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A fuzzy, stolen image of a Pisten Bully 100.

Seeley Lake skiing is off to one of the best starts in recent memory. Regular snowfall beginning in early December and continuing throughout the month got things rolling in earnest about the second week in the month. It's been coming in modest amounts, allowing us to keep up with the packing and grooming rather than the usual dance of being starved for snow and then being buried all at once and trying to manage the excess.

A primary factor in our current grooming management is access to a Pisten Bully 100. For several years we've engaged in an off and on debate about purchasing one of these gizmos. Pluses include the quality of grooming, ability to pack and groom at the same time, a world class classic track and less time spent grooming. On the negative side is the initial cost (a quick search yielded a used PB for $108,000. I don't want to speculate on the new cost.), maintenance, and training someone to operate the thing properly. It's not like a snowmobile where you can take a newbie, give them a 5 minute crash course and say, "follow me and whatever you do, don't get stuck".

We've operated for years with a fleet of four new or relatively new, snowmobiles, an arsenal of grooming equipment and a flock of willing volunteers. Lynn Carey (grooming guru and my straight man) has been doing this for 30 years, so he has a pretty good idea of how to optimize results with this system. We groom every day that conditions permit, resulting in rave reviews and a donation box stuffed with $20 bills that go a long way towards paying the overhead.

So, why is there a Pisten Bully parked by the grooming shed? Wellsir, it's like this. Last winter Doug Edgerton, longtime grooming contractor at West Yellowstone, alerted us that he'd had enough of living in the snowmobile capital of Montana, and was making the move to Seeley Lake, bringing with him not only his Pisten Bully, but his four decades of accumulated grooming wisdom. He volunteered both the Bully and the wisdom to the Nordic club and we humbly and gratefully accepted.

Most of us in the club have been at this grooming thing with positive results for a long time and the introduction of another strong point of view has resulted in some, shall we say, invigorating debate. For example, how far into the skating lane should the classic track be placed? If you've skied here in the past couple of weeks you've probably noticed the classic track moving to the right, then back toward the skating lane, then back to the right again. With the Pisten Bully the classic track can be altered on the fly so there is a fair amount of adjustment that can be made. The sweet spot is where there's a solid right-hand pole plant but we're not jamming the skaters against the left-hand bank. Yesterday it seemed like we'd found the perfect compromise between the two.

Doug can also make subtle adjustments to the width of the classic track that are so incremental you probably don't even notice. He'll do this on a long downhill like off the top of Whitetail Hill. In the past if I was skiing classic, I'd jump out of the track at the steep part of the run so I didn't get pitched out while reaching peak speed at the bottom turn. (Breaking bones gives one a new point of view.) What Doug does is slightly widen the track, giving more stability and consequently a better ability to handle the speed in the track going into the corner.

We're still using the sleds and volunteers to do the bulk of the grooming while getting the PB out about once a week to make everything perfect. If there's a big dump of snow the PB will be our first line of attack. When we'd get buried in the past we'd have to roll multiple times to pack the snow firmly enough that we could flatten, groom and set classic with the ginzus. It seems like inevitably after we had everything packed, we'd immediately get another mammoth shot of snow and have to start the process all over again. On days like that the PB will allow our aged and decrepit volunteers the chance to put their feet up by the fire and enjoy multiple cups of coffee along with reruns of Real Housewives and The Great British Baking Show.

If you like the new grooming, let us know, either here or on the grooming page. And if you REALLY like it, remember, nothing says "thank you" like money.


Note the direction of travel.

Funny how dramatically life can change in an instant. One moment I'm having what feels like the best bike ride of the summer and the next I'm sprawled in the dirt and gravel, still clutching my grips, with a broken collarbone, three broken ribs and a punctured lung, accompanied by some classic road rash. Of course I didn't have that instant diagnosis upon impact, I just knew that I had royally screwed myself up. Or as my role model Oliver Hardy used to say, "here's another fine mess you've gotten us into".

Everyone breathlessly asks, "what happened?", as if there's some dramatic tale to accompany my trauma. As usual, it's pretty mundane. I'm riding a semi-rough gravel road down from Fawn Peak west of my house, going just under 20 mph, when I swerve slightly to avoid a pothole. Problem is, I didn't completely go around the pothole and my front wheel slipped down into it, cranked itself 90 degrees to the right, and over I went, slamming down on my left shoulder and sliding across the rocks for about fifteen feet.

Once I had gathered myself I could tell that the impact had fractured my collarbone and that it was overlapping itself. I despise being tethered to the outside world when I'm recreating so I tend to leave my cell phone at the house, but for some unknown reason on that auspicious day I brought it with me for the first time all spring. There was no way I was going to easily make the five miles or so back to the house. Fortunately, my phone had a signal and I was able to call Katie.

"Why are you bothering me?" Her usual affectionate greeting when she knows it's me.

"Well... I wrecked my bike and broke my collarbone."



