Home Intro Gear About

Ski Trips:

2019 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 04 UBXC Apps eBook

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.


Early August 2013:  Now Is Probably a Good Time to Buy Headlamps For The Winter

There still is not much darkness this time of year in Alaska.  But now is a good time to buy headlamps.  And by headlamps I mean the crazy-bright, burn-peoples'-eyeballs-out, 1800 lumen headlamps that have shown up in the past couple of years.  I did a review of these headlamps earlier in this blog.  Now you can find these powerful Chinese LED headlamps, with batteries and a plug-in charger, for less than 20 dollars.  That's cheaper than they were selling last year.  And for this low price you can often get  free shipping!  Search for "1800 Cree headlamp" on ebay.

Once last year I was skiing north on the Gasline Trail at the Anchorage Hillside trail system.  A big herd of Junior Nordic skiers was heading the other way.  Following behind these kids were two super-bright lights, side by side.  I heard one little kid ask another: "Why is that car following us?".  I chuckled, because I knew it was the lights of the track setter's Pisten Bully behind them.  But then I soon realized - it wasn't the Pisten Bully.  The lights were as bright as car lights, they were moving ... but there was no engine noise.  When I skied closer I realized the lights were mega-bright, LED lights mounted on snow-bikes that two women were riding.

These mountain bike lights are incredibly bright.  I've been blinded by them many times.  You just have to look away when the light approaches or the light will enter your head and melt your brain.  Damn they're bright.  And, thanks to the Chinese, they are relatively cheap.  These 8.5V, 7500 lumen light torches go from 50 to 70 dollars on ebay.  Search ebay for "7500 lumen Cree".  But these lights are too heavy to wear as a skiing headlamp (unless you want to ski while wearing a bike helmet).

I can't imagine ever needing more light for skiing than these Cree 1600-1800 lumen headlamps put out.  And it's amazing how much light output you get these days for 20 dollars.  Lights of this brightness would have cost 20 times this amount ($400) five years ago.  So if you are still using a 100 lumen Petzel you got for 80 dollars at REI 5 or 6 years ago ... you are going to be feeling pretty "dim" skiing around people with these 1800 lumen psycho-bright lamps.  Now is probably a good time to grab some of these LED head torches ... and be ready to light up the night this winter.

Update: I recently ordered and received a headlamp like the one in the first picture above.  I wanted a backup lamp for the one I got last year.  When I got the headlamp every thing about it worked fine.  However, the power switch was moved to the back of the battery pack on this model.  This makes for easy on/off and brightness control, you just tap the back of your head lamp to change modes.  BUT ... this also means that the lamp can be accidentally turned on when it's being carried in a pack or duffle bag.  Having the lamp accidentally turn on in your pack, and later finding out that you ran the battery down to empty, would not be a good situation if you really needed light.  So, if you can find a lamp where the switch is on the back of the lamp itself, and not on the back of the battery pack ... that would be a better choice if you plan on carrying the lamp in a pack.

Update #2: See my updated field test / review of this headlamp - here.

 
Late July 2013:  Looking For LeMaitre

Just over a year ago, Michael LeMaitre disappeared while participating in the 2012 Mount Marathon mountain running race.

The last time LeMaitre was seen was as he was nearing Race Point, the 3022 foot turnaround point of the race course.  LeMaitre was in last place in the race, struggled to reach the turnaround point, when he met a race official that had been manning the turnaround point.  The race official had tired of waiting for LeMaitre and decided to head down the mountain to the post-race party.  The race official briefly talked to LeMaitre, and then he turned his back to him and left a soaking-wet race participant alone on the mountain in the clouds and cold drizzle.

After the race official’s encounter with LeMaitre, what happened next is anyone’s guess.  Much effort was put into searching for LeMaitre, but no sign of him was ever found.  The end result is that this tragic, avoidable and inexcusable loss of a human life in Alaska’s biggest party-race has created one of Alaska’s most perplexing unsolved mysteries.

Trying to solve problems that others have struggled with has always intrigued me.  So of course, this mystery is one that I have thought about a lot.  Last year, with my wife, I looked for LeMaitre.  This year I gave it another try, as I will describe later.

Of course, there are many theories as to what happened to LeMaitre.  It seems like you can break the theories down into three categories.  Below, I list these three categories in increasing order of likelihood, based on my opinions.   Here are the theory categories:

1) The “conspiracy theories”.  With any unsolved disappearance and presumed death, there are always a number of “conspiracy theories” that pop up.  These theories are often good fodder for TV documentaries or bantering at barbeques, but they are unlikely to have happened.

The reason more conspiracy theories were spawned from this incident that one might imagine is likely due to an action on the part of LeMaitre’s wife.  His wife apparently published an obituary just a few days after he went missing.  And while searching, especially by their daughter, was still in progress. This action made people wonder what was up.  And as a result, theories of a life insurance scam, using LeMaitre’s military connections to quietly leave the country or hopping on a blue-water sailing boat to sail off to Mexico came to life.

Honestly – I wish one of these conspiracy theories were true.  That would mean LeMaitre is still alive.  But the chance of any of these theories being reality is likely very remote.

2) The “LeMaitre reached the turnaround, headed back down, got lost and perished” theory.  This theory is probably the most widely embraced explanation of what happened to LeMaitre. 

But I don’t think this is what happened.

The major focus of the search efforts were done on areas below the turnaround.  Meticulous grid searches where done all over the lower mountain.  My wife and I searched this area too.  And we could see survey tape everywhere left over from grid searches.  So in my opinion these search efforts were exhaustive.  Yet no sign of LeMaitre was found.

Some speculated that LeMaitre encountered a bear on the lower part of the mountain, and this was the cause of his demise.  But I doubt this.  Sure it’s possible that he happened onto a brown bear and it attacked him, killed him and buried its “kill”.  But I’ve seen bear kill stashes before and there is no way a search team would miss such a digging area.  And encounters with an aggressive bear protecting its kill would have undoubtedly occurred on the lower mountain with all the people searching the area.  But no such encounters were reported.

That no sign of LeMaitre was found in the areas below the turnaround, after extensive and exhaustive searching, seems to prove something.  It likely proves that LeMaitre didn’t end up on the lower mountain.

3)  The “LeMaitre reached the turnaround and kept going up the mountain” theory.  I believe that this most likely is what happened.

Before I go on, one must realize that LeMaitre had never done the Mount Marathon race before.  So he didn’t know what to expect.  It was cloudy and there were no people at the turnaround, not even a race official, to let him know he had made it to the far end of the race course.  Nothing would look familiar in the clouds, especially to a man that was know to have very poor eyesight.  As a result of his exertion, which apparently, due to his slow pace, was much more than most competitors - he would be spent and tired at the turnaround.  And because he was spent and tired, he most likely wouldn't be thinking as clearly as normal.

So likely, LeMaitre kept going past the turnaround point.  And continued up the ridge to the west.

But wasn’t it obvious the trail looped around the Race Point rock and headed back down?

No!  The only “obvious” trail, especially when you are in the clouds and have never been to this place before, is the trail that goes past the turnaround rock and continues UP the ridge.

Even in clear weather you can make the mistake of going past the race point turnaround rock.  I remember the first time I went up the Mount Marathon race trail.  It was back in 1981 (yeah, a long time ago).  I was new to Alaska and was training with a few cross country ski racing friends.  I got to the Race Point rock and kept running on the well-defined trail that went past the rock.  My friends yelled at me that I had passed the turnaround.  I was confused.  Didn’t my friends tell me that we were going to "the top”?

