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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. 

Early September 2015: Finding Interesting Stuff On Mountains In Iceland

Obsidian and Rime Ice: Recently my wife and I were hiking in the Kerlingarfjoll Mountains in the Highlands of Iceland.  On the mountain summits we happened on some neat stuff.  Obsidian and rime ice.

Hiking in the Kerlingarfjoll Mountains in Iceland.
Obsidian, a black, glassy volcanic rock ... everywhere.  Cairns were even made out of piled-up chunks of obsidian. Rime ice accumulations from the previous day's combination of high winds and humidity.
When obsidian and rime ice meet.

Backcountry Art Exhibit: As I was running up a trail east of Borgarfjordur in Northeast Iceland, the last thing I expected was to happen upon an oil painting of the mountain I intended to climb - Svartfell.  But out in this backcountry area, I came upon a small outdoor art exhibit.  And sure enough, there was a painting of the mountain I was going to be climbing.  This was a neat find.  And it makes a good statement on Icelanders, that such a remote art exhibit can exist.  Heck, if someone put up unsupervised paintings like these in Alaska ... how long would they last before they were vandalized, shot full of holes, set on fire and knocked down?  A day?  An hour?


Backcountry art exhibit above Borgarfjordur, Iceland. Summit of Svartfell.


Late August 2015: Flashdance Bears!

A short (2 minute) music video I made, from game camera footage, of some of the "bear dancing" action at our cabin this summer ...

Note: Some of the timestamps on the game camera footage in this video say 2012.  That's because I didn't set the game camera time correctly.  All this footage is from this summer (2015).

If the above Facebook video is blocked or doesn't show ... this video is also on YouTube.

Mid August 2015: In Alaska, It's Not Just Earthquakes That Shake Your House

I pulled images from a game camera that monitors our "bear massage post" (also know as the corner post of our cabin).  Lots of activity recently.  The dates on these images are not correct (I didn't set the camera time correctly).  You can find more pictures of the bear post pictures further down on this web page.  Bears are apparently attracted to the creosote in railroad ties.  And once a few start rubbing on the railroad tie, and leave their scent, then more and more join in.  And before long ... it becomes a bear massage post!

I've come up with the theory that remote cabins in Alaska need "bear anodes".  Zinc anodes are used on outboard motors, where the zinc is a sacrificial material that attracts electrical charges, corrodes first and protects the engine.  A railroad tie on the corner of a cabin seems to work as a sacrificial bear anode.  As long as the bears have something that attracts them to mess with, they leave the rest of the cabin alone.  I have a game camera pointing at the door to our cabin and have never seen a bear at the door.  They just go to one place on the cabin, their rubbing post ... sniff, scratch and rub ... and then move on.

A midnight visit by a momma brownie and her cubs.   A huge 7 foot tall brown bear.
        A marten.
Mid August 2015: Seals On The Iditarod Trail

In about 6 months there will be much winter travel on the Historic Iditarod Trail where it crosses the Big Susitna River at Susitna Station.  Mushers, snowmobilers, bikers, skiers, runners, hikers and ski-jorers will pass through this area, 20 miles upriver from Cook Inlet.  But only a few of these travelers will realize that the trail they are on is used in the summer by seals chasing salmon and hooligan (smelt).  It seems like every year more and more seals congregate on the sand bars of the Big Susitna River below the Yentna River.  Often you see groups of a dozen or more seals, no doubt with bellies bulging with fish, sunning and sleeping on the sand bars.  Here are a couple of recent pictures of seals at Susitna Landing.  The pictures are of marginal quality ... because you can't change the speed of your boat and slow down or the seals will spook and dive into the water.

Early August 2015: An Escape From Alaska's "Yellow Wagon Wheels"

In the 80's, I once worked with a guy that moved to Anchorage from Texas.  I can still remember a comment about Alaska that he once made: "What's with the tomatoes in Alaska?  They have no taste.  And the insides look like yellow wagon wheels!"

The guy was right.  For most of the year, tomatoes are definitely hurting units up here.  The inside of our tomatoes often consist of tasteless yellowish spokes with no pulp between them.  I imagine it's the time spent in transit to Alaska.   And the fact that they can't be fully ripe as they start the multi-day jurney via barges, planes, trucks or warehouses to the grocery store displays.  I often see "yellow wagon wheels" in the Subway shops in Alaska.  As a result, my Veggie Delite sandwiches are usually yellow wagon wheel free.

Good food helps if you are trying to stay in good health and be fit for skiing.  So this year, out of a lark, I made a greenhouse and planted tomatoes.  On a scale of 1 to 10, as a gardener I'm probably a 1 or 2.  But I lucked out and ended up with a lot of tomatoes.  Tomatoes, in Alaska ... that actually have taste!  It's been enjoyable to discover what a tomato should taste like ... and get a break from the yellow wagon wheels that plague Alaska.

A side note:  A northern country that has great tomatoes year-round is Iceland.  Greenhouses set up next to hot springs use the free hot water and cheap hydro-electricity to keep heated and lighted ... and they churn out fine tomatoes.  No yellow wagon wheels in Iceland's grocery stores.

A breakfast I made in Iceland, with all ingredients Icelandic.  Greenhouse grown tomatoes, peppers, onions and spinach.  Much fresher than produce in Alaska.  Eggs are also from Iceland.  All the grocery stores (Kronan, Hagkaup, Bonus, Netto, Samkaup) sell fresh Icelandic greenhouse produce.  You can't buy a tomato from out of the country (as far as I could tell).
Late July 2015: Costco Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles - Not Bombproof, But A Good Deal

A quick gear review of a product that might be of interest:  For the last three years my wife and I have been using the Cascade Mountain Tech carbon fiber trekking poles that you can buy at Costco.  We like them.  They are super-light, they have the extended grips for steep slopes and the friction locks work well.  They are anti-shock poles, but I always keep them in non-bounce mode.  But as they are carbon fiber, if you bang them against rocks enough ... they will break.  I found this out recently.  I plan on getting a replacement pair at Costco.  If you can get three years out of these poles, for the price they're a good deal.  They've been selling for $30 a pair at Costco.

Recently we've had interesting experiences with these trekking poles.  I put pink duct tape on my wife's poles to identify them.  Twice this summer when we were hiking high-up on alpine tundra ridges in Prince William Sound ... hummingbirds showed up and hovered next to the pink tape on her poles.

Late July 2015: Boat Dotting - The Sport of Making A Boat Into A Little Dot

Most people that boat in Alaska's Prince William Sound rarely, or ever, leave their boats.  The general attitude is: "I have everything I need on my boat.  So why should I leave the boat and risk losing contact with my lifeline back to civilization?"  I can understand this boating safety logic.

But my wife and I subscribe to a different PWS boating philosophy.  And that is to spend as little time on a boat as possible.  Tune-up your anchoring skills, paddle to shore and take off bushwhacking and peak bagging (and on good summers - skiing) for many hours.  Will this philosophy backfire on us some day?  Of course that's possible.  But we have kayaks to chase down a boat that is dragging an anchor (hasn't happened yet).  And we carry a sat phone just in case (but I hope to never use it).

So contrary to most boaters in PWS, we play the sport of "boat dotting".  Anchor your boat, head off hiking and see how small of a dot in the distance you can make your boat.  Several "boat dotting" pictures are shown below ...

Recent Prince William Sound peak bagging pictures ...
Mid July 2015: Prehistoric Cross Country Skier Pictograph (Re)Discovered

There was once, long ago, a time when traveling ski racers didn't have the entertainment options of today.  No laptop computers, tablets, or smartphones.  No cable, wide-screen (color!) TVs, Kindle books, Netflix or Angry Birds.  Instead, we would spend down-time at hotels or airports engaged in very primitive activities such as reading books, talking to people or drawing.  Recently I uncovered a lost artifact from those days back in the 1970's.  I remember doing this sketch ... and the inspiration behind it was the alleged steroid usage by Soviet Bloc countries, East Germany in particular.  This was my take on what the steroid-composed cross country ski racer of the future would look like.  Perhaps this sketch reveals some cynicism about some of the skiers that we were competing against back then.

