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Tim's Blog About Skiing Stuff

Late September 2016: The Internet's Coolest Wind and Storm Website?

I learned about this website from my wife, who uses it a lot because she flies jets long distances over the Pacific Ocean.  It shows storm systems and winds aloft.  Not only does it help for planning flight routes, it also shows where major storms are ... storms that may bring snow, or rain, to Southcentral Alaska.  Also, this website is quite mesmerizing.  A link to this EarthWindMap website is on the home page crust.outlookalaska.com.  Reminder: low pressure storm systems spin counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere.  If there is an area of warm water in the Gulf of Alaska, a.k.a. The Blob, and winds are blowing from that area to the mainland ... that does not make for ideal conditions for snowfall at low elevations in Southcentral Alaska.

Mid September 2016: What Is Being Tough, Really Tough?

One definition of being tough might be: "Run so hard that you die.  Literally.  No pulse, no breathing.  Have some friends bring you back to life with CPR and a defibrillator and fix you up.  And then go do a 26 mile marathon."

That would be "Bad Bob Baker Tough".

Dermot Cole photo
Mid September 2016: "I Found The Trail!"
My wife hiking a game trail on Knight Island in Prince William Sound

“I found the trail!”

I hear my wife’s words but I don’t respond.  We are bushwhacking up a steep drainage during a peak bagging foray in Prince William Sound.  And there are no trails on the island we are on.  But I don’t want to be a deadbeat, damper her excitement and tell her there are no trails here.  So I remain quiet.

“Hey!  Over here!  I found the trail!  This is the way!”

I thrash through devils club and salmon berry bushes and over large, moss-covered, fallen Sitka spruce trees to get to where my wife is.

“Look!  Everyone is going this way!  This is a great trail!”

My wife points down to black bear tracks, mixed with deer tracks.  And some matted grass.  Her trail.

I chuckle to myself.  And get lost in thought for a moment.  Yes, this is a “trail”, sort of.  It’s a well defined game trail.  But that is not what I am thinking about.  I ponder at the high level of excitement my wife has for this lowest level of trail.  Why is she so excited?  Do these trails call out to her Alaska Native roots?  Does the connection to animals and nature make her so excited?  Is it the challenge of finding the trail in the first place that excites her?  How come she seems to have little excitement for modernized trails, like the ultra-wide, genericized ski trails at Kincaid Park in Anchorage (where she once skied as a kid on the first trails cut there)?  Yet she gets so excited about these primitive trails?  Or ... am I asking myself too many questions?

I soon snap out of my contemplative brain fart.  “Yep, you found it!  This is a cool trail.  Let's see where it takes us.  I’m right behind you.”

Early September 2016: Ek'agutaq - "Crossing Over Place"

The picture above has cold weather, human-powered travel significance.  It is a place in Prince William Sound called Ek'agutaq, which is Chugach Native for "crossing over place".  According to Jim and Nancy Lethcoe's book, "A Cruising Guide to Prince William Sound", a long time ago, and during much colder times, Natives that lived on Chenega Island walked across Dangerous Passage here, on ice, to get to the mainland.  It's hard to believe that it was once cold enough for ice to form in this area, especially with tidal changes of 12 or more feet.  The fact that there are islands here, that would form shore ice around them, no doubt helped create the conditions that allowed foot travel across this body of salt water.

Early September 2016: Fischer Skis ... The Choice of Jackie Chan

I don't normally watch television.  But the other day I was walking by a TV and did a double take.  There was Jackie Chan using a Fischer waxless cross country ski to battle evil in his 1995 film "Rumble In The Bronx".  His skinny ski, martial artistry can be seen from 9:44 to 10:06 on this Youtube video.

Late August 2016: One Heck Of A Storm

During late August, a powerful storm moved into Southcentral Alaska from the Gulf of Alaska.  Anchorage got drenched and Susitna Valley rivers, like the Yentna, set new flood height records.  But Prince William Sound got seriously pummeled.  45 knot winds and 10 foot seas came to the Sound.  When NOAA announced these conditions were coming ... all boaters in the Sound quickly ran for cover.

I was out in the Sound, in the Knight Island area, just before and just after this storm.  And I definitely saw a sign of change after the storm.  In particular, you could see that a huge chunk of a prominent mountain on Knight Island fell off (see pictures).  Did the storm cause this?  I can't say for sure.  But it definitely happened during the time the storm was raging.  It is easy to see that a massive amount of rock lost out to gravity.

I've hiked and climbed in these peaks quite a lot.  Knight Island is pretty much my favorite place in Alaska, so I go there often.  I've figured out that the mountains pictured in the above left picture are "former nunataks".  During the last ice age, much of Prince William Sound was covered with ice.  The northern half of Knight Island was run over by the ice, and the peaks were mostly rounded-off.  But these peaks in the middle of the island are wedge shaped and jagged.  They once stuck above the ice that flowed around them.  They were once nunataks.  Many of the peaks to the south of these peaks were also able to keep the ice sheet from overrunning them.  But these peaks (pictured) were the front line of the Knight Island nunataks.  This picture shows the smooth peaks of northern Knight Island (right side of the picture) and the jagged peaks on the south of the island (left side of the picture), from the summit of the furthest north former nuntatak.

During the 1964 earthquake, massive landslides, like this one, killed a number of people in Prince William Sound.  But the difference then, was that the landslides happened underwater.  Some of the passages and bays in this area are over 1000 feet deep.  So when a huge wall of underwater rock collapses, it generates a tsunami.  This was the case with the large waves that decimated the Whittier water front and the Native village of Chenega in 1964.

Late August 2016: Pictures I Took This Summer, That Remind Me Of Skiing
Lots of living things congested on a small frozen surface.  Reminds me of the Kincaid snowmaking loop.  Kittiwakes, and a few gulls, on an iceberg near The Pleiades (islands) in Prince William Sound.
A reminder that skiing is an ancient sport.  Petrified classic skiing tracks on Knight Island in Prince William Sound.
Late August 2016: Upper Body Workout Ideas ... For Rainy Days

When the weather turns heinous, sometimes switching your workout to indoors can be more productive.  When I train indoors, I like doing either weights or SkiErg workouts.  Should you use a SkiErg or another type of poling strength device, you might want to try doing the workout by standing on something that forces you to work on your balance a bit.   For example, a BOSU Balance Trainer or an OPTP Board can be used while you are doing a SkiErg workout.  Standing on these gives you some core/balance/micro-adjustment-reflex work that you won't get by standing stationary while working the SkiErg.  When you start using these devices your SkiErg time per distance may increase.  But after you use this arrangement for a while, your times should go back down.  With backcountry trail skiing, more than with groomed trail xc skiing, you make many micro adjustments because the trail surface is variable.  In theory, using devices like these should help to improve your strength and balance for such skiing conditions.

