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Tim's Blog About Skiing Stuff

Late March 2018: Out Skiing, Passed A Honda Civic

It's freight hauling season in the Susitna Valley.  This time of year when you are out skiing or snowmobiling you see all sorts of stuff being towed behind snowmobiles.  Recently I came across this Honda Civic which was being dragged from Point Mackenzie to the Beluga Road system, a distances of about 40 miles.  It had been left on a channel that goes through Bell Island when the folks hauling it encountered snow that was too wet and sticky.  The guys moving this car know what they are doing.  Best to come back for it when the temps drop and the trail gets firm and fast.

An interesting (to me at least) fact.  The plastic that this car is being skidded on is worth about as much as the car itself.  3/4 inch UHMW (Ultra High Molecular Weight) plastic is very, very pricy (at least it is if you buy it in Alaska).

Late March 2018: Now That's Some Tasty Willow!  Said the Moose.

I've noticed this for years, but finally got around to taking a picture of it.  In the picture above there is a growth of mature willow to the left, and new willow to the right.  Note that moose have ravaged the new shoots that grow off the old-growth willow.  But they have not touched the new-growth willow on the right.  Why?  Maybe because new shoots off old willows taste better than willow in other stages of growth.  Just guessing.  If I had the same taste buds a moose has I could answer this question.  But that's not the case ... all willow tastes the same to me!

Mid March 2018: Repurposing One-Upmanship

I like to take unused stuff and repurpose it.  For instance, I've used old dog packs as snowmobile saddle bags and recently I made a sled hitch snow-deflector out of the front panel of the furnace we replaced in our house (see below pictures).  But damn ... did I ever get one-upped in repurposing recently.  A cabin neighbor showed me a MacBag he was using as a snowmobile tunnel bag.  This bag was originally designed to haul the revolutionary original Apple Macintosh computers back in the mid 1980s.  Fits nice on a snowmobile tunnel.  And detaches and carries well.  Wow, that really ups the bar.  Not sure how I'm going to top that!

Dog pack becomes snowmobile saddle bag. Front panel of furnace becomes sled hitch snow deflector. Original Mackintosh computer "MacBag" being used as snowmobile tunnel bag.  Wow!
Mid March 2018: Photos From Our Ski Trail Game Camera

A few photos from a game camera along a ski trail we have near our cabin ...

  Trail groomer   Young bulls sparring
Coyote Moose lips and dewlap Skiing backwards on the trail.  But no one yells at you if it is your trail. Coyote
  Soon our game cameras will capture images of those that are sleeping now.  
Early March 2018: A Ski App For The Morning, A 'But App For The Afternoon

A perfect summer day in Alaska can be skiing Prince William Sound corn snow in the morning, and then catching a halibut in the afternoon.  Now I have developed phone apps to assist in both parts of of such a perfect day.

Last year I developed an iPhone app called AvyPal, which helps you steer clear of avalanche-prone slopes.  Recently I developed an app for calculating the weight of halibut - IsMy'ButBig.   Both sides of the perfect day are now covered by handy apps developed by a skier.

IsMy'ButBig?   When skiing, I hope my butt is not big.  But when fishing, I hope I sometimes do have a big 'but !!

AM app

PM app

For more info on IsMy'ButBig, the halibut sizing and photo app:    IsMy'ButBig website     IsMy'ButBig in Apple App Store
Mid February 2018: Delay of the Grass-Masher Storms

It seems like back in the 80's and 90's that winter would start out somewhat predictably.  A late October storm would bring a foot or two of heavy wet snow.  This snow would mash down grass, weeds and alders.  With this vegetation covered, lots of terrain would open up for winter travel.

This winter start-up scenario has definitely not been the case recently.  The grass that was usually mashed down by snow in late October or early November often remains standing until mid-February.  The light snowfall that we receive does not flatten the grasses, much less cover alders or big weeds like cow's parsnip.  As a result, backcountry travel through this uncovered vegetation is slow, and not a whole lot of fun.

February 10th.  Grasses still not mashed down by snowfall. February 24th.  Grasses finally covered by snow.
In summer alpine skiers can grass ski at certain ski areas.  In winter Nordic skiers can grass ski in Alaska until mid February.
Late January 2018: Disgusting

The Chester Creek/ Campbell Creek connector bike trail goes by the Alaska Native Medical Center.  This section of trail is part of the Tour of Anchorage Trail, and it is groomed for skiing in the winter.

