
over 40 years ago. And now we are trail groomers "again".
Getting the groom on.
My wife grooming our ski trails.
My wife skiing on a trail she
Me riding our remote Alaskan groomed
Early February 2017:
Modern Maps Still Have Their Problems
ago the NOAA/National Weather Service in Alaska started using
ESRI topographic and imagery maps on their web site. While
checking temperatures in areas that I like to travel, I noticed
topography that older maps did not show. In particular, I
noticed some circular moraine features. That piqued my
interest. But then I noticed that one of these "circular
moraines" was out in a featureless swamp. How could that
be? Slopes of the moraine have soils and good drainage and
would allow trees to grow. But no trees showed if you
switched from topographic to imagery views.
is an ESRI mythical circular moraine that is in a southern arm
of the "Great Swamp", just to the west of Fish Creek (that
drains Red Shirt Lake). And right across the middle of
this "moraine" runs the Susitna Valley Winter Trail (SVWT)
Connector. I had skied this trail before, and surely did
not remember any hills. So for a workout, I decided to ski
out to the SWVT connector and visit the "mystery moraine".
When I got
to the SVWT Connector, I was not surprised. There is no
moraine in this swamp. This swamp-land is as flat as a
pancake that has been run over by a asphalt roller. The
ESRI topographic map is clearly in error. Perhaps this
moraine exists someplace, but it is definitely shown at the
wrong place on this map.
The ESRI topographic
Same framing as map to left, but ESRI
"Mystery moraine" should be on the SVWT
Connector trail. But it's not there.
A view of the SVWT
Connector as it heads north from Trail 6. No moraine in
sight. Flatter than flat.
ESRI maps used by NOAA/NWS also have "changing place names"
errors. The ESRI topo map fragment on the left shows
Figure Eight Lake. Zoom out one level, map on right, and
the name of the lake changes to "Leach Lake".
Late January 2017:
It Gets Cold Near Anchorage. Yes, It's True.
is no Fairbanks when it comes to cold temperatures. But
not far from Anchorage, less than 20 miles as the raven flies,
it can get pretty cold. On January 19th it was 35 below
zero F at the Point Mackenzie trailhead. It didn't stay
that way for long. Within a week the temperature climbed
70 degrees to 35 degrees F.
-35 F at Pt Mac, Big
Lake and Willow (1/19/17
NWS Mesonet screen capture).
Late January 2017:
Earth-Friendly Weight Training For Skiers - Burl Bar Bells
So you are
still weight training with metal weights? Are you kidding
me!? That stuff is made in Chinese coal-fired steel
plants. You know, the type of plants that belch carbon and
kill our winters. Not a good choice.
make your own workout weights. Just go skiing and bring
along a saw to cut a few cancerous burl growths off birch trees.
Get an oak dowel and make your own weigh bar and bar bells.
Save the birch trees from dying of cancer and make yourself
And if you
get tired of using a burl bar bell, you can recycle it for use
as a pull-down handle for a
you might make for your cabin.
Working out with an earth-friendly
burl weight bar.
Burl weight bar recycled for use as
a Murphy bed pull-down handle.
Mid January 2017:
Spruce Bark Beetles ... Here We Go Again
trails of the lower Susitna Valley these days makes you think
you have gone back in time. Back to the early 1990's.
In those days massive amounts of spruce trees in Southcentral
Alaska were attacked and
killed by spruce bark beetles. Dead spruce trees were
everywhere. Back then my wife and I harvested many
recently killed spruce trees for use in making a log cabin.
It was great wood, and these trees were destined to be fire
hazards if we didn't use them.
Due to the
recent warm summers (and winters), the spruce bark beetle has
come back with a vengeance. Many mature spruce trees in
the Su Valley are once again being killed by the beetles.
This is definitely the spruce bark beetle and not the spruce
aphids, that have been killing spruce trees in the Katchemak Bay
area. Spruce aphids attack the needles. As can be
seen in the pictures below, it's definitely the bark that is
being ravaged. The needles are fine in the bottom
pictures, but soon they will turn gray. Being a white
spruce tree in Southcentral Alaska is not much fun these days.
Early January 2017:
What Does The Lynx Say?
and cool Swan Valley Connections Facebook
video lets you know what lynx say and how they say it.
I've heard these vocalizations before, but I was never quite
sure what was making the sounds. Now I know. Listen
to the audio of this video a few times, and you will know what a
lynx sounds like. Note: The audio is recorded a bit low,
so you might have to turn your device's audio level up.