Using a BOSU Balance Trainer with a SkiErg. Using an OPTP Board with a SkiErg.  Using this is a lot tougher than using the BOSU.
Mid August 2016: Bushwhacking On The Bird To Gird Trail

I do most of my roller skiing on the Bird to Gird(wood) Trail.  And for the last couple of years I have noticed a confusing phenomenon.  Someone will go out now and then and mow the grass on either side of the trail.  Hey, that's good.  But in many places there are tree branches sticking out half-way across the trail.  Well, that doesn't seem to be a concern.  The grass is mowed under the low-hanging branches that crowd over the trail.  But the branches are never cut.

So is someone out getting whacked in the face or the windshield as they cut the grass under the trees?  And as the tree branches are whipping them, they don't get the message that maybe clearing the branches is more important than cutting the grass?  Confused.

Grass cut on both sides of the B2G trail.  It's nice to have short grass under the branches in case you decide to crawl under them.
Early August 2016: Not Old Yet, Based On The Cottonwood Corollary

It's surprising how many older folks (60+ years of age) live in remote locations off the road system in the Susitna Valley.  Many of these people had the Su Valley as part of their life when they were younger.  Then when they retired, they moved out in the boonies full time (or for long stretches of time).  There are sure some tough and interesting folks that choose this Alaskan lifestyle.

More than a few times I have asked others about how an older person that lives out in the boonies of the Su Valley is doing.  And I'd get the same telling reply. "Well, he's doin' okay ... but he switched from wood to oil".  What this means is that the person got to the point that cutting, splitting and hauling firewood was physically too much for them.  So now they pay someone to haul drums of kerosene in for them in the winter, and they have an "oil" furnace instead of a wood stove.  It's a more costly way to heat, but it's a lot less work.

After hearing this statement, I came up with a corollary.  The cottonwood corollary.  From my ski-wanderings on Su Valley trails I have noticed that older denizens don't mess with big cottonwood trees that fall across their trails.  Instead they just re-route their trail around the fallen tree.  Just like wood to oil, the easier route is taken.  And advanced age is proven.

Well, this year I was personally confronted with the cottonwood corollary.  A fierce winter windstorm toppled a big cottonwood tree across one of our ski trails near our cabin.  And of course, the tree fell at a 45 degree angle across the trail ... to maximize the amount of wood I'd have to clear. 

It would have been easy to break out my brush mower and make a new trail around this beast of a dead tree.  But if I did that, by principle of the cottonwood corollary ... I'd be old!  Yeah, I'll be 60 this winter.  But my screaming Stihl chainsaw still informs the woods of the Su Valley ... that I ain't old ... yet!

A fallen cottonwood across my ski trail. Gettin' after it. Got most of it moved off the ski trail ... ... until I cut into a wasps' nest. A Su Valley trail maker's friend - a DR brush mower.
One of my ski trails, ready for snow.
Early August 2016: Susitna River Seal Convention, And Some Recent Pics

The seals in the above picture may look like fat slugs.  But they sure can swim.  This picture was taken at the mouth of the Yentna River.  To get here these seals chased salmon for almost 30 miles against the swift current of silty water that makes up the Big Susitna River, one of Alaska's most powerful glacial rivers.  Lots of people ski, bike, hike, mush and snowmobile past this location in the winter.

"Hey!  No pictures!  I'm soaking wet from this rain and look and feel like a freakin' duck!  No pictures damn it!!" Knight Island this summer: "I remember Stu Grenier telling me to never go into a bear den, because you will end up sleeping for 6 months.  Yeah right.  ...   Whoa! ...  Damn!  ... Eyes so heavy.  So tired.  Need to take a short nap.  Just a short nap ... Zzzzzzzzz"

PS: You won't find this lodging on airbnb.  It's on bearbnb.  ;-)
A concern of many Alaskan cabin owners is a break-in by a bear.  Doors that open inward can be problematic when it comes to keeping bears out.  This is because a bear can throw its weight against the door and break the door jam where the deadbolt is.  For backup bear security, there is something simple you can do.  Put I-bolts in the door and the cabin wall.  Then run a chain between the I-bolts and connect the ends with a clip or carabiner.  Now you have a second tier of security in case a bear breaks the door jam.  And the bear can't undo the clip, because ... bears don't have opposable thumbs like us humans.
Late July 2016: Esoteric Alaskan Exercises For Ski-Poling Strength
Bungee Kayaking Boat Poling
 If you have a couple of kayaks, all you need is 16 feet of 3/8" bungee rope ... and you are set to go.  Faster kayaker in front, no one gets left behind.  If you have a skiff, all you need is a big stick.  Then consistently choose stupidly shallow places to take your boat, and you will become a seasoned Alaskan boat-poler.
Late July 2016: The Next Time You Meet A Moose On The Trail, Try This ...
"OK moose, let's solve this by a stare-down contest.  First one to blink has to get off the trail and let the other by.  Go! ... "
Mid July 2016: Sights Not Usually Seen (Thankfully) While Hiking Near Anchorage

Recently there was a fire in the the McHugh Creek Valley, which is the next valley to the south of where my wife and I live.  We hiked up to the top of the ridge to check it out.  They were hitting the fire hard from the air.  Three helicopters were dropping water on the fire, and two air tankers were bombing it with fire retardant.  It's been clear weather and there has been no lightning, so this was definitely a fire started by humans.  Fire is always a worry for folks that live on the edge of Anchorage.  Like us.  These pictures were taken when the fire was 25-40 acres.  It would eventually expand to almost 800 acres.

