Recently in Skiing Category

So yeah, as a midwest skier- you always hear about "out west". Like it's some magical place where the skiing is always awesome and the microbrews always potent.

"I'm going out west next week!", somebody would say. 

And we'd all nod in solemn agreement as if this lucky individual got himself a free pass to Valhalla minus that pesky funeral pyre rite of passage. 

So of course I had to go too and see this nirvana for myself.  

Now, I could slide real easy into hardcore dirtbag rant about how expensive and commericial and developed everything is out there and how I get three season ski passes here for what 4 days of skiing costs there and how the skiing there is just too easy and totally handed to you on a silver platter.  Man.

But I won't. 

Because I totally drank of the ice cold schooner of PBR at the Alta-Peruvian Bar, partook in the gourmet meals, bought $20 hamburger lunches, drank the finest Utah microbrews, and rested my head on the pillow of my tastefully appointed slope side room.

It truly is a wondrous paradise.  

More pics here.

But alas, there's only so long a diehard midwest skier can stomach the idea of $20 hamburger lunches and $5 beers before he decides he's had enough of that shit and bails.  Also, four days of teleskiing is murder on your quads.  

Don't know if I'll ever make a trip back out there just to ski at a resort again. With all the great skiing I have in the UP- it's a tough sell.  But I'm definitely going back out there for some backcountry. All kinds of sweet lines everywhere you look for as far as the eye can see. For somebody who skis all day just to find a hill with more than 200' of vertical that doesn't need trimming, it very much is the promised land.

Easily one my top 10 days ever.

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Just finished what is easily in the running for my best day of skiing ever. 

I've literally been planning this thing for years. We lucked out in that an access road is plowed this winter, cutting several miles off the trip. It was possible to complete this in about 9 hours instead of requiring an overnight.

And it was even better than I expected, despite spring-like conditions. 

What? No, Utah is next week. 

And as much as that costs it better be completely mindblowing when I've got this in my backyard:

Oh yeah, we also had another fatbike race on Saturday.  This one was on some trails I'm very familiar with at MTU. That, combined with the big ring on my Pugs (something a lot of fatbikes don't have) let me beat quite a few people who normally finish far ahead of me.  Sadly though, this was just an all out hammerfest, completely redlined the entire duration of the race, which kind of gets away from what I like about fatbiking.  But the organizers agree that throwing in some singletrack next year sounds like a good idea, so this race has some potential.  

Making sense of the essential futility of life.

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First fatbike race, coming up this weekend!

And that's pretty much how I feel about. 

The concept of a contest of speed without irony on a fatbike is, well, rather comical.  But they sure are fun to ride in groups and it beats sitting inside. So that's why I do it. 

But it does not beat good skiing though.  Introduced a few friends to the secret Twin Lakes stash. They made it look easy.  

But I think I crossed some kind of skiing threshold this weekend.  This whole "season" I've been amped up like some kind of crack addict looking for a fix.

Dawn Patrol!
Scrape every last inch of powder off the local hill!
Backcountry tours!
XC skiing like it's a methadone hit!
Ski 'til you DIE!

Saturday night, I barely had the energy left to drink a beer before hitting the sack at 9pm. And then getting up and skiing all day Sunday.

Well, the monkey has apparently been fed.

4-8" of heavy fresh snow last night and I went home and shoveled my roof like a motherfucking adult (well, OK- I forgot my kneepads).

Another 4-8" of lighter powder overnight and I wasn't racing out the door at 5am to dodge trees in the dark.

I raced out the door at 6am instead to get to work early so I can leave early (lifts don't start until 3pm anyway...).

Progress, not perfection.

Tele 'til yer smelly!

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So last weekend, after avalanche training we went out to check out our secret backcountry stash.

Turned out to be in pretty good shape with several inches of fluff on top of a very solid base. 

Hills were climbed.

Turns were had.

Refreshments were served.

One of the nice things about the aforementioned secret backcountry stash is it's proximity to the Parkview Inn in Twin Lakes. So we stopped off just in case the previous refreshments didn't take. 

So we're hanging out, doing the bar thing, talking about how awesome it would be to have one's own personal Tucker Sno Cat. Some waitress looks over at us, and immediately starts heading our direction, talking about how boring the day has been and she should maybe just sit at the bar and have a beer.  She gets within a couple feet of us, ready to saddle up at the bar and then just turns around and leaves.   Tele 'til yer smelly. 

At least the bartender said we were "civilized".   