Early January 2017:
Willow Tunnels, And The Past Paved-Over
a lot of "tunnels" have been showing up on trails in the Lower
Susitna Valley. Willow tunnels. Willow trees have
seen explosive growth recently due to a couple of factors, IMO.
Recent mild winters and warm summers have lengthened the growing
season for willows. Also, less moose is a factor.
Normally moose graze on young willow shoots and keep them from
getting too big. But the ever-increasing pressure of more
hunters, as the population of the MatSu Valley increases,
ensures that moose are in less abundance than they were in
previous decades. So, less moose-suppressing of willow
growth occurs and willow thickets flourish.
Susitna Valley trails: Every time I drive the Knik-Goose Bay
(KGB) Road, I wonder to myself: "What would Joe Redington think
Redington, the father of the Iditarod, was alive the Iditarod
would often restart in Wasilla. The sled dog race would
then follow the KGB road out past Joe's place in Knik, turn
right at the Knik Bar and then head off the road system towards
Nome. In the 80's there would be mushers running their dog
teams all along the KGB road.
Iditarod restarts in Willow, and the KGB route is not used.
This is a good thing. Because Willow usually has better
snow than Wasilla. But mostly because development long ago
killed the Iditarod Trail along the KGB road. Subdivisions
and new roads now intersect the old Iditarod route constantly.
And traffic is 100 times than what it used to be last century.
The suburban sprawl that has consumed the first half of the KGB
road is mind boggling (to those that knew this area long ago).
And to top
it off, much of this former Iditarod Trail route is now a paved bike
trail that is plowed in the winter. Paved trail?
Plowed? The Iditarod Trail along KGB? The thought of
this in the 80's would have made people laugh in disbelief.
I talked to
Joe Redington a few times back in the day. Joe always
seemed to be open-minded about development. I imagine that
is because Joe truly knew what tough living meant. And
development meant there might be less of a struggle to survive
for him. Which he would surely welcome.
everyone has their limits. So I wonder. If Joe
Redington was alive today and drove down KGB Road... what would he
Late December 2016:
A Flagrant Violation of XC Skier - Snowmobiler Protocol !!
Water and oil. They
don't mix. Cross country skiers and snowmobilers.
They don't mix. Everyone knows this. Every one knows
the rules! No mixing!
So what is this? A cross country skier
fabricating snowmobile parts!? Or a snowmobiler that has a
cross country skiing web site!? In either case -
blasphemy! Wrong, wrong, wrong ... in so many ways!
Oh well. Either way, I'm guilty.
Just trying to solve a problem. And this tinkerer doesn't
worry about crossing boundaries.
Snowmobilers use "scratchers" for icy trails,
where there is little or no snow for the track to throw up onto
the radiators. Scratchers make a mist of ice crystals that
hit the snowmobile's radiator and cools down the engine.
Cable scratchers, like the one shown in the
below picture, are good because you can back up and not have to
worry about them catching on anything. But the problem is,
they don't hook to the track rails very solidly. And when
it is cold, the plastic covering stiffens and they hold even
less well. And when cable scratchers come loose in cold
powder snow, too much snow flies up onto the radiator and 100
pounds of ice can build up underneath the tunnel (like on a Ski-doo
Tundra). This makes the sled ride lower and you run the
risk of track studs scratching the radiator (and springing a
solution to this problem was simply to make more secure cable
scratcher "keepers". "Scratcher keepers" I call them.
And to think, this problem, that has plagued
many snowmobilers for decades, was easily remedied by a <cough>
cross country <cough> skier <cough> <cough>. It's
a crazy world we live in.
Tim's "scratcher keepers".
A scratcher keeper keeping a cable
XC Skier Solution to a Snowmobiler's Problem ...
a super-popular snowmobile sled for hauling moderate loads is
the Otter Sled.
The catch with these sleds is that they use a cheap hinge and
pin hitch. With these sled hitches you are always breaking
or losing pins, or the pins come loose and drop out at the worst
time. Nothing worse than driving a snowmobile and looking
back and not seeing your cargo sled.
ring hitches are much better. No pin to lose in the snow.
Just drop the ring on the hitch hook and you are ready to go.
there must be some way to convert a pin hitch to a hook hitch.
The solution eventually came to me in an "ah ha" moment when I
saw some debris lying on the ground of a trailhead parking lot.
