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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.

10 October 2014: The Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project - 10 Years Old On 10/10


October 10th marks the 10 year point for the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project web site.  If you haven't visited ALSAP in a while, you can go to www.alsap.org, peruse the update logs and see what has been added since your last visit.

There are now 141 historical skiing sites identified on the ALSAP web site.  I know of 3 more (2 XC, 1 Alpine) that I will be adding when I get the time.

Mid September 2014: When Confidence Is Lost, It's Time For New Skis


For the last three years, my backcountry trail skiing has mostly been on a nice pair of Fischer RCRs.  But last spring I noticed that the base on one ski, under my heel, was becoming concave.  The ski core was compressed and damaged.  And the base felt like it wasn't firmly attached to the ski core any more.

You can see in the picture above, that more light shines under the straight edge on the left ski.  That's the damaged ski.  The concave part of the base lets more light show through.  Using a straightedge in this manner is a good way to check the "health" of your skis.

I did get a warning sign that this problem was developing.  The warning sign could be seen when I scraped these skis.  There would still be wax in the depressed area of the ski base after you scraped over it.  If you have areas of your ski bases that you have to go back and work to scrape the wax out of, then that is a sign that all is not well with the core of your ski.

Should you stop using your skis if this core damage happens?  I'd say, in most cases, probably not.  Especially if you mostly ski on groomed trail systems, where you won't be that far away from anywhere if your ski eventually snaps.  But if you take your skis a long way from the trailhead, where a broken ski could mean a 25 mile or more one-ski shuffle back to where you started ... then you probably shouldn't use such skis for these long trips.  In the mid-90s, I had a Rossy Tempo blow up on me over 20 miles from the trailhead.  It was not fun getting back.

With these skis, I no longer have confidence in being way out in the boonies on them.  I don't want to be 30 miles from nowhere and hear and feel a terminal "pop"!  So I'm saying goodbye to these good friends, and getting a new pair that will give me less worry and more confidence in my skis.

Early September 2014: Happy With My Hokas

Summer training has been good.  By good I donít mean lots of hours or work-out goals reached.  Instead, itís been good because itís been injury free.

Iíve never been seriously injured before (knock on a wood ski).  But during recent years Iíve had nagging mini-injuries.  Tight IT band.  A bit of planter fasciitis.  Occasional knee or hip pain.  No show stopping injuries.  But just enough problems to keep the transmission out of high gear a little too often.

When it comes to summer training, high on my list of favorite exercise is running.  Iím not a particularly good runner these days, but I just really like to run.  I like the movement and feel of running.   I like running hard up hills.  I like running because itís a time efficient way to get in a good workout.

But this year I figured out that running was the source of all my nagging injuries.  More specifically, my choice of shoes was the problem.  So I radically changed the shoes I run in and my injury problems went away.

Iíve always used ďconventionalĒ running shoes.  Thereís no need to say the brand or model, because the shoes are fine for lots of people.  Just not me.  Maybe they used to be fine for me.  But they are no longer.

Now I use Hoka One One running shoes.  These are funny looking shoes with maxed-out cushioning.  I learned about these shoes a few years ago from Sam Winebaum, a guy I went to college with and used to do a lot of long distance trail running with.  Sam is still a diehard runner and keeps up on the latest in running gear on his excellent gear review blog.

Like I said, Hokas look weird, but they are super comfortable.  Ultra runners race in these shoes.  But from my experience, they do not do well on trails with sidehills.  Running on ski trails, roads or well-defined hiking trails work well with these shoes.  But these are not mountain scrambling shoes. 

So if you like to run, but get injured or sore when running Ö maybe these, or similar, shoes will work for you.   They worked out well for me.

My Hoka One Ones
Mid August 2014: Stuff Found Skiing + Stuff Found Climbing = More Crazy Art-Furniture

Well, another summer Ö and another crazy-ass furniture project using spruce burls that I found while skiing last winter. Last year it was a coffee table (see below left). This year itís a floor lamp (see below center). Support for the lamp burls is a flanged pipe tee that I found in an old military dump that I happened upon near Whittier years ago, while bushwhacking out from a climbing trip. Also used were caribou antlers, a glulam remnant, LED dome lights and, of course, a color changing LED light strip.  There were some fun challenges with these projects, like drilling 4 foot long holes the length of logs and routing round holes through 7 inch thick glulams.  Moving this furniture is also a challenge (and a workout)!

Last summer's project: coffee table made out of burled spruce, glulam remnants, glass blocks and a color-changing LED light strip. This summer's project: floor lamp made out of spruce burls, iron pipe, caribou antlers, glulam, LED dome lights and an LED strip light. To run wires through the spruce logs, I had to weld up a four foot long drill bit extension to drill the holes.  Worked out good.
Update: Proof that I can make something out of spruce burls that weighs less than 200 lbs.  A bowl that I recently carved from a spruce burl (it only weights about 3 lbs).  I primarily used an Arbortech mini grinder to make this bowl.  Does this have anything to do with skiing?  Of course! ... I found this burl while skiing in the Su Valley.
Early August 2014: "High Altitude Woman" - Great Book By High School Skiing Teammate

This is a book I had to read and one that I knew would be great.  Why?  Because the author, Jan Reynolds, was once on my high school ski team with me.

After high school Jan went on to be an accomplished high-altitude adventurer.  She once held the high altitude skiing record for women.  She is also an award winning author and photographer, accomplished xc ski, biathlon and ultra-event racer, world traveler and all-'round cool woman.  As we learned on our high school ski team, JR is one of a kind.  If you want an excellent read about an adventure-loving, amazing, wild and insightful woman ... read this book.

Amazon.  iTunes.

Late July 2014: Log Peeling - Old Time Ski Strength Training
Me apprenticing to a log peeling master. A log peeling artisan and perfectionist tackles another 32 foot log. Tools of the trade: drawknives, spud (for de-barking logs), file for sharpening.

A nearly-lost form of ski strength training is log peeling.  This activity, the removal of layers of bark from logs, uses the same muscle groups (lats, abs, forearms) as double poling.  And when you do this activity for 8 to 10 hours a day, while sweating in a cloud of mosquitoes, it's a good form of endurance training too.

I don't profess to be a log peeling master or anything of the sorts.  My wife however is a true log peeling master.  She once peeled over 60 logs for the log cabin we built together (I was the chainsaw guy making D-logs).  And she was at it again recently (see above).  She is a perfectionist at log peeling.  She has patience.  I'm more of a hack job, "git 'er done" log peeler (and my wife points that out to me frequently).

To try this form of ski training you only need a few simple tools (see above).  And a log.  But more importantly, you need a reason to peel logs.  A good reason to peel logs is because you intend to make something out of them.  This seems to be a situation my wife and I find ourselves in rather frequently.

When it comes to log peeling and skiing ... I always think of a ski racer named Bob Treadwell.  Back in the mid-70s Bob and I were both on the US Ski Team and living in Hanover, NH one summer.  We trained a lot together.  Lots of 30 to 50 mile, hilly roller-skiing workouts. 

Besides training, I was going to school that summer.  But Bob had just graduated from college and he decided to get a part-time job.  Bob picked a job where he could get paid to ski train, so he got a job peeling logs for a log cabin builder.  Bob got super tough that summer with days that often included: morning ski bounding, 6 hours of yanking on a drawknife and then a long roller ski with Tim.

Thinking back to those days, it's amazing to compare the different mindsets between generations of USST and elite skiers.  Back in the 70s many top US ski racers went out and actually got real jobs to pay their bills.  I even remember USST'ers from Wyoming working on oil rigs in the summer.  It never, ever crossed our minds to ask people for money to support our skiing.  That was contrary to our morals and independent ideals.  Compare that to today.  Now fundraising and internet panhandling by athletes usually supersedes getting a job.  And some athletes can go to their mid to late 30s without getting an education or learning what it is really like to work for a living.  Yep, times have changed.  Sure glad I grew up in the 70s.  And I'm glad to have crossed paths in life with some good log peelers.