The Race Point turnaround rock.  Behind the rock is the well defined trail that heads west towards the summit of Mount Marathon.

The picture above shows the trail that continues uphill, just past the race course turn-around rock.  You can see how well defined the trail is.  This trail could easily convince a tired race newbie, alone in the clouds, that it is the “main” trail to the “top”.

Another point I’d like to make about the above picture is that this trail beyond the turnaround rock is gaining elevation.  The trail is still going UP.  And this leads me to an issue of cultural ignorance that has forever surrounded the Mount Marathon race.  And that is the knowledge of what the “top of the mountain” actually is.

It’s endless, the numbers of times you hear people say, or even journalists write, that the Mount Marathon race goes to the “top of the mountain” and back down.  Such statements are very ignorant and completely false.  The summit of Mount Marathon (actually “Marathon Mountain” on USGS maps) is 2 miles west and about 1800 feet higher than Race Point, a location on the east ridge of Mount Marathon where the race course turns around.  The race doesn't even go close to the top of a mountain.  It goes to a random point on a ridge.  This highpoint was chosen a long time ago merely because you could see it from a downtown Seward bar.  Not because it was the "top of a mountain".

So, say you are Michael LeMaitre.  You have never hiked to the turnaround point of the Mount Marathon race course before.  And even if you had been to the top of the course, it is very likely you weren't there in weather as socked in and crappy as this day, which makes everything look unfamiliar. But you have read about people racing to “the top of the mountain”.  And you have heard countless Alaskans talk about racing to “the top of the mountain”. 

After this barrage of misinformation, it would be easy for LeMaitre to think: “I turn around when I reach the ‘top’”.  But when he gets to the Race Point rock, in thick clouds and when no one is there, and he sees a defined trail going UP and continuing west, he says to himself: “I’m not at the top yet, I’ve got to keep going up.”  It is no stretch of imagination that this never-dying ignorance about what the top of a mountain is - could have been a factor in LeMaitre's demise.

As often is the case with outdoor tragedies in Alaska, deaths are can be attributed to not just one mistake, but a series of mistakes.  And often with such tragedies, people don’t realize they are making a series of mistakes.  Such was possibly the situation LeMaitre ended up in.

At Race Point Lemaitre could have made his third mistake.  The first mistake was to trust that the Seward Chamber of Commerce had the even management competence to put on a safe race for slow competitors like himself.  The second mistake was to assume that people he talked to had a clue as to what the term “top of the mountain” meant.  So as a result of these previous mistakes, alone and unmonitored, he continued up and westward towards precarious terrain.  His third mistake.

Once past Race Point the trail along the ridge heading west does something that would have endangered LeMaitre.  And that is – it gets easy for a while.

At this point LeMaitre, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, was no doubt soaking wet from sweat and the cold drizzle of the day.  As the terrain eased, LeMaitre’s heart rate would have gone down.  He would have been generating less body heat and wouldn’t have been able to offset the chilling effects of temps in the 50’s and light rain.  And if there was a breeze on this exposed ridge, that would have increased his rate of heat loss even more.

Dehydration, from two hours of exertion without drinking anything, would also start playing a factor.  You get colder faster when you are wet and dehydrated.  And when you get cold and your body temperature starts declining, your thinking is often impaired as you approach the realm of hypothermia.

Just under a mile past Race Point the goat trail vanishes and the ridge narrows and starts getting steep and sketchy.  I used to peak bag mountains a lot with Bill Spencer, and in areas like this we would talk about our “sketch-o-meters”.  Often the person climbing in front would encounter problem terrain and make a comment like: “Hmm.  Looks like my sketch-o-meter is getting close to 10.”  That would mean the terrain is getting really gnarly and exposed and its passage is going to require roping up.  In this area my sketch-o-meter was is in the 4 to 5 range.  But it would have been in the 7 range if it was a wet day like the day LeMaitre was on the mountain.

Approaching the "sketchy" section of the east ridge that leads up to Mount Marathon.

If LeMaitre got to this point, I can’t believe that he would have continued on.  If he did, he probably soon figured out he was off-track and turned back.  But being in such climbing terrain has dangers if you are cold and tired.  The required slow and careful climbing in this terrain will cause you to get even colder.

Perhaps this was the case if LeMaitre was at this point.  If he was here and he finally figured out that he had gone too far up the ridge, he knew he was in trouble.  He knew he was getting too cold.  And he knew he had to get down off the ridge.

Should that have been the case, he could have easily made his next mistake.  And that was to not retrace his route, and to descend down one of the gullies to the north. 

I’m no expert on mountain running.  But this part of Mount Marathon, beyond the mountain runners’ realm, is the terrain where Alaskan peak baggers like me spend a lot of time.  So one thing I have a lot of experience with is making BAD route decisions high in the mountains.  And I know how easy it is to be lured into making bad route decisions.

If LeMaitre was at this point and getting hypothermic, he would look to both sides of the ridge for an escape route.  There are snowfields in the valley to the north, steep tundra and cliffs to the south.  In my opinion he would have dropped down to the north.  He would have been lured by the “snow field sirens”, as I call them.

Snowfields always look inviting.  They are easy to travel on and seem to always have the illusion of being “not that far” below you.  And when you are in the clouds, the side of the ridge that has snow always seems brighter and more inviting than the dark and foreboding snow-less side.

It’s conceivable that LeMatitre, if he was in this predicament, would have tried to descend one of the several gullies in this area to the snowfield at the base of the valley to the north.  He might have thought that once he got down to the snowfields he could start running again and get warmed up.  Maybe he remembered the race director telling everyone to "go right" (i.e. north) once you reach "the top", to get on the descent trail.  So perhaps this directive was a factor in him deciding to descend here.

Looking down a gully to the snowfield (glacier) below.  It looks like it would be easy to drop down.  But it's deceptive.

But these gullies are tougher than they look from up on top of the ridge.  While in this area, I hiked down into a few gullies from the top and then hiked around and up into the same gullies from below.  Even though these were “logical” gullies one might descend, you could see that they would be challenging to descend on wet rock like the conditions were on July 4th, 2012.

When descents like these get sketchy, due to wet rocks or unexpected cliffs, you can end up spending a lot of time slowly working your way around problem spots.  And if you are hypothermic, you are likely not able to be make good route decisions or balance well.

Climbing up into a gully from the snowfields.  Note the dust being whipped up.  Winds causes a lot of erosion and rock fall here.
Looking for signs of LeMaitre in snow wells in a gully next to cliffs.  It would be hard to spot someone in these places from a helicopter.

So perhaps this area is where LeMaitre’s Mount Marathon run ended.  From what I have learned from sources close to the search efforts, this area was not a focus of ground searches as much as the lower sections of the mountain were.  There is a lot of extreme terrain here that could hide a body.  And this is unstable, “active terrain” where frequent rock fall could cover a body.

 

Like I said before, trying to solve problems that are tough to solve has always intrigued me.  As I searched the gullies on the north side of this ridge I hoped that my logic would lead me to solve the LeMaitre disappearance mystery.  But it didn’t.  I, along with many others, would like to see this mystery solved one day.  Hopefully this account will spur others that like to solve real life mysteries to come up with their own scenarios as to what happened.  And then go out and look for Michael LeMaitre.