Update: My wife and I went back to this point on the ridge after the fire was put out be a couple days of hard rain.  Though 778 acres was the official size of this fire, that number is a little misleading.  778 acres is likely the area within the perimeters of the fire.  But I would guess that only 60% of the trees within the fire area actually burned.  All spruce trees were burned, but big swaths of alders, grasses and tundra within the wildfire perimeter made it through the fire unscathed.  Sure glad rain arrived and beat down this wildfire.  This fire was the source of some worrisome times for people that live on the south-eastern edge of Anchorage.

View of smoke from McHugh fire, rising above McHugh Ridge, from mid-town Anchorage.
Above is a post-fire view of the McHugh area that was burning.  Hot spots could be seen puffing smoke.
Late June 2016: Bob Baker Gets Rebooted.  Now Running "Bad Bob 2.0" Operating System.

As everyone knows, life is occasionally punctuated with events you never would have expected.  Boy, did one of these life events ever happen recently.  In summary: legendary Fairbanks athlete Bob Baker falls down dead after a mile race on a Fairbanks track.  But luckily three doctors and a defibrillator are on site.  And Bob is zapped back to life.  Crazy, crazy, crazy.  Here's the full story.

I visited Bob several times in the hospital, because his second life started out with heart surgery.  It was good talking to him, but it was more fun talking talking to him after the surgery, when we knew he was going to live.  Bob's lucky to be alive.  And Fairbanks is lucky to still have Bad Bob.  Bob's running race, turned journey to the afterlife and back, will be a story remembered by Alaskans for generations.

Bob said he didn't see any bright white lights or people wearing wings when he left us.  But my response was: "Come on Bob!  You gotta make up a bunch of stuff about seeing and talking to deceased people while you were "dead"!  Then go on a speaking tour, charge people to hear your story about the afterlife.  You'll make a killing!"  Bob chuckled.  He's heard plenty of my ribbing and BS before.

Me with Bad Bob 1.0, in 1993
Late June 2016: Walker Gives Skiers, Bikers, Shoers and Snowmobilers A Big Veto

Recently Alaska's Governor Walker decided to make a statement about our legislature not being serious about fixing our big money problems (a 4 billion dollar a year deficit).  So he pulled out his red pen and went on a veto tear.

Of course, his most notable veto was cutting $1000 out of the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) that is received by every Alaskan.  No doubt a significant amount of PFD funds were used in the past for ski gear, snow bikes, snowmobiles and other winter gear.  Well, it's not looking like this discretionary income is going to be around next year (unless legislators override this veto).

Walker also axed the yearly $250,000 that had been allocated to the SnowTRAC program.  This money was distributed to clubs for winter trail grooming and maintenance, here is a list of the clubs.

Not getting this money is going to be a big hit to many trail clubs.  Clubs, like the Curry Ridge Riders, Mid-Valley Trail Club and the Willow Trail Committee for example, stretch this money far to provide great multi-use trails for people and events.  Will this be the death of groomed multi-use winter trails?  Maybe, maybe not.  It depends on how much funding from other sources that trail organizations can obtain.  But for sure, the quality of groomed winter trails is going to be less if money is only available to groom trails once in a great while.

SnowTRAC trail grants for 2017 fiscal year ... gone.

Update (8/9/16):
From Steve Charles of the Willow Trail Committee: 
Good news!  As you know the Governor vetoed the FY17 Snowmobile trail grant program. Yesterday DNR was instructed to proceed with the grant program this year using remaining funds from the FY15 and FY16 appropriations.

The total we have to spend on grooming and grants is $237,773.29 [for all SnowTRAC trail organizations in Alaska  Note: Poor snow conditions the last two years meant less trail grooming was done and not all allocated funds were spent.]

Late May 2016: Concept 3 BearErg

Many cross country skiers are familiar with the Concept 2 SkiErg.  These machines are great double pole strength training devices.  I use one now and then.  And from using a SkiErg, I know that if you yank on one of these for a period of time, you get tired enough to not want to cause trouble.  So I figured ... tired and not wanting to cause trouble ... that would be a good condition for the bears around our cabin to be in.  And so I developed the Concept 3 BearErg (see recent pictures below).  I made a BearErg, er toy,  to distract them, tire them out and keep them from messing with stuff at our cabin.  So far, based on game camera images, it seems the BearErg as been working out well.

"Sweet!  While I was hibernating, Tim got me a Concept 3 BearErg!  That guy is so awesome!  Heck I might just be nice right back to him and not trash his cabin!" "Look at me!  Look at my ripped abs!  And it's all because Tim got me this fabulous Concept 3 BearErg!  Woof woof!  Woof woof!" "Holy sh*t!  I overdid it.  After a winter of doing nothing I should have eased back into this workout stuff.  Every muscle is sore.  I'm just going to go to sleep right here.  Oh wait, I better not ... I just slept for 6 months." The Concept 3 BearErg is designed for black bears.  Brown bears don't trash cabins as much, so they don't need the extra exercise.  And they usually don't need to get any stronger.
Mid May 2016: More Tech ... Computerized Tomatoes

This ski blog is getting techy.  And you thought all I did was make stuff out of burls and logs!

I made a greenhouse last year and soon found that I needed a way to cool it down.  120 degrees is too hot for tomatoes.  So I decided to make a temperature-controlled exhaust fan system.  It's run off a solar panel that charges a 12 volt vehicle battery.  The battery then runs two things, a DC fan and the fan controller.  I made the fan controller using a Raspberry Pi computer, a temperature sensor and an output relay.  I wrote a program in python to do the logic.  Fun project and it worked out well.

So what does this post have to do with skiing?  Not much.  Other than this project could be adapted to making a hot box temperature controller in a ski service van where the power was from the vehicle batteries.  Plus ... eating good quality raw foods improves your health and skiing fitness.

Solar panel, and screen door with security bars to keep bears out. Solar charge controller and battery. Raspberry Pi computer, wired to temperature sensor and output relay. DC exhaust fan.
A tomato plant that will grow monstrous thanks to a computer.
Early May 2016: HeyBear!

The short: I wrote a bear safety phone app, for Android and Apple iOS.  HeyBear! is the name of the app.  More about the app, and links to purchase it, can be found here.

The long: It seems that most people don't make enough noise when traveling in bear country.  As a result, there are too many close call bear encounters due a hiker/biker/dog walker/hunter/fisherman surprising a bear in the woods.  So, seeing that our society is now smartphone-centric, I came up with digital solution to help mitigate this bear safety problem.  HeyBear! is the smartphone app I wrote.  And I hope it can make traveling in bear country safer for people that use this app.

