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Early February 2016: A Step Forward for Ski Racing?  A Step Backward for Skiing Icy Trails.

It had been a while since I needed to replace the baskets on my Swix ski poles.  So I grabbed the size of baskets I normal get off the AMH rack and headed home.  But when I went to mount the new baskets, I noticed that Swix had changed the baskets significantly.  There are now hardly any tips on these baskets any more.

After skiing with these new baskets for a while, my opinion of them was quickly formed.  When it comes to skiing on icy trails, they suck.  And there is no surprise they suck in such conditions.  The carbide tip is short and blunt and doesn't stay stuck in the ice as well as the old tips.  Plus the plastic just above the tips catches on bumps in the ice which keeps the tip from penetrating the ice.

Why would Swix make this functionally illogical change to their product?  My guess is the change was made for safety reasons.  So racers wouldn't puncture each other (as deeply) in sprint races.  But by doing this they now have poles that don't work as well in icy conditions.  And seeing that climate change/ El Nino trends in weather make for lots of icy trail skiing, they have likely taken an overall step backwards in terms of pole performance standards.  I noticed that their higher-end Swix TBS replaceable baskets have similar blunt carbide tips.  Not good.

If one skis on groomed trails most of the time and rarely encounters ice, then these baskets are fine.  But for folks like me that 1) ski in icy Southcentral Alaska or 2) ski backcountry snowmobile and river trails a lot ... then these baskets aren't worth putting on your poles.  Going forward,  I'll be looking to stockpile old-model Swix baskets, via ebay or craigslist.

  New Swix basket on left, old on right.   Bad tip for ice on left, good for ice on right.  


Late January 2016: What A Relief!  My Head Feels So Much Better Now!

I was skiing a trail in the Susitna Valley, and up ahead I noticed a spruce tree that was all scraped and beat up.  When I got closer I realized what the situation was.  Someone had gotten sick and tired of their loose head appendage ... and had declared it was shedding time.

Mid January 2016: Bill's Gone.  Now There Is Only Tommy.

Sad news recently of the passing of Bill Johnson, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the downhill ski event.  Now the only living US male that has won an Olympic downhill ski race is Tommy Moe, who won in 1994.  If you are observant, you are reminded of Tommy Moe every time you drive through Wasilla, Alaska ... where there is a street named after him.

Mid January 2016: A Rule That I Follow: Only Pick Up That Which You Will Use
Picking up caribou antler drops in the Brooks Range. Caribou antler chandelier.


Early January 2016: While Road Tripping To Ski, Looking For Signs of Alaska's Future

I could post a blog entry about the Alaskan economy.  But this is a skiing web site.  So I'll keep it short.  Alaska's economy, because of its dependence on oil production revenues, is heading for lean times ... the likes of which haven't been seen for a very long time.  I could easily say a whole lot more about this subject.  But not here.

Anyway, on a recent road trip out of Anchorage, to go to a place where they actually had snow (and I could ski!), I kept my eyes open for signs of change.  Signs of the changing economic winds.  I did see several U-Haul trailers heading towards the border.  That's a classic sign of economic hard times in Alaska.  In the mid-80's when oil went to $9 a barrel there was an endless stream of U-Hauls, and any kind of trailer, camper or RV, heading towards Canada.

There also seemed to be more vacant lot for sale signs along the Glenn Highway, up-road from Palmer.  That too can be a an economic indicator.  Especially when you see these signs during the traditional real estate selling down-time of winter.  Folks may be trying to get out of speculative land deals, before its too late for them.

A sign that surprised me a bit was one on the old Mendeltna Elementary School.  This school has been closed for a while because too few kids live in the area to justify its operations.  But now it looks like the state is giving up on the building and selling it to a religious organization.  We've seen this before.  And on a much grander scale.  Like with the 102 million dollar, money-losing Anchorage fish processing plant that the State of Alaska sold to a church group for 3 million dollars.  Religious groups seem to be patient and savvy real estate players.  Especially when the State of Alaska stumbles.  I'm sure the State will be doing a lot of stumbling in the near future.  And we will be seeing a lot more state assets transferred to the private or municipal sectors.

