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Tim's Blog About Skiing Stuff

Late September 2019: Visiting a Famous XC Skiing Town ... Inuvik, NWT

Back in the 60's and 70's a lot of good Canadian cross country ski racers came from the Inuvik area of the Northwest Territories.  In this very remote area of Canada, the TEST program once flourished.  The Territorial Experimental Ski Training program led by Bjorger Pettersen.  Some of the best Canadian ski racers of this era came from this program, such as Shirley and Sharon Firth, Herb Bullock, Fred Kelly and Angus Cockney.

I was ski racing during the tail end of the Inuvik phenomenon's prime years.  It was unbelievable to me how skiers so good could come from a place so remote.  Recently, while driving from Anchorage to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean, I stopped in Inuvik and went running on their ski trails.  Some of the trails seem to be frozen in time.  Paths cleared through the taiga that have never seen a bulldozer.  You can sense the spirits of past  Inuvik skiers on these trails.  Glad to finally visit the legendary trails of Inuvik.

For more information about the TEST ski program, click here.

For a great video about the Firth sisters, click here.

Where is Inuvik?  Click here.

From Dawson City, YT, you have to drive over 450 miles of dirt road to get to Inuvik. Inuvik Ski Club buildings.  
  A boggy ski trail through the taiga.  This trail has never seen a bulldozer.  Likely pretty much the same as it was in the 60's.    
I've read that the Inuvik Ski Club is struggling.  But it is right across the road from a huge recreation center (hockey arena).  
Vintage xc skiing pictures that can be found in the cafeteria area of a grocery store in Inuvik.
A street sign in Inuvik.
Shirley Firth winning US Jr. Nationals in Girdwood, AK in 1969.  Chuck Johnson photo.
Mid September 2019: Had Never Seen This Before ...

While in the Northwest Territories recently, I saw something that I'd never seen before, with something that uses skis.  The Natives in the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk area use snowmobiles when there is no snow to hunt caribou.   They drive them across tundra, rocks and brush and pull plastic or fiberglass freight sleds behind them.  I asked a Native guy about this.  He said snowmobiles are smoother to drive across tundra than wheeled rigs.  Makes sense.  Then I asked them how they keep the snowmachines from overheating.  He said they use fan-cooled machines, so they never overheat.  I get that.  But personally I wouldn't want to submit an expensive snowmobile, that was designed for snow travel, to traveling on dry land.

At one point during our trip my wife and I had hiked up a mountain off the Dempster Highway near the Northwest Territories and Yukon border.  On top we heard a snowmobile.  With the help of binoculars we saw two Native hunters riding a snowmobile up the valley valley.  They were pulling a large freight sled and looking for caribou.  But damn, they were 4-5 miles up this drainage where there wasn't a flake of snow.  Pretty crazy.

Snowmobiles are used to travel over snow-less tundra in the summer in the NWT.

Spotting two Native hunters driving a snowmobile several snow-less miles from the road.  Wow. Fun hiking in the NWT, off the Dempster Highway.
Mid September 2019: The World's Longest Skis

I got a chance to see a pair of skis that are billed as the "World's Largest Cross Country Skis".  I assume the word "longest" could be substituted for "largest".  These skis are at the visitors' center of 100 Mile House, British Columbia.  They are 12 meters long, just over 39 feet.  I figure a really tall guy once raced on these skis in the 80's.  But then fluoro waxes like Cera F came out and nobody could afford the $5000 wax job for these skis.  So they set them up on display.  But who knows, with fluoro waxes going out of favor, due to environmental and health concerns, maybe it will again be economical to wax these skis.  And perhaps they will again be seen on the trails!  ;-)

Note: There is the possibility that these are the longest skis in existence.  But not the longest skis ever.  Guinness link.

Early September 2019: Attack of the Cell Phone Beetles?
2017 2019

Two years ago GCI erected a camouflaged cell tower at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska.  But just like the spruce bark beetles that have decimated white spruce trees in Southcentral Alaska ... it looks like cell phone beetles have attacked and consumed the fiberglass branches of this GCI pine.

Late August 2019: The Logic Behind Old-Time Usage of a Single Ski Pole ... Revealed!

Two ski poles are better than one.  So I wondered why skiers of old occasionally used just one pole.  And I also wondered why it usually seemed like it was men that used single poles.  Then a recent experience made me realize how the whole single pole thing works ...

Wife: I forgot my hiking poles.  I'm going to use yours.
Husband: But what am I going to use to get to the top of the mountain?
Wife: Use a stick, a boat hook, whatever.  It's not my problem.

Wife: I forgot my ski poles.  I'm going to use yours.
Husband: But what am I going to use to ski to Lillehammer?
Wife: Use a stick, a spear, whatever.  It's not my problem.

Mid August 2019: In Case You Ever Wondered ...

... bear bells don't work for lynx.  I'm not sure they even work for bears.  But I now know for a fact that lynx certainly don't run away when they hear the tinkle-tinkle, jingle-jingle of a bear bell approaching.   Picture taken on the Besh Loop at the Anchorage Hillside ski trails.

Late July 2019: Skiing With Bears, Hiking With Whales

In Alaska we often share our recreational pursuits with large mammals.  Like bear, moose ... and whales.  Minke whale spout shown above.  Picture taken while peak bagging in Prince William Sound.

  Goose Bay  
Mid July 2019: A Potentially Great Crust Skiing Venue, With No Easy (Land-based) Access

While traversing Kesugi Ridge recently, I was reminded that there is some potentially great crust skiing terrain on top of the ridge.  But the access to this terrain is not easy, if you go by land.  The access points of Byers Lake and Ermine Hill have trails that switchback up steep wooded terrain.  Not the greatest for skinny ski travel.  I don't know of any snowmobile access points to this area.  So air access would be the easiest option.

Crust skiing Kesugi Ridge on a clear day would offer impressive views of the Alaska Range. This is the area of Kesugi Ridge that is great crust skiing terrain.  You can just see part of Byers Lake in the distance. Ermine Hill has some neat rock formations.  Would be fun to ski here.
Late June 2019: A Safe ... For Your Bear Spray

Over time, most Alaskan outdoor folks hear of an instance where a can of bear spray failed.  For whatever reason, the canister of bear repellant discharges unexpectedly.  It might be on the shelf in your garage, in your pack, in your car or in a closet in your house.  Wherever it happens, it’s usually an unwanted surprise and a huge mess.

Recently I heard about a fellow skier having a can of bear spray unexpectedly discharge in his campervan.  And he was inside the van.  Not good.

The news of my friend’s bear spray mishap prompted me to make some “bear spray safes”.  These are containers that you can store bear spray in when you are not hiking with it.  And if the bear spray discharges in them, no big deal.  When you crack open the safe, you might get a whiff of pepper stink.  If so, screw the safe back shut and know the safe saved the storage location from an epic stink-out.

Bear spray safes are easy to make.  Get a 2 foot piece of 3” PVC pipe from Lowe’s.  Cut 2 sections of this pipe, each 9 to 10 inches long.  Then get a 3” cap, a 3” female adapter and a 3” plug.  Use some PVC cement to fit these pieces on the pipe … and you have a cheap (less than $15) safe for your bear spray.

Update:  So you want a bear spray safe, but don't want to make one?  No problem!  For about the same price as you can make one, you can buy and get shipped to Alaska a farmer's "manual tube".  These are storage tubes farmers attach to machinery to store operating manuals. They will likely work great as a bear spray storage tube.  Thanks to former ski team teammate John Mathieu of Maine for letting me know about this!   Here is a link to where one can be purchased:  click here.

Mid June 2019: Once While Skiing ... I Got Snowmobile Storage Box Envy

I was skiing at Lake Louise a few years ago and saw a snowmobile with a nice diamond plate aluminum storage box on the back of it.  I quickly got snowmobile storage box envy.  Yes, apparently this can happen to cross country skiers.  I figured I could make one myself. So I did ...

Aluminum storage boxes I made.  No welding.  Just metal bending and pop-riveting. No more storage box envy.  Well, not until I see one that is better than this one! The key to bending metal plate is having a metal brake.  I made this one.  Lots of DIY videos of how to make them on YouTube.

