Saturday, February 28, 2009

Battle Creek

Just okay on the prairie, very excellent in the woods.

The winds have not been kind to part of Battle Creek. On the "easy" and "more difficult" portions of the trail—basically anything before or after the "big hill", there are bare and windblown spots. It's skiable, but with a lot of caution.

However, the rest of the course, once you get in the woods, is superb. The classic tracks are solid and mostly intact, and the skate lanes looked a little soft but excellent (I can't say if they were, I was striding). The only issues might be the top of the long climb on the back hills under the pines (as usual) and the top of the climb after that back to the top loop, which got windblown and drifted and, whilst now groomed, is thin.

With the sun setting around 6:00, it was splendid to ski through the woods as the sky turned pink behind the Saint Paul skyline and to later catch glimpses of a white Capitol and red "1" on the horizon. It was just superb. Battle Creek also marks the first repeat of a trail since Birkie (Lebanon, off, Battle Creek, Woodland, streets, Wirth, Murphy); it is always astounding how much good skiing there is within an hour of the Cities. With three hours of skiing (see Hanrahan, Murphy) today it has got to have been one of the best days of the year, time in Birkieland included.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Murphy Hanrahan

The best.

Okay, it was soft. And there are about three spots where it is starting to burn through (the picnic table and the uphill after the boardwalk, which has a big rock in the middle which is avoidable). But, wow. It's amazing.

The sky is a deep blue I thought only existed in the movies. The almost-March sunshine makes it seem warm even though the air temp is in the mid teens. The snow? Well, it's powdery but definitely firm enough to skate on, albeit somewhat slow (what usually takes 40-45 minutes to do the Razorback took 50-55). The downhills are in terrific shape—no ice even on the big hill and the S-curves, which is surprisingly easy to ski in powder conditions. It is just outstanding skiing right now at Murphy, and I'm excited because it is light until 6:30 now, so I can ski it in the evening, too. Of my seven years of skiing in the Twin Cities I am having trouble thinking of a better two hours of skiing.

Friday, February 27, 2009



We skied on the Back 9 and in to the woods, it was fantastic. The classic track was solid and firm, and the skate lane had firmed up enough as well. Supposedly on the flat side of the bridge it was a bit softer. The skate lane had blown clear in a couple places, particularly on the old, dirty manmade snow (perhaps that's why it was thinner in the first place—we should take not and make more in that section next year), and the tracks went down to grass in a few sections, but otherwise it was just about perfect.

Paradoxically, the trail was not groomed from the end of the manmade section towards the Mound, but that was pretty well skied in (and someone had driven a sled over it as well). It should hold all weekend, so great skiing has returned to Minneapolis!

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at



We skied on the Back 9 and in to the woods, it was fantastic. The classic track was solid and firm, and the skate lane had firmed up enough as well. Supposedly on the flat side of the bridge it was a bit softer. The skate lane had blown clear in a couple places, particularly on the old, dirty manmade snow (perhaps that's why it was thinner in the first place—we should take not and make more in that section next year), and the tracks went down to grass in a few sections, but otherwise it was just about perfect.

Paradoxically, the trail was not groomed from the end of the manmade section towards the Mound, but that was pretty well skied in (and someone had driven a sled over it as well). It should hold all weekend, so great skiing has returned to Minneapolis!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Streets of Saint Paul

I street skied twice today. In the morning I took the bus to work, with my skis. The snow came fast and hard, but let up by the time I was leaving. I also went grocery shopping and skied home with 25 pounds of food on my back.

It hurt. I kept switching shoulders, but it hurt. I stopped at the bank, which was welcome, and then to help push a car up a street. The skiing was okay, but without freshly-falling snow or much traffic to smooth out the "trails" it could have been better.

After dinner, I hit the "trails" again. It was better, with a bit of snow pivoting in to freshen up conditions.

Take six inches of snow, add some newly-fallen snow, subtract some traffic and a lot of groceries on your back, and skiing on the streets was pretty good. Some V2, and a lot of double-poling, about 10k. I crossed the Mississippi on the Lake Street Bridge (first time across the river on skis—adding to foot, car, train, plane, and paradoxically not boat) and found the roads in Minneapolis, the main roads, at least, plowed. What a novelty—they were not plowed in Saint Paul. The Town and Country Club was a bit to firm to skate or tele, but the streets home were good.

It will be nice to have 7-9 inches of fresh, firm snow groomed up tomorrow and this weekend. For now, though, an hour of double poling on the streets will suffice. And I saw a guy on a bike (!) who gave me a thumbs up, and later wrote me a Facebook message. Small world.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Close to perfect.

I could go in to the areas at Woodland that have issues (a couple icy spots on Wash Pond and Prairie Loop) and say that the snow is part powdery but icy in a few spots but ... with the bit of snow the whole trail is in excellent shape. Somehow, with a few hundred dollars of equipment the trail wokers have the best grooming this side of the Birkie Trail. It's always amazing how there is grass all the way to the trailhead, but the trails themselves always have snow. I don't know how they do it.

