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.