Update: Of course, there is no sense in stopping if you have tooling set up to make stuff and you have more ideas.  So I made another aluminum box with an internal welded-aluminum skeleton that makes the box strong enough to support a bike rack.  I mounted it on a swing arm hitch rack on the back of a van ...

Mid June 2019: With Enough Snow, Rough Trails Are No Problem

The Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers snowmobile club grooms a nice network of winter trails in the Caribou Hills area of the Kenai Penninsula.  Luckily they get a lot of snow, because the winter groomed trails hide some very rough trail beneath the snow (see picture below, on left).

This trail, the Gravel Pit Trail in the Caribou Hills, is groomed smooth in the winter. This trail, on the Kalifornsky Beach, is groomed smooth every day, by the tides.
Early June 2019: Witnessing Earthquake Destruction At Places I Have Skied

I expected that once I got back on the Big Susitna River in the summer, that I'd see evidence of the November 30, 2018 7.0 magnitude earthquake.  Such was the case, as I did see a few areas that had been hit hard by the earthquake ...

A crack opened up on a riverbank at Deshka Landing and sent this landslide down into the slough at the bottom of the bank.  I've skied this slough a few times. The riverbanks of the lower Big Susitna River are fragile and mostly made of glacial silt deposits.  So they are getting eroded all the time.  But the quake apparently caused some huge (acre-sized) chucks of land to slide into the Big Sustina River on its main channel at a number of locations.  I have skied by this location many times.
Late May 2019: Ski Trip Van Downtime Activity

When you are doing campervan-based ski trips, what do you do during the downtime in the van?  Not sure what other people do.  But I like to program.  So time spent in the van has been spent writing apps,  for vans ...

SprinterLevel RevelLevel
My other iOS apps
Mid May 2019: License Plate 'G1TSUM' ... Brings Back Skiing Memories

I recently saw a license plate that reminded me of a vintage Alaskan crust skiing video.  Git some mud.  Git some crust snow.  To each their own git.  Gittin' ... it's all good.

Early May 2019: A Unique Sight On A Cross Country Skiing Trail

How many pictures are there on the web of an earthquake crack crossing a cross country skiing trail?  I couldn't find any by searching with Google (and I wasn't surprised).  But now there are at least three pictures on the web of an xc ski trail split by a quake crack (see pics above and below).  The recent departure of snow from the ski trails at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, AK allowed a small crack, from the recent November 30th, 2018 7.1 magnitude earthquake, to be seen on the Lekisch Trail.  Yeah, it's not a big one and it will disappear quickly when grass starts growing.  But it is certainly a unique and very rare sight to see on an xc ski trail.  If you scroll down on this web page, you will see pictures of other earthquake cracks in this area.  Kincaid Park sits on ancient sand dunes.  Not a stable place when an earthquake hits.

Late April 2019: Mobile Solar Ski Waxing
Plugging a Swix waxing iron into the side of a campervan. While you ski in the sun, solar panels collect energy for your wax iron and other devices in the campervan.

Something new for me, though I'm sure others have done it, is plugging a waxing iron into your vehicle.  In this case, a campervan.  And then waxing your xc skis.  Lots of campervans have solar panels these days.  And if the van has an inverter and an AC receptacle ... then you can fire up a Swix waxing iron.  If you are van camping for a few days and crust skiing each day, your skis can get scoured-dry of wax from the rough snow.  So it's a bonus to be able to tap into your vehicle's solar-charged battery bank and re-wax.

Mid April 2019: Trapper Creek Missile Silo?

Often when I am traveling in the Susitna Valley I do recon for future ski trips.  After a recent ski trip on Curry Ridge, I was driving back through Trapper Creek and decided to do some such recon.  I have wanted to know how to ski from Trapper Creek to Talkeetna (across the Big Su).  So I figured I'd drive down the Susitna River Road to see what the possible trail situation was.

After a couple of miles of driving down this Trapper Creek back road, I noticed a rather bizarre looking structure next to an old log cabin that had a lot of "character" spread around it.  Logs had been stacked on top of a section of a large metal culvert.

Looking at this structure ... I was stumped.  I couldn't figure out what it was.  Then a light bulb went off!  This must be a home-made missile silo!  Heck yeah!  That's it!  I feel a lot safer now.  If Trump can't get North Korea to de-nuke, at least we have a missile defense system in Trapper Creek to shoot down Kim Jong-Un's rockets and protect Alaskans!  Right on!

Mid April 2019: No Snow, Cracks Show

Now that the Kincaid bluff trail is snow-free, there are places along the trail where you can see recent earthquake cracks.  It must have been eerily noisy here during the November 30th, 2018 earthquake ... with roots popping and snapping.  Recently I talked to a person who works at Deshka Landing in Willow.  He said there were big earthquake cracks up there too.  So now that the snow is going, there should be lots of visual evidence of the quake in many places in the Anchorage/ Eagle River area and in the Susitna Valley.  Now is a good time to see and check out quake cracks, before vegetation and erosion start to hide these geological artifacts.

But be careful!  Recently a woman out running heard cries for help and rescued a man who had fallen into a Kincaid earthquake crack!  ;-)
Early April 2019: The Stradivarius of Skate Boots

My cherished 18 year old Salomon RS9s.  The Stradivarius of skate boots.

“Why do you play that old violin?”  “Because it is a Stradivarius!”

“Why do you ski in those old skate boots?”  “Because they are Salomon RS9s!”

Salomon RS9’s, the Stradivarius of skate boots!

Every year I get ribbing about the skate skiing boots I am wearing in the pictures I post on this web site.  My boots of choice are 18 to 20 year old Salomon RS9’s.  They may not be the hippest, best looking or lightest ski boots.  But from my experience, they are the most comfortable, durable and supportive skate skiing boots ever made.  When skiing in Anchorage I sometimes wear lesser, more modern skate boots (to save wear on my RS9s).  But RS9s are perfect for crust skiing, in my opinion.

Over the years I have stockpiled RS9s.  I now have several pair, hopefully enough to last my lifetime.  I got them off ebay for an average of $70 a pair.

Another reason I cherish my RS9s is metaphorically liked to the political divisions in our country.  The global elitists versus the conservative populists.  I take the populist and conservative road with xc skiing.  I have this thought (fantasy?) that xc skiing on 44 mil gear should be the sport of the people.  Not the sport that only a relative few elite can afford to participate in.

And to prove that I am not a faux xc skiing populist, I ski my talk.  I show that you don’t need $600 ski boots, when $70 ski boots will do just fine.  I also use 20 year old poles and old SNS bindings (because they are simpler and stronger bindings).  I don't own many pairs of skis.  The skis I use on this web site are not top of the line racing skis.  They cost half, or less, of what top-tier skis cost.  And I ski on my skis until they are worn out.

I could buy the latest ski gear.  But I won’t buy modern globalists’ overpriced and cheaply-made crap that will fall apart quickly.  I will soldier on with time-proven, decades-old gear because it is the best for my needs.  And also, it's my finger-flip to the ski industry that has long been a fiscal enemy of the people, and to the economic sustainability of xc ski-sport.

Will doing this make a difference?  Of course not.  But I will feel good doing it. 

A Stradivarius.  Unaffordable if you are a musician.  Affordable if you are a crust skier.

Stash of Salomon RS9's.
Mid March 2019: Skiing In The Land Of Shem Pete's Legendary Giant Psychoactive Fungus

I often ski by Dinglishna Hill in the western Susitna Valley.  An igneous intrusion formed this rocky hill, not far from the base of Mount Susitna.  It's a unique, and very cool, geological feature that borders Alexander Creek.  I've skied around and scampered all over this knob.  I once collected a rock from this hill and gave it to a USGS geologist who had it dated.  This hill is one of the youngest hills or mountains in the Lower Susitna Valley.

There are a number of strange stories surrounding this hill.  And I've met some strange people that once lived on this hill.  But the oldest strange Dinglishna Hill story is the one mentioned in "Shem Pete's Alaska", on page 111 (see text in picture below).

Shem Pete claimed that a long time ago there was a huge fungus growing on this hill.  It was "maybe 50 feet around, "as big around as the inside of a house".  Native travelers would stop here, chip away at the fungus with axes and ingest it.  Apparently after consuming the fungus they couldn't leave the place and would "circle and come back".  They would do this for "half a day" until "they get home somehow".