July 2015: Tears

Jimmy O ... you will be missed.

Early July 2015: Alaska's, and the World's, Airborne Litter

"Balloons Blow ... Don't Let Them Go!" ... the motto of the Balloons Blow web site.

On a recent hike in the Talkeetna Mountains, I found something I've found a lot over the years ... balloon trash.  People often let balloons float off and they eventually end up ... well, anywhere and everywhere.  I've found errant balloons while hiking, climbing, fishing, kayaking, boating, beach combing, snowmobiling and mushing (sled dogs sure like to pop balloons they find on the trail).  I've also found a number of radiosondes, the balloons the National Weathe service releases to obtain meteorological data. 

Balloon trash is a world-wide problem.  As this web site says: "Balloons are the only item people buy to actually create litter."  The world record for a balloon release was 1,592,744 balloons released at one time by Disney in 1994.  Sounds more like a world littering record.

 I pack dead balloon litter out when I find it.  But I wish I found less of it.  But then again, I wouldn't mind finding a Korean Choco Pie balloon!

Balloon trash in the Talkeetna Mountains.  Where's the rest of the balloon?  In a ground squirrel's or marmot's stomach? A radiosonde found while peak bagging in Prince William Sound. An Alaskan Bush Company balloon found by Ranger on a beach in Prince William Sound (100 miles from this strip club).
Mid June 2015: When Kids Surprise The Heck Out Of You

I guess I'm a typical baby boomer farm kid.  My physical labor upbringing always keeps calling me back to my roots.  One of my favorite ways to "train" is to tackle ambitious labor-intensive projects and go at it with a vengeance.  Usually it's building projects.  Logs, lumber, shovels, post hole diggers and chainsaws are usually involved.  After 10 to 12 hours of this type of activity, and exercising pretty much every muscle in your body, you end up with a good all-body strength workout as a result.

And as a baby boomer that worked hard as a kid, I have some of that baby boomer bias against younger generations.  We older folks assume that no one can work harder than our generation and the generations that followed us are a bunch of slackers.  Are we a bit opinionated?  Yup.

Well, I had an eye opener recently.  I got roped into making a horse shelter up in Knik, Alaska.  And when I started out on this project, a 4th grader kid was there and bugging me to let him help.  I of course said: "That's OK, I don't need any help."  But the kid was relentless in insisting that he help.  So to keep him from pestering me, I put him to work.

To my surprise, the kid was a great help, a super hard worker and he had boundless energy, focus and enthusiasm for the task at hand.  He worked his butt off with me for 10 hours straight with no breaks.  I was pretty pooped at the end of the day.  But this kid kept telling me how much fun he had, asked when we could build something else together ... and gave me a secret handshake as I was leaving.  My baby boomer cynicism about the work ethics of younger generations sure got a kick in ass that day.  It was a really fun experience working with this tough and very cool kid.

June 2015: A Different World In Prince William Sound This Summer

My wife and I seem to do most of our hiking and peak bagging in Prince William Sound these days.  The reasons: it's a beautiful, remote, unique and diverse place and because you don't run into people when you're hiking out there.

But because of a record low snow year and long stretches of hot and dry weather, PWS is much different than it normally* is this time of year.  (* Though I'm not sure what normal weather is any more).  The high ridges that I like to hike and ski during late spring and early summer, have been snow-sparse since early May.  These places that I have skied in June and July are now dry as a bone.  Also, my wife and I have been hiking steep routes that would be nearly un-doable in most years, do to wet surfaces and slippery vegetation.  Strange summer, based on the past, but it's still Prince William Sound ... so all is good.

A bear, chewing a mouthful of grass, sits and watches me kayak by. Hiking terrain this year that in past years would likely have been too wet, steep and slippery to be safe. Coastal forest is some of AK's most challenging bushwhacking.  But once you get experienced in route choice, you can cover a lot of ground. This girl is no stranger to bushwhacking.
Hiking on ridges this time of year that are normally covered with lots of snow. Instead of ridge-top skiing this June, it's ridge-top skinny dipping to cool down in 80 degrees F. temperatures. Pondering the future.  Is this summer an anomaly or the new norm?
Closer To Home
While on a recent scramble up Ptarmigan Peak, I noticed how little water was in the Ptarmigan Tarn.  And it's only June.  I remember years when this little lake was full and bordered by walls of snow (avalanche debris) in mid-summer.  Could this be a summer (perhaps the first?) that this lake goes dry?
22 June 2015: "I'm Tom Bodett for Motel 6, And We'll Leave the Light On For You"

Tom Bodett used to live in Homer, Alaska, where he worked building houses.  Then Tom got the Motel 6 spokesman gig and moved on.  I was biking at Hillside recently and thought of Tom.  It was a clear blue, 70 degree F. day just after solstice.  The sun was glaring overhead during this time of 24 hour light (24 hrs when you include civil twilight).  I remember that Tom would always end his Motel 6 ads with: "I'm Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and we'll leave the light on for you."  Well, someone decided to leave some ski trail lights on for us at Hillside.  As in ... on all summer.  Is Tom Bodett back in Anchorage now and working at Parks and Rec?  Did Tom leave these lights on?

A ski trail light burns during the day after solstice, when we have 24 hours of light.  You gotta laugh.  For over 30 years, the muni hasn't been able to figure out how to turn on all the Hillside trail lights in the winter.  And they can't figure out how to turn them all off in the summer.  Instead of doing this for the next 30 years, maybe the best thing is to just disconnect the lights for good.  Headlamps these days are cheap and powerful and people can figure out how to turn them off in the summer.  Plus, the muni could save money by not competing with the sun during summer months.
Early June 2015: Another Season Of The Scratching Post Cam

Last fall I posted a number of game camera images of bears scratching themselves on a corner post of my wife's and my remote cabin (scroll down on this web page to see them).  Here are some shots from early 2015.  (Note: The year is not correct on these images.  They are all 2015 images.  Apparently I need to start re-setting the date correctly when I change the batteries on these game cameras).

Back scratch Belly rub and face scratch Climb and sniff
Night scratch Oh yeah!  Now I get why you bears like this post! Gawd!  This scratching post stinks!
New this year, the ski trail cam ...
Healthy moose Skinny moose Black bear Fox, with something in its mouth
Late April 2015: What Made These Tracks?

Before reading further ... take a guess.  What made the tracks in the above picture?

I was skiing in the Talkeetna Mountains and happened upon a bunch of tracks in the snow that looked odd.  The snow was beat down into trails and it looked like something had been dragged over the trails.  And all of the trails went to the same spot ... an open spot of a mostly snow-covered stream.

Then I realized what the trails were.  They were beaver trails.  Mountain beaver trails.  They were trails that beavers were using to travel to willow stands, chew down the trees and drag them back to their den.  In the above picture you can make out the beaver's foot prints.  And you can see the scratch marks in the snow made by willow branches.

A few willow trees were in the process of being dragged to the beaver den. A nice clean "beaver-cut". I grabbed a few willows that had been cut by the beavers and delivered them to their doorstep.
Early April 2015: What Country's Flag Is This?

So, what country's flag is this?

Take a guess!  Don't keep reading to find out.  Take a guess!

OK, 5 percent of you got the right answer.  But the other 95 percent of you were likely clueless, just like I was when I saw this flag on a recent ski trip.

I was finishing up a ski trip at the Lake Louise Lodge near Glennallen, Alaska.  Near the lodge was a group of 6 to 8 people standing in a circle around a snowmobile.  The people all had on matching black jackets and pants.  And the snowmobile was black.  I quickly got curious as to who these people were.  Para-rescue folks in training?  EPA agents that had just stepped out of a black helicopter?

My curiosity quickly got the best of me and I asked one of the black-coated guys, that was wearing a beret, where they were from and what they were doing.