In other words, Woodland was totally worth the drive. I started skiing right around dusk when the last of the walkers came out of the woods, and had two hours of headlamp-lit pleasure. By the time I left, the stars made a magnificent show (except to the south, where the Cities' lights blocked them out) and the skiing was still great.

Kudos to the slaves, and ready the rollers!

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Battle Creek

Very good.

With temperatures forecast to eclipse 32 today, I mustered myself out of bed to hit the trails this morning. Considering the amount of snow to work with, and the lack of any base on the prairie trails, Battle Creek is in very good shape, especially for skating. The classic track was set most of the course, but there was a lot of grass, ice and even some dirt mixed in. The skate trail had a few thin spots (especially on the prairie and the back hills) but nothing that can't be skated around. I'd still use my rock skis, but skiing today was definitely a pleasure.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lebanon Hills

Overall, very good, especially considering the snow.

By mid-afternoon I had recovered from Birkie enough to not want to see all this new snow go to waste, so I made for Lebanon per earlier reports and was not disappointed. I skied most of the trails and although I'd advise against your best skis, there are only scattered icy and thin spots, and only a couple bits of dirt. The worst I noticed was the steep uphill on the west side of Pilot Knob where the trail was rather dirty—I didn't ski the longer loop there, but it might be better. I kicked on some Multigrade over some Toko Blue from a week ago on the Birkie Trail and it was good.

There were a lot of other folks out enjoying the trails and I hope it's not my last time striding in the Cities this year but if it is, it was a good ski. It's also nice to finish at 6:10 and not have to have a headlamp on.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Birkebeiner, Birkebeiner, Birkebeiner

It's never a bad thing when you leave for Birkie in a snow storm. Except for the traffic. We headed down to Randolph to gas up and then hit 35E and then hit traffic. Collin was writing messages to cars in other lanes in the condensation on the window, and I was cursing at other drivers. When one of the skiers told me to calm down, I channeled my inner Walter and said "calmer than you are" and when they questioned that I just repeated "calmer than you are."

We got through Saint Paul and headed up 35E in traffic and snow, in a rear wheel drive van. Safety first. I was sucking down gatorade and water from my bottle the whole way (we'll get to why in a sec) and we made it to highway 70 and headed east in the snow. In Wisconsin, I was being helped in navigation by one Sarah Van Etten, a native, who didn't really know where the turn-of was. Luckily I knew that it was at a curve in the road, and since I can count the curves on Highway 70 on one hand (almost) I spotted it easily. We turned in to the feed and ate well there.

The feed is a big Birkie tradition, and there are many skiers who have skied many races. The total number of Birkies was tallied, and the total was found to be something like 206. I did some quick math and said that it was the distance from the equator to the North Pole in Birkebeiners, which impressed some folks. We ate, and then went downstairs to scrape the last layer of wax off and then add fluoros. As a "coach" I sacrificed my lung capacity (with a mask on) to put on the cancer to make the skis fast. When those were done (I waxed Jakob's skis, too, returning a favour) we shipped out for a short but snowy drive over to the Van Etten household.

With mattresses for all we retired pretty quickly, hoping our 5-15 wax job would suffice in the morning. Lights went out and we did our best to sleep, with a 5:25 wake up call the next morning. Before my alarm rang, Sarah's dad came and told me it was already 12 degrees—the forecast low had been closer to five. Collin heard this and freaked out about wax. "I need to rewax," he said, at 5:05 a.m. I assured him of two things. First, his wax would be fine. He had a wax good to 15, with a fluoro overlay, and on the cold new snow what specific wax it was didn't matter as much as a smooth base and some fluoros. Second, I told him there was no way he could put on a new coat of wax, and if he did, he'd lose his fluoros. He relented, and we ate and got ready to leave. The van was hastily packed (I forgot a pillow in fact) and we departed the Van Ettens, only to slide on the driveway. After a few minutes of cursing the rear wheel drive (and cursing the driver, uh, me) we made it on to Highway 53.

Being late for our rendezvous with Jakob when we got cell reception (finally) we informed him to wait for us at Trego, which he did. He jumped in for the ride north and we set off. The sun came up on the way to Hayward and by the time we hit Como Field it was light out, and snowing lightly. Traffic wasn't too bad and we had time to use the port-a-john (or, in my case, a pile of snow) and jump on to the bus to Telemark.

The start was hectic, as usual, but I made my way to the first wave pen. Yes, the first wave. I have a bit of a history with the Birkie. In 2006, Jakob and I got thrown in the second wave. Me because of my Hoppet time, which I did in 40 degree temperatures at 6000 feet having been sick the entire week before. Jakob because he had some good shorter races and we whinged some. He should have been in the Elite wave—I should have been in E or 1. He wrote on his bib "sorry, elite wave next year" because he was bitter or something. We skied out of the front of Wave 2 and he qualified for elite, I almost did. He, in fact, came second in the wave. We both got bogged down passing most of the first wave.