Here is more information about this phone app (from the HeyBear! web page)...

Increase your safety when traveling in bear country. This phone app helps you be heard by bears, so you don't make the mistake of surprising them. HeyBear! works well with Bluetooth external speakers, like the ION Clipster Active.

“Hey bear! Here we come! Hey bear!”

My wife, friends and I have been calling out these words for decades while hiking in bear country in Alaska. As the bear safety saying goes: “Make noise when traveling in bear country”. Sudden encounters with bears, that’ don’t hear you coming, can be dangerous.

The HeyBear! phone app helps alert bears of your presence. The app can be used with the phone’s speaker or paired with a Bluetooth external speaker for more volume and better phone battery life. The ION Clipster Active is such an external speaker that works well with the HeyBear! phone app.

HeyBear! provides a number of progressively assertive voices and sounds: bear bells, female voice, male voice, whistle, alarm and siren. There are four audio clips for each of these sound categories and they can be played sequentially or randomly. Multiple categories can be selected, so you can customize a variety of sounds.

Of course, you can make your own noise when traveling in bear country. But by pairing your voice with this phone app, it will sound to a bear like more people are approaching. This will increase your safety factor. Plus, if travelers are unfamiliar with what sounds to make when in bear country, this app can do the job for them.

My companions and I have seen many bears over the decades of recreating in the backcountry of Alaska. But we have never had a bear charge us. Most likely this is because we have let the bears hear us before they see us. Hopefully the HeyBear! phone app can help make travel in bear country safer for you.

Get HeyBear! at the Google Play Store (Android) Get HeyBear! at the Apple App Store (iPhone)
  Isn't it about time the ski box on top of your car got this cool Alaskan sticker ...  
  Here's how to get one.  
HeyBear! on facebook
Late April 2016: Ski-bowling

Ski-bowling:  An obscure ski sport biathlon that combines cross country skiing, to find birch burls, and power tools, to make bowls out of the burls.

During the winter, I look for birch and spruce burls while skiing the backcountry around our cabin.  In the spring, summer and fall I work away at making stuff out of the burls that I found.  Here are some shots of a largish burl that I made into a salad bowl.

If you live in Alaska and want to learn about carving birch bowls, a great resource is the free demo Tom Corr from Soldotna gives at the Great Alaska Sportsman Show in Anchorage each spring.  I'd been carving bowls for a few years, but this year I went to Tom's demonstration.  One hour watching and talking to Tom really upped my game.  Tom sells carved birch burl bowls at the show.  He's a pro carver, and a nice guy.

I like carving burls to make bowls rather than turning wood with a lathe.  Burls make for unique end results, because every burl is different.  And by carving you can preserve the original shape of the burls.   Turning wood on a lathe makes for beautiful creations.  But the end result is usually symmetrical, and the natural features of the burled piece of wood are lost.  Just my opinion though.

A couple of birch burls found while skiing early this winter.  The big one is pictured in the photos to the right. Carving out the inside of the burl (with grinder attachments), after it has been peeled. Burl bowl with a bees wax salad bowl finish on it.  Not sure if I will ever eat out of it.  But just in case, you want to finish it with a non-toxic compound.
Mid April 2016: Eric Packer Backcountry On Racing Skis Video

This is a video by Eric Packer that shows Eric and his friends taking Nordic racing skis into the backcountry for an overnight trip.  In this case, it's the Chitna Pass route in the Talkeetna Mountains.  For an older kid like me (who's a sneeze away from 60), it's really cool to see younger skiers (30+ years younger) keeping the use of xc racing skis alive as a fun way to explore the Alaskan backcountry.

Update: Eric's latest crust skiing video.

Mid April 2016: Springtime Treasures

On springtime skis, hikes and runs in Alaska, you might want to keep an eye out for the treasures that animals might leave you during the winter.  In particular: moose antler drops.  As the snow melts, and before trees are fully leaved, it's a good time to spot moose antler drops.  My wife and I make it a point to do some antler hunting on runs or hikes together in the early spring.  She is particularly good at finding antler drops.  As a result of this talent, I have a lot of practice carrying antlers.  You can use antlers for all sorts of projects.  I have used them for door handles, chandeliers, coat racks, small shelves and in art projects.  Of course, you can search the web to see thousands of ways people use these cool gifts from our favorite ungalate friends.

This woman has a moose antler radar in her head.  She finds a lot of them. This guy runs with moose antlers a lot.  Because his wife is always finding them.


Update:  Outdone by a high school classmate.  I posted the above picture of me running with my wife's moose antler as my profile picture on Facebook.  It was soon outdone by a former high school classmate.  This guy is a wildlife ranger in northern New England.  In high school, when he wasn't in school ... he was camping out in the woods someplace.  Hard core and all-knowing outdoorsman, who always had a good sense of humor.  Few Americans have spent as much time rambling the boonies as this guy.  When he searches for moose antlers, he fills a pickup truck bed with them (I've seen pictures that prove it).


Late March 2016: The Other Groomed Trails

Cross country skiers are familiar with "Nordic corduroy" groomed trails.  For the most part, all trails tilled and groomed for Nordic skate skiing have the same finished surface.  The corduroy dimensions are about the same on all trails.

Groomed snowmobile trails in Alaska are much more varied in their surfaces.  Large tracked vehicles pull huge sleds that shave off bumps in the trail.  And based on the design of the trail drag, the resulting surface can be quite different.  In general, there are three types of snowmobile trail grooming "finishes" (based on what I have seen skiing Alaskan snowmobile trails).  The three types are: dragged, corduroyed or pressed.  Following are pictures that show the difference, along with comments on the ski-ability of the respective surfaces ...

Dragged:  These are the best snowmobile trails for skiing.  A drag leaves a flat and textured surface.  Great skating and good for dog teams, bikers and snowmobilers.  Most all snowmobile and multi-use trails in the Susitna Valley are groomed like this.

Corduroyed:  Corduroy ridges on snowmobile trails are usually a lot bigger than Nordic ski trail corduroy.  So, it doesn't ski as well.  It's good for snowmobiling.  But snowmobile traffic over the top of this groom is needed to make it better for human or dog-powered travel.  The Lake Louise snowmobile trails are (sometimes) groomed in this manner (otherwise, by snowmobiles pulling drags).

