Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wirth night ski

Needing to unwind, I went and strided around Wirth for an hour this evening. I took some night pictures (but haven't downloaded them yet). The classic track was solid and I was able to kick on some mid-temperature wax, although had I gone more than four kilometers it would have scratched right off. Still, with the full moon rising over the skyline on the Front 9, it was a gorgeous night.

An inch of snow

I'm slowly working on the mid-winter "That was the winter that was" ("This is the winter that is"?) and, while we had an almost snow-free January (3.1 inches all month, so the snow is really surprisingly good) all the US models (GFS, NAM, NMM, ARW) have us getting at least an inch tomorrow—with some trending towards two or three. That would help considerably with the City of Lakes, negating, perhaps, some need for shoveling. As long as the lower levels of the atmosphere don't evaporate it all before it makes it down.

Hooray—I hope.

William O'Brien Race Report

If you've been following along you may have noticed that I went skiing—lots—in the last couple of days. This is a good time of year to do volume, and with 2:00 on Friday and 2:40 on Sunday I am working up towards the long races which are upcoming in the next month. On Friday evening, I skied the whole City of Lakes course through the Bog, and then returned, which is, oh, about 29k, and yesterday I skied that much, and added on two extra loops of the first 8k—so about 45. Can anyone see where this is going?

Well, a couple good things. The course was gorgeous. I'd never skied William O'Brien before and was impressed. It is rather far away from the Cities, which is a shame—further than Woodland which is about as far as I drive just to go skiing for an hour or two—but it is just a splendid course. Lots of hills, up and down, great views across the Saint Croix to Wisconsin, a sweet bridge under the railroad, beautiful hardwood stands and prairie and the like. And the snow was in very good shape considering the weather recently—it was easily to edge and pretty fast, with maybe two uphill icy spots by the second lap and a couple squirrely downhills (especially as they got scraped off) but overall very good skiing.

Also, I totally hit the wax, kick and glide. Glide was pretty easy: moly and Fast Wax LF teal (no need for uber-flouros on cold, icy snow, although it wasn't that icy). And one of my skiers (Collin) came within a sprint (1 second) of winning). Kick was more of a guessing game. Since I didn't see the striders skis until the morning of the race (and then only after cajoling some keys to get in to the athletic facility), it was a race time decision. With the striders going out first. I told everyone to grab their bibs and got to waxing. On went the blow torch, and out came the klister.

I'd remembered reading something about Toko green base klister, and saw a tube. Huzzah! Then I grabbed some temperature-appropriate Swix and spread it on top. This was covered with a thin layer of something cold (some Toko blue, I think) and the skis were handed off with moments to spare. "If you don't like your kick, uh, put something else on" I said. He came fifth. (I could have won the 12.5k classic race. Damn.)

Me? Well, I went in thinking something like "if I feel good, I'll go hard. If not, 25k training day!" I started next to Katie Splan—a Mac professor—earlier one of the skiers had said "I think that's my biochem professor." She asked how I was feeling. I gave a non-commital answer. Results aren't out, but she may have beaten me. The field was huge—probably over 200—which many people said was the largest field in the 39 year history of the race. There were long lines to pick up numbers, but everyone who was paying attention (i.e. six out of the seven Macalester students there) made the start with ease. I was lined up in the third row—waxing had given me a late start—and with a narrow course, it would be a crazy start.

The gun went off, oh, four feet from me, and we started double poling. It would be a while before I skated. I fell in right behind a pack which formed ahead of me, but, well, didn't feel like going and catching it. I didn't want to kill myself early and bonk later in the race. Up and down a couple of the hills, a guy passed me and said "let's go get 'em!" I jumped behind—the big pack was still visible—and started gaining for the better part of a minute. And then, maybe four k in to the race, I had a bonk.

It wasn't a hard bonk—I didn't have that much gas in the tank to begin with. (The fact that Adam Swank won the Seeley Classic and won the 30k Boulder race the next week, well, is impressive. Of course, he is a beast.) But I stopped making up time. And within the next few kilometers, the folks I'd been skiing with and skied away from passed me. Whoops—I think I may have skied too much.

The other issue was the wind. In addition to 75k or skiing in the last 40 hours, there was a brisk northerly breeze blowing down the course, which I had not properly prepared for. Now, how do I say this? I was, uh, lacking mid-section protection. Let's see … boxers, long johns, shorts, spandex—not enough. But it wasn't brutal, which means I started to, uh, thaw out on every uphill, meaning that I got light-headed and nauseous (the body is well engineered to punish you for doing bad things like mis-dressing) and then refroze going down the next hill.

While most of the climbing was at the start of the race, the north-facing sections were near the end. I was skiing with a group—drafting a bit—and one skied off. The guy behind me said "do you want to go catch him?" Nope—I happily let him around. Yes, it was a 25k training race.

After diving through the wind at the lap—straight in to the wind—this became a common occurrence. Someone would get behind me, I'd let them pass (my skis were slow, I think they do need a stone grind). Going down a hill with about 6k left, I caught an edge (the hills were getting gnarly) and fell to the side of the trail. Once I was going down—knowing there were a couple folks behind me (I'd passed a couple of striders) I had a controlled skid off the trail. Having stopped, out of the wind, I was warm and happy. 6k to go, in to the wind.

