• MIke McGrew

It's been 20 days since my last post, which I realize is the source of great disappointment to some and complete indifference to others, but I have a reasonably good excuse. On February 13 I headed to Canada for a repeat of last year's hut trip and didn't return until the 23rd. It's taken me all week to re-acclimate, plus it hasn't gone unnoticed that interest in cross country skiing falls off precipitously about the middle of February every year. My first post of the year generated 250 views while my last post has about 65. Local races are over, the ski trails parking lot is nearly empty during the week and I strongly suspect that some of you slackers are playing golf, God forbid.

So, anyway, I was compelled to jump in the Subaru with Steve and Chris for the almost 1800 mile round trip pilgrimage to Dezaiko Lodge north of Prince George, B.C. You can learn a lot about people while being held hostage in a compact SUV over the course of four days and what I learned is that Steve seriously needs to work on his border crossing techniques. To wit: to avoid an ass chewing from the border guard it is best to have your passport ready when you arrive at the window, even if there are no cars in front of or behind you. Second, when the guard inquires about firearms, the first word out of your mouth should NEVER be "uuuhhhh". And third, know how to operate the car's electric windows for chrissake. When the guard requests that you roll down the rear window it is bad form to randomly push inoperative buttons while muttering under your breath "jeez, that seems like the right one, huh, maybe there's some sort of lock" as your spouse takes over communicating with the guard who is growing ever more skeptical by the second.

A hut trip provides a prime opportunity to work on social skills in a cramped space over the course of a week. Little skills like learning to play well with others, sharing, not farting whenever the spirit moves you, keeping your sweaty, stinking feet off the coffee table, and not giving utterance to every random thought that enters your mind. To my surprise and dismay, it turns out that other people have something called "feelings" and they generally resent having those tender things stepped on in random fashion. It's hard enough to comply with social conventions on an occasional basis, but seven days in a row is a true challenge. My best guess is I earned a score of "Mike is trying, but needs improvement", but won't know until this fall when invitations to return are handed out, or not.

The biggest reason for going is the potential for untracked, endless powder. Last year we were hosed in a big way when the wind started howling on the third night and crusted over nearly everything with the exception of a few random tree shots. This year the tables were turned and we were greeted with bottomless powder that persisted through the first three days before it started to firm up a little and get a slightly windblown in some places. Overall, though, conditions ranged from good to excellent and the week was the stuff of dreams.

This run was just a few minutes away from the lodge.

The fourth day we woke up to blue skies and took the opportunity to go high.

Powder so deep it looks like I'm walking downhill.

Steve Sheriff posted a short video on his YouTube channel.

Fresh skin track mid-morning.

The B Team after deciding who from the A Team gets ostracized for the remainder of the week.

  • MIke McGrew

"The snow is really sticky today".

I can't begin to count the times I've heard that lament as some hapless classic skier is trudging down the trail with 3 inches of snow, plus or minus, glued to the bottom of his or her waxless skis. The snow is fresh and the temperature is inevitably hovering around 32 degrees and the poor sucker who thought it was going to be a fabulous day of skiing is instead floundering in misery.

Most of these victims are casual skiers. In fact, most of them probably won't ever see this post, but I'm going to continue as a public service, even though I know the majority of my readers are insufferable elitist snobs like myself. Since they're casual, occasional skiers, there isn't much thought given to preventive maintenance, which is a shame, because with just a few minutes of prep their anguish could be avoided.

Here's the deal: when skis glide on snow friction is created between the bottom of the ski and the snow, which melts the snow, especially at warmer temperatures. If the base of the ski is untreated the water penetrates the base. The water that has penetrated with the base now bonds to the snow on the trail, and the snow adheres to the base. And now we have sticky snow. We're not gliding and we're pissed. The kids are pissed. The wife is pissed. And you know what that means. It's gonna be a long drive back to Missoula.

So what's the cure? There are multiple products available on the market that you can apply to the fish scales on your ski base. MaxxWaxx, Maxiglide, Toko Express Wax....the list goes on. Most of it is reasonably priced and simple to apply. Wipe it on, rub it in, wait a few minutes, ski. Most skiers who use this stuff wait until they're balancing on a pyramid of the dreaded sticky snow before they take the time to apply it. The most effective way to employ this stuff is to put it on before you start skiing. Better yet, wipe it on before you leave the house. That will give it plenty of time to bond with the ski base and also gives you one less thing to do at the trail head. If you use skin skis there's plenty of stuff out there to choose from. I use Swix Skin Care but only because I got a deal on it. I'm sure there are plenty of other products that are equally as effective.