Area Skier

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*)How many G.N.A.R. points do I get for this, anyway? I hope enough to cover my awesome yard sale moments after that first picture.

BDB Training Guide

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Hi kids.  It's that rough time of the year- daylight is running short and the weather is turning colder, but it's still not quite ski season yet.  That doesn't mean we can't stay in top, competitive form though.  Perhaps these helpful videos will help see you through the holidays. 

Dude! Where ya been?!

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Holy crap. It's November already. 

Wasn't it like, August just yesterday?

Well, anyway- Cyclocross has been a little depressing this year. I made the jump to A class, but I'm just getting the royal, double footed, no handed ass kicking treatment. Which is exactly what I hoped for, but it's spread all us former B class guys out all over the field and the actual racing hasn't been as much fun.   I tried going back to B for one race but after getting dangerously close to landing on the podium, it felt a little too much like sandbagging.  In theory, it's probably where I belong as I had a great fight with 4-5 guys and didn't give an inch. But then again, my current predicament in A is exactly where I was in B a few years ago.  No reason to sit still in B when I can try and get a little better in A.  But damn, I do miss those epic battles... 

The gravel road racing season also ended on a somewhat mediocre note.  I felt we had a good showing at the Gentlemen's Ride and the event went great despite the epic flooding in the area that weekend.  However, the next weekend at Heck of the North just didn't go so well for me.  I just had one of those bad days on the bike.   The speed wasn't there most of the time and when it did come, I was often out by myself or making a wrong turn or whatever.  Thankfully, it proved to be an good weekend in Duluth in all other regards. The course is great, the fall colors were awesome, and my fellow competitors proved to be the usual excellent crop of folks that enter these things. 

Somewhere in there were a few mountain bike races, a couple epic tours, and the usual commuting, training, and trail rides.  Some good stories, but unfortunately- a lot of the same. I'm really looking forward to next year. As usual, I've got all kinds of crazy ideas on what I want to do. 

But in the meantime, SNOW DAMMIT. 

Last winter kind of sucked and ended early. I have never been more ready for winter to kick in. This year, I may just say to hell with racing and ski for fun.  The Noquemanon is cool event but I have just terrible luck surrounding it. Cold weather, flat tires, getting sick. Not to mention it's got a huge (and non-refundable or transferable!) entry fee.  I may come around in March for the Bear Chase, but I'll be savoring all my weekends out in the backcountry for the foreseeable future.

Back Country Snow Race!

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Have I bitched and moaned enough about how bad ski season has been going for me?  No?  You want to hear more? Great!  

Well, I finally got over the respiratory infection/cold thing from hell.  It only took 3 goddam weeks.  Basically, it'd work like this- I'd feel like crap on Monday and slowly recover through the week until I felt good enough to ski on the weekend. Then I'd ski my brains out and be back to square one on Monday again.  

While I finally managed to ditch any symptoms of actual illness, it was a generally shitty week leading up to the race.  To the point that I got home on Friday with exactly 1.5 hours to get all my crap together for two days of racing and a night of camping. I almost threw in the towel, but the whole idea behind the race just sounded too cool and I really wanted to be there to support the folks putting it on if nothing else.  So I did what I could and managed to get everything together and a reasonable 5-6 hours of sleep before I had to drive up to Copper Harbor for the start.  

Registration went quick and I got a slick new hat. 15 people signed up, two of which competed as a team. It was cool to see Jon and Steve from Telefest there too.

Day One:

The event started at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge at 9am. It was still cold enough that the snow was fairly crusty and very, very fast.  Shortly after the start and whoa, hey... I'm up in front!  Didn't hold on to that for long though when we came to an icy and kind of treacherous downhill on Dancing Bear.  All we could do was laugh. We'd all ski 5 feet, fall down, then repeat the process.  The smart thing to do would have been to ditch our skis and run down- but our spirit had yet to be broken and we were all still firmly dedicated ski purists.  

Somewhere within this first mile, I broke a pole.  Thankfully one of the skiers just behind me loaned me some duct tape and I set to work splinting it with a stick.  Somehow in this process, I managed to cut the tip of my finger a bit, but I didn't really notice until the next skier came down the trail, got this pale look on their face, and asked "Are you OK?!"  

"Yeah, I'm fine...", I responded and then looked down.



I assured them that despite appearances, I would survive. I promptly performed some emergency backcountry medicine and put my gloves back on- out of sight, out of mind.  