I didn't get passed by many more folks during the rest of my ski. (It had ceased to be a race.) With about 3k left, I picked up the pace a bit—not that there was anyone nearby—and with an open kilometer in to the wind near the end, bit down on my tongue. The last hill was icy, but I made it down, and then, to prove I was still alive, put my head down and sprinted the last 300m—that's how I should have been skiing the rest of the time. Or maybe I just wanted to get the hell out of the wind.

We finished, I became happier, drank water, and decided that it was the least fun I'd had in a race in a while. The combination of the cold and the tired compounds, with interest, as the race goes on. Still, it was a lovely, sunny day in a beautiful park, and I can't complain too much. Results aren't up, but other than me, all the Macalester kids did well (and I don't really count) so that's sort of successful. Hopefully this will be my "bad race" for the year, and it'll only get better.

And, no, I won't be skiing 75k the two days before the City of Lakes next week.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wirth, City of Lakes

After last night's lovely trip around Minneapolis, I went back today for more. I rated the trails last night—by moonlight—"very good" and today saw that this was an underestimation. There are a couple icy spots and a couple dirty spots and, otherwise, 20+ kilometers of immaculately groomed ski trail. The lakes are icy (although Brownie is fine). If the Loppet were tomorrow, it would be a great race—although the lakes would be interesting. Let's hope for a couple inches of non-windblown snow.

I also brought along my camera—taking some longer exposures down some of the hills. Here are some fun pictures!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wirth, City of Lakes

I started at dusk in the stadium and skied, well, most of the COLL trail. The snowmaking section is outstanding—a jewel in our community, and groomed to perfection. The rest of that side of the Parkway is in good shape, with a couple icy and dirty sections, but it has survived the rain remarkably well. They've done some work, too, at one point plowing snow over what was at one point an icy section, and they were blowing snow on a portion, I assume to patch up the course.

The link down to the bridge isn't very snow yet (but it sure is icy as I walked down) but it should be fun to shoot down it and across the Parkway next week. The Front 9 is in good shape and has a solid classic track, a feature of the Back 9 as well. The machine was making its rounds when I skied through. The Connector is also in good shape, even under 55.

It was chilly by the time I hit Butler, but it's very good as well, even on some of the problem hills. Quaking Bog is a bit icier, but coverage is quite good. Feeling the chill, I didn't hit the lakes but headed back to the start, with the moon and city lighting my way. At one point I felt compelled to stop and soak it all in—the full moon rising over the skyline looming over the ski trail—what a glorious evening! Tomorrow, I bring a camera.

And next full moon is Birkie!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Battle Creek

We probably should have gone to Wirth. The conditions at BC are decent, but deteriorating. It is showing that a) the base is thin and b) there is no pisten bully able to churn up the ice. The snow is clean, but rather icy. It could definitely use some snow.

After hearing that Wirth was very good, we went to Battle Creek mainly because the traffic through Mpls was rumored to be bad. It sounds like Wirth was better, but BC is still in skiable shape. The lighted loop is definitely showing wear and tear—there are a few more icy patches showing up, but with skis with a decent edge you can get a nice skate in. The classic track looks rather okay as well. It's by no means perfect, but it's pretty good for what we have. Two inches of snow and it would be superb. Still, it's definitely skiable.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Battle Creek

It's pretty good, and they were regrooming.

A high school meet had skied the snow in to the trail and it was pretty hard; in a few sections it was demonstrably icier than yesterday. Still, the course was in very good shape and the groomer was out scratching it back up so it'll probably be better tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Como on Monday, Battle Creek Tuesday

Como on Monday was pretty atrocious. There wasn't much to deal with on the ground, with windblown snow across the ice. I wrote:
Had there been no wind, most of Como would have been in fine shape. As it was, there were sections with new snow and sections which were quite icy (especially the U-turns at the bottoms of the first couple of hills). In any case, it is marginally skiable, but not a whole lot of fun.
It really wasn't pleasant.

Tuesday, today, we went to Battle Creek, hoping that at least, according to earlier trail reports, the woods would be nice. But while we were there, the groomer was continuing to make rounds, and the skiing was surprisingly good. There were a couple icy spots, but on the whole trail I could count them on one hand, and none was on a downhill or somewhere else it would have been especially problematic. There were some powdery areas, too, especially in the woods, and the track which was being set was shallow but looked pretty solid. I skied the whole course on rock skis with no edges, but there are no thin spots so you could use better skis—with better edges—for best results. Still, there is good purchase nearly everywhere, and even the big hills out back are in fine shape if you are comfortable on them.

The only area which was not groomed was the flat section on the lighted loop back down on to the prairie (the LLBDOTP). The hill down was groomed, and the hill up had good coverage of new snow which was skied in. The bottom was in pretty rough shape—with a couple of brown spots—but the icy/windblown sections were a testament to the grooming. Great work grooming!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where have I seen this before?

December, 2007.

Yes, back then. Rain, warm (a day with a low of 31 and a high of 36) and a storm which surprised us by redeveloping coming back and, as someone said at the time, "hip-checking" Minnesota. Yes, it melted some and turned the base to mush, and then—four inches of new snow. December 21: mist and mid-30s (think yesterday). December 22: rain to snow, temperatures dropping, but no real accumulation (very icy roads, though). December 23: cold and getting colder, three inches of snow. Updraft discussed it back then (but only before, not during) and it occurred during a split pattern, like now. Parts of Wisconsin (Birkieland) got significantly more.

The current storm seems to be having similar ideas. The latest NAM is pushing it further west, which means that while we're all rain now, the line of heavier snow is just in to Wisconsin. But it's trending west. Fifty miles and we'll see six, not three, inches of snow.