Apparently there is a rule against smoking on the Alaska Native Medical Center campus.  So what do smokers do?  They walk off medical center property and smoke on the adjacent bike (and ski) trail.  This has been going on for a long time.  It's disgusting.  And it's ironic.  It's disgusting because people that are trying to improve their health by exercising on the bike trail don't need to pass through a gauntlet of people trying to ruin their health by smoking.  And it's ironic because this bike trail borders APU property, home of a much feted cross country ski racing team.  The irony is that if you ski on APU-area trails you have to deal with breathing second hand cigarette and marijuana smoke.  Not what you expect for the home of world class skiers.

So if I am griping about this, do I have a constructive suggestion.  Yes I do.  If the government can spend 100's of millions of dollars of public money on a Native Medical Center, then they can find money for on-campus smoking rooms.  And in the rooms they should have video monitors continuously showing interviews with smokers that are dying from lung cancer.  Have anti-smoking posers on the walls.  And maybe a jar or two of pickled, cancer-ridden lungs from people that died from smoking-induced lung disease.  Make Natives realize that their smoking habit will kill them.  And keep these people off the bike trail so they aren't imposing their disgusting addiction on Alaskans that are trying to be healthy.

And welcome to our smokers' lounge on the neighboring public bike and ski trail. Welcome to the <cough>Tour of <cough><cough> Anchorage <cough> ski trail. Classic ski tracks are for smoke breaks and throwing cigarette butts into.  Right?
Mid January 2018: Ski Bowl

A fun thing I like to do is go for skis through wooded areas near our cabin.  Especially areas I've never been to before.  You never know what you are going to find.  While skiing, I keep my eye out for the perfect burl.  Haven't found it yet.  But recently I finished a bowl from a nice birch burl that I found while skiing the hinterlands.  See pictures below.  Note: If you want to learn how to make carved birch bowls, Tom Corr of Soldotna often gives a free hour-long bowl making clinic at the Alaska Sportsmen's Show in Anchorage each spring.  I learned a lot of good stuff from Tom about making burl bowls and doing it safely.  Grinders with cutting wheels are involved, so safety is very important.

Finished product. Cool "waves" on this burl. Finished with beeswax (so it's food safe). Lots of sawdust.  So I take it outside.
Early January 2018: SkateCoach App Now For Sale In Apple App Store

The app I developed for analyzing cross country skating technique, SkateCoach, is now available in the Apple App Store.  Link - here.

Extensive information on the SkateCoach app can be found here.

Example SkateCoach phone app screen captures ...

SkateCoach in the Apple App Store

SkateCoach web page
Late December 2017: Better Late Than Never.  And Witnessing Unforeseen Change.

Cold temperatures and a little snow finally arrived near Anchorage.  The further north or west you go from Anchorage, the more snow there is.  But as the above photo shows, there is still a lot of open water that has not frozen up yet.  In the above photo you can see condensation, where the relatively warm (mid to low 30's degree F) open water of the Big Susitna River meets air that is 5 below zero F.  This mist sends a clear message: "Stay on the trail and don't come near me!"  Creeks and streams in the Susitna River are still running with open spots abundant.  So time to be careful and let cold temps make travel safer.

When I was younger I would read about Alaskan communities that are no longer.  Names of these places are still on maps of Alaska, but now no one lives there full-time, or at all these days.  People left these settlements because of falling gold, mineral, timber or fur prices.  Or because technology made salteries and remote fish processing plants uneconomical.  Or because railroads and roads made port settlements unnecessary.  Or because the military left after WWII or the Cold War.

I always found this Alaskan history of human outposts interesting.  But I never thought I would witness the demise and exodus of such a community.  But, to a certain extent ... I have now witnessed this.

In the 90's, Alexander Creek was a bubbling community.  Several lodges created jobs for people.  Old-timers were homesteading there still.  40 or so people lived year-round in the area.

But then salmon fishing was shut down due to pike infestation.  The lodges, that profited from sports fishermen support, went belly up and are now rotting away from neglect.  People that worked at the lodges left.  The old-timers have mostly died off or left.  Remote living off the grid is no longer hip or economically feasible with younger Alaskans.  And older property owners often do the snowbird thing and are gone a lot of the year.

