Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Close to perfection.

I hit up Wirth this morning with somewhat-limited expectations and was very pleasantly surprised. The machine had gone around the course and when I hit the trails around 9 I was treated to virgin corduroy. The trail was firm but with a fine edge, and the snow surface was a mixture of older snow and ice (and manmade on the manmade trails). It's not perfect powder, but it definitely does the job.

The par 3 and back 9 trails were all in fine shape. In the 7.5k northwest of the parkway there were maybe half a dozen dirty spots, all of which could be skied around. It would probably behoove the race organizers to shovel them before the race on Sunday, as the trail is otherwise in fantastic shape. With an inch of new snow in the forecast tomorrow, it can only get better, and new snow should ski in nicely to the current surface.

Headed home, the front 9 looked to be in fine shape as well, and I saw the sled out on the City of Lakes trails south of Glenwood smoothing them out. Hopefully the trails will be this good for the Loppet nary six weeks off.

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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Birkie Trail

Double Birkie report forthcoming—for now I have to go to bed. But, a trail report:

The double Birkie was fantastic. Four or five inches of light, soft powder fell overnight and we went out from Fish Hatchery in the snow, but the groomer came by a couple K in and we had a pretty good classic track and a flat, if somewhat soft, skate lane. I switched to skating at OO and skated in to Telemark, with the groomer having gone through and the trail in very good shape. After lunch, heading south, the trail had firmed up an the skate deck was in terrific shape. Some old snow had been tilled up so it's not straight powder but it's firm and relatively fast (although a bit wet). Some cold nights and tilling should get it in even better shape, but the race could be run tomorrow and it would be great.

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Battle Creek

I took a couple loops of Battle Creek around midday (too lazy to head out early to Como) today with Double Birkie looming tomorrow. The trail is "relatively okay", by which I mean that while there is good snowcover, there are some icy and uneven spots. The surface is hard and fast, and with a bit more snow and grooming it should give a fine base for weeks to come. Unless you are confident of your downhill skills, I'd stay off the back hills, they're scarier going down in the light today than they were in the dark earlier this week. It's close to being awesome—and it's no fault of the groomers, who are doing yeomans work—but it's not quite there. If there's not new snow this week the classic race next week should be fun and/or carnage.

Friday, December 25, 2009

How bizarre is this storm?

Winds switched from NE to S, and the temperature dropped twenty degrees.


Thursday, December 24, 2009


There are few things better than hairies. Crust skiing might be, if the conditions are exquisite. But the thought of scraping your skis clean, roughing up the kick zones and striding around is fantastic. And rare. But today, with freshly-falling snow and the temperature at exactly freezing, I got excited—hairies!

I drove over to Battle Creek, strapped on the striders, and went out for a spin. With no kick. Apparently the bases of my skis are not as clean as I thought they might be. So, it was back to the car which is, luckily, a depository for all things ski (I only really use it to go to rollerski or hike in the summer, so it retains assorted ski detritus through the summer.) and the search began for sandpaper. A snippet was found. Then, a kick scraper. I didn't have one, but figured the scraper I use for my windshield (try it, ski scrapers beat the heck out of gas station scrapers) would suffice. Five minutes later, I was ready to go. A fellow walking by said "it seems like a great time to cross country ski." Indeed.

The kick was almost magical. I had no wax on my skis, but was able to stride a lot of the hills. I spent some time skiing in a bit of a track to go back and forth in, and skied around the whole loop. There's about a foot of snow in the open, and the trail has packed down really well—this snow should stick around a while—skating seemed good and a classic track should set up deep and firm. There are no thin or sketchy spots, which happens with heavy, dense snow. I went down the singletrack trail to practice my backcountry tele turning (with varie success) and didn't touch dirt. There's a lot of snow.

If they can roll the next batches of snow as well as the first, Battle Creek will have pretty epic conditions. Perfect timing for a race!

(I took a couple of pictures of the lighted course afterwards)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Terrace Oaks and Wirth/COLL

Before taking her to the airport (and she got out!) my sister and I took the 5k loop around the outside of Terrace Oaks. This was just after witnessing an accident 200 feet in front of us on 35E when some moron lost an SUV in his blind spot and changed lanes in to him. Fun. The skiing was fine, with some detritus on the trail and a few sections which were a bit dirty, but it's a good base, and it's slated to snow just a bit.

After dropping her at the airport I swung by Richfield and picked up Jakob to go ski. He's back from Duluth via San Francisco and hasn't skied yet. I suggested Terrace Oaks which he pointed out was a bit technical for someone who'd not skied. Terrace Oaks was out because I'd been there and Hyland because, as he said, "Hyland sucks." So it was off to Wirth. We parked at the beach and headed up the Loppet course to 394, where the grooming ends. The trail is in terrific shape save, perhaps, the climb up to the road crossing (but the downhill is fine to go up). And the snow is slow over by the freeway—what's new? It started snowing halfway through and by the time we got to the bridge it was coming down pretty good. Jakob suggested we ski the course backwards (with our headlamps on, we hadn't needed them yet) and we did, and there are a few hills on that course, up and down, which are not meant to be skied the wrong way. We also found out that the snow was pretty thin going up the road to the Flower Garden but, uh, that should be short-lived.

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

Theodore Wirth

With my sister in town, I didn't want to abuse her further than the hills at Battle Creek, so we elected to hit the front 9 on Wirth. I did double pole intervals, and she skated, and all was reported to be pretty good. Snow under the train bridges is fine, but over the bridge towards Highway 55 is thin. (Thanks to the shovelers under the bridge! Perhaps the Loppet folks will have some shovel parties once the new snow falls to thicken the usual thin spots.) There were a few grassy areas but nothing too bad; you could probably use good skis but rock skis are advisable.

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weather speculation: let the fun begin

I spend way too much time watching as each model run comes in. Ooh, the 12Z GFS! The 15Z SREF! In any case, the numbers are in flux, but a foot looks rather likely. Two feet is definitely not out of the question. The variables right now are whether any non-snow precipitation gets as far north as the Twin Cities (about 50-50 right now) and what the final QPF amounts are. That said, I'd bet someone gets two feet.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Theodore Wirth

It's all relative. The manmade snow is very good, although it seems as though the loop is not completely, well, complete yet. But if you want a solid classic track, uh, Wirth is where it's at. Otherwise, the rest of the back 9 and par 3 is in good shape, although it could use another foot of snow, touch wood.

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weather Speculation: Bullseye

During my time in the Twin Cities (since 2002), there's never been a real, proper snowstorm. There were a couple big storms in March (but what good do those do other than melt a week later?) and there have been several which have dumped snow to the east, west or north, but the Cities seem to have been in hole the whole time. As far as I can remember, we've not had a midwinter, foot-plus storm in, well, a long time.

That may change. The latest GFS has a 990mb low pressure center shooting straight up from the Gulf and stalling around La Crosse, spreading heavy snow and wind (all out blizzard) over much of Minnesota. (This is rather in line with the earlier ECMWF run I talked about this afternoon.) The rain snow line would set up from about Sioux City to Albert Lea to Eau Claire. North of this line would see somewhere in the range of 1.5 to 1.75 inches of snow-water equivalent, with a snow:water ratio of at least 10:1 and probably closer to 15:1. The math there works out to 15 to 26 inches, with more in Duluth off the lake. That's a crippling, shut down the highways and ski down the streets, snowstorm. Travel on Christmas Eve would be impossible. Is anyone else excited?

(QPF is shown to the left, with approximate snow amounts; the very-approximate rain-snow line is shown with yellow dots)

Just plain wow. That's the printout from the 00z GFS run for the 60 hours ending 7 a.m. on Saturday (i.e. 7 p.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Saturday) and it would snow much of this time. A white Christmas indeed. Things can change and probably will, but if this came to pass, it would be an absolutely epic snowstorm.