Someone had dropped a thing called an "eye & eye swivel".
I bolted this eye swivel to the pin hitch and voila - now the
Otter Sled can be hooked to a sturdy and fail-safe hook hitch.
Cheap hinge and
pin hitch on top, sturdy ring for a hook hitch on the bottom.
An "eye & eye swivel" found in a
parking lot. Can likely also be found at Anchorage Fire
and Fastener, Arctic Wire and Rope or Alaska Industrial
Now a former cheap-ass hinge and pin
hitch can be used with a sturdy hook hitch.
Mid December 2016:
Videos Of An Old Ski On A Cabin. Oh ... And A Couple of Bears Too.
Here are a couple of short
game camera videos from this summer of a bears scratching
their backs on the corner of our cabin. Why is this ski
related? Cuz ... there is an old wooden ski on the cabin
above and to the right of the bears.
Black bear (1 minute long)
Brown bear (12 seconds long)
Mid December 2016:
The Ski For Burls Obsession Continues ...
If you peruse my past blog
pages on this web site, you will see that I like to find burls
while out skiing on remote trails. And then harvest them
if they are not on private property and make stuff out of them.
Well, this pastime of mine is still going strong. These
are my latest creations from burls I found while skiing in
remote areas of the Susitna Valley ...
A "burl throne"
that I made for my wife for our 30th wedding anniversary.
art piece made of birch burls and electroluminescent wire.
Mid December 2016:
The Reason For Global Warming Has Been Discovered ... Cats!
For a 20 year stretch in the
past, my wife and I lived in a dog house. We made mortgage
payments on this dog house, but we didn't have much say as to
what the living arrangements were. That was dictated by
5 Malamutes that ruled the house.
One of the key rules our Malamutes laid down
was what the temperature the thermostat would be set at in the dog house.
55 degrees Fahrenheit. Maybe 60. But NEVER above.
The Mals had thick coats and didn't like warm temps. So we
wore thick coats in the house too.
After our Malamutes passed away of old age,
we were pet-less for a while. Then in 2013 there was a big
snow storm (seriously, I'm not kidding, it actually once snowed
a lot in Anchorage ... please believe me, I'm not making this
up!) When I dug out our back porch, I found a starving
stray cat that had been trapped under the porch by the snow
drifts. Well, this cat quickly decided that our house was
a way-better gig than being a stray. So here he lives, in
his new cat house.
I soon found that cats are much different than hairy arctic
dogs. Cats like warmth. They are good at finding the
warmest place in the house for their day-long naps.
And compared to Malamutes,
cats have a much bigger carbon footprint. Instead of being
content with a house heated by clean-burning natural gas, this
cat DEMANDS auxiliary heat from a carbon-belching wood stove.
If the cat gets into his "wood stove nest" and the stove is not
burning ... you get some serious cat stink eye when you walk by.
You can tell the cat is very, very pissed that the stove is not
heating his fur to 120 degrees F. So you have no choice
but to start yet another fire, and pump carbon into the
This is my
first cat. But I expect all cats are like this.
Millions of cats demanding their owners put another log into the
wood stove to make them as warm as possible. Wow!
What an environmental disaster!
So if the skiing sucks because the weather is
wonky, and people are musing about climate change and global
warming, don't go blaming SUVs and Chinese coal-fired steel
plants. Put the blame where blame is due. It's cats
that are causing global warming!
Cats, and their
affinity for wood stoves, are the cause of global warming.
Yes, cats. Not SUVs ... cats!
Mid December 2016:
Skiing Anchorage's Trail of Fears
"A source told me that a
man was found dismembered on a picnic table, and when another
man walked up on the scene of the crime, he was shot dead."
Back in the 80's and 90's, skiing across
Anchorage got me excited. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
and the Chester Creek Trail were relatively new. Not many
people used them. And I skied them a lot. Sometimes,
while training for the Iditaski, I'd ski from Kincaid to Russian
Jacks and back twice (100 kms) in a workout. No worries.
It felt so cool to live in a place where you could work and
train. That excitement continued for years for me, as you
can see from my
UBXC (Urban Backcountry Cross Country Skiing) web page.
But now the excitement is gone. Why?
Because the trails in Anchorage ain't what they used to be.
Now they are f*cking scary. Just this summer, four murders
occurred along the Tour of Anchorage ski race route.