  
I wish I could speak mountain goat, because these Mount Marathon residents I met might know what happened to LeMaitre.
An inscription on the Race Point turnaround rock, made by LeMaitre's daughter at the end of her month-long search effort for her father last summer.
 
Late July 2013:  Bears In The Clouds

If I pointed to the top of this steep mountain (see recent picture above) and said to you: "There are bears up there in the clouds!" ... you'd probably think I was nuts.

But as silly as this might sound, there is truth to this statement.  Friend, and fellow xc skier, Greg Jacobson and I once did a technical climb to the summit of this peak, on Knight Island in Prince William Sound.  And what did we find on top?  Bear poop.

Why would bears be climbing to the top of this craggy peak?  Food.  Lots of great protein.  Black bears frequently climb the gnarliest peaks on this island in their pursuit of eggs.  Knight Island black bears feast on eggs from nests that terns and gulls make on precarious ledges, thousands of feet above the ocean.  Black bears are phenomenal climbers.  And the crazy terrain where you see them, or find their poop ... never ceases my amazement of what they can climb.

 
Late July 2013:  Avoiding Being "Shafted" In Prince William Sound

Whenever I can, I escape the South-Central Alaska summer madness and head to Prince William Sound.  Here I can hike, ski or peak bag and not see anyone except for those who I am with.  One of my favorite locations to scramble around on is Knight Island.  100 years or so ago there was a lot of mineral prospecting on this island.  Copper in particular was what folks were looking for.  The hope was to find another "McCarthy / Kennecott-size" copper deposit next to the ocean, so that the ore could be easily transported by ship, without the use of a railroad (like with the Kennecott Mine).

When I'm hiking by old mines I always stop to check them out.  But caution is always warranted at these mine sites.  Many of them have shafts or pits that you don't want to fall into.  To fall in an old mine shaft in such a remote location ... well, you'd probably be shafted.

My wife and I noticed this tailings pile while we were climbing up a peak on Knight Island. On our way back down we hiked over to the old mine site.  Not surprisingly, we found a shaft cut into the bedrock.  You probably wouldn't want to accidentally fall into this pit. Old mining relics.
My wife hiking on Knight Island recently.
 
Mid July 2013:  Eklutna Glacier ... 52 years ago (1961)

This is a picture of a soldier from Fort Richardson on the Eklutna Glacier in the Western Chugach Mountains in 1961.  I saw this picture on ebay and ended up buying it.  I've got a couple of pro-quality photos like this now.  So I guess that makes me a "photo art collector" of "1960s Eklutna Glacier military ski training operations".  There are not a lot of collectors in this genre, so there's not much competition and it's a very cheap pursuit!  And .. it results in some cool pictures hanging in my office.

More Eklutna Glacier military training pictures can be found here on the Eklutna Glacier web page of the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project web site.

 
Mid July 2013:  Tom Choate - Alaska's Toughest Old Mountain Goat

Hail to Alaska's toughest old mountain goat!  Recently venerable Alaskan mountain man Tom Choate became the oldest person to climb Mt. McKinley.  He recently made the summit of the highest peak in Alaska, and North America, at age 78.  Tom first topped out on Mt. McKinley in 1963, and then again in 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013.  Here's the Anchorage Daily News story about Tom's record setting climb.  And as this is a cross country skiing web site ...  it should be noted that Tom has long been a member of the Anchorage Nordic Ski Patrol.

In the archives of Scree, the Mountaineering Club of Alaska's monthly publication, there are endless accounts of Tom's exploits.  But one of Tom's exploits in particular, or should I say unique and amazing talent, made a very lasting impression on me.  And that is Tom's ability to catch porcupines with his bare hands.

I haven't seen Tom do this personally.  But once I was at a MCA slide show and there were pictures shown of Tom, a retired biology professor, nabbing a porcupine.  Tom would run after the porky and step on its tail.  Then Tom would reach around the quills on the animal's back and grab the fleshy areas of the porky's armpits. Tom would then pick the prickler up, with his arms extended and holding the porky away from his body (and face).  No quills ever ended up stuck in Tom after these porky-pickups.  None.  Very impressive!  What a tough character!

 
Mid July 2013:  "Trails That Never End" Now In Apple iTunes Store

The ebook that I recently wrote, "Trails That Never End", is now available in the Apple iTunes Store.

Trails That Never End - Timothy F. Kelley

A Kindle edition of this ebook can be found on Amazon. 

All proceeds from the sale of this ebook will go to cross country skiing programs in rural Alaska.

 

 
Early July 2013:  DIY Base Cleaner Experiment

Recently I ran out of Swix base cleaner.  I checked the web and noticed that it now sells for just south of $40 for a pint.  Hmm, isn't this stuff basically just citrus cleaner these days?  After that thought, the DIY (Do It Yourself) junkie in me kicked in and I wondered how citrus cleaner was made.  I did a web search to find out and found a bunch of information, like this web page

So now I'm giving a try at making my own citrus-based wax remover and base cleaner.  I filled a mason jar with vinegar and orange peels.  I'll let the jar sit until I need some wax cleaner (probably in November, four months from now).  At that time I will strain the citrus solution with a sieve as I pour it through a funnel back into the original Swix base cleaner can.

It will be interesting to see how the end product works out.  If you too are an XC skier of the DIY cult ... you might give this a try yourself.

 

December 2013 update:  The end result was that this DIY citrus cleaner worked, but not as well as the real thing.  The citrus cleaner could take off hard wax residue from a ski base after it had been scraped.  But there is no way this homemade citrus cleaner would be able to handle klister, or very warm weather hard waxes.  I'll be using it for ski base jobs that it can handle.

Homemade citrus wax cleaner.  It works, but not as well as the real thing.
 
Late June 2013:  How Not To Die While Crossing The Mud FlatsTo Fire Island And Back

Recently a man died while doing the increasingly popular Pt. Campbell to Fire Island and back tidal mud flats crossing.  This person did not make it off the mud flats before the tide came roaring in.  Tragically, and not surprisingly, he drowned.

I've done this mud flats crossing a few times.  I 'm surely no expert at it.  But I'd like to offer my views on how to conservatively do the crossing to Fire Island and get back safely.  This is just my opinion and it should not be used as a guide.  You need to come up with your own plan that works with your level of fitness and your rate of travel.

My view on how to do the crossings safely is simple.  Go to Fire Island AND BACK -  BEFORE low tide.  Go to Fire Island AND BACK - BEFORE the tide turns.  This will give you a 1 1/2 hour to 2 hour safety window in case something goes wrong.

The chart above shows recent negative tides.  When large negative tides (-4 to -5 feet) are occurring, once the water level drops to approximately the 7 foot level - you can start the trek and you have approximately 3 and 1/2 hours to do the 6 mile plus over and back crossing.  But to be safe, you want to do the over and back crossing in around 2 hours.  This will give you a one and  one half (1 1/2) hour safety window should something unexpected happen.

Here is a suggested plan:
1) Two (2) hours before a negative 4 to 5 foot low tide, start out from Pt. Campbell.
2) After one (1) hour you should be at Fire Island.  If you are not at Fire Island in one hour, then TURN AROUND and GO BACK!
3) If you have made it to Fire Island in under a hour, then take a SHORT break, and then head back at the one (1) hour mark.
4) After two (2) hours you should be BACK at Pt. Campbell.  After two hours there will be no sign of the tide coming in, because it is just starting to turn and the waterline is a long ways (several miles) away.