One more thing: although the situations are somewhat different—it's not October, and we don't have a cold front having just come through, and there's not a hurricane buckling the weather off the Eastern Seaboard (although Nantucket did have wind gusts of 60 mph this morning)—but this snow map looks almost-plausible given this weather system:

That is, of course, the Hallowe'en Blizzard of 1991. Which was also a low which shot nearly due north from the Gulf of Mexico in to cold air. (There's a great video on MinnPost about the storm, which was overshadowed by the "Perfect Storm" on the East Coast, but the two weather systems were interrelated—the Perfect Storm interrupted the jet stream, allowing a storm which would normally go east to go almost due north.)

Skiing could get very, very excellent soon for a long time to come (the models don't show near-freezing temperatures any time soon). Stay sharply tuned. …

Battle Creek

The new snow overnight skied in quite well and anything in the woods, with a couple exceptions, is in very good shape. The prairie is skiable but with rock skis of course (probably advisable for the whole thing). With light off the clouds, the unlit trails were fine through dusk.

Now, just waiting for the big pre-Christmas dump. Please?!

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

What do I want for Christmas?

Well, a foot of new snow would be nice.

There's chit-chat of some sort of storm moving through the Upper Mississippi Valley this coming week, and, well, it's well placed, but I remain somewhat skeptical. Why? Because until three days ago we didn't know if the East Coast was going to get a lot of snow or not. (If you're following along, they did. If you are trying to fly to the East Coast this weekend, well, you probably are still in Minnesota.) The models there bounced around inordinately, and the GFS and the ECMWF, the two longer-range models, had different solutions until about 48 hours before the storm. Washington, New York and Boston all had scenarios where they'd see two feet and other where they'd see sunny skies over the weekend, and the models only resolved in the last couple of days. So, anything put forth is almost pure speculation and while I wouldn't be too surprised to see a deep snowpack by Friday morning, I also wouldn't be surprised if we just had sun and starts (and Santa Claus) in the skies.

Let's go, as it were, to the video tape. Here are the last two runs of the GFS model, each printing out a foot of snow, or so, from Minnesota. Wisconsin gets the jackpot (as usual, it seems) but the North Shore gets hit, too, which they need up there. Either of these scenarios would be fine with me, but the models have been wobbly enough I'm not getting too excited. Yet.

On the other hand, the ECMWF, which doesn't show QPF, is intriguing because it seems to bring the storm up a bit closer to the Twin Cities. The latest ECMWF model run is further to the west of that storm track and could, presumably, shift the axis of heaviest snow in to Minnesota. The printout of the 12Z ECMWF vs the 12Z GFS shows how the models are still quite different.

This map shows the models, with the ECMWF in orange and the GFS in green, at 7 a.m. on the 25th (120 hours out from the model run). I've included the locations of the center of the low on the 24th (96 hours out) and 26th (144 hours out) for comparison. The GFS takes the low almost due north from Central Arkansas to near Milwaukee, and then retrogrades it (retrograding means that does not follow the normal east-west pattern) to near Watersmeet in the UP. This is the scenario which would dump snow heaviest in a Madison-Wausau corridor. But look at the ECMWF. It starts further west, near Texarkana, and goes due north to near Des Moines, before turning to the east. This would seem to throw the heaviest snow from Omaha to Sioux City to Minneapolis and Birkieland.

And I'm inclined to believe this model for two reasons. First, while all the models have been pretty bad this year, the ECMWF has been slightly better than the GFS. In the recent East Coast storm, the EC started with the coastal storm which eventuated, while the GFS was much further east and came back west with time. The second reason I believe the ECMWF a bit more is that it's generally more likely to have a normal east-west pattern than a retrograde, so the west-to-east movement of the GFS seems less likely.

In any case, it will be quite telling in the next couple of days as to what happens—whether we'll have two feet of snow on the ground by Christmas. Okay, that's an exaggeration. Maybe.

(There might be a couple inches before then, but it appears more likely to go south of us.)

Update: the latest Canadian GEM model seems to split the difference, although it has a pretty dramatic precipitation cutoff near the Twin Cities.

Woodland race report

Woodland did the best with what they had for the race, which was just barely enough. It would have been nice to have not been routed on the asphalt, but what are you going to do? With some new snow (check) and a good roll and groom, they'll probably to get it back in good shape, although there is enough dirt at the surface that it'll need a good snow before it is perfect again.

The registration, day-of (because I was way too lazy to register online and don't mind giving Elk River a few extra dollars) was $35, and I had $33 in bills in my wallet. And lots of quarters. I think I started the race with about five Euros and $1.50 in my back pocket (proverbially, my wallet was in the car). I warmed up with Zach Handler to the X and back (skipping Gravity Box) and felt okay, and went and lined up for the start.

Because of the snow, the usual start that I came up with a couple years ago (backwards on the winder prairie loop and through the start to thin the field) wasn't possible, so several dozen of us went, in 100 meters, from a 30-meter-wide course to a 3-meter wide trail, which meant that those folks who got up to the front did well and those who didn't, well, fought it out on the trail for quite a while. About a kilometer in someone fell in front of a pack of us and we all stacked up, which would be a theme for the day. Craig Ruud blamed his wife (nice, Craig) and we strung out along the trail. The skiers were tightly packed and one competitor (who shall not be named) kept yelling at people about watching their poles. Seriously? I mean, either ski further behind us or way out in front, but don't ski where my poles are being planted.

Anyway, the race hit the Stony Rollers which were kind of grassy, and headed back through the rest of the course and on towards the lap, where there were some very thin areas over asphalt. I hit asphalt once and scraped a bit of laminate off my skis, which makes my skis look badass (oh, wood on the side? yeah). Then it was in to a second lap and I wasn't feeling particularly peppy, and finished in 1:07 which is not very good, but whatever. With a lot of kids back from college and some potential olympians leading out (everyone is home for Christmas, although the field is probably not as stacked as next week's Boxing Day Como race, which, at least, is groomed out real wide) I wasn't going to place real well, although I'd have liked to have a better percent back.

Of course, I'm not planning to peak in December. To the rollerboard!

Friday, December 18, 2009


Again to como, same as yesterday. Still quite good with a few brown spots and some cart paths, but they're avoidable.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009


The reports from folks who had skied pre-pub were that Como was quite good. Not wanting to fight the tail end of rush hour over to Battle Creek, I decided to give it a whirl, the first time at Como since October. And it was surprisingly good.

There are a few thinner sections which see some grass and dirt pulled up by the groomer, and the cart path on the last section of the Glacier is showing through, so rock skis are probably a good bet (especially at night). Still, with a bit of shoveling—and there's ample snow to shovel—it should be in good shape for the post-Christmas race.

And it's 7 minutes from my house. Morning skiing much?

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Battle Creek

The classic tracks do have grass in places, but for my first time striding this year, it was not half bad. Kick was whatever was leftover from last year on my rock skis, and glide was surprisingly good. The tracks are solid, if thin in a few places. Getting the classic technique back will take a bit of trying, though. Note to self: when temperatures are below 0, remember all your pants. Long underwear and spandex won't cut it.

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Battle Creek

Back to Battle Creek, with a couple inches of fresh powdah, for very good skiing. A few thin spots, but mostly over grass or mulch. During the day good skis would be fine. I hit the trails for about 75 minutes and did a few repeats with a headlamp up the big hill on the back loop. Hopefully they'll be able to comb it and set a classic track tonight (it was just rolled) which should set up real well.

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Terrace Oaks

After not waking up for the early race at Wirth, I headed down to Terrace Oaks this afternoon for a couple hours on snow. Conditions there were good, but rock skis would be recommended. The base is quite firm but there is quite a bit of dirt (and rebar, and manhole covers) showing in places. Tracks are set around, but they seem to see some grass and dirt and are washed out on most of the climbs. They've dug up a lot of leaves, too, although with current cold wax conditions I doubt this would be a major issue. With new snow, however, the current snow should provide a fine base for some good skiing.

I saw Bruce leaving when I got there so I bet he'll have a trail report, too.

(And, yes, 2-4 inches tonight. No real comment here other than it may take some time to saturate the cold air mass overhead, so I'm a tad bit skeptical on these numbers.)