Imagine if the Tour of Anchorage was lined
with wind dancer signs (see above) for every place that
something bad had happened since the race was first held, in
1988. Say a
wind dancer sign was placed along the Tour of Anchorage at every
place someone had been murdered (4 locations along the TOA just
this summer), or raped, or attacked, or overdosed on Spice or heroin, or
beaten in a homeless camp, or someone had been shot at, or
someone passed-out drunk and got frostbite. Skiing the
Tour of Anchorage would be eerie. The trail would be
densely lined with wind dancers memorializing the sites of
crimes and human despair. The Trail of Fears. And
for some, tears.
note: The route of the first two Tour of Anchorages was changed
and a state-owned building was put next to where the trail went.
What was that building? A crime lab. Looking back,
there is definitely some fitting irony in this.
What's the answer? Well the answer is
different for every one. And I certainly am not one to
tell others what to do. I just do what seems to work best
for me, and my wife. And that is to spend as little time
recreating in Anchorage as possible. Alaska is big,
663,300 square miles. And 663,000 of those square miles
are safer than Anchorage.
Early December 2016:
A New Take (For Me At Least) On Ski Glove Repair
I figure a lot of skiers like
are like me regarding ski gloves. You have a lot of ski
gloves lying around where the only thing wrong with them is a
hole that is worn out at the base of the thumb. This part
of the glove wears out over time as the fabric or leather rubs
against the pole handle and straps.
In the distant past (high school), athletic
tape was used to fix worn gloves. That technique was
eventually replaced by electrical tape and then duct tape.
And maybe some Super Glue was thrown in now and then.
These solutions worked for a while, but soon the repair job
became a lost cause the the gloves were pitched.
Recently I started repairing ski gloves with
Bondex "Outdoor Restore" fabric. This stuff is cheap (Walmart
sells it) and simple to use. Just cut it to the size you
want, peel the back off the fabric and stick it on your glove.
I've been using gloves repaired in this manner this year and
have found that this fabric lasts longer than duct tape and is
more flexible and not as slippery. I won't be buying any
new gloves for quite a while now. Now I've got a pile of
gloves that have been "Bondexed."
lobster mitts and Bondex "Outdoor Restore" fabric.
Early December 2016:
Anchorage's Best Low-Snow Grooming Machine - The PistenBuron
The Nordic Skiing Association
of Anchorage has a PistenBully ski trail groomer that costs more
than most houses. It sets great tracks, but I haven't seen
it at the Hillside Trails in years because of the low-snow
winters we've been having.
Recently 5 inches of cold and
fluffy powder fell on the icy surface of the Hillside trails.
You have to be gentle packing this kind of snow down, or it will not bond with the ice
and shear off. A pass of a PistenBully would render this meager snowfall useless.
Even a misguided dragging by snowmobile can ruin such a
sensitive snow coverage.
Right after it snowed I was out classic
skiing on skied-in tracks at Hillside. As I got closer to
Service High School I noticed that every uphill had been carefully
side-stepped with skis to gently tamp the snow down. This
gets the air out of the snow and allows the snow to bond to the
ice beneath it. I chuckled, as there was no doubt that
this was the work of Winter Stars coach Jan Buron.
Anchorage is lucky to have a machine that far outperforms the PistenBully in low-snow conditions. It's
called the PistenBuron!
Lighted Loop ski trail, packed by the PistenBuron.
Early Dec 2016:
Recent Events Bring Memories of the Late UAA Ski Coach Tom Besh, Mt. Besh
Photo above of Mt. Besh is by David
appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Alaska Nordic Skier
of Mt. Besh go back to the early nineties. Shortly after
Tom's death in an aviation accident in the Talkeetna Mountains,
I said to my frequent peak bagging partner Bill Spencer: "Hey
Bill, we should go and climb the unclimbed peak next to where
Tom died and name it Mt. Besh!" Of course Bill agreed, and
the mountain was in our sights. We first gave it a try in 1992.
We got near the peak, but turned around due to weather going
summer of 1993 we teamed up with Greg Jacobsen of Seattle to
give it another try. Bill and I always liked having Greg
along on trips with us, especially when things got technical.
Greg was a good technical climber and good at keeping us skiers
out of trouble. Bill, Greg and I headed up the Reed Lakes
Valley, through Bomber Pass and across the Bomber Glacier.
