Tim's Blog About Skiing Stuff
This blog is where I occasionally post entries about Alaskan backcountry cross country skiing news, issues, ideas, gear reviews and other random stuff that doesn't fit the format of my yearly trip report web pages.
I'm no Luddite. I switched from incandescent to LED headlamps years ago and I will never go back. The extended battery life, uniform beam with no dark spots or dark rings and multiple power settings are all features I love.
But so far this year has been a bad LED headlamp year for me and my wife. I had a Brunton L3 that I had been using for several years that failed. Then I had my backup L3 and my wife's L3 fail. Three headlamp failures so far this year. Brunton honored the warranty on all of them, so that was a good deal. But it makes me worry a bit about reliability of LED headlamps. Having a headlamp die at the wrong place and time is not good.
When you read about the life expectancy of LED bulbs, it's in the tens of thousands of hours. And that's great because the big problem with the old incandescent headlamps was that the bulbs would burn out too frequently.
Yet with old school headlamps it was easy to get them going again. Just replace the bulb. And maybe twiddle with some wires of the extremely simple circuitry used by these headlamps. Even a cave... er ... anybody could fix old school headlamps. And you could even fix them IN THE FIELD.
But not is the case with new age LED headlamps. When one of these headlamps die there is often no resurrecting it by yourself. If the battery connections are okay, then you have to look to the circuit board for the problem. Yes, a circuit board. All of the advanced and cool features of the LED lamps are digital, so it requires a good deal of circuitry, solder points, wires and electronic components. And any of these parts of the puzzle can fail and cause your LED headlamp to go south. Unlike the old school headlamps, you are not likely to fix the problem by yourself. And definitely you won't be fixing it in the field, unless you are packing a soldering iron, oscilloscope, volt meter, circuit diagram and a PhD in electrical engineering.
So are LED headlamps more reliable than old school incandescent headlamps? If you are talking bulbs, then no question - LED headlamps are far superior. But the catch with LED headlamps is that due to the circuitry, soldering, additional wires and electronic components - there are exponentially more parts of the LED headlamp that can fail compared to the old school headlamps. So ... I for one will not claim that new LED headlamps are any more reliable than old burning-bulb headlamps. That said ... I'm an LED convert for good due to the great features the new LED headlamps offer when they are working.
It’s Iditarod time. Like many Alaskans, I’m a fan of the Iditarod and follow it closely. I’m a fan of sled dogs. And I’m also a fan of certain mushers. It’s pretty easy for me to become a fan of an Iditarod musher. If I meet an Iditarod musher while I’m out on a ski trip and the musher stops and talks to me … I’m their Iditarod fan for life.
But no matter how many Iditarod mushers I meet, I think my favorite Iditarod musher will always be Martin Buser. Why? He’s always seemed genuinely super nice when I’ve talked to him. And he was a really good SKIER and SKI RACER before he became a dog addict. But most of all, I find myself smiling and chuckling whenever I hear him talk. He’s a character.
Speaking of Martin Buser, here is a funny and strange Martin Buser story. And it’s not even about Martin Buser. "Huh?" you say. Read on …
In 1993 I was skiing the Yukon Quest trail from Whitehorse to Fairbanks with Bob Baker. We arrived in Central, AK late one evening and were to pick up a box of food from the general store owner. But the store was locked up, and no one was around. Apparently the owner had to head to Fairbanks because of a death in the family.
So we started asking anyone we could find where our food box might be. Eventually a lady pointed to a trailer in back of the store and said the owner’s mother lived there and to check with her.
Bob and I walked over to the trailer. We soon noticed this huge and powerful Akita on the landing of the steps that led to the trailer door. I said to Bob: “Wow, that dog is even larger than my 140 lb Malamute!”. Unspoken words from Bob said: “OK, you’re the big dog guy. You go see if you can get past that monster and knock on the door.”
Talking softly to the big Akita I approached him. He stood up and towered over me from on top of the steps. His curly tail wasn’t wagging and he was sniffing intensely at me. I kept talking softly and tried not to show any tension and squeezed by him. I patted him a few times and told him what a good dog he was. Then I knocked on the trailer door and backed down the stairs.
In a moment a very tough looking older woman came out the door. And then she slammed the door and screamed:
I was a little shocked by this. So I started babbling: “Ah no, we’re skiers and we …”
She screamed at the top of her lungs again: “MARTIN BUSER!”
