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Tim's Blog About Skiing Stuff

Late August 2018: Bulldozer Addiction Changes Everything

I found out recently how having a good time with a bulldozer, and getting bulldozer addiction, can change your view on ski trails ...

Pre bulldozer addiction: "Kincaid trails are too wide.  They are a joke.  You don’t have to be a good technical skier anymore.  Bahh!  Humbug!!"

Drive a bulldozer.  Get bulldozer addiction.

With bulldozer addiction: "Kincaid trails are too narrow!  They are unsafe.  Get me a bulldozer!  I will volunteer my time to make all trails at Kincaid four times as wide!  We gotta do it before someone gets hurt!  Come on!  Please!  I need my bulldozer fix!" 

So yeah, I drove a bulldozer for the first time (see pic above).  A bulldozer is a powerful drug.  And I was quickly addicted.  Got a dozer and a forest you need turned into a soccer field, biathlon range, golf course or a 200 foot wide ski trail?  Give me a call.  (Just kidding, well ... maybe not.)

 
Mid August 2018: Skiers Kill Denning Bear And Her Cubs In Front Of USFS Game Camera

The Anchorage Daily News published an article about a disgusting incident that occurred in Prince William Sound this spring.  Backcountry skiers shot a sow black bear out of season at its den on Esther Island.  After killing the sow, they killed the newborn cubs that were "shrieking" in the den.  How could this wanton carnage be verified?  Because all of this was captured by a nearby US Forest Service game camera.

From KTUU, Anchorage State Troopers report excerpt: "The video shows A[ndrew] Renner and O[wen] Renner [, both of Wasilla, AK,] skiing up to the den and then O[wen] Renner firing two shots at the denning sow. A[ndrew] Renner then kills the shrieking newborn bear cubs and discards their bodies away from the den.  Two days after the shooting, the two men were seen returning to the site, picking up the spent shells, and disposing of the dead bear cubs."

Andrew Renner had his "boat, vehicle and hunting rifles" confiscated by the troopers, and now they both face felony charges.  Thank you to the USFS and the AST for catching these criminals and for punishing them as severely as possible.  Unfortunately, these two are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to blood-lusting rednecks in Alaska that have no respect for wildlife and no regard for hunting rules.  Alaska is a third world country when it comes to poaching and shooting up animals just for kicks.  Too many Alaskans revere this culture of ignorance and derangement.

Renner boat seized by Alaska State Troopers (above pictures from Stolen In Alaska Facebook group)
 
Early August 2018: A New Willow Trailhead, And An Idea For A Cool Trail

Bruno Bryner photo from Haesler-Norris Trails Facebook group

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is making a new trailhead at the north end of the Haesler-Norris trail system in Willow.  In my opinion, this trailhead has been needed.  I've skied a bunch of times in this area, and I would always wonder if I was parking in a legitimate spot.  Now there will definitely be a legit spot to park, on Tuxedo Avenue, just east of Willow.

There is another parking lot on the south end of the H-N trails, on the Zero Lake Road.  But it is confusing to get from that parking lot to the H-N trail system (in my opinion).  That parking lot seems better suited for access to the Willow Sled Trail (Herning Trail).

So, if you want to ski or bike some new trails next winter ... the Tuxedo Avenue access in Willow to the Haesler-Norris trails will be worth checking out.  But be aware of two things:  1) These are heavily used dog mushing trails, so follow direction signs and be ready to get off the trail quickly for dog teams.  And 2) this is cold country.  It is usually 10-15 degrees colder here than in Muldoon in Anchorage.  And Muldoon is a cold part of Anchorage.

An idea I've had, and have done field research on ... is a Hatcher Pass to Willow trail.  If there was a well-defined trail from Hatcher Pass to Willow, it seems that would be a very popular destination trail.  Drop off at HP, pickup at Willow, likely at this new trailhead.  After an initial big climb, it's a long downhill (mostly) cruise to Willow.  This route would probably be a big hit with fat bikers.  It would be possible on skis, but a section of the Willow-Fishhook (dirt) road that used to be unplowed is now being plowed these winters ... because of gold operations at Craigie Creek.  But a drop in gold prices would likely make this section of the route go unplowed again.

I've skied from Hatcher Pass to Willow a few times.  But to do this I would take the Herning Trail towards Houston.  Then I'd hook onto the Haesler-Norris trail system at "Funky Boulevard" and work my way to Willow.  This turns out to be a rather long and convoluted way to get to Willow.  It would be better if there was a direct route near the Willow-Fishhook road the whole way.

If you look at the Haesler-Norris trail map, there are MSB-designated trails that link the northern part of the Herning Trail on down to the Deception Swamp trails (near the new parking lot).  And these trails are never that far from the Willow-Fishhook Road.  But from my experience, it seems these trails are mostly used for dog sled racing events and not maintained at other times.  So you never know if these trails are going to be passable or not.

So how to put it all together?  Maybe a Hatcher Pass to Willow Trail could be designated and marked.  And if snowmobilers used it also, it would be packed out.  But I imagine that mushers in the area don't want any more snowmobile traffic.  So possibly the trail could jog over and go next to the Willow Fishhook Road near where the road comes out of the hills and flattens out.  And then cut south to H-N trails at the Intertie? Perhaps.

Anyway, like I said ... it's an idea I've had and a route I have tried to figure out.  Hatcher Pass descending to Willow while following close to the Willow-Fishhook Road the whole way.  It seems logical.  It seems that it would be a popular route if it was established, publicized and saw more traffic.  The Hatcher-Willow Drop.  This next winter I hope to GPS the route, using only MSB public use trails.  I'll make the GPX or KML file available to the public.  And time well tell if the route catches on.

Description of theoretical Hatcher Pass to Willow route: Parking lot next to Hatcher Pass Lodge - Willow-Fishook Road - Hatcher Pass - Willow-Fishook Road - Dave Churchill Trail - Herning (Willow Sled) Trail - northern Haesler-Norris Trails to Deception Swamp - Tuxedo Avenue trailhead.  Or alternatively, if possible, northern Haesler-Norris Trails - Willow-Fishhook road-side trail - Intertie - Deception Swamp - Tuxedo Avenue trailhead.

 
Early August 2018: Year-round "Bagging"

The ski trip web pages on this web site show many years of "trail bagging" and "crust bagging" trips.  Skiing trails I have never skied before.  Skiing at crust skiing venues I have never skied at before.  It never gets old.  Because the goal is going somewhere new every outing.  It's not mainstream Nordie.  But that's why it's so fun.  It's an individual-based passion.  It's not a culture-based passion.  It's me being me.

And of course, if you are passionate about chasing winter "bagging" goals, then you want to keep the fun going in the summer.  Peak bagging is the big brother of trail and crust bagging.  Attempting to climb new mountain peaks all the time is the nature of peak bagging.  Something I've done for decades.  It too ... never gets old. 

There are similarities between ski bagging trails and crust venues and peak bagging.  You end up with to-do lists of trails and peaks that keep growing over time.  You spend a lot of time scheming on how to get to remote places that few, if any, people know or care or give a shit about.  But that works to your advantage, because in both summer and winter "bagging" pursuits you usually don't encounter other people.  Both "bagging" pursuits are very fulfilling ... and perhaps, both of these pursuits are tinged with a bit of eccentricity.

Both ski bagging and peak bagging are self-organized activities.  You define the game.  No paying an entry fee and getting told where to do your thing.  The type of people that are drawn to "bagging" activities are usually the polar opposite to event-addicted people that pick an athletic event, focus on it and do it every year for decades.  Baggers know a little about a lot of different places.  Event-addicted people know a lot about a little number of places.

A recent peak bagging trip I did with my nephew in Prince William Sound had the same makings of winter trail bagging projects.  It was a cliffy, "salad-covered", obscure peak that I had tried to get up twice before without success.  But you keep trying until you get it.  Just like with trail skiing.  And then you move on to your next peak or trail that needs to be bagged.

"Bagging" stuff.  A healthy pursuit?  Or an obsession?  Who cares.  It's fun.