So a community that was vibrant year-round in the 90's, now has no full-time residents.

I was remembering the buzz of activity 25 years ago at Alexander Creek, as I recently traveled on snowmobile out there with 3 part-time residents of the area.  They said we were the only people out there.  They would know.  When we got to a trail junction in the woods near Alexander Creek we stopped, said goodbye and went our separate ways to our cabins.

A different world now.  No lights.  No sounds.  No trails.  No other people.  Gotta say, I like it out there way better now than in the 90's.  But I never imagined this place would go backwards in time.  25 years ago I never imagined I'd witness a community come to an end.  And become yet another name of a place on the map of Alaska where no one lives full-time.


Update, Late December:  "No!  A cross country skier welded up a snowmobile freight sled!?  Pfffftt!  I don't believe that!"  Well, believe it!  I tested out the Susitna Valley style freight hauling sled I recently welded up in my garage (see post below).  I did a 25 mile trip with 900 lbs of 16 foot 2x8s to test it out.  Worked great and was easy to pull.  It was fun making this, and I am glad the first trip didn't end up with a pile of metal wreckage out in the middle of nowhere!

This is a skiing picture.  Really?  Yep.  Note ski bag attached to snowmobile.  ;-)  

Update, Late February:  More proof that xc skiers can weld.  Yes, it's true ...




1500 lbs ... no problem.


Late December 2017: Another Skier Gone

Some surprising news from Christmas Day.  Former UAA xc ski racer Dan Fleener takes his life during a confrontation with the Anchorage Police Department SWAT team.  Tragic.  Here's the story.

I knew Dan and was friends with him back in his UAA ski racing days.  I was 10 years older than Dan and had some epic ski racing battles with him.  Dan worked at a sports store named Gary Kings in the 80's and got sponsored through them by Kastle skis.  Back then I won the first Tour of Anchorage.  But Dan showed up with his Kastles for the 2nd Tour of Anchorage.  We put the hurt on each other and Dan did me in.  Dan won and I was 2nd.

I remember doing long roller ski workouts with Dan on the just-built Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.  Super-nice roller skiing on perfect pavement.  I remember Dan had some roller skiing rules: Never roller ski before July 4th (run instead).  And never double pole on the Coastal Trail bridges (roller ski ferrule tips would get stuck in the wood and rip out).  I still think of and follow that rule of Dan's.  I also did a lot of early season skiing above Glenn Alps on the north side of Flattop with Dan.  Back before GCI graded the Powerline Pass trail (to run fiber optic cable) and made it smoother, we had a secret early season ski track up on old jeep tracks in the tundra.

Dan worked as a delivery truck driver over the years.  I remember several times walking sidewalks of downtown Anchorage and a passing truck driver would bellow at me: "Hey Tim Kelley!".  I'd look up and see Dan Fleener with a big grin on his face.  A character, he would always make me chuckle.

I don't know the story of what got Dan to where it all ended.  And I don't need to know.  My memories of Dan are all good ones.

UAA Nordic ski team, ~1988.  Dan is the tall guy in back row.  Photo from Facebook.
Mid December 2017: How's That "Cooler Than Normal", La Nina Winter Going For Ya?

On September 19, 2017 it was reported in the Anchorage Daily News that the National Weather Service was predicting this winter to be a "cooler than normal" Alaskan winter, thanks to a La Nina event.  Well, it's mid-December ... and folks in Anchorage are definitely not feeling that La Nina love the NWS predicted.  La Nina!  Where are you!?  La Nina! ...

Tour of Anchorage Trail, Mid December 2017
Mid December 2017: More Sad News.  Mendeltna Creek Lodge Burns Down.

On December 10th the historic Mendeltna Creek Lodge, at mile 153 on the Glenn Highway, burned down.  This is very sad news.  Owners Mabel and Russ Wimmer are super nice people.  I've stayed at their place a number of times and have gotten to know them.  Tragically their pets perished in this fire.  Lost in the fire were their two huge English mastiffs and a hairless cat.  These dogs and their cat were friendly and fun to be around.

Mabel and Russ did something that is rare for roadside lodges these days.  They maintained a nice cross country ski trail system.  Many times Mabel and Russ have hosted skiers, snow bikers, ski-jorers, mushers and winter adventurers.  Their lodge was often a checkpoint for the Copper Basin 300 sled dog race.  I don't know what is next for Mabel and Russ, but I wish them the very best.