The guy looked at me with a bit of a shocked look.  And then he pointed to the flag on the sleeve of his coat (see above).  His shocked look seemed to say "Look at the flag.  Don't you know what this flag is!?"  But I couldn't remember what country the flag represented.

Then the guy said: "Uruguay!  We are from Uruguay!"

Geez, how could I have not recognized the Uruguayan flag!  ;-)

Come to find out this was a group of tourists from Uruguay starting out a 6 day guided snowmobile trip.  You could tell they were pumped and excited about this adventure.  I would find out later that it was the first time some of them had seen snow.  And I'd learn that the tour leader let them open it up on Lake Louise at the end of the trip, and they were hitting 90 mph.  So who knows, maybe the Uruguayan snowmobile speed record was set on that trip!

Early April 2015: Skiing, And Making Lots of Friends, In "Red Country" Alaska

Some of the best ski trails in Alaska, in my opinion, are in "red country" Alaska.  These are places where the words "cross country skier" usually elicit bad images in the minds of most of the people that live or recreate in these areas.  "Tree huggin', Prius-drivin', liberal,  Greenpeace, Sierra Club, eco-greenie extremists" is what xc skiers are labeled on the spot by the vast majority of folks that you encounter in these rural areas.

But the funny thing is, this Anchorage cross country skier loves "red country" Alaska.  I spend way more time skiing in "red country" than "blue country".  And I've got way more friends in rural "red country" Alaska than in "blue", urban Alaska.

How can this be?  Well, it's pretty simple.  I listen, I learn, I respect, I do.  I listen to people in rural areas more than I talk to them.  I try to learn about their views and why they have their views.  I respect their opinions.  And I do the stuff they do, so I can easily relate to whatever comes up in conversation.  Snowmobiling, building cabins, fixing stuff, commercial fishing, oil industry, boating, mushing, Alaska travel, remote living, working hard, playing hard ... I can talk for hours to anyone in "red country" about anything.  Plus it also helps that I grew up in the boonies on a small dairy farm.  My roots are in "red country".

But navigating the social channels of "red country" Alaska has had its moments.

A few years ago I walked into a Susitna Valley lodge, dressed in sweaty ski clothes, to get some food and water.  I was a lone skier in a sea of snowmobilers.  Before long, a heavy-set snowmobiler with a beer in front of him said: "Hey, are you that Kelley cross country skier guy?"  I smiled, but the hair on the back of my neck perked up as I looked at the large group of tough-ass snowmobiler dudes sitting next to him.  "Yup, that would be me" I responded.  Then the guy said: "I've checked out your web site."  There was a pregnant pause.  I felt my arm pit sweat pores start to loosen up.  I took a deep breath and braced for what could be coming.  He then continued: "You're the only cross country skier I've ever known that was worth a shit!"  Then he turned to his buddies and started talking about my ski trips up the North Ridge of Mount Susitna snowmobile trail.  Out of relief, I laughed to myself.  And soon we were all introducing each other, shaking hands and shooting the bull and joking about anything and everything.  When I walked out of the door we were all good buddies.  And we still are.

A long time ago it seemed that long "red country" ski trip distances came easy, but the interactions with people in the Alaskan boonies were not that easy.  But over time the distances have became a little harder, yet the connections to Alaskan "red country" people now come effortlessly.  Maybe I've gained personal interaction skills over the decades?  Or maybe it's simply that I've become one of them, which is fine with me.

Some parts of Alaska have a tendency towards preconceived opinions of cross country skiers. Long-haired, tree-hugging xc skier?  Or camo-wearing redneck skier?  What matters is that you can relate to and get along easily with anyone in Alaska.
Late March 2015: Strange Snow

I was skiing the Eureka - John Lake Trail and came across a patch of "strange" snow.  The shape and hue of the snow was odd, as you can see from these pictures.  If you expand the picture below, you will see some disturbed snow, that looks normal.  This tracked area gives contrast to the odd snow lumps and shows that no digital tweaks were made to this photo.


Mid March 2015: Wondering What To Do With Your Old Cross Country Skis?

This has probably been going on for a long time, but I just came across this recently.  I'm not into archery, but this is a pretty cool way to repurpose old cross country skis.  Link to website with detailed instructions on how to make a ski bow.


Mid March 2015: Helping Out A Former UAF XC Skier, That Was Screwed By The Iditarod

I recently donated to the Attitude Is Everything gofundme campaign for Brent Sass.  Why would an old(ish), cheap-ass, cross country skier like me give money to a young dog musher?  Because Brent got incredible screwed (financially, philosophically and professionally) by the Iditarod race marshal and judges during the early stages of this year's Iditarod.  I don't need to rehash the details, they are all over the web.  Here is a good opinion article about Brent's undue punishment.  Brent, a former UAF cross country ski racer, and his team won the Yukon Quest this year.  Hopefully Brent and his dogs pull off a win in the Iditarod in the near future.  Go Wild and Free!


Mid March 2015: How To Dress For Combat Skiing At Glen Alps In Anchorage

Tip: When skiing at Glen Alps, wear many layers of clothes.  Warm temps, cold temps ... no difference, wear many layers of clothes.

Why wear multiple layers?

To keep dog teeth from penetrating deep into your flesh.

The picture above shows a dog bite on my leg.  It was from a dog that a young woman was ski-joring with.  Well, the dog was ski-joring ... until it decided it would be more fun to attack my leg.   The bite would have been a lot worse bite if I didn't have knee-high thermal socks, ski tights and over pants.  These clothing layers kept a scrape wound from becoming a puncture wound.  Glad I was wearing three layers!

"But Tim, wouldn't it just be better to avoid getting bit by dogs in the first place? Then you could dress in less layers.  Right?"

Yes, of course that would be best.  I was able to avoid dog bites for 55 years of skiing.  And I've been skiing at Glen Alps for 30 years, with no dog issues.  But times have changed.  And there are many, many more clueless and irresponsible dog owners, who are unknowingly dangerous people, recreating at Glen Alps these days.  So good luck to you, or to mammals that you love, trying to staty dog bite-free at the modern day Glen Alps.  I'll be wearing body armor the next time I ski at Glen Alps.

A heads-up for parents taking young kids to Glen Alps:  The dog bite I got on my leg was the same height off the ground as the face of a kid riding in a sled.  This time the bite was on the leg of a crusty old cross country skier.  Where, and on who, will the next bite be?


Mid March 2015: From Crust Skiing to Rock Skipping, What a Difference a Decade Makes
Portage Pass - 2004 Portage Pass - 2006 Portage Pass - 2015
Beach hiking and skipping rocks at Portage Lake in March.  Not as fun as crust skiing on Portage Lake in April (but not this April).

Portage Pass 1964 Military Helicopter Crash Wreckage

Skiers traveling between Portage Lake and Portage Pass probably don't realize they are skiing near, or occasionally over, old wreckage of a military helicopter.  I didn't know this crash site existed until my wife pointed it out as we were hiking the trail from the lake back up to the pass.  This wreckage is rarely seen because during normal winters, it is buried under snow.  And during summers it is buried under alders.  It's visible this winter due to lack of snow and, of course, lack of leaves.

On April 29, 1964 an H-21 helicopter crashed here in bad weather.  Six people that were on board died.  For information about this crash, search for "Portage Glacier" on this web page.

Additional information from Steve Gruhn:
"The aircraft was returning from a mission to aid the Whittier victims of the Good Friday earthquake, which occurred about a month earlier.  Co-piloting the aircraft was Chief Warrant Officer Robert L. Maynard, for whom [nearby] Maynard Mountain was named in 1965."

 1964 helicopter crash wreckage.

 The crash site is about half way down the trail from the pass to the lake, on the downhill side of the trail, ~100 feet from the trail.


Early March 2015: Siberians, The Wooden Skis of Sled Dogs

I was skiing out of Willow recently and saw two dog teams coming towards me in the distance.  Quickly something registered to me about these dog teams.  They were slow.  The dogs were beautiful.  But they were really slow compared to most dog teams.