“Whoa”, I thought to myself, “this is getting weird”. So I started to speak again: “No, we’re skiers and we are looking for a food box.”
“MARTIN BUSER!” she screamed yet again. “MARTIN BUSER … NOOOO!”
Then I realized what was going on. Martin Buser was the name of the dog! And Martin Buser had gotten into a bag of garbage on the trailer porch. And now Martin Buser was in big, big trouble!
Yeah, I’m a Martin
Buser fan. But as you can tell from this story there are some really
fanatic fans of Martin Buser in Alaska. Why heck, some of his fans will
even name a huge dog that guards their trailer: MARTIN BUSER!
Recently a Alaskan Native athlete named Elliot Sampson was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. In 1981 Elliot travelled from his small village of Noorvik to the Alaska state cross country running championships at Settlers Bay in Wasilla, AK. Currently the Alaska state cross country running championships divide runners into separate races depending on school size: small or large. But this segregation had not begun in 1981. So Elliot raced against every good runner in the state. And Elliot won.
This was an amazing feat by an unknown kid from small-town nowhere showing up at states and blowing away the big city favorites. This event definitely makes Elliot Sampson deserving of a place in the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
But hold on. If Elliot Sampson get’s inducted, then surely another more successful Native athlete needs to be inducted. An unknown Alaskan Native cross country ski racer once showed up from a village MUCH SMALLER than Sampson's Noorvik and went on to win not only the state championship but also the JR. NATIONAL championship. In 1990 this Alaskan Native kid from the tiny village of White Mountain on the Seward Peninsula was the best junior cross country ski racer in the country.
Let me repeat. This unknown Native kid, from an Alaskan bush village so small and remote that none of the homes even had septic systems at the time, not only won the state meet - but he also won the Jr. Nationals which made him the best junior cross country ski racer in the ENTIRE COUNTRY. Hats off to Elliot. But Elliot was only a state champion, not a national champion.
So, who am I
talking about? I’m talking about the legendary James Oksuktaruk. Or as
his fans, like me, liked to call him: "Jimmy O". In my mind I can still
see Jimmy O racing - smooth, powerful, determined, his blue Landsem skis
eating up his competitors. He was an amazing
young athlete, an inspirational First Alaskan and he was a very likeable
kid. If Elliot Sampson is inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame,
and Jimmy O isn’t eventually inducted also … that will make no sense.
Earlier this year I posted that you can learn a lot from Alaskan sled dogs. "Like what?" you might ask. Well, how about this: Technique Doesn't Matter.
I learned that technique doesn't matter from a phenomenal athlete named Bluto. Bluto was a sled dog, a Malamute / Mackenzie River Husky mix. Bluto did not have the makings of a great athlete when he was a puppy. He was fat. He ate like a glutton. He was uncoordinated, clumsy and slow. His brother and father would push him around. His mother and sister would beat him up. He had a distended testicle and one floppy ear. He was at the absolute bottom of the pack hierarchy of his sled dog family. He was a dork.
And to top it off, Bluto was a "pacer".
"A pacer? What's that?"
If you think of dogs' front legs as arms, then the movements of most dogs are the same as humans. They move their left arm forward as their right leg moves forward. Right arm forward when the left leg moves forward. It's the same motion as a human uses when walking or running. And the same motion that a skier uses when classic skiing. Most dogs move this way, and they are called "trotters".
A dog that is a "pacer" moves in a counterintuitive way. Left arm, left leg forward. Then right arm, right leg forward. It's kind of a weight shifting waddle. If a human moved this way it would look odd and inefficient. Left, left. Right, right. Left, left. People just don't walk this way unless they are kidding around. It's spastic.
But occasionally a dog is born as a "pacer". I remember hearing that Iditarod musher Susan Butcher would put such dogs just in front of the dog sled and twitch them with a stick to break their pacing habit. I think such a practice is sick and cruel. I figure if a dog decides to run a certain way, who am I to tell them to do it differently? If they are having fun running the way they want to run, then that is all that matters.
So getting back to Bluto. One day I was out mushing our team of 5 Malamutes which consisted of the father, mother and three young 100 lb litter mates. I was giving each a chance to lead the team to see which ones wanted to lead the most. Finally I figured I'd let the runt of the litter, the lowly Bluto, try leading.