We'll see.

Well, the rain could be worse: Theodore Wirth race report

I took the Macalester team over to Wirth to ski the race this morning. 10k (I think it might be a bit short, but maybe not), lots of hills (18 of them in a 10k), none sustained, but a lot of climbing. The weather was, well, left some to be desired, but the rain was light during the race. I got bibs, warmed up a bit on the course, making sure to ski the new steep hill up to the top of the snowboard hill and then pretty much waited.

We watched the women's race with an umbrella and then got ready for the men's race, for which the rain was holding off pretty well. I was sort of warmed up and had sort of had enough to drink and, it's only a 10k, right? Just with a lot of hills. Yes, a lot of hills. Depending on how you count, six to ten per lap. I found a race map and started describing the course for some of the Mac racers: "Okay, so you go down flat, then down a hill, up a hill, down a big hill, up a steep hill, and then down a curving hill. There's a short flat section, then there's the long, gradual replacement for the widowmaker, and then a long downhill. Then you go up a hill, down a new hill [which it turns out was very soft since it hadn't been groomed when it was cold], up a hill, down a little hill and up a little hill and down a curving hill and up a little hill and then down a long hill. Then you go up a big, long hill, across a somewhat flat section, down the sledding hill and then up to the finish."

Got that?

It's a hilly course.

So I went out and felt okay, with Collin half a minute behind me and Anders Osthus, who I'd told Collin to stay with, fifteen seconds behind him. I powered up the steep hill and passed a couple guys on their second lap, went down, and got passed by Collin and Anders (yeah, he's fast; when I saw the Ski Hut suit I realized he probably skis with the rest of the Duluth crew), stayed with Collin for a while and let him go. One of my strengths—one of few—was that I knew the course well, so I knew to take the inside of the 180-downhill after what used to be the start of the Loppet. I took the inside and made it easily. He took the outside and took a dive. Whoops. And then it was down, up, down, up and start the second lap.


So I finished in about 31 minutes (Liebsch won in, oh, 22-something, which is why, with the slow snow, I think the course might be short) and had a cookie. It started raining harder right as I was getting in and decided I really didn't want to cool down and get soaked. Ugh. A bit more cheering and a poor excuse for cooling down, warm clothes inside and home. And whether we'll ski tomorrow, classic 15k in slush, is definitely up in the air.

But the course is pretty fun. It would have been nice to have nice snow, but we have what we have—and it was surprisingly good. There are no long hills; it's definitely a midwest course (if that makes any sense) but they've definitely thrown enough climbing in. The longest climbs are about 25m, which is okay, but they just keep coming. And it stayed pretty firm even after all the women had skied, so with good conditions … well, I guess this is a good warm-up for JOQs next year.

I ran the Gmap-Pedometer for this and computed the elevation—it's definitely not perfect, but it gives a decent approximation of the hills in the course. Someone's got to homologate it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Como has good coverage and, while I heard that it was icy earlier, where it had been regroomed it was in pretty good shape. Even with my rock skis (which I didn't need—there were only a couple of dirty spots). So there's good coverage—which will hopefully last through the weekend.

What's less fun than rain?

Rain and waxing. And that's what's in store for this weekend. Hooray?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Battle Creek

Battle Creek is still in fine shape. I went no-poles tonight and had no issue with edging. Some of the way-back hills are getting pretty icy, but if I can make it down in the dark without poles, they're probably fine. Otherwise, it was a splendid, warm evening to ski. Many thanks to the groomers for their continued work.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Battle Creek

Excellent. Collin and I did hill repeats on the prairie hill and, except for one burnout spot on the hill back down on to the prairie (for lack of a better name) the trail was in terrific shape. We didn't venture on to the back hills but everything else was superb.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Good—and better now that we threw snow on a bunch of portions.

I went to shovel at 3:00 this afternoon as the trails at Wirth, per my last report, could use some TLC. We hit the trails and shoveled the top of the hill by the houses, the bottom of that hill in the woods, and then headed over to the new little loop back by the maintenance shed. We threw a lot of snow on the lead-in to that section, which is now not dirty, but the outlet was in such bad shape that we left it to a Pisten Bully and/or a snow machine, hopefully. We then headed off the race course to patch up a dirty hill with a southern exposure in the woods which was particularly mulchy/dirty. Still, there is 8-10 inches of pretty dense snow on the golf course and in the woods, which makes shoveling much easier than it has been in years past when we patched up the course with two inches of slush.

When the sun went down, I made a loop of the trails to check them out and they were generally in fine skis (most of the earlier movement was done in one of the bins which we used to carry snow behind the sled, which nearly led to a couple of tree encounters). The "newly fallen" snow will need to be groomed out some, and for now is very soft, but hopefully it will set up well tonight. There are some scattered thin spots and it is quite firm, but fast and with an edge. I also skied the new loop up by the snowboard hill and it is Mount Itasca-steep—the climb and ensuing downhill will add a degree of difficulty to the race this weekend.

I wish I'd brought my camera as it was a gorgeous afternoon to spend outside.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Seeley Classic race report

I've only skied it twice, but the Seeley Classic race, run entirely on the Birkie Trail system, is fast becoming one of my favorite races. The trail is great—almost perfect for striding—and the grooming is, of course, superb. The race always seems low-key—there's no busing and everyone hangs out at OO before and after the race—which belies that it is neck-and-neck with the Craftsbury Marathon as the largest classic-only race in the nation. And while Craftsbury is one of the largest events in the Northeast, the Seeley is just another weekend race in the Midwest. But for someone who rather likes the finesse of classic skiing, including plotzing about wax, it's a great time.