Bagging this Prince William Sound peak involved lots of trail navigation, of sorts.  There were many bear trails between the cliff bands.  Black bears graze on the vegetation high up on these mountainsides.
 
Late July 2018: Hey Look ... Our Boat Is On Fire!

The short:  Be vigilant about the condition of your outdoor gear.  Tiny things that are not right can kill you.

The long: My wife and I were getting ready for a day of ridge rambling and peak bagging in a remote part of Prince William Sound.  We were on our boat packing gear for the day.  Our white gas stove was on the bow of the boat roaring away, heating water for breakfast oatmeal, coffee and tea.

Then all of a sudden, the stove went silent.  We both looked towards the bow of the boat and were quite surprised at what we saw.  The bow of our boat was engulfed in a huge fireball.

Actions during the next few seconds were automatic.  I grabbed a fire extinguisher and blasted the stove and fuel canister.  Luckily the fire went out immediately.  I then turned around to see my wife standing behind me, with another fire extinguisher.  Things happened so fast we hadn’t had time to display any emotions about the situation. 

Then my wife spoke.  “Looks like I’m not having my coffee this morning.”

Before long I’d figure out what went wrong.  The O-ring on the fuel canister pump had failed.  And a stream of vaporized white gas had begun spraying into the stove.  The end result: a raging flame thrower inferno on the front deck.

Further inspection made me realize more about this situation.  The fuel pump was missing a plastic collar that overlapped the O-ring.  If that plastic collar had been covering the O-ring, like it should have been, the gas spray would not have been possible.  Maybe there would be a few drips next to the bottle instead.

Why was the plastic collar missing?  I must have not put it back on when I last changed the pump O-ring (many years ago).  So for many years I had been using a fire bomb for a stove.  It could have failed like it did on our boat while in a cabin, next to a tent … during the many times it had been used without the tiny plastic part.  Scary.

Moral of the story: Be vigilant about your outdoor gear.  Make sure everything is in perfect condition.  As they say, “the devil is in the details”.  Or maybe it should be: “death can be in the details.”

For the last 35-plus years my wife and I have shared the same Alaskan “vision”.  Visit new places all the time.  Go where others aren’t.  We have set things up in our lives so that this “vision” can be realized often.  So we find ourselves often far away from people and help.  We have to be extra vigilant and self-reliant.  But as we find out every now and then, still … shit happens.

Addendum: One might ask: Why not use a Jetboil stove?  I have.  They work okay in the summer.  But they are too temperamental and weak in the winter when you have to melt a bunch of snow in sub-zero F. temps (in my opinion).  So if I am going to own one stove in Alaska, it’s going to be a snow-melting blast furnace … an MSR XKG.

MSR fuel bottle pump with no O-ring collar ... BAD. MSR fuel bottle pump with O-ring collar ... GOOD.
The BEST option.  Stop using your 30 year old MSR fuel pump and get a new one.
A few hours after the fire ... on top of a peak in a remote part of Prince William Sound.  We started from the bay in the center of the picture.  No smoke can be seen from stuff burning in the bay, like our boat.  So that's good.
 
Late July 2018: Return Of The Spruce Bark Beetles

Alaska's Susitna Valley is being hit hard by the spruce bark beetle.  The picture above shows what a lot of the Su Valley looks like now.  It's like early 1990s all over again.  Mature spruce trees getting attacked and killed by the devil beetle.

What does the spruce bark beetle have to do with skiing?  Well, lots of Su Valley winter trails will be impacted by downed trees in the years to come.  The Su Valley winter trails in mixed forests used by skiers, bikers, mushers and snowmobilers will inevitable be blocked by fallen spruce trees now and then in the future.  Especially after wind storms.

The spruce bark beetle has also put an end to a great trail-skiing venue.  One place that I have skied a lot, the Trapper Creek-Oilwell Road area south of Amber Lake, will be lost to skiing for a couple of years.  A contentious logging operation has been approved by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly to clear cut spruce beetle kill areas and truck the logs to Port Mackenzie, where the wood will be shipped to China.  The snowmobile-packed primitive roads of this area, that were often great skiing, will become busy avenues for log trucks and logging crews.

This is now a historical picture.  It shows skiing on the Oilwell Road with trees on either side.  These trees won't be here much longer. Spruce that has been recently killed by beetles is great wood.  I try to use as much of it as I can while it is available, so it doesn't go to waste.
 
Mid July 2018: Too Many Cross Country Skiers Dying

Too many of my skiing peers have died or made life or death trips to the hospital in the last couple of years.  You can see evidence of that on this blog.  The latest are Art Ward and his wife Ann, both cross country skiers.  They recently died in a plane crash while traveling from their home in Salcha to their family homestead in McCarthy.

I once skied with Art and Audun Endestadt from Nabesna to McCarthy across the Wrangell Mountains.  During that ski trip we met up with former UAF cross country ski racer Eric Lindskoog, who would die a few years later.  Lots of tragedy within a small group.  Too much tragedy.

Art was of the type that inspired me when I first moved to Alaska in the early 80's.  People like Art had a deep connection to the ways of old Alaska.  Building log cabins and living in remote parts of Alaska was something that he and his peers loved and mastered.  I once visited Art's family's homestead in McCarthy and was amazed at the amount of work that had gone into making their wilderness home.  It's Art and people like him that inspired me to experience the "old" Alaskan lifestyle myself, and to build our own remote log cabin and experience bush living (though not full time).

As a peak bagger, I also have long been impressed with the early first ascents Art was involved in.  Especially with his climbing of Apollo in the Talkeena Mountains.  Another good guy gone.

Art skiing out of Nabesna Art and Audun Endestadt Audun and Art
   
  Chair made from bent willows at the Ward homestead in McCarthy.  
 
Early July 2018: Closed, But Loved

I got a laugh while riding the Mat-Su Borough's Railroad To Nowhere route recently.  Someone had painted over the letters on a "Road Closed" sign and made it say "Road Loved" instead.  Ha!

I could tell that recently the Mat-Su Borough had erected more barriers to keep people off of this 32 mile stretch of recently built, but abandoned, railroad bed.  I get that they they would want to keep motorized traffic off this route.  There are many steep banks on the sides of the bed that could be dangerous to people screwing around on side-by-sides, trucks, 4 wheelers, etc.

But I don't see how it could hurt to have a narrow opening in the barriers to allow human-powered and dog-powered recreation on this rail bed.  It's not like "Rails to Trails" is a new concept in this country.  And allowing non-motorized users could foster more love and less scorn for this boondoggle project.

I could see that the Mat-Su Borough had posted many new signs of legalese warning of prosecution if you are caught trespassing on the Railroad to Nowhere route.  Now that really made me laugh!  Let's see, Mat-Su Borough politicians scam almost 200 million dollars from the state for a mega-project that has no viable business plan.  Yet now the guy biking it and the girl skiing it are the criminals!?  Earth to MSB ... you've got that backwards.

 
Early July 2018: Cross Country Skiing On Lake Louise Lodge's New Web Site

Lake Louise Lodge near Glenallen, Alaska is a place my wife and I have stayed at a bunch of times.  It's a great base for spring skiing trips on the 300 miles of trails in the area.  The owners, the accommodations, the people you meet there, the trails ... everything is good about this place.  If you go to their new web site and press on the "Activities" link, the cross country skiing pictures may look familiar to readers of this web site.

 
Early July 2018: Skiing History Next Door

Something I've learned, and re-learned ... is that history is often right next to you, but you don't realize it.  From my work on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project (www.alsap.org) I've learned this lesson many times.  People filled with skiing history are amongst us.  Places of historical skiing significance still exist near us.  And I've learned you can still find relics of the past, like old rope tow remains and vestiges of lost ski trails.

Recently I was at a residence I have driven by almost daily for 20 years.  The property is a remnant of an old Anchorage homestead, and a descendant of the original homesteaders still lives there.  While there recently, I noticed old skis leaning against a building that was reportedly built in 1917 at the Potter Section of the Alaska Railroad (and later moved to the site it now is at).  It looked like the skis had been exposed to the elements for many decades, so they were in rough shape.