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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hoigaards/Breadsmith race

The new venue for the Hoigaards race is nice—no more waking up at 5:15 for the race at 6:45—but … well it sure would be nice if MPRB had made a bit more snow. What they've made is very good. Firm, packed, and fast. But it's barely a kilometer long! It's all hills, with some fast and fun downhills and anything else being a pretty good up, but, come on, you can't get 2.5k made in a week in a half with four guns and temperatures generally in the teens or below? Someone really needs to get a lesson from Weston. I talked to John who said he'd be out moving guns around because the parks workers are content to have one blowing at a time. And they have five guns! They really need to work on this.

In any case, I took a couple Macalester skiers, and I skied the first and last legs. A couple fun intervals, and I jumped right in to lactate threshold, getting that race feel. For all of eight minutes around the course twice. It'll be fun to head over there once the snow is in more as the classic track looks solid, and the rest of the course skiable (I might try it out later this afternoon for 20k or so). With decent natural snow, however, the manmade section is not particularly necessary.

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Battle Creek

Same as yesterday—until proven otherwise, we'll stick with Battle Creek. I stayed off the big hills thanks to forgetting my headlamp, but the rest is good. A couple leafy sections on the wooded part of the lit loop, but nothing too bad. A couple inches of snow (Sunday?) would do wonders.

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Battle Creek

I called Burnsville and they reported that Terrace Oaks was fair. So, I headed over to Battle Creek and it was quite good. The prairie is skiable, but pretty grassy. The woods, however, are very good. With more grooming and cold temperatures, it's much firmer than yesterday with a good skate deck and a definite rock ski classic track (dirt and leaves in places). You could probably get away skating on the wooded sections with good skis during the day, but not at night.

A couple non-prarie sections to watch out on: after the big climb off the prairie and the second half of the big climb on the back hills. However, the main climb up the prairie is in very good shape. The lights are on, but, of course, there's only a couple K with good snow and lights. A headlamp is nice, but it can probably be skied on ambient light. It's exciting to be back on snow!

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Battle Creek

I was up at 5:45 to shovel HOURCARs today and planned an early ski. Based on prior reputation, I headed down to Terrace Oaks. And, it was ungroomed. I was, well, not pleased. I called the office and was assured that they are grooming this year, but hadn't gotten there yet. Since, when it is groomed, it is very sheltered, and the coverage looks good, once it is groomed it may be the pick of the Cities.

So, it was up 35E, across the Wakota Bridge (inexplicable traffic) and up 61 to Battle Creek which was, well, decent. The prairie was not even worth skiing, but the back woods were rolled and pretty solid. Well, they were soft, but coverage is good and the rolling makes it quite skiable. There are a few leafy sections and a bit of mulch, but the work this summer left the trail in great shape. It's best accessed by going up the sliding hill and then 50 yards behind it to the trail. The sliding hill is wicked fun coming down on the way home.

A bit more rolling and it should set up well in the cold weather. Good job Ahvo and friends!

Also, the lights aren't on. With clouds the ambient light was fine, but real lights would be great.

Oh, and on the way back 94 was a skating rink. Funny, when you don't treat the roads when it's above 0, and it drops close to 0, the roads freeze up. Hmm, I wonder if salting the roads dry (melt the snow which then evaporates under tires) would help with this. Perhaps.

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Highland golf course

With the drive to Elm Creek looking like an hour each way, we headed down to Highland for a quick go-round. Had there been no wind, it would have been fine, but with the gusty breeze, there were some small drifts forming. We could definitely get some glide, but wound up doing some technique work. Still, it beats the heck out of dryland. Groomed trails tomorrow!

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

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Storm speculation update

With the latest model runs in, everything looks on-target. The Winter Storm Watches are up, and we're looking at 5-8 inches of snow Tuesday in to Wednesday. The NAM, which had been advertising less snow, is trending slightly more, the GFS, which had been higher, going slightly less. Still, we're looking good. Light, fluffy, and not falling too hard, although it will cause some driving nightmares I bet (skiing, on the other hand …). Wax 'em up!

9:00 a.m. Monday: still looking good. GFS and NAM both have the 0.5" QPF (quantity of precipitation) running through the Twin Cities. At 15:1 snow rations, that's 7.5 inches. Pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

2:30 p.m. Monday: the latest NAM has us up to 7.5 QPF, which would be close to a foot of snow. Stay tuned …

The ghosts of winters past

(Click on any charts to view larger versions)

On Friday afternoon, my housemate asked if I could dig up the weather records for precipitation for 2006 to 2007. Surely! I did, and stumbled upon a treasure trove of data—highs, lows, precip, snow and snow depth for every day back to the 1890s. Except for 1913 and the early 2000s, the data are pretty much complete.

This got me to thinking: what is a normal snow year in the Twin Cities? A lot of memories go back to the 1970s when there was a lot of snow, but what was the skiing like before then? Were winters always snowier than now? Or should we stop complaining?

Well, several hours and a 17 megabyte Excel file later (I'd be willing to share it if anyone is interested), I can provide some sorts of answers. During the average winter:

85 days have at least 1 inch of snow on the ground.
71 days have at least 2 inches,
61 days have at least 3 inches,
53 days have at least 4 inches,
37 days have at least 6 inches,
20 days have at least 9 inches,
12 days have at least 12 inches,
3 days have at least 18 inches and
0 (well, 0.3) days have at least two feet accumulated.

Another way to break it out is by the number of days with at least three inches of snow (which generally equates to good skiing). I have all these data by year (and by all, I mean all) but it'd be too long to post. But the decades break out as follows:


(* data not complete for 1912-3 or 2000-1 to 2003-4)

Now to some pretty pictures. First, from Charles Fisk's climatology site, we have a great chart of the mean and maximum snow depth, by calendar date (click to expand):

Fantastic. Here's another: percent of days, by calendar day, with at least three inches of snow on the ground (click to expand):

A few interesting things here. First, note the similarity to the trail-report derived chart from the past seven winters. If anything, winter seems to be coming later and staying later. Also just for some data points, there's a better than 50/50 chance of skiing on any given day from about Christmas to Birkie, and it's a pretty sharp drop on either side, except for some weird blip in early March, where there's a better chance of skiing on March 10 than March 3. The best stretch is January 12 to February 4, with a better than 70% chance of three-plus inches of snow. The single best days are February 2 and 3, which have each been skiable 75% of the time (with at least three inches of snow). There's probably a reason City of Lakes picked that weekend. And if we get to ski this week, we'll be bucking history: there's only a one-in-three chance of skiing on any given day in this week of December.

We can also look at different levels of snow depth. For instance, the year with the most days with at least one inch of snow on the ground was 1964-5, with 137 days.
With at least 2 inches, the winners were 1964-5 and 1981-2, with 131 days (this was the year when the record depth of 38 inches was set after storms dropping 17 and 21 inches two days apart in mid-January)
With at least 3 inches, the winner was 1981-2, with 130 days
With at least 4 inches, the winner was 1978-9, with 124 days
With at least 6 inches, the winner was 1978-9, with 121 days
With at least 9 inches, the winner was 1978-9, with 103 days
With at least 12 inches, the winner was 1968-9, with 84 days (amazingly, there were only 4 other days with at least six inches on the ground)
With at least 18 inches, the winner was 1966-7, with 45 days
With at least 24 inches, the winner was 1966-7, with 11 days

What's striking here is that all of these extreme years occurred from 1964 to 1982. And the data go for 105 years! So there was definitely a snow peak in the mid 1960s to early 1980s.

For low years, 1930-1 had just 19 days with an inch of snow, 1958-9 had but a dozen days with two inches, 1943-4 had only one day with three inches, and 1901-2 and 1930-1 were the only two winters in which four inches of snow depth was not recorded. The data are less telling here, and recent drought winters (2000-1 and 2002-3 come to mind, as does 2004-5) for which the data are not complete may compete, but if the bare ground is getting you down, just repeat to yourself: it could be worse.