Another nearly-lost ski training strength workout:  Pulling shrimp pots by hand.  This is a strength workout that I have introduced several cross country ski racers to.  Equipment required: 400 feet of rope, 2 shrimp pots and some deep and cold salt water.  Most people that fish for shrimp use winches attached to their boats to pull their pots.  A long time ago I had such a winch.  But I figured it was cheating.  So I got rid of it and started pulling pots like the old-timers did.  By hand.  Pulling as hard as you can the pots come up at about 2 feet a second.  So 400 feet is 7 minutes or so of intense bicep, back muscles and core workout.  More if wind and tides are working against you.

But the reward for the workout is tasty shrimp, right?  Well, not for me.  I'm allergic to shrimp.  But my wife likes them.  So it's a workout for the sake of a good workout.

Speaking of shrimp: Cat contemplates first encounter with shrimp.  "Rodent? No.  Some kinda toy?  Nope.  Insect?  Don't think so.  Holy crap!  What the f*** are these things!!"



And speaking of Prince William Sound, a few pictures from this summer:


Dall's porpoise (click to expand picture)        


Mid July 2014: Game Camera Reveals An Accidental Mooseport At Ski Cabin

If you peruse this web site, you will likely notice that a lot of my skiing has connections to a remote cabin in Alaska.  Last fall at this cabin, my wife and I started building an outbuilding.  But what we didn't realize, is that this structure in its unfinished state would quickly become a "mooseport".  A couple of game cameras that I set up at our cabin show that the covered site was adopted as a popular moose congregating area.  Not all of the lower part of this outbuilding will be framed in.  So our moose neighbors will have a nice mooseport to hang out in from now on.


Porcupine After wrestling-up the 300 lb timbers.  Tough work in the rain. Black bear Gamecam 2: Brown bear


Update: I recently noticed a small pit dug next to our cabin.  I filled it in, but the next time we got to our cabin the pit was dug again.  A game camera revealed the situation.  A brown bear has been digging the pit and every time the bear passes by the cabin, he/she rolls in the pit.  And then butt rubs against the cabin corner post.

Dig Roll Roll Rub

A game camera caught this black bear taking full advantage of our cabin corner post.  Here he scratches his head and back at the same time.


Early July 2014: Cool ... But I NEVER, EVER, EVER Thought I'd See This!

Deshka Landing is a private boat launch and snowmobile trailhead on the Big Susitna River in Willow, Alaska.  People that live and recreate on the Big Susitna, Deshka and Yentna Rivers use this popular facility year round as an access point.

I like Deshka Landing.  I've been going there for around 25 years now, summer and winter.  My wife and I have been on too many adventures to remember that have started, ended or passed through Deshka Landing.  For people with a stake in the Susitna Valley, Deshka Landing is a part of their lives.

Though I like Deshka Landing, I will certainly admit that this place has its rough side.  But I'll also admit that it was probably rougher 20 years ago than today.  What do I mean by rough?  Constant haze of two cycle motor oil summer and winter, constant roar of engines, guns per person ratio greater than one, hundreds of American trucks with Sara Palin and NoBama stickers, cases of Bud being loaded into boats, cases of Bud being loaded into snowmobile sleds, endless dead fish and dead moose, 90% of people there dressed in camo.  I could go on, but you probably get the idea.  In a word, this place at times can be very "red".

And from the above description, you can probably guess what it felt like to ski through this place.  Yep, a guy wearing tight pants and skate skiing through this snowmobile mecca was instantly an outcast and a marked man.  From the tension in the air you could easily tell you were doing the wrong thing at the wrong place.  I always skied fast through Deshka Landing.  Fear makes you ski fast.

So having this intimate knowledge of Deshka Landing, I was floored when I saw their new web site

"No way!" I said when the web site came up, "Deshka Landing has a cross country skier on their web site!"  My jaw hit the floor.

Joking aside, I'm glad to see a cross country skier on Deshka Landing's web site.  Who knows, maybe all the ravings I do on this web site about the great Willow and Susitna Valley groomed multi-use trails is a small factor here.  If that is the case, I'm honored.  If not ... then I welcome Deshka Landing to the world of backcountry trail skiing.  Deshka Landing is a great location to take off from and explore the phenomenal trails of the Su Valley.

But then again, I'll have to admit that seeing a cross country skier on Deshka Landing's web site kind of bums me out.  It used to be such a rush skiing past the hundreds of snowmobilers at Deshka Landing, knowing that I was the bad guy, one of those hated "cross country skier speed bumps", an endangered species.  What an adrenalin rush!  Now that cross country skiers are welcome at Deshka Landing ... all that excitement is gone.  Damn, they ruined the place!  ;-)


Late May 2014: Orkugangan

This spring my wife and I went to Iceland (we went there last year too).  The picture above shows me on top of a mountain called Hilldarfjall.

So what does this have to do with skiing?

In the distance to my left in this picture are the desolate Krafla lava fields.  A 60 kilometer cross country ski race, held in April, crosses this area on its way to Husavik.  The name of this ski race is the Orkugangan.  Here is the race's web site.


Late April 2014: The Best Boots For Backcountry Trail Skating

Occasionally I get comments about the ski boots I use.  Fellow xc skiers have asked me why I use old, 14 year-old ski boots. The answer: I use old Salomon RS9's because they are more supportive and more comfortable for backcountry trail skate skiing than modern day skate boots.  They are the best boots ever made for backcountry trail and crust skating, in my opinion.

Perhaps one could make the following analogy to explain why RS9's are better than modern day skate boots for backcountry trails: speed skating boots are to hockey skates as modern skate ski boots are to Salomon RS9s.  You wouldn't want to play hockey with hockey blades attached to lightweight and flimsy speed skating boots.  Likewise with skiing.  Modern skate skiing boots are great for what they are designed for, which is skiing on immaculately groomed trails.  But they don't have the support to make them as comfortable as RS9's when you ski snowmobile trails and when you crust ski.

Unfortunately, the quality old RS9s have not been manufactured for quite some time.  So you have to track down gently used pairs of them.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I have a "stash" of RS9s I have bought on ebay in recent years.  I only use them for trail skiing, so they will hopefully last me a long time.

So, as long as I'm backcountry trail and crust skiing in Alaska - I will be the "old boots guy".  But I will also be the guy with the best ski boots.

The above pictures show some of the support and comfort advantages of the early 2000's Salomon RS9 compared to a modern skate boot (Salomon RS17 S Lab)
Get yourself an old pair of boots from ebay ... and let them take you to someplace cool.


Late April 2014: It's Time To Update The International Snowmobile Symbol

I was skiing in the Reed Lakes Valley in the Talkeetna Mountains recently, and it is clearly evident that many snowmobilers don't heed "No snowmobiling" signs.  Snowmobile tracks run up to the signs ... and then keep on going past them.

Why is this?  Is it because snowmobilers are sight impaired?  Are they just being rebels?  Are they going into off-limit terrain because they know they are likely never to be caught?

I think the answer is simple.  The international snowmobile symbol used on signs is very outdated.  The symbol hasn't changed for 50 years.  And as a result, most snowmobilers these days just can't understand them.  They get confused.

Say you were an 18 year old, taking your father's Ski-doo Summit out for a ride to slay the mountains.  If you saw the symbol on the sign above, you would probably think: "No old snowmobiles allowed?  Okay, that's cool ... I've got a kick-ass modern mountain beast.  No old sled here!"  Or you might think: "No fat old guys wearing 1960's helmets and big Army surplus parkas?  No problem, I've wearing rad Klim riding gear my mom bought me for Christmas and a new motocross helmet with a stick-on mohawk.  Sweet!"