  Kelly Allain photo, 12/10/2017  
Early December 2017: Ski Trails Covered With Ice.  What To Do?

Skiing was good.  Now the trails are covered with ice.  What to do?  Let's see.  Do the gerbil loop thing at Kincaid?  Put the IceBugs on and run?  Mountain bike with Nokian studded tires?  Or hmmm, maybe go down to Maui and back with Alaska Airlines' best ... an all-female flight crew from Anchorage that includes my wife and sister-in-law?  Let me think about that.  OK ... that was an easy decision.  Hello Maui!

So, if you need a break from another late-starting, warm and rainy Alaskan winter, Alaska Airlines can take you someplace good where you can press the reset button.  And who knows, maybe you will get lucky like me and get a chance to fly with Alaska Airlines' all-woman A-Team flight crew.

Alaska Airlines' best (by far!) flight crew, an all-woman crew from Anchorage, was nice enough let me pose in a picture with them.
The woman behind me in the captain's hat is seen in a lot of pictures on this web site.


Upper body and core workout.  No icy trails. 60 y/o Alaskan dude.  First time on a water slide.
Early December 2017: Coming Soon.  A Ski Technique Coach In Your Phone.  SkateCoach.

I recently developed an iPhone app for cross country skiers.  I'm currently doing final testing on the app and should have it in the Apple App store by mid-January.

The app is called SkateCoach.  And it helps you improve your skate technique on skis.

Pretty much ever since skiing was invented, technique analysis has mostly been subjective.  "Get your hips more forward."  "Glide more."  "Keep your hands closer to your body."   Common coaching phrases.  But there is nothing objective about this.  There is no quantitative feedback as to whether technique changes make you faster or slower or by how much.  The idea is if you look like you are skiing a certain way, you might be skiing faster.  Maybe.  Who knows.

I figured that with available technology, it was time to try and get better at cross country skiing technique analysis.  So I put a ski coach, who was good at physics and statistics, into a smartphone.

To use SkateCoach (more info below) you run the app and then put the phone in a belt clip or stick it in your jacket with the bottom wedged under your drink belt strap.  The phone is close your your body's center of gravity.  And it is at the "quietest" part of your body.  Arms and legs are flailing when you skate, but your abdomen is relatively stable, and body core's forward movement is the result of what you do with your arms and legs.  As you skate, the phone measures the the motions that your center of gravity makes.  And from that data you can determine metrics, like: is your weight shift symmetrical between sides, is your weight shift angle the same on each side, is your acceleration and glide balanced and is there any deviation in your velocity as you skate (are you gliding too long).

Here are a few screen shots, in the order you might use the app when you first get it.  I'll post here when the app is for sale in the Apple App store.  Will there be an Android version of SkateCoach?  Maybe.  I like to do apps as iPhone apps first.  Then if the iPhone app gains traction I will create an Android version of it.

First choose your technique quality level.  Each level is associated with a percentage that is your target.  For example, at expert level you are trying to get your weight shift to be within a 5% tolerance on each side.  That is a 95% quality level.

When you start the app in recording mode, you enter a countdown and a sample time.  The countdown is the time it takes to put your phone in your jacket (or holder) and start skiing.  The sample time is the length of time your skiing is measured by SkateCoach. When SkateCoach is done collecting data on your skate skiing motions, it shows you your score.  I didn't quite hit the expert target level of 95%.  I got a 94.8, and 4.5 stars, and it looks like I should focus on my weight shift and ski angle symmetry and keeping my speed per skate more consistent. SkateCoach allows you to go back and view your skate motions.  Green indicates small intervals where you were accelerating.  Red where you were decelerating.  You can scroll back and look at your individual skate motions to see if any of them look out of whack.
And finally, if you want to submerge yourself in data ... the report screen, shown above as a stitched-together image, allows you to scroll through many lines of detailed data about your skate technique.  All of this data is explained on the app's help page.
You can use SkateCoach by putting your phone in your jacket and held in place by your drink belt. Or you can get a belt clip phone holster to hold your phone ... and clip it to your drink belt. Of importance ... is having the phone firmly attached so it doesn't wobble.   If it wobbles it will be less accurate. You can get belt clip phone holsters cheap on ebay.  I got mine for $5 with free shipping (from China).