Make sure others are safe: Talk to folks you meet on the mud flats.  Tell them to go back if they are likely to be out on the mud flats late into the "safety window".  Many teenagers do this mud flats crossing.  And often without adequate planning.  I realize that trying to tell high school kids anything about safety is usually a pointless task.  But at least try.

Link to Anchorage tide tables - click hereNOTE!: Tide tables show PREDICTED times for high and low times.  These times are BEST GUESSES.  In Upper Cook Inlet these times can deviate from reality by up to an hour, due to wind and the complex and hard-to-predict hydraulics of this marine environment.  So never take tide table values to be gospel.  Always plan for errors in high and low tide prediction times.  And in particular, always consider how tide table time errors might threaten your safety.  And plan accordingly.

 
Late June 2013:  Ancient Pitons

During the 1950's to 1970's the military used to stage arctic warfare training sessions on the Eklutna Glacier.  The military would drive in the road, that they had made, along Eklutna Lake.   And they had a campground at the end of the road.  This road was open to civilian vehicular travel in the 1970's, before the Chugach State Park was established.  So when the military was not using the campground, it was a somewhat popular place for Anchorage residents to drive in and camp at.  My wife remembers driving to the end of the Eklutna Lake Road in the early 70's with her family.

Fred Trimble once told me that he and his family drove in and camped at the end of the Eklutna Lake Road in the early 70's.  While he was there he noticed that there were lots of iron pitons in cracks in the rocks near the campground.  Military mountaineering instructors would teach troops how to place pitons, and the cracks in the bedrock behind the campground were convenient for introducing soldiers to this skill.

Recently I was mountain biking at the end of the Eklutna Lake Road and I remembered what Fred had told me about the pitons.  So I looked around a bit to see if there were any cracks in the glacial smoothed rock that were logical locations for piton placement practice.  I soon saw a narrow crack in a ledge not far from the trail.  I hiked over to it and noticed a glob of moss hanging in the middle of the crack.  I wiped away the moss and sure enough - there was an old iron piton.  This piton had been pounded into this crack 40 to 60 years ago.

 
Mid June 2013:  Maximizing Hillside Singletrack Mountain Bike Workouts

Like most everyone that owns a mountain bike in Anchorage, I really like mountain biking the new single track trails in town.  When I go biking I want to have fun on these trails, but at the same time I want to get a good workout in.  On the Kincaid single track trails it seems easy to get a good workout in.  Short hills keep coming at  you and your heart rate never drops for long.

With Hillside single track trails it seems, at least to me, to be a bit harder to get a solid workout in.  The climbs at Hillside are a lot longer than at Kincaid, so you definitely get a good workout going up.  The catch is the downhills.  They are long and technical and your heart rate goes low for a long period of time as you coast these downhill trails.

A couple of years ago I took a look at the Hillside single track map and tried to figure out how you could maximize your workouts on these trails.  How could you avoid long periods of low heart rate, and get a higher quality workout per time on the trails?  The answer was pretty simple.

Always go downhill on the Gas Line Trail.

If you use the straight and steep Gas Line Trail as your downhill, as a quick way to dump your vertical, then you have 4 major climbs available to you.  The climbs are all good cardio and leg-strength grinds.  So every time you get to the top of the Hillside STA trails, take the Gas Line Trail down and climb up another trail.  You will end up spending way more time climbing than descending.

Here is an example workout that uses the Gas Line Trail to maximize the amount of climbing (and cover all Hillside STA trails):

Start at the Abbott Road parking lot and go up Drone Lane, Queen Bee (south) and Janice's Jive.
Go down the Gas Line Trail.
Go up The Hive.
Go down the Gas Line Trail.
Go up Yellow Jacket and the Hornet's Nest.
Go down the Gas Line Trail.
Go up Stinger
Go down the Gas Line Trail.
Go up Janice's Jive and out Queen Bee (north) and Drone Lane.

You can vary the order of climbs to keep workouts from getting routine.  And you can add or delete climbs to tailor the workout to the length you want.

 
Late May 2013:  A Visit To A Nordic Skiing Center In Iceland

My wife and I were in Akureyri, Iceland in late May.  So, we decided to check out the local cross country skiing center.  We drove up to the Hlidarfjall ski area above Akureyri.  Adjacent to the alpine ski area is the Hlidarfjall cross country skiing center.  Normally, according to a local skier we talked to, skiing ends here around May 1st.  But this year winter stayed late, and we found ourselves skiing on set ski tracks on May 29th.

The trails here were well designed and fun to ski.  You could see this place was set up to hold races.  There were lights for some of the trails, which is necessary because this part of Iceland is nearly the latitude of Coldfoot, AK and only gets 3 hours of sun in December.  There was lots of wind fencing because there is not a tree anywhere near here and Iceland is known for its wind.

We were told that about 300 xc skiers in Akureyri use this ski area.  Use of the trails is free to anyone that wants to ski here.  A unique and nice place to ski.  This ski area has similarities to skiing at Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass, Alaska.

Location of Akureyri, Iceland. The xc ski center lodge. Timing station on top of the lodge. Nice stadium area.
Lights and lots of wind fencing, Heading out. Trail map. Akureyri in the background. Heading to the far end.
Heading back from the far end. Warm-up cabin on an upper loop. The adjacent alpine ski area. Pisten Bullies are used to set the ski tracks. Not much for trees in Iceland and wood is expensive.  This stadium fence is made from driftwood (common for fences in Iceland).  The wood could be from Siberia, South America ... who knows where.
 
19 May 2013:  Ahhhh!  I Love These Scratching Posts The Humans Make For Me!

I was skiing up the Middle Fork Campbell Creek Trail and following brown bear tracks from the previous day.  He/she had been walking on the trail because it was easier going than trudging through the deep snow from the recent storm.  I soon got a chuckle out of the bear tracks.  You could see where the bear veered off the trail and spent time rubbing against a trail marker "scratching" post.

Brown bear tracks on the Middle Fork Trail. A  good sized bear. You can see snow beaten down around this post where the bear stopped to rub and scratch against it.  You can also see claw drag marks on the snow and bite marks on the post.
 
18 May 2013:  18 May 2013 - A Day Filled With Records

The late spring snowstorm of May 17th and 18th, 2013 broke a bunch of Anchorage, AK meteorological records (see here).  The key record that was broken was the length of time from the first measurable snowfall of the snow season in Anchorage to the last.  The old record was was 230 days set during the fall/winter/spring of 1981-82.  The new record is now 232 days.  That means our snow season covered 63.5% of the year.  But unfortunately, not all 63% of the year had enough snow to ski on.  I'm liking this global warming trend.  Maybe 10 years from now we'll be able to ski on Anchorage ski trails 75% of the year.  And at Glen Alps 90% of the year.

This late-spring storm allowed me, Cory Smith and others to set PR's for our latest ski on an Anchorage Nordic ski trail.  My latest ski prior to this was May 5th in 1992.  We skied the Spencer Loop - no bare spots, no ski removal.
By Alaska state law, studded tires had to come off by May 15th.  So I think a record was set on May 18th for the most vehicle accidents in a day in my neighborhood.  On my way to go skiing, I drove by lots and lots of car carnage.
 