Yep, the younger generation will look at traditional no snowmobiling signs and just plain not understand them.  So it's time to update the international snowmobile symbol on no-snowmobiling signs.  Modernized snowmobile symbols are needed so the younger generation can comprehend what the no snowmobiling signs are trying to tell them.  Here are a couple of ideas for new symbols that I'd like to throw out there:


Early April 2014: 1977 Throwback: "Hey!  Let's Put A Teflon-Domed City In This Valley!"

The picture above is from the Tokositna Valley on the southern edge of the Alaska Range.  While skiing in this remote and road-less area recently, I remembered that this is where planners and developers once proposed building alpine ski areas and ... a Teflon-domed city.  No, I'm not making this up.  Back in 1977, Mike Gravel, then a US Senator for Alaska, proposed the domed city concept.  And in 1979 feasibility studies were done for alpine ski areas and cross country ski trail systems in this valley.  You can read all the details here.  In the above picture, a ski area was once proposed on the mountain slopes on the left side of the photo.

1977 artist rendition of the Tokositna domed city (reference link). Comic spoof of the Tokositna domed city (reference link). "Hmmm.  I'm here.  But where's the domed city?"


Late March 2014: Gold Miner Math ... It's Confusing

I was recently skiing up Caribou Creek and came upon a gold mining claim where someone was living.  This location is a long way from the nearest road.  So access in the winter to this location is by snowmobile.

As I approached the mining camp there was a welcome sign and recent foot prints around the sign.  Someone certainly was certainly living here.

I didn't encounter the person, but I did get a chuckle out of his sign.  It said: "Welcome to Wits End.  Population 3.  Jesus Christ, The Bears & Me."

Population "3" you say?  Let's see ...1 - Jesus Christ.  2 - You.  And "The Bears"?  I think "bears" is plural.  So it's like at least two bears.  Two bears plus you and Jesus ... yep, I'd say that was "4".  Could be even more if there are more bears in the neighborhood.  Or maybe Jesus is not counted because he is spiritual and you and the bears are flesh and blood?  Oh well, no sense in getting all confused with gold miner math.  "3" is really darn close to "4" ... so "3" it is!

Mid March 2014: Where Did All The Log Cabin People Go?

On a recent backwoods ski trip in the Susitna Valley, I came across an abandoned and decaying old log cabin (see pictures below).

This was not the first time I have come upon a dilapidated log cabin while on a ski trip.  It's happened quite a few times.  And each time I happen upon one of these structures, I reflect on how much different previous generations of Alaskans were than those of today.

A lot of the old cabins you run across out in remote parts of Alaska were constructed in the 60's and 70's.  This was when the leading edge of the baby boomer era.  Back when the hippies, the back to nature romantics, the "do the log cabin in Alaska thing" enthusiasts, the idealists, the loners and the crazies stormed Alaska.  Land was cheap, or free in some cases, and it didn't cost as much to live those days.

Back in these days you could work in the summer for a few weeks on a fishing boat or work the summer construction season and have enough money to tide you through fall, winter and spring.  Life was simple and cheap.  And many of this generation, that embraced romanticism, individualism and self-sufficiency, said: "You know what would be cool?  Living in a log cabin we built ourselves out in the wilderness!"  And so they did.

As I am a member of the trailing edge of the baby boomers, I was late to this party.  When I got to Alaska in the early 80's, I quickly saw what my older peers had been up to.  I saw that I was missing out.  And I felt that I had a lot of catching up to do.

So I, along with my wild Alaskan-born wife, built a remote log cabin in Alaska.  I figured this was a right of passage in Alaska. We were doing something unique, cool, adventurous and fun just like those that had built remote log cabins in Alaska before us.

And I figured that many would be following us and experiencing this same wonderful, yet very challenging, adventure.

Well, I was wrong.

It seemed that log cabin building and remote living started dying off in the early to mid 90's.  Younger generations apparently had much more hip things to do than peel logs.  Another big factor was the shifting global economic winds.  The gap between skilled and unskilled earnings became much larger.  So living off earnings from seasonal deckhand or construction work was much more of a challenge.  Living off the grid became more of a luxury than a low-budget life of leisure.  A lot of people just couldn't afford remote property life any more.  More people left remote living life than adopted it.  So many once-loved log cabins in Alaska became destined to neglect and decay.

Nowadays, when I ski by old, run-down cabins out in the middle of nowhere, I smile to myself.  I now know the significance of these crumbling piles of logs.  They represent dreams, vision, sweat, aches, lots of planning, adventures, lots of un-planned misadventures, swarms of mosquitoes, bear scares, shared satisfaction and a deep connection to Alaska.  When I see these ghost cabins, I'm glad to have been influenced by my log cabin building baby boomer-elders.  And I know that whoever built these old structures... they had a dose of deep-rooted, basic quality in their lives that many people are missing today.

Early March 2014:  Junk From Iceland's Ditches Showing Up In Alaska

Iceland's Ring Road, the road that circles this magnificent island, is lined with many thousands of plastic road markers.  These markers are vital in bad weather to help motorists stay on the road.  Occasionally some of these markers get knocked over by snowplows and after the snow melts these plastic wands are seen lying in the ditches.  But within a year, some of this plastic debris can show up in Alaska.

Why is this?  Is it because runoff and rivers wash this debris into the ocean, and then polar currents during the nearly ice-free summer months of the Arctic Ocean bring this flotsam to Alaska?

Nope.  The explanation is quite simple.  It's due to Alaskan tourists that find crap in Icelandic ditches and say: "Wow!  I could use this!  I'm not sure what I could use this for.  But someday I'm sure it will come in handy!"

Well, the Icelandic, snowplow-clipped road markers did come in handy.  They are now on the posts of an outbuilding we are building at our remote Susitna Valley cabin.  They act as reflectors so people don't drive into the posts at night.  Icelandic roadside junk becomes Alaskan treasure ... it's a small world.

In the background you can see yellow road markers along the roadsides. On top of the mountain in Iceland that my wife and I hiked up just before I found the treasures in the ditch. Icelandic road markers now in use as snowmobile warning reflectors. Is it easy to pick stuff up out of ditches in Iceland?  No way!  You have to answer to the Icelandic Ditch Police!
Late February 2014:  The Little Known Ski Sport of ... Burl Hunting

If you have perused this website before, you may have noticed that I like to make stuff out of spruce burls.  See pictures below for examples.

To build stuff, like furniture, with spruce burls ... first you have to find the burls out in the woods.  So a fun winter biathlon of sorts is burl hunting - skiing and searching for spruce burls.

The recent meager amount  of snow we got to cover January meltdown's ice and ice crust was not enough to make Lower Susitna Valley trails much good.  But the new snow made for good conditions in the forests in this area.  Firm snow allowed you to cruise on racing skis for hours while looking for burls.  So, conditions have been good for burl hunting.

Besides bringing my skis on burl hunts, I bring a camera and a GPS.  That way, when I find a burl I take a picture of it and have the GPS location.  The burl info goes into my database and, if I have a project that might need it, the burl may warrant a repeat visit with a snowmobile and a chainsaw.  After finding a burl that could potentially be used, I try to ski a snowmobile-friendly route, that is tracked by GPS, out of the woods and back to an access point.

How do you find spruce burls?  Mostly it takes hours of random cruising on skis while keeping your eyes peeled.  You can go a long time and not find any burls.  But then all of a sudden you can ski into a cluster of them.   It's fun to hunt for and find burls.  It takes you to new places that you've never skied before.  And it's always seems to be an adventure when it comes to harvesting burls that you find way out in the boonies.

GPS in hand.  Nice burl, but too big for what I currently need.