Late November 2017: A Skiers' Skier Is Lost
Randy Bergt (Erik Hill / ADN archive 2009)

If you’ve lived in Alaska for a long time, the list of friends and people you know that have died in Alaska is long.  Just ask my Alaska-born, 91-year-old aviator father-in-law.  His list is many pages long.

My list is much, much shorter than my father-in-law’s, but still … it seems too long.  And now, sadly, fellow skier Randy Bergt is on the list.

Randy Bergt was a skiers’ skier.  He easily moved between the worlds of backcountry, alpine and Nordic skiing.  Most people chose one or the other skiing discipline.  Not Randy, he skied them all.  And he skied them all well.

I knew Randy, who was my same age, for a long time.  My wife was in the same class at Dimond High School with Randy in the 70s.  I met Randy through my wife in the 80’s and had been friends with him ever since.  Mostly our paths would cross on the Nordic ski trails in Anchorage.  And when we saw each other we would always have conversations about skiing issues.

The conversations with Randy are what I’ll miss the most about him.  Talking to him made you quickly realize that he was a very smart, yet humble, person.  Randy had strong opinions about things.  But his opinions were based on critical thinking.  It was always a breath of fresh air to hear rational and well-thought out logic from a skier like Randy (as opposed to the nonsense babble some skiers feed the media these days).  There is good and bad to everything.  It’s never simply black or white.  Randy knew this.  Randy was wise.

About Randy being humble: An incident I remember occurred during the 2003 Masters XC Nationals in Anchorage.  Randy was in my age group.  I won our age group and Randy finished 3rd, just a couple of seconds behind Audun Endestadt.  At the finish Randy said to me: “I can’t believe I was just behind Audun!  It’s Audun!  I don’t deserve to be skiing anywhere near Audun!”  I smiled and said: “No Randy, if you are skiing as fast as someone, then you paid your dues … and you deserve it.  Good race!”  Humble indeed.

When I would run into Randy he would always give me compliments and encouragement about the web projects I do, namely this backcountry cross country skiing web site and the Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project.  Though complimentary feedback is not the reason I do these web sites (public service and preserving skiing history is the reason for ALSAP, and a remote trail skiing obsession is the reason for this web site) ... it showed that Randy was a genuinely nice person.

When Randy and I were young we apparently both made the same vow.  We vowed that we would be skiers for life.  Real skiers.  Not skiers until something cooler came along, like snowboards or fat bikes.  Or until skiing got inconvenient because of jobs and family.  We’d be hard-hitting skiers for as long as we possibly could be in life.

Randy lived his skiing vow to the end.  Randy was a real skier.  Randy was a skiers’ skier.


Mid November 2017: Getting A "Firm Grip" On Retail Reality

I was walking down an aisle at Home Depot and saw something that made me laugh.  Chinese "Firm Grip" ski gloves for $3.30 (yes, three dollars and thirty cents a pair).  Wow! ... How low can Sino-glove prices go!?  Crazy.

So I bought a pair of Home Depot's Firm Grip gloves and have been skiing in them for a while.  They seem like they fit the bill for the 5F to 20F range in terms of warmth.  And they are not bulky, so you get good pole control with them.  I like my Firm Grips!

These gloves show well the economics of branding.  In reality there is little difference between these gloves and Swix and Salomon product, besides the label.  Likely these gloves are made in the same or similar Chinese factories, using the same materials that come from the same Chinese fabric mills, using the same machines and using workers getting paid the same.   Yet the unknown Firm-Grip brand retails for $3.30.  But with a Swix or Salomon branding, this same glove would go for 10 to 15 times as much.

So why am I not a cool kid that uses hip brand name gear?  Maybe because I have a firm grip on retail reality.  And I don't like to get ripped off.  Plus, any ski glove these days is going to wear out faster than they used to.  So that's no big deal if the cost to replace your ski gloves is less than the cost of 2 Snickers bars.

Firm Grip ski gloves from Home Depot.  $3.30 a pair (not a typo ... three dollars and thirty cents a pair).


Mid November 2017: Why I Don't Want To Go First

A survival rule of mine is to never be the first to travel on Susitna Valley trails at the start of a new season.  Let others have the glory ... and the risk.  This recent Facebook post regarding Big Lake shows that Su Valley lakes are not ready for travel yet.  If the lakes are not ready for safe travel, then the moving water of rivers and streams will certainly not be ready yet.  I'll stick to trails in Anchorage and give the hinterlands more time to freeze up.