Transport up to Hayward was interesting. I have no issue with my car (despite what you may have heard on Cartalk) but, working for a car sharing organization I felt bad about my carbon footprint driving up a single occupancy vehicle. So I shot an email over to John Swain, who lives one neighborhood over, about carpooling. He was driving up with his folks, so I couldn't subject one of my free-housing folks near Birkieland to four people, but rather in a hotel. After some quick math I realized that the cost of a hotel room would be somewhere on the order of 25¢ per mile, so I wouldn't recoup the full cost in saved gas, but with maintenance I'd be close, and I wouldn't have to do all the driving myself, which is always a plus. Also, it would be more environmentally friendly.

I headed up to their house Friday afternoon and after a couple of false starts headed off to Seeley for bib pick-up. One of the perks of the Seeley is that you get a sweet hat with your entry ($55 for a race, a hat and a feed is not a bad deal, or as John's dad, Ed, pointed out, it shows what the mark-up on $30 retail hats is) so we wanted to make sure to pick it up before they ran out. Then it was off to the motel for some sleep, and while I didn't sleep particularly well I definitely caught enough zeds. Had I known about the hot tub I probably would have found some time in there.

As for waxing … I had glide wax on and was waiting on the kick along with everyone else. No one knew. They were setting the tracks and it was in the mid-20s, but temperatures were slated to rise from about 23 to 34 during the race. So we planned to go to bed early and go up early to wax test in order to try to hit it.

Breakfast at the hotel was decent (waffle, better than continental) and we made for the course. The parking lot was much larger and we got a space easily—they've expanded the lot considerably. Last year we got there with minutes to spare and had to park down OO and run to the course (our warm up). Of course, last year, in new snow, the waxing was super easy. This year was more difficult. We set up a wax bench, I scraped my glide, and we put on klister binder. A little Swix red/VR50 was tested. It was good, but slipped a little on the hill north of OO, and with warmer temperatures coming, we decided to put on a layer of VR55. We didn't hit it perfectly—I'm not sure anyone had perfect wax this year as many did last year—but we did pretty well.

With some time to spare, I was able to enjoy the scenery. The warmer air had mixed out the clouds rather well and the sky was bright blue. The clouds, however, had frosted the tops of all the trees with a rather thick layer of rime (which would later fall on us like snow) and they stood out, stunningly, against the sky. I wished that I had brought my camera. Perhaps I enjoyed the scenery too much because, as usual, I went running around before the race. I stapled two goos to the "belt" of my pants and went to take a pee, but one of the staples hadn't taken. With no time to grab the stapler (three minutes to start) I went and dug a divot next to the trail at 22k where it looped through the start and put the goo there, hoping to grab it later. There was a chance.

I jumped on my skis and we were off. The Birkie originally alternated direction every year until 1992, so the trail was designed to be skied in either direction, and skis well in either direction. The classic trail skis fine in either direction, but seems to have been designed with the current southward journey in mind, and it skis best going south. We were going north. And with a decent amount of elevation to lose (before the climbs to High Point) there were some fun corners—something you don't get on the Birkie Trail. None was too challenging, but there were definitely some times I used the whole trail. I stayed with the lead pack until it broke up (pretty quickly) and then jumped on the back of the second pack. There were about ten guys in it, but I couldn't quite muster the energy to stick with it, and by about 4k in I was skiing mostly on my own. Every so often I'd see someone (usually passing me—apparently I went out fast) and skied with people for a kilometer or two at times, but packs didn't form.

Here's the thing: skiers don't understand drafting. At all. A few of them seem to—when I saw the lead pack going north as I was going south (much later in the race) the top four guys were one behind the next—but most definitely do not. This means that if I got behind someone and drafted them, I'd not be expected to jump in front later on and take my turn. But this is ludicrous! Drafting is a really great way to conserve energy and, working together, you can go considerably faster. I took some nice rests behind people who were rather furiously double poling. And if I took a pull in front they'd either drop off or step in to the track next to me! Seriously, guys, drafting is really important.

A couple years ago at the Bear Chase I was with a couple guys who seemed to get this. They'd pull for a while and I'd sit in back and rest. When we saw someone ahead, I'd be rested and jump out in front to go catch that person. We probably caught three or four people in this fashion. Yet most skiers really seem averse to it. So if anyone reads this (does anyone) please draft more. Yes, someone may step on the back of your skis once in a while. But you'll go faster. There's a reason cyclists do it.

Anyway, I was feeling half decent and not wanting to kill myself on the climbs to Boedecker or OO. I saw my first woman when Jojo Winters passed me. I stayed with her (as did a couple other guys) for a while but, good gravy, technique and training showed when she schooled us up a striding hill. (She finished four minutes ahead of me, although she was the only woman to do so, so I got girled, but not girlsed, if that makes sense.)

I felt half-decent going in to OO after the hills, and remembered I had a good there. So I jumped in the right track and started looking for it in the snow. At 10 mph, it's kind of hard to see a three-inch-high packet sticking up. Nothing. Double pole. Nothing. Double pole. Nothing. Doub—OH THERE IT IS I'M ALMOST PAST IT. Brain make arm reach down and grab. Hand, grab. Eyes, look at hand. Is there a goo in it? No? "Damnit." Apparently I said that loud enough that John's mom heard me and retrieved the goo, which I'd look for later in the snow only to find it on the wax bench.