Another sign I saw may show a darker vision of Alaska's future.  And that is one of less law and order, because there will be less money to keep law and order.  In Chickaloon there was a new sign for the Mat-Su Tactical Training Facility.  This company makes custom AR-15 assault rifles and provides combat defense training.  Looking at their web site, I'll have to admit ... they make some beautiful guns.  But if more and more people think they need assault rifles to protect themselves in the new Alaska ... well, Alaska is destined to be a lot rougher place than it already is.


Early January 2016: Once Upon A Time ...
... skiing after work in Anchorage in early January meant sub-zero Fahrenheit temps, deep powder snow, soft classic skiing tracks and a stiff north wind drifting snow across the trail.  Seriously.  I'm not making that up.

Golf Cart Hooliganism?

After years of skiing in the boonies of Alaska, I like to think that I'm competent at identifying tracks, whether mammal or machine.  But recently I have been stumped in figuring out some tracks seen on Anchorage's Hillside  ski trails.  The tracks were made during a melt-down day and have since frozen-in hard to the trail surface.  On lesser-used trails, like the Richter Connector, and on the lower part of the lighted loop - you can see these tracks.  The are from a wheeled rig the width of a four wheeler.  But you can tell the tires are not knobby ATV types, they are smooth treaded.

So what kind of machine could have made these tracks?  A golf cart?  If so, this is perhaps the first time that golf cart hooligans have run amok on the Hillside Trails!  (The below pictures don't show the tracks well, I should have taken pics of the tracks the first day I saw them.  It had since snowed on top of the tracks (a big Anchorage snow storm of 1/100th of an inch)).



Late December 2015: A Foray Into The World Of Alaskan Chaga

A few years ago I heard of chaga, a fungus that grows on birch trees.  You can make tea from chaga that is supposed to have medicinal and good health benefits.  There's tons of info about chaga on the Internet, here is a good article.

So, on my list for a while has been to try chaga tea.  But I didn't want to go to a neo-hippie tea house in Anchorage and buy chaga tea from some millennial hipster.  I wanted to find it out in the woods and make it like Native Alaskans do (and like they have been doing for a long time).

Recently I harvested some chaga in the Susitna Valley and brought it to some friends that spend a lot of time in bush Alaska, in Aniak.  They told me the standard Native way of making chaga tea.  It's pretty simple.  But some chunks of chaga in warm water, heat it for a few hours at 150 dgrees or less.  And then let it sit and steep for a few days.  Then drink it warm or cold, which ever way you prefer (I like it cold).

So I gave it a try.  And ... it tasted better than I expected.  I figured it would taste like tree bark.  But it tastes a bit like mushrooms.  It has that musky taste to it ... not surprisingly, because it is a fungus like mushrooms are.  It's not a wonderful taste.  But it is palatable.

Check.  Drinking chaga tea from chaga I harvested in Alaska is now checked off my list.  I will keep drinking it.  Maybe not every day, but now and then.  And I will experiment with blending other ingredients and teas with chaga. 

Chaga, in my opinion, is best searched for on skis. Putting some chunks of chaga into a pot of water. The next morning.  Notice any difference in the color of the water?
  Raw chaga and the end product.  

Update: Since posting this, I have gotten a few questions.  Here they are along with my answers, from a guy that has only done this once!

"How did you remove the chaga from the tree?"  I used an axe and tapped the fungus on top where it is attached to the tree.  The fungus popped off the tree surprisingly easily.  You could also use a hatchet or hammer and chisel or pry bar or large flathead screwdriver.

"I heard the outer black part makes the chaga tea bitter.  Did you use the black part?"  I was told this too.  But I also read that the black part contains the most antioxidants.  So the chunks I put in water were about 80% brown (inner) and 20% black (outer).  It did not taste bitter.

"How long did you boil the chaga?"  I did not boil it.  I was told you should not boil it, but instead warm it in 150 degree water for a 2-3 hours and then let it sit for a few days (at least overnight before trying it).  On an electric stove, the setting might be a "1".

Update: Chaga tea can be stored in a sun tea container ($10 at Anchorage Fred Meyer, $8 at WalMart).  If you get a 1-2 gallon container it should fit in your refrigerator.  You can put the tea and the chaga pieces in the jar.  So far, my favorite chaga drink is a glass of 1/2 water with a packet of Emergen-C and 1/2 chaga (see above picture).  Mixing chaga tea with Market Spice Cinnamon-Orange tea is also good.  Adding maple syrup or vanilla extract to it works.  Or ... you can just drink your chaga tea straight.