When I put Bluto in lead it was like a switch flipped in his brain. Here was his chance to be the top dog. And he was determined that this was a chance he was not going to let slip away. And from that day on Bluto became the heart and brains of our dog team. For many years and thousands of miles on Alaskan trails, all the other dogs and the musher (me or my wife) would key off Bluto and his decisions as he led our pack. It was amazing to watch Bluto's quick transition from a total dork puppy to an Alaskan sled dog god.
"So, what does this have to do with technique? And isn't this a skiing blog? What about skiing technique?"
Bluto had the worst technique imaginable. It was completely bass-ackwards. But it didn't matter a bit to him. He soaked up the excitement and adventure of Alaska to the fullest, and loved life to the max ... all with terrible technique. Though Bluto was a bad technique "pacer" his whole life, he likely never gave technique a second thought. He was too busy having fun, his way.
With skiing - technique work is helpful, but it is often overdone. Kids and racers need some technique work for sure. But it blows me away when I see older masters skiers working on the nuances of skiing technique year after year after year. I don't think these people get it. Cross country skiing should be about covering lots of trail miles, experiencing new places on skis and getting big doses of full body exercise. Skiing should not be endless technique sessions on a short track in front of a coach and fussing about arm angles, weight shifts and kick timings. Life is too short to worry about technique. Just go do it. And I'm sure that Bluto would agree with me on this.
Recently while I was travelling on the Big Sustina River I noticed where several people had crashed out of the woods and down the river bank. It looked like one person was on skis, the others on foot or carrying their skis. Out on the river I could see tracks where a person was waddling on wide skis, likely with skins (see pictures above).
This area is quite a ways from the Su 100 course. So it seemed unlikely these tracks were from wayward competitors in training, especially given that the skis were so wide. You usually don’t see any ski tracks on this stretch of the Big Su, unless they are mine. Or occasionally if they are the tracks of Army guys that have been dropped off by helicopter.
I’ve seen this situation a few times now. The Army will drop guys off, say at Flathorn Lake. And then pick them up a few days later 20 or 30 miles away at an arranged rendezvous point. So the tracks shown above are probably from Army guys out training.
Looking at these tracks makes me grimace a bit. Throughout my ski life I have made acquaintances with older guys that used to be skiers in the Army. Back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s these guys were good. So it’s kind of unbelievable to see Army guys these days out stumbling down river banks like Laurel and Hardy. And waddling across flats at less than one mile per hour. The level of Army ski competence has taken a huge dive over the decades. Oh well.
When it comes to Army skiers, I am reminded of a time in the early 90’s when my wife, our dog team and I arrived at the site where we were building a remote log cabin. When I got there I looked down at the creek near our building site and saw several white North Face dome tents. The next morning they were still there. So around 10 o’clock, after seeing no movement, I went down to investigate.
I approached one of the tents and said: “Hello! How are you guys doing? Is everything OK?” A guy zipped open the tent, said “Hello Sir” and said everything was fine. He said that they had “accomplished their mission”. They had “covered 35 miles in 4 days” and “were going to be picked up at 14:00 hours”. I said: “Would you guys like any water?” “Yes sir! That would be great.” he replied. So I went and got them some water. Later I saw them trudging on skis down Alexander Creek with M16’s slung on their backs. And soon a Blackhawk helicopter swooped in and whisked them away.
In the following days the stories started rolling in about the details of these Army guys’ “mission” in the unforgiving harsh arctic region of the Susitna Valley. Out in this area a lot of retired veterans live. As would have it, these vets are all really friendly and have big hearts. So when they would catch sight of Army guys skiing in formation down the creek in front of their cabin, they would quickly jump on their snowmobiles and go check the situation out.
One guy I talked to said he talked to the Army guys and found out they were planning on camping out near his cabin. He told them: “Camp out in the snow! Screw that! I got a rental cabin a mile down the creek that is empty. I’ll go fire up the wood stove and you guys can stay there!” And so they did.
Another guy talked to them and asked what they were eating. “Army rations! I know for a fact that sh*t will kill you! My wife has got a fresh pot of moose stew, so you boys follow me and we’ll get you some REAL food!” And so they did.