Mid May 2013:  Thoughts On Trekking Poles

I use trekking poles quite a lot in the summer.  I like trekking poles for travel in the backcountry.  They are more versatile and tougher than xc ski poles.  And they cost a lot less than racing ski poles, so you worry less about trashing them.  I guess I know a bit about trekking poles ... because I have broken a lot of them over the years.  Here are some thoughts about trekking poles that I have had experience with ...

A: Komperdell twist lock trekking pole.  You can see that a twist lock broke and the carbide tip is missing.
B: Another broken Komperdell.  Nice grip, but the twist lock broke, like they often do.
C: This is a Komperdell pole I have used for peak bagging.  I put a self-arrest handle on it.
D: A "Trail-lite" Komperdell twist lock pole that my wife uses.  Super light with a nice grip.
E: A Black Diamond flip-lock pole.  These are my favorites.  I had a pair for several years until I finally broke one.  I think flip-lock poles are less prone to failure than twist-lock poles.
F: A new pair of Black Diamond flip lock poles.  These are eliptical shaped.  But I wish they were round and had the long grip like my old ones.
G: Cascade Mountain Tech carbon fiber trekking poles.  I got these for 25 dollars (yep, you read that right- $25) last month at Costco, which seemed like a killer deal.  Super light.  Not sure how they will hold up in Talkeetna granite boulder fields.  You can buy them off the web for 29.99 plus shipping here.  Another picture of these poles is below ...

Here are a few shots of my wife using trekking poles in terrain where they come in handy (Talkeetna Mountains, last summer) ...

Tip: I rarely ever use the straps on trekking poles.  I used to always use the straps, just like with xc ski poles.  But then about 12 years ago I saw a person slip with their hands in trekking pole straps.  One of the poles stuck hard into in the ground and caused the falling person to dislocate their shoulder.  Ever since I witnessed that, I rarely ever use the straps on trekking poles.

 
Mid April 2013:  This Place Knows How To Rock!

My wife and I were going down the Shulin Lake Trail, south of Petersville, when we entered a large open area.  Soon we'd realize that this muskeg in the middle of nowhere had a big surprise for us.  In the middle of it were two huge glacial erratics.  These massive rocks were left here when the last ice sheet receded from this area.  Perhaps only one rock was left by the retreating ice and over time it split in two.  This ice age Alaskan "Stonehendge" was an impressive sight.  And it's a sight that only snowmobilers, hunters, pilots of small planes and and a rare few skiers occasionally ever see.  GPS location (N62.28858, W150.69865), Google Maps - click here.

Skiing through the rock!
 
Early April 2013: New Additions To My "Architectural Wonders Of Alaska" Collection

I like to photo-document the architectural wonders of Alaska.  You can scroll down on this web page to see some of my previous encounters with the best of Alaska.

Recently I was skiing in the Petersville area when I spotted a cabin that I couldn't pass by.  It looked like the owner of this property didn't have a good view of Mt. McKinley from the main cabin.  But  a big rock, a glacial erratic, on the property offered a fine view of the mountain.  So what the heck, why not build a lookout cabin on top of the big rock!?  Looks like they are in the process of doing just that.  Ingenious.  Unique.  And proudly Alaskan!

 
In the general area that the "Rock Cabin" exists, I passed by this attention-getting, elevated walk-way, with suspension bridge, to someone's home.  I took this picture from my vehicle on a Mat-Su Borough road ... so I wasn't trespassing when I took this photo.  It might be exciting walking across the plywood deck of this suspension bridge when it is covered in ice or snow and your hands are holding bags of groceries.
 
Early April 2013: Skier-Friendly Otter Sled Modifications

The last five years have seen a boom in the use of plastic Otter Sleds in Alaska for hauling gear behind snowmowbiles.  These sleds are strong enough for most peoples' needs.  And they are relatively inexpensive.  Places like Sportsman's Warehouse sells a lot of these sleds.  I have one and I like it.

But, Otter Sleds have their problems if you are a cross country skier.  These sleds have five narrow runners on their base.  Each runner is just over an inch wide - much narrower than a racing ski.  When these sleds go through wet snow, and when their narrow ruts freeze-up solid, they make dangerous trails.  Your skis can easily get caught and trapped in these icy ruts.  And frozen Otter Sled tracks are not fun to fall on.

I gave a try at modifying my Otter Sled to make it more skier-friendly.  I replaced two inner narrow sled runners with a ski track-width runners.  This modification makes shallow ski tracks that a ski can ride in.  I also tried putting another strip of plastic on top of my replacement sled runners.  Doing this resulted in deeper ski tracks.  But there was more sled drag.  You can use an electric drill to take off the top plastic runner if you don't need it or don't want to use it.  Perhaps a simpler option than what I did would be to drag something behind the sled to wash-out the ruts in the first place.

So if you use an Otter Sled and are tired of the nasty tracks they can make, these are some ideas on how to mitigate the problem.  This is also a way to make a cheap and multi-purpose, light-duty classic ski track groomer.

An Otter Sled.  These are popular snowmobile sleds in Alaska. I replaced two inner runners with UHMW plastic runners that I fabricated.  The new runners are ski track width. I put then put strips of UHMW on top.  These cut deeper ski tracks, but cause more sled drag.  You can easily removed the top pieces of plastic with an electric drill.
 
Late March 2013: Spring Skiing Safety Message

During Alaska's beautiful spring skiing season - don't get "blinded by the scenery" and forget to pay attention to where you are skiing.

 
Late March 2013: Signs of Last Fall's Flooding

It's easy to find signs of last fall's big floods.  Grasses stuck high in river-side willows.  Washed-out sections of road.  And remnants of a house that was eaten by the Matanuska River.

This house north of Sutton was a victim of river bank erosion last fall.  On the roof is painted "THANKS M-S B".  M-S B is the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.  The property owner apparently thinks that the MSB should have done more to protect his home from bank erosion.
     
  Grasses stuck in willows.   Lots of road damage.  
 
Mid March 2013: Deshka Doughnuts!

While skiing the Deshka River near Neil Lake recently, I noticed a bunch of snow rollers on the north side of a river bank.  When weather conditions are just right, this phenomenon can occur.  I have seen snow rollers quite a few times before, but these rollers seemed unique because they had holes in their centers.  So if you are skiing the Neil Lake Trail and get hungry ... who knows, maybe just around the next river bend some "Deshka Doughnuts" will be waiting for you!  Oh, one other thing - be prepared when skiing the Deshka River.  Always bring a can of frosting and a bag of rainbow sprinkles ... in case you encounter a batch of snow doughnuts!

 
Mid March 2013: "Trails That Never End" ebook

I've been on a "digital adventure" for a while.  And that adventure was writing an ebook.  Recently I published this Kindle ebook on Amazon.  Here is a link to it.

The name of the ebook is: "Trails That Never End".  It's subtitled: "Traveling Alaska on the Lightest of Skis".  The ebook is about skiing Alaska's longest winter trails.  And it's about doing this skiing on, you guessed it, cross country racing skis - "the lightest of skis."

This ebook is a photo-documentary of skiing the 1000 mile Iditarod Trail, the 1000 mile Yukon Quest Trail, the 440 mile Kobuk 440 Trail, skiing from Kaktovik to Arctic Village across the Brooks Range, skiing Iditarod qualifier sled dog race trails and more.  Most of these ski trips I did in the 90's with Bob Baker and Tim Miller.  The Iditarod trip was the first human-powered race from Anchorage to Nome.  And the skis of the Quest and Kobuk were the first known ski traverses of these long trails.