Pressed: Trails in the Eureka area are finished by pressing down on the snow and making a smooth surface.  This can be great skiing, sometimes.  But often your skis don't get enough edge in the hard-pressed snow.  And if it ices over, it's bad for everyone ... snowmobilers included.  This surface is my least favorite for skiing.

Here is an example of a snowmobile trail grooming set-up.  This is the equipment that the Eureka folks use to groom their trails.  As I mentioned above, the pressed snow finished surface this drag makes is pretty "old school" and not the greatest for trail users.  Of course I am not going to go to them and say: "Hey, I put $15 in your grooming fund jar and just wanted to say that you might want to modify you trail drag to leave some corduroy.  'Cuz it will be better for us cross country skiers."  Ha!  I'm pretty sure that wouldn't go over big with he Eureka crew.  I remember in the 80's, behind the bar at the Eureka Lodge there was a sign that said: "We reserve the right to refuse service to cross country skiers!"  Seriously, I'm not kidding.  (I've actually looked around the place so I could take a picture of that sign, but it seems to be gone).  Anyway, I'll leave it to snowmobilers to bend the Eureka trail groomers ear about modernizing their grooming gear.  Meanwhile, I'll keep paying to ski their trails because I like the country their trails get you to, no matter what the groom finish is.


Late March 2016: Picture The Problem Solved

All winter I've been griping about my Swix ski gloves.  Swix put a glove connector clip on the right glove where the strap goes.  So, the strap often rides over the clip and you feel a piece of hard plastic digging into your hand when you pole.  Dumb design.  Who actually uses these things?  And it makes you wonder if Swix employees ever actually ski using their gear.  Or does their involvement with the product end after they submit an Internet order for gloves to their supplier in China (where these gloves are made).

Anyway, many times this year I'd notice the clip problem.  But once I'd get done skiing I'd start thinking about other things and forget about the issue that had bugged me while skiing.  Then the next time I'd go skiing, it would again be: "Sh*t!  I gotta do something about these stupid gloves!"  And so the cycle continued, all winter.

Finally, I was out skiing and took a picture of the problem.  That worked as a reminder.  When I was reviewing my pictures at home I saw the glove picture and said: "OK, where are those scissors?!"  And the problem was quickly solved.

Bottom line:  Got a problem that is bugging you?  Take a picture of it.  That way you will see the problem in another context ... and the problem will soon be remedied.

Problem: Plastic clip on Swix glove slides under Swix pole strap and presses into hand. Problem solved.


Late March 2016: Recent Artsy Shots From The Eureka / Lake Louise Area
Ptarmigan wing tip tracks   Skate skier and wolf tracks


Mid March 2016: Alaska, Where Trail Signs Are More Valuable Than Human Lives
Susitna Flats State Game Reserve sign on the Gasline Trail out of Point Mackenzie. The State of Alaska government says: If you run over this sign, that's dangerously placed in the middle of the trail, with your snowmobile at night and in a snowstorm ... you might spend one year in jail. But if you are drunk and high on cocaine, ecstasy and weed, drive backwards down the road at a high speed, hit and kill a cyclist and drag him 100 feet until you crash into a post, then flee from the scene of the accident ... you might only get 3 months in jail.

Update: Alexandra Ellis only spent 74 days in jail for killing cyclist Jeff Dusenbury.  Other Alaskans that have killed people while drunk and stoned have gotten much longer sentences.  A drunken Stacey Graham killed two teenage pedestrians and got 32 years in jail.  The injustice here is sickening.


Early March 2016: Waving Goodbye To Winter Lameness Near Anchorage

When it comes to winter activities near Anchorage, I'm pulling the plug.  Time to give up and take the skis north, or to higher elevations.  Looks like there is no hope for winter to return to the lowland areas around Anchorage (though I'd be happy to be proven wrong).  It's hard to believe I'm saying this, when March is usually the primo season for skiing in places like the Lower Susitna Valley.

The turning point for me was a recent trip to our cabin.  Of the 25 mile trail to get there, over 12 miles was on ice.  Not icy snow or snow mixed with ice.  Just pure and unrelenting ice.  And when everything is a sheet of ice, not only is traveling by snowmobile bad, so is the skiing.  We could still go to our cabin by using wings or wheels.  But if the skiing sucks, what's the point? 

If you live in Anchorage, driving a couple of hours can get you to good skiing.  I'll be doing that ... instead of skiing where I wish I was skiing in March. 

To counter my first post with a more positive post ... the above picture has a connection to the first picture of the ice-covered Big Susitna River.  My wife and I used to mush our 5 Malamutes on this stretch of the Big Susitna River, with the sled in the above picture.  Charley Benja, the musher pictured, bought our old sled and has used it as his tag (second) sled during the last two Iditarod ceremonial starts.  This dog sled certainly has a lot of sentimental connections for us.  So it is so very, very cool to see this dog sled still being used.  Take a look at Charley's tag sled rider.  Ha!  Is she pumped or what!  So it's extra cool to see people still having a good time with our old dog sled.  Charley is one of the nicest mushers we've ever met ... so my wife and I are big fans of this Iditarod musher.  Go Charley!  [photo credit: Charley Bejna]


Late March Update: A 6 inch snowfall arrived in the Lower Susitna Valley.  And then was immediately followed by 40 degree temps.  We were able to make another trip west of the Susitna River (on the same route from where the picture at the top was taken).  Less ice, but a lot more water.  Skiing conditions: slush on glare ice, not good.

The above-left picture actually has an xc skiing connection ... you can see my red ski bag strapped to the right side of the snowmobile.


Late February 2016: Skiing Past Memorable No Trespassing Signs

Seems like on ski trips this year I've seen more catchy "No Trespassing" signs than I normally do.  Here are a couple ...

Nelchina Pt. Mackenzie


Mid February 2016: Getting Fat Off Of Disaster

It's easy to tell when an eagle is well fed.  Because it's "personal bubble" gets smaller.  The fuller an eagle's stomach is, the closer an eagle lets you get near it.

You see this all the time in the spring when the hooligan (smelt) are running in the Big Sustina River.  Eagles gorge themselves on these small fish.  The eagles get so bloated on fish, that when you walk towards them ... they don't fly away, they walk away from you.  Like all animals, eagles are natural "energy economists".  They weigh the energy cost of trying to get airborne with 3 pounds of fish in their gut to the threat of nearby humans.  Quickly they do the math in their head and say to themselves: "I'll just keep an eye on this guy, cuz geez ... I'll probably puke if I have to flap my wings."

