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Tim's Blog About Skiing Stuff


Mid January 2017: Spruce Bark Beetles ... Here We Go Again

Skiing 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?

This short 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

Seems that 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.

Speaking of Susitna Valley trails: Every time I drive the Knik-Goose Bay (KGB) Road, I wonder to myself: "What would Joe Redington think of this?"

When Joe 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.

Now 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.

But everyone has their limits.  So I wonder.  If Joe Redington was alive today and drove down KGB Road... what would he think?

 

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 coolant leak).

So my 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 scratcher.

 

Another XC Skier Solution to a Snowmobiler's Problem ...

These days 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.

Hook and 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.

I figured 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 Hardware. 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" made for my wife for our 30th wedding anniversary.

A wall-hanging 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 the 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 atmosphere.

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.

 

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."

A quote from Turnagain Times columnist Paddy Notar, October 6, 2016, in reference to the double homicide this summer at the Valley of the Moon Park, next to the Chester Creek Trail, which is used by the Tour of Anchorage ski race.

 

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.

Side 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.

No skiing at on the Hillside xc trails recently.  Armed burglars on the loose after shooting at police.  Area roads and trails in lock-down mode.  Welcome to 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."

Damaged three 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!

The Hillside 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 Evans and appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Alaska Nordic Skier newsletter.

 

Seems like this fall has offered a number of triggers to remember Tom Besh.  The UAA athletic department budget crisis and potential elimination of the UAA ski team brought back memories of long-time UAA coach, and friend ... the lateTom Besh.  And the most recent Alaska Nordic Skier newsletter had a picture of Mt. Besh.  I had never seen another person's picture of Mt. Besh before.

My memories 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 sour on us.

In the 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 Mt. Besh.

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 glacier water. 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 this principle.

Bomber Pass Fraetre takes a nap on a cozy rock pile.

 

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
November, 1st version. December, 2nd version, added serrated cutting bars.
   

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.

First groom with new trail drag.

First ski on trails I groomed.

 

Early November 2016: Saved Alaska Skiing
#SaveAlaskaSkiing

Well, the 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 here.

I got 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.

During this 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” instead. 

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?”

Me: “Norman, 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.

In 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.

Alaska 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.

Alaska 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.

Norman: "Makes 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 Anchorage.
 
Early November 2016: Skiers Tell Stories Of North America's Largest Earthquake

From my work on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project web site ... some stories just showed up from skiers that experienced the March 27,1964 Good Friday Alaska earthquake.  This 9.2 quake was the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America.  Here are two accounts that have never been published before, of Arctic Valley skiers experiencing this earthquake ...

Dick Sawyer:  I 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 sister Tory Sawyer and with one of Arctic Valley Ski Rats Cy Sineath who 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 of Arctic 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. Getting 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 from Joint 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.

Alan Bryson: 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.

More on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project, Arctic Valley web page ...

 
Late October 2016: Sleigh Hoof

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.  Cats ...
 
Mid October 2016: The 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 and NV.

Off-trail canyon exploring Slot canyon Checking out Anasazi Indian ruins.
Hiking slickrock Canyon paddleboarding A Kaibab squirrel.  These cool little guys only live in a 20x40 mile area of ponderosa pines on the Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon. 
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 or somethin'.  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 them down!" 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. Lowell Thomas Jr. in 2011, with his Helio Courier
 

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 said and 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.

1978 Whiteout Glacier cabin log book note by Lowell Thomas

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