Ninety five percent of the content in this ebook you will NOT find on this web site.  It is a large ebook: 44 MBs, over 700 color images and if you were to print it out it would be around 490 pages.  So, it's a lot of "bytes per buck".  It's the "eBook That Never Ends"!

If you like reading this web site, then you will probably like reading this ebook.  The stories of these ski trips are a mix of route descriptions, tales of the challenges encountered, insights and tips for fellow winter trail travelers and numerous anecdotes about the places we skied to and the people we met.

You can preview and read the first 10% of the ebook for free.  You need a color ebook reader for this ebook.  Black and white Kindles just don't cut it for an ebook with so many color images.  If you don't have a color Kindle, then you can download from Amazon the free Kindle reader apps for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows 8 tablet or Android.

Proceeds from sales of this ebook will be donated to cross country skiing programs in rural Alaska.

 
Late February 2013:  Hok "Ski Shoes"

I had been wanting to get some boondocking skis for a while.  Why would I want such skis?  Well, on days it is storming and blowing, and all trails around our cabin are blown over and snowed in, a good option is to head into the woods and explore places you've never been to before.  But to do this you need the right skis.  Racing skis aren't the best choice for deep powder.  And touring skis are not much fun when skiing over devils club and through alders and willows.  Snowshoes work fine for these soft snow conditions.  But snowshoes are snowshoes, and they aren't as fun as skis.

Research of boondocking skis led me to Altai Skis and their "Hok".  This ski is made in Curlew, WA by Nils Larsen and Francois Sylvain.  The design of this ski is influenced by Nils' visits with the indigenous skiers of the Altai Mountains in Northern Asia.  Hok skis are short (145 cm) and wide (120 mm) and have an integrated climbing skin in the base.  In a way, they are combination skis and snowshoes.  So they can be referred to as "ski shoes".  But from my experience, they are more skis than snowshoes.  And that's a good thing.

The pros: Hoks are great for bushwhacking.  They're lightweight.  They climb well.  They aren't fast due to the climbing skin, but you can still kick and glide on them.  And they are really fun going downhill in deep powder, they turn very easily.  You smile and chuckle when you use them, they're fun.

The cons:  There are no cons if you use stiff three pin boots.  But I chose to go light and use Salomon XAdv 6 boots and XAdv SNS bindings.  With this setup it's hard to get an edge on wind-packed snow or when you want to snowplow going downhill on a snowmobile trail.  But I just try to avoid such conditions and it's no problem.

The bottom line:  When I was a kid I lived on a hill.  And in the winter the hill all around our house would be covered with my ski tracks.  Lately I noticed that the hill that our cabin is on was covered in ski tracks.  Hok tracks.  So, if a ski can make you act like the kid you were 50 years ago ... then a pair of these skis surely needs to be added to your quiver!

The Hok is about three times the width of an xc racing ski.  It has an integrated climbing skin under the foot. Hoks are good skis for bushwhacking into the boondocks.  They are also good for making trails (like to the base of Mt. Susitna).
When snowstorms make trail skiing unappealing, you can pull out your Hoks and tool around in the new snow for hours on them.  They're a blast.
 
Early February 2013:  Point.  Click.  Flame On !!


Ever since Cub Scout days I have been told, and I have read zillions of times, how important it is to carry matches when traveling in the backcountry.  When your survival might be reliant on heat from a fire, then matches can save your life.  So yes, it is important to always carry matches (in a waterproof container).

I carry matches in the backcountry.  But I don't really like matches.  They break.  They stink.  They can't set damp or wet stuff on fire.

So whenever weight is not the foremost factor, my first choice for a fire starter is a propane torch, with a push button ignition.  I carry one under the seat of my snowmobile when heading to our cabin.  And I carry one in my truck for emergencies, or for warming things that freeze - like truck canopy locks.  And of course, I have one at home.  Yep, I like my propane torches!

When you show up at your cabin and it's 20 below and you need to start a fire ... it's nice not to have to mess with matches, paper and kindling.  Just throw some wood into the stove.  Whip out your torch.  Point.  Click.  And flame on!!

So if you are heading out camping or cabining this winter, and you have the room ... go big, and go torch!  Torches sure beat matches.

Under my snowmobile seat, near where I tie on my ski bag*, I always carry a propane torch with a push button auto start.

*Ha!  See how I made this a skiing-related blog post!  ;-)

Damp kindling?  No problem.  Dry it out and set it on fire in a few seconds.  Just ... Point.  Click.  And flame on !!
 
Mid January 2013:  Skiing Past Architectural Wonders Of Alaska


On ski trips in Alaska I like to take pictures of architectural wonders that I might ski past.  I have posted a number of these pictures in the past on this web site.  Such as these:

Cook Inlet rock cabin Talkeetna tower cabin


Going through some older ski trip pictures recently, I noticed that I had these shots of some fine Alaskan architecture that had never made it to this web site.  Until now ...

This cabin is on the Yukon Quest Trail between Circle Hot Springs and Central, Alaska.  I get the feeling the people that built this cabin didn't like bears. A fuselage of an old DC-6 (?) being used as a snowmobile garage in Selawik, Alaska. Take your Alaskan architecture with you.  Who says campers are only for trucks?  Here is an Alaskan snowmobile camper!  ;-)
 
Early January 2013:  Ironic, And Funny ...
The other day I looked at fasterskier.com, North America's premier cross country ski racing web site.  When the web page came up I sensed that there was something strange about it.  Then I noticed what it was.  I started chuckling, and I said to myself: "Holy crap!  There's a snowmobile ad on fasterskier!"  And then I saved a screen shot of it (see above).

Yep, there was an ad for Polaris snowmobiles on this very popular cross country ski racing web site.  How ironic is that?  Often snowmobiles are despised, derided, denounced and demonized by xc skiers (except by me and my wife, because we own snowmobiles).  So the last place you would think to see a snowmobile ad is on one of the world's most popular cross country ski racing web sites.

This was a Google ad.  So of course Polaris isn't paying fasterskier to place this ad.  Polaris is paying Google, and Google is giving a little bit of this ad money to fasterskier.  And when you display Google ads on your web site you don't have total control over what you ad content will be.

So, for those cross country skiers that still continue to anachronistically fuss about snowmobiles ... it's time to chill out, and get with the times.  Modern day XC skiers now embrace snowmobiles and think they are cool.  Proof of this new mindset is fasterskier.com.  North America's number one cross country ski racing web site now promotes snowmobiling!  Funny, and hard to believe ... but it's true!

 
Late December 2012:  What's This?
 

Click on the above photo for the answer.

 
23 December 2012:  I Was Driving Home From Skiing The Other Day, And ...


I was driving home from skiing the other day and noticed two big Malamutes loose on the side of Muldoon Road (a busy four lane highway in Anchorage, AK).  Normally the sight of loose dogs doesn't phase me too much.  But these loose dogs were Malamutes and I am a Malamute person.  20 years of my life was spent with Malamutes as family.  So I immediately turned off Muldoon, ran towards the dogs and called them away from the traffic.  These friendly monsters ran up to me with big smiles on their faces.

Their collars didn't have name tags, so soon they were in the back of my truck and heading to my place.  When I got home I placed a "Malamutes Found" lost and found post on craigslist.  This led to getting these two guys back to their worried owners the next morning.  These two had a fun, though unapproved, adventure.  And it was fun to have Malamutes camping out in our house again.