The next year was the shortened Birkie. Being in the fake birkie saved my skis—I went on my rock skis. So there was that. And last year, well, I'll blame coaching. Jakob and I went on a no-carbs then lots of carbs diet. For two days we were on the Atkins diet: carb starvation. I ate avocados, sour cream, eggs, cheese, meat, but no pasta, bread or other goodness. Then for three days it was all carbs. It is supposed to starve the muscles of carbs so they absorb more. Or something.

The problem was that I was so obsessed with eating the right things at the right times (we had great discussions at practice that week: "Hey do you feel like crap? me too! This Atkins diet is a load of horse hockey, isn't it!") that on Friday afternoon I forgot to drink water. This was a mistake. Between about 2:00 and 10:00 I had, uh, two glasses of water. When I went to bed I cursed myself, in driving, coaching, etc, I'd made the big mistake of not having a full water bottle in my back pocket. Poor form.

I didn't pee overnight—bad news bears. (This year I peed twice in seven hours, and again when I woke up.) I guzzled some water in the morning, but way too little, way too late. Two kilometers in to the race I was at the front of the first wave, but the dehydration hit on the power lines and I dropped like a fly. Every feed was three glasses of water until I hit OO and was rehydrated, but by that time I had been passed by 150 guys and had to claw my way back to finish in 350th place.

So I had better hopes for this year, and was certainly better hydrated. I lined up in the corral, and with all the new waves (Elite men, elite women, elite classic) we had some false starts but I got up on to the front of the line, then took off my clothes and went running across the front. I saw some familiar faces, including one Jesse Crandall, a local boy skiing his first Birkie (due to various circumstances) out of the first wave. I had a quick, pre-race chat, amounting to "I'll see you in Hayward, probably ten minutes after I get in." I saw Blaise Sopiwnik, too, who is coaching at Northland. Could I lose to a Sopiwnik? He was gunning to the Elite Wave, too.

The thing about the Elite Wave is that it has about 200 guys in it: the top 200 from the year before who show up again (usually about 150) plus other folks who qualified in. For instance, John Swain hadn't skied a Birkie since he was at Colby but he petitioned in to the Elite Wave with a win at the COLL classic race and top twelve-or-so at Mora. Collin was in due to his '06 Birkie and Mora race (after initially being in Wave 1 when they saw his COLL time). The rules are pretty rigid, but they can be bent if you have the right numbers. Or know the right people. I was determined to ski my way in, however. Like qualifying for Boston.

Finally, fifteen minutes after the Elites had left us, the gun went off and the gates went up and off we went. I skied out near the front, but determined not to die at the start. Jesse stormed out, and Blaise was on his tail, although I stayed near Blaise along the Power Lines. Those hills are killer, but I wasn't in pain at the top and settled in to the rhythm of the course. Up and down. Up and down. Up and up and up and up and—there's High Point.

The First Wave isn't horrible. Each year about 40 guys from the First Wave qualify for Elite, so the front of it, at least, is a bunch of pretty good skiers. Because of the seeding and, of course, the sheer number of people, the Birkie is often quite crowded, but because the first 50 in the First Wave are akin to the last 50 in the Elite Wave, the front of the wave spreads out pretty well, so I wound up skiing with a nice little group. One interesting thing were skiers from further afield who did not really understand the pack mentality of large races. One guy was being very aggressive at 10k, and skied off, after drafting a bunch of people and saying "track" (uh, the trail is 10m wide). His uniform said "Ohio." Figures.

One other thing about the first wave is that it is a boys club. Most women who ski first wave times are in the top 50ish and, thus, the Elite Wave. So there are only a few women in the First Wave, and none skiing near its front. I haven't lost to more than a dozen women or so in total this year, so I didn't expect to see any females with four digit bibs.

A bit after High Point we passed the first Elite Woman. That felt good—we put 13 minutes on her in not much more than 13k. She had the nerve to tell us to all take it easy, as she felt crowded out. Or something. I wanted to turn around and say "uh, hon, we've put 45 seconds on you per kilometer. If you belong in the first wave you should have skied from the first wave." But I maintained tact.

The hill up High Point was fun, Bubblehead Hill was not bad at all with the conditions. The snow on the trail was fantastic. It had been groomed the night before but about an inch of snow had fallen since. So it was not straight corduroy, but soft new snow over a firm base. Perfect for my softer skis—I was happy and my skis were relatively fast. The classic race looked interesting, there was close to an inch of new snow in the tracks, and reports were that early skiers, once they hit the Birkie Trail, skied outside the tracks, especially on corners they could cut, because it was faster. Some classic skiers had put on klister the day before and were frantically trying to remove it, others had some drag. I'd like to ski the race classic at some point—it's a great trail for it—but, boy, the waxing would drive me nuts. The skate race, having seen about 250 racers, was in fantastic shape.