So to me, a guy
that likes to ski a lot, initially this “mission” of skiing 35 miles in
4 days seemed rather lame. But eventually I became amazed that these
guys made that this many miles in four days through such a gauntlet of
hospitality. Yep, being an Army skier training in the wild Susitna
Valley can sure be a tough life. “Would you like another bowl of moose
stew soldier?” “Yes, thank you sir!” Burp.
The above two Alaskan pictures are 50
years apart. They show that white baggy wind clothes are time
honored garments for Alaska outdoors people. Are white baggies
timeless? Or are they back in fashion after 50 years? Or did
they never go out of fashion? The musher in the picture on the
right certainly is an indication that white baggies are definitely in
fashion today. I mean - what other outdoors person in Alaska would
know more about fashion than Iditarod musher Zoya DeNure, who was a
runway fashion model for 12 years. So if you are still skiing
around in tight pants ... maybe 2011 is the year to go retro, and go
back to baggy! ;-)
Dog mushing trails can make good skiing trails. But skiers need to realize that mushing trails are for dogs first, not skiers. Sled dogs can be harmed if skiers do dumb things on their trails. So here are some tips to help you keep from doing dumb things on sled dog trails.
First you need to know if you are on a dog sled trail or not. Signs that say "This is a Dog Sled Trail" are a good indicator that you are on one. And if they say you shouldn't be on them, like the signs below, then you should ski somewhere else.
In the Susitna Valley there are a lot of unmarked mushing trails that you can ski on if you are careful. To know if you are skiing on a mushing trail, without signs you can look at the snow. If there are ruts that look like ski tracks only narrower - those are dog sled runner tracks. Parallel scratch marks are another sign - those are drag marks from the claws of dog sled brakes. Lots of little paw prints are another hint. And of course - poop that looks like it was ejected from a pooch on the run is another sign.
Now that you know you are on a
mushing trail, it's time to be attentive. Listen intently for dogs
panting or a musher talking to his dogs or you. Strain to view
around corners for oncoming dog teams. Look behind you a lot for
teams approaching. When you see a team coming get completely off
the trail and stop. Get your ski poles away from the trail.
Wave to the musher so he knows you see him and let the team pass before
you get back on the trail. If you are with another skier you
should say "One more skier ahead!". Always say "Hi" if you get a
chance because 99.9% of mushers are cool and friendly folks, and they
will probably stop to talk to you.
The picture above shows a beautiful musher woman (my wife) taking a corner with her dog team of Malamute monsters. The catch here is when she steps on the dog sled brake to slow down, the sled will tend to pivot and drift to the inside of the turn. So in the picture above, if you are following the "rules of the road" and go right off the trail, there is a good chance you are going to get nailed by the dog sled ("X"). The dotted line to the left shows where you should go. Always move to the outside of turns as a dog sled passes you in either direction.
I've got a 12 year old pair of Fischer RCS skis. They work great. I've got a pair of 12 year old Swix CT1 poles. I use them all the time and they work great. I've got a pair of 10 year old Salomon RC9 skate boots. They have a lot of life left in them and ski well. I even have a 15 year old pair of Duofold wind briefs that I still use. Gross ... yes. But they work fine.
But when it comes to Salomon Pro Combi ski boots, I'm on my forth pair in four years.
I may be a dreamer, but I would think that a $220 to $250 dollar pair of ski boots should last more than one season. I would think they should last at least two seasons. I see people skiing in black and yellow "bumble-bee" Salomon RC9's on Anchorage ski trails all the time. These vintage boots are 10 plus years old. So I would think that the "latest and greatest" Salomon boots would last this long too. If not, then surely they should last for at least two years.
Not the case. I once again find myself with a pair of Salomon Pro Combi ski boots with a blown-out toe. Last year I thought I figured out how to make these boots last - by using Marine Goop to protect and reinforce the toe box to sole bond on the boot. This technique actually made the boots last an entire season, which had not been the case for the previous two pairs of Pro Combis I had owned.
I really like the Salomon Pro Combi ski boots. They fit and ski great. But the fact that they use a toe box that is made out of recycled Chinese takeout food boxes covered with the same vinyl used to make cheap, one-time-use beach balls and then glue this pathetic material to the sole with leftover chewing gum ... doesn't lend itself to the making of a quality ski boot.