So I took the feed and planned my eating of the remaining goo: around the 31k marker, which I knew to be about 0.8 mostly-downhill kilometers before the Gravel Pit feed stop. That's enough time to get it out, get it open, eat it and then have some water/energy to wash it down. We rolled on to OO with me a trading places with a few folks—again, no one wanted to draft (ugh)—but at least I could see people so I had motivation to go fast. I took my goo and saw the leaders right around Gravel Pit, and then headed up that hill and down to the turnaround.

I forgot to take the Jaeger shot there (oh, yes, you read that right) and pretty quickly passed a guy in a gray suit I hadn't seen in a while. He seemed to be bonking. My next order of business involved two guys I could see in front of me: a guy in a New Moon suit called Paul and a guy in a Madnorski suit. Paul had passed me before OO but hadn't pulled away, and Madnorski had passed me more recently. I felt rather ducky and figured I had a chance to take both of them.

While Madnorski was closer to me, I actually caught Paul first. He seemed to be hitting the wall and I hadn't had a proper bonk (yay for lots of energy drink at feeds and a goo) and I strode by him and quickly lost him. So, now it was down to me and Madnorski. The tracks were still pretty good. For the first half—when I was in tracks that had only been skied in by a couple dozen skiers—the tracks were fast and firm, and I had bomber kick. In the southern 22k, the tracks were, well, less good. That's what happens when you let a few hundred skiers—not all of whom know "never herringbone on tracks unless the hill is seriously so steep no one could" so the hills were kind of trashed when they got at all steep. In addition, the sun and air were warmer, so they fell apart more easily. But my kick was still surprisingly good.

I also knew I hadn't bonked because I was able to turn up the dial without dying. I slowly chipped away at Madnorski's lead until I was about five seconds behind him. We descended down the 29k hill (as I know it) and my skis seemed slightly faster than his, so in an all-out sprint in to OO, which is downhill, I'd probably have a slight advantage. On a moderate uphill, I put the striding hammer down and got right up behind him. It was fast enough in the shade that I was catching him on any sort of down grade so I jumped in to the track next to him and for about two kilometers we were neck-and-neck.

There were two hills to go up before the finish, and the race—as it was between me and Madnorski—would hinge on these. Before the first one, I had jumped in to a slight lead by striding pretty well, and I went in to a fast-walk type of herringbone (a run herringbone is surprisingly hard) and glanced behind me at the top—Madnorski was gone. I got up to the next hill—the one up to the picnic table—and pushed pretty hard up that because, why not. Madnorski was nowhere to be seen. I felt pretty good—apparently I hadn't gone hard enough—and came in to the finish, where I immediately ate a few cookies and doughnut holes.

As for the results … I finished in 34th place in 2:29, which is okay (the winners finished in 2:03) as I was 20% back. Again, I probably could have gone faster. I was skiing with mostly elite wavers, but this finish would have probably put me near the cutoff in the Birkie again. I have to get faster. As for my age group, well, wow. The 25-29s ruled the top of this race. Apparently, if you are going to ski Seeley and are in your late 20s (yes, this is depressing to write this), you better be good. Of the top 16 finishers, 10 were 25-29. Of the top 36, 19—more than half!—were in the age group. After this, there were three more finishers. There were almost no 20-24s (five, if you include Scott Kyser who wasn't really racing) for a variety of reasons, such as collegiate racing and JOQs nearby.

But here's the thing: this does not mesh with other race results. For example, in the Birkie I was 29th in my age class (18-24), out of 218. Had I been a year older, my time would have been 43d out of 223. In the City of Lakes I was 6th out of about 45, and in the 25-29s I would have been 16th out of about 70. Based on the size of Seeley, I'd expect to be in the top 10 out of 25 or 30. But I was 18th out of 22.

So this seems rather bizarre. Why should this race have such a stacked field of 25-29s? I actually have a hypothesis: it's a classic race. Sadly, in my opinion, a lot of skiers have not skied enough classic in recent years. A lot of people go out and skate, but the ones of us who stride are all a bit more serious about racing do both. Now, anyone significantly older than us would have started racing in, potentially, the 1980s, and would have learned to race classic. And while most high school leagues still have classic skiing, a lot of recreational skiers turn mostly towards skating. So recreational racers would likely not show up to a marathon-length classic race. Serious racers, however, almost all ski classic. A lot of us like it. If you look at the top finishers in this race, there are a whole slew of people who I skied with (read: lost to) in college. Collegiate skiing makes for good classic racers. However, beyond about my level of racing—which is about the elite wave in the Birkie—no one skis classic anymore.

There's no way to know what the future will bring, but I'd guess that it will result in somewhat fewer classic skiers, but not much less competition. It also means that I'm not going to get an age class prize for a good long time.