I know the trail, at least to about 35k, quite well, and knew most of the hills, so there were no surprise. 17k—here comes Boedecker Hill. 20k—get ready to climb to OO. 29k—an uphill, then a nice downgrade. Gravel Pit—an uphill. Around OO I decided to take a goo I had stapled to my bib. I wasn't hungry, but decided to do it anyway. It was a good idea, but poorly executed. I took a third of the goo, decided I didn't need it, and threw it. I'd come to regret that.

I was skiing along with a pack with people jumping in and out until near Mosquito Brook when it started to break. I didn't have too much energy for Bitch Hill (yes, Bitch Hill) and was dying afterwards, and I grabbed my other goo. Its effect would be mainly psychological, but after I got the staple out of the packet I took the whole thing about a kilometer before Rosie's Field, which was nice because I then got a drink, crossed Highway 77 and struggled up that one last hill.

By this point we had passed a lot of the Elite women, and about five Elite men. I figured my chances were good to make the Elite Wave. I'd put 15 minutes on five men and was about 30th in the First Wave (it was acually a good guess for my blood-starved brain). I mustered what strength I had to make it on to the lake, and then began what is always a slog across. Well, not always. In 2006, I had gone out too easy, and sprinted across the lake and in to the finish. Same in 2008, actually, since I never got to burn much energy when I was dehydrated. This time, I had skied harder (good!) but didn't have the pep to school a bunch of people on the lake.

I actually did, however, pass a few people, and got to the end of the lake just behind a few other first wavers, and ahead of a few others. Some spectator told me "no one behind you for 50m," which was very helpful, I could focus on the guys in front of me. It didn't help; I almost sprinted up to the guy in front of me, but he held me off. I was hoping he didn't finish in 200th place.

I saw my time—2:39—and figured that it would probably be Elite, but it would be close. The first order of business was food and warmth. Hayward is designed to handle thousands of skiers, but with less than 300 in it felt pretty quiet. The feed tent had no line and I knew a bunch of people there. I ate soup, bread, bananas, and drank some water; I'd bonked but the goo had kept it from being super hard like Mora. Jakob claimed I probably beat him, I said I probably didn't. Collin was reasonably pleased with his race, but blamed me for making his skis slow. He came 50-something after a month on snow—not too shabby. And I heard a story that Matt Liebsch had won by so much that he had picked up his one-year-old kid and, in Birkie tradition, carried him across the finish line.

And it proved true, in this fantastic video. Next time hopefully he won't drop the kid:

That was, in Collin's words, tight.

In any case, my eyes hurt and my feet were cold, so I went in to the food and press conference tent where the winners talked about the race. Matt Liebsch, my boot brother, had taken it easily, and then we got to hear from Bjorn Daehlie, who is only about the best skier ever. He'd come second in the classic in a sprint. To his credit he is old and retired. To Gus Kaeding's credit, he beat flippin' Bjorn Daehlie. In that tent they had results, but placing was about an hour delayed. I had a print-out of my time, but not my place. I was talking to Jesse and looked at his time and said "well, look, you were 10:00.2 ahead of me." He reminded me of my earlier prescience—I had told him I'd see him in Hayward, ten minutes after he got there. I was off, but by two tenths of a second.

Then the rest of the Mac skiers straggled in and I bought meal tickets and we ate brats (They shouldn't even have to ask if you want kraut, it should be a given). Finally, I went and found my results: 180 in the mens. You know what that means—Elite Wave next year! Now I have to train harder—I don't want to fall out. My reach goal is top 100—double-digit bib in 2011.

In any case, Macalester alums are well represented. From what I know, next year will see five Mac alums, students and professors in the Elite Wave; Collin '10, Jakob '08, Jesse '01, me '06 and a professor, Kathryn Splan.

So it was a successful Birkie. The trail was outstanding (of course), the finish was on Main Street, I finally got myself in to the Elite Wave, and I didn't bonk too hard. Plus which we managed to get the van back to Saint Paul without falling asleep at the wheel, saw a beautiful sunset, and four or five new inches of snow on the ground. All around, a great race. Next year, however, I am going to go party at the Sawmill on Saturday night.


Oh, the people I know. (Most of them faster than I.)

Matt Liebsch. I bought classic boots off him in the fall of 2005. Since then he's gotten really, really good. He sort of won this little race.

Zach Handler. I worked with Zach at the Ski Track back when I was in high school and he had just graduated Carleton. Almost ten years ago. Small world.

John Swain, who I've met this year—a Colby kid who knows some of the folks I know there, although he actually did ski on their team.

Christian Brekke, a retired Johnny who I skied against (read: behind) in college.

Collin rockin' the old Macalester spider suit.

Brett Palm, a good friend of my cousin at Dartmouth.