In "Shem Pete's Alaska" it is noted that this fungus may have been in the area of the "rock protrusion on Dinglishna Hill".  There's only one pronounced rock protrusion on Dinglishna Hill, and I ski by it a lot.  It's the one shown in these pictures.

There is no sign of the Dinglishna HIll magic mega-fungus these days.  So, it must have been completely consumed long ago, or it died off.  But the rock outcrop where the fungus supposedly existed still stands.  And the legend of old-time Natives getting high on the Dinglishna Hill super-sized 'shroom lives on.

"Shem Pete's Alaska", page 111. The prominent rock protrusion on Dinglishna Hill.
Mid March 2019: Is The Ditch Bewitched?
View of where The Ditch (center) arrives at Viola Swamp.

The Ditch at Kincaid makes me wonder.

What?  The Ditch?  What are you talking about?

Off the north side of the Kincaid Park athletic field complex, there is an old ditch that heads off into the woods.  This ditch was excavated when this area was a Cold War missile site.  Dug by heavy equipment, this ditch drained runoff off the lower end of this military complex, northward and down to a low spot (now called the Viola Swamp).

The “wavy bridge” on the Kincaid single track trail crosses this large ditch.  But for the most part, people don’t know this ditch is here, because it is so overgrown with alders.

But in the spring time you can easily see … “The Ditch”.

My wonderings about this ditch are pretty simple.  I wonder in days gone by what drained out from the missile site to the Viola Swamp.  Back in the days when there was little to no environmental oversight (50’s and 60’s), I wonder what stuff, perhaps toxic stuff, washed down this ditch with rain and snowmelt runoff.

Old military sites are notorious for their legacy of toxic waste.  They spawned a huge industry of site cleaner-uppers.   So it’s no stretch of the imagination to think this ditch may have seen some toxic cocktails served to it back in the Cold War days.

Then there is the outflow of the ditch.  Viola Swamp, right next to the Mize Loop trail.  I’ve also wondered about this wetland area.  Like, why have other swampy areas at Kincaid Park grown in over the last 30 or more years?  But the Viola Swamp is still as open an area as ever.  Is it just too wet there for alders, birch and spruce to take hold?  Or is it a toxic dead zone for trees?  Did “The Ditch” bewitch this swampy area?

Like I said, I wonder about The Ditch and the swamp.  But I am not driven to know the details.  So I will continue to do what I do.  Wonder.  Avoid running, biking or skiing through Viola Swamp water when it floods the Mize Loop trail.  Feel sorry for the ducks and geese that land in the swamp in the spring.  Feel sorry for the dogs that people let swim after and harass the geese.  While riding single track, not steer my bike off the wavy bridge into The Ditch.  And not refill my water bottle at the swamp.

But then again, maybe I’m just a worry-wart.  Yeah, that’s probably the case.  So what the heck, time to be positive and move on!  Time to make good use of Viola Swamp.   It will make a superb community potato garden!  I’ve already have some seed potatoes.  So late spring I will plant the first potatoes in Kincaid’s Viola Swamp.  And this fall, we can all celebrate the first harvest of … Kincaid Nuke Nugget potatoes!

The Ditch, as it heads north, under the "wavy bridge" to Viola Swamp. Viola Swamp, site of a future renegade community potato patch.
Early March 2019: Something Unique On Skis

Recently I got to use something on skis that is rather unique.  A LogRite log hauler.  Normally these are used with wheels.  But our cabin neighbor modified one to slide on skis.  Pretty cool.  Put a cable around a log.  Turn a crank to pull the log up into the hauler.  Lock the log in with logging hooks.  And then pull everything down the trail with a snowmobile.  Way easier than rolling and loading logs onto a snowmobile freight sled by hand.

A ski-equipped log hauler. Cutting down dead, beetle-killed spruce trees, salvaging the timber and burning the branches.  A common activity of cabin owners in the Susitna Valley this winter.
Boards milled from the spruce log shown above.
Late February 2019: A Cross Country Ski Area That Thankfully Never Happened

As you can probably tell from this web site, I’m not big into skiing the groomers at xc ski areas.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not an advocate of xc ski areas.  I realize most xc skiers like skiing groomed loops.  So for the good of the sport of cross country skiing, I say: "Let there be more xc ski areas!"

But, there was once a proposed cross country ski area that I am very glad never materialized.  And that was the Catholic Church’s proposed 'Shangri-La' cross country ski area on Murphy Road in Palmer, Alaska.

Before I begin, references to what I am writing about can be found here: https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2018/08/26/alaska-priests-abuse-of-boys-hidden-for-decades/  This linked Anchorage Daily News story will give you a long version with plenty of gory details.  Below is my very condensed version. 

Back in the 1970’s, an alcoholic Catholic pedophile priest named Frank Murphy began buying up properties off the Buffalo Mine Road in Palmer.  By 1981 he had bought 14 acres of land, that adjoined the large, public Moose Range area.  This plot of land he called ‘Shangri-La’.  With the help of young men that would steal building supplies from around the Valley, he built several cabins and a sauna on this property.  The sauna was nicknamed “the Butt Hut”, which, in my opinion, is a rather ominous name considering the pedophilic stigma of this property.  The road ‘Shangri-La’ was located on was eventually named ‘Murphy Road’.

As with many Catholic priests in Alaska, Murphy was eventually sent away by the church after he ruined many peoples’ lives with his predatory sexual abuse.  The modus operandi of the Catholic Church.  Send the sickest of their sick puppy priests to Alaska, especially to the Bush.  Let them be un-monitored and out of control sick puppies for decades.  Then when their sickness and sex crimes get exposed, sequester them to a retirement retreat in the Lower 48.

So what does this have to do with skiing?  Well, back in the 1980’s, the “godly” Monsignor Frank Murphy considered making ‘Shangri-La’ a "cross country skiing resort".

A pedophile priest running a ski area where lots of kids would be skiing!?  Not a good idea.  So that is why I am glad this cross country ski area never happened.  It would have been a ski area that led to many more victims of Frank Murphy’s sexual predation. 

Recently I was skiing on the Moose Range Trails in Palmer.  When I got to the Murphy Road area I remembered reading the accounts of the sicko this road was named after.  So I skied down the road to see if ‘Shangri-La’ still existed.

I remember seeing the ‘Shangri-La’ name on a log entrance arch over a driveway off Murphy Road back in the 80’s.  And I believe I saw it in 2008 when I skied from Hatcher Pass to Palmer, and passed down Murphy Road.  But now the ‘Shangri-La’ sign is gone.  Though other signs indicate this is still property owned by a religious entity.

I also noticed that the ‘Murphy Road’ signs were gone.  Hmm, maybe people didn’t like living on a street named after a pedophile?  I know I would have gotten rid of the signs.  And I probably would have lobbied a Palmer assembly member to rename this road that is named after a notorious Catholic priest sexual predator.

Again, I am very much pro-cross country ski areas.  But not in the case of the once-proposed ‘Shangri-La Cross Country Skiing and Sexual Abuse Resort'.  If that ski area had ever been developed, it would have been shrouded in a dark and sick legacy.

Moose Range Trails - very nice.

The log arch with the 'Shangri-La' sign is gone.  It used to be near where this sign is now. General location of Murphy Road. Moose Range Trails - very nice.
Mid February 2019: Upping Your Trailhead Security Game

Reports on Facebook and trails forums indicate that vehicle break-ins and theft has been flaring up at trailheads in Anchorage.   This should be no surprise.  There is always a chance your vehicle will be broken into at a trailhead.  And the chance of you being a victim of trailhead robbery increases exponentially if the trailhead is in, or anywhere near, Anchorage, Alaska.

I could say what everyone else says about protecting yourself from “smash and grabs” (when a scumbag smashes a car window and grabs whatever looks valuable).  But no one wants to hear that again.  Plus, this ski blog is about new ideas ... and not about being your mom.

So my suggestion: Put a safe in your vehicle.

No, not a full-blown, heavy and fireproof safe like you would put in a house.  But a sturdy metal box that can be locked.  Such safes come in many sizes and their cost is reasonable.  For an example, see the picture below of a safe I put in one of our vehicles.