Late December 2015: Bears Aren't Into Christmas, They Sleep Through It ...
... so if you want to give bears a present, you have to do it in the summer.  Recently I made a "present" for the bears at our cabin.  In a way, it was more a bribe than a present.  I gave them something to play with so they wouldn't mess with other stuff while we were away.  Their present was a chunk of railroad tie that hung from a rope.  Seems like it's working out.  Recently I pulled the images off of our game cameras and the pictures show that the bears like their new toy!


Mid December 2015: Signs of Pac-Man Ghosts on the Susitna River!

I was out skiing on the Susitna River, and holy crap ... I came across some Pac-Man ghost tracks!  I remember these guys were running all over the place in the 80's.  But I thought they had been eradicated by big computer gaming hunters a long time ago.   Oh well, if you are traveling in the Susitna Valley, just don't dress in Pac-Man yellow and these weird little creatures should leave you alone.


Mid December 2015: Beaver Terrorists Wage Trail Jihad

I was skiing down the Red Shirt Lake Winter Trail and got a chuckle.  A beaver had been working on a birch tree next to the trail.  But instead of trying to fell the tree downhill, and into the stream the beavers frequent, the beaver was working on making it fall uphill ... directly across the trail.  The beaver was pretty close to taking this large tree down.

The  beavers in this area apparently relish the peace and quiet they get during the summer.  And now that winter traffic is going through their neighborhood, they are striking back.  Well, it's their home.  So may these beaver terrorists triumph in their trail jihad! (Just as long as no one gets hurt by running into their tree.)


Late November 2015: Our Skiing Got Rained Out, So ... Some Humor

The skiing was pretty good in Anchorage the last few weeks.  But then last year made an appearance this year.  50 degrees and rain.  No more skiing.  Oh well, decided to try making a few ski conditions-related memes for entertainment.  And below is a recent picture of Claude Bondy's snowmobile on fire.  Claude is a nice guy and the owner of the popular Alpine Creek Lodge on the Denali Highway.  Videos of Claude's burning snowmobile can be found on the Alpine Creek Lodge facebook page.

  Photo credit: Alpine Creek Lodge  
Updates after late-December melt-down #2 ...


Early November 2015: If You Get A Chance ... Say Thanks

I had finished skiing the other night and I saw the caretaker of the Jodphur trailhead at Kincaid Park.  So I walked over and said "Hi" to him and and told him I appreciated that he was caretaking the parking lot this winter.  I told him that I had been skiing at Kincaid for 40 years and often in the past I would not park at Jodphur out of fear of getting my vehicle broken into (I can remember one broken window and one 3-wheeler ATV crash into my car here in the past).   I  mentioned to him that I think Jodphur is a safe place now because of the caretaker arrangement.

Seemed like a nice guy.  A skier and biker, he is spending the winter here with his wife and kids in a house he built on top of a flatbed trailer.  He said they like to hear from people who appreciate their caretaking efforts.  So if you get a chance, maybe say "Hi" to these good folks and thank them for helping to make the Jodphur trailhead safer and Kincaid Park a better place.


Late October 2015: When Will Your Early Season Skiing Become Part Of A "Historic Event"?

A metric I like to achieve, when possible, is a "9-monther Anchorage ski season."  The idea is to ski in 9 months of the year, in the Anchorage Bowl.  Start with some rock skiing in late September and finish out with spring skiing on the Hillside trails in early May.  If you do that, then you can boast: "Yep, we ski in Anchorage ... 9 months of the year!"

Well, 9-monther ski seasons in Anchorage are getting harder to pull off.  Last year was a bust.  This year it's a go so far, but by the thinnest of margins.  I, and others, got on snow the last day of September at Russian Jacks (and some folks at Glen Alps).  But then temps in Anchorage stayed in the 40's for a month.  Next ski was October 30th and 31st for Anchorage skiers, when it again snowed a bit.  Whew! ... October almost slipped by us!  Still way too soon to tell if May will see any ski-able snow in Anchorage.  Oh yeah, then there is January to worry about ... last year it got close to 60 degrees F in January.

Given the climate trend in Southcentral Alaska, one has to wonder how many more 9-monther ski seasons are in our future.  There is always a probability, though hopefully very small, that this could be the last one (if it actually results in a 9-monther).  Who knows.