We lightened our load at the Bomber Shelter and then went light in pursuit of Mt. Besh. We climbed the technical North
Summit first. Once on top we looked to the south and said:
"Hmmm. This doesn't look to be the true summit. The
summit to the south looks higher." So we rappelled off the
north summit and scrambled the ridge to the southern summit.
(You can see both north and south summits in the Evans picture
above). After toasting Tom with the last of our water,
some dirty glacier water, we retraced our route to the Bomber
Shelter. There we met my wife Tammy and Bill's wife Wendy.
After staying the night we hiked out the next day. This
panoramic picture I took from Lynx Peak in 2009 shows the area
leading up to Mt. Besh. Here are some pictures from this
1993 trip, the first ascent of Mt. Besh ...
North summit of
On north summit, south summit of Mt.
Besh to Bill Spencer's left.
Greg rappels off the north summit.
Bill on the ridge between the north
and south summits.
Greg on the
ridge between the north and south summits.
Group shot on the south summit.
Bill toasts Tom Besh with a swig of
Greg's Saucony Jazz 4000s that he
bought the day before at REI. They didn't last a day.
Hiking back to
the Bomber Hut (this is the glacier where the Evans picture
above was taken).
We met Tammy, Wendy and our dogs at
the Bomber Hut. By coincidence, Roger and Mary Kemppel
were there too.
Visiting the site of the 1957
B-29 crash. The remains were not as spread-out and picked
over as they are today.
You could climb into the tail gunner
space back then.
When the bomber
crashed in 1957, the nose cone separated and was not found for
many years. 1993 was one of the first years, due to low
snow, that the nose cone was visible. Of course, it is
always visible now. In 1993 I found the control pedals, a
clipboard and a parachute in the nose cone debris. I left
it these items there because they are historical artifacts.
Unfortunately, many people over the years have not abided by
Fraetre takes a nap on a cozy rock
Mid November 2016:
Nordic Skating Is More Fun With The Right Pole Tips
The type of pole tip you use
Nordic skating can be a factor in how much fun you have on the
ice. If you use ski pole tips that don't stay firmly
planted in the ice, your poles will pop out of the ice too soon
and you will lose a lot of poling power. Of course, dull
or missing pole tips can cause this. But the biggest
factor is often the shape of the pole ferrule and tip.
Take Swix ski pole baskets for example (as
shown in these pictures). Older Swix ski pole baskets have
a long and pointed carbide tip. These are great for
getting bomber purchase on ice. They firmly plant into the
ice and stay planted as you move forward and the angle of the
pole to the ice decreases.
Some newer Swix baskets are a different
story. They have a short, wide and blunt tip. The
plastic of the pole ferrule keeps the tip from going far enough
into the ice. And when the pole is rolled forward, the
ferrule plastic causes the tip to be leveraged out of the ice.
When you are pushing on the pole as the tip leverages out of the
ice ... the pole slips out on you. The result of this
annoying pole slip is a loss of power (and you swearing under
your breath at your choice of poles).
So check your poles before you go Nordic
skating again. If you have blunt and short tips on the
poles, maybe switch them out for old-school baskets that have
some ski tips with bite. Or just use your roller skiing
poles or ferrules for your Nordic skating.
The above three
pictures show good ski pole ice tips on the right, not-so-good
ice tips on the left.
Mid November 2016:
A Skiing-Related Project Rooted In Optimism
I had a bunch of scrap metal
at our house. So I decided to use a some of it to make a
new trail drag for the trails out at our cabin. I got the
design for this simple trail drag from pictures on the Internet
of a similar one a guy in Canada had built. But the big
question is when (or if) I get to use this trail drag this
winter? As I worked on this project in bare hands in
mid-November, in 48 degree F temps on the green grass of our
yard ... I had the feeling that it might be a while before this
trail drag sees any use. But I'm a skier that has not had
the optimism melted out of me ... yet. So hopefully it
won't be long until this trail drag is smoothing some remote
Susitna Valley ski trails.
December update (see
pictures below): I took the trail drag I made for it's
first grooming run. Worked out okay. I'm glad I used
chain for the hitch. It's really easy to hook-up and
unhook from the drag compared to a stiff hitch. Plus, you
can change the length of chain to adjust the pressure on the
front of the drag. I'm using chain link fencing on the
back of the drag to smooth the trail, sift snow to fill in
depressions and leave some texture. Yes, I could have used
plastic and made a corduroy finish. But I've used chain
link before (for mushing trail drags) and it does an adequate
job. However, I think I will shorten the amount of chain
link on this drag. Is this a perfect trail grooming drag?