With both me and my ski pole slightly damaged but once again functional, I pressed on. French Annie proved to be a lot easier on skis than on a bike. Somewhere in there I learned that the best technique was a sort of cyclocross style ski dismount and remount to clear the sketchier stuff. I also gave up on my ski pole and just resorted to using whatever sticks I could find as a replacement.  Turns out, the woods is full of sticks and they actually work fairly well as ski poles.  

After this we hit the East Vein Rd. and Kamikaze trail return. These proved to be incredibly scenic and very fast on skis. Unfortunately, my knee was starting to bother me.  Without tracks to follow, my big, wide skis would wander about on the packed snowmobile trail we were on it was really starting to bug me.  

We were off it soon enough, but I don't know if it was really a blessing when we went straight up a wall by Manganese Falls.  After this we were back on the bike trails.  Leading up to this, I was having a bit of a discussion with myself about how hard to push.  Sure, I got dusted pretty early on- but who knows what was ahead. Other people might have problems to.  

Anyway, I'm glad I decided not to push hard on the final section.  Der We Went and Stairway To Heaven can be scary enough just on foot.  You could easily make a colossal, grand-daddy, call the coast guard chopper to fly out the remains screw up trying to ski those trails at speed.  Just like a lot of stuff in Copper Harbor, at a mellow pace it was pretty cool and a good finish for the day.  Made it back to base camp, ahead of a few people even.

Initially, I was a little non-plussed at the $60 entry fee for the race. Sure, they promised a lot of food in the deal- but I've had enough bad experiences with race provided food that I wasn't expecting much.  Sometimes they run out, sometimes it's slow to arrive, sometimes it just plain sucks.  But when lunch was served after we finished, I was beginning to think the $60 might have been worth it. Plenty of really good food was laid out for us.

Everybody actually had a really good day and finished well in advance of the organizer's expectations. This gave me plenty of time to get set up for my second duty of the day- working a couple of checkpoints for the Keweenaw Winter Rally.

Honestly, I had planned to spend the night up in Copper Harbor, sleeping out in my bivvy sack. But, well....  you see.... uhh... my rally responsibilities didn't end until around 10pm all the way back down in Houghton and then a friend called and asked me to look at something on her car real quick. And then, well- there just wasn't a real solid argument for driving all the way back to Copper Harbor just to sleep 6 hours in a snowbank. I opted for a warm bed and and doing the drive the next morning.  

Day Two:

I went into this with pretty low expectations.  My knee was still bothering me a bit and I was fairly certain I couldn't overtake any of the leaders enough to win any awards. So, I figured I just enjoy the day- which was turning out to be just as awesome as the day before. Sunny and blue skies with temps climbing up into the mid forties.  

The organizers came through and topped lunch the previous day with an awesome breakfast. Nobody left hungry, that's for certain.

We started out across the lake and dangnabit!  I was out in front again.  I didn't have to worry for long though- the climb up Paul's Plunge proved difficult enough and it wasn't long before I was behind everybody.  Another reason to take it easy was I that I had recently purchased some new climbing skins for my skis and was anxious to try them out.  I figured the steep uphills on the Red Trail would be the perfect opportunity.  I was a little too anxious though and put them on way, way too early.  And since putting them on and taking them off takes so much time- I figured I'd just leave them on. Sure enough though- they worked great and probably saved my butt on a few quick downhills that got thrown in there.  I was pretty firmly in the back now without much trail left after we went by the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge again, so I just sat back and enjoyed the ski.  

While doing this though, I came to the sudden realization that my knees had only started bothering me once I started using some Voile knee pads I had bought to replace the black diamonds I had used for years and then lost at telefest.  I had figured the knee problem was just yet another side effect of my abysmal ski season so far- but it really made me wonder.  

Anyway, the rest of the race went great and I finished with all my poles intact and no blood this time.  As is often the case, I was hit by a mighty powerful post-race thirst and decided to ski back to basecamp and fetch my beer supply.  I decided to remove my knee pads and see if that helped my knees at all.

Sure enough- even though we had to ski down snowmobile trails that should have hurt like hell, I was mostly pain free. Cured!  I've got a little bit of recovery and rehab ahead of me to undo the damage, but it's a huge relief to get to the bottom of that problem.   Sorry Voile, I love your bindings, but the kneepads just don't work for me.  Bummer too, they're soft and cushy.  