What really amazes is me is how many casual skiers are totally unaware that these waxes are available. Somebody sold you these skis, so why did that sales person let you out the door without a can of MaxiGlide? Mostly because, depending on where you bought your skis, the majority of these sales people are clueless. If you buy your gear at a specialty shop, you're going to pay a little more, but you're going to get better gear, it's going to fit you and you'll get better overall service. In any case, I can't tell you how many poor saps I've encountered who are slogging miserably away, or even walking back with their skis in their hands, who had no clue this stuff exists.

Save yourself some anguish. Shell out 10 or 15 bucks and put the fun back in your skiing.

That's my public service announcement for the year. There may be more rants or tirades coming, but no more posts for the edification of the citizenry. I'm done.

  • MIke McGrew

I've gotta start by apologizing for the crappy cell phone photos. Once again I left the house without my camera but naturally I had my cell phone because without our cellular tethers we might as well be walking around with no clothes on, right? And Lord knows THAT'S awkward and disconcerting.

Anyway, more photos equals less writing, although with the new website it also equals more screwing around downloading photos, fitting them on the page, and trying to figure out where that Biathlon file went that I so cagily created because it would be WAY more efficient than having a bunch of random photos scattered under the heading of "pictures". But we wanted autonomy on the website and now we've got it along with taking responsibility for our scattershot efforts at computer mastery. So quit whining, Mike. You whiner.

The photo demonstrates far more graphically than I can put into words how much the Seeley Lake Biathlon has grown and matured. For the numerically challenged I'll make it easy and reveal that there are 10, count 'em, 10 targets on the range these days. The biggest complaint from the early days of the biathlon was that we had 5 shooting stations and racers wound up standing in line waiting to take their turn with a gun. The clock keeps ticking while you're standing in line with the sweat cooling on your back, which obviously makes the racing part of the event a bad joke. There was virtually no waiting this year and from my casual observation there were always at least three or four stations open for shooting.

That probably also translated into more missed targets because if you're standing in line your heart rate is dropping, theoretically improving your ability to steady the gun. Shooting is part of the program and if you're a serious biathlete missed targets are a big deal, but for most of our racers shooting is a novelty and part of the fun, to the point that people were almost bragging about how many targets they missed.

Another big improvement is how well organized the race has become. In the past there were too many categories and long start times, causing the race to go on and on and on with racers standing around either waiting for their event to start or waiting for later races to finish so we could get on with the awards. Now we have 3k, 9k, and 21k races without differentiating between skate and classic. We start the racers about 10 seconds apart and the timekeeping is done remotely by Competitive Timing. Consequently the racing started at 10 and everyone was finished by about 1:00. At 1:30 we were starting the awards ceremony. Throughout it all there were burgers being served along with cookies and other snacks, but I have got to say the coffee was lame. Instant Folgers? Are you serious? F minus on the coffee, you guys. BUT, there was half and half so I'll raise your grade to a D-.

For spectators this is the ultimate Nordic event. These two had it figured out and parked themselves at the shooting range for the duration of the race. Since the range is situated adjacent to the start/finish as well as the penalty loop it's easy to catch all the action.

Some spectators were more engaged than others. #notimpressed.

The penalty loop is less cruel than in years past. It's still a dizzyingly tight circle, but we hauled in 2 or 3 loads of gravel last summer and leveled that sucker out. Here we have your basic shuffler packing his gopher shooter and my girl Cora with her full-on competition setup. This is a true come one-come all event.

The biathlon requires a small army of volunteers on race day. The shooting range has a monitor at each shooting station plus a couple more to keep things moving. The guys with bright vests on are all volunteers, mostly from the Wilderness Sportsman's Club.

There are a lot of moving parts to the biathlon and it takes a ton of coordination to bring it all together. Chris Lorentz was the race director and main push behind this effort and he deserves a lot of credit for making it all happen so efficiently. He was at the trails this week almost every day, making preparations and overseeing the range setup. The day after the race he was back there again tearing down the range and hauling those heavy-assed targets back to the groomer shed. Having been involved in competitive shooting for years, as well as being one of our most reliable groomers, Chris was the right guy for the job and he pulled it off without a hitch.

If you've ever considered racing in the biathlon, you should quit thinking about it and just do it. Take the plunge. It's a true community event, you can race as hard or as easy as you want, and nobody cares about your skiing or shooting skills. Try it for the fun. I guarantee you'll be glad you did.


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