When it comes to dog teams, I know my slow.  I actually consider myself an expert on slow dog teams.  My wife and I once had a recreational dog team of 5 Malamutes that I called: "The Biggest, The Baddest and The SLOWEST Dog Team In Alaska."  We loved our dogs with all of our hearts, but they were never in a hurry ... and were really, really slow.

The dogs I saw in Willow were a bit faster than our big Malamutes, they were Siberians.  I read that these dogs could be the first team of Siberians to finish both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year.  That would be cool.  Not just for the dogs and dog owners, but also for the many proud Siberian owners around the world.

So why, in the world of super-fast Iditarod superdogs, would someone want to race the Iditarod with "Slowberians"?  The reasons are probably the same for why someone would want to jump in a bike race with a 1970's double-butted, brazed steel frame Colnago.  Or why someone would want to ski a marathon race these days on wood skis.

Reasons:  Romanticism.  Nostalgia.  Purity.  Beauty.  Tradition.  History.  Pride.  Love.


Late February 2015: During Bad Snow Years, Do Skiers Need Fat Bikes For Backup Training?

The short:  No.

The long:  Needless to say, in Southcentral Alaska it has been a dismal winter for trail skiing, whether on in-town groomers or out of town backcountry trails.  Gotta say, it's the worst winter for xc skiing I can remember in Alaska.  But holy crap ... has it been some good biking this winter!  Especially on the winter single track trails in Anchorage.

I've biked more this winter than any winter before.  What gets me out biking is the massive amount of cool single track winter bike trails in Far North Bicentennial Park.  When I am in town and lose enthusiasm for skiing the same icy loops over and over, I grab my bike and rip into our frozen single tracks.

So if I'm winter biking, I must have a fat bike, right?  Nope.  I don't own one.  All of my biking is on a 29'er with Nokian 2 inch studded tires.

Fat bikes are cool.  But I've never gotten one for a simple reason: fat bikes are made for the same snow conditions that are good for skiing.  When the snow is good for skiing, why would I want to bike?  I'm a skier.  If I had a fat bike I wouldn't be riding it when the conditions were right for fat biking.  Because I would be skiing.  I don't need toys that I don't use a lot.

The icy single track trails we've had all over Anchorage this winter are actual dangerous on a fat bike, unless you have studded tires.  But if you need studded tires on a fat bike, it means the conditions are such that you really don't need a fat bike.  All you need is a pair of studded tires for your mountain bike.  For $250 you can get a pair of Nokian studded tires and you've got winter biking covered when the skiing goes bad.  I'm certainly not the first skier to figure this out.  Seems like a bunch of my peers have gone this route too.

I definitely don't have anything against fat bikes or fat bikers.  We're all family when it comes to winter trails.  If you want to try out the world of fat biking - by all means, buy a fat bike from some of the great bike shops in Anchorage (if you live near here).  And have fun!  But if you just want to race around on hard, icy and fun trails when the skiing goes bad ... pick up some studded tires for your mountain bike, and you should be good to go.


25 February 2015: Grim

Tern Lake

Summit Lake

Turnagain Pass


Photo by Iron Dog trail class racer Rebecca Charles of the Iditarod Trail between Rohn and Nikolai.

From Facebook ... an Alaskan dude, gone goofy from lack of snow, in Clam Gulch, AK on February 20, 2015. (photo: Steve Holmes)

Also from Facebook ... 25th of February in Homer, AK, and temps pushing 60 degrees F.  Beautiful weather.  But wrong, very wrong.  (photo: Alan Turkington)


Early February 2015: Quick and Easy "Ad Hoc" Trail Making In The Susitna Valley

Often winter trails in the bush of Alaska follow river channels.  But to do this you usually have to go down a river bank to get onto the river, and go up a river bank to get off the river.  With lots of snow, and some wind, Mother Nature usually makes a snow drift ramp that makes scaling and descending river banks safe, and even possible.

But with snow-sparse winters like the one we are having, snow ramps on river banks are non-existent.  Because of this, some traditional river bank accesses on trails are too dangerous to use.  So a quick reroute of the trail to a safer river bank must be done.

Along the Big Susitna River, and along many other glacier fed rivers in Alaska, making new trails is fairly easy.  You just point a snowmobile into a big stand of riparian willows and hit the throttle.  The first few passes are kind of messy.  But with enough traffic, the trail smoothes out well.  Yes, the trail is only a snowmobile-width wide, and you want to listen before you enter the trail on skis.  But out here there is not much traffic, so the chance of trail conflicts is minimal.

Such trails are actually quite "enviro-friendly".  The root system of the willows remains intact and new shoots of willow, because they grow so fast, will be nearly the same height next fall.  Plus, moose like these trails for easy access to some of their favorite winter food.

We sure have a wide spectrum of trail building costs in Southcentral, Alaska.  If I'm not mistaken, the new(ish) Nordic trails in Girdwood cost over $50,000 per kilometer to build.  And seemingly countless big virgin hemlock trees were cut down to make the Girdwood trails.  These Susitna river trails might cost 50 cents per kilometer to make.  And in a year, you won't even know they were there.

It's also funny how some Alaskan cross country skiers get more excited about skiing on trails that cost 50 cents per kilometer ... rather than skiing on trails that cost 50 thousand dollars per kilometer.


Early February 2015: They Need To Sell These Mugs At The Kincaid Park Chalet

It's been cold with no wind the last few days in Anchorage.  I tried to ski at Kincaid Park last night.  Bad decision.  Didn't make it long before I got a headache from the jet fuel fumes from the airport.  A temperature inversion has settled over Anchorage, and with no wind, it makes for nasty and unhealthy air conditions.  These conditions happen frequently during the coldest days of the winter at Kincaid Park.

It's pretty amazing, that the air can get so bad at Kincaid that you can taste the jet fumes in your mouth ...yet at the same time there is an endless stream of cars driven by parents heading out to drop their Jr. Nordic kiddo's off to ski in this incredibly polluted air.  No parenting medals are being handed out on these days.

Here's a radical idea ... when the air you breath at Kincaid is stinky, toxic, full of carcinogens, giving you headaches, making you gag on the taste of gas and is likely making people sick - go ski somewhere else.  Jr. Nordic organizers should change venues on bad air days.   Move the ski classes somewhere else that is a long ways from the airport ... like to Hillside or Russian Jack's.  This would be a smart and responsible decision, and in the best interest of health for the kids.


Early February 2015: The Secret Race ... For Strange Wood

While recently at our cabin, I finished reading Tyler Hamilton's book: "The Secret Race".  I had read bits and pieces of the Lance Armstrong and pro bike racer doping sagas, but this book put all the pieces together.  And did it with great detail.  A good read.

I did crack up when I read the last few paragraphs of the "Afterward" chapter.  Tyler says that he does not race, or even ride a bike much, these days.  He instead hikes and runs with his wife.  And while he is out in the woods ... he now has an obsession with collecting strange and oddly-shaped pieces of wood and making stuff out of it.

Ha!  What kind of person would have an obsession like that ?!!!    --  hint --

Skiing on the lower Big Susitna River recently.  Skied by a log jam and found a spruce burl.
Update: I couldn't decide what to make out of this burl.  I figured the coolest thing about this burl is its disproportionality.  The burl is abnormally large relative to the branch it is on.  So in the end I decided to make an art piece out of it.  The base is a birch burl (that I also found while skiing).


Mid January 2015: The Death Of Pay Phones.  The Birth Of Trail Markers.

Now that pay phones are are all but extinct, what do you do with old pay phone booths?  The folks that have cabins in the remote Safari Lake area north of the Petersville Road think they should be recycled.  And used as trail markers!

"When the trail gets you over the next two ridges, and you reach the end of a big swamp, take a left at the phone booth."

Safari Lake cabin folks are ingenious and resourceful ... and they sure have a good sense of humor.