No. There is no such thing as a perfect grooming device.
If you are serious, you need a quiver of drags, rollers and
tillers. But this is a cheap option that covers a wide
range of grooming conditions. And ... I would rather ski
than groom, so this is good enough for me.
UAA and UAF ski teams sure had their share of drama this fall.
Thankfully it turned out well for the ski teams, and they still
exist. You can read all about it
pretty involved in this issue (as did over 5000 other believers
in UA skiing). I currently don’t know any UAA or UAF skiers,
and I don’t know the coaches. But my past is filled with UA
skiing connections, especially with past coaches – the late Tom Besh and
Bill Spencer in particular. I even skied on a “UAF ski team”.
I used quotes there because I’m joking a bit. The ski team was
three UAF skiers and me (a guy from Anchorage and 10 years older
than them) on a relay team at US Nationals (in 1990 when they
still had national relay championships). That was fun.
UA athletic budget fiasco, a UAA ski team alum and friend called
me. This guy, that came to UAA from Finland, was in disbelief
as to how anyone could consider cutting skiing at a university
in Alaska. Here is a recap of the conversation that I had with
him. I believe it likely tells the big picture. I am not
using my friend's real name here, I will use the name “Norman”
“So Kelley, what is the deal? How can anyone cut skiing at UAA
and UAF? This is Alaska! This is the most northerly state and
the state that is most connected to skiing. What the f*ck is
President Johnsen thinking? Why can’t he cut budgets on all
sports, and not kill skiing?”
I think the deal is that Alaska is much different than where you
come from. Many people in Alaska think about life and where
they live much differently than people in Finland.
Finland an administrator of a sports academy is a Finn. He or
she is born in Finland. Has lived all their life in Finland.
And will die in Finland. Finns know that cross country skiing
is. And if they haven’t skied themselves, they know many that
do ski. Skiing is part of every Finn’s heritage and culture.
is much different than Finland. The state’s wealth of oil has
created an economic boom for the last 30 years, until now.
Because of this, many people from all over the US have migrated
to Alaska. They came here for jobs, like state university
administrator jobs for example, that pay much more than where
they came from. They came here for the money and are only here
until they can retire and go back to where they came from. They
are not connected to Alaska. Many don’t care much about
Alaska. Many of these people don’t ski or care anything about
skiing. Neither Alaska nor skiing has a place in their souls.
has a revolving door of people. Finland does not have a
revolving door. Johnsen is likely one of these people that came
here through the revolving door, and soon he will be gone. It
doesn’t matter to him what he does. Because he likely will not
have to face Alaskans for much longer.”
sense. You think like a Finn!"
Early November 2016:
Cross Country Skiing Gloves At Home Depot - $5 to $8 A Pair
Because it is warm much more
often than it is cold in Southcentral Alaska these days, you can
spend a lot of time wearing thin gloves. When it is
warmish (above 20 F.), I always ski in medium-duty work gloves
that you can get at hardware stores. They work fine and
are cheap, so you don't fret wearing them out. I also use
them for roller skiing, mountain biking, bushwhacking in the
mountains and for working in the woods.
If you want to stock up on warm-weather
ski/work gloves ... Home Depot has a good sale going on now.
You can buy three-packs of Husky work gloves and the cost per
pair of gloves is $5 for light duty, $7 for medium duty and $8
for heavy duty. Hard to beat those prices. I think
the medium duty are the most versatile. The light duty
ones would make for decent race gloves, especially for high
school racers. Regarding high school racers, these gloves
actually look pretty cool and don't say "Mechanix" on them.
So you can't really tell that they are work gloves.
Price is for a 3-pack, i.e. 3 PAIRS of
gloves. Picture above taken at Abbot Road Home Depot store in
Early November 2016:
Skiers Tell Stories Of North America's Largest Earthquake
was bending over tying my long thong up at the bottom of the
rope tow just above the Bear Paws Lodge at Arctic Valley when
the earthquake hit. I distinctly remember my first thought, that
I was getting sick and dizzy, but then the sound hit. I was skiing
with my sisterTory
with one of Arctic Valley Ski RatsCy
was down in the lodge. When I hit the ground I was paralyzed as
the ground swelled up and down. I remember looking up the valley
towards the civilian side ofArctic
Valley Ski Area seeing the
"waves" roll down towards all of us lying on the ground, The
wave would hit, lift us into the air then drop us into the
trough - very nasty and unnerving. I also remember the rumble
from deep in the earth like boulders grinding together - the
lift towers and light poles were swaying drastically, the cable
fell off the poem lift and very vaguely I remember some folks
screaming with all that movement. It lasted about five minutes
and then stopped leaving us all stunned.