These data, too, we can view as charts. First, we have a chart of the number of days with at least so many inches of snow on the ground (click to expand).

Next, we have the same data, but in 11-year rolling averages for each depth, by number of days with at least that amount on the ground (click to expand).

What's interesting here are the peaks and valleys in snowfall, smoothed over the years, as well as the overall, long-term upwards trend (although the 2000-2004 years might pull recent data down, even as 2001-2 would pull it up). There was a peak in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and then a major drop-off before huge winters from the mid 1960s through early 1980s pushed the average number of days with at least two inches on the ground over 100, from below 60. And look at the 6 inch contour—from under 20 to nearly 80, a nearly fourfold difference! The long term variation is really quite amazing.

In any case, there's no telling what the current winter will bring. We're a bit late on setting the one-inch-or-more record (although we do have October 13 in our back pocket) but, with a snowstorm in the offing, we hopefully won't fall in to the wall of shame. We'll take a look back in the spring when we revisit the climate series and look back on the winter that was. Until then, let the trail reports fly!

(And the usual disclaimer: IANAM—I am not a meteorologist. Or climatologist. Oh, and the Excel file is up to 23 MB.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Storm speculation

For a while, the models have been hinting at a storm for the middle of next work. A big one. Three feet of snow in the mountains of Colorado, with the low then ejecting east across the Plains. At first, the models suggested that the snow would generally stay south of the Twin Cities, but recent model runs, while not changing the track significantly, have suggested that an inverted trough on the back side of the storm will sit in the Upper Midwest, setting down several inches of snow.

The National Weather Service is excited. With cold temperatures, they are preliminarily talking about seven or eight inches of snow. But they are excited because looking at analog patterns—similar situations in the past—show a storm from January of 1982, which dumped about a foot and a half of snow on the Twin Cities (one of two such storms in a three day period, leading to the greatest snow depth—38 inches—ever recorded, quite literally off the charts). But, even a foot and a half would be exciting enough!

(Again, no guarantees here; the NAM model is not biting to the same degree. We'll see.)

And, no Ironwood

Nine hours of driving didn't seem worth it for rock ski conditions.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Going to Ironwood

Skiing, skiing and pasties. Saturday. Be there. Or be on manmade snow at Wirth. All is well in skiland, but all will be better if a storm shapes up for next week. Something is brewing on the latest GFS, as a storm is trending further and further west, but we'll watch for some continuity, first. Often, storms will trend west and then go back towards the mean. But not always. This one has potential.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More weather hype: snow for Thanksgiving?

There's a chance I might get to pull a Larry David—to be happy and cheery at others' expense. Why? Because on the upcoming biggest travel day of the year, Wednesday, we might get just enough snow to a) ski on and b) tie up traffic something awful.

Let me stress: might.

The models, this time of year, are less than stellar. Wednesday is still three days away. However, for several consecutive runs, the GFS model has bullseyed an area of QPF (precipitation) over the Twin Cities, with most of it looking to fall as snow on the back side of a progression of lows. Before you get too excited, consider the aforementioned inaccuracy of the models, the other models not quite showing the same thing (the NAM has most snow further east), the fact that this is a small area of precipitation so a small shift of a few dozen miles could make or break the deal, and the fact that the temperature will be near freezing, so a few degrees could make for a cold rain.

Now that I've sufficiently dampened enthusiasm, let's go to the video tape (as it were). Last night's 00Z (midnight CST for the GFS) model run showed the precipitation east of here. Since then, the following are the approximate QPF estimates for once the air column cools enough for snow. Here are 06Z, 12Z and 18Z runs. The contours are 0.01", 0.1", 0.25", 0.5" and upwards; 0.5" being dark blue.

So … that's three straight model runs with us getting at least three inches of snow, or so. This is all spun out the back of a second system and will hit warm, wet ground, so there's no telling how much will actually fall. But, it's certainly more than nothing. The next few runs should be very interesting, indeed, as well as whether other models jump on board. There will be much more to know to know tomorrow, and remember, IANAM (I am not a meteorologist).

A bit of good news if it does snow (or even if it doesn't): the models are showing a more muted warmup next weekend before the real cold comes in, so if we get a few inches of snow, with the current low sun angle, it might not all melt completely. Winter is certainly late, but it should be coming soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Don't believe the hype

If you listened to Minnesota Public Radio this morning, you probably heard a conversation between the host and one of their meteorologists (who blog at the Updraft Blog, which is very good). They were talking about the possibility for a snowstorm on Monday, and made it sounds, well, not like a done deal, but like a definite possibility.

Don't get excited. This is not the case.

Is there a chance of a slight snowfall next week? Yes. Sure. The pattern will be changing somewhat, and there's a lot of energy hurling through the system which could wind up and dump some snow somewhere over the upper-Midwest. Is it something that has been on the model runs over a couple of days? Not so much. Last night's GFS (the 00z run, which comes out around 11 p.m. CST) showed a possibility of a minor snow event on Monday, with marginal heights, resulting in a wet snow which would probably melt on the warm ground. The 06z showed something similar. The most recent run shows, well, maybe some snow over Chicago? Who knows.

So, yes, there's a possibility. Keep your eye out. But I wouldn't scrape the storage wax off the good skis just yet.

(The good news is that the models are hinting at a proper winter pattern around the first of December.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Como in October

Patience is a virtue.

When it was snowing in the morning, I waited. The ground was 60˚. It would be mush. When it was evening, I waited. Still above freezing. In the morning, when it had been in the 20s for eight hours, I went to Como. And it was skiing.

The snow stuck around and froze up well, it was a cross between fast grass and skiing. However, except for the cart paths, coverage was complete, and I was able to ski the full 5k, with some minor variations to avoid pavement, at Como. It was definitely not mid-winter conditions—far from it. However, it was skiing in October, something I've never done before. It leaves May and September as my ski-free months. I may not hit snow for a while, but today was a good taste. And, heck, it was better skiing than the first ski at Como last year, on the 12th. Of November.

No complaints. None at all.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Early weather speculation

No, no, it's not ski season yet. Somewhere, maybe. Montana? Norway? Not here. … Yet.

Actually, likely not here for a little while. But it doesn't mean we can't have a bit of weather speculation. First off, the NWS points out that if today's rain storm were hitting a month later
Alas, we just don't have the elevation. (I was at 4300 feet in New England last week and it was snowing lightly.)

Then, well, there's this weekend, when we may see some snow. Probably not enough to accumulate, and since it has yet to drop below freezing the ground will not hold it. But we may see snow, as it will be cold enough that anything that falls will be solid and white. (Not bad, considering our average high is still in the low 60s.) This weekend will be considerably colder; highs may struggle to reach 40 on Saturday or Sunday.

Why do I mention this? Because the last time it was this cold, this early, ABR had good skiing. On October 12, 2006, the high in Minneapolis was 39. In Ironwood it was 30 and they had 18 inches of snow, and ABR groomed. It's not currently forecast to be quite that cold. And lake effect definitely depends on how the winds set up, not just how cold it is (although the westerly winds forecast would be good). In any case, keep your eye on the UP next weekend. I'm not saying it will snow, but I've looked back to 1970 and there are no colder days in the first half of October. If we have a high below 40 and a low in the mid-20s, watch ABR indeed.

In other words, I'll be taking rock skis to the Whistlestop Marathon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Flurries awards: trail of the year

With my gushing over Woodlands in the grooming award, you'd think they'd win the trail of the year award, too. Nope.

I can't say that this was the easiest award to give out. It was, indeed, the hardest. Since it combines classic tracks, skate lanes, terrain, snow quality, grooming quality, and other intangibles, it is a major all-around award, and not one to easily figure out. In a year with little snow, City of Lakes and Elm Creek would duke it out. In a year with a lot of tricky grooming, Battle Creek and Elk River would be contenders. But this year was rather benign in all categories, and the contenders for this award are pretty much every trail I skied in the Metro, and even some I didn't: Como, Battle Creek, Terrace Oaks, City of Lakes, Elk River, Elm Creek and Hyland.