Through the internet and vintage ski expert Greg Fangel (www.woodenskis.com), it is surmised that these skis date back to the 1920's or older.  And at a later date, 1930's cable binding plates were retrofitted onto them.  The single ski is likely even older than the surviving pair.  All of these skis were likely homemade.  So, they may likely be Alaskan-made.  And they are likely some of the oldest cross country skis in Anchorage.  Who knows, maybe these ski were once owned by Norwegians that worked building the Alaska Railroad and who staged the first xc ski race in Anchorage in 1917 (more info).

These skis are a metaphor for the people, places and relics of skiing history.  For a long time, skiing history is right next to you, but you don't realize it.  And then time and weathering take their toll ... and skiing history is lost.

 
Late June 2018: A Sign Of Fish

Recently my wife and I were hiking in the Unakwik Inlet area of Prince William Sound.  As we were hiking up a ridge, I looked down at a still-mostly-frozen lake and did a double take.  There was a huge fish on the ice!  Well, not a real fish ... but a symbol of a fish (see pictures below).

How did this occur?  Not sure.  Maybe local wind currents created low snow drifts in the center of the fish.  The drifts settled as the snow melted, cracking ice around the perimeter of the drifts and allowed lake water to surround the snow.  No matter how it happened ... a unique sight to see.

Click the above image to see the "fish".  
Higher up on the ridge, another interesting melt formation.
 
Late June 2018: The Elusive Marten

While skiing or snowmobiling at night in Alaska, there have been a few times when I've seen something zip across my beam of light on the trail.  The small creature moves so fast you don't get to see what it is.  It could be a weasel (ermine).  Or a marten.  I've watched weasels before.  But I have never watched a marten in the wild.  They are elusive (to me at least).  Recently I was reviewing game camera footage from our cabin and  was surprised to find my first-ever images of a marten.   A cool little guy.  Hope to see one in real life in the wild one day.

Marten Marten
Not martens
 
Mid June 2018: When Your Favorite Ski Trails Go From Solid To Liquid

Unfortunately, the great March skiing and snowmobiling conditions on the lower Big Susitna River don't last for 13 months of the year.  So when the ice on this powerful glacial river melts and the river comes to life, it's time to switch travel modes.  Here is a short video of summer boating on the Big Susitna River, on the same route that we ski in the winter - YouTube video.

Winter on the Big Susitna River Summer on the Big Susitna River
   
Mid June 2018: Acro Yoga?  Or Acro Kayaking?  She'll Take Acro Kayaking.
She was doing some acrobatic aerial kayaking in Prince William Sound.  She was flying upside down through the forest.  But then the trees all fell into the ocean.  It was a strange day.
 
Mid June 2018: Goat Yoga?  Or Goat Hiking?  I'll Take Goat Hiking.

Nothing against the current rage of goat yoga.  I grew up on a farm and love goats.  But when it comes to spending time with goats, I'll take hiking with mountain goats.  LIke recently, with this cool guy near Crow Pass ...

 
Early June 2018: That Feeling ... When Things Are Just Not Making Sense

Everyone experiences situations in their life when you question if what you are witnessing makes sense.  I can remember a few instances.  Like during the dot com boom when tech stocks skyrocketed. That didn’t make fundamental economic sense, because much of it was nonsense.  And the time I got the email from the Nigerian prince saying I would be rewarded $10,000 for sending $100 to him.  Bad feeling about that.  And it didn’t make sense.  Then there were times working as a programmer when you would look at program output and get that feeling … uh oh, this just doesn’t make sense.

And then there was the time long, long ago when I was racing in the 1977 Junior World Cross Country Skiing Championships in Switzerland and got passed by the kid from East Germany.

But before I go on with that memory, some background …

A long, long time ago I went to Dartmouth College.  It was in the days before the Internet.  So to research stuff you couldn’t call upon Google or Bing.  You had to make a trip to “the stacks” in Baker Library. 

Baker Library was (and still is) huge.  Many floors, with endless nooks and crannies, all crammed and stacked with books.  I enjoyed spending time in “the stacks” researching and reading.  Yeah, I probably should have spent more time reading stuff I was supposed to read for my courses rather than stuff that interested me.  Then maybe my GPA would have been a lot higher.  But I digress.

“The stacks” of Baker Library sometimes spooked you.  Or more specifically, the odd people that seemed to live there sometimes spooked you.  You’d be coming around the end of a book rack in an obscure and dimly lit part of the library and you would be surprised to see a small lone desk with a little lamp and a man hunched over a book.  Later you would realize this person was always there.  This person seemed to live there.  Perhaps these such library denizens were brilliant.  But they had a creepy aura to them.  Hunched shoulders, sunken chest, no musculature, gaunt face, unflinching eyes staring at the book.  They seemed Tolkienesque.  I referred to them as the Baker Library trolls.

Ok, back to ski racing in Switzerland.

So there I was, racing Junior Worlds.  It was pouring rain.  And I was skiing on a narrow trail through the woods.  There was hardly any snow, mostly wet silver fir needles on top of dirt and ice.  I was pushing as hard as I could, but I could hear someone catching me.  When the skier was beside me I took a quick look at him.

I then did a double take.  Holy shit!  It was a Baker Library troll in an East German ski suit!

I could have sworn I had seen this kid in Baker Library.  Everything was the same.  Hunched shoulders, sunken chest, no musculature, same gaunt face, unflinching eyes staring forward.  Same creepy, Tolkienesque, other-world aura.

Things were not making sense.  How could this be I wondered.  How could I be passed by such a non-athletic looking person?  How could my ass be getting kicked by a Baker Library troll?

That was a memorable time when I was hit with a feeling that things were not making sense.  But I didn't know why.  Of course, later the world would find out why this situation didn’t seem to make sense.  It was because of East Germany’s systematic doping program.  “Special vitamins” were routinely given to the country’s athletes.  And these were indeed magical vitamins.  Because they could make anyone fast.  Why, they could even make a Baker Library troll ski really, really fast.

A had filed away this Baker Library troll ski racing memory for many decades.  But then the other day it resurfaced.

I was climbing up a long hill on the Anchorage Hillside single track trails.  Eventually I noticed that two bikers were catching up to me.  This is no big deal to me.  I’m over 60, so there are a lot of folks in Anchorage that can ride uphill faster than I can.

So I pulled over to let the two bikers pass me.  But when they went by I had “that feeling”.  The East German Baker Library troll feeling.  This didn’t seem right.  These guys didn’t look fit.  Heck, one had a bit of a gut.  And they were passing me?  What is going on, I wondered.  Do I have heart issues?  Or am I getting really f*cking old?  WTF?

I jumped in behind them and hammered.  But they pulled away.  I was down on myself.  I couldn’t believe I was riding this slow.

Then near the top of the hill I ran into my friend Dante.  Dante then said a few words that changed everything.

“Did you see what those guys were riding?  They were riding ebikes!”

Poof.  That certainly changed everything.  Now it all made sense.   I’m not in tune with ebikes, so I didn’t even think of or notice the ebikes.  My feelings of self-doubt vanished.  And I said to Dante: “Thanks Dante, you just made me 15 years younger!  I was wondering what the hell was going on!”

The point here is not to rank on ebikes.  I have no problem with ebikes.  And if people like riding ebikes … hey, good for them. 

The point here is “that feeling” athletes get when things don’t seem to make sense.  Like the feeling I got in the 70s while racing the East German kid.  Like the feeling clean riders got in the 90’s when sprinters on other pro cycling teams were dropping them in the mountains.  Like the feeling people got watching cross country skier Johann Muhlegg race in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.  Times when people couldn’t prove something was not right, but you had this feeling something surely was not right.

The feeling that something is just not right in athletics.  It was interesting that I got to experience that feeling again.  And like my experience long ago, it was due to the witnessing of athletic abilities being artificially augmented.

But this time the reason for “that feeling” was easy to accept.   Tricked by a damn ebike attack!  Gotta laugh about that!

If a bike passes you and it has a bulge on the seat or down tube, it's one of the new kids in town.  A battery power-assist ebike.
 