Click.  GPS location recorded.

A cluster of black spruce burls.  These can be used for railings.

Strange one, with the burl just above the ground.

This is the size I was looking for.  I vill be baack!

A few projects using burled or uniquely shaped wood that was found via ski ramblings.

Update:  Recently my wife went with me to recover a burl (see above).  She followed me on her snowmobile as I randomly wound my snowmobile through woods in search of a GPS waypoint.  After a long stint of sno-go bushwhacking we arrived at the burl I intended to harvest.  When my wife got off her snowmobile, she looked around and then exclaimed: "What the heck were you doing way out here?!"  That made me laugh.  I smiled, shrugged my shoulders and responded: "I'm a burl hunter!"

Mid February 2014:  Remembering The Last Time We Had A REALLY Bad Snow Year

If you talk to cross country skiers in Anchorage about past years that had bad skiing conditions, you will probably hear tales of the "Gerbil Loop Year".  That was the winter of 1995-1996.  It didn't snow that winter until mid-February.  And it was cold that winter, lots of 20 below zero days in Anchorage.

Skiers refer to 1996 as the "Gerbil Loop Year" because for many months, November through February, the only skiing available in Anchorage was a man-made snow loop in the stadium area of Kincaid Park.  The loop was about 800 meters long, and every skier in town was using it.  Yes, skiing conditions were grim in 1996.  We did countless, mind-numbing loops, in the dark in sub-zero temps on this little strip of snow.  Grim.  Grim.  Grim.

Skiing conditions in 1996 were much worse than this snow-challenged year.  At least this year we had some lean, but decent, skiing conditions for a couple of months before the tropical temperatures and rains hit.  And we still have some skiing available on groomed trail systems.

Though the skiing conditions were horrible for most of the 1995-1996 winter, it offered some unique adventure opportunities.  The dry conditions and deep freeze allowed travel by truck far off the road system.  That year I heard of people driving 100 miles on river ice up to Skwentna.  And that year my wife and I, and others with cabins near us, were driving west of Knik and across the Big Susitna River to near the base of Mount Susitna.  We were driving 25 miles past the end of the road and going over rivers and swamps that you rarely get a chance to traverse by truck.  That was fun.  Here are a few pictures from the worst year for Anchorage area skiing conditions that I can remember - 1996.

No snow until mid-February 1996, and lots of 20 below zero temps, allowed people to drive places that you rarely could.  Some fun adventures.
In 1996 we were building a cabin and were able to drive to our cabin site 25 miles off the road system.  1996 was the only time we have been able to do this.  We did a bunch of 20 below zero campouts that year. Like the indigenous Nenet people of Siberia, our dogs and us would all sleep in a tent in one big pile.  There isn't a better way to winter camp!
1997, shown in the pictures above, had some lean snow conditions too.  High winds scoured the snow off the Susitna River that year.  The middle picture above shows our dogs mushing in blowing sand.  On the sled there are skis.  I would often hook to the dog sled and ski with the dogs.  But not in these conditions.
The picture above, of my wife and our dogs in March '96, shows that the bad snow situation of 1996 eventually rebounded.  Hopefully the same plays out for the winter of 2014.
Early February 2014:  Do Stuff.  Fix Stuff.  Do Stuff.  Fix Stuff.  ...

It seems like the cycle never ends.  You go and do something in Alaska.  Then when you get home you fix the stuff that broke.

Building and fixing stuff is something I like to do.  I learned to do it out of necessity while growing up on a farm.  Things were always breaking, so you had to be creative and fix things with what you had.  To this day I always try to fix or build things myself.  Does this always make economic sense?  Probably not.  But tinkering, modifying, fixing and building stuff ... is me.

Recently my wife and I lost a hitch pin to our Otter sled.  These are popular sleds in Alaska that you pull behind snowmobiles.  We use this sled for trips to our cabin and for ski trip support.  The pin lost was a long one, of two, that connects the hitch to the sled.

We got the sled at Sportsmans Warehouse, so we went there to get a replacement hitch.  They didn't stock spare pins (dumb!) and said to check the Otter web site.  I did.  A pair of pins was six dollars.  But the cheapest shipping to Alaska, because they won't use USPS, was $28.  Ha!  No way!  I don't do business with firms that screw Alaskans on shipping.  But unfortunately even Anchorage Fire and Fasterners, who can find any gizmo made, could not find these pins.  So ... it was time to make your own Otter sled hitch pins ...

Our Otter sled in use last winter.

Two DIY Otter sled hitch pins (top) and an original pin (bottom).

Another fix-up project I did during our mid-winter, record-setting melt-down ... was to fix an aluminum canoe that got squashed by a big, wind-toppled spruce tree.  I hauled the canoe from our cabin back into Anchorage this winter and planned to cut it up and recycle it.  But then this voice in my head said: "Come on!  What are you thinking!?  You can fix this!"  So with the help of a hydraulic jack, a 2x4, a sledgehammer and some Marine-Tex ... the canoe will float again.  It won't be a pretty canoe, but it will be handy to have for occasional use at our cabin.

The mutilated canoe, after I chainsawed the fallen tree off of it. Hauling the injured canoe 25 miles back to the trailhead. Reconstructive surgery, via a jack and sledgehammer. Marine-Tex to patch the holes. Not pretty, but she will float again!
Summer 2014 update: The battered beast boat back in business.

So what are you doing looking at this website?  Isn't there something you should be fixing!?  ;-)

Late January 2014:  Nomar Gear Bags ... Made In Homer, Alaska

My wife and I, like many Alaskans, use gear bags a lot.  We use these water-resistant bags for hauling gear in snowmobile sleds, in boats and on road trips.  Besides using them for carrying clothes, we have hauled winter survival gear, cabin supplies, camping gear, food, fishing gear, climbing gear, skiing gear, power tools and lots of other stuff in them.

Recently my old REI gear bag got some holes in it.  And my wife's gear bag was on its last legs.  So, we bought new gear bags from Nomar in Homer, Alaska.  I had known about Nomar gear for a long time.  Nomar makes lots of products for commercial fishermen.  But they also make tough gear for lots of other pursuits.

I really like the Nomar gear bags.  They are roomy, tough and simple.  And they are reasonably priced.  They are much cheaper than North Face, Marmot or Patagonia gear bags of similar size.  And they are made in Alaska, and not in China, if that matters to you.  It does to me.

Here is s link to Nomar's website.  And here is a link to their gear bag web page.  They also make waterproof duffle bags.

Nomar Gear Bag
Mid January 2014:  Like Britney Spears Says: "Oops ... I Did It Again"

I figure readers of this blog most likely know that "Oops ... I Did It Again" is one of Britney Spears' hit songs.  What?!  You didn't know that?!  Okay, then maybe you should have a listen to a good cover of this song by Alexi Laiho and his Finnish metal band - Children of Bodom.

This saying is also something that skiers utter now and then.  Like when you go someplace with un-scraped skis and you realize that you left your wax scraper at home.  Though often in this situation, some skiers are known to replace "Oops" with a more colorful 4-letter word.

Recently I did it again.  I got a long ways from home with un-scraped skis and realized I forgot my wax scraper.  Time to improvise.  In the past I have used knives and rocks.  This time I pulled off the ski prep job with a plastic chainsaw wedge.  And I found that side-by-side snowmobiles make a pretty good ski bench.

Seems like a good accessory for xc skiers would be a key chain with a mini-wax scraper.  Then you would always have a scraper at hand.