Recently I was skiing on the Big Susitna River and saw a bald eagle up ahead on a cottonwood log.  The trail I was on went within 50 feet of the eagle, but the eagle didn't stir.  I stopped and took his/her picture and still the eagle stayed on its perch and just watched me.  Same thing here.  The eagle was well fed and living the easy life.

6 weeks earlier there was a massive infux of shorebirds - common murres.  Murres in the Southcentral Alaska were undergoing the biggest die-off ever seen in this area of Alaska (reference).  Likely the cause was warmer water that pushed their food source to depths they could not swim to.  So many of the birds, in desperation, flew inland looking for food to survive on.  But tragically, thousands of these birds were simply flying to their death, by starvation.  And with hardly any snowfall the last month, these dead murres have been an easily acquired food source for scavengers, like eagles, coyotes and foxes.

A disaster for the murres.  A bonanza for the eagles.

Same picture as above, but not zoomed in or cropped.


Mid February 2016: Help With Disaster Relief?  Uh, Not Today ... The Skiing Is Too Good

Recently a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Southcentral Alaska.  The quake collapsed ice on the main trail that Alexander Creek folks use to access their homes and cabins.  The collapsed ice made for a nasty crossing on snowmobile.  So my wife decided to do some trail maintenance and fill the earthquake damage in with branches and snow.

While my wife was hauling and shoveling snow some locals came by.  "Where's Tim?" they asked.  "Where do you think he is?" she responded.  "Out skiing, eh?"  "Yep".

Got to have your priorities straight.  Community ravaged by an earthquake?  Infrastructure needs to be rebuilt?  Yeah, that's a bummer.   And I feel your pain.  I really do.  But hey, there's not a cloud in the sky and the trails are fast.  And the skiing is really, really good.  So, it looks like you're on your own.  See ya!

My wife crossing earthquake-collapsed ice on a makeshift ramp she made.
Damn!  This awesome river skate skiing sure beats working disaster relief for your village!!


Early February 2016: A Step Forward for Ski Racing?  A Step Backward for Skiing Icy Trails.

It had been a while since I needed to replace the baskets on my Swix ski poles.  So I grabbed the size of baskets I normal get off the AMH rack and headed home.  But when I went to mount the new baskets, I noticed that Swix had changed the baskets significantly.  There are now hardly any tips on these baskets any more.

After skiing with these new baskets for a while, my opinion of them was quickly formed.  When it comes to skiing on icy trails, they suck.  And there is no surprise they suck in such conditions.  The carbide tip is short and blunt and doesn't stay stuck in the ice as well as the old tips.  Plus the plastic just above the tips catches on bumps in the ice which keeps the tip from penetrating the ice.

Why would Swix make this functionally illogical change to their product?  My guess is the change was made for safety reasons.  So racers wouldn't puncture each other (as deeply) in sprint races.  But by doing this they now have poles that don't work as well in icy conditions.  And seeing that climate change/ El Nino trends in weather make for lots of icy trail skiing, they have likely taken an overall step backwards in terms of pole performance standards.  I noticed that their higher-end Swix TBS replaceable baskets have similar blunt carbide tips.  Not good.

If one skis on groomed trails most of the time and rarely encounters ice, then these baskets are fine.  But for folks like me that 1) ski in icy Southcentral Alaska or 2) ski backcountry snowmobile and river trails a lot ... then these baskets aren't worth putting on your poles.  Going forward,  I'll be looking to stockpile old-model Swix baskets, via ebay or craigslist.

  New Swix basket on left, old on right.   Bad tip for ice on left, good for ice on right.  


Late January 2016: What A Relief!  My Head Feels So Much Better Now!

I was skiing a trail in the Susitna Valley, and up ahead I noticed a spruce tree that was all scraped and beat up.  When I got closer I realized what the situation was.  Someone had gotten sick and tired of their loose head appendage ... and had declared it was shedding time.

Mid January 2016: Bill's Gone.  Now There Is Only Tommy.

Sad news recently of the passing of Bill Johnson, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the downhill ski event.  Now the only living US male that has won an Olympic downhill ski race is Tommy Moe, who won in 1994.  If you are observant, you are reminded of Tommy Moe every time you drive through Wasilla, Alaska ... where there is a street named after him.

Mid January 2016: A Rule That I Follow: Only Pick Up That Which You Will Use
Picking up caribou antler drops in the Brooks Range. Caribou antler chandelier.


Early January 2016: While Road Tripping To Ski, Looking For Signs of Alaska's Future

I could post a blog entry about the Alaskan economy.  But this is a skiing web site.  So I'll keep it short.  Alaska's economy, because of its dependence on oil production revenues, is heading for lean times ... the likes of which haven't been seen for a very long time.  I could easily say a whole lot more about this subject.  But not here.

Anyway, on a recent road trip out of Anchorage, to go to a place where they actually had snow (and I could ski!), I kept my eyes open for signs of change.  Signs of the changing economic winds.  I did see several U-Haul trailers heading towards the border.  That's a classic sign of economic hard times in Alaska.  In the mid-80's when oil went to $9 a barrel there was an endless stream of U-Hauls, and any kind of trailer, camper or RV, heading towards Canada.

There also seemed to be more vacant lot for sale signs along the Glenn Highway, up-road from Palmer.  That too can be a an economic indicator.  Especially when you see these signs during the traditional real estate selling down-time of winter.  Folks may be trying to get out of speculative land deals, before its too late for them.

A sign that surprised me a bit was one on the old Mendeltna Elementary School.  This school has been closed for a while because too few kids live in the area to justify its operations.  But now it looks like the state is giving up on the building and selling it to a religious organization.  We've seen this before.  And on a much grander scale.  Like with the 102 million dollar, money-losing Anchorage fish processing plant that the State of Alaska sold to a church group for 3 million dollars.  Religious groups seem to be patient and savvy real estate players.  Especially when the State of Alaska stumbles.  I'm sure the State will be doing a lot of stumbling in the near future.  And we will be seeing a lot more state assets transferred to the private or municipal sectors.