Early January 2015: Back At It ... Burl Hunting

Last year I posted on this blog some info about the obscure ski-sport of burl hunitng.  This year I've been hunting birch burls, a type of burl I have never worked with before (have always worked with spruce burls in the past).

The way this works is that you go out skiing and find the burls.  Of course, you need to make sure the burls you find are on property where you are allowed to harvest them.  Then you go back with a chainsaw and remove the viral growth on the tree that is the burl.  Once removed, you coat the area you cut on the tree with pruning tar, which is much like the pine tar that us older kids once used to prep our ski bases.  Coating the cut protects the tree from water damage and insect attack.

The next steps are to peel the burl and rough out the shape of the bowl, or whatever you are making.  By roughing out the shape, you make the thicknesses of the piece a bit more uniform so it will all dry at the same rate, and hopefully not form cracks.  Once roughed out, the burls are put in a box of sawdust and stored in a cool and dry place for 6 months ... so they will dry slowly.  In 6 months, if the pieces don't have any major cracks ... then they can be carved into the finished product.

Several recently harvested birch burls. The birch burls after they were peeled. Roughed-out birch burls, ready to be packed in sawdust and slowly dried for 6 months.
Update:  Stuff made from some of these burls ...
Bowl carved from a birch burl. Bowl and art piece (birch burl base with spruce burl above).


Late December 2014: Old Skis Live An Exciting Life ... Next To A Bear Scratching Post

Near a corner of our cabin, a pair of old Northlund wooden skis are mounted, and they are shown in most of the pictures below.  These skis get a close-up view of the action at our "bear scratching and rubbing post", also know as the corner of our cabin.  For some reason, local bears cherish this corner post for stops to rub and massage themselves.  Black bears, brown (grizzly) bears, big sows and triplet cubs all make stops at the bear pole.  I set up a game camera to catch some of the action.  Recently we were at our cabin and I retrieved pictures from the last few months.  Here are a few pictures (seriously, this is a just small fraction of the pictures!).  Click on any of the images below to expand it.

A HUGE momma brownie standing in front of our cabin, like she owns the place. Here they come! The little pole dancing bear: "Do a little dance.  Make a little love.  Get down tonight!  Get down tonight!" "What the heck?  Is that little box taking my picture or something?!"
"Geez, I can't even do one pull-up!  I gotta eat more moose!" "Feels sooo good!  Oh yeah!  Oh ... yeah ...!" A worried mom, with her hands full. "Guys!  Check out this post!  It smells like stinky brown bears!" "Guys!  Check out this post!  It smells like stinky black bears!" "Aw come on mom! Back off!  It's my turn!"
If it feels good, raise your paw. "I love this place!  Maybe when I get bigger I can move in upstairs!" I like this one: "Ouch!  I hit my head on that damn log!" If it feels good, raise your paw. In Alaska, humans are not at the top of the food chain.  Not even close.
Previous cam images showed that this bear breathed on the lens and fogged it up. "It's been a long day.  Gotta get some sleep under MY cabin." "No one up here to scare.  Let's go down to the creek and see if we can scare the shit out of some fishermen." "Mom!  Come back!  And watch me do a back flip off this post!" "Nice to get under MY cabin and shake the rain out of my fur!" "Ahh .. it feels good to have a break from killing things and hug my post.  I love my post!"


Late December 2014: A Message From: skraP etatS aksalA
Hint: Click on the above picture if you can't read it.   Per the memo (left picture), here is a legally installed 2015 parking sticker, as seen from outside of the windshield.  Not easy for park rangers to read, that's for sure.


Late December 2014: Skiing While Pulling A Sled Is Hip Again, So Says Google


Late December 2014: Memories Sold

It was time to pass on stuff we had either not used in a long time, our dog sled, or planned on not using, a snowmobile.  Thanks to craigslist, these items quickly landed in new and happy hands.  Hopefully the new owners will have as many good adventures with these items as we did.

You may have seen this dog sled in a few pictures on this web site.  It was the dog sled my wife and I would use with our 5 Malamutes.  We put many miles of mushing and "ski-mushing" (see above right picture) on this sled.  The sled had not been used in over 10 years, since the last of our buddies passed away.  It was emotionally tough selling this sled.  But dog sleds aren't made to hang in a shed forever.  They are made to make life fun for people and dogs.

Now our sled is owned by two Iditarod mushers in Knik.  They will be using it as a training sled to save wear and tear on their expensive race sleds.  Hopefully it works out well for Charley Bejna and Anna Berington.  Anna said there is a chance this dog sled may be in the ceremonial start of the Iditarod this year.  For the ceremonial start, mushers use larger sleds that they can carry paying passengers, Idita-riders, in for the trip from 4th Avenue to the BLM landing strip.  That would be cool if this sled is used for this purpose.  I don't think a dog sled has ever been used in the Iditarod that was once regularly pulled by a skier (who was very happy to be part of a wonderful Malamute dog team).

Update: Our old sled did end up being used in the ceremonial start of the 2015 Iditarod.  The picture above shows the sled, which was used as a second "speed-reducer" sled for Charley Bejna's team, at the finish of the ceremonial leg of the Iditarod.


I also sold our Polaris WideTrak snowmobile.  This was another emotional sale.  I loved this beast.  But I got the inkling to upgrade, and I don't need two beasts now.  This snowmobile appears a bunch of times on this web site.  It was used for ski trip support a lot, and of course, for travel to our cabin.  Lots of furniture in our house is made from burled logs this beast hauled out of the boonies for us.  And ... this was the snowmobile that appeared quite a few years ago in a silly viral YouTube video about a cross country skier stealing a hotdog from a hotdog cooker inside a snowmobile (see above right picture).  A hotdog cooker won't fit on my new snowmobile, so we (and other skiers) will miss the succulent caribou hotdogs this snowmobile cooked on its muffler for us.


Mid December 2014: Anchorage Ski Trail Grooming, 30+ Years Ago

I sometimes look on ebay for historical pictures that might be good for the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project web site (www.alsap.org).  Recently I noticed this xc skiing-related picture that was for sale on ebay.  It's a picture of Eric Tikka and his grooming equipment in 1983.  In earlier times, the Anchorage Nordic Ski Club (now the NSAA) did not own their own grooming equipment.  Instead, they contracted out the trail grooming services.  In the early 80's, Eric Tikka, a member of the prodigious Anchorage ski racing Tikka family, was the track-setting contractor.  Besides being a good guy, the tracks he set were always well done because he was a ski racer himself.  I believe Eric set the tracks for the 1983 World Cup race that was held in Anchorage.  So, Eric likely set tracks for the highest caliber xc ski race that's ever been held in Anchorage.

Former xc ski racer and Anchorage Nordic Ski Club contract groomer Eric Tikka, and his grooming equipment, in 1983


Mid December 2014: Know Your Bungees, Or Someone Else Might End Up With Your Stuff

For years I have picked bungee cords up on winter trails.  Now I must have 50 or so of them in a box in my garage.  I have all these free bungee cords because people use them wrong.

Bungee cords work okay if they hold down a stationary load.  But once the load starts moving, wiggling or bouncing - bungee cords are destined to fail.  The hooks bend, break or come loose, elasticity is lost in the cold, the bungee becomes unattached and often the load falls off soon thereafter.

I remember once mushing our dogs and coming across a bungee cord.  And then another bungee cord.  And then a cooler that had fallen of the back of a snowmobile and spilled out a bunch of turkey sub sandwiches onto the trail.  Our five Malamutes sure loved that find.  And the funny thing is, when the dogs noticed lost bungee cords on the trail after that incident, their ears would perk up and they would pick up the pace.  Because they just knew that bungee cords meant turkey sandwiches were soon to be found down the trail!

So when it comes to tying down loads on snowmobiles, snowmobile sleds, freight sleds, kayaks on boats, kayaks on car racks or anything of value that can shift in shape or position while traveling ... never use bungee cords.  It's better to use compression straps on rigid items and bungee rope on items that can compress or move.