up off the snow someone said Anchorage must have been hit by a
nuclear bomb, but we looked down the valley towards town which
you could just nearly make out and all was well - AND there were
no missiles on their launchers at the Nike base above Arcitic
Valley - and no jets taking off fromJoint
Base Elmendorf-Richardson JBER (official)-
so that was out and then someone said it must be an Earthquake -
a big one. Communications were out with Ft. Rich and Anchorage
(land lines and they were all down - I think they had radio
communication but it was out as well). So, we sorted it out and
they loaded us on the shuttle busses to send us back down to the
Field House. It was my most memorable ski moment - something I
will never forget.
Several people mentioned the deuce-and-a-half trucks that
transported us up to the Ski Bowl. I have two especially vivid
memories relating to them. One was toward the end of 1963 or
perhaps the beginning of 1964. Someone sitting in the back of
the truck had a transistor radio and I heard the Beatles for the
first time as we waited in front of the field house to leave.
They were singing, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and I remember
someone saying they were English. We didn't believe it because
they didn't have English accents when singing.
I can pinpoint the exact time of my other memory, and again it
was sitting in a deuce-and-a-half in front of the field house on
Fort Richardson. It was 5:36pm on March 27, 1964 – Good Friday.
The truck started shaking violently, and I thought a group of
people were outside jostling it as a prank. I got to the opening
to look out, lost my balance and fell to the ground. Landing on
my back, I looked up at the field house swaying back and forth
above me. Long story short, after 4 and a half minutes of
struggling just to remain standing during the great earthquake,
most of us got back in the truck and went up to the Ski Bowl!
Once we arrived it was clear something big had happened.
Naturally there was no skiing, and someone made the command
decision that the truck was grounded because there could be
crevasses in the roads. The plan was for all of us to remain
safely in the lodge overnight. Employing the same cloudy
thinking that got us up there after the earthquake, a group of
us young knuckleheads decided to sneak off and ski down the road
since there was snow. So in the dark we took off and managed to
do some skiing after all.
Once we got to the golf club we took off our skis and began the
very long walk home. Being teens we were afraid of getting a DR
(delinquency report) by going through the main gate so late at
night, so we “snuck” sneaked on post through the woods. I think
I got home sometime before midnight.
I was checking our backyard
game camera and found these images. They are of a bull
moose that has a case of "sleigh hoof". You see this
sometimes in moose, it's as if their hooves are turning into
small skis. These elongated and curved hooves are not a
good deal for them. It's
caused by a copper deficiency
that makes their hooves grow faster than they can be worn down.
Late October 2016:
A Haystack of Needles
Everyone's heard the
expression "needle in a haystack". But you rarely hear the
twist of this saying, a "haystack of needles." Well,
recently Anchorage skiers at the Hillside Trails have been
skiing past a "haystack of needles" of sorts. One of the
few tamarack trees along the ski trail underwent quite the
massive shed of its needles for the winter.
21 October 2016:
First Ski-able Snowfall in Anchorage. Skiers Excited.
Mid October 2016:
Case For October Escapes From Alaska
It took me a while to figure
this out (like 30 years), but October is often a good time to
leave Alaska. The fun Alaskan summer stuff is wrapped up,
the days are getting shorter (and darker and often wetter) and
there usually isn't ski-able snow yet. I remember older
skiers telling me October is a good time for road trips to the
Southwest US. They were right. My wife and I went a
couple of years ago. And we went again this year.
The draw? Cool geology for hiking/running/biking/etc.
Slickrock and canyons in particular. It takes a bit to
learn to deal with (i.e. avoid) the people and heat. But
once you get it a bit dialed in ... it sure is a good time.
And if your are lucky, you will get back to Alaska just before
it snows. Here are a few pictures from this year in UT, AZ
Off-trail canyon exploring
Checking out Anasazi Indian ruins.
squirrel. These cool little guys only live in a 20x40
mile area of ponderosa pines on the Kaibab Plateau north of the
Desert bighorn sheep
I though this was interesting.