In a pinch, chainsaw wedges will work as ski wax scrapers. Side-by-side snowmobiles make for a good redneck ski-prep bench.
Early January 2014:  Tribal Trails

A long time ago, Southcentral Alaska was crisscrossed with tribal trails.  The Dena'ina Athabascans did a lot of their travel by foot.  The trails they used were unmapped, of course, and fluid.  Routes would change often, due to many environmental factors, to create easier and safer trails or to reach better hunting areas.  No doubt these Alaska Natives once had ways to communicate to other trail travelers.  They had ways to mark their trails, like with broken branches, blazes and rock cairns, and methods to post alerts on their trails, like directional arrows scratched in the dirt or snow.

But those days are long gone and trail navigation has sure changed in the era of GPS and Google Earth.  Right!?

Well, yes.  And no.

There are actually still small "tribes" of people that live in remote areas in Southcentral Alaska.  These tribes may include some Alaska Native descendents, but usually they are a group of like-minded people that choose to live way out in the boonies in the same general area.  The winter trails they use and share are definitely of the tribal trail nature.  These trails are unmapped, known only by the locals and the exact routes often change.  And with the "tribe" I'm most familiar with, I've never seen any of them with a GPS.

Recently, I skied upon a tribal trail marking of sorts  It was a bunch of saplings stuck into the snow with survey tape on them.  These markers indicated that a snowbridge had collapsed further up the trail and that one should turn and go into the woods at this point.  But if you didn't know the layout of the tribal trails in this area, you would have a hard time figuring out what these markings meant.

You can look at the pictures above, of a trail marker on a tribal trail, in a couple of ways.  It's just plastic survey tape on trees.  Or ... it's proof that the basics of trail navigation in Alaska have not changed for many thousands of years.  Long live tribal trails!

Late December 2013:  Alaska's Best Cabin Security Systems Are Free!

My wife and I have a great security system at our remote cabin.  It didn't cost us anything and we didn't even know we were installing this security system.  It just showed up one day.  Apparently all we had to do to get this impressive security system was make an area under our cabin where huge Alaskan brown bears could bed down for the night. 

The trail to our cabin comes right up to the "bear den" section that is under our cabin.  And bears are there a lot (a lot more than we are).  So if anyone decides to mess with our cabin, they will probably end up messing with 800 pounds of Alaskan security system.

Our encounters with the security system usually occur the first evening or night at our cabin after we haven't been there for a while.  That's when the local bears come back to "their" cabin to sleep and are surprised that "intruders" have arrived.  Usually yelling at the bears sends them on their way.  That worked with a big sow and her three cubs that showed up once this summer.  But occasionally shooting over their heads has been required to inform them that they aren't welcome for a few days.  Once the initial encounter is over, the bears are smart and don't come back while we're there.

The above two pictures are from a game camera.  They show a big brown bear getting ready to bed down under our cabin.  Note the snow.  These are recent, mid-November pictures.  Thankfully he/she didn't decide to hibernate there.

So does this blog post have anything do with skiing?  Sort of.  Look above the bear.  There is a pair of old wooden skis mounted on the cabin.  And yes, the skis now have a few bear claw scratch marks on them.

Summer 2014 update: Recent game camera photos of the "security system" that lives under our cabin.
Late December 2013:  Hok Binding Modifications

Last year I started playing around with Hoks - wide and short backcountry skis from Altai Skis.  They are fun skis for backcountry bushwacking or for post-storm skiing when there is deep snow and no trails.

By default, Hoks are made for three pin bindings.  But if you want to use Salomon or NNN system bindings, you can get plastic (delrin) adapters for mounting such bindings.

But I'm not a three-pin or backcountry binding system guy.  I like light.  I wanted to use my Salomon combi boots and lighter SNS bindings on my Hoks.  And I wanted to get rid of the binding adapter plate, because they are heavy and raise your feet above the ski surface (which doesn't help control).

So, I set about to mount older SNS Profil "Country" bindings on my Hoks.  I was able to use two existing screw inserts on the Hoks for these bindings.  But I had to drill a new hole for the front binding screw, and two others for the foot plate.

The catch with drilling new binding holes in the Hok is that these skis are thin.  So you can't use normal length binding screws.  And the machine screws that come with the adapter plate are too long.  To find metric screws that fit the bill is a bit of a trick.  Big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe's don't have screws this short.  You will probably have to go to a specialty hardware store to find what you need.  I found the screws I needed at Alaska Fire and Fastener in Anchorage.

If I were smart, I would have used heliocoils and machine screws instead of just drilling holes, filling them with epoxy and putting in a screw.  If the binding screws start to come loose I will do this.

So far so good with this binding modification.  The skis feel lighter and more responsive.  It would be nice if the Altai Ski folks put a few more screw inserts into the ski so "direct-to-ski" mountings of SNS and NNN bindings could be done without adapter plates.  But until then, this binding mod seems to do the job.

With and w/o binding adapter.

Hoks are thin, so you have to use short screws for this modification.

With and w/o binding adapter.

Lately I've been playing around with the single pole skiing technique like the indigenous skiers of the Altai Mountains in China use.  It's been fun.  When I first started doing this, the technique felt "familiar".  Then I realized why.  Going downhill this way feels like glissading.  Your weight is back and your feet pivot to turn.  But it's way more stable than glissading.  Turning in soft snow is super easy with this technique.

The single pole is also good for descending narrow and steep trails where slowing down on conventional skis would be hard.  In my neighborhood there have been "snowshoe only" trails.  They are too narrow and twisty for conventional skis.  But with Hoks and a pole, these trails are no long snowshoe only!

I call this "BS Skiing".  No, BS doesn't stand for "Bullsh*t".  BS stands for "Big Stick".  As in - Big Stick Skiing!  Ski softly and carry a big stick!

Mid December 2013:  Dyatlov Pass Incident

As everyone knows, the Winter Olympics are in Sochi, Russia this winter.  But what most people probably don't know is the story of 9 cross-country skiers, most of them in their early-20s, that went on a ski trip in 1959 at a location north of Sochi in the Ural Mountains.  All 9 skiers perished. 

The reason why these skiers died is known: hypothermia for six of them and falling into a ravine for the three others.  But the unanswered question is why these skiers quickly fled from their tent and ran away from it, in their socks, on the stormy night of Feburary 1st, 1959.  Running away from tent and not being able to make it back to the tent sealed the tragic fate of these skiers.

There are many theories on what triggered that actions that resulted in the deaths of these cross country skiers.  These theories are mentioned on the Wikipedia page for this event.  Much speculation and research has been done over the last 50 years to piece together this mystery.  A number of books can be found in the Amazon Kindle ebook store about the Dyatlov Pass Incident.  A good discussion of how the available evidence might be pieced together, can be found here.  If you want to see a slide show that recounts this tragic and bizarre event, click here.

Theories of what caused these skiers' deaths run the course of an avalanche running over their camp, a military test (like a concussion bomb) or conflict with local indigenous people (the Mansi).  And of course there are the conspiracy theories like water from toxic snow, death by government agents and UFOs.

Donnie Eichar's recent book, "Dead Mountain", is well-researched and well-written investigative journalism about Dyatlov Pass mystery.  His book is addictive and hard to put down.  Eichar's hypothesis of what caused compelling fear amongst the skiers and made them panic and flee the tent come down to: high winds.  More specifically: strange infrasound emissions of tornado-like vortices of wind being created by the mountain they were camped on.

Eichar's theory is plausible.  He had NOAA scientists agree with him on this theory.  But I can't help think there might have been a simpler explanation.  And that would be - Soviet fighter jets.  Let me explain ...

If you've ever been near a fighter jet taking off, you know the mind-numbing noise and chest-rattling sensation this has.  It's shocking but you likely know what's happening because you are near an airport or at an air show.

Now suppose your are in a tent in the middle of nowhere on a stormy night.  Likely the last thing you are going to expect are supersonic fighter jets out on a training mission and flying over your tent.  According to testimonials of people in the area back in '59, orange orbs of light, which were likely afterburners of jets, were seen over the mountains near the time the skiers perished.