After awards, if I had any doubts about the cost of this race, they were certainly erased by the feast we were treated to at the Mariner North after the race.  Wow. Seriously, this whole event was like $60 worth of awesome food with a free hat and a little skiing thrown in.

I'm really glad I stuck it out and made this race. I can't say enough good things about it. The organizers have big plans to improve the event and get more people involved and I really look forward to it.  It's just the kind of thing I love- fun skiing with a lot of cool folks in a race context just to keep us all moving and on time. The great thing is that even though it's a pretty unique challenge on skis, with the snowshoe option- this race can be enjoyed by damn near anybody of any ability.  I'll be badgering my friends relentlessly to join me next year.

The Monday after, I was happy to note yers trooly made the front page of the paper.  Steve is looking determined in the front. I'm just behind him, probably looking for sticks in case I break another ski pole.  


Full article here.

Trans Wisconsin! (and backcountry snow racing)

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OK, I'm pretty stoked.  Just saw this: Trans Wisconsin

I really wanted to take a stab at the Tour Divide this year, but that's going to take a little bit more planning and backing out of personal commitments than I can pull off this year.  The Trans Wisconsin is a lot more doable.   The biggest hurdle will just be getting somebody to drive me to the start.  Still, I want to make sure I survive the Chequamegon 100 and the Almanzo 100 just one week earlier before I commit 100% to this. 

Especially cool is that it's based on a motorcycle route assembled by some of my imaginary internet motorcycle friends.  

In slightly less crazy distances news, looks like I can commit to the Copper Harbor Backcountry Snow Race now. Looks like it'll be a fun weekend. Maybe that new sleeping bag and bivy sack were a good investment after all. 

Telefest: Finally, skiing does not suck!

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It's been a pretty tough winter for skiing.  It's been one defeat after another in XC racing. Dead last in my first race, and taken out by a cold mere hours before the Noque.  And the backcountry had been pretty crappy too.  

Things finally started to come together the weekend before last though, and I was able to visit some favorite backcountry haunts and actually go out and have fun on skis.  This past weekend will probably be the main highlight of my ski season this year: Midwest Telefest 2010.   

The plan, as much as we can call it that, was to head down to the Porkies on Friday morning, meet up with some friends, ski, and camp until Sunday night, maybe Monday.  

I managed to get down there on Friday before everybody else and had a great time exploring the backside of the ski hill.  It was absolutely beautiful out- bluebird sky and a couple inches of fresh powder on top of a solid base.  

Once everybody else got in, we made a couple laps around the radio tower and went to set up camp. My plan was to try out a lightweight setup this weekend with just a bivy sack and a sleeping bag. Nonetheless, I took the opportunity to try and make myself useful helping those with wall tents and wood stoves in case my plan didn't work out and I needed a warm place to crash.  This started to pay dividends right off that bat when Dan invited me to partake in a fresh lake trout dinner.  

Full of trout, we headed back up to the chalet for the first evening's festivities- a screening of "Freeheel Life".  Great music and of course some really crazy skiing in it, but I was a little disappointed by all the still shots of classic 3 pin gear, but no video of anybody actually skiing it.   After a couple of beers, I did my best impressions of what I had learned from the movie skiing back down to camp and tucked into my new bivy sack and zero degree bag for the night.   

So, remember those bluebird skies?  You know what happens when it stays clear out at night too?  Yeah, that's right- any heat that might have been trapped by the planet during the day beats a hasty retreat outwards into space as we run headlong to absolute zero. OK, maybe it didn't hit absolute zero, but it did hover around zero on the fahrenheit scale most of the night. Surprisingly, I had no problem staying warm- but I did discover an interesting implication of winter camping, condensation.  All the moisture my body was giving off was freezing to the inside of my bivy sack.  This only presented one real problem- it was icing up the zipper on my bivy sack making it difficult to open.  This quickly becomes a "serious" problem when you wake up in the middle of the nigh after drinking too many beers and need to get out RIGHT NOW.  It's a good thing I didn't have a knife in there with me. My bivy sack would have a new exit right now.  

I came to the next morning, sufficiently rested for another day of skiing. I did learn an important lesson on how well butane stoves do not work in the cold, but I did manage to get some water hot enough for coffee and oatmeal.  Anyway, today was going to be a full day. I planned to join the backcountry tour, do the slalom and uphill/downhill races, and of course party down again that night at the chalet.   

Most of the folks on the backcountry tour were on big tele gear and using climbing skins.  Given that we had a fair number of people, things moved kind of slow.  Still, it's the first time I've ever seen skins in use and it was pretty educational.  Plus those of us on lighter gear had plenty of time to talk about how awesome we were.