Anyway, after the race John played on skis for a while (I had no problem standing out in the warm, sunny weather, and took a short cool down) and we headed down to Seeley around 2:00, ate lunch, I grabbed a beer and gabbed with Jim Crandall and Morrey (college coach's dad, college coach) and after John got his plate for being in young (24.something) we headed back to the cities. I explained how we were doing well by driving together (I explained that my carbon footprint was reduced from 1*car to 0.25*van and each of their personal carbon footprints was reduced from 0.33*van to 0.25*van. In gallons of gas, I went from 7.5 to 3.75, and they each went from 5 to 3.75. I ate well and now will sleep well. And live to race again. Skating. So I can beat some younger folks.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Theodore Wirth

Wirth is in very good shape, although a couple sections are dirty and could use some TLC. As I arrived the snowmaking loop (all excellent except the new hill back towards the start, which is dirty) was being regroomed so there was no track set there, so I skied around towards the Par 3 and the woods and found a generally good track with a couple of dirty sections. The skate lane looked pretty solid, too. There were a couple dirty sections, but nothing major. 35 minutes was enough before Seeley tomorrow.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Battle Creek

The trails at Battle Creek are still in fine shape. The skate lane is pretty well skated in, but rather soft with the warmer temperatures, and the classic track has been reset and looks very good. The back hills were pretty light with the clouds, although they are getting a little icy on the corners; I bit it trying to go to the outside of the last one when I skied—blindly—through some of the snow plowed up on the outside, but the landing was soft. It's great skiing and will hopefully hold up for some time to come.

As I was skiing up the prairie hill I saw someone skating up the steep downhill along the trees. I'm usually not one to question the practices of others, but it was pretty fast and that hill is rather blind, so this could be construed as dangerous. I caught up with him at the top of the hill and started to give him a lecture when he turned to me and said "you know me." "Oh, hi Steve!" He'd apparently never skied Battle Creek before so I gave him a pass, and we shot down the hill, threading through a group of skiers congregated on the level section of the middle of the hill—which was also fast.

The inversion

The NWS points out that yesterday's evening temperature reading at 850mb (about 5000 feet) was 58 degrees (!) which was not only one of the highest readings ever during winter months but the highest of any balloon in the country. With our inversion, abundant snow cover in the direction of the surface winds and snow to reflect the sun's energy we topped out at all of 28 yesterday. And it doesn't look like the upper air will get that warm any time soon, so the chances of a major meltdown seem to be at bay.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Como and snow melting

I hit up Como again for some intervals (double pole then V2 uphill) and all around skiing. The conditions are very good, but it could use a groom. Coverage is full. The issues are that pole plants are soft in places, that the skate lane is getting pretty well packed (although better with warmer weather) and that someone ran a truck across a couple portions of the Glacier, which really needs a regroom. Hopefully they can take the machine across it before the weather turns too warm. Tonight would seem to be a good night for it, hint, hint.

As far as the snow melt goes, I'm actually less concerned now than I was yesterday for two reasons. First, the models are happier. They've backed up the huge, tropical rain storm idea and now just have us hovering in the mid-30s for daytime highs with very little moisture for a week, and then cooling back down. It's not ideal, but it should only take a couple inches off of our base if it comes to pass. As I mentioned earlier, we've dodged a bullet by having had an inversion lock in cold temperatures at the surface; it's still +10˚C at 3000 feet but 20 at the surface, and it never got near freezing today despite some sunshine. It looks like that pattern should continue, with a bit of warm-up but nothing worse than a few hours at 34˚. With January sun, we can handle that.

Second, I went in to the archives and looked at times that 8 or more inches of snow has been on the ground in January (about 40% of the time). I could find no cases where more than 10" of snow had melted in December or January, and only a couple times when 8" had. Here are some interesting analogs to make me less scared that the snow will disappear (although when February comes around, with its stronger sun and warmer temperatures, anything is possible). I can't think of a good way to graphically show this so:

2008: 8" on Jan 3, subsequent days 30/14, 37/19, 41/32, 37/27, 34/22, 31/13, 35/29, no rain or snow, melted to 4"
2005: 7" on Jan 22 melted to 0, but that took until Feb 6 and required highs of 35, 44, 33, and then later 33/28, 25/29, 26/31, 42/27, 50/31, 51/35. That was the City of Lakes Meltdown. We have four more inches of snow and those were extraordinarily high temperatures in February. In addition, there was far less snowcover that year to our south and west.
1993: 9" on the 30th melted to 5 on February 3, but only after 39/12, 45/34, 42/24, 38/22, 38/20 with no other moisture.
1992: 8" of snow on the 1st, aided by 0.8 inches but also hit with about 1/3" of rain, stuck around despite a week with highs around 34 and lows only around 31 (yes, for the first five days of the year the high was 37 and the low was 31). The snow barely melted despite a couple more days in the upper 30s. This seems like a worser-case scenario for our current situation.
1991: 8" on the 31st melted to 0 with temperatures of 43/8, 48/15, 42/35, 46/32; we are not expecting these types of temperatures and the sun was two weeks higher in the sky.
1989: 8" melted to 0 over two-plus weeks (the 8th to the 25th) with highs of 35, 37, 33, 37 (this took it from 6 to 2; it had settled from 8 to 6 already … our snow pack is rather dense so there won't be much settling) and then meted with highs of 39, 40, 40 and 35.
1986 may be the best analog: 12" on the 9th melted to 8" by the 20th, with temperatures of 42/28, 34/27, 44/24, 40/14, 22/6, 25/14, 34/11, 38/21, 39/29, 35/27, 33/28, 34/31 with no rain or snow. This would not be a bad outcome for us.
1976 went from 9 to 7 with a day at 41 and the next at 35.
1974 is another good analog. After a cold start to the month, 8" of snow on the 14th melted to 6 wth days at 39/16, 38/12, 41/24, 33/24, 34/12.
1973 melted 8" to 4" with 38/9, 46/24, 44/24, 36/25.
1952 melted 10" on the 30th to 5" with 42/30, 38/24, 37/21.