Early June 2018: Finding Cool Stuff While Beach Running Near Anchorage

The gravel and mud beaches along Knik Arm have been long influenced by the military.  I realized that recently, when I found an artillery shell while beach running.  It was 15 inches long, and hollow inside (except for the heavy tip).  I assume it had been bashed against rocks for years(?) by the Arm's powerful, 30 foot tides.  So if that didn't make it blow ... I figured picking it up wouldn't set it off.  Lots of treasures on our beaches.

   
 
Early June 2018: Happy To Find A Home For My Roller Board

In these days of SkiErgs and stand-up poling resistance trainers, I was glad to find a home for my old roller board.  I bought a SkiErg a few years ago and my old roller board had been sitting idle.  So I was happy to give it to my favorite ski coach, East High's Doug Spurr.  It looked like East's roller boards were pretty beat, so hopefully they will get good use out of this roller board.

My general philosophy with xc ski gear is use it until it is used up.  And if you stop using it before it's used up, give it away.  I've gone through many of pairs of skis in my life.  But I don't think I've sold any skis since the 1970s.  When I'm done with my skis, I give them to high school teams in Anchorage or the Mat-Su Valley.  Even if they are not race-worthy skis, high school skiers can use them as rock skis so they save wear and tear on their good skis.  So if you have dated racing gear sitting around, consider passing it on to a high school ski coach.  He or she can get it to those that need it the most.  A better option than Play It Again stores, in my opinion.

 
Late May 2018: When 55+ Years Of XC Skiing Leads To Surgery

A couple of years ago, I would go classic skiing and a bump would show up on my thumb.  Then after skate skiing for a while, the bump would go away.  But then a year or so ago I did a long ski ... and the bump on my thumb showed up again and never went away.  Some Internet research made me realize that I had a ganglion cyst on my thumb.

A ganglion cyst is a glob of mucous under your skin that is most likely caused from joint irritation.  Joint irritation can be due to previous trauma or micro bone spurs from overuse or old age (but of course the old age reason can't possibly be the situation in my case ... ha!).  Apparently my thumb joint was being more irritated when I was classic skiing than when I was skate skiing. 

The cyst I had was not painful, though it did limit range of thumb motion a bit.  And it looked disgusting as hell and was continually getting bigger.  A doctor I trusted said the only long term solution was surgery.  Yeah, you could drain it.  But the irritation in the joint would make it come back.  Surgery removes the cyst and its stalk and cleans off the micro bone spurs in your joint that cause the cyst.

So, my first surgery in 40+ years.  It's only a 45 minute outpatient surgery.  But you know it is the real deal when they tell you to put on a hospital gown and hair net and they roll you into an OR.  Then there is the localized "Bier Block" anesthesia procedure from your elbow down.  Strange.  Gotta say though, the folks involved in this surgery at the Edmonds Orthopedic Center in Edmonds, WA were great.

So if you feel a soft and painless bump on a well-used joint of yours (thumb, finger, knee, ankle, toe) ... it might be a ganglion cyst from joint damage.  But then again, it might not be ... so you should get it checked anyway.  I had never heard of ganglion cysts a couple of years ago.   Now I sure know what they are.

Here is some good medical information about ganglion cysts.

Ganglion cyst, gross but painless. A ganglion or mucous cyst is often associated with joint damage and micro bone spurs. Fixed.
 
Mid May 2018: Driving the Glenn Highway For A Skiing Or Hiking Trip?  Need A Break?

On Facebook a year or so ago, fellow backcountry xc skier Sean Grady mentioned stopping at the Pinnacle Mountain Lodge near Chickaloon and feeding the lamas and alpackas.  My wife and I recently followed Sean's lead.  This is something anyone can stop here and do.  Just go inside and buy a 50 cent bag of feed from the nice lady that runs owns the lodge.  And then go to the pens and hand-feed the wooly beasts.  I've been around lots of animals in my life, but never lamas and alpackas.  It was fun to visit with these characters.  So if you want to take a break while driving the Glenn ...

An old Pinnacle Mountain Lodge memory: Back in the 90's Bill Spencer and I were heading off on a 3 day climbing trip in the Talkeena Mountains in this area.  So I went inside the Pinnacle Mountain Lodge to ask if we could park there (from there we would be mountain biking north on the Permanente Trail).  When you enter the lodge, there are public washing machines and dryers in a room to the right.  Clothes dryers were running when I entered, but I noticed a low buzzing sound that seemed out of place.  I couldn't figure out where the sound was coming from.  But it sounded eerily familiar.

The lodge owner at the time said it was okay for us to park there for a few days.  So I started to head back out the door.  But again, I heard this strangely familiar buzzing sound.  What the heck is that sound I wondered?  I was puzzled.

Then I looked down.  Behind a big pile of clothes was a little kid with curly black hair.  And he had an electric guitar plugged into a small practice amp and was playing away.  That's where the distorted, buzzing sound was coming from.  The kid looked like a miniature Slash.  He had a black Les Paul copy and was playing Metallica's "Master of Puppets".  The kid was pretty damn good!  Especially considering that the guitar was about as tall as he was.

 
Early May 2018: A One Of A Kind Alaskan Cross Country Skier Passes Away

Jano Kralik in center, flanked by Bob Baker on left, me on right.  Nome, Alaska, 1990.

 

Nome, Alaska's most famous cross country skier passed away recently.  Jan "Jano" Kralik.  Jano was an avid cross country skier that promoted the sport in Nome for many years.  And he was a very hardcore athlete too.  He did the first Nome to Anchorage solo ski of the Iditarod Trail in the mid 1980's.

It's doubtful any other Alaskan skier can claim a life as unique as Jano's.  Born in Slovakia in the days of communism, he became a professional soccer player.  In 1979 during a tournament in Vienna, Austria, he snuck away from his handlers and fled for freedom.  He made it to the US and on to California where he got involved in gold mining.  That led him to Nome, Alaska where he became a successful gold miner.  He worked for commercial dredging operations, but more so as a one man show ... as an underwater diver for his floating dredge on the Bering Sea.  While in Nome he skied the Iditarod Trail, coached soccer and skiing and made jewelry from the gold nuggets he found.  And speaking of gold nuggets, in 2002 Jano found a humungous gold nugget ... a 40 ouncer!  In later years, after Nome got overrun with reality show gold miners, Jano left Nome and bought a farm in Nicaragua and moved there.

I first heard of Jano while Bob Baker and I were skiing the Iditarod Trail in 1990.  I read his name on the wall of a Norton Sound shelter cabin.  "Jan Kralik Iditarod ski 1986".  When we skied into Nome, Jano was there to greet us.  I instantly liked the guy.  From then on, I would cross paths with Jano off and on through the years.  Usually at the Anvil Mountain running race on the 4th of July in Nome.  Jano once told me that he found his huge gold nugget by using brass divining rods.  No matter how he found it, I just think it's cool that such a monster gold nugget was found by a cross country skier.  And especially, by a very unique, one of a kind cross country skier from Nome, Alaska.

Jan's obituary in the Nome Nugget.

   
  Jano in 2003 and a picture of the 40 ounce gold nugget he found.  I like that he was wearing a "Koch XC" Sporthill cross country skiing jacket for the gold nugget photo.  
 
Late April 2018: End Of Season Wax Recycling

Spring skiing is winding down, so I took the time to recycle my wax scrapings for the year.  I’ve been doing this for many years now.  The above picture shows Swix purple and red CH wax scrapings mixed together that were re-melted.  Some of this wax is 3rd and 4th generation recycled wax.  I do this because if I can keep recycling and using the ski wax, it keeps it out of our local landfills.  Producing petroleum-based products and then sending 90 percent of it (like wax scrapings) to the local landfill, like most skiers do, is not good.

Here's how to recycle ski wax scrapings.

 
Late April 2018: LOL

A great parody of cross country ski racing (YouTube video).

 
Late April 2018: 15 Years Of New Ski Trips

This web site is now 20 years old.  And for the last 15 years of this web site, I have been posting “trail bagging” and “crust bagging” trip reports on this web site.  Like peak bagging, which is climbing mountains you have never climbed before, trail bagging is skiing trails you have never skied before.  And crust bagging is crust skiing at locations that you have never crust skied before..