On Amazon, or at places like Sportsman’s Warehouse, Costco, Walmart or Target, you can buy a small security safe that is big enough to fit the largest item you want to secure.  Which is probably a laptop.  Then use hardened steel carriage bolts to bolt the safe to the vehicle floor,  trunk bed, truck bed or other immovable surface.

Yes, the little safe will take up some space.  But that is a trade-off for better vehicle security for your valuables.  Yes, it’s not super-easy to bolt the safe to your vehicle.  But that is a trade-off for better vehicle security for your valuables.  Wait, didn’t I already say that?

Trailhead vehicle smash and grab thefts are usually done in 15 seconds or less.  So if your valuables are in a box that will take a long time to break into, then they will likely be given a pass by the thief.  Unless of course your car is stolen and brought to a chop shop.  But that's another level of crime, and not nearly as common as trailhead smash and grabs.

A 0.7 cubic foot SentrySafe security safe I recently installed in one of our vehicles.
Mid February 2019: Oh The Big Fat Irony Of It All

I recently wrote about a couple of vindications delivered to me over time (see post below).  That made me think of another long-in-coming vindication that will soon be delivered, though for someone else.

Around 30 years ago there was a big political blow-up at the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA).  There was a massive meltdown amongst the track setter ranks.  Or maybe I should say, entrenched old geezer track setters staged a hissy fit and made a big stink because they didn’t want to share their fiefdom with young new hires.  That’s the way I remember it.

Anchorage was a lot smaller back then.  So this was a big deal.  It happened during ski season and track setting stopped for a while.  Skiers in Anchorage were worked up and taking sides.  The Anchorage Daily News outdoors writer Craig Medred even did an article about the "battle in the bunker". 

The end result is that a young, new hire was canned by the NSAA.  The geezers ousted him.  I was bummed because he was a friend, a former UAA ski racer, and he was really good at grooming trails.  He knew exactly what racers needed on corners.  So when he left, NSAA classic track setting really took a dive.

I’m sure the guy that was fired wasn’t happy.  I, and millions of others in the world, have experienced the situation where your work arrangements come screeching to a halt.  And because it’s not on your terms, it doesn’t sit well.

But often, given a bit of time, you realize that getting out of that work environment was a blessing.  New work proves to be much more fulfilling.  And you are much happier.

I would say that this is most certainly the case with the trail groomer that NSAA fired.

This guy definitely made waves when he got away from the NSAA.  He became a pioneer advocate of winter biking, i.e. fat biking.  He started making his own brand of fat bikes.  And he opened a bicycle shop to sell his fat bikes.  He helped make fat biking huge in Anchorage, in Alaska and in North America.

And soon this guy, that got run out of the NSAA, started taking skiers away from NSAA.  By the dozens.  By the hundreds.  A mass exodus of baby boomer-aged skiers to fat bikes occurred.  And this guy was the pied-piper that made it happen.

Over the decades, the number of fat bikers in Alaska grew, the number of xc skiers decreased.  This could be seen in the number of participants in the Tour of Anchorage.  Every year less and less people signed up for Anchorage’s signature ski race.

Apparently the NSAA figured they needed to do something about the sagging Tour of Anchorage race sign-ups.  So they decided to add a fat bike division this year.  This was a good move. 

But adding this fat bike division is ironic.  And it is, in a way, vindication for the guy that they shit-canned from their grooming staff 30 years ago.

Because that guy is Greg Matyas, father of the modern fat bike.  Greg, the former NSAA groomer, gets run off by NSAA, creates an army of fat bikers (many from former xc skiers), and eventually NSAA realizes they need the army of fat bikers (to keep the Tour of Anchorage alive), and they open the race to the fat bike army whose creation is largely due to the guy they fired 30 years ago.

Hmmm.  Back when Greg was a short-timer groomer, there were 100 xc skiers to every fat biker in Anchorage.  Now there are 100 fat bikers to every skier.  If NSAA didn’t fire Greg, would xc skiers still be the majority?  And would Tour of Anchorage skier numbers still be high?  And would the NSAA be courting fat bikers and holding their first fat bike race to bolster revenue for the Tour of Anchorage?

Who knows.  In hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t a good thing for Anchorage xc skiing for the NSAA to fire Greg.  But it sure was a good deal for Greg to get fired by the NSAA.  Things worked out well for him.  And for the thousands of people he turned on to fat bikes.

Ironic?  Yes.  Vindication?  Perhaps.  But most of all … it’s a good chuckle when you look back and see how local Anchorage events intertwine over time.  And it's funny to see how firing a young and smart person came back around to deliver an unforeseen bite in the ass.

Early February 2019: Winter Bridge Building

Construction is starting on two new winter trail bridges, to the northwest of Big Lake.  These bridges are being funded by a Matanuska-Susitna Borough recreation bond.  This is good, as it will extend the travel season on the popular "Trail 6".  One of the bridges is on upper Fish Creek.  That makes me a bit envious.  I, and I am sure many others, would love a bridge on lower Fish Creek at the Enstar Gas Line crossing.  That location is a very temperamental stretch of  creek and is always throwing surprises at winter travelers that cross there.  Hope to check out these new bridges later this winter.

Early February 2019: Vindication?  Yes.  But Not That I Care Any More.

Time is funny.  Given enough time, you can be proven right.  But then again, after a long enough time, you just don’t care as much about the vindication that time has brought you.

This seems to be the case for me recently, on a couple of issues.

Back in the late 1990’s I realized that fat biking was getting big.  I realized that lots of skiers were bailing from cross country skiing and becoming winter bikers.  And I realized that the NSAA (Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage) would be losing membership revenue from these skiers turned bikers.

So I made sacrilegious comments in online forums.  I suggested that cross country skiers embrace fat bikers.  I suggested that some NSAA trails and events be shared with fat bikers.  I suggested that fat bikers could be sources of revenue for the NSAA.

This logic made sense to me.  But it definitely did not make sense to many other skiers.  I got a tidal wave of negative feedback on how there was no possible way that xc skiers and fat bikers could coexist.  I was labeled a pariah.  A trouble maker.  How could I dare make such sacrilegious suggestions!?

Well, forward the clock 20 years.  Within a month the NSAA will be holding its first fat bike race in conjunction with a cross country ski race.  Same day, same course.  There will be a fat bike division in the Tour of Anchorage.  And NSAA will be collecting money from fat biker entry fees.

This is great.  But it could have happened 20 years ago.  And probably should have.

Vindication #1.

Fifteen or so years ago the Kincaid Park Group was burning money.  Oil was in the $120-$140 range, the state was flush with capital project largesse.  Engineering firms were in a feeding frenzy planning improvements and modifying Kincaid Park.  Besides the State of Alaska, the Municipality of Anchorage and the Rasmussen Foundation where shoveling money to the KPG.

Doing improvements rationally did not register at this time.  Burning money while it was available was the goal.  So in the rush to profits, rational logic was bypassed.  A new biathlon range in a “less windy location” was built without any testing of wind conditions at the new location.  Soil from the old biathlon range was not tested, and dirt laced with lead bullets was spread all over the new soccer fields (and never adequately cleaned up).

And then there was the issue I spoke up about and got massive blow-back.  I said it would be a great risk to build snowmaking at Kincaid Park.  And xc snowmaking should be built elsewhere.  History had proven (with the Cold War Nike missile site and previous snowmaking attempts) that the water sources at Kincaid Park were very limited.  And I pointed out that drilling wells through the ancient sand dunes that define Kincaid Park is a dumb idea in earthquake country.  The well bore can cave in and sand can ruin the pump and kill the well.

I went on to say that money would be better spent to bring snowmaking to the Hillside trail system.  At Hillside there is a better water source, dense black spruce to shade trails and colder temperatures and less Chinook winds than at Kincaid.

Kaboom!  Tim and his sacrilegious comments again.  “How could he say that!”  The old NSAA guard in particular, who wanted to leave a Kincaid Park legacy for themselves, surely gave me the cold shoulder.  I was a bad, bad guy for questioning the blind money splurge on Kincaid Park.

But then came November 30, 2018.  And a big 7.0 earthquake.  And what happened soon afterwards?  The snowmaking system at Kincaid fails.  As predicted, the quake wins.  Proof that this will always be a system at risk of high expense failures.  Millions of dollars spent on a snowmaking system with an at-risk and unreliable water supply.  Could this money have been better spent?  Yes.  At Hillside.