Bungee rope is great.  It's strong and works well in the cold.  And it's easy to make bungee rope tie downs.  Buy 12 to 16 feet of 3/8 inch (1/4 inch is too weak, 1/2 inch is too thick for good knots) bungee rope from a hardware store (like AIH in Anchorage) and then tie a double figure eight knot in one end.  Fasten the loop first and then pull and cinch the bungee rope around your cargo and tie it off where necessary.

A recent find of yet another bungee cord (Old Hunter Trail in Willow). (Left) a bungee rope tie down with double figure eight loop knot, (right) bungee rope ready to be converted to tie dows, (bottom) some of the many bungee cords I have picked up on trails. Bungee rope being used to tie a ski bag and a gear bag onto a snowmobile.


Compression straps are good for static loads, like these propane tanks.  In the background you can see bungee rope in use to tie down a ski bag and fuel tanks and shovel on the back of a snowmobile. Bungee rope is strong.  It can tie down an injured snowmobile (broken suspension shock) to a freight sled.  Yep, that was a bad day.  Luckily such days are few and far between.

Update: Recently I made a simple ski rack for my new snowmobile using an aluminum bar and  ball bungees.


Mid December 2014: Warped Soles On Brand New Salomon Pro Combis ... Not Good

I use combi boots quite a lot for early season trail skiing.  They are a good deal when you don't know if the ski route you will be doing will be classic, skating or a mix.

I've owned several pairs of Salomon Pro Combis over the years.  This year I got a new pair.  I was happy to see that the tongue flap was once again semi-breathable in these new-gen Pro Combis.  The last generation had an air-tight vinyl-covered tongue flap that didn't let any moisture pass out of the boot.  So the old boots were very clammy.  I was also happy to see that the pointed tongue stiffener, that would dig into your toes when you classic skied, was gone.  This had been a problem since 2008 or so.  I always had to cut the tips of the tongue stiffeners off in previous Pro Combi boots.

But my opinion of these ski boots went downhill when I took them for a ski.

When I first skied in these boots, I noticed my right boot was not setting over the footplate squarely.  I figured that the binding on my right ski was not aligned correctly, so I switched skis.  But same thing, my right ski boot would often not settle over the footplate properly.

When I got home I clipped my left boot into a ski and looked at the footplate to ski boot channel alignment.  It was fine.  Then with the same ski, I clipped in the right boot.  Sure enough the boot was warped and not aligning with the footplate (see pictures below).

So, I've got a brand new pair of Salomon ski boots ... that are defective.  Great.  And people wonder why I buy 15 year old ski boots off of ebay and ski in them.  Hmmm ... maybe I do this because 15 years ago Salomon had much better quality control than they do today.  Yep, that's the reason.  Unfortunately they didn't make RS9 combi boots back in the day.  So I'm stuck with having to buy modern day junk for combi boots.

Anyone want to buy a pair of Salomon Pro Combi ski boots, size 10.5 US?  Near new condition, only been used once. (And will probably never be used again).

Lesson learned: Before buying a pair of ski boots, always take and hold ski boots sole to sole to make sure the boot channels line up and the boot soles are not warped.  I did not do this because I bought the ski boots off the Internet.  I didn't buy these boots at my favorite local ski shop because they do not carry this model of Salomon ski boots.  From this bad experience, I'm through buying Salomon ski boots off the Internet.  If I ever buy new Salomon ski boots again, it will be a hands-on purchase. 

 2014 Salomon Pro Combi ski boots.  With the same ski (and the same binding, of course) - the left boots aligns correctly with the footplate.  But the right boot is warped badly and does not align with the footplate.

Update:  I used a knife to cut out some of the problem boot's binding plate channel so it fit n the footplate better.  It works a little better now.

But here is the bottom line: the soles of these boots are too sloppy.  Way, way too flexible, to the point they make the boots pretty much worthless.

If the 2008-2011 soles were used for these boots, they'd be fine.  These 2014 boots have an improved upper (see notes above).  But it seems cheap not to add a Velcro fastener tab to the tongue like most all Salomon xc ski boots have.  However the sloppy soles are the showstopper with these boots.  They make for missed footplate channel connections on rough trails.  And the tendons on the tops of your feet get sore due to the extra work needed to keep a ski on edge when skating.

I'm going to be using carbon sole stiffener plates to make these boots more usable.  But I shouldn't have to do this.  My recommendation: Look elsewhere, don't buy these Solomon combi boots.


Late November 2014: Anchorage BLM Campbell Creek "Critter Cam" Images

These brown bear photos were taken by a Bureau of Land Management Alaska game camera along Campbell Creek in Anchorage, AK.  They were taken during the early morning on November 16th.  The bear was hanging out along the creek eating spawned-out salmon.  So, if you were skiing the early snow we had then on the gas line trail at Hillside, you were probably less than a mile from this big guy.  If you were biking the Rover's Run trail that night, perhaps you were 100 yards from him/her.  Check out the rightmost picture below and look at the claws.  These pictures show that you are often closer to real Alaska in Anchorage than you may suspect.

Photos property of the Anchorage office of the Bureau of Land Management


Late November 2014: Trick The Snow Gods!  Pretend That You Don't Care!

Normally when the snow gods are not delivering the goods to skiers in Anchorage, the usual course of action is to burn an offering of skis, pray to Ullr or maybe find bear dens, crawl in them and wake the bears up.  Because damn it, if we can't ski you stupid bears shouldn't be able to sleep!  Okay, maybe I got carried away on that last one ... just a little no-snow stress showing itself.

Or sometimes we take the ugly route, like throwing stuff and screaming and swearing at the TV when Jackie Purcell, the KTUU weather lady, comes on and says it won't be snowing for the next week.  "Damn you Jackie, what do you f*ing mean it's not going to snow!"

But ya know, the snow gods see all of these desperate actions on our part.  And when they see this stuff they laugh at us.  And then they decide to mess with us even more, and delay snow for a few more days, or weeks, or ...  Yeah, the snow gods can be sick jerks at times.

So you have to fight back with reverse psychology.  You have to make the snow gods think you don't give a damn if there is no snow or not.  You should do summer things in the winter.  Like mowing your yard.  And when you are doing it yell out stuff like: "Hey this is awesome!  I love mowing my yard in the middle of the winter!  Whoo hoo!  Sure hope it doesn't snow this winter!"

He he!  That really will get the snow gods attention.  It will piss them off.  And then they will conspire to "punish" us with huge snow storms.  Yep, reverse logic is the ticket.

I tried this reverse psychology last winter (see picture below).  It kinda worked.  Not too long after I mowed my yard in January we got snow.  Today I found out that Malamute man Bob Sutherland, the renown NSAA ski tour leader, was performing his own yard-mowing trickery on the snow gods.  If it snows within the next week or two ... it will all be thanks to Bob!

But hey, keep quiet and don't talk out loud about this to anyone.  Cuz if the snow gods ever hear that we are trying to dupe them ... then we Anchorage skiers will really, really be screwed!

Me performing reverse psychology on the snow gods last winter. Bob Sutherland recently gives snow god reverse psychology a try.


Update: Four days after Bob did the snow god trickery lawn mowing ... we got enough snow to ski!  Ha ha ... the snow gods are pretty easy to fool.  Yep, Bob sure scored one on Ullr!  But shhhhhh ... don't talk about this, can't let the snow gods know that Bob pulled a fast one on them.  If you see Bob and his malamutes on the Powerline Pass Trail, give him a thumbs up and mouth the words: "Thank you Bob!"


Late November 2014: A Sign Of Ghosts At Kincaid Park!

Whoa!  Looks like the ghosts of Kincaid have been active!  On a recent bike ride I noticed ghosts had resurrected a ghostly sign of the past.


Late November 2014: The Shady Business of Early Season Snow

The short:  If there are no low-snow places to ski in Anchorage, the local xc ski season is shorter (and life sucks when you can't ski).  In other words, and explained below: No shade, no snow.  No snow, no skiing.