Jakob from Macalester.

Jesse Crandall, my coach at Macalester, skiing his first ever Birkie. He beat me by 10:00.2, 1/5 of a second more than I had predicted. If I'd only skied 1/100th of a second faster per kilometer!

Blaise Sopiwnik, the brother of Roscoe. He learned how to ski this year it seems.

Who's this goofball?

Alex Jospe, who I met rollerskiing on Comm Av in Newton. I suggested strongly she pester the Birkie to get moved up from the 10th wave. She wound up 23d in the womens field, but the first one from Newton, Mass. Represent.

Macalester professor Kathryn Splan. Who I sort of know, but Go Mac!

Bjorn Daehlie. I don't know him. But he's still fast.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wirth snowmaking

I skipped out of work early to get a few minute in at Wirth pre-Birkie. It was okay but, again, some snowmaking would help. Doing some sprints up and down the sliding hill was helpful, and hopefully it will translate in to fast tomorrow. It should help Wirth that a couple inches of snow may fall, it was just starting as we left, but coming down pretty hard.

Birkie fever!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wirth snowmaking


The skiing at Wirth is okay. Over most of the course—90%—it's actually quite excellent, fast but with an edge. However, there are the couple of sections that are icy and dirty. It's a shame, because with temperatures where they've been a couple hours of targeted snowmaking would have Wirth in tip-top shape.

Step it up, guys.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wirth snowmaking


With new snow falling Wirth today continued to be marginally skiable. Rock skis only as there were several wet spots and a couple extremely dirty sections, even with the new snow. Unless there are a couple inches it should continue to be marginal like this—although a bit of snow blown strategically on the dirty parts of the course would do wonders. They really need to invest in a few hours of snowmaking to touch this up and get it in good shape.

With the new, wet snow falling it was very, very, very slow—I V2ed down the downhills and came to stops in places where, a few days ago, I was flying. Rock skis are especially good for these conditions because, at least in the case of mine, they have had a lot of natural stone-(and asphalt-) grinding to introduce structure. Still, without fluoros, and lots of them, it's wicked slow out there. If it freezes well, however, it could be good fast grass skiing across the course. Time will tell.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Report from the Birkie Trail

My folks were in town and after a day in Minneapolis (a long day: ski at Wirth, shower, tour of the Purcell Cutts house, Art Shanties, Guthrie, late dinner) we made for the Birkie Trail. In 2006 my dad had business and swung through town for a weekend and I took him to the trail, since there was no skiing nearby. (Had there been good skiing in town we would have gone to Murphy or Wirth or Battle Creek or Woodland.) I'd been hoping to show them around the great trails in the Cities, but, alas, it was not to be.

So Sunday morning we packed up and made for the Birkie Trail. We skied from the North End Cabin, then striding, me skating. It was firm and a bit icy, but perfectly groomed of course (after a couple days of closure to ensure the best race conditions). I skied to the bottom of Powerlines (so daunting from the top) and then to Boedecker and back, and then striding to the 8k mark to find my parents slowly going up the hills. They loved the trail, but it kicked their butts. As it probably will mine next week.

My report from Skinnyski:

It's a testament to the grooming of the Birkie Trail that we were wondering about snow conditions until just about Hayward. The trail, however, has fantastic conditions, with an inch of new snow combined into the icy base to make the trail hard but with an edge, and very fast but definitely not scary. From the bottom of the Power Lines (boy, does that hill look daunting from the top—and the bottom) to Boedecker Road the trail was in fine shape, and talking to some folks at North End Cabin they say the rest is good, too, although Lake Hayward is supposedly icy.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wirth snowmaking


Still some very dirty sections a few spots showing some ice, but overall the skiing at Wirth is quite good, especially with some good hills to ready for some race in a week from today. The Birkie-something.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wirth snowmaking

Very good.
Every time I've gone to Wirth this year I've looked at the trail under the Olsen and along the Parkway and thought "well, it looks like skiing should be great."

Sadly, this is no longer the case. The front nine is ice and grass, but once you get to the chalet there is skiing to be had. They're blowing snow on the sliding hill right now, and the trail could use some in places, although the coverage is full. There are a few icy spots, a few dirty spots and a few thin spots—probably enough to preclude the use of your best skis—but it's really not bad at all. The trail is pretty firm, too, more so than Elm Creek (although this may be due to less traffic) so it is quite enjoyable. Having 2k of manmade snow with a view of the Minneapolis skyline through the trees is nothing to scoff at. Plus, I like the terrain better than Elm Creek.

My folks were coming to town and I was skiing until I got a call that their plane had landed. They spent an extra 45 minutes on the ground in Milwaukee meaning I spent an extra 45 minutes skiing, and put in more than 10 laps of Wirth. It gets repetitive, but it's really quite a nice course. With rock skis.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Um, skiing?