Those that wander are not lost.

I’ve been a wanderer since I could walk.  So this web site is pretty much what I do.  Wander.  But it is wandering with a goal.  The goal being never to wander in the same place more than once.   The goal with this web site has been to always post new trips, and seldom repeat trips.

This web site now shows 15 years of seeking out and cross country skiing new places in Alaska.  So, I guess you could call this "cross country skiing counter-culture", as most cross country skiers seem to pride themselves in how many times they have done the same race or event.  Well ... that's definitely not me.

How did I get here?

See this web site's "About" page.

What’s next?

Seeing that I have been wandering since I could walk, the wandering to new places part will continue until I can’t walk, or ski, or bike.  Will this web site continue?  Yeah.  But likely not for another 15 years.  But then again, who knows.  Changes should be coming next year.  Likely a new theme on this web site will emerge: mostly-retired guy with skis wandering the US and Canada and skiing cool places, while based out of an RV/camper van.

Life’s short.  Wander as much as you can.

If the weather is good today, then get out and wander to someplace new.  If the weather is crappy, then maybe take a couple of hours and walk through the 15 years of trip reports, and read the blog pages, on this web site.  You will likely get ideas about new places you need to wander to.  And you will certainly learn that you can have a whole lot of fun and adventure in life doing your own thing, on skinny skis.

 
Mid April 2018: Pedal Skating

Pedal skating is an obscure cross country skiing technique.  It's the V1 or V2 technique performed on a crowned surface.  On a crowned surface, like an old, melted and raised snowmobile track or the crest of a crusted wind drift (see picture above), your skis move forward, and gradually downward at the same time while you skate.  The downward movement of your ski allows gravity to give your kick phase a boost.  When you get the timing right with this technique, you get the feeling of pedaling while you skate.

I remember once pedal skating across Portage Lake with Bill Spencer on an old melted and raised snowmobile track (20 years ago there were snowmobiles that came over from Whittier to Portage Lake now and then).  Bill commented that the way to set cross country ski speed records would be to do it on a crowned, crust snow track.  I'd have to agree with Bill.  When you get the right conditions for pedal skating, it's impressive how much faster than your norm you can go.

When conditions are wind-blow crust like that shown in the picture above, you make better time if you link up crusted wind drifts and pedal skate them.  And it's fun to do this because you don't often get the chance to use this skiing technique.

 
Mid April 2018: JawHorse Ski Bench

Several years ago I got a JawHorse.  It's a combination saw horse and vise.  I really like it and use it a lot.  It's easy to position it when working on projects and it can hold just about anything.  I got the "sheetmaster" version which can hold 4 by 8 foot sheets of plywood.

The JawHorse can also be used as a ski waxing bench.  If you have taken down your bench-mounted ski waxing form for the winter, and you want to wax your skis for crust skiing, just clamp the form into the JawHorse and you are quickly back in business again.  This setup is not something you would want to use for World Cup ski waxing.  But it's a portable and stable platform for those late season waxing needs.

 
 
Early April 2018: Failure ... A Part Of The 'Trail Bagging' and 'Crust Bagging' Games
Skiing back out the Stampede Trail, after discovering the Tetlanika River snow bridge had collapsed the night before. Recent trip turned 'trail research' in the Talkeetna Mountains.
   

The trip reports I post on this web site follow a basic theme.  They are new ski trips for me, to places I have never skied before.  And trips that are done light, fast and usually in one day.

Terms I use for the ski trips I do are: 'trail bagging', skiing trails I have never skied before, and 'crust bagging', crust skiing at places I have never crust skied before.  Both are the eccentric cousins of peak bagging, my summer pursuit.

Pretty much I only post successful trail and crust bagging ski trips on this web site.  But failures, ski trips that did not work out as planned, are a big part of trail bagging and crust bagging.  So, not posted on this web site are the many, many failed ski trips I have attempted.  Failures can be due to unanticipated snow or weather conditions, route choice mistakes, underestimation of time needed and gear failures (to name a few reasons).

But to step back and look at the big picture ... are ski trip failures really failures?  Most likely not.  You were trying to go someplace new and go someplace where you had never skied to before.  You ended up doing "research" and  learned more about the winter trails of Alaska.  You got a lot of exercise and saw lots of new country.  And you ended up with a long list of Alaskan ski adventures yet to do.

And the there is the even bigger picture of the trail and crust bagging big picture:  When you turn your back to the crowds and go do your own thing ... you end up being a happy and content person.  And there's certainly no failure in that.

 
Late March 2018: How To Take A Cool Picture, With You In It, When You Are Alone

Recently I posted some glacier and iceberg pictures with me in the pics.  I got a couple of questions as to who took the picture.  Well, I was alone, so it was me.  That made me realize that some people don't know the easy way to take action self-photos of yourself.  So here is how I do it ...

1)  First, you need a small camera, that will shoot video, and a small tripod.  A smartphone will work if you have a tripod adapter for your phone.  My favorite tripods are the small flexible tripods (see picture below).  With these you can put your camera on the tripod, stick the tripod behind your pack belt and then bend the legs so your camera and tripod are securely attached to your belt.  That way, you can ski, not worry about your camera and it is ready to be grabbed and set on the snow.

2)  When you find a cool place for a photo, set the tripod and camera up, frame the shot the way you want and start VIDEO recording.  Use the highest resolution video your camera will support.

3)  Ski past the front of your camera a time or two or more.  Then ski up to the camera and stop the video.

4)  When you get home, use your video player software to view your videos.  Use the pause button to freeze the video at a point where you want to capture a photo.

5)  Use either a screen capture app, like Snip on Windows, or a screen save feature on your video player app if it has one.

Done!  You now have a cool picture that you easily took of yourself.  And there was no trying to time your skiing with a camera countdown timer.  Now go try this yourself!

 
Late March 2018: A Fact of Life

Cross country skiers will never be as cool as snowmobilers.

Photo taken on Wolverine Road in Palmer, AK.

 
Late March 2018: Out Skiing, Passed A Honda Civic

It's freight hauling season in the Susitna Valley.  This time of year when you are out skiing or snowmobiling you see all sorts of stuff being towed behind snowmobiles.  Recently I came across this Honda Civic which was being dragged from Point Mackenzie to the Beluga Road system, a distances of about 40 miles.  It had been left on a channel that goes through Bell Island when the folks hauling it encountered snow that was too wet and sticky.  The guys moving this car know what they are doing.  Best to come back for it when the temps drop and the trail gets firm and fast.

An interesting (to me at least) fact.  The plastic that this car is being skidded on is worth about as much as the car itself.  3/4 inch UHMW (Ultra High Molecular Weight) plastic is very, very pricy (at least it is if you buy it in Alaska).

 
Late March 2018: Now That's Some Tasty Willow!  Said the Moose.

I've noticed this for years, but finally got around to taking a picture of it.  In the picture above there is a growth of mature willow to the left, and new willow to the right.  Note that moose have ravaged the new shoots that grow off the old-growth willow.  But they have not touched the new-growth willow on the right.  Why?  Maybe because new shoots off old willows taste better than willow in other stages of growth.  Just guessing.  If I had the same taste buds a moose has I could answer this question.  But that's not the case ... all willow tastes the same to me!

 
Mid March 2018: Repurposing One-Upmanship

I like to take unused stuff and repurpose it.  For instance, I've used old dog packs as snowmobile saddle bags and recently I made a sled hitch snow-deflector out of the front panel of the furnace we replaced in our house (see below pictures).  But damn ... did I ever get one-upped in repurposing recently.  A cabin neighbor showed me a MacBag he was using as a snowmobile tunnel bag.  This bag was originally designed to haul the revolutionary original Apple Macintosh computers back in the mid 1980s.  Fits nice on a snowmobile tunnel.  And detaches and carries well.  Wow, that really ups the bar.  Not sure how I'm going to top that!

Dog pack becomes snowmobile saddle bag. Front panel of furnace becomes sled hitch snow deflector. Original 1980's Macintosh computer "MacBag" being used as snowmobile tunnel bag.  Wow!
 