The long:  To be able to ski in low-snow conditions, like we quite often encounter in Southcentral, Alaska, you need what little snow you have to last.  If exposure to sun and wind quickly melts the snow on your ski trails, your skiing window will be shortened.  Narrow and wooded trails help shade and wind-protect ski trails and allow the snow to last longer, and for you to ski for a longer period of time.

But should you make such trails wide instead, with little shade or wind protection, you will not be able to ski as long on these trails during periods of low snow.   So, you don't want all of your ski trails to be super-wide.  A balance of old (narrow) with new (wide) trails are needed to cover a wider spectrum of snow conditions, and ensure that you have somewhere to ski when there is little snow.

Having local low-snow skiing venues is important.  However, in the past 30 years we have lost a number of low-snow venues in Anchorage:

The Glen Alps to Powerline and back 2 km loop was often a mainstay for poor snow years.  As this loop was shaded by the brush that lined it and was perpendicular to the wind, drifting snow would be caught here.  And so skiing would be possible on this small loop even when the main Powerline Trail was wind-scoured bare.  UAA held many time trials on this loop.  But recently a parking lot and access road was built on part of this loop and this low-snow loop was lost.

There used to be a 2 km loop above the Glen Alps parking lot on a patch of tundra.  Flattop Mountain shaded this cold location and it didn't see direct sunlight from late October through January.  Great for making a thin snowpack last.  Some years this would be the only place you could ski in Anchorage, for up to two months.  But warmer temps have caused brush to grow heavy in this area and it is no longer ski-able.

The Moose Run golf course on Fort Richardson used to be a great low-snow venue.  The Alaska state high school championships were once held here on a few inches of snow.  In the 80's Chevron Cup citizen races were held here (I remember racing in them).  But when the Army outsourced the operations of this golf course in the 90's, skiing has since been banned here.

Kincaid, the Jodphur lighted loop in particular, used to be a great early-season and low-snow venue. Then 20 years ago, the spruce bark beetles came to town.  The beetles ravaged Kincaid and killed most all of the dense mature white spruce that grew there.  Trails through the old Kincaid forest were once shaded, dark and cold.  Perfect for preserving snow.  But when the spruce trees were lost to the beetles, the forest opened up dramatically.  Shade vanished.  And wind protection was lost.  Now any snow that falls at Kincaid is much more vulnerable to the warm Turnagain Arm winds that batter this part of Anchorage.  Because of the loss of forest, ski-able days at Kincaid are now fewer than in the past.  And usually 2-4 weeks less than at the Hillside trails.

The Spencer Loop also used to be a good early season ski loop.  I even remember racing in a 15 km APU race that Jim Galanes held on the Spencer Loop on October 25, 2001.  But this year sections of the trail were widened to meet modern racing requirements.  And in doing this, shade and wind protection was lost.  The impact of this trail widening could already be seen this year.  A small, late-October snowstorm allowed three weeks of skiing on the lower Hillside Trails, like the Besh Loop and Service connector.  But skiing only lasted one week on the Spencer Loop, even though it got more snow.  Sun and wind took their toll, quickly.  The Spencer Loop has now been lost as a low-snow loop because of this trail widening.

The trail widening on the Spencer Loop was a NSAA homogulation project.  Doing this allows the course to be FIS certified for ranking points.  This is an important issue for 1 percent of the skiers in Anchorage.  The other 99% worry more about just having trails, with snow, to ski on.  To the vast majority of Anchorage xc skiers, ski-able snow is much more important than FIS points.

It's pretty funny when you think of all the money and effort that has been channeled into smooth surfaced, super-wide, homogulated race course trails in Anchorage.  And then you see that not one of the homogulated trails was ski-able in early November of this year, when the old-school, cut in the 80's, narrow Lower Hillside trails were the only place in town you could ski.

Lower Hillside is one of our last low-snow skiing venues in Anchorage.  These old trails prove that shade and wind-protection are the keys for providing early season and low-snow skiing.  Widen these old, narrow, dark, shaded and often snowy trails in the future, and all xc skiers in Anchorage will be getting the shaft.

The mid-day sun barely filters through the forest of Lower Hillside trails.  Because of shade and wind protection from this forest, ski-able snow lasts longer here. This picture was taken 10 minutes before the picture on the left.  It shows a newly widened section of the nearby Spencer Loop, now with much less shade and protection from the wind.  Do you notice any difference in snow coverage?


Mid November 2014: Post Meltdown, Icy Trail Exercise Options

A few weeks ago we were living the dream.  A mid-fall snowstorm.  Trails in Anchorage came to life.  We were skiing every day.  It was rock skiing, but so what.  It was skiing, and we are skiers.

Then the meltdown hit.  Rock gardens blossomed on the ski trails.  Game over.  Time to return to the exercise rituals of the common folk (those that donít dream about xc skiing every day).  ;-)

So when your local trails turn to ice, what is the best way to get a workout in?  By ďbest wayĒ, I mean an outdoor cardio activity that elevates heart-rate, challenges your strength and increases your fitness.

Primary icy trail exercise options are running, hiking and biking.  Plus, letís throw Nordic blading into the mix.  The best option for you will of course be driven by your preferences and interests.  But here are some of my thoughts about each of these options.

Running and hiking on icy trails is an easy option.  Get a pair of Ice Bug spiked-sole shoes, or stud your own shoes, and you are ready to go.  Forget about any traction device that slips or straps onto your shoes.  They might be good for walking, but not for running.  When running at night they always seem to fall off when you donít realize it.  And then whey you really need them you are surprised they are gone.

Studded running shoes are great for flats, uphills and gentle downhills.  But on steep ice, like which can form on ski trail hills, they arenít that good.  They are OK, but you often have to gingerly go down hills so you donít slip.  And in doing this you spend more time than you may want with your heart rate going low-range.  Hiking on icy trails with studded shoes is the same as running.  Going up - no problem.  Coming down - more potential for problems.

Nordic blading mimics ski skate motions well.  This activity can be a great alternative ski workout when you can't ski.  Nordic blading is great exercise when the skating is good.  When the skating is not good, itís entertainment more than it is training.  To really benefit from training on Nordic blades, you need to be able to skate with abandon and push yourself.  But if you have to worry about thin ice, cracks in the ice or frozen debris on the ice surface Ö you spend too much time navigating and too little time focusing on technique and training level.

Finally we have biking on iced-over trails.  This is a favorite of mine.  During post-meldown, ice periods I do a lot of this.  The key ingredient for this activity is a pair of studded tires for your mountain bike.  Iíve got a pair of Nokia studded tires that work amazingly well.  I also wear my Ice Bugs in case I have to get off the bike.  And I use platform pedals with spikes on them to keep my feet from slipping off (and so I can use my Ice Bugs that don't have pedal cleats).  You donít need, and probably donít want, a fatbike to ride ice trails.

With ice biking, your heart rate can get much higher on hills than with running, as you often have to push hard or you will tip over or spin out.   And you get the downhills over much faster than running, so you are onto the next hill before you know it.  You will find that the bumpy single track trails of the summer smooth out a lot after snow melts into the depressions and refreezes.  The end result are some smooth, fast and fun trails for ice biking.

All three of these activities are good options for post meltdown icy conditions.  But alas, none of these options beat skiing.

Studded tires, studded shoes, studded (non-slip) pedals.  Ready to bike the ice.


Mid November 2014: A Surprise Link To My Skiing Past

Recently I did some "weeding" of my wife's and my ski rack.  And hidden in a far corner I found a pair of 1977 Lovett racing skis (see picture above).  Surprisingly, these skis were still un-mounted and in the plastic sleeves they came in.  Near-mint condition, 38 year old skis!

Finding these skis triggered a few memories.  Though I donít talk about it much on this web site, because this is a backcountry cross country skiing web site, a long time ago I used to xc ski race a lot.  When I was 19, I was on the United States Ski Team and was sponsored for a season by Lovett skis.  I used Lovett skis on the domestic racing circuit, and for international racing at the Jr. World Championships in Switzerland and at World Cup races in Scandinavia.

