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Tim's Blog About Skiing Stuff

Early February 2020: Cross Country Skiing Meets Artificial Intelligence

Last year I wrote an iPhone app called  SkateCoach.  This app turns your phone into a wearable monitor for improving your skating technique.  This year I added an artificial intelligence feature to this app.  Now SkateCoach can "learn" how you skate and tell you (audibly) if the skate motion you just made was too long or too short.  Here is a short promotional video I made for SkateCoach ...

SkateCoach on the Apple App Store
 
Mid January 2020: You Are Being Watched!

When you are out skiing, you are probably being watched more than you know.  Perhaps by lynx, like this one (that I took a picture of with my phone from 10 feet away).

   
 
Early January 2020: Memorial Markers That Few See

Occasionally when I am out skiing in the backcountry I come across memorials for the deceased.  This happens rarely, but it is surprising to find memorials out in places where few people ever go to.  Recently I was skiing through the Eklutna Canyon and found a memorial.  Lots of people travel the lower canyon, especially for ice climbing.  But his memorial was upstream past the site of the recently-removed dam.  Not many folks travel this stretch of the canyon.  When I first saw the memorial I was pretty sure I knew what it was, based on a conversation I once had with Craig Medred .  Craig, due to his journalism career, is a knowledgebase of outdoor information.  And especially of outdoor tragedies.  Craig remembered that a long time ago a guy fell off a cliff into Eklutna Canyon.  Or possibly, he was pushed off the cliff (according to Craig).  Either way, a grim way to die.  And this is perhaps the spot that the incident happened.

This remote memorial marker reminded me of other markers of tragedy that I've seen a few times while skiing near Point Mackenzie.  Underneath the powerline, that comes from the Beluga power station, are three simple iron crosses.  They mark the spot where three people died in 1971 when the small plane they were in hit the power line.  Another grim way to die.

Memorial marker in Eklutna Canyon.  Marker at bottom of cliff in Eklutna Canyon. The marker is at the bottom of the cliff in the sun in this picture. Memorial markers under powerline near Point Mackenzie.
 
Early January 2020: Ski, Find Burls, Make Stuff ... Repeat

Last winter I was skiing near our cabin and noticed a bunch of strange burls in a dead spruce tree.  It's easy to spot burls these days as the spruce bark beetle is ravaging the forests.  Trees that are dropping their needles reveal their burls.  As folks that read this blog know ... I like to make stuff out of burls.  So this time it was a USB charging station.  Table and platform for putting devices that need to be charged.  Picture at lower right shows what I made, without the USB charger wiring.  Frame is made of welded and brushed aluminum.

 
Late December 2019: Alaska, Land Of Earthquakes ... And Bear-quakes

I recently changed-out the memory cards from the game cameras at our cabin.  While viewing recent videos and images I was reminded why life at our remote cabin is a bit more relaxing in the winter than in the summer.  Why?  No bear-quakes in the winter.  I found a video that showed both a momma and cub brown bear rubbing themselves on our cabin (see GIF image below).  "Hey, the cabin is shaking!  Are we having an earthquake!?"  Uhm ... no.  But maybe it would be better if it was an earthquake!  Glad the chance of a bear-quake is very rare during ski season at the cabin.

   
  A brown bear double-rub, "bear-quake" in progress at our cabin.  
 
Mid December 2019: Give A Skier A Welder ... And What Does He Make?  Skis Of Course.

A few years ago I decided up to my welding game.  I got better welding equipment, got some good pointers from YouTube videos(!) and immersed myself in welding projects.  So the end result is that I've been ... making skis!  10 skis so far.  But the skis I've been making aren't designed for human usage.  They're for dragging heavy stuff behind a snowmobile.  Recently I built a log arch.  It's a contraption that you pull behind a snowmobile to move logs.  I borrowed one to try it out last year, liked it and figured I'd build my own.  You get the log arch near a log you want to move, put a choker cable around the log, crank it off the ground and drive away.  Pretty slick.  Have a lot of dead spruce I need to move this spring.

