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Late September 2017: Rocks 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 years.  Massively.

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 happens. 

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 unused rail 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 fantasy 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 Petersville 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 Roadhouse 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 lives on.

Forks Roadhouse in 2011 Forks Roadhouse guard dog in 2011 New Forks Roadhouse in 2016, photo: Michelle Poole

 

Late August 2017: Biathlete Kidnapper, And Murderer, Out of Prison On Parole

Don Nichols in 2012, photo credit: Boseman Daily Chronicle

 

In 1984 a young woman biathlete named Kari 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.

Don Nichols 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.

Surprisingly, a few days ago, on August 23, 2017, Don Nichols was granted parole and released from prison, and he is now living in Deer Lodge, Montana.  He was sentenced to what was essentially life in prison, but ended up only spending around 32 years incarcerated.  Why the flip-flop by the Montana parole board?  I haven't a clue.

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 racer in 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 them!

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 skiing-related AvyPal iPhone app, and the PeakPal 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 ...

 
FlightSight in Apple App Store FlightSight web site FlightSight on Facebook

 

Late July 2017: The Sport of Boat-dotting

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 here.

   
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 skiing tights! You can go "skating" on the ocean in Alaska in the summer!  Well, kinda but not really.  This is a fish called a Big Skate 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 below).  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 RA-3"
NOAA ship Rainier, with survey launches (photo credit: NOAA) RA-3 survey launch (photo credit: NOAA)

 

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 avalanche prone?
2) Is the fall line that I am traveling up or down avalanche prone?
3) Now that I am skiing down the fall line, am I getting into (or out of) avalanche prone terrain?

The images 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.

This app 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 cool feature.

So if you want some help assessing backcountry terrain for avalanche risks ... bring along a pal ... AvyPal!
 

Example screen captures for the three operational modes of the AvyPall phone app ...
Fall Line mode Slope mode GPS tracking mode
Shows the angle of the slope you intend to ski down. Shows the angle of the slope you are considering crossing. Tracks and audibly alerts you of avalanche slope risk as you ski.

 

   
AvyPal in the Apple App Store AvyPal web site AvyPal on Facebook

 

Late June 2017: Nothing To Worry About.  Yet.
 

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 hibernation!

 

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!   ;-)

Chinese Korean Japanese German French Spanish Russian

 

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 address is: andrelovett93@gmail.com.

 

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 has multiple summits.

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'.

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 avalanche-prone slope.

More screen shots of PeakPal, information and a link to PeakPal in the Apple App Store can be found here: http://peakpal.outlookalaska.com/


 

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 18:22.

 

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 dump.

 

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, here.  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 more detail.

 

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 breaks up.

April 2nd, 2017

March 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 amazon.

 

Late March 2017: Fat Bike Trails Herald The Return Of The Marathon Skate Technique

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!

The marathon skate was one of the earliest skating techniques used by racers.  With marathon skating, you leave one ski in a classic track and skate with the other ski. The name comes from the late 1970's Worldloppet marathon racing circuit, where Pauli Sitonen of Finland popularized this technique.

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 skis, are 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!

More:  This 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.

The narrow gap used to get past the Knik Glacier at the Knik River Gorge this winter.

Moose poop, evidence that this is not just a recreational trail of the humans.

 

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 Boulder".

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. 

Speaking of 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 Station here.

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.  More ...

 

Susitna Station 100 years ago, in 1917 (reference link)

 

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 Otter Sled".

Otter sled.

Ruts made by an Otter sled. Tracks made by my modified Otter sled runners. A 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 humans.

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 hiding.

 

Early March 2017: The 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 we die.  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, Amazon, eBay, etc).

32 inch Gear Tie.

Bend the Gear Tie like this. Insert phone into Gear Tie, and you are ready to take self-timed pictures.

 

Pros of Gear Tie tripod:
Light weight
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

I was 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 cabin.

In 2004, the Big Indian Creek cabin was this old (and rather nasty) framed cabin ...

Back in 2004, not far from the Big Indian Creek cabin, and on Little Indian Creek, was this dilapidated old mining cabin ...

In 2005, 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: Snowball Recipe

Add moist powder snow to a large corrugated container.
Shake for 25 miles.
Dribble Hershey chocolate sauce on snowballs and eat while still frozen.

 

Early February 2017: Trail Groomers.  "Again".

Recently I 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.

"Yep, we groomed ski trails by skiing them in before we trained in high school".

I hadn't 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 groomed.

 

 

 

Me riding our remote Alaskan groomed trails.  

 

Early February 2017: Modern Maps Still Have Their Problems

Not long 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.

Shown below 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 "mystery moraine".

Same framing as map to left, but ESRI imagery. "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.

On-line 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.

Anchorage 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.

Time to 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 stronger!

And if you get tired of using a burl bar bell, you can recycle it for use as a pull-down handle for a Murphy bed 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

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" that I 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.  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."

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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