Early November 2017: Making My Own Skis

Lately I've been making my own skis.  XC skis?  No.  Alpine skis?  Nope.  I've been making skis that will go on a Susitna Valley freight sled.  A what?  It's the kind of sled that freight haulers pull behind snowmobiles to haul heavy loads on the trails of the Susitna Valley.  I'll put a picture here of mine when it is done.  I wanted to get better at welding.  So I tackled this big(ish) welding project to up my welding game.  Am I better at welding now?  We'll see this winter.  If I find myself with 2000 lbs of building supplies on a failed and collapsed sled a long ways from where I want to be ... then the answer will be no.  If it works without failure, then maybe I can claim to be a better welder.

What does this have to do with skiing?  I've seen these freight sleds a lot while skiing in the Susitna Valley.  It's amazing how much weight this design of sled can haul.  The unique feature of these sleds are the floating rear anchors on the UHMW plastic skis.  When the plastic flexes, the anchor on the back of the ski moves.  This gives the sled a silky ride over bumps.  I figured I could put a sled like this to a lot of use.  Folks that make them for sale want around $3500 for them.  The materials cost 25% of that (but there is a LOT of labor to making them).  I like doing new and different projects.  So I figured I'd build one.  Has been fun so far.

Perhaps the most defining feature of a Susitna Valley freight sled - the floating anchor arm bracket on the back of each ski.  Makes for a smooth ride.


Update, mid-December:  Finished the freight sled.  Wow, lots of work.  And think I'm now a better welder.   Over 150 parts that had to be cut, ground, jigs made, clamped and welded.  Plus all the running around to get materials.  Fun project.  But kinda glad the project is finally over!

Finished freight sled. This shows the metal I welded together, before the deck was placed on the sled. Welding projects mean lots of quality time with a cutting wheel, chopping metal into the shapes you need.


Early November 2017: Propane Torch Troubleshooting Tip

Winter is about here and if you are like me, you will be using a propane torch a lot then next 5 or 6 months.  Whether it's starting wood stoves, thawing out locks or softening klister ... propane torches with trigger starts are super handy.  Just click it and it's flame on!

But the first time I tried to use my trigger start propane torch this year ... it wouldn't light.  As usual, I ran to Google for guidance.  Soon I found a YouTube video with answer to my problem.  The fix was simple.  Just screw off the nozzle and push the little wire up next to the metal tubing.  An arc can be seen if the wire is near the metal tubing.  Too far away ... no arc and no lighting of the propane.  So if your torch won't start, don't get frustrated and go buy a new trigger start.  Try this easy fix first.

Annoyed that you can't get your propane torch started?  Try removing the nozzle and pushing the little blue wire closer to the wall of the metal tubing.


Mid October 2017: Shouldn't Every XC Ski Area Have One Of These?

While biking in Moab, UT recently, I came upon a simple and entertaining trail feature.  Two banked pits that make a figure 8.  Soon I found myself zipping around one of the circles and then popping in and out of the other circle.  It was fun, and addictive.

After about 40 or so circles, I realized ... this was genius.  Such a simple and cheap to make, yet fun and safe, terrain feature.  Then it dawned on me - why don't xc ski areas make similar terrain features?

Yeah, some xc ski areas have terrain parks.  But they are a lot of work to make and maintain.  And they only appeal to a narrow spectrum of skiers.  These banked bowls would appeal to all.  From toddler beginners to elite racers to 60 year old plusers (like me).  And they could be used all year.  Summer by bike and foot, winter by ski and bike (and perhaps ice skates/Nordic blades after meltdowns).

Such "ski pits" would add an element of fun and skill building to any cross country skiing venue.

Note: These pits are easier to build in the desert.  In wetter places, like Anchorage, you would need a sump with a culvert drain.


Early October 2017: Utah's Lone "Glacier"

During a recent hike up Mt. Timpanogos, I passed by Utah's only "glacier".  Some folks say it is a glacier, some say it's not.  Apparently it is a rock glacier (rocks embedded in ice) that is not advancing.  So to some, that makes it a glacier.  But to others, it is not a glacier.  Here is a good history of the Timpanogos Glacier.  Ski races were once held on this glacier/snowfield.  When I was there I saw ski tracks on the snowfield next to the rock glacier, so this is likely a spot that the TAY "Turns All Year" skiers hit.