Log arch Steel freight sled Aluminum freight sled
 
Early December 2019: Tiny And Powerful

It's been amazing to see in my lifetime the impact technology has had on headlamps.  Back in the 80's headlamps were so dim that you often had to slow up when skiing downhill on narrow trails, because you couldn't see what was coming.  Not today.   Back in 1990 you'd spend $40.00 ($80 inflation adjusted for today) just for one heavy lithium D cell.  These batteries were not rechargeable, but they were the only batteries that worked well in the cold.  You used them to power a dim incandescent bulb, that was prone to burning out.

Now you can get a tiny rechargeable lithium battery headlamp that is as bright as a car headlight for $35 or less.  Like the Slonik 1000 lumen rechargeable headlamps you can buy on Amazon.  There are no external wires that can be tugged and cause lamp failure, like in the old days.  The LED bulbs are rated to last 10,000 hours.  And they are charged via a USB cable.  I like this, because it gives you more options for recharging.  You can use a USB AC adapter to plug into the wall ... but more conveniently, you can use DC power outlets in your vehicle or on digital devices at home or work  that have USB ports.  You can even bring along USB power packs while out on the trail and recharge your headlamp when you are not using it.  But I figure for the price, and due to these lamps' minimal weight, you might as well buy 2 headlamps and bring them both on trips.  That way you have more headlamp run time ... and a backup light.

 
Early December 2019: Van Leveling App That Talks In Real Van Talk

"What the hell"  "Oh my god!"  "What are you doing!"  "Are you trying to kill us!"

I've learned that the above phrases occasionally pop up in conversations during the operation of a camper van.  So I figured, if this is real van talk ... then why not use real van talk in a leveling app that one uses to find a good parking spot for your van.  So I made it happen ...

RevelLevel To hear these sounds/voices, click on the links to the left or right. SprinterLevel
 
Late November 2019: XC Skiers No Longer Cool At Deshka Landing?

I remember being astounded back in 2014 when a skier appeared on the Deshka Landing logo on their web site.  But recently I noticed the skier is gone.  Replaced by a fish.  Why a fish?  Probably should have been replaced by a fat biker.  I guess skiers just aren't considered cool any more by Deshka Landing.  Oh well, no hard feelings ... I've been to Deshka Landing a zillion times (mostly in the summer) ... and I'll always think that Deshka Landing is a cool place.

2014 2019
 
Mid November 2019: What Would You Do?
     

Recently we drove by a memorial for victims of a double homicide that happened this summer.  This memorial is on the Alaskan Highway in northern British Columbia, near Laird Hot Springs.  Shortly after this young couple was killed, the two murderers killed another man on the Cassiar Highway.  Here's the story.

These were very rare events for this area, yet senseless and extremely horrific events.  These deaths weighed heavily on me and my wife, as we have been traveling through this area recently.

So … what if this was you?  What if someone was trying to get into your vehicle?  What if the person had a gun and was shooting at you?  Or at your spouse or family?  What would you do?

Yes, this is a very grim scenario.  It’s hard to imagine what you would do.  If it were me, I would hope I had a firearm nearby so I could make an attempt to counter the attack. 

“What?  But you are a skier!  Skiers are anti-guns!  You don’t carry a gun when you travel do you?!”

Well, yes … I do carry a gun when I travel.   I would never, ever want to use it.  But I don’t want to be helpless if an active shooter is in the mix.  I don’t want to be the guy bringing a knife or can of bear spray to a gun fight.

When it comes to gun laws of the North, carrying a firearm in Alaska is easy.  Carrying a firearm in Canada, if you are a US citizen, is not as easy.  But it’s not hard. 

If you wanted to bring a firearm with you while traveling in Canada, this is how you do it:

First you fill out the RCMP form 5590, the Non-Resident Firearm Declaration (Google to find this form).  On this form you put the type and serial number of your firearm.  Pistols – not allowed.  Shotguns with folding stocks that are at least 28 inches long – OK.  You check ‘Wildlife Protection’ as the reason for carrying the gun.  You present the form to the Canadian border agent, show them the gun if they want to see it, pay them $20 CDN and you are good to go for 60 days.  When crossing back into the US, you show them your form 5590.

Will a gun keep you safe when traveling remote highways of the North for skiing and adventure trips?  No, it won’t.  It’s a very small variable in the safety equation.  The most significant variables are an awareness of your surroundings and one's common sense evaluation of risk.  But ... small variables can still matter in the big equation of safety.