Mid March 2018: Photos From Our Ski Trail Game Camera

A few photos from a game camera along a ski trail we have near our cabin ...

  Trail groomer   Young bulls sparring
Coyote Moose lips and dewlap Skiing backwards on the trail.  But no one yells at you if it is your trail. Coyote
   
  Soon our game cameras will capture images of those that are sleeping now.  
 
Early March 2018: A Ski App For The Morning, A 'But App For The Afternoon

A perfect summer day in Alaska can be skiing Prince William Sound corn snow in the morning, and then catching a halibut in the afternoon.  Now I have developed phone apps to assist in both parts of of such a perfect day.

Last year I developed an iPhone app called AvyPal, which helps you steer clear of avalanche-prone slopes.  Recently I developed an app for calculating the weight of halibut - IsMy'ButBig.   Both sides of the perfect day are now covered by handy apps developed by a skier.

IsMy'ButBig?   When skiing, I hope my butt is not big.  But when fishing, I hope I sometimes do have a big 'but !!

AM app

PM app

 
For more info on IsMy'ButBig, the halibut sizing and photo app:    IsMy'ButBig website     IsMy'ButBig in Apple App Store
 
Mid February 2018: Delay of the Grass-Masher Storms

It seems like back in the 80's and 90's that winter would start out somewhat predictably.  A late October storm would bring a foot or two of heavy wet snow.  This snow would mash down grass, weeds and alders.  With this vegetation covered, lots of terrain would open up for winter travel.

This winter start-up scenario has definitely not been the case recently.  The grass that was usually mashed down by snow in late October or early November often remains standing until mid-February.  The light snowfall that we receive does not flatten the grasses, much less cover alders or big weeds like cow's parsnip.  As a result, backcountry travel through this uncovered vegetation is slow, and not a whole lot of fun.

February 10th.  Grasses still not mashed down by snowfall. February 24th.  Grasses finally covered by snow.
In summer alpine skiers can grass ski at certain ski areas.  In winter Nordic skiers can grass ski in Alaska until mid February.
 
Late January 2018: Disgusting

The Chester Creek/ Campbell Creek connector bike trail goes by the Alaska Native Medical Center.  This section of trail is part of the Tour of Anchorage Trail, and it is groomed for skiing in the winter.

Apparently there is a rule against smoking on the Alaska Native Medical Center campus.  So what do smokers do?  They walk off medical center property and smoke on the adjacent bike (and ski) trail.  This has been going on for a long time.  It's disgusting.  And it's ironic.  It's disgusting because people that are trying to improve their health by exercising on the bike trail don't need to pass through a gauntlet of people trying to ruin their health by smoking.  And it's ironic because this bike trail borders APU property, home of a much feted cross country ski racing team.  The irony is that if you ski on APU-area trails you have to deal with breathing second hand cigarette and marijuana smoke.  Not what you expect for the home of world class skiers.

So if I am griping about this, do I have a constructive suggestion.  Yes I do.  If the government can spend 100's of millions of dollars of public money on a Native Medical Center, then they can find money for on-campus smoking rooms.  And in the rooms they should have video monitors continuously showing interviews with smokers that are dying from lung cancer.  Have anti-smoking posers on the walls.  And maybe a jar or two of pickled, cancer-ridden lungs from people that died from smoking-induced lung disease.  Make Natives realize that their smoking habit will kill them.  And keep these people off the bike trail so they aren't imposing their disgusting addiction on Alaskans that are trying to be healthy.

And welcome to our smokers' lounge on the neighboring public bike and ski trail. Welcome to the <cough>Tour of <cough><cough> Anchorage <cough> ski trail. Classic ski tracks are for smoke breaks and throwing cigarette butts into.  Right?
 
Mid January 2018: Ski Bowl

A fun thing I like to do is go for skis through wooded areas near our cabin.  Especially areas I've never been to before.  You never know what you are going to find.  While skiing, I keep my eye out for the perfect burl.  Haven't found it yet.  But recently I finished a bowl from a nice birch burl that I found while skiing the hinterlands.  See pictures below.  Note: If you want to learn how to make carved birch bowls, Tom Corr of Soldotna often gives a free hour-long bowl making clinic at the Alaska Sportsmen's Show in Anchorage each spring.  I learned a lot of good stuff from Tom about making burl bowls and doing it safely.  Grinders with cutting wheels are involved, so safety is very important.

Finished product. Cool "waves" on this burl. Finished with beeswax (so it's food safe). Lots of sawdust.  So I take it outside.
 
Early January 2018: SkateCoach App Now For Sale In Apple App Store

The app I developed for analyzing cross country skating technique, SkateCoach, is now available in the Apple App Store.  Link - here.

Extensive information on the SkateCoach app can be found here.
 

Example SkateCoach phone app screen captures ...
     


SkateCoach in the Apple App Store


SkateCoach web page
 
Late December 2017: Better Late Than Never.  And Witnessing Unforeseen Change.

Cold temperatures and a little snow finally arrived near Anchorage.  The further north or west you go from Anchorage, the more snow there is.  But as the above photo shows, there is still a lot of open water that has not frozen up yet.  In the above photo you can see condensation, where the relatively warm (mid to low 30's degree F) open water of the Big Susitna River meets air that is 5 below zero F.  This mist sends a clear message: "Stay on the trail and don't come near me!"  Creeks and streams in the Susitna River are still running with open spots abundant.  So time to be careful and let cold temps make travel safer.

When I was younger I would read about Alaskan communities that are no longer.  Names of these places are still on maps of Alaska, but now no one lives there full-time, or at all these days.  People left these settlements because of falling gold, mineral, timber or fur prices.  Or because technology made salteries and remote fish processing plants uneconomical.  Or because railroads and roads made port settlements unnecessary.  Or because the military left after WWII or the Cold War.

I always found this Alaskan history of human outposts interesting.  But I never thought I would witness the demise and exodus of such a community.  But, to a certain extent ... I have now witnessed this.

In the 90's, Alexander Creek was a bubbling community.  Several lodges created jobs for people.  Old-timers were homesteading there still.  40 or so people lived year-round in the area.

But then salmon fishing was shut down due to pike infestation.  The lodges, that profited from sports fishermen support, went belly up and are now rotting away from neglect.  People that worked at the lodges left.  The old-timers have mostly died off or left.  Remote living off the grid is no longer hip or economically feasible with younger Alaskans.  And older property owners often do the snowbird thing and are gone a lot of the year.

So a community that was vibrant year-round in the 90's, now has no full-time residents.

I was remembering the buzz of activity 25 years ago at Alexander Creek, as I recently traveled on snowmobile out there with 3 part-time residents of the area.  They said we were the only people out there.  They would know.  When we got to a trail junction in the woods near Alexander Creek we stopped, said goodbye and went our separate ways to our cabins.

A different world now.  No lights.  No sounds.  No trails.  No other people.  Gotta say, I like it out there way better now than in the 90's.  But I never imagined this place would go backwards in time.  25 years ago I never imagined I'd witness a community come to an end.  And become yet another name of a place on the map of Alaska where no one lives full-time.
 

 

Update, Late December:  "No!  A cross country skier welded up a snowmobile freight sled!?  Pfffftt!  I don't believe that!"  Well, believe it!  I tested out the Susitna Valley style freight hauling sled I recently welded up in my garage (see post below).  I did a 25 mile trip with 900 lbs of 16 foot 2x8s to test it out.  Worked great and was easy to pull.  It was fun making this, and I am glad the first trip didn't end up with a pile of metal wreckage out in the middle of nowhere!

This is a skiing picture.  Really?  Yep.  Note ski bag attached to snowmobile.  ;-)  

Update, Late February:  More proof that xc skiers can weld.  Yes, it's true ...

 

 

 

1500 lbs ... no problem.

 

 
Late December 2017: Another Skier Gone

Some surprising news from Christmas Day.  Former UAA xc ski racer Dan Fleener takes his life during a confrontation with the Anchorage Police Department SWAT team.  Tragic.  Here's the story.