Note to dog owners:  These dogs had identification microchips.  But the vet tech at Dowling Pet Emergency scanned the dogs and didn't detect the chips.  Bottom line: If dogs have have thick coats you need to press the detection wand down through the fur as close to the dog's skin as possible.  If you simply wand over the top of a dog's thick fur, then the wand will be too far away from the chip to detect it.

Friends I picked up while driving home from skiing.

 
Mid December 2012:  Your Ski Boot Cuff Blew Up ... Now What?


Recently I was in a hurry to head out skiing.  I would be needing my Salomon Pro Combi boots for the loop I would be doing.  But when I grabbed my boots off the shelf I saw that I had blown out a boot cuff tab the last time I used them.  Crap.  Oh well, 10 minutes of boot surgery and I was back in the game.  Here are some tips in case this happens to you ...

A boot with a cuff hinge tab that has been lost is shown on the right.  You should own an extra cuff tab or two.  If you don't have any - seriously think about heading to your local ski shop and get a couple.  You can pull tabs from other boots.  But it is really easy to break tabs this way.  And if you end up with a broken tab stuck in the cuff hinge base of the boot - it is a real pain to get them out. Tabs are notorious for bending and breaking.  To make it easier to get the tab into the cuff hinge base I warm it up a bit with a heat gun.  You have to be VERY careful doing this so that you don't melt other parts of the boot.  I use a small length of pipe or a chainsaw socket wrench to localize the hot air.  And I wear welding gloves for protection when doing this.
I hold the socket wrench over the cuff hinge base, wrap my welding gloved hand around the wrench and then blow hot air down onto the base for a few seconds with the heat gun. Once the cuff hinge base is warmed up, I slide a wood block or steel mallet into the boot as a backing support.  Then I put the hinge tab through the lower hinge and tap the tab into the hinge base with a hammer.  The last step is to slide the upper hinge around the hinge tab.
 
Mid December 2012:  Your Camelback Hose Froze Up ... Now What?


It happens.  You try to keep the hose of your Camelback, or other hydration system, covered and warm.  You are methodical about blowing air back in the hose to force fluids back down into the bladder.  But for whatever reason ... your hose freezes up.

This problem always seems to occur after you have gone too long without drinking.  You pull out the hose, you stick the bite valve in your mouth and ... nothing.  You are thirsty and the hose is frozen solid.  Welcome to life with Camelbacks in the winter.

So, what are your options in this situation?  How to you get the flow back in the go?  Here are some tactics I try using to remedy this situation:

1: If the hose or nipple or valve has just frozen, or has frozen in one small spot, you might be able to bend the hose to break up the ice and get the flow going again.

2: If you have a hydration pack, then put the hose inside the pack for a while.  Put the hose on the side of the drink bladder that is next to your back.  The heat from your back will hopefully warm through the pack and unfreeze the hose.
 
Keeping the drink hose inside the pack, next to your back.

3: If your jacket is large enough and your hydration pack is small enough - then put your jacket on over your hydration pack.  This will create a capsule of warm air surrounding your hydration system.

4: Try sticking the valve and hose down the back of your neck.  There is a lot of warmth coming off of the skin on your back.  So if you can get the frozen area of the Camelback hose next to your skin it should defrost quickly.  Wearing a pack that presses the frozen hose next to your skin will make the problem spot melt out even faster.
 
Camelback hose down the back of the neck technique.  Make sure your hair is long in the winter to help keep your drinking hose from freezing!

5: If the above steps don't work, then you REALLY froze up your hydration system.  At this point your best option is to take the bladder out of the pack and stuff it under your shirt next to your stomach.  Cinch up the pack waist belt so the bladder doesn't slide down.  This option is not comfortable at first.  But getting hypothermia because you are dehydrated is not comfortable either.

When skiing in sub-zero F temps I usually take preventative measures and ski with the Camelback hose inside the pack (option 2) or stuffed down the back of my neck (option 4).  You know it's really cold when most of your ski involves the use of option 5.  Also, I don't use insulated drinking hose sleeves.  They are not effective for long skis in sub-zero temps (they work for short skis).  And you have to take the sleeve off anyway should the hose freeze up ... to try and get it unfrozen.

 
Early December 2012:  Direct From China, Cheap And Powerful LED Headlamps


If you shop on ebay or amazon for LED headlamps these days you will be amazed by the number of cheap headlamps you can get directly from China.  Here is a search link for "Cree headlamp" on ebay.  And "Cree headlamp" on Amazon.

I decided to give one of these headlamps a try.  I ordered a Cree 1600 lumen LED headlamp that uses two 18650 rechargeable batteries.  It cost 25 dollars (before shipping).  The last headlamp I purchases was a 200 lumen Princeton Apex that cost 89 dollars at REI.  The new 25 dollar headlamp is rated at 8 times the brightness of the REI 89 dollar headlamp.  And this 25 dollar headlamp came with batteries AND a charger.  That's an extra cost with the REI 89 dollar headlamp.

I've been using the Cree headlamp and like it.  It's as bright as the sun.  Actually - it blinds people coming the other way.  So in a way it's TOO bright.  I like the fact that the recharger plugs into the headlamp so you never have to take the batteries out.  The battery life seems good.  I've skied two hours on  full brightness and it's still going strong at the end.  It's got a low setting that is still way brighter than the high beam on my Princeton Apex. 

If you look at the Chinese commerce web site alibaba.com you can see that LED headlamps like the Cree's can be contract manufactured for 5 to 10 US dollars a piece.  So if headlamps are made for 10 dollars a piece in China - I'd rather pay 25 dollars for a powerful headlamp rather than 150 dollars or more for basically the same 10 dollar Chinese headlamp with a Petzl, Princeton, Brunton, Mammut or other hip brand name stamped on it.

When I received the headlamp I bought off of ebay it came directly from Shanghai, China.  No sense in getting extorted by middlemen if you don't have to.

$25 Cree 1600 lumen headlamp that runs off of 2 18650 rechargeable batteries. 18650 batteries are a little bit bigger than AA batteries. I like the plug-in recharger.  You don't have to take the batteries out. Comparison: $89 Princeton Apex on left, $25 Cree 1600 in middle, $100 Brunton L1 on right.
 
Mid November 2012:  How Many Pairs of Rock Skis Do You Need?


Most South-central Alaska cross country skiers have been spending quality time with their rock skis this fall.  Unlike last year when snow came early and in plenty, this year's snow has been late and lean.

So when it comes to skiing in low-snow conditions, what is the optimum number of pairs of rock skis to have in your quiver?  Here are some thoughts about this subject based on rock ski quiver sizes of 0 and on up:

0: Zero is the appropriate number of rock skis to own if you wait until conditions are good before pulling out your skis.  I don't have the patience to wait, so I'll never be a zero-rock-ski skier.  However, not having rock skis wouldn't have mattered in Anchorage last ski season. From the get-go we had plenty of snow.

1: Having one pair of rock skis can get you by.  The catch with one pair is that they don't span the full rock skiing spectrum.  The first ski outings of the season, during the "more rocks than snow" phase of rock skiing, will bludgeon and abuse your skis.  Then when a little more snow falls and you move into the "more snow than rocks" phase - your torn up bases, rounded edges and mutilated sidewalls will make for really slow and squirrelly skis.