Vindication #2.

But like I said in the first paragraph - time is funny.  15 years ago I probably would have called-out and berated the dumbshits behind these past bad calls.  But now I just laugh and am thankful that I don't associate with people that are such experts at making poor decisions.  And I take my skis and go off and do my own thing.  Time is indeed funny.  It’s funny how time morphs things you were once passionate and outspoken about to the point that you just don’t give a shit anymore.

Late January 2019: The Race For Spruce Burls, Man vs Beetles

The race is on.  The race to salvage spruce burls before they succumb to the spruce bark beetle.

Presently the Susitna Valley of Alaska is getting hit hard by the spruce bark beetle.  Many mature spruce trees are getting infested by beetles and being killed.  This also means that many thousands of spruce burls in the Susitna Valley are going to be lost.  Once the tree dies, needles and bark will no longer be able to protect burls from the elements.  So they will get weathered, rot and eventually fall to the ground when the dead host tree topples over.

For folks like me that like to make stuff out of spruce burls, this is not a fun thing to see.  Burls are cool and seeing so many on their way to waste is sad.

So, I've been spending time skiing in the boonies and looking for spruce burls on trees that have recently been killed by the spruce bark beetle.  By recently, I mean within the last year.  Burls on trees killed two years ago are usually too far gone to be worth harvesting.

I've found a few good burls on recent beetle-killed trees.  Next step is to take a chainsaw, make a trail to the burl tree, harvest the burl and then haul it out to my "burl vault".

Bark falling off a white spruce tree that was killed by beetles 2 years ago. A nice burl high up in a spruce tree that was killed this year by beetles.  I'll be harvesting this burl soon.

Update: An esoteric workout: burl wrestling.  Pick a stormy day when skiing is not good.  Go deep into the woods and harvest a 400-600 pound spruce burl.  Then in deep snow try to wrestle the burl onto a snowmobile sled and get it 5 miles back to your cabin.  Of course, the sled will have to tip over many times and you will have to grunt it back upright.  This is a mind and body workout.  Mind, in that you are always figuring out how to get the burl from point A to point B with what you have.  And it is a body workout because you work most every muscle in your body and you are beat when the wrestling match is finally over.  PS: 100% of this large burl will be used to make two corner "table-benches".  But first the wood has to season for a year or more.

Update: Spruce burls come in junior sizes too.  All of these burls came from the same tree that was killed by spruce bark beetles.

Mid January 2019: "Making Skis".  Again.

Last year I "made my own skis".  The skis were made of steel and UHMW plastic and became part of a Susitna Valley design freight sled.  I wanted to become a better welder, so I undertook this project to get there.  It worked out well, I was able to haul a lot of heavy loads with the sled.  And I really upped my welding game.  But damn, the sled took a lot of time to build.  I have joked about the amount of time it took.  New freight sleds like the one I built can be bought at Deshka Landing for $3500.  But I estimate that if I billed my time required to build the sled at the rate a Walmart greeter makes, it probably would have been cheaper to pay the $3500!  Oh well, learning something I had long wanted to learn how to do was the goal.

I figured that would be my last large welding project.  But alas, my memory is often short when it comes to ordeals.  And I am always driven to learn new stuff and check off new challenges in life.  So I got this idea of making another freight sled.  This would be more my design, instead of a copy of others' design.  And instead of steel, it would be made out of aluminum.

Well, thanks to DIY Youtube videos and helpful hints from great folks at welding and metal supply stores in Anchorage, I'm getting close to finishing up my four-skied aluminum freight sled beast.  This one should be nice because I will be able to pick up the sections of it and load it on a trailer.  The steel one was too heavy to do that.  In a week I will load some lumber on it and give it a go.  If it makes the 25 miles to our cabin, I will call myself an aluminum welder.  If it collapses in route ... well, no big deal ... nothing that more welding can't fix!

When I talk to people about welding, and mostly with those that don't know shit about welding, I often get the comment that aluminum is tricky to weld.  I don't know why that opinion is so widespread.  It's not true.  Maybe welding aluminum was tricky to weld long ago.  But with modern day welders it is no big deal.  No harder to weld than steel.  Welding aluminum or steel is like everything ... when you start out you suck.  But keep doing it and be analytical about your work, and eventually you get proficient at it.

The steel freight sled I welded together last year, with a 1500 lb load. This year's aluminum freight sled in progress. Aluminum freight sled skis in progress.  Tips will be connected to tow bar by plastic so skis can't get caught under shelf ice.

Update: Got it done.  Fun project.  But it took a LOT of time.  And just like after I finished welding the steel freight sled last year, I am again saying that this will be the last freight sled I build!


Update: Field test.  Loaded up the sled and gave it a test.  Worked well.  Silky flow over bumps.  And no welds broke, leaving me with a twisted pile of wreckage out in the middle of nowhere.  Later I would test the sled by hauling a 4-wheeler 50 miles with it.


What does this freight sled business have to do with skiing?  Well, for me, it's the same thing that remote cabin building,  dog mushing, burl wood work, riverboating, snowmobiling and Upper Cook Inlet setnet fishing have in connection to my skiing.  I first became aware of all of these things while skiing remote trails in the Susitna Valley.  And often I'd say to myself, "This stuff seems cool!  I should give it a try!".  Skiing's path will lead you to many other paths.  If you let it.

Early January 2019: No!  Not The Miracle Water Fountain!

I was driving down to ski in Girdwood.  And it soon became evident.  The November 30th, 2018 7.0 earthquake was the worst Alaskan earthquake.  Ever.

Why?  Because it caused the shutdown of the Seward Highway Miracle Water Fountain!

I have driven by the Miracle Water Fountain countless times.  A long-ago drilled hole in a roadside cliff allows an artesian water source to spurt out a PVC pipe and into the ditch.

And the water must indeed be miracle water.  You can tell this by the people that stop there to fill up water.  They are most often people of poor health.  Overweight, cigarette in mouth, lacking mental acuity to discern the dangers of crossing Alaska’s busiest highway while wearing baggy sweat pants and flip flops, they make the pilgrimage to the Miracle Water Fountain.

Apparently risking their lives to reach the Miracle Water Fountain is worth it.  Because drinking the miracle water must cure all the ills that resulted from their bad lifestyle choices.  They can continue to over-eat, drink all the booze they want, do all the drugs they want and never exercise their heavily tattooed bodies.  And it’s all cool.  Because the miracle water will cure all the ills of their bad lifestyle choices.

So it seems, from driving past this holy site.  The Seward Highway Miracle Water Fountain is perhaps Alaska’s most sacred natural wonder.

But the 2018 earthquake sent big rocks crashing down the cliff face next to the Miracle Water Fountain.  And the State of Alaska Department of Transportation pulled the PVC pipe out of the rock and cordoned off access to the Miracle Water Fountain.  In the name of “safety”!  Outrageous!

This is perhaps the biggest crisis Alaska has ever faced.  What will Alaskans who make bad lifestyle choices do now to stay alive?  They can’t be expected to change.  No!  They need their Miracle Water Fountain back!

Late December 2018: Always Surprises With First Trip To Cabin Since Summer

Seven of my cabin neighbors crossing the Big Susitna River ahead of me.  This is the crux river crossing for us.  No one wants surprises here.

When the rivers in the Lower Susitna Valley freeze up, we and our cabin neighbors can access our remote properties.  We often travel together with our neighbors the first trip out so in case someone gets in trouble (goes through the ice) others are around to help.  No such surprises this year, but ice was not far from the sketchy category.

Once at the cabin, there are usually always a few surprises waiting for us.  Here were a few surprises from this year ...

Surprised, but not that surprised, that the 11/30 7.0 earthquake did a number on our woodpile. Surprised, but not that surprised, that our game camera showed bears squabbling at our cabin. Surprised that our game camera showed a record 5 brown bears in one image (previous record was 4). Always pleasantly surprised by solar powered light during the darkest days of an Alaskan winter.
Late December 2018: Kincaid Park Huldufólk

In Icelandic folklore there are the huldufólk.  The hidden people.  They live in places like lava flows, rock piles and mountain ravines.  They strive to be elusive and are rarely seen by other people.

If the definition of huldufólk is hidden people, then Anchorage has lots of huldufólk.  Though our huldufólk are often not as hidden as Icelandic huldufólk.  In Anchorage we call them homeless people.