We worked out that she would drive the truck to the top of Archibald Loop where I would meet her. I was still about 1.5 miles from Archibald and I knew she would never find me where I was hunched pathetically by the side of the road. But, it was downhill from there to the Archibald junction and I figured I could coast downhill one-handed and walk the remaining 2-300 yards to the top of the loop. That's the kind of clear-headed thinking we're prone to when we're injured and shocky, yet still in that independent, masculine frame of mind. I managed to get it done, though, and I arrived at our meeting place well ahead of Katie. Pretty soon she drove up, I lifted the bike into the back of the truck with one arm and we headed down.

Long story, short, once I was in the St. Pat's emergency room and got some x-rays it was determined that I not only had broken my collarbone, but had compounded matters by fracturing three ribs and puncturing my left lung. After a lifetime of avoiding traumatic injury I was efficient enough to combine multiple traumas into one incident. Why play around and waste a golden opportunity? When they wheeled me into the trauma room there were about ten masked and gowned medical professionals in attendance. My first thought was it was a class of some sort but when Katie inquired about all the bodies she was informed that there was concern my lung might collapse. I wasn't sure if that was reassuring or not, but when they started to file out one by one I assumed that I wasn't in any immediate danger of going Code Red and I started to relax.

That was June 30. Nine days later I had the collarbone surgically repaired with a plate and six screws. I spent two months with my arm in a sling, unable to fish, camp, ride my bike, finish my bathroom tile project, get firewood, mow the damn lawn or do anything that might stress my clavicle. Now THAT was an exercise in patience and humility. My one claim to glory is that I discovered I am able to mop floors one-handed. Small victories, no matter how pitiful, are still victories.

My surgeon, Dr. Wright (great guy, whom I heartily endorse), released me from my sling on August 29 on the condition that I stay off my bike.

"Can I fish?"

"Do you cast with your right arm?"


"I don't see a problem."

"My only concern is if I were to slip and fall while I'm wading."

Yet another one of those significant pauses.

"Maybe you'd better not fish."

Mulling it over on the way home, I decided the best interpretation of that exchange was that I could fish, I just damn well better not fall.

August 30. I'm standing in a stream with a fly rod in my hand.

I haven't fallen yet.


Good body position starts with good ankle flex.

Clear images start with your own photos, not stealing them from the internet.

Every ski season I hold several clinics, both skating and classic, beginner and intermediate. Regardless of the abilities of the skiers participating I always start at the ground floor of efficient skiing: good body position. And I always ask the rhetorical question: where does good body position start? And the answer is almost always the same: bend your knees.

After years of repeatedly being subjected to this response I've managed to suppress my primal urge to kill. Instead I close my eyes so my students don't see them rolling back in my head, take a deep breath and calmly say, "Good body position starts with flexed ankles."

What happens when we flex our ankles? Our knees drop, our hips drop and if our torso is tipped slightly forward we find ourselves in what is universally known as the athletic position. You're ready for anything. You can drive forward, you can move side to side, you can generate power, you can ski downhill, you can absorb bumps. You're ready to ski down the trail.

Having taken way too many PSIA classes over the last ten years and working with what probably amounts to a few hundred skiers, between the grade school kids and adult clinics, it's become difficult for me to ski without constantly evaluating my own technique. Whenever I sense a lack of efficiency or I stall out on a hill, I always check my body position, meaning I ask myself, "are my ankles flexed?" Nine times out of ten the answer is no or not enough. As soon as I drop into my ankles the problem is solved.

A few weeks ago I got into a discussion/debate with a couple of moms who work with the younger skiers. They were adamant that "flex your ankles" means nothing to the average person and "bend your knees" is more universally understood. Being an older, white male I knew that they were full of crap but I nevertheless tried get them to see the light using logic and reason, which is the natural realm of older, white males. But I was speaking into the void. Finally I turned to a kid standing next to me and said, "Sam, flex your ankles." Sam immediately flexed his ankles, his knees dropped, he tipped forward and he was ready to ski.

Why the focus on the ankles? Why not knees? The first answer I always give is that I can bend my knees without bending my ankles, but I can't bend, or flex, my ankles without bending my knees. If I do I'll fall over. The second part is, we want to think from the skis up, and our ankles are the first major joint in that progression. Flexed ankles equals bent knees equals dropped hips, etc.

Teaching adults to flex their ankles is probably the single biggest challenge I face when instructing. Most kids just get it. Tell a group of kids to pretend they're gorillas and see what happens. Instant athletic position. When you put them on skis they usually have no problem with transferring that drill and dropping into a good stance with their ankles flexed. Adults can often demonstrate a good position before they put their skis on, but once they're locked into their bindings they become rigid, tentative and sometimes, fearful. My task at that point is to put them through various drills while repeating over and over, "flex your ankles, flex your ankles, flex your ankles."

Good body position is the same whether you're skiing classic or skate. And good body position starts with what?

Ankles, dammit!

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