Salomon once had quality in ski boots so dialed in. What went wrong? Was quality sacrificed for profits? Gee, I bet I can answer that last question.
One of my pastimes is that of a skiing historian for the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project. And research for ALSAP brought me to the picture posted above. This old picture of a cross country skier was recently published on the Alaska Visual Library of Digital Archives, but no date or location was logged with this picture. So the challenge was to fill in the blanks and figure out when and where this picture was taken.
The key to this puzzle is the fuzzy cross-hatched thing in the background above the skiers left pole. Searching through other pictures of this collection you could see that this thing in the background was one of the unique 6-tier power poles that were used on Front Street in Nome in the 1920's and early 30's. Mystery solved.
The 1920's makes sense, in Alaska
back then some folks were still using poles without straps. After
viewing a lot of old skiing pictures over the years, I gotta say - this
is a good one. It shows the equipment and clothing of the era
well. Plus the skier looks like a tough guy that is ready to tear
up to the top of Anvil Mountain and back.
It's that time again. If you use Alaska State Parks regularly it's time to get a new 2011 parking decal. Otherwise you could get ticketed and have a mark go on your "permanent record". I get grumpy about paying some fees - property taxes and income taxes in particular. But I have no problem paying to use Alaska State Parks. Like many Anchoragites I'm proud to have the Chugach State Park as our backyard. I know the CSP budget is never overflowing these days (or they'd have better parking on the south side of Flattop by now). And I know and like the CSP rangers. So I'm happy to pay to help fund the paradise to our east.
Also - folks that get RAPs (Recreational Access Permits) to do your favorite outdoor activities on Fort Rich ... remember that they expire at the end of the year. So you have to go through the process to get a free, new one after the 1st. Also - if you want to drive onto base, remember to have a current proof of auto insurance card with your auto registration to get on base. Our you will be out of luck to get in. Done that.
For many cross country skiers, or parents of cross country ski racers, the basic concepts of this ski sport are ingrained and instinctive knowledge. And we cross country skiers assume everyone in Alaska knows about our sport, at least the basics.
But you don’t have to travel much in Alaska to find out that this is not always the case. Cross country skiing is sometimes not understood really at all by non-cross country skiers. Here are a few anecdotes to make my point:
In the mid-90’s I was skiing between Selawik and Noorwik, Alaska with Tim Miller. The race director of the Kobuk 440 sled dog race went by on a snowmobile. Later he would say to us: “I saw you guys crabbing up that long hill in the windstorm”. A retired long distance musher, this guy had travelled much of Alaska’s winter trails. But he had never seen people skate skiing, nor did he know what you called it.
In 2006 I was skiing down the Kuskokwim River south of Kalskag. I had found a bend in the river that was protected from the wind, so I stopped to refill my Camelback from the reserve water bottle in my sled. Soon 4 snowmobiles approached and stopped. These were the first people I had seen this day. The guy that seemed to be the leader of the group, maybe he was a guide, walked quickly towards me and he looked to be excited about something.
“Hey!” he said, “For the past twenty five miles I have been racking my brain, trying to figure out what the heck the tracks were that I was following!” He was referring to my skate ski tracks as I pulled a sled. Continuing he said: “I thought maybe it was something loose on a snowmobile or a snowmobile sled flopping back and forth or something. Damn I just couldn’t figure it out. Never seen nothing like that before! So it was you, a skier! I’d never have guessed that!” Soon he started hiking back to his snowmobile with the parting comment of: “Thanks for the morning mystery! Wow!” I had to chuckle at this encounter.
And in the spring of 2010 I stopped to talk to several snowmobilers near Cantwell on the Denali Highway. The next day I would meet them again and one of them would say: “Man! We followed your tracks for 60 miles! You were covering some ground. But your ski tracks weren’t going straight, they were sticking out side to side. What’s with that?”
Again, this person had never seen skate ski tracks before. He was a retired dentist from the Anchorage area. A smart, fit and well traveled man you could tell, but his interests had never intersected with cross country skiing. It doesn’t matter where people live, if they are consumed with work, family life or passionate interests it’s easy to be unaware of the basics of other peoples’ passions.