2: Two pair of rock skis give you more options.  You can designate one pair to be the boulder bashers.  Usually the first skis of the season on rocky trails are classic skiing sessions, so a second pair of rock skis for skate skiing during the "more snow than rocks" phase would be a good choice.

3: Three pairs of rock skis is what I prefer.  One pair is designated as the sacrificial boulder bashers for the "more rocks than snow" phase.  Then you have a pair each of classic and skate skis for the "more snow than rocks" phase of rock skiing.

4 or more: When you get past 3 pairs of skis that you regularly use for marginal conditions, then you are getting into the "training skis" or "backup skis" realm.  These are good skis that you don't want to damage if possible.  You use these skis when conditions warrant you not wanting to use your best "if-I-scratch-these-skis-I-will-cry" skis.

Three pairs of rock skis cover the full rock skiing spectrum.  One sacrificial pair for the "more rocks than snow" phase.  And a pair each of skate and classic skis for the "more snow than rocks" phase.
 
Early November 2012:  Avoid The Mix And Match Meltdown


Most Alaskan cross country skiers are no strangers to headlamps.  And many of these skiers use re-chargeable batteries.  This post is for such skiers, based on a not-so-good experience I once had with a battery charger.

I use headlamps that run off of AA batteries.  I use Lithium AAs when I'm out of town.  But in town I use re-chargeable because they are the more economical option if you ski with headlamps a lot.

One day I went to charge my 4 AA headlamp batteries, but I could only find 3 of the batteries.  I apparently had lost one of them on a trip back from our cabin.  So I grabbed another re-chargeable battery that I had, popped all 4 batteries in the charger, plugged it in and went to bed.

The next morning I got up and something smelled funny in my house.  It smelled like something was burning or melting.  Before long I figured out that the battery charger was the culprit.  It was buzzing and smoking.  This is where the electrical stench was coming from.  I unplugged the charger from the wall and picked it up.  The plastic case on the charger was so hot it almost burned my hand.

So what caused this near meltdown?  It was apparently the replacement battery I grabbed.  Even though it was another AA battery it had a different amperage rating.  I carelessly put one 1800 mAh (milli-Amp hour) battery in with three 2400 mAh batteries.  This confused the charger and it over-worked itself to get the 1800 mAh charge up to the 2400 mAh batteries' level, which was an impossible task.  And a task that would fry my battery charger.

So the moral of this story is - play it safe and don't mix and match batteries in battery chargers.  If you have a four-slot AA battery charger then put four batteries of the same kind in it (same brand, same model, same amperage).  Also - put the battery charger in a place where it can't start a fire if for some reason it decides to have a meltdown.

One battery doesn't match the others.  A problem?  Maybe ... if the amperage of this battery is different.  Be safe - don't mix and match batteries in chargers.
 
Early November 2012:  Return of Fata Morgana Mirages


Out skiing this time of year we start seeing Fata Morgana mirages again.  Since the last time I posted about these mirages Wikipedia has added a lot more info about this atmospheric phenomenon.

When we have calm and clear air and temperature inversions (warm air above cold air) - an "atmospheric duct" is formed which bends the light rays that bounce off distant objects and come towards our eyes.  The result is distorted mountains in the distance.  Fata Morgana mirages are a seasonal reminder to us northerners that we live in a unique and enchanted place.

Mt. Illiamna at sunset, late October 2012 - not showing Fata Morgana. Mt. Illiamna at sunset, early November 2012 - showing Fata Morgana.
 
October 2012:  Did You Store Your Ski Boots In Your Garage All Summer?  A Tip ...


So it's time for the first ski of the season.  You gather your gear.  Your ski boots have been on a shelf in the garage since last ski season.  You grab then off the shelf and get ready to put them on.

Whoa !!!  Wait a minute !!  Don't stick your feet in those boots just yet !!

How do you know that during the summer some rodent didn't crawl into your boots!?  A mouse?  A shrew?  How do you know it's not still in one of your boots?  Could be.  Could be alive.  Maybe it's dead.  Yeah the chances of a mouse hiding in your boots is not that high.  But do you really want to find out by sticking your foot in a ski boot and feel a rodent struggling against your toes?  Yuck!  Gross!

The first thing you need to do when you put your ski boots back into service for the season is have them professionally inspected.  It's cheap.  It's quick.  All you need is a cat.  Put your ski boots in front of the cat.  The cat will check inside your boots.  If there is a dead mouse in your boots, the cat will remove it.  If there is a live mouse in your boots, the cat will scare it out and kill it.  Simple.  So enlist the help of a cat to start your ski season off on the right (and rodent-free) foot.

A cat gives my ski boots a pre-season inspection. Holy crap!  The cat found something in my ski boot! Damn!  The cat pulls a mouse out of my ski boot ... and kills it. Without this cat my ski season would have started out with a very gross surprise!
 
October 2012:  Refinements For Recycling Ski Wax Shavings


A couple of years ago I made a web page about How To Recycle Ski Wax.  Recently I recycled ski wax shavings from last ski season.  This time I made a couple of changes to how I do this process.  First - I melted the wax outdoors.  This eliminates any wax fumes being released in your house.  Secondly - I used a sieve to filter out P-Tex scrapings and other debris from the molten wax as I poured it into the wax containers.  Filtering the wax with a sieve made a big difference.  The wax looks clean and not much different than when it was first bought.

Here a gas burner on an outdoor grill is being used to melt the wax shavings.  No wax fumes in the kitchen when you do the melting outside. A sieve is necessary to filter out P-tax hairs and other debris.  Pour the molten wax through the sieve into the original wax containers. Filtered and recycled ski wax shavings.  Normally this wax would destined to the garbage.  But by re-melting wax shavings most of your wax can be used again (and again) on your skis.
 
October 2012:  Prevent Winter Surprises With Some Quick Ski Pole Basket Maintenance


If you use the same poles for skiing and roller skiing you will go through the ritual of swapping off roller skiing ferrules for ski pole baskets every fall. When you do this pole tip switch it is a good time to do some quick ski pole basket maintenance.

When you put glue or epoxy into the ski pole basket sleeve, and you are not careful, the adhesive can pool at the bottom of the sleeve.  If you don't clean this residual glue or epoxy out of the bottom, and you keep taking the baskets on and off your pole, you can cause problems for yourself.  If too much gunk builds up at the bottom of the sleeve the pole won't set low enough in the sleeve.  As a result there will be more leverage on the basket tip than they were designed for.  The tip of the pole will bend when you push hard on it.  This can lead to stress cracks and failures in the basket.  You may not notice the problem skiing in soft snow.  But then you may be double-poling hard on an icy trail and the basket will blow out on you.

To clean out residual glue or epoxy from the pole basket sleeve I use a 13/32 inch drill bit, for Swix baskets.  I drill SLOWLY and GENTLY ... and the gunk is quickly removed.  While you're at it - clean out your roller skiing ferrules too.

You can easily clean residual glue or epoxy out of the pole basket sleeve by using a drill bit.  I use a 13/32" bit for Swix pole baskets. If you don't clean the gunk out of the bottom of your ski pole basket sleeves ... then maybe this will happen to you (and at a time that you least want it to happen).
 
October 2012:  Is It Time To Sharpen Your Nordic Skates?


Here is a link to a web page I put together about making your own Nordic Skate sharpening jig ... click here.

 

2011-2012 Blog
2010-2011 Blog 2009-2010 Blog
1970's Vintage XC Ads

 

Back to Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing Home Page