We don’t have lava fields in Anchorage.  So our huldufólk hide in the woods of our city parks.  Including Kincaid Park.

Recently I’ve been surprised, but not that surprised, to see Anchorage huldufólk hiking with large backpacks on Kincaid Park ski trails.  Or hitchhiking at night on Raspberry Road in the park.  And I’m definitely not the only one to have spotted Kincaid Park huldufólk.  Several times this year at Kincaid Park, I have watched and waited to make sure a lone woman or teenager was able to ski by a huldufólk on the trail without issue.

Huldufólk in Kincaid Park are nothing new.  I remember once running in an orienteering race at Kincaid Park in the early 1990s.  I was running down a hill north of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage equipment bunker when I stepped on something hollow.  It surprised me, but I kept on running.  After the race I went back to that spot and realized I had run over the plywood roof of a camouflaged huldufólk hovel.

My wife and I have been to Iceland several times.  The huldufólk you might occasionally meet while hiking mountain trails in Iceland are little guys that are harmless and cheery, though you can’t understand a word they say.  They are not intimidating.  Icelandic huldufólk aren’t running from anything or hiding in the lava fields because of past crimes or due to substance abuse demons or mental health issues.

I feel a lot more comfortable being around Icelandic huldufólk than Anchorage or Kincaid Park huldufólk.

Huldufólk townhouses in Iceland.
Mid December 2018: Moen Homestead Skis Presented To Anchorage Sons Of Norway

I recently presented the Moen Homestead Skis to the Anchorage Sons of Norway club.  Information on these skis can be found on the picture to the right and in the blog posts at the bottom of this web page.  A great home for these old skis!

Me with Martin Hansen, Sons of Norway board member and former fellow Iditaski racer from the 1980s.

The sign that will be displayed with the skis in the entryway of the Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage, AK.

Here is an article about the Moen Homestead Skis that I submitted to the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage "Nordic Skier" newsletter:


A 100 Year Old Surprise

For 20 years I had been driving by what could be Anchorage’s oldest known cross country skis.  I’d drive, run or bike past these skis sometimes 4 or more times a day.  I made many thousands of trips past these ancient skis.  But I didn’t have a clue they were there, out in the open, watching me go by.

I live in the Goldenview Drive area of Anchorage.  Back in 1936 Harold and Ruth Moen established a homestead in the South Goldenview area.  There is still a remnant of their old homestead where their daughter Janey Moen and her husband live and have a horse boarding stable.  Also in this area is Moen Park and an old homestead trail called the Moen Trail.

I had been to Janey Moen’s horse stables a number of times.  But this summer I stopped by to attend a barbeque with a bunch of New Zealand horsemen (some bloody fine Kiwi blokes I might add).

While at the barbeque I asked Janey some questions about the history of her place.  Come to find out, she has the bulldozer that made the original Goldenview Drive.  And she has a shed that was actually an outhouse from the 1917 railroad construction camp at Potter,  that was dragged up to the Moen homestead with the bulldozer.

And then I noticed some long, weathered, old cross skis leaning up against the 1917 shed.  “And what is the story with those old skis leaning against the shed?” I asked.    Janey replied: “My father found them in the Potter work camp and used them to travel between this homestead and the Potter railroad stop.”

When I heard that my head started spinning.  From the last 12 years of working on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project (www.alsap.org), I’ve got a lot of ski history facts floating around in my head.  And numbers started lining up.  March 4th, 1917 was the first known cross country ski race in Anchorage.  This shed was from 1917.  The skis were found near this shed.  Could these skis have been used in the first cross country ski race in Anchorage?

I knew these skis were old and needed to be rescued.  So I broached obtaining the skis and restoring them with Janey.  She thought it over, and a couple of months later she gave the skis to me.

I then consulted with friends that are antique ski experts: Greg Fangel of Tofte, MN (www.woodenskis.com) and my ALSAP cohort Dave Brann of Homer.  Cable bindings had been put on these skis at a later date, so Greg said to remove them and make the skis period-authentic.  Dave advised me to be very careful sanding the skis so no markings would be lost.

Together we concluded that skis were likely from the late teens or the twenties of last century.  So, these skis could be up to 100 years old.  Stamped markings on the bottom side of the tips indicate these skis were manufactured, and not homemade.  But unfortunately, there is no way to know if they were used in Anchorage’s first xc ski race in 1917.

I told Janey that if she gave the skis to me I would try and find a good home for them.  These historic skis were once a Norwegian’s skis.   And nobody embraces Norwegian heritage more than Norwegians.  So I contacted Tom Falskow, president of the Anchorage Sons of Norway club.

Tom was excited about the skis and put me in contact with board member Martin Hansen, who I knew from 1980’s Iditaski races.  And soon the Moen Homestead Skis had a place of display in the entryway of the Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage.  The perfect home for a Norwegian’s skis, that are perhaps the oldest skis with Anchorage history in Alaska.

Stumbling upon these old skis, obtaining and refurbishing them and seeing the enthusiasm as they were passed on to a good home was a fun experience.   And from this experience, there were a couple takeaway points …

A sense of heritage helps bond a community.  Just ask any Norwegian.  So talk to old-timers, read about the past and keep your eye out for relics of our Alaskan heritage.  Your bonds to Alaska, and fellow Alaskans, will only grow stronger.

And if you find something really cool from Alaska’s past, share it with other Alaskans.  You’ll find that others will be happy that you shared.  And that will make you happy that you shared.

For further information:

Link to web page with information about Anchorage’s first known cross country ski race: http://www.alsap.org/4thAvenue/4thAvenue.htm

Link to pictures of 1917 Alaska railroad work camp at Potter Creek (South Anchorage): https://vilda.alaska.edu/digital/search/searchterm/potter%20creek

Early December 2018: Pants On Fire! But Not A Liar Liar.

I'd never refer to myself as a "real Alaskan".  That title is reserved for people that were born in Alaska and have Native blood.  Like my wife.

But that doesn't mean I hold back from kidding about Alaskans.  Like ...

"You might be a real Alaskan if you own a pair of Carhartt overalls ... and occasionally set them on fire!"

It happened.  Winter transportation welding project hiccup.  Time to get a new pair of Carhartt "ski trip warm-ups".

"Gee, something's not right.  My leg feels hot.  Oh, I get it now ... I'm on fire!"

Carhartt overalls make good warm-ups for snowmobile-supported ski trips.  That is, as long as the Carhartts are not on fire!
Early December 2018: Earthquakes Show Obvious, And Not So Obvious, Risks In Our Lives

Earthquake cracks in ice showing where sandy water spewed out.  Big Susitna River, late January 2016.


On November 30th, 2018 at 8:29 AM, Southcentral Alaska got hit by a big 7.0 earthquake.  After the quake and aftershocks ended, Alaskan skiers had time to contemplate the earthquake-related risks in their lives.  The obvious risks that an earthquake can present skiers with are when a quake happens while you are skiing on a steep slope.  Or while you are skiing on an ice-covered river or lake.  And of course there are the risks when you are driving 65 mph to a trailhead and the road you are on starts cracking and falling apart.

But this recent earthquake made me realize risks closer to home.  More specifically, earthquake risks IN your home.

Building codes exist for earthquake straps on hot water tanks in your house.  This is a good requirement.  A full hot water tank has a lot of weight, and momentum should it be disturbed.  Without restraint it can cause inlet plumbing to fail and water to flood your house and cause massive amounts of damage.

But this quake made me realize that there seems to be an obvious building code that is missing ... wood stoves should be anchored to the floor.  Just as hot water tanks are required to be restrained, wood stoves should be required to be anchored.  But woodstoves do not have this safety requirement in Alaska.

If a wood stove has a fire burning inside of it, an earthquake hits, the stoves bounces around and dislodges from the stove pipe and tips over ... that would be very bad.  A dampened-down, smoldering fire would likely have an unlimited source of oxygen and the fire would roar to life.  The house would quickly fill with smoke and the risk of a house fire would be very high.

A relative of mine had a wood stove that did the earthquake dance.  And it almost detached from the stove pipe (see picture below).  Luckily no fire was burning inside the stove.  But it illustrated the risk of woodstove use in the event of an earthquake.