Another sign I saw may show a darker vision of Alaska's future.  And that is one of less law and order, because there will be less money to keep law and order.  In Chickaloon there was a new sign for the Mat-Su Tactical Training Facility.  This company makes custom AR-15 assault rifles and provides combat defense training.  Looking at their web site, I'll have to admit ... they make some beautiful guns.  But if more and more people think they need assault rifles to protect themselves in the new Alaska ... well, Alaska is destined to be a lot rougher place than it already is.


Early January 2016: Once Upon A Time ...
... skiing after work in Anchorage in early January meant sub-zero Fahrenheit temps, deep powder snow, soft classic skiing tracks and a stiff north wind drifting snow across the trail.  Seriously.  I'm not making that up.

Golf Cart Hooliganism?

After years of skiing in the boonies of Alaska, I like to think that I'm competent at identifying tracks, whether mammal or machine.  But recently I have been stumped in figuring out some tracks seen on Anchorage's Hillside  ski trails.  The tracks were made during a melt-down day and have since frozen-in hard to the trail surface.  On lesser-used trails, like the Richter Connector, and on the lower part of the lighted loop - you can see these tracks.  The are from a wheeled rig the width of a four wheeler.  But you can tell the tires are not knobby ATV types, they are smooth treaded.

So what kind of machine could have made these tracks?  A golf cart?  If so, this is perhaps the first time that golf cart hooligans have run amok on the Hillside Trails!  (The below pictures don't show the tracks well, I should have taken pics of the tracks the first day I saw them.  It had since snowed on top of the tracks (a big Anchorage snow storm of 1/100th of an inch)).



Late December 2015: A Foray Into The World Of Alaskan Chaga

A few years ago I heard of chaga, a fungus that grows on birch trees.  You can make tea from chaga that is supposed to have medicinal and good health benefits.  There's tons of info about chaga on the Internet, here is a good article.

So, on my list for a while has been to try chaga tea.  But I didn't want to go to a neo-hippie tea house in Anchorage and buy chaga tea from some millennial hipster.  I wanted to find it out in the woods and make it like Native Alaskans do (and like they have been doing for a long time).

Recently I harvested some chaga in the Susitna Valley and brought it to some friends that spend a lot of time in bush Alaska, in Aniak.  They told me the standard Native way of making chaga tea.  It's pretty simple.  But some chunks of chaga in warm water, heat it for a few hours at 150 dgrees or less.  And then let it sit and steep for a few days.  Then drink it warm or cold, which ever way you prefer (I like it cold).

So I gave it a try.  And ... it tasted better than I expected.  I figured it would taste like tree bark.  But it tastes a bit like mushrooms.  It has that musky taste to it ... not surprisingly, because it is a fungus like mushrooms are.  It's not a wonderful taste.  But it is palatable.

Check.  Drinking chaga tea from chaga I harvested in Alaska is now checked off my list.  I will keep drinking it.  Maybe not every day, but now and then.  And I will experiment with blending other ingredients and teas with chaga. 

Chaga, in my opinion, is best searched for on skis. Putting some chunks of chaga into a pot of water. The next morning.  Notice any difference in the color of the water?
  Raw chaga and the end product.  

Update: Since posting this, I have gotten a few questions.  Here they are along with my answers, from a guy that has only done this once!

"How did you remove the chaga from the tree?"  I used an axe and tapped the fungus on top where it is attached to the tree.  The fungus popped off the tree surprisingly easily.  You could also use a hatchet or hammer and chisel or pry bar or large flathead screwdriver.

"I heard the outer black part makes the chaga tea bitter.  Did you use the black part?"  I was told this too.  But I also read that the black part contains the most antioxidants.  So the chunks I put in water were about 80% brown (inner) and 20% black (outer).  It did not taste bitter.

"How long did you boil the chaga?"  I did not boil it.  I was told you should not boil it, but instead warm it in 150 degree water for a 2-3 hours and then let it sit for a few days (at least overnight before trying it).  On an electric stove, the setting might be a "1".

Update: Chaga tea can be stored in a sun tea container ($10 at Anchorage Fred Meyer, $8 at WalMart).  If you get a 1-2 gallon container it should fit in your refrigerator.  You can put the tea and the chaga pieces in the jar.  So far, my favorite chaga drink is a glass of 1/2 water with a packet of Emergen-C and 1/2 chaga (see above picture).  Mixing chaga tea with Market Spice Cinnamon-Orange tea is also good.  Adding maple syrup or vanilla extract to it works.  Or ... you can just drink your chaga tea straight.


Late December 2015: Bears Aren't Into Christmas, They Sleep Through It ...
... so if you want to give bears a present, you have to do it in the summer.  Recently I made a "present" for the bears at our cabin.  In a way, it was more a bribe than a present.  I gave them something to play with so they wouldn't mess with other stuff while we were away.  Their present was a chunk of railroad tie that hung from a rope.  Seems like it's working out.  Recently I pulled the images off of our game cameras and the pictures show that the bears like their new toy!


Mid December 2015: Signs of Pac-Man Ghosts on the Susitna River!

I was out skiing on the Susitna River, and holy crap ... I came across some Pac-Man ghost tracks!  I remember these guys were running all over the place in the 80's.  But I thought they had been eradicated by big computer gaming hunters a long time ago.   Oh well, if you are traveling in the Susitna Valley, just don't dress in Pac-Man yellow and these weird little creatures should leave you alone.


Mid December 2015: Beaver Terrorists Wage Trail Jihad

I was skiing down the Red Shirt Lake Winter Trail and got a chuckle.  A beaver had been working on a birch tree next to the trail.  But instead of trying to fell the tree downhill, and into the stream the beavers frequent, the beaver was working on making it fall uphill ... directly across the trail.  The beaver was pretty close to taking this large tree down.

The  beavers in this area apparently relish the peace and quiet they get during the summer.  And now that winter traffic is going through their neighborhood, they are striking back.  Well, it's their home.  So may these beaver terrorists triumph in their trail jihad! (Just as long as no one gets hurt by running into their tree.)


Late November 2015: Our Skiing Got Rained Out, So ... Some Humor

The skiing was pretty good in Anchorage the last few weeks.  But then last year made an appearance this year.  50 degrees and rain.  No more skiing.  Oh well, decided to try making a few ski conditions-related memes for entertainment.  And below is a recent picture of Claude Bondy's snowmobile on fire.  Claude is a nice guy and the owner of the popular Alpine Creek Lodge on the Denali Highway.  Videos of Claude's burning snowmobile can be found on the Alpine Creek Lodge facebook page.