Look at that list. What trail is missing?

Of course: Murphy Hanrahan. In a season with generally good conditions, Murphy has the trump card in this category: the best terrain. All conditions, travel times and grooming being equal, I'd rather ski 10k at Murphy than anywhere else in the area. The quiet, beautiful forest. The screaming downhills and heart-pounding uphills. The well-cared-for trails with good grooming. The terrain. Ah, yes, the terrain. One of my criteria for the "that was the winter that was" series was skiable months at Murphy. When good snow reigns supreme, Murphy is hard to beat.

Or, to put it another way, where else can you get to in half an hour that has more vertical climb per kilometer than the Birkie Trail? With skiing this year in December, January, February and March, Murphy wins.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Flurries awards: golf course of the year

(note: the City of Lakes course is not included in these rankings, since it would probably win every time and since the trail wanders off the golf course)

Why give an award in this category? Well, because with today's fast-paced lifestyle, there are a lot of times when you need to go ski on the fairways in order to do what needs to be done. If you live where I do, Highland Golf Course is five minutes away, Como is ten. Especially at rush hour, these are much more convenient than the more interesting, sheltered and fun trails in the woods. But, golf courses are a necessity.

Last year, I would have had some issue deciding on this award. Como was a mess with utility work and shoddy grooming, and Highland, well, too often when I go to Highland the wind blowing across the hill is brutal and cold. Let's just say I'm not a fan.

This year, however, Como wins, hands down. Grooming at Como has improved in recent years. Back in the day, they'd sometimes run a Pisten Bully on three inches of snow, renovating up enough grass that I thought there'd be a brown, curvy line through the course come spring. With the exception of last year, when utility work set back grooming somewhat, it has improved since. It is a shame to have lost some trail in the back bowl, and it would be superb if some of the snowmaking could be extended to give us Saint Paulites a manmade strip of our own (getting through downtown Minneapolis at rush hour is a pain), but the grooming at Como this year was quite good.

The best example of this is regarding the hill climbing out of the back bowl. It originally was laid out so that it climbed up the side of a hill, with perhaps an eight percent fall line running perpendicular to the trail. I suggested on Skinnyski that they could groom a slightly more circuitous route and have much better trails. A couple days later, it was so. After trucks driving across the course all last winter, this is far better.

The one other thing at Como is the ability to telemark on the snowboard hill. A couple times there were a few inches of new powder over a solid, but not icy, base, and I took advantage. I'd storm up the hill (got to get in those hill climbs) and then drop my knees, curling down. It doesn't quite measure up to tele-skiing down the freshly-groomed gravity ski slope at Giants Ridge, but still pretty darned fun.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Flurries awards: grooming of the year

This one is too easy. Is there any question? First a few comments on trail systems with good grooming (which did not win):

1. City of Lakes. Who else grooms 35k including snowmaking and lakes, and shovels to make sure of a major race? No one, that's who.
2. Elm Creek. Mastery of the manmade.
3. Battle Creek. Since volunteers took over a few years ago, Battle Creek has gone from a mess, with hit-or-miss conditions even when the base was thick, to a well-groomed trail with consistently great conditions and grooming.
4. Terrace Oaks. Terrace Oaks somehow holds snow better than anyone, and is always groomed promptly and well after snow, although touchups sometimes are needed.
5. Murphy Hanrahan. Murphy has done quite well grooming even when there isn't feet of base.

But the winner is, of course, Woodland Trails in Elk River. Hands down. It cemented it's position--and it was already way ahead of the field--in March, when Elk River had fantastic skiing on March 14 when everyone else was melted out. But, I can not say enough good things about Woodland. (Seriously, check out my reports for them.)

Where else do the groomers refer to themselves as "Slaves"? Where else do they groom every time they need to and never when they don't? Who else takes as good care of their trail, year-round? No one, that's who.

And then there's their grooming equipment. A lot of ski trails invest oodles of money in the latest and greatest grooming equipment, with a new piece coming in every year. I have nothing against that, but am consistently amazed what Woodlands can do with two snomobiles, some lengths of culvert and screens with the ends pointed down. Seriously, with $500 of non-snowmobile equipment, they have the best conditions around. I think it goes to show that sweat equity beats dollars, hands down, every time. From the meticulously grassy trails to the constant care, Woodlands has the best grooming in the Cities. By far.

The trail slaves deserve this award more than anyone else deserves theirs.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flurries awards: striding tracks of the year

Now we get in to the meaty awards: the awards for specific trails. Since this site is often devoted to my rambling trail reports, these are obviously the most important in my mind. Day in and day out, who has the best ...?

Today we'll look at striding tracks. There are several contenders for this award, but based on what I observed, a rather obvious winner. First, to the honourable mentions:

* City of Lakes. The COLL course this year had very good striding tracks when there was snow, especially on the back 9 portion of the course. There, a great 8k loop was available with some good striding hills and, with the trail on a golf course, it was generally more than wide enough to keep the skaters out.
* Terrace Oaks. Terrace Oaks always has good grooming and often sets tracks before anyone else. However, once a few people skate around, owing to the width of the trail, the tracks are often obliterated. A few extra feet would do wonders.
* Battle Creek. Battle Creek is sort of a hybrid between City of Lakes and Terrace Oaks. On the prairie, the tracks are very good and wide, but sometimes windblown. In the woods, they're less reliable, but when they're good, they're great. I'd probably give the hills at BC the nod for striding interval hills of the year.

But the winner? Well, not surprisingly, it's a trail system that specialises in striding tracks: Lebanon Hills. Lebanon had some great tracks early on in the season, but I think it won the award when, the day after Birkie, it took four inches of snow and set tracks nearly all the way around. The trails are fun and quite stride-able, and although a bit more terrain would be great, the quality of the tracks is unparalleled.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Flurries awards: snowmaking of the year

My first year in the Twin Cities, 2002-2003, we needed fake snow. The first skiable snow was in February, before that we had a week on the lakes and, otherwise, it was browner than brown. A few guns could have pumped out some "powder" since it was cold, but there were very few options, and none were nearby or cross-country specific.

I grew up with a luxury beyond luxuries: manmade snow five minutes from home. Okay, so anyone who knows Weston Ski Track knows that it is far from luxury, but with a dedicated team of snowmakers, four or five guns and a nice, brown river flowing by (when manmade snow is made on new snow, the colour difference is impressive) they consistently have skiing from December through March, even with Boston's fickle climate.

In 2002, the options were far more limited. Trollhaugen had just started offering their slopes to skiers, and Hyland was open from 7-9 in the a.m. Buck Hill would set a bit of a classic track around their base in the mornings too. Still, my memories of waking up for practice at 6 a.m. because we had to make the best of things at Hyland were not pleasant.

It's amazing what a difference six years makes. We now have Elm Creek, which has probably overtaken Weston as the best snowmaking near a city. We also have the snowmaking at Wirth Park, which is closer and has, in my opinion, better terrain than Elm Creek. However, Wirth has a bit to learn about making snow. (In my opinion, Weston is by far the best I've seen. They can have four hours of temperatures below 28 and pump out a significant amount of snow in that time, which often means the difference between skiing and not skiing.) Until Wirth can get things better, like making enough of a base to last through meltdowns, touching up areas which are thin or dirty, and bridging low spots so that they don't wash out, Elm Creek will win this award hands down. I do hope, however, that Wirth gets its act together; they better have a nice thick base to last in to march for JOs in 2011.

If the COLNF can master snowmaking and lengthen the course (John Swain had mentioned commandeering a manure spreader in the winter and using it to spread a trail) it will likely be the best snowmaking around, and probably a candidate to host some high-level races. I'd be all for it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Flurries awards: volunteers of the year

This year, there is no clear-cut winner for volunteers of the year. There were no races heroically saved by swarms of shovelers (since we had good snow to begin with) and no particular accomplishments which overshadow all others. Anyone and everyone who volunteers as a groomer, a race crew or helped with trails deserves this award.