The glacier was disappointing—most had been skied already and frozen, rutted—but the snowboard hill was groomed and actually somewhat skiable. It was nice, too, to hit a bit of a hill, up and down and up and down and up and down. There was a bit of what I'll call the "Trollhaugen effect" (sorry, Trollhaugen, old memories die hard) where you feel like you've skied for an hour and it's really been 20 minutes. Still, it's something. I wound up skiing with Alec Steward there for quite a while. It wasn't particularly fun, but it was hills, I think.

Getting to the hill is a bit harrowing, however. Most anything that is not sort of snow is glare ice, and a lot of the course has melted in to a couple of new lakes. They are mostly frozen, and I decided to take a short cut across one of them, which led to me franticly double-poling as the ice cracked beneath me. Only a few inches of water, but quite a trip.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Elm Creek

Good coverage on the manmade, very slushy/sugary.

With the temperature right around freezing the course was pretty mashed up, meaning it was a good workout without the speed. It should be in far better shape tomorrow once it re-freezes and is groomed. It looked like they groomed Northern Lights but it was closed as it was likely quite dirty and icy. A couple inches of snow (ha!) might help. It was quite crowded—they parked some of us in the "no parking any time" slots, as the overflow lot was full and they didn't have a shuttle around for the other one. I think every skier in the Cities was there.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A run?

Yes, a run. With the melting going on, 45 degrees and mist, I decided to try my hand at running. It wasn't very pretty. Four not-very-fun miles and I'd had enough. There won't be much left after this, at least we got in Mora and City of Lakes without any snow issues. And Birkie should survive. Now, knock on wood, cross your fingers, &c. that this is it for thawing.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Of the big races around, the only ones I hadn't skied up to this year were Seeley, Pepsi and the Mora (and the Noque, but that is not really "around" since it is seven hours away). And I guess the Finlandia, but that's not a "big" race. When I'd been in college we generally headed up to the Pre-Birkie/North End in Birkieland this weekend and since college I was in Maine (2007) and indoors (2008, when the temperature was -10 and the wind chill pushing -40). But this year, we'd make the Mora.

Like the Seeley Classic, the undertaking of the Mora only set in a day or two before the race. Sure it's notoriously flat (two not-even-major, uh, noticeable climbs), but it is 58k long. It's just like the Swedish version except it starts in Warman, not Salen, is skate, not classic, is 2/3 the distance and has, oh, 1/15th the participants. But I ate well and was ready to go on Sunday morning.

Saturday evening, with my skis waxed, I left the ski team to finish their waxing (This was after telling them that, when waxing, you don't need to hold [the wax on the iron], you just need to touch [the wax to the iron]. Or as it came out, "you don't need to hold it, just touch it. See, you don't need to hold it, just touch it." Which was followed by the obligatory "that's what she said.") and they were promptly kicked out of the athletic facility and finished waxing in dorm rooms. I made the 6:45 van call and we headed up the lonely highway to Mora.

We rolled in to Mora, and through Mora, and then realised that, uh, we had rolled through Mora, so we rolled back to Mora, and all was well. It would have been nice to have, you know, some signs, but at least, after passing the wide spot in the road that is Mora, we figured it out quickly. We checked in at the high school, complete with pictures of their graduating classes from the 50s (full of -sens, -sons and -nens) and boarded the buses to the start.

The Mora start is a big field. Luckily it was 25 above—I can't imagine what the year before was like with the wind howling up the start with temperatures way below zero. They had these nice fires built which were probably a godsend last year and this year were not really necessary. (Last year's start pictures, and other pictures, look a lot like this year's, except in last year's you can't see any exposed skin on people's faces.) I skied out the start—there was a little dirt but it was very wide—picked a lane, realised that I hadn't taken off my pants, put them in the bag, and ran back to my skis on the front line on the left. I'd take a wider turn outside but hopefully with fewer people.

The anthem was sung and at the "home of the brave" we were off. The leaders went out pretty fast, and we rounded the corner, making a 180 to another field. The lead pack was getting away but as I was about to let them do so Zach Handler skied by. I said hi to him, and he passed me, and then I said to him, "I'm skiing with you" and we started pounding. We were at the front of the second group, busted up to jump on to the tail end of the lead pack, got in to a draft and settled in.

And then, everything slowed down. John Swain at one point took a spill on a kind of nasty downhill, but was able to get up and ski right back in to the pack. Everyone was having conversations. From about 2k to 14k, no one went hard. At one point, the top two women skied in to the back of the pack yelling "elite women, elite women" as if the red sea should part for them, and then saw that they were maybe 50m behind Liebsch, Giese and others and just settled in. Collin, in his Mac pants, took the lead for a couple kilometers. No one was pushing anything. We skied 1/4 of the race at a relaxed pace, with about 20 of us just V2ing along, doing out best not to draft in to each other on the downhills.

Here's the lead pack about 10k in. About one skier is out of the shot. Note that the train just keeps on going. And no one looks tired.