Lovett skis were made back then by the Lovett family in Boulder, Colorado.  John Lovett founded the ski company and a number of USST athletes raced on Lovett skis in the mid 70ís, until John sold the company in 1978.  Lovett was likely the first US producer of fiberglass composite xc racing skis.  Hexcel made fiberglass and honeycomb xc racing skis for a year or two near when Lovett started up.  But I'm not sure which company was actually the first US composite Nordic racing ski producer.  K2 made xc racing skis later in the 70ís.  Since the early 80's, no one has made xc racing skis in the United States.

The bottom line about being sponsored by Lovett skis, was that it was a really cool experience.  You got to go to the ski factory and learn how to make skis, you got to be involved in how skis were designed, you met the guys that would be building your skis, and if you had an idea regarding ski design* Ė soon you would be skiing on that idea.  The skis were good, the support was good and heck, the first pair of skis I got from Lovett had serial number ďTK1Ē Ö so how can you not love a ski company that did stuff like that!

Knowing that this was a pair of unique skis I had unearthed, and a rarity because they had never been mounted, I posted a picture of them on the web.  More specifically, I posted a picture on a Facebook group that Stacey Moon of Anchorage started: the Vintage Nordic Skiing Gear Facebook group.  This is a fun group where folks, mostly old-timers like me, post pics of gear from the glory days along with comments.  The 70's and 80's were really interesting times in Nordic skiing history, as there were so many radical changes in ski equipment during that time.  Iíve learned a bunch of cool stuff from the members of this Facebook group.

After I posted the picture of my Lovett skis, Steve Soitsman from Homer posted that my skis showed the nice work related to ďhis neighbor Bill and my neighbor AndreĒ.  I was confused by this comment, so I asked him to explain.  Come to find out, the brother of John Lovett moved to Alaska.  Now Bill Lovett lives in Homer.  Bill worked at the Lovett ski factory back in the 70's.  And Andre Lovett, his son, now ski races at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.

I felt a little embarrassed for not knowing this.  I guess I havenít been paying very close attention to local ski racing the past dozen years (as you can probably tell from this web site).

I also thought to myself: ďWhat the heck am I doing with these skis?  These skis are Lovett family heirlooms.  The Lovetts should have these skis, not me.Ē

So, I met up with Andre Lovett and gave him my Lovett skis.  It only took about 15 seconds of talking to Andre before I realized he was a likable guy.  And that he was proud of his familyís ski making history.  Then I remembered, thatís about how long it took me to like the crew at the Lovett family ski factory back in the day.  And they too took great pride in the skis they built.

There are good skis and there are magical skis.  Magical skis are good skis that are made by special people.  Lovetts were magical skis.  And it was fun to have a surprise re-connection to the days I ski raced on these magical skis.

Me, Lovett racing skis and Andre Lovett

* I mentioned that Lovett ski was quick to try out new ideas.  Here is an example.  I had this idea of making a ski with a groove that came down to the start of the wax pocket and then stopped.  Then a stiff wax pocket under the foot would have no groove to increase the waxable surface by 20%.  The ski would then have three grooves from the back of the wax pocket to the tail of the ski.  The extra grooves would help with tracking and reduce surface tension.  I told the Lovett guys about this idea.  They said it sounded good and within 10 days I was racing on such skis (and they worked out well).  How many ski companies these days would listen to a 19 year old kid and make custom skis for him or her like Lovett did?  You are right ... none.  This is just one example of what was special about Lovett.

Mid November 2014: Ski Gear From Where You Wouldn't Expect It

When it comes time to buy skis, boots, bindings and poles, I never hesitate to go to Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking.  I don't like paying lots of money for ski gear.  But I realize there is not much in the way of cheap options for higher end ski gear.  I have no problem swiping my card for purchases from AMH, because owner Paul Denkewalter is a wonderful person that has supported xc skiing in Alaska for decades.

However, when it comes to skiing gear accessories, I like to look for products where you don't expect to find them.  The bottom line is price.  For example, I can't see spending 60 dollars for a pair of gloves made in China for 5 dollars.  The same Chinese factories make similar gloves for many other companies that mark up the price of the $5 gloves way less then Swix, Salomon, Fischer, etc.

In past blogs on this site (see below), I have posted where to find sports glasses (light safety glasses) and gloves that can be used for skiing ... at hardware stores in Anchorage, Alaska.  Here are some recent finds of stuff that can be used for skiing that come from non-skiing shops in Anchorage ...

Mechanix "Winter Armor" gloves.  Have been skiing with these gloves for three weeks now.  Really like them.  $21 at O'Reilly's Auto Parts on Northern Lights in Anchorage.  At Lowe's for $28.  "Duck Dynasty" fleece hats (w/ micro fleece liner).  On sale for $11 at Cabela's in Anchorage.  Super comfortable, great shape and fit.

Camo!? For Nordic skiing!?  Hell yeah!  It's about time!  Plus, I will get more respect while skiing snowmobile trails if I am sporting camo!

Anchorage xc ski racer and UAA professor Travis Rector made me aware of a new product called FiberFix.  It's duct tape on steroids ... "100 times stronger than duct tape".  To repair a broken ski pole I'd think this stuff would be good.  Catch is, you need to first dip it in warm water.  So it would be good for repairing a pole at home.  Less so if you were out on the trail.  You can buy FiberFix at Lowe's and Home Depot.

More on Gear

Recently I got a pair of SmartWool skiing socks.  They were OK and would be good for xc ski racing on days it wasnít super cold.  But they donít have anywhere near the cushioning of Thorlo Mountaineering socks, which I have been using for skiing for 25 years now.  Cushioning and warmth are positives for long backcountry trail skiing treks.  Thorlo was way ahead of the field when they first made these socks.  And, in my opinion, no one has caught up yet.  Their thick cushioning also means warmth.  Thickness is warmth.  Here is a place that has deals on Thorlo Mountaineering socks (50% off 2nd pair) AND doesnít charge extra to ship to Alaska - www.gobros.com.

Early November 2014: I Will Be Skiing With Jeff On My New Skis This Winter

I got a new pair of skis from AMH to replace my worn-out trail skiing boards.  The first thing I did to these skis when I got home was to put Jeff Dusenbury memorial stickers on them.

Jeff was one of those few people in the world that are genetically programmed to be nice.  Not a fake nice.  Not a nice just when you feel like you should be nice.  But so exuding of a real nice and a genuine decency that it was impossible not to like the guy. 

I first met Jeff while mountain bike racing.  I really didn't know Jeff that well, but for over ten years I would see him constantly on trails around Anchorage.  And every time we'd meet on a trail, he would always be quicker with a "Hi Tim!" than I would be with a "Hi Jeff!"  That was Jeff.  For me, and I'm sure for many others, the trails of Anchorage will not be the same now that Jeff is gone.

Late October 2014: Whoops

In the past I have posted how  to recycle ski wax, see this link.  I have suggested not doing this process inside to avoid fumes from the molten wax.  Instead, I suggested melting the wax scrapings outside.

Well, doing wax melting outside has its risks too.  The uneven heating of a Pyrex measuring cup on a gas grill can cause it to crack and explode.  I recently found this out (see picture above).  Luckily this happened to me when I only had a little bit of wax in the cup.  What a mess.  I had melted wax on this outdoor grill a couple of times before.  But this time there was definitely a surprise in store.  Now I understand how people burn houses down and die from fires that occur in meth labs!  ;-)

Seems like much safer than using a gas grill would be to use an electric hot plate.  And to use it outside.  A hotplate will heat the Pyrex cup less intensely and more evenly.  And the molten wax won't catch on fire, because there is no flame involved.


Update: I got a hotplate and finished recycling last year's wax scrapings, in a much safer manner ...

Using a hot plate outdoors, much safer. Tip: If you want a hotplate to melt fax faster, wrap a camp stove wind screen around the container of wax scrapings and put something, like a board, on top to trap the heat.
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.


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