Sure, the chance of an earthquake causing a woodstove to tip over and start a house fire is minimal.  Chimney fires are a much greater risk.  But should this scenario ever happen, and a fire inspector reports it to an insurance company, regulations will likely follow.  If homeowner insurance will not be underwritten unless you have your wood stove anchored to the floor, then building codes will require anchoring.  And stove manufacturers will start making stoves that can be anchored, which they mostly do not do now.

A wood stove that was moved by the 2018 quake, and almost dislodged from the stovepipe.

A modern Jotul wood stove leg.  Not designed to be anchored.
Late November 2018: A Van Essential ... An Interior Ski Rack

I plan on doing a bunch of van-based ski trips in the coming years.  So yes, I will be living in a van down by the river.  But unlike Matt Foley's river, my river should be frozen and have a snowmobile trail on it!

Not surprisingly, the van I got was missing an essential.  A ski rack!  And because of the rampant crime in Alaska, an indoor ski rack.  Skis inside might be a bit safer than those in a rack or ski box outside.  Emphasis on "might".  But then again, maybe I worry too much.  After all, these are cross country skis ... so they're probably not nearly as high on the thief target list as compared to backcountry or Alpine skis.

Anyway, it was a tight fit getting 4 pair of xc skis racked onto the back doors.  The key piece needed for this project was a tray, for setting the tails of the skis in.  I had some diamond-plate aluminum lying around. so I decided to fabricate a couple trays.  I cut the aluminum, welded it into two simple trays and mounted it on the doors with self-tapping metal screws.  I then added some hardware higher up on the doors to position the ski tips and restrain them.  I also added hangers for poles.  Nothing fancy, but it worked out okay.  This same technique could be used to make a Sprinter van door ski rack for backcountry or Alpine skis.  Or even snowboards.

Simple aluminum trays for use as the base for van door ski racks.  If you don't have a welder, you could make similar trays with a few more bends in the aluminum and then use nuts and bolts to hold it together.
Late November 2018: Back When Short Poles Were The Rage?! ...

Recently Eric Fuglestad sent this picture to me for use on the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project (ALSAP) web site.  It shows a skier named Chuck Hightower ski racing in downtown Anchorage during Fur Rendezvous in the early 1950s.  I thought this picture was interesting for several reasons: 1) That they once had races on downtown streets of Anchorage as part of Rondy.  2) That so many people are gathered to watch an xc ski race in Anchorage.  Heck there are even people on the roofs!  And 3) holy crap look how short Chuck's poles are!  Bending over like that for an entire ski race has got to hurt!  He could use another foot of length on his poles!  His bare hands shows he's a tough guy, and technique-wise he has got it going on.  But dang, Chuck could sure use some longer poles!

A historical note: This picture is of Chuck Hightower.  I know a bunch of folks in a Hightower family that has lived in Alaska for a long time.  I asked them if this was their relative.  They said no, and that it was probably a Hightower from a family that homesteaded in Girdwood.  That Hightower family is apparently memorialized in the name of a central street in Girdwood, Hightower Road.  So this guy could be one of Girdwood's earliest home-grown cross country ski racers.

Late November 2018: Anchorage's Best, Though Forbidden, Low-Snow Skiing Venue

Here we are yet again.  Another year in Anchorage with warm temperatures and little snow.  This seems to be our skiing trademark these days.  They are now opening Alpine ski areas early, with natural snow, in Vermont.  And for the last month there has been great xc skiing in BC, AB, Rocky Mountain states, Minneapolis, New England and Fairbanks.  But in dark, wet, warm and grim Anchorage ... xc skiing is a very challenged sport.  Not enough snow to cover most trails.  Too warm for snow making.

Thanks to some meteorological nuances, and luck, at least there has been half-way decent skiing on the Beach Lake Trails in Chugiak, AK.  A packed one inch or less of snow on smooth trails allows you to get 44 millimeter time in.

After skiing at Chugiak recently, I was driving home and figured I'd go look at the Moose Run Golf Course on JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson).  I figured Moose Run would have great skiing conditions.  And I was right.  A perfect white blanket covering manicured fairways.

But I didn't ski at Moose Run, because "skiing of any kind" is now forbidden at this military base venue.

Skiing has not always been banned at Moose Run.  Before a "one size fits all" contractor was selected to manage all military golf courses at US bases, Moose Run was the low-snow go-to location for Anchorage Nordic skiers.  The Alaska state high school skiing championships were held here in 1982.  I remember racing Anchorage Nordic Skiing Association 'Chevron Cup' citizen races here several times.  And this venue was frequently the savior for warm, low-snow years, like the one we are having again this year, for local racing and recreational xc skiers.  There are decent-sized hills on the east side of this golf course, so the terrain here is good for xc skiing.

So, what would it take to get Moose Run back in the low-snow skiing game?  How could xc skiing be made "legal" at Moose Run again?  It looks like Anchorage's future calls for more minimalist, survival skiing much of the time, like we have now.  Moose Run is one of the best places for skiing on 1 inch of snow.  So how do we get Moose Run back?

To get Moose Run back, it will take advocacy.  It will take someone to champion the cause.  Who will that be?  Well, I'm not the person.  There are probably younger folks in Anchorage more linked to cross country ski racing that should be the ones to push this. 

How to make this happen?  In concept it seems that it would be simple.  Though in reality, probably not.  In concept one would go to the "top", to our Washington, DC elected officials.  Plead the case for Anchorage skier support, and have Murkowski, Sullivan or Young get a federal military exemption to allow skiing at the Moose Run golf course.  Allow the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage or vetted volunteers to groom a minimalist track along the edges of the golf course on occasion.

Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Dan Sullivan always seem to be very quick to arrange photo ops with Anchorage Nordic skiers that have success.  Well, this would be a chance for them to actually DO something to support Anchorage Nordic skiers.  Something that is probably a minimal amount of effort on their parts.

Mid November 2018: Home Depot, Your Source For Nordic Skiing Gloves

It's Nordic skiing glove time again at Home Depot.

"What?  Cross country skiing gloves at Home Depot?  Come on!  Really!?"

Yup.  Home Depot is my go-to location for xc skiing gloves, at great prices.  The pictures below show what they now have for sale for us Nordies ...

They started selling these minimally-insulated gloves at HD this fall.  I've been using them and like them.  They actually have reinforcement between the thumb and index finger.  Something that is rare with budget Chinese gloves.

I wore these Firm Grip insulated gloves a lot last year.  I like them as they are a good balance of warmth and dexterity.  They are still for sale at the Abbot Home Depot in Anchorage.  The price of them cracks me up.  $3.30 a pair.  Easy to stock up on them for the years to come.  Three pair for under $10.  Ha!

Mid November 2018: "New Wave Nordic Skiing!" by Jeff Potter

Outdoor writer and journalist Bob Woodward was a prominent voice of cross country skiing in the 1970’s and 80’s.  Without the Internet back then, the Nordic community consumed articles in xc skiing magazines.  And Bob wrote many articles about cross country skiing.  Bob was a good writer and seemed to always know what the Nordic world needed to know.

Not long ago I read an astute and poignant comment of Bob’s about cross country skiing today: “Cross country ski racing is alive and well in the US.  But recreational cross country skiing is on life support.”

So true.  The days when cross country skiing was cool just for the sake of cross country skiing seem long gone.  Now basically … it’s xc ski racing, or nothing.

From watching the Nordic scene in Anchorage for almost 40 years, I have my own saying:  “Cross country skiing is something kids do, until they can afford a fat bike or backcountry skis.  Then they get a Subaru and a dog that wears a bandana and they rarely ever xc ski again.”  A common xc-exit path.

Take all the old group pictures of the thousands of former Junior Nordic participants in Anchorage.  Then circle those who now avidly cross country ski for recreation in their 30’s, 40’s and beyond.  Not many circles, that's for sure.

The death of recreational xc skiing phenomenon has been easy for me to see.  I did a “controlled experiment” for 35 years in Anchorage.  For over three decades I would ski after work at the same time.  The vehicles in the parking lot were the metric.  The cars told the story over time.

Today, when there is no Jr. Nordic session, only a relative handful of cars are in the parking lot for skiing, most of them for masters’ Nordic programs.  The rest of the cars are for fat bikers and dog walkers.  Sometimes my vehicle is the only skier’s vehicle in the lot.