And then at the 14k, someone decided that this was actually a ski race. Someone made a move, someone responded, and the pack disintegrated. Actually, it sounds like some guys (Liebsch) took it really fast for about 10k, until they'd shaken the pack down to about a half dozen, and then Matt attacked, and kept thinking people were behind him, and kept skiing faster and faster, and won by four minutes or something.

I, on the other hand, fell in to the second group of skiers, who (big surprise) were right behind us. With some breeze, it was important to be in a pack. So for, oh, 30k, we all skied together. I was in front and me and about three other folks took turns leading, and there were definitely some freeloaders. I'd rather be an honest racer than freeload and win, although it probably sapped some energy I could have used later. The course is really quite nice. Some of the road crossings were iffy, but most of it was in nice, flat, beautiful hardwood forests, with sections out on the Knife River, across marshes, and maybe two hills of note.

Feeds were imperative, but whilst I knew there was blueberry soup at the end, I did not know there was blueberry soup at feeds. Maybe it works for folks doing a more of a tour, but I didn't want to experiment with blueberry soup 20k in to a 60k race. I grabbed one feed of luke-warm blueberry soup feed, poured it in my mouth, realised what it was, swallowed a little and spit most of it out. All over my number. Which is actually appropriate; most of the finishers had blueberry soup stains on their bibs at the end.

Also, because the Mora crosses a ton of roads, I kept seeing the same people at each crossing (using their fancy ICEs to get to the next road faster than us on our skis). Hey look there's Diana Trembley's support dude. Again. There's John Swain's dad taking pictures. Again. I did not have a support team, for what it's worth, and made do with feed-food.

We skied on. All the kilometers are marked with weathered, yellow signs, and when we crossed a road at 29k I realised that we were half way. I was feeling pretty good, but we still had 29k to go. That's a pretty good distance. Around 40k, maybe a bit further along, we saw some skiers way beyond us. In the Bear Chase last year, I had started off pretty slow and led my (small) pack on the final sprints to catch (and pass) several folks, but this would not be. It was probably several hundred meters, and I'd take my turn pulling, but we never got going too fast.

I was pretty thirsty between food stops and kept wondering if it would be bad manners to ask someone who had a drink belt for a drink. My decision was that it was. However, going down a hill a guy in front of me took a drink and dropped his water bottle, and cursed. That's why I don't bring a bottle—ski with it for 40k, try to take a drink, drop the thing, and get angry. Not worth the trouble. However, in this case, I reached down and snagged it, and yelled "I got it, I got it!" I skied up next to him and as I did I said "hey do you mind if I take a drink?" I assumed the answer was no—I'm pretty sure it was—when he got it back it was going to still have infinitely more liquid than if it had rolled to the side of the trail for all eternity. I assume he was grateful.

Finally, around 52k (6k to go) someone decided to attack the group. My first thought was to jump on to the attack—I was sitting about third out of nine so I just had to jump on their tail. It took me about four hard V2 strokes to realise that I was done. A shame, too, I was sitting in about 17th and must have bonked pretty hard. I don't remember much about the last five k—crossing a frozen river was cool, going through some folks' backyards was fun as well, the lake was nice, the climb off the lake wasn't bad and I finished all alone. In 26th place.

Still, it was a good race. I finished 14% back of Matt Liebsch, and since he is insane and won by four of five minutes, 10% off of anyone else. Oh, and I have his boots (I bought classic boots off him a couple years back, and no I am not winning classic races). I skied a strong race with a bunch of elite wave types, and was less than two minutes out of 17th. Which means I lost two minutes in the last six or seven k—that's pretty awful. Oh, well.

The feed at the end was rather large and very welcome. I ate a bunch of oreos, drank a bunch of gatorade and blueberry soup, ate more food, drank more, and then, with everyone else done (Collin had finished five minutes ahead of me, and a tenth of a second beyond John Swain, and the girls had skied the 35k). Next time I will be bringing some goo along, so I don't bonk again.


I guess I was happy. Then I lost to pretty much everyone in this pack.

John and Collin sprint to the finish. Sprints are fun.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Very good.

By noon a few areas of the trail were becoming a bit slushy or soft, but most of the course was in fine shape. The snowmaking areas, particularly those with northern exposure, have excellent conditions. Even with the sun and heat, the course is holding up, with only a few thinning spots all of which are avoidable except the blind descent off of the Mound, which is close to bare and surprised some skiers today as they hit the ice and grass. Some cones at the ascent of the hill might be in order; watch out for the puddle if you go around the south side (it'll be hard to miss).

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Friday, February 6, 2009

Highland golf course

Not too bad.

A few icy sections but otherwise good coverage and good skiing.

(Is it obvious I never get too excited about Highland?)

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Battle Creek

Close to excellent.