I knew Dan and was friends with him back in his UAA ski racing days.  I was 10 years older than Dan and had some epic ski racing battles with him.  Dan worked at a sports store named Gary Kings in the 80's and got sponsored through them by Kastle skis.  Back then I won the first Tour of Anchorage.  But Dan showed up with his Kastles for the 2nd Tour of Anchorage.  We put the hurt on each other and Dan did me in.  Dan won and I was 2nd.

I remember doing long roller ski workouts with Dan on the just-built Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.  Super-nice roller skiing on perfect pavement.  I remember Dan had some roller skiing rules: Never roller ski before July 4th (run instead).  And never double pole on the Coastal Trail bridges (roller ski ferrule tips would get stuck in the wood and rip out).  I still think of and follow that rule of Dan's.  I also did a lot of early season skiing above Glenn Alps on the north side of Flattop with Dan.  Back before GCI graded the Powerline Pass trail (to run fiber optic cable) and made it smoother, we had a secret early season ski track up on old jeep tracks in the tundra.

Dan worked as a delivery truck driver over the years.  I remember several times walking sidewalks of downtown Anchorage and a passing truck driver would bellow at me: "Hey Tim Kelley!".  I'd look up and see Dan Fleener with a big grin on his face.  A character, he would always make me chuckle.

I don't know the story of what got Dan to where it all ended.  And I don't need to know.  My memories of Dan are all good ones.

UAA Nordic ski team, ~1988.  Dan is the tall guy in back row.  Photo from Facebook.
     
Mid December 2017: How's That "Cooler Than Normal", La Nina Winter Going For Ya?

On September 19, 2017 it was reported in the Anchorage Daily News that the National Weather Service was predicting this winter to be a "cooler than normal" Alaskan winter, thanks to a La Nina event.  Well, it's mid-December ... and folks in Anchorage are definitely not feeling that La Nina love the NWS predicted.  La Nina!  Where are you!?  La Nina! ...

   
Tour of Anchorage Trail, Mid December 2017
     
Mid December 2017: More Sad News.  Mendeltna Creek Lodge Burns Down.

On December 10th the historic Mendeltna Creek Lodge, at mile 153 on the Glenn Highway, burned down.  This is very sad news.  Owners Mabel and Russ Wimmer are super nice people.  I've stayed at their place a number of times and have gotten to know them.  Tragically their pets perished in this fire.  Lost in the fire were their two huge English mastiffs and a hairless cat.  These dogs and their cat were friendly and fun to be around.

Mabel and Russ did something that is rare for roadside lodges these days.  They maintained a nice cross country ski trail system.  Many times Mabel and Russ have hosted skiers, snow bikers, ski-jorers, mushers and winter adventurers.  Their lodge was often a checkpoint for the Copper Basin 300 sled dog race.  I don't know what is next for Mabel and Russ, but I wish them the very best.

   
  Kelly Allain photo, 12/10/2017  
     
Early December 2017: Ski Trails Covered With Ice.  What To Do?

Skiing was good.  Now the trails are covered with ice.  What to do?  Let's see.  Do the gerbil loop thing at Kincaid?  Put the IceBugs on and run?  Mountain bike with Nokian studded tires?  Or hmmm, maybe go down to Maui and back with Alaska Airlines' best ... an all-female flight crew from Anchorage that includes my wife and sister-in-law?  Let me think about that.  OK ... that was an easy decision.  Hello Maui!

So, if you need a break from another late-starting, warm and rainy Alaskan winter, Alaska Airlines can take you someplace good where you can press the reset button.  And who knows, maybe you will get lucky like me and get a chance to fly with Alaska Airlines' all-woman A-Team flight crew.

Alaska Airlines' best (by far!) flight crew, an all-woman crew from Anchorage, was nice enough let me pose in a picture with them.
The woman behind me in the captain's hat is seen in a lot of pictures on this web site.

 

 
Upper body and core workout.  No icy trails. 60 y/o Alaskan dude.  First time on a water slide.
Early December 2017: Coming Soon.  A Ski Technique Coach In Your Phone.  SkateCoach.

I recently developed an iPhone app for cross country skiers.  I'm currently doing final testing on the app and should have it in the Apple App store by mid-January.

The app is called SkateCoach.  And it helps you improve your skate technique on skis.

Pretty much ever since skiing was invented, technique analysis has mostly been subjective.  "Get your hips more forward."  "Glide more."  "Keep your hands closer to your body."   Common coaching phrases.  But there is nothing objective about this.  There is no quantitative feedback as to whether technique changes make you faster or slower or by how much.  The idea is if you look like you are skiing a certain way, you might be skiing faster.  Maybe.  Who knows.

I figured that with available technology, it was time to try and get better at cross country skiing technique analysis.  So I put a ski coach, who was good at physics and statistics, into a smartphone.

To use SkateCoach (more info below) you run the app and then put the phone in a belt clip or stick it in your jacket with the bottom wedged under your drink belt strap.  The phone is close your your body's center of gravity.  And it is at the "quietest" part of your body.  Arms and legs are flailing when you skate, but your abdomen is relatively stable, and body core's forward movement is the result of what you do with your arms and legs.  As you skate, the phone measures the the motions that your center of gravity makes.  And from that data you can determine metrics, like: is your weight shift symmetrical between sides, is your weight shift angle the same on each side, is your acceleration and glide balanced and is there any deviation in your velocity as you skate (are you gliding too long).

Here are a few screen shots, in the order you might use the app when you first get it.  I'll post here when the app is for sale in the Apple App store.  Will there be an Android version of SkateCoach?  Maybe.  I like to do apps as iPhone apps first.  Then if the iPhone app gains traction I will create an Android version of it.

First choose your technique quality level.  Each level is associated with a percentage that is your target.  For example, at expert level you are trying to get your weight shift to be within a 5% tolerance on each side.  That is a 95% quality level.

When you start the app in recording mode, you enter a countdown and a sample time.  The countdown is the time it takes to put your phone in your jacket (or holder) and start skiing.  The sample time is the length of time your skiing is measured by SkateCoach. When SkateCoach is done collecting data on your skate skiing motions, it shows you your score.  I didn't quite hit the expert target level of 95%.  I got a 94.8, and 4.5 stars, and it looks like I should focus on my weight shift and ski angle symmetry and keeping my speed per skate more consistent. SkateCoach allows you to go back and view your skate motions.  Green indicates small intervals where you were accelerating.  Red where you were decelerating.  You can scroll back and look at your individual skate motions to see if any of them look out of whack.
And finally, if you want to submerge yourself in data ... the report screen, shown above as a stitched-together image, allows you to scroll through many lines of detailed data about your skate technique.  All of this data is explained on the app's help page.
You can use SkateCoach by putting your phone in your jacket and held in place by your drink belt. Or you can get a belt clip phone holster to hold your phone ... and clip it to your drink belt. Of importance ... is having the phone firmly attached so it doesn't wobble.   If it wobbles it will be less accurate. You can get belt clip phone holsters cheap on ebay.  I got mine for $5 with free shipping (from China).

 

Late November 2017: A Skiers' Skier Is Lost
Randy Bergt (Erik Hill / ADN archive 2009)
 

If you’ve lived in Alaska for a long time, the list of friends and people you know that have died in Alaska is long.  Just ask my Alaska-born, 91-year-old aviator father-in-law.  His list is many pages long.

My list is much, much shorter than my father-in-law’s, but still … it seems too long.  And now, sadly, fellow skier Randy Bergt is on the list.

Randy Bergt was a skiers’ skier.  He easily moved between the worlds of backcountry, alpine and Nordic skiing.  Most people chose one or the other skiing discipline.  Not Randy, he skied them all.  And he skied them all well.

I knew Randy, who was my same age, for a long time.  My wife was in the same class at Dimond High School with Randy in the 70s.  I met Randy through my wife in the 80’s and had been friends with him ever since.  Mostly our paths would cross on the Nordic ski trails in Anchorage.  And when we saw each other we would always have conversations about skiing issues.

