Third Time’s a Charm

A long day hike from Crested Butte to Maroon Bells outside Aspen.
A long day hike from Crested Butte to Maroon Bells outside Aspen.

It was three years ago December that we got the great idea to ski the Birke the following winter. The reasoning behind the long-term planning for the next winter was a logical move – to give us of a year to get in shape.

We spent that first winter skiing and supplemented quite a few uphill hikes with poles and the little hiking crampons under our shoes for the icy sections. The Alley Loop in Crested Butte was our long distance event that first winter and our qualifier Birke race for the following winter.

We worked hard and motivated each other to stick to our training program, so we were a bit disappointed when it was announced the Birkebeiner was cancelled last winter due to lack of snow. I wasn’t so bad though – we were smart enough to buy trip insurance for our plane fare and was also able to cancel our hotel reservation at the Micro Hotel in Rice Lake. We were only out the Birke entry fee and a few steps away from the cliff of a cancelled Birke depression.

On the bright side? Another summer to boost our training volume. We got in long and challenging nine hour hike from Crested Butte to Aspen as soon as the trail opened. The maroon bells road proved to be another wonderful summer activity with Her on blades and myself on classic roller skis.

Finishing the skate up to the Bells.
Finishing the skate up to the Bells.
A Classic skier heads up to the Maroon Bells.
A Classic skier heads up to the Maroon Bells.





We had a decent summer and now waiting for the snow to fly. As of today, December 3, 2017 it’s as dry as a bone. No skiing except for a few snow-making runs at Aspen and Snowmass ski areas. The Rio Grand bike trail is still dry beckons roller-blading for those flat rolling paths and lots of V-2 training.

Last year’s cancellation was a bummer, and so is the dry winter start of this winter. But, it was three years ago that the Birkebeiner became our goal and this winter will be perfect because Third Time’s a Charm.

Alley Loop … done

nordic, xc ski, costume, crested butte, alley loop
Colorado’s largest costume XC Race

According to The Weather Channel App, the weather prediction for this year’s Alley Loop in Crested Butte, Colorado was for low 30’s and a possibility of snow flurries. The prediction was pretty close.

I found some old Toko red premix fluoro in my wax box that was probably 15 years old. It seemed to fit the bill with a temperature range of 28-18°F. That was finally ironed on over Swix LF Violet. I felt pretty safe until I saw Boulder Nordic’s Friday wax suggestion of a much colder wax. Oh well. I put in a few drops of Swix LF blue and called it quits. Turns out my wax was great and only a tad bit slower on the second lap.

I was very happy with the race and felt the training over the last few months has been right on mark. My training/exercise hasn’t been high intensity, but focus on mileage and technique. I admit that I don’t have much control of my pulse on steep hills but do have the mindset to stop and let my pulse come back down – or try to ski slower. Let’s just say that I’ve had lots of practice and ski time with the Diagonal V Skate.

The Diagonal V Skate (DVS) does have a wimpy connotation to it though. I mean, you’d never see a elite skier use it in a race, right? So, when I’m using the DVS I often question myself whether I would even be able to V-1  up an entire hill? I mean, I’m stopping so much, and then reverting to the DVS to keep my pulse down. Anyhow, that has been one of  my self-doubts leading up to the Alley Loop.

No need to worry! On the steepest of hills, the DVS wasn’t much slower then V-1 skiers, while many of the less experienced skiers were revertiong to the herringbone and no glide at all. I was happy just to keep momentum on the uphills.

I’ve been worried about the high pulse rate during training. My pulse was pretty high at the Alley Loop and stayed pretty consistent between 150 and 160 bpm and hovering on the high side for 1 hour and 37 minutes. The high pulse thing kind of surprised me but most probably because I’ve lost touch with this racing thing. But I survived! Had Fun! And, drove Her crazy with my post event blabbering.

Race Strategy: Start Slow then Taper

I’ve been trying to keep the exercise hours frequent but low intensity. The intensity thing is hard to master though, expecially for a 63 year old. And it’s hard, often times, because it’s just too much fun.