A 150(?) year old tree supporting a 150 million year old
petrified log. Old wood contacting new wood with an age
difference factor of one million (approx). Escalante, UT.
I'm guessing the Owachomo Bridge in
Utah's Natural Bridges National Monument has never been cross
country skied? With snow, it would be doable, the top is
flat and accessible. Won't be me skiing it though.
I took a break from hiking and
running and tried birding for the first time. I went
looking for the San Rafael Desert Duck. But I didn't see a
single bird. I guess the ducks blend in with the rocks
Alaska's Governor Walker took half
of our Permanent Fund Dividend this year. So that drove
some Alaskans to Las Vegas to try and recoup our $1000 loss.
I turned $20 into $32! Enough net winnings to buy a tin of
Swix Extra Blue ski wax. But I spent it on pizza.
First time to the Strip. Fun.
Signs Seen In The Southwest
That I Haven't Seen In Alaska, Yet
I haven't seen a "no drones" sign in
AK yet. I get it, drones in the hands of dumb-asses are
obnoxious. But I'm thinking this sign may prove ironic
over time. I would guess that 10 years from now it will be
common practice for SAR in national and state parks to use
drones to find people in distress and assess the situation
before sending humans to the scene.
I haven't heard of "cairn police" in
Alaska yet. Cairns can be very helpful in marking trails.
So not all "stacked rocks" are bad. But my wife and I had
a running joke when we saw a cairn trail marker. "Hey!
Give me Ranger Rick's number! I have to text him about
these stacked rocks! He needs to get here FAST and knock
I hope Alaska doesn't see signs like
this for a very long time.
We're not in Alaska anymore.
Early October 2016:
LowellThomas Jr. Leaves Us
Lowell Thomas Sr. (left) and Lowell
Thomas Jr. (center) skiing at Tuckerman's Ravine in 1936.
Photo credit: Winston Pote.
Recently skier and long time
Alaskan resident Lowell Thomas Jr. passed away. Son of
famous pioneering news broadcaster Lowell Thomas Sr., Lowell Jr.
was once the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, operated Talkeetna
Air Taxi for many years, was a world traveler and a
philanthropist. Lowell was a generous supporter of Alaskan
cross country skiing.
I knew Lowell, and his wife
Tay, through their son and daughter. I was roommates with
his son at Dartmouth College, where his daughter also went to
school. All three of use were on the ski team.
Lowell's son once introduced me to a girl that was on the Dimond
High School ski team with him. I've been married to that
girl for over 30 years now. So I owe the Thomas family a
big thanks for that.
When I first moved to Alaska
in 1981, Lowell nabbed me to help him deliver supplies to a
trapper's camp in the Alaska Range, south of Rohn. I flew
out with Lowell, where he dropped me off with a big pile of
boxes and equipment. I would ski to the trapper's cabin,
get the snowmobile there and then ferry the supplies to the
cabin. Meanwhile Lowell would go back to Anchorage and get
the second load. This was my first time in the Alaskan
bush, and I can remember Lowell's words clearly as he got in the
plane to take off. "I'll be back in a few hours. But
this is Alaska, so it could be two weeks."
In the mid-80's Lowell flew
me in to the Kahiltna Glacier for the start of a Mt. McKinley/
Denali climb. After the trip, Lowell flew me out. It
was fun to sit next to Lowell and see the world of his Talkeetna Air Taxi operation.
(Side story) And thanks to Lowell's Talkeetna Air Taxi, I became
a dentist (I'm joking). A climbing trip partner lost a
filling while eating an apple an hour before we were supposed to
fly into the Alaska Range. I rummaged around in Lowell's
first aid kit and found a couple tubes of emergency dental
filling compounds. I mixed the goop together and applied
it to my friends tooth. Six months later I saw him out
skiing at Kincaid and asked if he got the filling replaced.
His response was: "Damn! I forgot I still had your dental work
in my mouth!"
Lots of good things have been
written about Lowell. As there should be, because he
was a genuinely wonderful person and his wife Tay was too.
But one important thing has been said too infrequently about
him. And that is: Lowell was a skier. Skiing was
important to him and a passion of his. A note he left in
the Whiteout Glacier cabin log book in 1978 (see below) says it
all, in my opinion. After spending time in Juneau being a
politician, when he gets free of that - he hops in his plane,
flies to the Whiteout Glacier and cruises around on his cross
country skis. Not many politicians like that these days.
Lowell will be missed by many.