The conversations with Randy are what I’ll miss the most about him.  Talking to him made you quickly realize that he was a very smart, yet humble, person.  Randy had strong opinions about things.  But his opinions were based on critical thinking.  It was always a breath of fresh air to hear rational and well-thought out logic from a skier like Randy (as opposed to the nonsense babble some skiers feed the media these days).  There is good and bad to everything.  It’s never simply black or white.  Randy knew this.  Randy was wise.

About Randy being humble: An incident I remember occurred during the 2003 Masters XC Nationals in Anchorage.  Randy was in my age group.  I won our age group and Randy finished 3rd, just a couple of seconds behind Audun Endestadt.  At the finish Randy said to me: “I can’t believe I was just behind Audun!  It’s Audun!  I don’t deserve to be skiing anywhere near Audun!”  I smiled and said: “No Randy, if you are skiing as fast as someone, then you paid your dues … and you deserve it.  Good race!”  Humble indeed.

When I would run into Randy he would always give me compliments and encouragement about the web projects I do, namely this backcountry cross country skiing web site and the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project.  Though complimentary feedback is not the reason I do these web sites (public service and preserving skiing history is the reason for ALSAP, and a remote trail skiing obsession is the reason for this web site) ... it showed that Randy was a genuinely nice person.

When Randy and I were young we apparently both made the same vow.  We vowed that we would be skiers for life.  Real skiers.  Not skiers until something cooler came along, like snowboards or fat bikes.  Or until skiing got inconvenient because of jobs and family.  We’d be hard-hitting skiers for as long as we possibly could be in life.

Randy lived his skiing vow to the end.  Randy was a real skier.  Randy was a skiers’ skier.

 

Mid November 2017: Getting A "Firm Grip" On Retail Reality

I was walking down an aisle at Home Depot and saw something that made me laugh.  Chinese "Firm Grip" ski gloves for $3.30 (yes, three dollars and thirty cents a pair).  Wow! ... How low can Sino-glove prices go!?  Crazy.

So I bought a pair of Home Depot's Firm Grip gloves and have been skiing in them for a while.  They seem like they fit the bill for the 5F to 20F range in terms of warmth.  And they are not bulky, so you get good pole control with them.  I like my Firm Grips!

These gloves show well the economics of branding.  In reality there is little difference between these gloves and Swix and Salomon product, besides the label.  Likely these gloves are made in the same or similar Chinese factories, using the same materials that come from the same Chinese fabric mills, using the same machines and using workers getting paid the same.   Yet the unknown Firm-Grip brand retails for $3.30.  But with a Swix or Salomon branding, this same glove would go for 10 to 15 times as much.

So why am I not a cool kid that uses hip brand name gear?  Maybe because I have a firm grip on retail reality.  And I don't like to get ripped off.  Plus, any ski glove these days is going to wear out faster than they used to.  So that's no big deal if the cost to replace your ski gloves is less than the cost of 2 Snickers bars.

Firm Grip ski gloves from Home Depot.  $3.30 a pair (not a typo ... three dollars and thirty cents a pair).

 

Mid November 2017: Why I Don't Want To Go First

A survival rule of mine is to never be the first to travel on Susitna Valley trails at the start of a new season.  Let others have the glory ... and the risk.  This recent Facebook post regarding Big Lake shows that Su Valley lakes are not ready for travel yet.  If the lakes are not ready for safe travel, then the moving water of rivers and streams will certainly not be ready yet.  I'll stick to trails in Anchorage and give the hinterlands more time to freeze up.

 

 

Early November 2017: Making My Own Skis

Lately I've been making my own skis.  XC skis?  No.  Alpine skis?  Nope.  I've been making skis that will go on a Susitna Valley freight sled.  A what?  It's the kind of sled that freight haulers pull behind snowmobiles to haul heavy loads on the trails of the Susitna Valley.  I'll put a picture here of mine when it is done.  I wanted to get better at welding.  So I tackled this big(ish) welding project to up my welding game.  Am I better at welding now?  We'll see this winter.  If I find myself with 2000 lbs of building supplies on a failed and collapsed sled a long ways from where I want to be ... then the answer will be no.  If it works without failure, then maybe I can claim to be a better welder.

What does this have to do with skiing?  I've seen these freight sleds a lot while skiing in the Susitna Valley.  It's amazing how much weight this design of sled can haul.  The unique feature of these sleds are the floating rear anchors on the UHMW plastic skis.  When the plastic flexes, the anchor on the back of the ski moves.  This gives the sled a silky ride over bumps.  I figured I could put a sled like this to a lot of use.  Folks that make them for sale want around $3500 for them.  The materials cost 25% of that (but there is a LOT of labor to making them).  I like doing new and different projects.  So I figured I'd build one.  Has been fun so far.

Perhaps the most defining feature of a Susitna Valley freight sled - the floating anchor arm bracket on the back of each ski.  Makes for a smooth ride.

 

Update, mid-December:  Finished the freight sled.  Wow, lots of work.  And think I'm now a better welder.   Over 150 parts that had to be cut, ground, jigs made, clamped and welded.  Plus all the running around to get materials.  Fun project.  But kinda glad the project is finally over!

Finished freight sled. This shows the metal I welded together, before the deck was placed on the sled. Welding projects mean lots of quality time with a cutting wheel, chopping metal into the shapes you need.

 

Early November 2017: Propane Torch Troubleshooting Tip

Winter is about here and if you are like me, you will be using a propane torch a lot then next 5 or 6 months.  Whether it's starting wood stoves, thawing out locks or softening klister ... propane torches with trigger starts are super handy.  Just click it and it's flame on!

But the first time I tried to use my trigger start propane torch this year ... it wouldn't light.  As usual, I ran to Google for guidance.  Soon I found a YouTube video with answer to my problem.  The fix was simple.  Just screw off the nozzle and push the little wire up next to the metal tubing.  An arc can be seen if the wire is near the metal tubing.  Too far away ... no arc and no lighting of the propane.  So if your torch won't start, don't get frustrated and go buy a new trigger start.  Try this easy fix first.

Annoyed that you can't get your propane torch started?  Try removing the nozzle and pushing the little blue wire closer to the wall of the metal tubing.

 

Mid October 2017: Shouldn't Every XC Ski Area Have One Of These?

While biking in Moab, UT recently, I came upon a simple and entertaining trail feature.  Two banked pits that make a figure 8.  Soon I found myself zipping around one of the circles and then popping in and out of the other circle.  It was fun, and addictive.

After about 40 or so circles, I realized ... this was genius.  Such a simple and cheap to make, yet fun and safe, terrain feature.  Then it dawned on me - why don't xc ski areas make similar terrain features?

Yeah, some xc ski areas have terrain parks.  But they are a lot of work to make and maintain.  And they only appeal to a narrow spectrum of skiers.  These banked bowls would appeal to all.  From toddler beginners to elite racers to 60 year old plusers (like me).  And they could be used all year.  Summer by bike and foot, winter by ski and bike (and perhaps ice skates/Nordic blades after meltdowns).

Such "ski pits" would add an element of fun and skill building to any cross country skiing venue.

Note: These pits are easier to build in the desert.  In wetter places, like Anchorage, you would need a sump with a culvert drain.

 

Early October 2017: Utah's Lone "Glacier"

During a recent hike up Mt. Timpanogos, I passed by Utah's only "glacier".  Some folks say it is a glacier, some say it's not.  Apparently it is a rock glacier (rocks embedded in ice) that is not advancing.  So to some, that makes it a glacier.  But to others, it is not a glacier.  Here is a good history of the Timpanogos Glacier.  Ski races were once held on this glacier/snowfield.  When I was there I saw ski tracks on the snowfield next to the rock glacier, so this is likely a spot that the TAY "Turns All Year" skiers hit.

Seeing the Timp Glacier made me wonder: how many states in the US have glaciers?  Mr. Google provided the answer.  If you include the Timp Glacier, it is 10 (reference).  By order of largest to smallest area of glaciation, the states are: Alaska, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, California, Oregon,  Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.  Nevada also only has one glacier, a rock glacier on the north side of Wheeler Peak.

The Timpanogos Glacier Looking down from the summit of Mt. Timpanogos at the glacier

 

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.

 


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