The one issue is that moisture would be a major wild card. There are only a couple of instances of a lot of rain falling on a lot of snow in January, and, while they are both a very long time ago, neither actually killed the snow pack. In 1946 melted 10" on the 4th to 4" on the sixth with temperatures of 38/25, 36/33 and 33/25, with 0.6 inches of rain on the middle day. Back in 1902, a December storm brought 0.75" of rain (and 3" of snow) but only depleted the snow pack from 10" to 4" despite 35/17, 34/15, 36/34 (with the rain and wet snow) and 36/28.

So the gist of what I'm saying is that to melt more than 10 inches of snow would require weather so extreme that we've never seen it before. A run-of-the-mill January thaw may eat away at half our base, but to lose more than 8" of snow in January is historically unheard of. Now that the three-inches-of-rain-with-embedded-thunder storm has worked its way off the models, it looks like we'll have a week in the 30s. That we can deal with.

The latest model run has significantly cooler weather in the next week—if it verifies I'd be surprised if we hit freezing more than two days, and then two warmer storms—with some rain or perhaps a lot of wet snow—the week after. So, who knows. If I had to predict, I'd say we have 6" of snow on the ground at the end of the month, with good skiing at most Metro locations and great skiing in Elk River (they are starting with more and they keep snow so damn well).

Ski on.

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

What does it take to melt a foot of snow?

This is a very pertinent question, given the current status of the weather. First of all, we are dodging a bullet for now, given the snow to our southwest and the massive inversion which kept temperatures yesterday in the teens and might keep us well below freezing most of today, even as temperatures aloft are well over 50 degrees! The chart below shows this; blue diagonal lines are temperatures gradients (in C) and the thick red line is the temperature at different levels of the atmosphere. Notice how it starts well below 0 but climbs, quickly, to above 10 (50F). (click the image to enlarge)

If it were going to be 50 for the next two weeks, well, bye bye snow. But it's not. According to the latest model run, the warmest air is in place right now through this afternoon—it's close to 60 (yes, 60 above) higher in the atmosphere, and it's probably 50-50 that it gets to freezing here at the surface today (the sky is still cloudy at 11:00 here in Saint Paul). And while it will remain rather warm for the next few weeks, this is by far the warmest day above, and by not mixing down those warm temperatures, we are really escaping the worst of it.

What happens beyond is a crapshoot. More sun would definitely aid in the depletion of the snow, as would more moisture. However, the models are being rather finicky on how much moisture is going to ride up in to the warm air. Last night, they were showing more than three inches of mostly-melted precipitation in the next two weeks. Now they are showing considerably less. And the most recent runs are showing a split flow with rather consistent temperatures topping our in the 30s for several days, but not skying towards 50 at any point (today would have been the day, but the inversion is helping us). And the temperatures, at least in the short term, should follow a nice diurnal pattern, so that lows will be around 18 around dawn, peak around freezing in the afternoon, and then fall off quickly. This is not a recipe for snow depth disaster.

In any case, back in December I ran the data to look at snow depth during the past 100 years in the Twin Cities. With the current situation, I am going to delve back in to that data and look at what it takes to melt snow in January. I'll look back to find Januaries with snow depths of at least 8 inches, and see what the weather was following. In other words, I want to know what it would take, weather-wise, to melt our base.

(Why just January? In January the sun is within a few degrees of the solstice, i.e. not very high. Come February and especially March, as the sun gets higher in the atmosphere its effect on snow melt increases dramatically, even if it is not reflected in the temperatures. Day lengths matter as well. Do data from past Februaries and Marches, when you can melt a foot of snow with two sunny, 50 degree days, is not particularly pertinent.)

23 megabytes of data have to be good for something, right?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Battle Creek

Day one of the meltdown, thanks to a wicked inversion, wasn't too bad. Battle Creek was powdery with a good classic track, and would have been perfect save three very minor defects:

a) the corner at the bottom of the first hill off the lighted loop has some dirt. Stay left to avoid it.
2) the pole plants on the outside of the classic track are soft and break through in places.
d) the classic track is obliterated in a couple sections, most notably up the big hill off the prairie.

Other than asking skaters to please stay in the skate lanes, Battle Creek is great. Hopefully it will survive the melt.

As for the meltdown—the latest model runs give a slight bit of hope on a few fronts. First, the sun is still rather low in the sky, so even temperatures of 35—especially if they don't hit until 3 in the afternoon or so—won't do too much damage to the snow. Second, next weeks temperatures don't look to get much above freezing, so there could be a lot of 35˚ afternoons with 20˚ nights. Also, the storm which may be headed our way next week is all over the map, so it could wind up throwing down some snow. So there's something to do the snow dance for, anyway.

Monday, January 11, 2010


The trail was mostly unchanged from yesterday, although it hadn't been regroomed. It's firm and pretty fast but still has a good edge, and probably will continue as long as it gets warmer. Hopefully, it won't get too warm.

As for weather speculation … I'm not optimistic. We should survive the first warm-up fine. It's the second and third about which I am worried. It's all more than week out, so of course things can change. And I sincerely hope they do.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


As good as it gets … Como was quite good today for some easy skating around as I (hopefully) reach the end of illness. The skate lane was firm and had a good edge, and the classic track looked mostly powdery and fast. There were a couple dirty sections and the usual off-camber stretches were off-camber, but except for some leaked fluid from the groomer, Como was as good as I've seen it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Now I'm concerned

The long-range GFS model that came out shows way too much warm air for my liking. Pretty please have it be wrong.