It seems very conceivable that the deafening sonic roar and body-vibrating reverberations of low-flying fighter jets could have triggered panic amongst the skiers.  The extreme noise would have been frightening and the skiers would probably have had no idea what the cause of this mad racket was.  The skiers could have quickly feared for their lives and, by natural instinct, fled the tent.

I'm a bit surprised that Eichar didn't discount this theory of low-flying jets or talk much about it in his book.  Basically, it is the same concept of his - loud vortex amplified sound which caused fear amongst the skiers.  But his theory is a natural occurrence of extreme noise, as opposed to a jet's man-made source of loud noise.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident mystery lives on.

  Photo: Yuri Gagarin  
Mid December 2013:  Haven't Seen Plastic Sleds Like This In 20 Years

Simple, medium-sized plastic sleds for making ski-trip sleds have been hard to find.  You used to be able to buy great plastic "SLM" sleds for making your own ski-trip sleds 20 years ago at Carrs grocery stores in Anchorage.  But since the early 90's, the whole plastic sledding game went to mini-bobsleds, foam sliders and variants of saucers.  None of these contraptions made for good ski-sleds.  Paris continued to make simply-styled plastic sleds.  But Paris sleds were too big for weekend ski trips.  Unfortunately, when the coveted Canadian SLM (Saint Lawrence Manufacturing) sleds disappeared in the early 90's ... skiers who wanted to build smallish ski-sleds were left in the lurch, for decades.

Recently, at Sportsmans' Warehouse in Anchorage, I was surprised to see plastic sleds for sale that would make decent medium-sized ski sleds.  The sleds are branded "Lucky Bums" and retail for about $25.  So if your are thinking of making a single-pole skiing sled, then you are a "Lucky Bum" ... because now you can once again find a sled similar to the old SLM sleds.

Medium-sized plastic sled at Sportsmans' Warehouse in Anchorage A single pole sled in action.  Click here for tips on making such a sled.
Mid December 2013:  Bridge Elves In Anchorage

Some people in Anchorage, and I would be one of them, think the most fun trails in town are made without a fleet of bulldozers, million dollar legislative grants and homogulation consultants.  The best trails are built by hand tool-wielding gnomes, chainsaw fairies and ... bridge elves.

Blue Dot Trail, Bicentennial Park
Mid December 2013:  Siberian Haze - A Less Hazy Explanation?

Back in 2008, while we Alaskans were out spring crust skiing, we witnessed some uncommonly hazy skies to the west.  The National weather service at the time said this reddish-brown haze was due to smoke from Siberian forest fires.

That explanation of the haze sounded logical to me.  At t the time, I figured these forest fires were started the same way they usually get started in Alaska - naturally, via lightning strikes.  Though it did seem early for lighting or forest fires at such northern latitudes.

Perhaps my assumption about how these Siberian forest fires were started was wrong.

Recently I was reading Detlev Henschel's book about kayaking around the circumference of Lake Baikal.  Lake Baikal is in southern Siberia and is the largest freshwater lake in the world.

In his book, Henschel talks about the large cellulose plants on the southern end of Lake Baikal.  These plants need to cut down lots of trees for making cellulose.  However, large tracks of forest in southern Siberia are now designated as forest "preserves".  In these areas the cellulose companies aren't allowed to cut trees.  But they can cut trees in the preserves if the trees have been killed by forest fires.  Because of this loophole, Henschel notes that ironically (wink, wink) massive forest fires often occur in the spring (i.e. our crust skiing season) near the cellulose plants in southern Siberia.  And lightning isn't the cause of these fires.

From Detlev Henschel's "Kayak Adventure in Siberia": "There have always been forest fires, like everywhere else.  However, when there was talk of closing the plant in Baikalsk down south, thereby slashing jobs, a special deal was struck.  The plant produces cellulose and thus processes wood.  Now that logging is prohibited around the Baikal, the plant no longer is able to sustain itself.  Its saving grace is that wood from forest fires ... can still be processed.  The result is that more [forest] burns and the plant is utilized to capacity.  Siberian economics!"

So now we might know a little more about the haze we occasionally see while crust skiing on clear spring days in Alaska.  Not surprisingly, it's likely human-induced pollution.

While we're out crust skiing, I'm glad we can only see the haze and not smell it.  Henschel talks about kayaking along the southern shore of Lake Baikal for many days in dense, acrid forest fire smoke (with coal trains roaring by every 10 minutes on tracks next to the shore).  That doesn't sound like much fun.

Spring 2008 at Portage Lake.  Haze in the distance.  The national weather service said this haze was smoke from Siberian forest fires.
Mid December 2013:  Freezing Drizzle Skiing

Skiing on backcountry trails has been limited so far this year.  But fun skiing is to be had in Anchorage.  Temperatures hovering around freezing, with fog and drizzle, make for wet, icy granular conditions that are rocket-fast.  But the somewhat strange situation about these conditions is that you end your skiing session covered in a thin layer of ice.  The light drizzle in the air coats your skis, poles and the fronts of your boots, pants, jacket and hat with ice.  Just like donuts, we're getting glazed.

Ice build-up on hat from skiing in freezing drizzle.
Early December 2013:  Waterproof Compression Bag

This year I switched from using an OR (Outdoor Research) dry bag for my extra clothes "safety bag" ... to a small and lightweight Exped waterproof compression bag.  With the Exped bag you can squeeze a bit more air out of your clothes and make them take up less space in your pack.

  Here is what I carry in my ski trip "safety bag" (clockwise from far right): Go-Lite wind jacket, fleece balaclava, Thor-Lo Mountain Climbing socks, Seal Skin waterproof socks, Patagonia Thermolite mittens, Marmot stretch fleece tights, heavy fleece shirt, dry sack (that I used to use), Marmot wind pants. Here all of my extra clothes are stuffed in an Exped waterproof compression bag.  You can squeeze a lot of the air out of your clothes and make them take up less space in your pack.  
Early December 2013:  Homemade Citrus Wax Remover Experiment

Earlier this summer I gave a try at making home-made citrus ski base / wax cleaner.  After letting vinegar and orange peels soak in a jar for five months I poured out the acidic fluid and tried cleaning kick wax off of my skis with it.  This home-made cleaner worked, but just barely.  It wouldn't have the power to clean off klister or sticky soft kick waxes.  I'll continue to use it for base cleaning jobs that it can handle.

  Start of experiment. Result, five months later.  

Update: Bob Sutherland of Anchorage, AK sent me some good advice about making your own citrus wax remover.  And that is: try using stronger vinegar.  I apparently used standard, store-bought 5% vinegar.  Bob suggested trying 20% vinegar.  Bob noted that you can buy this strong vinegar from amazon, and that it is often used for killing weeds.  I'm definitely going to try another batch with high-test vinegar.  Thanks for the tip Bob!

Late November 2013:  Runaway Pipeline In The Big Susitna River

During the summer of 2012, my wife and I were boating up the main channel of the Big Susitna River.  On the west side of Bell Island we noticed something strange.  A big piece of a large-diameter steel pipeline was in the water.  This powerful glacial river had eroded into a gasline right of way and apparently dug up a section of an old abandoned pipeline.  And now the pipe was exposed to the Big Su.

Come winter I figured it would be worth a ski trip from our cabin to go out and check out this river-exposed pipeline.  My wife and I skied out onto Bell Island twice looking for the pipeline.  But we didn't find it.  I was a bit miffed about this.  How could we not be finding it?  From boating past it I knew "exactly" where it was.  What the heck!?

Well, this spring the riddle of the pipeline we couldn't find was solved.  Come to find out, the reason we didn't find the pipeline on our ski trips was because the pipeline was on the move.  This was a loose section of old pipeline and it was being washed down the river.  This was a 300' long piece of runaway pipeline.