Steve: "Karhu Guides are like, totally awesome."

Other Guy on Guides: "Yeah, we so rule."

While waiting for the skinners, I met Tom from Chicago- the only other guy on the backcountry tour in lighter gear.

Anyway, it wasn't too long before the skinners finally caught back up with us...

Despite the fact that cat was already running that day, we managed to find some nice untouched powder and got a good run in.  Tom and I ditched the group and headed off to enjoy some low angle stuff on our own.  

I made it back in time to don the heavier gear and head over for the start of the slalom race. I'd never done a slalom race, but then again- most people haven't done a slalom race like this one.  Ungroomed, kind of crusty windblown snow, a gate you had to ski uphill for, and ever changing conditions as more people went down the course.  I have no idea how I did, but it was fun. I'm pretty sure the two kids in the group probably beat most of us anyway- those guys could rip.   

Got a few more runs in and it was time to get ready for the uphill/downhill race.  Last year, I got my butt kicked pretty hard in this when I learned that you're not supposed to have any fun at all if you want to do well. Climb until you want to puke, and then bomb the iciest, scariest decent on the skinniest skis you have as fast as you can possibly go.  Do not, under any circumstances, take the fun way down through the trees in the soft snow. You will lose. You will be utterly humiliated.  

So that's just what I did. I was pretty happy that I managed to hang onto the lead pack on the big climb, but once we hit the groomed cross country trail- they all started to pull away from me.  Once I rounded the radio tower, there was no way I was going to catch anybody in front of me, and it didn't look like there was anybody close enough to catch me. So I mostly bombed the downhill. Took a few turns off in the powder here and there to slow me down and came in for a respectable, mostly humiliation free midpack finish.   

Then back to camp for a few more beers in Dave's tent.  The camera had a little condensation on the lens, but it's a pretty realistic simulation of the effects of a couple of Expedition Stouts right after an uphill/downhill race.

Then back up to the chalet to warm my feet, eat some chili, and rock out with Chasin' Steel. We also took the time to form an elaborate plan to ski the remote Cuyahoga Peak the next day: "Let's uh... meet at the chalet and what, maybe 10am tomorrow and go from there?"

The temperature was a little warmer on Saturday night, so I didn't have any problems with freezing condensation again. Wouldn't have mattered anyway, I slept like a rock that night. The next morning I decided that I'd rather not futz with the stove again and just hopped in my car and headed into Ontonogan for a hot breakfast at Syl's.   Oddly enough, I ran into Tom again at breakfast and let him know our plans for the day. Looks like he was in as well.  

So, Cuyahoga Peak is the next hill down from the hill the ski area is on. It requires a fairly long cross country shuffle to get there.  

We skiied off the backside of the main hill and picked up the trail out to Cuyahoga. It goes through several stands of old growth hemlock that are pretty cool.  

It wasn't long before we reached the base of the hill. Most of it could be climbed with pattern bases, but there were a few spots where skins were necessary to follow the trail.  A little work could make a nice trail that wouldn't require them though.   By the time we got to the top of the hill, it was snowing pretty good.  

The ski down was just awesome. Probably my best run of the year. A perfect pitch for the gear I was on, beautiful glades to ski through, and lots of fresh snow.  We were all smiles by the time we got to the bottom.  

The ski out and back to the lodge follows the snowmobile trail for a bit, which kind of sucks- but it did give us a good view looking back at the peak we had just skiied. 

We eventually made it back to the lodge and cornered some poor dude into taking some groups shots of us.

Seeing as how it was Valentine's Day, the married folks shuffled off early and telefest began to wind down for another year. We discussed coming back on Monday to ski Cuyahoga again, but no real definite plans were made. I stuck around and rode the lift for a bit, getting a few more runs in before the hill closed and kicked off myself at the traditional Porkies closing time- 4:20.   

And, with almost perfect timing, the cold that knocked me out of the Noque flared up again the drive home.  It took a serious amount of willpower to sit in bed and recover on Monday while watching it snow like crazy rather than go out and ski again. I knew I was strong enough to ski, but another day of skiing would probably lay me up in bed for a whole week.  Cuyahoga was just awesome on Sunday, and I decided to leave it at that. It'll be there next weekend- with possibly more snow.  

Another great Telefest is in the books. Once again, I had a great time, learned a lot, and met some cool folks. Can't wait for next year.