I must admit that I’m a little paranoid about getting too excited and high intensity for my own good. I want to go interval ballistic but that 30 year old attitude whipped my butt last year just before the 42K Alley Loop in Crested Butte. I felt low energy and drained the week before the event and just didn’t feel a whole lot of pizzaz the day of.

My mantra at the beginning of this season was to just stand on skis: a lot of distance skiing going as slow as possible with good gliding technique. I was being passed left and right but took comfort in thinking that my technique was better and those speedsters would probably poop themselves out after 30 minutes.

So, I’ve been trying to reign it in this season. It’s a little disappointing to having to stop on steep uphills because my heart rate gets above 145, when my goal is to maintain a 135 or below average. I stop, wait for my rate to lower and go again, slowly. I don’t want to get run down or sick and it seems to be working. So, what should I do now? Race to Train!

4 weeks left to Birke. Time to have a little fun:

  • Next Saturday Alley Loop 22K Skate.
  • Week later, Owl Creek 21K. A really hilly course. Will start in the back of the pack with the tour group. Don’t want to go too hard because the next Saturday is the Birkenbeiner!!!

Side Note: Last years Alley Loop 42K classic torture did have one major high point – it got me in the 3rd Wave for the this years birke. Major cool!

Low Intensity Road to Recovery

I have a problem with “Her”. She doesn’t listen to me.

Maybe, the problem is that it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut when it comes to XC skiing. I’m kind if a technical nerd from teaching cross-country skiing for 20+ years. Even though I haven’t taught skiing for the last 10 years my head is still full of knowledge, and I will admit that I may be Full of It, but She still needs to listen!

But let’s look at the fact that husband and wives rarely like to listen to criticisms from the other… which reminds me of a story:
I was teaching a lesson during Christmas week in a little teaching area behind Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin. The area was also the trail-head for the cross-country trail network. A husband and wife duo was just beginning a ski. From the look of it, he was the experienced one (full-of-it) and she was a first timer. He was barking “do this, do that” instructions and she was struggling. I just shook my head and continued on with my lesson. Thirty minutes later she was walking back in tears, skis in hand, and him at her heels saying “you should have done this, you should have done that.”

Remembering that story, I’ve finally come to my senses and scaled back what I want to say to my Her, and tell her very little – only when Her is in the best of moods, and only very subliminally so Her doesn’t realize that I’m talking about skiing. Things like “Naps are good” when she’s tired because She skied too hard for two days in a row with her heart rate through the roof!

There is so much more to say, but I can’t… But, since it would give me great gratification to give her my wealth of knowledge of survival Birke tips, I’ve decided to give them here – without her knowing! Things like:

  • Rest days are good. Ski slow and easy after a hard day.
  • Don’t V1 all the time! Practice the V2 and V2-Alternate for flats and gentle downhills.
  • The groomed tracks can be faster then skating. Get in the tracks on declines and get some rest.
  • Don’t ski the hilly Spring Gulch trails everyday. Ski something easy the next day.
  • and Bla, Bla, and so-forth.

Now, if I would only listen to myself.


IMG_4098I’ve been remiss. The Birke is a little over a month away and haven’t posted anything since last fall. Here we go:

We had a decent summer of exercise. I broke out my roller skis after a 8+ year hiatus. My V2 classic roller skis were never quite the same after backing my car up over one, but they worked well enough for a (semi) weekly ski up the Maroon Bells road. The wife (known as “She” from here on) accompanied me on roller blades.

My starting goal was to ski one hour up the road at a low intensity. The first ski had my heart rate hovering around 150 with each consecutive time lowering by about 5 beats, and after a month, being able to keep it in the mid 130s. It was fun marking our progress and seeing the increased distance within that hour time. After a few months, She decided we needed to make it all the way to the end of the 6 mile road and by the end of August we made the final climb in about 1:20 hours.

maroon bells, roller skiing
The fall is especially busy with tourists. Today there is a long line for the bus back down to town.

The Bells road is pretty special in the summer because it’s closed to traffic with a bus service is in place to transport the sightseeers up and down the road. It’s also special because it would be near suicidal to attempt a ski or rollerblade down the steep and narrow road.

My mantra during the summer was slow and easy and just being happy with getting any exercise time in. We evened it out with some long hikes, weekly short vertical hike to Mushroom Rock on the Red Butte trail, flat rollerblades with poles on the Rio Grande bike path, and my bike excursions.