 
Mid November 2019: New XC Skiing Experiences Ahead in Southcentral, AK ... Due To Summer Fires

This summer in Southcentral Alaska saw a record amount of forest fire activity.  Trails that cross these burn areas will be very different this winter.  I remember skiing the Tustumena 200 dog sled race course in 2004.  And then again in 2011 after the Caribou Hills fire.  It was hard to believe you were skiing the same trails.  Likewise with the burns of this summer.  Skiing through them will be a new experience, especially if you have skied the trails before.

The Willow Trail Committee trails south of Deshka Landing now cross a burn area.  Fire-ravaged Swan Lake trails will be very different, as well with the Mystery Creek Road area.  Backcountry touring through the burn areas will be unique.  I wish these forest fires didn't happen.  But might as well make the best of them now, and check them out on skis this winter.

Montana Creek Fire, near Talkeetna "Y" Remnant of the 2007 Caribou Hills fire (picture taken while mountain biking this summer). Swan Lake Fire, in its infancy, as seen from Anchorage.
 
Mid November 2019: Skiers Are Not The Only Animals That Wish Snow Was Here

Rabbits wish snow was here, so their coats-turned-white would camouflage them, instead of give them away.  Moose (see picture above) and other animals that use the insulating properties of snow also wish the ground was snow-covered by now.
 
Late October 2019: Essential Phone Apps For Bike, Hike and XC Ski Road Tripping.  And They're Free.

iOverlander.  Trailforks.  AllTrails.

Recently we went on an 8000 mile road trip, from Anchorage to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT to Arizona and back to Anchorage.  We used the three apps listed above frequently.  iOverland for ideas on where to camp.  Trailforks for bike and ski trails.  AllTrails for hiking trails.  All three of these apps are crowd-sourced, GPS map-interface apps.  All three apps are functional without a WIFI connection.  After a location or trail on these apps gets your interest, comments and descriptions by users help you decide whether to go there or not.  If you haven't already, install these free apps on your phone and play with them (links above).  Maybe they will become the essential tools for you that they are for us.  And you will be ready to maximize the activity time of your next road trip!

Tuktoyaktuk, NWT. Camping spot in BC found via iOverlander app (van is in picture). Smoky Mountain Road, Southern UT
Mountain bike single-track trails found via Trailforks app.  Visited 24 MTB trail systems in YT, BC, WA, OR, ID and UT.
AllTrails will help you find North America's hiking trails (NWT and UT). Ski trails in Canada found via Trailforks app (Grande Prairie and Whitehorse).
 
Late September 2019: Visiting a Famous XC Skiing Town ... Inuvik, NWT

Back in the 60's and 70's a lot of good Canadian cross country ski racers came from the Inuvik area of the Northwest Territories.  In this very remote area of Canada, the TEST program once flourished.  The Territorial Experimental Ski Training program led by Bjorger Pettersen.  Some of the best Canadian ski racers of this era came from this program, such as Shirley and Sharon Firth, Herb Bullock, Fred Kelly and Angus Cockney.

I was ski racing during the tail end of the Inuvik phenomenon's prime years.  It was unbelievable to me how skiers so good could come from a place so remote.  Recently, while driving from Anchorage to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean, I stopped in Inuvik and went running on their ski trails.  Some of the trails seem to be frozen in time.  Paths cleared through the taiga that have never seen a bulldozer.  You can sense the spirits of past  Inuvik skiers on these trails.  Glad to finally visit the legendary trails of Inuvik.

For more information about the TEST ski program, click here.

For a great video about the Firth sisters, click here.

Where is Inuvik?  Click here.

From Dawson City, YT, you have to drive over 450 miles of dirt road to get to Inuvik. Inuvik Ski Club buildings.  
  A boggy ski trail through the taiga.  This trail has never seen a bulldozer.  Likely pretty much the same as it was in the 60's.    
I've read that the Inuvik Ski Club is struggling.  But it is right across the road from a huge recreation center (hockey arena).  
Vintage xc skiing pictures that can be found in the cafeteria area of a grocery store in Inuvik.
A street sign in Inuvik.
Shirley Firth winning US Jr. Nationals in Girdwood, AK in 1969.  Chuck Johnson photo.
 
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