However, to be a bit more specific, this Flurry this year will go to anyone working a race on the last weekend in January, when it was very, very, very cold. The Gov Cup, the Noque, the Itasca Supertour had some wonderful volunteers who hopefully still have all their fingers and toes. Remember, it's a lot colder to stand in subzero weather than to ski in it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Flurries awards: race of the year

When there is good snow, there are good races. That was the case this year. From all reports, nearly every race around went out on great conditions without a hitch (the minor exception being the Snowflake-Inga Lami). So how do we select a race? Well, we can base it on several factors: logistics, course, grooming and organisation.

And on pretty much all these counts, the City of Lakes Loppet takes the cake. Despite a warm-up the day before, the trail was in great shape (at least for the early waves), fast and fun. The volunteers were superb, the competition good and the ending fun as always. It was probably the best Loppet yet, and whilst other races were fantastic, I think the COLL takes the cake.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Flurries awards: skiers of the year

I was debating whether to have skiers of the year. It would be rather hard to choose, and how to decide on criteria; it would definitely be completely subjective. And I'd risk offending people. And I'd never want to do that on the internet.

My life was made easier, however, by the fact that there were pretty obvious choices for both male and female skiers of the year. Now, to recap, that these awards are based on "for the local skiers who have had the most impressive skiing years (and a premium is placed on both local, national and international racing)." I don't really know what that means, so I'll qualify it with the fact that doing cool things, especially in big races, help, especially at races I attended. Remember, totally subjective.

Let's start with the men, since it's pretty darned easy. If you guessed Matt Liebsch, you'd be right. I first met Matt back in 2005 when he was skiing for the U and I was in the market for a pair of classic boots. Since then, he's gone from being a good skier to being a really good skier, and I've [redacted]. But I still race in his classic boots. Heck, I podiumed at the Gov Cup (uh, out of a field of maybe two dozen?) in them. And I can say that Matt is a really nice guy.

And it turns out, a good skier, too. But he did two things this year which are pretty cool. He started out winning on a team at the Breadsmith Relays. That was not one of the things. The first one I saw was at Mora. The field went out fast, then slowed down, and then at 15k got fast. That's all I know. Supposedly it got faster, and faster, and faster, and was then down to one. Matt skied the Mora course, in to the wind, a flat course, on his own. And won by something like four minutes. That's crazy.

Then it went to Birkie weekend. This time Matt had enough time on everyone that he decided to grab his kid across the line. And then …

Well, Matt, next time you win the Birkie, don't drop Grant. Matt may not have had great success internationally, but anyone who wins the the Birkie and the Mora wins the Flurry.

For the women, it was not as clear-cut, but a few factors led to Caitlin Compton. She had some more success internationally than Matt, but three things stick out in my mind to give her the award.

First, she almost won a race at Woodland. "Of course she did," you'll say, the City of Lakes. No, I don't mean the women's field. I mean, against the boys.

That's the end of the race. Bjorn Batdorf, not a bad skier himself, won. And Caitlin finished four seconds back.

That's pretty good.

Then it was City of Lakes time. Against a better field, she finished 11th. Overall. And a good five minutes over the next women.

Then, a couple weeks later, Caitlin got a nice spread in City Pages. And she went off to Europe. So, all in all, not too shabby.

Kudos to CXC, as it's a twofer for the CXC team. Good on you guys.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Flurries awards: Website of the year

Is there any question. It's not like there are a lot of websites out there devoted to nordic skiing and there's definitely one definitive one in the Upper Midwest.

Skinnyski, this award is yours, probably in perpetuity.

Congrats, Bruce, on having the most awesomest website out there.

Rollerskiing on Google Street View

Along Hiawatha, just south of 28th, in Minneapolis, Google's Street View picked up a rollerskier.

View Larger Map

How cool is that? I'm pretty darned sure it's not me but, heck, a post on Skinnyski might unmask the mystery skier! Leave a comment if you think you know who it is...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

On the other hand

Real meteorologists take in to account all the models, look at various other data, use thinks like the bufkit (Pretty much a software package, or "kit", from the Buffalo office of the NWS, or "buf", which I don't have.) and such to make real forecasts. The NWS is down to "less than an inch," probably because of the dry air in place early on when QPF overspreads the area. Which will at least keep things dry. What good is three inches of snow in April, anyway?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Skunked again ... or not?

It looks like we will have reaped two inches, maybe three, out of two storms which dump a foot over the northern half and southern fringe of Minnesota. Stuck in the middle. Again. I'm not bitter, as we had a decent snow season, and it's not like we really need one day of mediocre skiing in April. It's just that, gosh, I like snow.

Tomorrow's storm offers a faint glimmer of home on two scales. On a large scale, we've seen the models move storms north over the last few hours. It happened, big-time, last week. (Sunday the folks in Elk River were talking about grooming; Tuesday they had white grass.) And this time, the NAM pushed snow north. Then south. So, is it to be trusted? Nah.

Then there's the GFS. It's been rather steady; according to the latest AFD, it's been the model of choice. And through it's 12z run, it's put the heaviest band of snow through about Albert Lea. So we'll see if the 18z run looks any better.

For pure speculation, let's look at the ARW forecast. It's a finer-scale forecast and only goes to 48 hours, but look:It, uh, shows us as having more than 0.5 inches of QPF (4-8 inches of snow) halfway through the storm. Okay, that's getting interesting. It had the snow band south in its 00z run, and then jumped 100 miles north for the 06z and 12z. That is interesting.

Now, the 18z GFS is just coming out. And......everything is shifted north. In one run, everything is up 75 miles. The Cities are not in the bullseye, but all of a sudden this is a "plowable storm" if not more. Take a look at the same time period, one run earlier:

There are a few contours of note. The 0.25 QPF contour (dark green) has moved north from about Rush City to Cloquet. The 0.5 contour (dark blue) went from Hastings to Hinckley. The 1.0 inch contour moved a bit less, but still went from Albert Lea to Northfield. This would put down a foot of snow from I-90 to Northfield, and 6-12 inches for the Metro. It might just be a stronger or differently-shaped storm (the southern contours changed less). Time, I guess will tell.

The snow, should it come, would not be necessary. It would make the trails muddier and wetter for some time. And it might give us a day or two of skiing. I'd be downright enthralled if it were December. For now, I'll just keep a close eye on the models as they roll through.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

2009 Ski Season Awards!

It's that time of year again. Well, not again. The snow has melted, the sun is out (hooray!) and most of us are focusing in on running, biking, when the trails will dry out, when we actually want to start rollerskiing, how quickly we can make up for the beer we didn't drink during the ski season, &c.

But it's also time for the First Annual SkiMSP Blog Awards:
"The Flurries"
That's right, this blog will give out awards over the next week in several categories, with the winners determined completely unscientifically and solely by me. The winners of these prestigious awards will go on to fame and fortune. Or not. Awards will be given in the following categories:

* Website of the year: for the website which has done the most to advance local skiing.
* Skier of the year (male and female): for the local skiers who have had the most impressive skiing years (and a premium is placed on both local, national and international racing).
* Race of the year: for the race with the best snow, volunteers and organisation
* Volunteers of the year: this will be given only in years when a group of volunteers, through superhuman effort, advances the interests of skiers or makes a race happen despite all odds (see Loppet, City of lakes, 2006).
* Snowmaking of the year: for the best fake snow in the area
* Striding tracks of the year: for the best striding tracks in the area
* Grooming of the year: taking in to account snow conditions and amount, dedication and general vigour, verve and alacrity, which trail has the best grooming of the year
* Trail of the year: all things considered (grooming, terrain, snow &c.) the best trail of the year.

Again, this is all based on my opinions. If you disagree, leave a comment and start a flame war!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Every year, Bruce (I suspect) puts together an April Fools version of Skinnyski. This year's headlines:

* Free registration for ski marathons
* Great skiing at misspelled local venues
* Hot-boxing's bastard brother, "cool skis" is introduced
* The boys in Elk River are hoarding snow (actually, this isn't too far from the truth)
* Al and Norm are having a ski-off

That one had a cute picture:and others.