Now comes the big question: was it enough of a base to move us toward our Birke exercise/training?

The Last Hurrah

It was hard to let go of winter. Only a few weeks before the road to Maroon Bells was groomed and beautiful. T-Lazy7 Ranch was still grooming the road for their snowmobile tours and laying a classic track just because they are nice people.

maroon bells, aspen xc skiing, on line xc lessons
March 20, 2016. A Bluebird day on the road to Maroon Bells.

The spring skiing still felt like mid-winter conditions and didn’t want it to end. We (I) decided to give it one last ski on April 14. Just a week before it was still skiable and talked the wife into one last hurrah. Imagine my disappointment and embarrassment  when we got to the trailhead after the 35 minute drive only to find bare pavement.

Ashcroft Ski Touring Center, XC skiing. Cross country ski skating
April 14, 2016. The last ski of the season.

Trying to save the day we (I) came up with one last option of the skiing the season-closed Ashcroft Ski Touring trails. I figured the extra 1000 foot of elevation, and another 30 minutes of driving would help save the day, and it did – a little. It was rough and dirty snow but it was still skiing I suppose…

That gung-ho attitude is more from my past life then present. I prefer things a little easier these days. I like the midwinter skiing when my wax is perfect and the sky is sunny. Better if the drive isn’t too far too. But beggars can’t be too choosy. In perspective, I’m one very lucky person to live in the mountains and not in a city where skiing is a weekend expedition.

It’s a bit of a shock when my mind drifts back to those younger days of my totally self-absorbed gung-ho attitude toward cross-country skiing. We spent hours waxing skis and basically living the sport. Not all that was bad, because it created a love and skill for a really cool, and fun sport. I still love skiing but my perspective is different. It hard to justify putting in hours of off and on season exercise, especially when there are a multitude of other interests in my life, including family. Same goes for the hours of hot waxing trying to get the last bit of advantage for this aging body – especially when I come up with the waxing results of the Alley Loop last winter in Crested Butte

I guess, the best attitude is to take cross country skiing at its face value: It’s just fun, great exercise and a great avenue to enjoy being outside in the winter. Next time though, I think I’ll skip hour drive in April for the last hurrah and go for a walk closer to home. Oh yea, I almost forgot – and to make sure my wife’s skis are waxed better then mine!

Lesson’s Learned


Last turn to the finish line.

2016 Alley Loop ski Marathon, Crested Butte, Colorado

The little town of Crested Butte is proud of their local ski marathon but there’s probably debate on which part of it they are most proud of.  It could be the costume portion of the event in which they brag  as America’s Largest Costumed Cross-Country ski race. Or, it could be the Bar Crawl, complete with wacky games held in the closed off main street on race eve (Friday night). Whatever it is you can’t discount the popularity of 300 participants braving that chilly single digit race morning.

42K Classic event? What was I thinking?
Here’s a recap:

I’m a bit rusty on waxing. Predictions were in negative teens overnight and warming to 20 by mid day. The night before I camped out at the nordic center/ice rink and borrowed the wax bench to iron in a binder wax followed by multi layers of blue and green wax.

(Note to you: Check out the Ice Rink!  A nice facility with small nordic center which also doubled as the warming hut for the regulation size outdoor ice rink, complete with Zamboni. It was packed with teens coming out in droves for a social night of free skating in the 5 degree weather.)

It was minus 19 that morning –  a perfect excuse to wear a thin clown suit for an extra layer for warmth. 9:40am start for the 42K Classic. My wax is kinda okay – not the best grip but I’m hoping it’ll get better as the day warms. Glide could be worse but maybe that will improve over time too. One hour later: glad I’m wearing the clown suit because no one is taking me too seriously and my slow speed fits perfectly with my costume.