Many Alaskan cross country skiers assume that Alaska is a skiing-savvy state; that most Alaskans are in the know about our sport. Many in Anchorage know the sport well. Fairbanks too. But get off the road system or away from skiing communities and folks that know, or care, about cross country skiing are few and far between. So it never hurts to be a diplomat, and show fellow Alaskans what cross country skiing is these days. And to try to show non-skiers that xc skiers are, for the most part, ok people.
A final anecdote: Once near Tuluksak in Western Alaska a Native snowmobiler stopped to check on me. He was pulling an old woman in a leather-lashed spruce basket sled. The old Native woman was friendly and talkative and said: “You are traveler. You travel alone. You are ski peoples!”
I smiled, looked at her and responded: “Yes indeed! I am a crazy ski peoples. But you should like me. Ski peoples are good!” She laughed and said: “Ha! Ski peoples are crazy!” Smiling, she waved a big beaver fur mitten at me and sped off down the trail.
The immensely popular Arctic (Valley) to Indian winter trail wouldn't be very popular if it was choked with alders. Luckily for skiers, Mountaineering Club of Alaska members regularly organize trips to fight back the brush on the northern section of the trail. Recently Stu Genier, Greg Braigel and a few others were out in sub-zero F weather working on the first 4 miles of the trail. Thanks guys. If you want to know what the adventurous and cool folks at the Mountaineering Club of Alaska are up to - join their Facebook group. And maybe become a member of MCA yourself and get emailed the Scree trip reports newsletter that editor John Recktenwald does a great job of compiling each month. Scree has been published for over 50 years and John's tenure as editor has made Scree the best it's ever been. Scree trip reports give you ideas about where to adventure in Alaska, and these trip reports show what club trips are like that folks like Stu and Greg lead.
This is a comparison of two ski jackets I own and how they compare to each other after skiing several hours in -15 degrees F. Though I choose two specific jackets, the point here is to compare different jacket designs: soft shell versus mesh-lined. What I say here likely applies to other brands of jackets that use one or the other of these designs.
Headlamp: For the last few years I have been using the Brunton L3 headlamp. I like it a lot. But as it is with all gear, if you use something enough it will eventually fail. I had a wire that frayed and broke which killed my headlamp. Very luckily this happened at my home, and not out in a remote location. So - based on this recent experience here are some of my thoughts:
1) Take a close look at your gear.
Often. I didn't see this failure coming because I didn't pay
attention. If I inspected my headlamp I would have caught this
problem before it caused a failure.
Recently I was reminded of some of the strange innovations in cross country skiing that appeared in the 1970's and early 1980's. Cross country skiing was going through a lot of paradigm shifts back then: skis were switching from wood to fiberglass, poles were transitioning from bamboo to aluminum to carbon fiber, skiing technique was adopting skating, knickers and wool socks were giving way to lycra, 3 pin bindings and leather boots were being replaced by minimalist bindings and synthetic boots. Innovation was firing on all cylinders back then. People were trying anything and everything. It was an exciting time. For an example, here is a quick trip back in time to visit some "out of the box thinking", or perhaps "off the wall", ski poles from the 1970's ...
I've been skiing the Matanuska-Susitna Valley since the Iditaski days of the 1980's. While skiing in the Valley recently, I reflected on how things have changed a bit there since the 80's. Here are some pictures I took this year that show what I'm talking about ...
Yentna River travelers, whether it's by snowmobile, dog sled or human powered means, come to have a high regard for Dave Luce and Luce's lodge at Mile 9 of the Yentna. Dave is a super nice guy, always has good trail advice, kindly opens his lodge up as checkpoints for the Susitna 100 and dog sled races, is a very experience snowmobile freight hauler and river traveler ... and cooks some great roadhouse food.
But even veteran outdoors folks like Dave can run into trouble. The Anchorage Daily News ran a short article about Dave and a friend having an early season mishap. Here's a quote from the Anchorage Daily News article:
"Luce  and Bevans  told rescuers they'd been scouting a trail system Monday and were heading home when their snowmachines fell through the ice. All of their survival gear went in the water, as did any communication devices they had, troopers said."
For a more in-depth account of Dave's unplanned adventure, read Craig Medred's story on alaskadispatch.
Bottom line: Be extra careful
when out travelling on early season ice. If a mishap can happen to
65 and 71 year old guys that have been travelling the bush for many
decades, it can happen to you and me.