By springtime the pipeline segment  was near the mouth of Big Su, where it enters Cook Inlet.  Two guys I know, Mike Mason and Carl Thiele Jr., helped Enstar locate and anchor the pipeline.  A landing craft was then contracted to come to this location and workers cut the pipeline into 80 foot sections and hauled it way.

This whole situation was pretty amazing.  And scary.  It's not often that a 300 foot pipeline is rolling and tumbling down a river.  Talk about a boating hazard.  I'm glad I didn't get any closer to it than I did.  It's also amazing and ironic how such a bizarre and crazy thing as a lost pipeline rolling down an Alaskan river makes zero news in Anchorage, a large city that is only 20 miles away.  If this had happened in the Kenai River, it would have made international news.  But if an Alaskan river isn't the Kenai River, then most South-central Alaskans don't much care or want to know what happens in it.

The pipeline seen while boating in the summer of 2012. Looking for the pipeline in the winter of 2012-13.  Where the heck is it!? Spring 2013.  Callie the dog finds the lost pipeline at the mouth of the Big Su.
A big landing craft arrives and workers cut up the pipeline into 80 foot sections and haul it away.  Pictures by Mike Mason.
Mid November 2013:  25 Year Comparison of Coastal and Chester Creek Trail Users

Every year since the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and the Chester Creek Trail were made - I have skied them.  And over the past 25-plus years I have seen the users of these trails change, a lot.  As I've roller skied in the summers, I've seen the roller blade fad come and go, joggers with Sony Walkmans become joggers with iPod Minis and smart phones and shorts on guys out running go from crotch level to way down below their knees.

During winter skis of these trails I have noticed a lot of changes too.  Below I take a quantitative stab at what I see as estimated changes regarding trail usage over the past 25 years of skiing from Kincaid Park to Russian Jack Springs Park and back.

Comparative Statistics for a Kincaid to Russian Jack and Back Ski

    1988 2013  
  Skiers (avg # seen) 50 15  
  Bikers 2 60  
  Runners 10 4  
  Walkers 15 150  
  Snowshoers 2 0  
  Drunks 12 2  
  Moose 4 2  
  Ski-jorers 5 1  
  Loose Dogs 3 30  
  % Males seen 85 30  
  % Females seen 15 70  
  Estimate of Average Age:      
  Skiers 25 50  
  Bikers 25 35  
  Walkers 50 30  

The explosion of snow biking is the biggest change seen on local multi-use trails in the last 25 years.  Snow biking has impacted the number of xc skiers in Anchorage immensely.  A lot less people ski xc ski these days, as snow biking has won over many former xc skiers and folks that would be xc skiing if fat bikes hadn't come along.  On average, the relative few remaining folks you see out xc skiing on the Anchorage Coastal Trail these days are the crusty old diehard types ... yeah, like me.

Late October 2013:  Time To Put This Anchorage Ski Loop On Your List

A ski loop that is arguably Anchorage's best ski loop, just got better.  The ski loop I am referring to is the Campbell-Coastal-Chester Loop.  The Three C's Loop.  This 28 mile urban trail and backcountry skiing route is now easier to do thanks to the recent completion of the New Seward Highway underpass along Campbell Creek.  Here is a map of the route ...

This is a fun Anchorage ski loop.  There are lots of good places to start and finish this loop.  Skiing the coastal flats makes this loop unique.  If you haven't done this ski loop ... it's a good local ski-jaunt to put on your list.  For more ideas of Anchorage Urban-Backountry ski routes, click here.

Late October 2013:  More Urban Trail Related Stuff That Makes You Say: "What The ..."

I try to minimize the local Anchorage trails issue stuff on this web site.  But as I'm stuck training in Anchorage and waiting for the cool backcountry places to ski to turn to winter ... it's hard not to miss some local trails-related goings-on that make you scratch your head.  One I posted about earlier.  And here is another.

Service High School did recent landscaping to make room for, what I assume will be, bleachers or a building on the north edge of their football field.  Re-sculpting of the football field resulted in a large drainage pond.  And this pond is basically the same level as the west end of Randy's Trail, which is a popular night skiing trail and part of the Tour of Anchorage course.

When the level of this drainage pond rises, the trail now floods.  Am I missing something?  Or is this some really dumb engineering?

Maybe there are plans to raise the height of the trail here, so it isn't frequently underwater.  Maybe the construction effort is not done.  Hopefully that's the case.  And if it is - hopefully it will be done soon (very soon) before ski season arrives.  We should know in a month or two if this is a work in progress, or an example of some really bad engineering.

  Make pond.  Ruin trail.  Not good.  
Late October 2013:  Thanks!

Thank you to the people that have bought my ebook: Trails That Never End.  This year I will giving all of the proceeds from the sale of this ebook to NANA Nordic, an organization that promotes xc skiing in Arctic Alaska.

If your are thinking of doing a long trips by ski, bike or foot on Alaska winter trails, like the Iditarod or Yukon Quest trails, or you are curious as to what long distance Alaska trail skiing is all about ... then this ebook should appeal to you.  Trails That Never End is available from the Amazon Kindle Store and the Apple iTunes bookstore.

     Trails That Never End - Timothy F. Kelley
Mid October 2013:  Ha!

At Independence Mine there is a long climb on the ski course that the Mat-Su Ski Club is has been grooming.  Recently a funny sign went up on the bottom of the hill.  The sign said "Sochi Hill", and in parentheses at the bottom it had a funny reference to a Sarah Palin-ism: "You can see Russia from the top."  Ha!

When Sarah Palin was a kid she cross country skied at Hatcher Pass.  She doesn't ski at Hatcher Pass any more.  But she is still remembered at Hatcher Pass, though it may be with some ignominy.

Mid October 2013:  Ski Boots For Life. Thanks ebay!

In my life I have seen lots of quality improvement in the world.  We now have much better automobiles, airplanes, computers, health care, food, clothes, navigational aids and communication devices.

But some things have not gotten better over time, they've only gotten worse.  A lot worse.  Like politicians and cross country ski boots.

Like politicians, modern day cross country ski boots are flashy with little substance and they lack integrity.  And given a little time in service, they prove to be failures.

It used to be that cross country ski racing boots could be used for a wide-spectrum of skiing.  But after years of specializing and "improving" ski racing boots, they are now pathetic if you use them for off-groomed trail skiing.   They are made of cheap materials and breakdown quickly, they're not comfortable, they don't breath.  And modern day skate boots don't have as much support because they are now built lower to allow skiers to do their cheerleader splits at the finish line.

It's frustrating to buy the latest and greatest ski racing boots, use them off the groomed trails now and then ... and have them fail (delaminated soles, broken cuffs, lost cuff rivets, failed zippers, ripped fabric) in less than two years.  Besides being a waste of money, this is ecologically ridiculous to be discarding these heaps of plastic and vinyl so frequently.  It used to be that older ski boots lasted for a decade or more.

What to do?  Head to ebay.  Set up a saved ebay search and look for lightly used, quality ski boots.  Like 12 year old Salomon RS9's with little use on them.

I did this.  I set up a search on ebay and would automatically receive emails every time a Salomon RS9 my size was posted.  Though they are ugly, Salomon RS9s are THE BEST XC SKI BOOTS EVER MADE in my and many others' opinions.  And time is telling us that ski boots of this quality, comfort and versatility will NEVER be made again.  I took about four years, but now I have a "stash" of RS9's that I will use for snowmobile trail skating and crust skiing.  And if I take care of these boots, this stash will probably last me the rest of my life.  Ski boots for life, for cheap ... thanks ebay!

Now for some economic comparisons:

Three pair of Salomon RS9's via ebay.  Each pair will last 10-15 years.  Total cost for ALL THREE pairs of boots: $210.