Given that it was 45 over the weekend, no complaints on my part. There are a few sections which are a bit icy, washboarded or hard-packed, but none are really all that problematic. (I didn't ski the back hills.) The only issue was that the last big hill back along Winthrop Street is quite icy, but you only really have to ski that on the way back to the car.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Como Park

Cold but excellent.

Considering what there is to work with, the skiing at Como was excellent today. No bare spots on the trail despite some off, a firm but edgy skate lane and solid, if somewhat spotty, classic track.

I can only get to two trails at most, on a good day! Check out all the trail reports at

Sunday, February 1, 2009

City of Lakes Loppet report

On Friday I'd said that barring a major catastrophe, it would be the best Loppet ever. (For the record, I've skied every non-lake Loppet save 2007, when it was something like -10 with -30 wind chills: not the Best Loppet Ever.)

And Saturday it was 45 out. Thank goodness for a 8 inch base, which stood up to the sun (and thanks to the Loppet folks for closing the course—the Mac ski team had a nice day of shirts-off skiing at Battle Creek, and the course stayed good). I thought the snow would firm up overnight, but it actually stayed rather soft, not icy, which was good for my softer skis. We did the bus thing this year, which is always fun (school buses are made for kids, and people my size—higher than six feed—don't fit, not to mention skis). The bus rolled in to the start as the classic race hit the trail, and we watched out the windows.

One of the very nice things about the race is that it started in rather warm weather. Up until last year, it had a track record of being cold or canceled. The aforementioned freeze in 2007, around 10 in '06, canceled in '05 (51 the day before melted everything), 0 in 2004, and cold and on-lakes-only in 2003. So being able to lounge around at the start watching the classic race come through the start hill (a great new addition, fwiw) was fun.

The main event started on time, with temperatures nearing freezing and brilliant sunshine. The snow was still somewhat powdery, not too wet or icy—just fantastic conditions. The gun went off, I went out not-too-hard from the second row, and made for the top of the hill—I'd been doing some intervals on the hill and knew it, as I know the entire course. Zach Handler, with whom I go way back (when I was in high school in Boston we worked together at the ski place there—he having just graduated from Carleton, and he helped sell me on the Midwest for college), had fallen and passed me at the top of the hill. "Hey, maybe I can stay with Zach!" I thought. Nope, he got ahead of me in three of four strides. Oh, well. It's definitely his home course, he lives a couple blocks away in Bryn Mawr.

I was in line up the first big hill on the course when a skier started calling "on your left" and passing everyone, skiing half "in the rough." I said to myself, "well, I'm getting girled today." Caitlin Compton must have had a crap start, but managed to finish in 10th, overall. And way in front of any other women.

The course was great and of course I knew it like the back of my hand, but I didn't feel particularly strong. I did manage to catch Collin (from Macalester) who is a far better skier than I, but had returned from South Africa a week earlier and had been on snow for all of six or seven hours. He had gone out very hard—top 10—but looked to be fading. Once I got in front of him, I wanted to keep him behind, as it might be my only chance, ever, to beat him (and he had guaranteed me he'd kick my ass, and I'd agreed), although I think I may have out-sprinted him at a race at Telemark, back when he was a young punk in high school.

In any case, I skied with a pack in to Butler and decided, in the Bog, to catch the folks about 25 seconds ahead of us who we'd seen. Over the next four or five kilometers, I laboured to make up precious seconds and finally, with my last bit of strength, caught the group as we hit Brownie Lake—not a moment too soon. There was some lake winds and I didn't want to have to ski alone.

I stayed with the group across Cedar and then after we took the shore for a while (It was the only snow-issue area, there were a couple very icy sections. It's a nice idea to hit the shore, but a) there are a couple narrow sections, not great with 5k to go and b) there were a couple nasty, icy sections.) I decided to break the group and catch the one in front of us. So I did. I hit the lake and broke, after almost losing a couple guys on the sidewalk, I made the time back up. On Isles, with about a k to go, I realised that there was another pack about fifteen seconds in front of us. So I jumped.

But there wasn't quite enough distance, and I didn't have quite enough gas. That pack had broken up, and I almost caught the end of it, just missing catching one guy off of it (Danny Kueffer) but gaining some time on folks I'd been skiing with. One of them is a (female) olympic biathlete. To her credit, she is in med school.

So I came 52d. Not horrid, not great, but about where I'd expected, and less off the lead than in the past in the Loppet. Just 17% off the lead, which is nice, and just 25 seconds out of 42d, because of that pack in front of me. Oh, well. At least it was a very nice race. And I did beat Collin, although he recovered and only was about a minute back. And, heck, in six years they have built this up in to a great event. There's nothing like it in the country.

Some linkiness:


A pretty sweet video of the race:

About the best start around. Birkie might be better, but lacks the Minneapolis skyline in the background (there's something about skiing the Front 9 with downtown Minneapolis behind).

In the bog, the pack which I caught, displaying good downhill technique.

Me, displaying bad downhill technique (tired from clawing my way back to this pack).