Seeing the Timp Glacier made me wonder: how many states in the US have glaciers?  Mr. Google provided the answer.  If you include the Timp Glacier, it is 10 (reference).  By order of largest to smallest area of glaciation, the states are: Alaska, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, California, Oregon,  Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.  Nevada also only has one glacier, a rock glacier on the north side of Wheeler Peak.

The Timpanogos Glacier Looking down from the summit of Mt. Timpanogos at the glacier


Late September 2017: Rocks Trigger Memories Of Lost Skiers From A Different World

Recently I was getting some exercise and doing a loop that went over Max's Mountain in Girdwood.  On top of Max's I noticed four smooth river rocks that were out of place on top of this Chugach summit.  I figured someone must have carried them up to this point.  And likely they did it for training.

Seeing these rocks brought back memories from the early 1970's.  I was at a regional junior cross country ski racer dryland camp at the late Mike Gallagher's home in Plymouth, VT.  During the camp we did a speed hike with poles workout up the nearby Killington ski area.  On top Mike pointed out two big piles of rocks.  A few years before, he and Ned Gillette, also now deceased, were training together.  These guys were the best male xc ski racers in the country at the time.  And they had a contest to see who could build the biggest pile of rocks on top of Killington.  Lots and lots of trips up Killington by these two and they raced each other while humping packs filled with rocks.  Not sure who won, but the rock piles were impressive.

Definitely a different world for xc ski racer training back then.  No Polar heart rate monitors, no VO2 testing, no meticulous training plans, no flying to glaciers or New Zealand for skiing on set tracks, no Internet or iPhones or Facebook for keeping tabs on your competition.  Just a canvas pack and a bunch of rocks.  Not saying modern stuff isn't good.  Just saying that the world of the elite Nordic skier has changed in the last 45 years.  Massively.

I also remembered another Vermont skier-related story Ned once told me about the time he and Mike were training together.  This story tells how much social attitudes towards those that exercise have changed over the decades.

Here's the story: Mike and Ned are out on a training run on roads near Rutland, Vermont.  Like every skier in those days, they are wearing cotton t-shirts, nylon running shorts and running shoes.  So they are running along and this pickup truck comes whizzing by them, the driver slams on the brakes, jumps out of the truck and yells at them.  "Hey, what do you 'faggots' think you are doing!"  His fists are clenched as he walks towards them.  He's ready to pummel some skinny xc skiers for doing something un-manly and offensive - running.  In his world the only acceptable place to run is around a football field while wearing pads, for only a few months during one's life.

Shouting ensues between Mike and the redneck thug.  Shoving and punches.  Mike gets knocked down into the ditch ... where he notices a beer bottle.  Mike grabs the bottle, smashes the end off on a rock, gets up, starts screaming and races towards the assailant waving the broken bottle.  But too late, the good ole boy gets in his truck, sprays gravel and races away.

I wonder when the last time something this happened to the top xc skiers in the US?  And especially in the once-redneck-now-ultra-PC-liberal-socialist state of Vermont?  It's probably been a very long time.  And understandably.  Exercise, like running and biking, is now an accepted activity in our society.  But it wasn't always that way.

Four smooth rocks on top of a mountain.  Just rocks to some people.  45 year-old memories to another.


Mid September 2017: Plans To Resurrect The Historic Herning Trail in the Mat-Su Valley

Around 120 years ago there was a dog sled trail from Knik to the Lucky Shot Mine area in the Talkeetna Mountains.  Mining supplies were hauled over this trail by freighting dog teams.  This historic trail is known as the Herning Trail.  A part of the Herning Trail, also called the Willow Creek Sled Trail, currently exists between Houston and the Hatcher Pass Road west of Willow.  I have skied this section of the Herning Trail a bunch of times.  It's a great multi-use trail.

Presently the Mat-Su Borough is trying to recreate the southern sections of the historical Herning Trail.  The idea, I assume, is to preserve this historical trail while they can, before rapidly expanding real estate development prohibits a contiguous trail from being possible.  And to restore the entire length of the historical Herning Trail.