Fred Trimble made me aware of the AOOS (Alaska Ocean Observing System) Real Time Sensors Application web page. This web application is amazing. It has all of the Alaskan state and non-military federal remote telemetry data on one web page. A huge amount of data - snow depth, weather data, web cams, river levels, buoy data. It's all here. And it's easy to use. Click on the image below to access this web site and take a few minutes to check it out. (Hint: Move your mouse over the right hand list, and see the related sites become highlighted on the map). Thanks Fred!
Recently I was in San Martin de los Andes in Argentina. This place is a very beautiful tourist town with Swiss influenced architecture. And as you can see from the town's seal (shown above), this is a ski town - the large Chapelco ski resort sits above San Martin.
But just 100 meters or so from the
beautiful carved-wood city seal is a mural painted on a building wall.
And this mural is a world apart from the persona projected by the
surrounding town. The mural depicts the "Dirty War" (Guerra Sucia).
In the late 1970's and early 1980's there was much political unrest
and violence in Argentina. During this time the regime of Jorge
Rafael Videla carried out a campaign to weed out anyone with suspected
Communist sympathies. As a result over 10,000 people, such as
intellectuals, artists and activists, were tortured or executed by the
Argentine government. The victims of this political violence are
referred to as the desaparecidos (the disappeared ones).
As I had read about the Dirty War, I
was hoping to see some vestige of this horrific era during my time in
Argentina. So seeing this mural was a memorable and moving
experience for me. It's a strong reminder that extremists have
taken, and can still take, control of governments quickly, and with
horrific consequences... and that such events can happen anywhere in the
We Anchorage, Alaska skiers occasionally get grumpy when a volcano dumps ash on our snow and makes skiing miserable. The ash usually comes from a volcano that is quite a long ways from Anchorage, like Mount Redoubt or Mount Spurr.
But just imagine the volcano headaches we'd have if we lived right at the base of a active volcano. Or if our favorite skiing venue was on the slopes of an active volcano. Such is the case in Pucon, Chile. The town is at the base of an active volcano, and the local ski area is on the slopes of the volcano. You can see steam coming out of the volcano as you ride the chairlift.
Things must be a lot more exciting for skiers at Pucon compared to a little ash fall that we occasionally have to deal with. Ashfall is a regular occurrence. And in the past fissures have opened on Pucon's Villarrica volcano and lava has flowed out. Imagine riding up the Pucon chairlift and seeing a fissure open beneath you and red hot lava start gushing out. You'd probably want your lift ticket money back ... if you were an alpine skier. But no doubt this wouldn't phase snowboarders. They would probably exclaim: "Dude! Check out the sweet lava flow! Awesome! Let's build a kicker and do some jumps over it!"
On the summit of Villarrica I found some "fresh" rocks on the crater rim - pumice that recently had been made from spurts of lava coming out of the the volcano (see picture below). We in Anchorage don't like fine volcanic ash falling on our snow. But imagine if along with the ash we had to dodge hot rocks falling out of the sky. I wonder if the ski reports for Pucon have warnings like this: "Today there is a high probability of falling pumice stones and lava, so we ask all skiers to please don't forget to wear your helmets." Also, it seems like every lift tower should have a fire extinguisher strapped to it. That way if a skier gets nailed by some falling lava and their clothing catches on fire ... then nearby skiers could help put the fire out on the burning skier.
Just kidding around of course. Pucon's ski area is unique and beautiful. And the fact that it is on the side of an active volcano makes it even more unique, intriguing and cool. There are not many places where the response to "What did you do today?" is "I went skiing on an active volcano".
Recently I was hiking in the mountains above Ushuaia, Argentina which, as the locals say, is at the fin del mundo (end of the world) on Tierra del Fuego. After hiking I stopped by Argentina's premier cross country skiing venue - the Pista de Esqui de Fondo Francisco Jerman. It was spring time in the southern hemisphere, so no skiing was going on here. But I took a look around and took a few pictures to share with folks that might be interested.
By most xc ski area standards this venue would be considered modest. But ski-hats off to Club Andino Ushuaia for promoting the sport of xc skiing in this beautiful location that has similarities to Seward, Alaska. The goal of xc skiing, at least in my opinion, is to get people to xc ski regularly so that they reap the health and outdoor benefits from this ski-sport. It surely doesn't require multi-million dollar xc skiing venues to allow people to benefit from xc skiing. Though it seems that a lot of ski clubs in the US lose sight of this fact in the heat of fund raising, competition for major event hosting and capital project one-upmanship. I hope the Argentines at the fin del mundo continue to keep it simple and real ... and get a lot of South Americans hooked on "esqui de fondo".