  Photo credit: Alpine Creek Lodge  
Updates after late-December melt-down #2 ...


Early November 2015: If You Get A Chance ... Say Thanks

I had finished skiing the other night and I saw the caretaker of the Jodphur trailhead at Kincaid Park.  So I walked over and said "Hi" to him and and told him I appreciated that he was caretaking the parking lot this winter.  I told him that I had been skiing at Kincaid for 40 years and often in the past I would not park at Jodphur out of fear of getting my vehicle broken into (I can remember one broken window and one 3-wheeler ATV crash into my car here in the past).   I  mentioned to him that I think Jodphur is a safe place now because of the caretaker arrangement.

Seemed like a nice guy.  A skier and biker, he is spending the winter here with his wife and kids in a house he built on top of a flatbed trailer.  He said they like to hear from people who appreciate their caretaking efforts.  So if you get a chance, maybe say "Hi" to these good folks and thank them for helping to make the Jodphur trailhead safer and Kincaid Park a better place.


Late October 2015: When Will Your Early Season Skiing Become Part Of A "Historic Event"?

A metric I like to achieve, when possible, is a "9-monther Anchorage ski season."  The idea is to ski in 9 months of the year, in the Anchorage Bowl.  Start with some rock skiing in late September and finish out with spring skiing on the Hillside trails in early May.  If you do that, then you can boast: "Yep, we ski in Anchorage ... 9 months of the year!"

Well, 9-monther ski seasons in Anchorage are getting harder to pull off.  Last year was a bust.  This year it's a go so far, but by the thinnest of margins.  I, and others, got on snow the last day of September at Russian Jacks (and some folks at Glen Alps).  But then temps in Anchorage stayed in the 40's for a month.  Next ski was October 30th and 31st for Anchorage skiers, when it again snowed a bit.  Whew! ... October almost slipped by us!  Still way too soon to tell if May will see any ski-able snow in Anchorage.  Oh yeah, then there is January to worry about ... last year it got close to 60 degrees F in January.

Given the climate trend in Southcentral Alaska, one has to wonder how many more 9-monther ski seasons are in our future.  There is always a probability, though hopefully very small, that this could be the last one (if it actually results in a 9-monther).  Who knows.

From my work on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project, I know that the end of skiing venues is often a surprise to skiers.  Often folks didn't realize their ski area was about to be gone, until after it was gone.  Same with 9-monther ski seasons.  We won't realize when the last one is happening.  We will only know after the fact, when someone says: "Geez, we haven't had a 9-monther for a long time!  Wasn't the last one way back in 2013 or something?!"

So, you never know when you go early season skiing ... you could be a participating in a historic event.  You could be one of the last skiers to experience a 9-monther ski season in Anchorage.  Ya never know.

Taking part in a historic event?  The last Anchorage 9-monther ski season?
Time will tell.
A Ninja stranded by October snow and slippery roads.  Maybe motorcycles will one day see their own 9-monther seasons in Anchorage?


Mid October 2015: My Yearly Post Of Ski Gear For Cheap

My love for xc skiing will be with me until I die.  But that doesn't mean there aren't things about xc skiing I dislike.  The main gripe I have is the cost of modern day xc ski racing.  This beautiful sport used to be a cheap sport that everyone could afford.  Now it's an elitist sport that has financial barriers to many that might want to try it.  That's sad.  It has been disappointing to watch, over the past 45 years, as the sport of xc skiing developed a case of economic cancer.

Oh well, there's no going back.  So for fun, and to connect to the past, I like to point out where cheap gear for skiing can be found.  I post such info every year on this blog.  Here are a few of items for this year ...

Drink belts:  I had a Fischer drink belt that I liked a lot.  After it being in a "falling apart" state for a few years, I finally went to AMH (of course!) to get a replacement.  But the AMH gear gods said they couldn't get any more.  I did find one on the web for $25.  But as usual, $20 screw job for Alaskans on shipping.  Total: $45.  No way.

This summer, direct from China drink belts started showing up on Amazon.  $16 plus free shipping if you have Prime.  Is the quality good?  Well, this is likely the same Chinese company that makes similar products for Fischer, Rossy, Salomon, etc.  So the quality is the same.  Good deal though.

Ski hat:  Great deal right now on a Nordic-style, lightweight knit hat with fleece lining at ... Home Depot!  $8.88.  Take that you $35 Swix hats!  I spend a lot of time at Home Depot, so I will wear this ski hat with redneck Alaskan pride!

Light Up Your Wax Bench, And Be Energy Efficient

LED Wax Bench Lights:  You might have a wax bench in your garage or utility room and light the area with fluorescent shop lighting.  Well, now you can get energy efficient LED replacements for those old shop lights at a great price.  $35.99 at Costco.  These LED shop lights are super bright, don't hum and come on immediately at full brightness.  Plus no ballasts, which seem to fail often when used in cold Alaskan garages.  And the hassle of changing burned out bulbs is gone because these lamps are rated to last for 50,000 hours.  That's 5.7 years if the light was kept on all the time. If you use these lights an average of 1 hour a day, in theory they would last for 136 years.


Mid October 2015: Back At It ... Working With Burls Found While Skiing In The Boonies
Carved birch burl bowl. Birch burl bowl and burl art piece. The two burls shown on the right above, are seen in the pictures to the left.


October 2015: A New Ski Season ... Hopefully Better Than Our Last Ski Season

Hi!  My name is Timmy.  And I'd like to be the "radical dude" that this broken-down van in New Zealand wants me to be.  But to do that, I need snow.

We can all be radical dudes and dudae if it snows in Southcentral Alaska this winter.  Last year ... not much snow and radical meters were measuring very low.

This summer I took a class from elves in the Highlands of Iceland on how to make waterfalls flow backwards.  I passed!

Now I have applied to take the class from these huldufolk on how to make it snow.  But their snow making class is in very high demand these days.  And there is a long waiting list.  So, not sure if I will get in.  Hopefully I won't regret not taking the class ahead of this winter.



Summer 2015 (Carryover of a popular post from last year's blog): 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.

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