The map below shows what the plans are so far.  The red line is the original Herning Trail route.  Much of the old  trail route is now on private property, so the MSB is trying to recreate the trail on section line easements (the green line).  And at present, the plans are to only bring the trail to the Parks Highway.  Not plans yet, that I know of, to comment the Parks Highway to the existing Herning Trail.

As a skier that spends a lot of time skiing trails in the Mat-Su, I'm all for new trails.  But with this one, I have mixed feelings. 

Pro: Trails are good.  I hope this happens. 

Con: The MSB spent $164 million (of mostly state money) not long ago on a now unused rail road bed, the Port Mac Rail Extension, that will likely never be used (a.k.a. the Railroad to Nowhere, that goes past the West Gateway Road to Nowhere and the Point Mackenzie Dairy Farms to Nowhere and on to the Port to Nowhere that the Bridge to Nowhere never reached and where the Ferry to Nowhere never operated ... all of these failed "Nowhere"-projects the MSB had their hand in.)

If following the original route is not part of the plan, then why not use this nearby unused rail route?  Turn the rail bed into a multi-use trail and you nearly have your Herning Trail reroute.  Trails already go west from Knik to the rail route.  All that is needed is some trail link-ups through Houston.   And then the Herning Trail resurrection would be complete.  And the cost would be minimal.  But of course, for the MSB to do this they would be admitting error, waste and economic fantasy with regards to the Port Mac Rail Extension boondoggle.  So ... that won't be happening anytime soon.

  MSB: Herning Trail Reroute map  


Early September 2017: Surprising (To Me At Least), And Cool (To More Than Just Me)

In May 2016, the historic Forks Roadhouse in Petersville burned down.  This was a sad event.  Too many historic Alaskan dwellings have met demise by fire.  The Forks Roadhouse dated back to the gold rush era over 100 years ago.  In the winter the Forks Roadhouse was only accessible by trail, and it was a popular stop for snowmobilers, local cabin owners and even a cross country skier or two.

Recently I was surprised to learn that the Forks Roadhouse is being rebuilt.  There's even a Forks Roadhouse Facebook page with a few posts of the progress.  The goal is to have it open this winter.  Yeah, it won't be the real-deal.  But remote, trail-only access roadhouses and lodges are a very cool part of Alaska.  So it's good to see the spirit of the Forks Roadhouse has risen from the ashes and lives on.

Forks Roadhouse in 2011 Forks Roadhouse guard dog in 2011 New Forks Roadhouse in 2016, photo: Michelle Poole


Late August 2017: Biathlete Kidnapper, And Murderer, Out of Prison On Parole

Don Nichols in 2012, photo credit: Boseman Daily Chronicle


In 1984 a young woman biathlete named Kari Swenson was out on a training run in Montana when she was kidnapped by a self-described "mountain man" named Don Nichols.  Why?  It later came out that Nichols figured Kari would make a good bride for his son Don.  This horrific incident ended with a would-be rescuer getting shot to death by Nichols, Kari getting shot by Don's son Dan and both Don and Dan Nichols being sent to prison.  Don got a sentence of 85 - 115 years (accounts on the Internet of the sentence length differ).   Son Dan, who took part in these crimes, was sentenced to 20 years.

Don Nichols came up for parole in 2012.  But after calling members of the parole board "cowards and fascists", his parole request was quickly denied.  Apparently 25 years in prison did not instill any remorse on sociopath Don Nichols.

Surprisingly, a few days ago, on August 23, 2017, Don Nichols was granted parole and released from prison, and he is now living in Deer Lodge, Montana.  He was sentenced to what was essentially life in prison, but ended up only spending around 32 years incarcerated.  Why the flip-flop by the Montana parole board?  I haven't a clue.

So what does this blog post have to do with Alaskan skiing?  Well, bad stuff similar to this once happened to a cross country ski racer in Alaska.  About the same time the Kari Swenson incident occurred there was an aggravated sexual assault of a woman on the UAA ski team who was out training on roller skis.  This heinous event is probably unknown to younger generations of Alaskan skiers.  And it is a dark and fading memory to many older Alaskan skiers.

Bad people don't just live in the mountains of Montana.  They are sprinkled around the world, everywhere.  And sometimes it seems like Alaska gets a double dose of sprinkles, if you know what I mean.

Bottom line: Skiers need to watch over each other while training.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Don't train alone on roads or urban trails.


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