But back in the 80’s and early 90’s it was much different.  The parking lots would be packed with vehicles owned by skiers.  Not Jr. Nordic skier parents.  Not masters group skiers.  Just lots of skiers out skiing for the sake of skiing.  Recreational skiers.  You sure don’t see this phenomenon today.

So now we get to the “well dang it, what should we do about it” part of the discussion regarding the death of recreational cross country skiing.

If that question is directed at me, my response is to go and ski.  Do my own thing.  Use skis to visit new places, like I have since the 60’s.  Set a “skiing for the sake of skiing” example.  And maybe share what I do by posting some pics and info on a web site.  That’s my limit though.

But there are people that are much more passionate about “saving” and resurrecting recreational cross country skiing than I am.  Some people think recreational cross country skiing should be the coolest of sports again.  They think that even though the ski industry abandoned the recreational xc skiing sector and even though a warming climate is limiting when and where you can ski, that xc skiing should unquestionably be “the rage” again.   These skiers are driven to spread the word about the cult of cross country skiing and to recruit new members.  They enthusiastically organize events for skiers of all abilities.

Such people are Nordic skiing evangelists. 

And one of the leading Nordic skiing evangelists these days, in my opinion, is a guy in Michigan named Jeff Potter.  Jeff recently wrote a great book about why recreational cross country skiing should be cool again, and how it can be cool again.  The title of Jeff’s book is: “New Wave Nordic Skiing”.

Jeff offers many ideas about how to ski in low snow conditions, how and where to find ski-able snow, fun events that attract people to recreational ski no matter what the conditions, skiing mountain bike single track, sharing ski sport with fat bikers and fun ways to boondock on skis.  And that’s just for starters.  Jeff lives in a snow-challenged part of the Midwest.  So he is no stranger to struggles when it comes to practicing the religion of xc skiing.

“New Wave Nordic Skiing” is a good read.  Lots of good ideas and insight.  And, as an Alaskan, it was fun to view how the recreational xc ski world ticks in the Midwest.

Back to Bob Woodward’s quote: “Cross country ski racing is alive and well in the US.  But recreational cross country skiing is on life support.”

Recreational cross country skiing wouldn’t be on life support, and it would be awesomely cool again… if there were more Jeff Potters in the US.

Early November 2018: A Little Known Nordic Skiing Factoid

Did you know ... that the preferred riding jackets of jackalope riders are Swix Nordic skiing jackets!

Late October 2018: Update On The Moen Homestead Skis

I gave the Moen Homestead Skis that I refurbished (see information below) to the Anchorage Sons of Norway organization.  The skis should end up being displayed at their Bernt Balchen Lodge.  This is  a great home for these historic Alaskan skis, with deep Anchorage roots.  They were skis of a Norwegian, so Norwegians should have them.  Plus, Norwegians are passionate about preserving and honoring their heritage.  Thank you to SoN members Tom Falskow and Martin Hansen!

I am working with SoN on a sign that tells the story of these skis, to be placed near where these skis are displayed.  This is a draft (subject to change) of what the sign text might be:

The Moen Homestead Skis

These skis were used by Norwegian-American Harold Moen, an original Anchorage, Alaska homesteader.  Harold came to Anchorage from Wisconsin in 1936 and established a homestead in what is now the Goldenview Drive area.  Harold used these skis to travel between his homestead and the Potter railroad stop.

Harold found these skis in an old building at Potter that was once part of a 1917 temporary camp used for the construction of the Alaska Railroad.  Many Norwegians worked in the Anchorage area building the Alaska Railroad.  And Norwegians staged the first known cross country ski race in Anchorage on March 4, 1917.  So perhaps a Norwegian railroad worker left these skis at the Potter camp.  Harold put cable bindings on these skis after he found them.  The cable binding hardware was removed during refurbishment of these skis to make them period authentic.  Stamped markings under the tips indicate these are manufactured skis.  Likely they were made in Norway.

In 2018, Harold’s daughter Janey Moen gave these skis to Anchorage skier Tim Kelley to refurbish, and to find a good home for them.

Mid October 2018: Anchorage's Oldest Cross Country Skis?  They Need A Good Home.

Recently I was given a pair of skis that may be Anchorage, Alaska's oldest known cross country skis.  These skis are likely close to 100 years old, and were passed on to me by Janie Moen, daughter of Anchorage homesteader Harold Moen.

From talking to Janie Moen about her father Harold Moen, we believe this is the likely story behind these skis:

In 1936 Harold Moen came to Alaska from Wisconsin.  He staked a homestead in South Anchorage in what is now the Goldenview Drive area.  His access to his homestead was via a trail, now known as the Moen Trail, from the Potter stop of the Alaska Railroad.  At Potter there were old buildings from the railroad construction work camp that had been built there in 1917.  In one of these old buildings, Harold found this pair of cross country skis that may have been left there 20 years before by Norwegians that had been working the railroad construction.  Harold added cable bindings to these old skis and began using them to travel between Potter and his homestead.

Many Norwegians worked building the Alaska railroad.  And these same Norwegians organized the first cross country ski race in Anchorage in 1917.  So it is possible these skis were used in that first ski race.  And perhaps they were used to travel between Anchorage and Potter back then.  Harold Moen was also of Norwegian heritage.

I plan on refurbishing these skis.  They are in rough shape, so I will do what I can.  Per the suggestion of antique ski expert Greg Fangel of Tofte, MN, I will remove the metal hardware to make them period-accurate.  I will leave the leather straps on them.

I do not want to keep these skis.  These are Anchorage skiing historical items.  Likely the oldest Alaskan skis in Anchorage, with a local history.  I would rather give these skis to some organization for historical display.  I’ve reached out to several people to see if there is a potential home for these skis that could be arranged.  Nothing definite yet.  If anyone has a good idea for their public display at a stable location, and can make it happen … contact me.  My email address is at the bottom of this web site’s home page. 

Side note:  In talking to Janie Moen, I learned that the Potter railroad work camp once had a baseball diamond.  Also, there was once a "fort" at Potter.  This was actually a WWII lookout for invading Japanese warships.   It was made of sand bags and logs and perched up above Potter.  I once found a similar WWII lookout while hiking on the south end of Fire Island.  Not sure where the lookout was at Potter, but I intend to poke around there to see if I can find the location.

Start of the first known cross country ski race in Anchorage, Alaska.  March 4th, 1917.

Mid October 2018 Update #1: I made a first pass at cleaning up the "Moen skis".  I will eventually sand them with finer sandpaper and put beeswax polish on them.  A basic discovery I made was that these are manufactured skis, not homemade skis.  Underneath the ski tips there  are faint stamp marks.  One numeric stamp looks to be the length - 230 (length in centimeters).  The other stamp is "00" on one ski, maybe "90" or "190" on the other ski.  Very faint, hard to tell.  Also one one ski you can see a faint stamp of an "A".  Maybe this indicates the wood, ash?

Historical note: Leather bindings were used up until 1929 when cable bindings were invented.  Here is a Wikipedia article about the history of cable bindings.  Wooden skis prior to the 1930s had mortises through them for the leather binding straps.


Mid October 2018 Update #2: I finished cleaning up the Moen Homestead skis.  I sanded off the decaying wood and applied beeswax polish.  In removing the remnants of the cable bindings that were mounted later on these skis, I found that hardware on one side was attached with screws.  But on the other ski it was nailed on.  This makes a statement about Alaskan homesteading days in the 1930's.  You used what you had.  No driving down to Home Depot or Lowes like today to pick up whatever you need.


Mid October 2018 Update #3: VILDA, the State of Alaska Visual Interactive and Digital Archives web site, has pictures of the temporary work camp at Potter Creek that was established during the construction of the Alaska Railroad.  When the railroad construction was finished, some of these buildings were left here and that is where Harold Moen apparently found these skis 20 years later (in 1936).

Potter Creek temporary railroad camp, November 9, 1916.  Reference link. Potter Creek temporary railroad camp, July 1, 1917.  Reference link. Baseball game at Potter Creek, July 1, 1917.  Reference link.  Note: baseball diamond was on west side of the railroad.  Seems like the tidal flats in this area are now too wet for this activity.  Probably because this area sank a few feet during the 1964 earthquake.
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