Overall, my skis were dogs! My skis were not only slow but slippery as the day progressed. I had waxed too warm for the conditions – I layered blue waxes, when green was the true call. Waxes are supposed to interact with the ice crystals so that the snow can stick to the wax (grip) but break away from the wax during the glide. If the wax is too hard (cold) the snow crystal can’t dig into the wax and you have slippery skis. On the opposite side, if the wax is too soft (warm) then the snow crystals start digging into the wax and not break away and makes the skis slow, kinda like rubbing two pieces of sandpaper together. In extreme cases, a too soft, or warm wax, will collect a pile of snow on the bottom of your skis so you don’t go anywhere at all. The snow doesn’t break way from the ski bottom and you’ll often end up with a mound of snow attached below your feet.

What’s the solution if the wax is too warm/soft? It’s pretty easy, just requires a scrapper and a little effort to remove the sticky wax then reapplying some colder wax. Easy to say. So why didn’t I do just that? My waxes were in a fanny pack attached to the small of my back…

… a stitch in time saves nine. I could have saved time and physical energy, and cut nearly an hour  off of my 4 hour jaunt if I had stopped and re-waxed. I did have some trouble with my bindings and that probably clouded my judgement. In hind sight I had the perfect opportunity while I was skiing with a local guy about half way through the event. He was just out having fun on the trail and would gladly helped my with my weird binding prediciment.

But I didn’t stop. It was a beautiful day. My hopes of the snow warming up never happened but I was so emotionally charged by just being in the event I had a serious euphoria high going on. I was so happy to see the finish line I nearly cried.

Lessons learned? I should have stopped and re-waxed. Good lesson. Too bad our best lessons are learned by mistakes.

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Bright Ideas

The 2017 American Birkebeiner is still well over a year away but the possibility of being the 9,999th skier in the pack of 10,000 is a bit daunting. So to be kind to my wife — who’s bright idea it is to ski the Birke next year – I’ve entered us in a pre-qualifier event in hopes to move us up a few waves. The pre-qualifier event is the Alley Loop 21 and 42K in Crested Butte, CO on February 6. She’s skating the 21K and I have an unknown desire to ski the 42K classic.

This momentum caught hold pretty innocently about 4 weeks ago. We had just finished a hike up a local ski mountain (Buttermilk) and ran into a few Nordic friends who had skinned up. It was our first hike up the mountain since our now 20 year old daughter was in the kids ski program back when she was 4. We’re glad to see our friends and the chat turned to one of them mentioning he was skiing the Birke in a few weeks and how both of them had skied the Norwegian Birkebeiner too. Long story short, the wife thinks skiing the American Birkebeiner next year would be “Fun!”(Please notice the exclamation point which is supposed to represent her enthusiasm when she said that three letter word).

Why wouldn’t I agree? It’s an old ski bums fantasy to have a wifey-pooh (sp) that wants to go on a ski adventure. Right?

So I enter us in this pre-qualifier event that has some handicap percentage for all these events which are supposed to help you move up in the waves – somehow. I don’t understand any of the handicap process.

So I set up a last-minute 3 week training program for us so she/we might survive the Alley Loop. She’s never skied more then 15K, unless you count the Backcountry Valentines Day Death March Tour on the Government Trail before we were married. …I better not go there.

The training program was set up with a few distance days (2.5-3 hours) and some ski days with verbal emphasis on the importance of rest. She’s feeling great but I didn’t follow my advice and feel tired and drained.

The romanticism I have with ski marathons, I’ve realized, was from a time when I was single and young and teaching xc skiing full time. I’d forgotten that there was nothing else except skiing, training, chasing women, buying fitness toys and hanging out with others that were just like me! Now it’s go to work, get an hour of skiing in then be too lazy to do much else when I get home, except for tricking hugs out of my 16 year old daughter (she’s not the most cooperative).

I’m also having some deja-vu about a few of those marathons. It wasn’t always fun, but mostly fun, I’m pretty sure, fun, kinda. I must fall into my Child Birth Philosophy. It goes like this: There is pain in childbirth and during the process I don’t think there is much desire and anticipation to do it again – ever. But after time the memory of pain goes away and the process for a new baby begins, all over again.

So why did I decide to classic 42Ks? A voice in my head is telling me to and it feels right somehow. Why ski 42Ks? I used to have a lot of fun doing it and it’s a great excuse to set me on a path to a healthier lifestyle and lose some weight. How do I dress for an event when the start time is predicted to be about 5 degrees? I have no idea.

Gotta go wax my our skis…