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Tim's Blog About Skiing Stuff

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.


Early November 2016: Saved Alaska Skiing

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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