One pair of 2014 Salomon Pro Combis.  Price: $210.  Time before replacement is needed (based on the last 4 pairs of Pro Combis I have owned): 2 years.

Cost of ownership per year: New Salomon Pro Combis - $105 per year.  Salomon RS9s from ebay: $7 (or less) per year.

  My stash of RS9s.  
Mid October 2013:  Hmmmm ... Was This Really A Good Idea?

A couple of months ago I went roller skiing on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and quickly learned that several of the bridges have had a change in personality.  As I skated onto these bridges I immediately found that my carbide ski pole tips no longer penetrated the bridge surface and my roller ski wheels had no lateral traction.  The reason - the wooden bridge surfaces had been recently covered with metal decking.

I understand why metal decking would be chosen, as it does have advantages.  It's tough, it's UV and rot resistant and it's low maintenance.

But I have learned from the metal roofing on my house and cabin that metal is slippery.  Nothing bonds to it.  In particular, snow doesn't bond to it because it is not porous.  Metal roofs shed snow quickly and easily.

So, is metal decking a good, and safe, choice for these bridges in the winter time?  The abrasives added to the paint of this metal decking are minimal and the decking is slippery even in the summer.  Isn't it going to be very slippery when ice forms on it?  Especially if a thin layer of ice forms that does not bond to the metal, like it did to the porous wood?  And how is snow going to bond to this metal sheeting?  It seems that thin to moderate amounts of new snow have little chance of bonding and sticking to this surface.  And when people walk, bike or ski on such snow cover it will be like loose snow on ice.  Which is a condition where it is easy to get hurt (read: dislocated shoulders, broken hips).

The other thing I noticed is that water can get under these decking panels.  If you step on some of the panels you can hear water squishing underneath the metal on the old wood surface.  Isn't the wood decking that supports this metal decking going to rot out faster if it is constantly wet and never is allowed to dry out?

So why would I care about this?  Isn't this a backcountry skiing web site?  Well, I do use this bridges some times on Urban-Backcountry ski loops.  But many other Anchoragites use this trail and these bridges way more than I do.  So, I hope this metal decking works out better for them than I assume that it will this winter.  And I hope that no one falls and gets hurt bad because of this switch from wood to slippery metal bridge surfaces.  I know that I will be cautious when I ski across these bridges this winter.

Several Coastal Trail bridges were covered over with metal decking this summer. The traction on this metal decking is minimal.  Metal is not porous like wood, so ice and snow will not bond as well these new bridge surfaces. Water can seep in along the edges of the decking and run under it.  You can hear and feel water squishing under the metal and on top of the old wood deck.  A good design?  Doubtful.
Early October 2013:  Cree Headlamp Field Test (Continued)

The short: 
Last year I got one of the super-bright Cree headlamps that are being sold for cheap on ebay and Amazon.  I liked it a lot, so I bought another Cree headlamp this year so that I'd have a backup.  The new headlamp was slightly different than the one I got last year.  After trying it out I decided that I didn't like it.  The burn time for the full brightness mode was too short.  It was only 25-30 minutes.  So, if I were to recommend a Cree headlamp for skiing it would be the one below the one I got last year.  You can buy it from fasttech.com - here.  You will also have to buy batteries (2 x 18650) and a charger.  Fasttech has a return policy and I have heard from a person that said returns worked out okay for him.

The long:
  I gave one of the cheap and super-bright "Cree" Chinese headlamps a try last year.  I liked it and did a comparison and review of it in my last year's blog.  This is the headlamp, a Cree T6 LED, that I bought last year:

I wanted to have a backup headlamp in case the Cree I got last year failed, so I bought this one as a backup:

After using this headlamp for a while, I decided that I didn't like it.  For one, the on-off switch is on the back of the battery case.  It is really easy to bump the switch and accidentally turn it on.  That's not good if you put the headlamp in a pack, duffle bag or pocket and the lamp goes on and burns down the battery.

But the main reason I didn't like this headlamp is because of the short burn time.  At full power, the headlamp only lasts 25-30 minues (using two 3.7 volt 3000 mAh 18650 batteries).  That's way too short of a burn time.  Full flame run time should be 1 1/2 hours or more, like the one I got last year.

After taking a closer look at the two lamps I think I see why the run time is shorter for the new lamp.  The LED chip is approximately 8 times bigger on the new lamp.  That is great for more light.  But this larger chip no doubt draws a lot more power.  And with the same battery configuration being sold for the new LED chip with more resistance - then the burn time has to be less.  And it is.

The picture above shows the headlamps I got last year (left) and this year (right).  You can see the LED chip is much larger in the lamp on the right.  Larger LED chips will draw more power and shorten battery life.  Yes, they will also throw more light.  But if the smaller LED chip gives you more light than you need, then I'd rather have the lamp that has the longer burn time.

Craig Medred told me about www.fasttech.com.  This site sells Cree lamps at cheap prices.  Their prices include free world-wide shipping.  And they have a return policy (which Craig says is legit).

I ended up ordering another Cree T6 headlamp, like the original one I ordered, to be my back-up headlamp.  This is the Cree T6  I ordered from fasttech.  This headlamp does not come with batteries or a charger (I already had them).  If you need batteries and a charger you can order them separately on fasttech.  Or you can order this lamp kit.  Or of course, you can look for the Cree T6 headlamp on ebay or amazon.  Note: the lumen ratings seem to differ between fasttech and ebay.  They seem to be higher for the same headlamps on ebay.

Late September 2013:  Anchorage Hardware Store XC Skiing Glove Mania

Wow!  Anchorage hardware stores are flooded with gloves this fall.  I spend a fair amount of time in hardware stores.  And I have never seen anything like this.  Not only is the quantity of gloves mind boggling.  But the quality and functionality of hardware store gloves seems to have taken a big leap.

The fact that hardware store gloves have closed the gap on sports store and ski shop gloves should come as no surprise.  Basically all of these gloves are made by the same Chinese companies (use alibaba.com to verify this).  So there is a lot of cross-pollination of glove design features and materials these days.

I've been using ski-glove-look-alike work gloves for skiing for many years.  The main reason I do this is because I don't like getting ripped off.  I'd rather pay 10 dollars for a pair of work gloves that cost 2 dollars to be made in a sweatshop in China, than pay 50 dollars for basically the same 2 dollar gloves that have a Swix, Fischer or Rossignol symbol on them. And it looks like I won't be buying work gloves over the Internet anymore.  Because now I can get the same type of gloves for less at places like Alaska Industrial Hardware in Anchorage.  I'm impressed.

Hardware stores in Anchorage, like Alaska Industrial Hardware (pictured above), Lowes and Home Depot, currently have lots of cheap work gloves that will work well as xc skiing gloves.
Mid September 2013:  From Ski Trip To Living Room

When I'm out skiing in remote areas, I keep on the lookout for dead spruce trees with burls.  If I have an idea for a project that could use a burl that I spotted while out skiing, I sometimes go back to retrieve it.

Last winter I posted a picture of burled logs that I was hauling out of the boonies (see picture below on left).  I recently finished a furniture project that used these burled spruce logs.  Here are a few pictures ...

Raw dead spruce burl logs starting their trip to our living room. From the burled logs I built a coffee table with big burls on each end, burls along the sides, glulam remnants for legs and glass blocks in the center. The glass blocks have 16 feet of LED lights intertwined around them.  A remote control sets the light color and sequencing options. These lights can slowly cycle through random colors.  Need some "Northern Lights" in your house?  Here is where I got the LED light strip and controller. 
  This table has specially designed "Cat Attack Portals".  A cat hiding under this table has quick access in all directions to attack and kill intruders (mice, flies, moths, spiders, loose shoelaces, etc.)
Fall 2013:  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.


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