From my work on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project, I know that the end of skiing venues is often a surprise to skiers.  Often folks didn't realize their ski area was about to be gone, until after it was gone.  Same with 9-monther ski seasons.  We won't realize when the last one is happening.  We will only know after the fact, when someone says: "Geez, we haven't had a 9-monther for a long time!  Wasn't the last one way back in 2015 or something?!"

So, you never know when you go early season skiing ... you could be a participating in a historic event.  You could be one of the last skiers to experience a 9-monther ski season in Anchorage.  Ya never know.

Taking part in a historic event?  The last Anchorage 9-monther ski season?
Time will tell.
A Ninja stranded by October snow and slippery roads.  Maybe motorcycles will one day see their own 9-monther seasons in Anchorage?


Mid October 2015: My Yearly Post Of Ski Gear For Cheap

My love for xc skiing will be with me until I die.  But that doesn't mean there aren't things about xc skiing I dislike.  The main gripe I have is the cost of modern day xc ski racing.  This beautiful sport used to be a cheap sport that everyone could afford.  Now it's an elitist sport that has financial barriers to many that might want to try it.  That's sad.  It has been disappointing to watch, over the past 45 years, as the sport of xc skiing developed a case of economic cancer.

Oh well, there's no going back.  So for fun, and to connect to the past, I like to point out where cheap gear for skiing can be found.  I post such info every year on this blog.  Here are a few of items for this year ...

Drink belts:  I had a Fischer drink belt that I liked a lot.  After it being in a "falling apart" state for a few years, I finally went to AMH (of course!) to get a replacement.  But the AMH gear gods said they couldn't get any more.  I did find one on the web for $25.  But as usual, $20 screw job for Alaskans on shipping.  Total: $45.  No way.

This summer, direct from China drink belts started showing up on Amazon.  $16 plus free shipping if you have Prime.  Is the quality good?  Well, this is likely the same Chinese company that makes similar products for Fischer, Rossy, Salomon, etc.  So the quality is the same.  Good deal though.

Ski hat:  Great deal right now on a Nordic-style, lightweight knit hat with fleece lining at ... Home Depot!  $8.88.  Take that you $35 Swix hats!  I spend a lot of time at Home Depot, so I will wear this ski hat with redneck Alaskan pride!

Light Up Your Wax Bench, And Be Energy Efficient

LED Wax Bench Lights:  You might have a wax bench in your garage or utility room and light the area with fluorescent shop lighting.  Well, now you can get energy efficient LED replacements for those old shop lights at a great price.  $35.99 at Costco.  These LED shop lights are super bright, don't hum and come on immediately at full brightness.  Plus no ballasts, which seem to fail often when used in cold Alaskan garages.  And the hassle of changing burned out bulbs is gone because these lamps are rated to last for 50,000 hours.  That's 5.7 years if the light was kept on all the time. If you use these lights an average of 1 hour a day, in theory they would last for 136 years.


Mid October 2015: Back At It ... Working With Burls Found While Skiing In The Boonies
Carved birch burl bowl. Birch burl bowl and burl art piece. The two burls shown on the right above, are seen in the pictures to the left.


October 2015: A New Ski Season ... Hopefully Better Than Our Last Ski Season

Hi!  My name is Timmy.  And I'd like to be the "radical dude" that this broken-down van in New Zealand wants me to be.  But to do that, I need snow.

We can all be radical dudes and dudae if it snows in Southcentral Alaska this winter.  Last year ... not much snow and radical meters were measuring very low.

This summer I took a class from elves in the Highlands of Iceland on how to make waterfalls flow backwards.  I passed!

Now I have applied to take the class from these huldufolk on how to make it snow.  But their snow making class is in very high demand these days.  And there is a long waiting list.  So, not sure if I will get in.  Hopefully I won't regret not taking the class ahead of this winter.



Summer 2015 (Carryover of a popular post from last year's blog): Flashdance Bears!

A short (2 minute) music video I made, from game camera footage, of some of the "bear dancing" action at our cabin this summer ...

Note: Some of the timestamps on the game camera footage in this video say 2012.  That's because I didn't set the game camera time correctly.  All this footage is from this summer (2015).

If the above Facebook video is blocked or doesn't show ... this video is also on YouTube.

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