It's election season in Alaska.
I actually like this insane circus in the 49th state. I follow the issues and
candidates closely. I get very engaged with the whole process.
I voted early, so now I am very ready to exit this insanity. It would be great to be skiing someplace where there wasn't another human around, politicians in particular, for many miles. Come ... on ... snow !!!
When out hiking or skiing it's always fun to find cool stuff. And especially cool stuff that you can use, like the above caribou antlers drops my wife and I found in the Brooks Range and that our now destined to our cabin's "chandelier".
A very unique thing I heard about
being found this summer is something backcountry skier and climber Billy
Finley found. While hiking in the Snowhawk Valley of the Western
Chugach Mountains Billy found a rusty, unopened can. He brought
the can home and opened it ... to find a military C rations fruitcake.
The area he found the can in used to be used for military training a lot
in the 50's and 60's. So perhaps this mountain biscuit was 40, 50
or more years old. Despite its age, Billy said the old fruitcake
still tasted pretty good !!
The short: I went to buy a new pair of Salomon RS Carbon skate boots. I tried them on and couldn't believe how floppy there were, they were much less torsionally rigid than RS skate boots of previous years. I ended up not buying them.
The long: My Salomon RS skate boots are aging so I figured it was time to get a new pair. I like RS skate boots because of their comfort, they are great for long skis on rough trails or for crust skiing. I prefer the RS over the S-Lab and above because: a) they are warmer, b) they are more comfortable and c) they are easier to get on and off - no neoprene cuff. I don't like funky neoprene boot cuffs that require you to contort your foot and put up a fight just to get your boots on and off. And this neoprene material causes your feet to get wetter on long skis, which is not good.
When I picked up the RS Carbon skate boot from the display rack I did the first thing most people do - I twisted the sole to see how stiff the boot was. A skate boot sole needs to be stiff so energy isn't wasted keeping the ski on edge. But I was very surprised at how floppy the sole was. It was much less rigid then some classic ski boots I have owned. And it was nowhere near the rigidity of my Salomon Pro-Combi boots that I like a lot. Never the less, I tried a pair on. I just couldn't believe how soft the soles were for a skate boot. I cringed thinking how much my feet would hurt while doing a long Su Valley trail skate in these boots.
The ugly Romanian RS9 bumblebee skate boots of a dozen years ago set the comfort and performance standard for skate boots And after years of "technological advances" the successors of the RS9s are these boots with flip-flop soles? How can this be?
A look at the sole of the new RS Carbon skate boots seems to tell the story. Big holes were cut in the sole so that the thin layer of carbon weave fabric in the sole shows. No doubt the Salomon marketing department thought this would look cool and maybe generate a few more sales. I'll agree ... it does look cool.
But to make this boot look cool, a bunch of stiff plastic was cut out of the sole. If your carbon composite layer is not thick and stiff enough to make the boot rigid by itself, then taking away the plastic that makes the boot rigid is a mistake. And I think that is the design flaw with these boots.
In 1969 a cross country ski racing
trail was made in Girdwood so that the Alaskan Nordic skiing community
could host their first U.S. Junior National Cross Country Skiing
Championships. Now, just over 40 years later, a cross country
skiing and multi-use trail is under construction in the same area that
the 1969 ski trail once existed. Recently I went to Girdwood to
check out the trail building activity. A couple kilometers, of the
5 k's targeted to be built this year, had been cleared. And past
then end of trail work I followed flagging around the rest of the loop.
Deep in the dark, hemlock groves I found a few of the old trail markers
that had been nailed up by the original trail makers in '68 or '69.
I took some pictures and posted them on the other skiing web site that I
maintain - the Alaska Lost Ski Areas
ALSAP web page you will find all of the historical information I
have collected over the last 6 years or so about this famous old Alaskan
This new ski trail should be completed for the 2010-2011 ski season. So take a trip to Girdwood this winter and go on a cross country ski into the past. For current information on this ski trail, here is the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club web site.
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