Hmm, that picture seems similar to last year's Hillary-Barack ski-off:You can see this year's Sunnyski on the homepage, and I assume it will be archived as the last few have, which you can see at the various links below:


Have a foolish day. And, yes, he still posts trail reports from up north.

April Fools

Yes, snow on April Fools Day. But not that much in the Metro. (On Sunday, the Trail Slaves were talking about grooming Woodland and then the storm shifted 150 miles and we got skunked. Again.) Up north, well, 5-10 across the Range, 10-15 along the North Shore (where a lot of places closed after the ice storm) and a foot in the Northwest part of the state. Fargo has had 28 inches of snow in March, breaking a record. Luckily the cold weather kept it from sending the river up a couple more feet, but now they get to wait and see again, although it looks like a slow melt in the next week or two. Will I be skiing at Maplelag or The Ridge or the North Shore again this weekend? Maybe.

That said, it's April Fools Day! Twelve years ago, when I was an awkward tyke in seventh grade, Eastern Massachusetts was greeted with two and a half feet of snow. The Wikipedia article doesn't do the storm justice, so here's the recap. March 30, a Sunday, was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the mid-60s. My dad and I went on a bike ride in shorts and a t-shirt. The Friday before, the weathermen had been talking about the possibility of a snowstorm on April Fools, but no one believed them. Saturday, they were saying rain on Monday changing to snow on Monday night in to Tuesday, with as much as half a foot. No one believed them.

By Sunday evening, the forecast for the next morning was for rain and temperatures around 50, falling throughout the day, with snow mixing in in the evening and six to twelve inches by Tuesday morning. April Fools. With the sun shining and temperatures well above normal, it was widely believed to be a hoax. It wasn't.

Monday morning, March 31, dawned cloudy, cool, and rainy. It was in the low 40s with a steady, cool rain. Typical April weather. The forecasts called for the rain to change to snow between 4 and 6 p.m., and accumulate 10-14 inches. Were the weathermen to be believed? Well, at least there was something falling from the sky.

I was excited because, whilst I was not a competitive skier at the time, I did like snow. Sitting in math class at 10:30 in the morning, I was bored, and turned to look out the window. It kind of looked like snow. "No," I said to myself, "it's not supposed to change over for hours." Five minutes later I looked out again. I could barely see across the school's courtyard, a distance of maybe 50 feet. It was definitely a blizzard.

School wasn't called early, but all after school activities were. It was snowing hard, sticking on the roads, and they wanted everyone home. We walked out to the buses through snow, with what seemed like an inch sticking to my head as I walked 200 yards. Our bus drive, Sam, usually took a nap with the bus's door open while he waited for us to board, in fact, we often had to wake him up when it was time to go. (Sam was what we call, in Boston, a "character." When he dropped us off he'd usually tell us to "go home and do your homework." Why? "So you don't wind up a bus drivah like me.") Today, however, Sam was not only awake, but opening the door for every kid who got on the bus, so that the stiff northeast wind didn't fill the bus with snow.

With everything canceled, everyone took the bus home. Imagine a Birkie bus with seven people seated across every row, packing the aisles with bodies and bookbags (but no skis). Skis might have been faster. Half an hour later we got to the bus stop, two miles away, and exited, tromping to a friend's house in the snow. An hour later my mother called. She was coming to get me. She didn't know if she'd be able to get through later on.

School was canceled the next day at 9:00 p.m. that evening, which made for joyous celebrations. It was a forgone conclusion at that point. We had a foot of snow and it was an all-out blizzard. We made a nice snowman in the back yard (it was definitely snowman snow; it didn't drop below 29 the entire storm), tried to get a handle on shoveling, and all went to sleep, the wind howling outside. Visibility at bedtime was reported at 0.2 miles. Winds were sustained at 35 mph, gusting to 55.

When we woke up, everything was very white. The streets were not really passable, but we were able to trudge over to go sledding (the Ski Track had shut down for the season), which was fun. The snowman in the back yard was a pinnacle of snow. That evening, school was canceled the next day, too. Hooray! We went to pick up a friend that day, 24 hours after the snow had ended and found that his house, on a side street, was accessible only by a footpath down the middle of the street. No wonder school was out. We went sledding at "Kill Hill" which was well-padded with all the snow and a blast as always.

By Thursday, school was opened, but with a two hour delay. Friday as well. A two hour delay, highs of 55 three days after the snow had ended. With the April sun and temperatures in the 50s, the snow was mostly melted by the end of the weekend. I was biking to school, dodging snow banks, on Monday. That afternoon, the high was 75. And in the shade, you could have probably gone skiing.

The City of Boston had a wait-and-see approach with side streets, where there was pretty much too much snow to plow. Days after the storm, they were melting but still impassable. If it had been three months earlier, it would have been more problematic, but because of the season, it melted pretty quickly.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dry slotted

Okay, it looked good for a while. But now the models are in pretty good agreement (see above, the 00Z NAM run that just came out) that the Metro area, as so often happens, will be completely skunked. This is not particularly good news for anyone except the Range, which could see a foot to a foot and a half of snow. (An inch of QPF for the Red River Valley won't help anyone, but at least it will fall as snow, letting the river levels decline a bit there.)

In other words, skunked again. (Actually, we usually get skunked in January when it would be nice to get snow; maybe it will be rather dry and the bike trails can start drying out.)

So what does this all mean? It means it's doubtful we'll add to our skiable days here in the Metro—unless the Slaves at Elk River have one more trick up their sleeve (and they have lots of tricks). If you want to ski next weekend, the Range and, say, Maplelag look like decent bets. See you at the Ridge?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

April snow?

We'll begin some snow speculation on this site. I was going to save that for next year, but it turns out we might have some snow this week. Probably enough for a day or two of skiing in Elk River, especially since their trails may have frozen a bit in the cold weather this week so they won't just thaw the snow out from underneath wicked fast.

This has been in the cards for a while, but the models do not do well in the spring, so outside of about 100 hours, they provide sketchy details at best. However, run-to-run continuity has been very good, so it looks pretty good for something this coming week. The MPX AFD is talking about a cooler storm, mostly if not all snow, with 8-15 inches possible. Which is, well, definitely not a bad thing. As in
Now, do the models support this? Well, yes and no.

The guys over at the NWS might be getting a bit carried away, and there is the chance of a dry slot pushing up (per the NAM). For instance, here is the QPF (quantity of precipitation forecast) from the 00z NAM.
Northern and Central Minnesota get walloped, but there is a tight gradient down south here. This has been the thinking of the NAM for several runs, and it's not inconceivable since the storm will be winding up pretty well. This would give great conditions for the Range next week, but probably not enough to groom locally.

The GFS was forecasting more QPF in its last run and a new one is just coming out, let's check it out. Okay, I have to wait a few minutes, it's only out to 54 hours right now, but looks, well, interesting. Lots of forcing in Southwestern Minnesota, and a rain/snow line right around Red Wing, so snow for the Cities. A sub-996 low, too, which should throw a bit of moisture in, too. Now the GFS has a slightly different idea.There's still a comma-head type of look to the precipitation field, but it's in a different area completely. The NAM has the bottom of the half inch QPF going from Prairie du Chien to about Brainerd; the GFS on that same map has this QPF from Nebraska to Wisconsin, and a different bullseye. For now, between the NCEP models, I'm hoping for the GFS, and for it to move a bit east. I can hope, right?

The ECMWF? Well, it's similar. But it will all depend on the track. We probably won't know much more until tomorrow, or Monday. Still, excitement abounds.

One last ski? Giants Ridge

I thought it might be done for the season. Then I saw trail reports reporting good skiing at The Ridge. I put out an email to ski folks, who wanted to share a ride up. I really wasn't fancying driving heaps alone again. John Swain, a retired Colby skier, took the bait, and we headed up in the morning. I'd been running (a couple ten milers, including one down along Minnehaha Creek to the almost-flooded footbridge along the roiling Mississippi) and lifting some this week and was sore, but managed to have a great afternoon of skiing.