Murphy Hanrahan

After a week of illness (it seems like more—but I haven't skied since Monday) I hit Murphy for some afternoon, above-zero fun. The trails are in very good shape—nothing thin to speak of, and the only complaints would be that it is groomed in a bit of a U-shape in places, and the classic track is skated out on some of the narrow hills (as might be expected). The hills were mostly powdery and fun, although as usual you'll want to know how to make high speed turns before trying them out.

On my way out, the Man was out citing those without trail passes.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Why I am not too, too concerned about the thaw next week

That's a map of snow cover this morning. The gradients are 0-2 (brown), 2-4, 4-8, 8-16, 16-24 and 24+ (light purple). Look at the snow cover to our southwest. There's at least 16 inches from northwest Missouri to northwest South Dakota. There's at least 8 inches from northwest Arkansas to northwest Nebraska. So any warm air, coming from the southwest, will have to cross hundreds of miles of cold, deep snow pack, moderating it dramatically (melting is endothermic, too, which can cool the air just above the snow). In addition, moisture released form melting snow may build a deck of stratus clouds, muting the ability of the sun to heat the air. This is why, despite 1000-500 mb thicknesses of 552, the air temperatures are not forecast to rise much past freezing. And although we don't have the snowpack in the Twin Cities that they have over the Buffalo Ridge in Southwest Minnesota, the snow down there should help to protect us, to some degree, from a total meltdown.

I hope.

More locally, check out the latest snow depth maps from the U.

That's more than 30" of snow over some of Southwest Minnesota (and, yes, not even a foot here in the Twin Cities), where the warm will come from. That's way more than normal—in the 99th percentile. In recent years, we've often seen a lot of snow over Northeast Minnesota (and, more interestingly, the north has often fallen in to high percentiles, with the south in lower ones), with little down south—a steep gradient which is often exacerbated by warm air which blows over the snow-free areas and eats in to the first snow it finds. This year, the southwest has more snow than up north, which should be good for snow for everyone.

I hope.

In any case, we are entering a dreaded split-flow situation, which brings warm, dry air to the area. We can only hope it is short-lived and does not do much to our base, and good, cold, moist weather returns soon.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Thank goodness I have a rollerboard in my basement. I have a nasty head cold and don't want to spend any time outside. Yes, I know there is fresh snow and great skiing. Hopefully I'll be able to enjoy it this weekend. And hopefully the snowcover (down to Missouri) will temper any warmer weather coming up next week.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lebanon Hills

After getting bumped, I hit Lebanon around sunset. The tracks are good and solid where they exist, but someone seems to have decided not to set tracks up the hills (?!) which is really frustrating when you are trying to stride up boilerplate. Coverage is quite good with some leaves in the tracks in places. It would be nice if the trails were straightened out a bit; some of the curves are really too tight to be conducive to skiing.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


With snow falling in Boston, we headed north to ski on real hills. There were several options, although the best (reports of more than a foot in Vermont) was too far for a feasible day trip. We chose to head up to Waterville Valley in New Hampshire because there are big, long hills for striding (okay, that was the draw for me, my folks were interested in the nice trails and scenery).

The snow clearance in Massachusetts was impressive, especially for a Sunday morning. Five inches of snow, and phalanxes of half a dozen plows clearing the whole road shoulder to shoulder. It was good for snow clearing (better than Minnesota) but to pass the plows you had to hold your breath and thread the needle between two plows; staying behind them meant crawling along at 20 mph. The snow let up at the border and we hit the trails before noon.

I first skied up the Livermore Road—a ski trail in the winter—which is a 400 foot striding climb. With the new snow, the track was iffy, but the kick was decent. I came down that trail and, nearing the bottom, turned up the never-groomed but skied-in backcountry trail up to Greeley Ponds, which was surprisingly good. I was able to stride or double pole in the skied in tracks most of the 5k up to the ponds, although up top there was more snow and some big drifts where the wind blew the snow off the frozen ponds—fun to ski through 6 foot drifts (and there were only about 18 inches on the ground). I then turned around and zipped down to the parking lot, executing a couple tele turns at speed and not hitting anyone coming up.

After a well-deserved lunch, I hit up Tripoli Road, also a ski trail in winter, and a favorite haunt of Kris Freeman, who supposedly double poles up most of it. I was more in to striding, which would have been splendid but more new snow was shearing in the tracks. I did some repeats up the 700 vertical climb and then glided down in the snow content. And … it was 25˚ above zero.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Weston ski track

Back in Boston for the New Year (after a trip to Chicago—running along the lakeshore is nice but a. they need a snow gun out along the lake and b) they need some hills) I ventured out to the ever-reliable Weston Ski Track. I did some technique with my dad and then some double poling in about four inches of new snow on top of the manmade base in some areas and the golf course in others. If there was a week to be out of the Cities, the weekend of -20 might be it (although the race at Battle Creek looked like fun times).

I went in and talked to the owners after skiing (I worked for them in high school) and found out that they've been making snow for 25 years, in very marginal conditions (although being on the Charles River gives them a good water supply, temperatures are quite warm). They can get their guns up and running quite fast, even for short windows of time, and can blow in a k of snow with only a couple of days of cold weather. Hopefully in two decades the Twin Cities snowmaking venues will be as good. (Of course, their Pisten Bully is broken right now and until they get a new one next week the piles of manmade snow are rather uneven.)

Tomorrow, off to Waterville Valley for all sorts of fun, especially a 500 vertical foot striding hill.