My trail report:

Giants Ridge was most definitely worth the drive. We hit clouds by about Rush City and flurries not far past Hinckley, although not much fell at the Ridge. We wound up skiing the Gold (most of it twice), the Bronze and the Silver. It was mostly skating with frozen corduroy, waxing for classic was tricky with variable track conditions.

Gold trail: Excellent with the the exception of the southeasterly section, which has a couple icy spots and is good. Much faster and more fun than last week, but still kicks your butt going up.

Silver: Officially closed, but about an inch of powder over crust. There are a couple thinner spots (most notably on a blind hill right after a "caution sign" but completely skiable, including the Toilet Bowl and The Pit.

Bronze: A fun ride down, with a couple spots where you have to jump little streams and a couple thinner sections down below.

Telemarking the green gravity ski trail: [redacted]

Actually, the downhill at the end was a lot of fun. We had skied up the brutal Gold Trail and meant for it to end our day, but as we went on the gravity ski trail to access the nice green downhill trail we saw a Pisten Bully and two guys on a sled shoveling around the top of a lift. We decided they'd probably yell at us for skiing down the downhill slope, and were about to turn and go screaming down the nordic trails (not a bad situation, of course) when they got on their machines and drove off. Nice! We skied through the woods and hit the trails, getting in some very nice turns, especially on the side of the trail that had been freshly groomed. Will my legs hurt in the morning? Probably.

The rest of the trails, as stated above, were splendid. Waxing in the morning was pretty futile, but once we had the skate boards on we were very happy. We mucked around a bit jumping the little streams that crossed the trail in places and had a blast on the ungroomed Silver Trail, and a nice, tiring day of skiing. And there might be more snow on the horizon!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Boot Cam

This is too cool for school.

I was searching for something a couple weeks ago (I think information about the ski race put on by Maine Huts and Trails but I can't quite remember; MH&T is building a 180-mile long hut-to-hut system connected by groomed ski trails, which is kind of very cool.) and came upon the website of Colin Reuter a skier and biker from the Boston area (where I come from). In any case, I looked around and said to myself, "Hmm, I wonder if he has a race report from the last Great Glen to Bretton Woods race (the race is no longer run, and their website might be kaput), a 50k classic race in New Hampshire and without a doubt the hardest race I've ever skied. He did.

(Why was it the hardest race I've ever skied. Well, several reasons. First, New England had three marathons that year, and two on the same weekend. I lived about and hour from each. So I skied both. This was the second 50k in a weekend. Second, It's a classic race run partially on snowmobile trails. Tracks are not always present. But third, and here's the biggie, it climbs 1600 feet from 31k to 40k. With no tracks. And no breaks. It was bonk-city. I'll probably write about it one of these days.)

I started reading his post and said, "hey wait, this sounds familiar." As it turns out, he beat me by about 10 seconds; we skied the last 10k together. After 100k, there was no way I was sprinting; I was happy enough to finish alive. I was sick for the next week.

In any case, this is not a post about old races or spending five minutes at a feed eating or anything, it's about what this fellow does during races:

Sugarloaf Inferno Boot Cam from colin reuter on Vimeo.

Yeah, he takes video from his flippin' ski boot. For serious. In this case, he took it of a race which I almost skied in '07. New England has a history of "Inferno" races back to the '30s, with the original ones going from the top of Mount Washington to Pinkham Notch, about four miles in as little as six minutes. This one is a bit more, uh, less insane, but still descends a headwall on a downhill slope before a couple hills to the finish. He took a video, from his ski boot, of the whole thing. Definitely worth the watch.

And, for what it's worth, he's done this with his bike seat in Cross races and helmet when mountain biking.

Now, to my credit, when I went skiing in Colorado last June (oh, yessiree) I managed to take a couple videos descending the hills. Not racing, but still sort of fun:

although earlier in the day when it had been fast and wicked icy I'd forgotten my camera. Whoops.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

One last weekend

Friday night I was toying with the idea of a day skiing up north, probably at Sugarbush up on the North Shore. So I sent an email to a friend from college who I knew did something in Ely (dogsledding trips, it turns out), asking if there would be a floor for me to crash on if I showed up. She responded with an enthusiastic yes—I guess not that many people wind up Ely in the middle of the winter—and Saturday morning I set off.

It was sunny and warm in the Cities, and by the time I got to Giants Ridge it was cloudy, but still warm. I found my ticket and made my way to the sane side of the world—the gravity slopes were packed with people—and skied up the Gold Trail. It was how I remembered it from six years ago—the last time I'd skied at Giants Ridge—but much slower. I'd only ever skied 20k at the Ridge in 2003 at the Central collegiate regionals. Due to cold weather we skied two 10ks on one day, Silver skate in the morning and Gold classic in the afternoon. What I remember from the Gold Trail is a long slog up, some rolling downhills and a screaming descent in to the finish. It was the same today, except lacking any of the speed. It was a bit of a slog down some of the hills, let alone up. But it was skiing.

When I returned to the base, I went back out on Silver, which was also slow (and had a bit less coverage). The trail was fine, but slow again. The Toilet Bowl was unexciting as was The Pit. I got a bit of speed up but nothing to write home about. I finished the day with some half-hearted teleturns on the compressed slush on the downhill area. Edges would have helped.

I then made my way up north to Ely. The first five miles were on a curvy, hill, snow-covered dirt road. It was slow, but saved about 15 miles of driving. When I finally found pavement, it was only an hour up to, and through, Ely, and in to the Wintergreen Dogsledding Lodge where a friend from the Mac ski team, Amy, is a guide. I met the dogs, ate some food (yum!) and heard about her trans-Amazon canoe trip . (The next expedition is an inside-passage kayak from Seattle to Skagway, a hike and paddle to the arctic, then a sled dog back to Minnesota, and a paddle out the Great Lakes, perhaps down the Champlain canal and Hudson, to the Atlantic. I'd think they were insane had they not already paddled the Amazon.) In the morning I helped make gingerbread pancakes, saw the cute Husky puppies, and then headed off.

My plan was to go to Sugarbush, which went off without a hitch except that I had forgotten how much of a road Highway 1 is across the Arrowhead. The answer: not much of one. It is curvy and narrow, had a bit of snow left on it, and despite no traffic I had to slow down a bit at times. I cut across to Highway 61 and then north to get to Sugarbush around noon. The trail was groomed, and because of wind off the lake, the skies were cloudy and temperature right below freezing—perfect conditions. I strode again, with the same klister, decent kick and tremendous glide. I was flying.

From my trail reports:

I skied the Picnic Loop and if it is the last ski of the season for me, it will be a good one to go out on. The trail had frozen overnight and with the northeast wind off the lake it was cloudy, so it stayed frozen until about 2:30 when I finished. I'd never skied Sugarbush before and loved the trails, especially the 10k black trail inland on the loop—which was fantastic in rolling maple forests and reminded me of skiing in Vermont (this is definitely a good thing, especially from a caustic East Coaster like myself).

The snow cover was pretty much 100%, with one dirty spot and a couple downed-but-cleared trees. At one point nature called and I stepped off the trail and put my pole in to the ground and there was still 30 inches of snow cover. This isn't the case on the entire trail but this was not a particularly sheltered or northerly-exposed section. The sun tried to come out as I neared the halfway of my ski but struggled to get all the way through, even though views inland (and the drive from Ely) were crystal clear. Thus, the trails stayed mostly frozen, with good striding on klister which came off on the downhills pretty well, meaning there was little cleanup when I finished the loop. Some of the frozen tracks were wicked fast coming down, which was nice after yesterday's slower trek around Giants Ridge. These trails are amazing; I'll see them soon when my hiking on the Superior Trail resumes this spring.

But they do have two and a half feet of base to melt first.

A long slog back to The Cities with a stop in Duluth closed the weekend, and perhaps the snow season. Now it's time to run, lift and roll.