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This might work, but why bother?

I really enjoy teaching and coaching cross country skiing. There's the new people I get to meet, the kids I get to hang out with, and the satisfaction of being outside sharing a sport I love. And I can't deny that it's a real ego boost when I light up somebody's day by showing them something as simple as how to wedge turn around a downhill corner that previously had them frozen in terror. Simple techniques that many of us take for granted are like speaking Arabic for beginning skiers and I feel privileged to be their translator.

Most of my beginning students catch on to the basics fairly quickly. However, there is one common denominator that causes some of them to flail in futility no matter how athletic they are, what kind of shape they're in or how patiently and repetitively I break the process down. And that one simple thing is they are not on the right gear. They borrowed their friends equipment because they are the same shoe size. Only problem is they may be able to swap boots, but their friend is 5'10", 175lbs. and they're 5'4", 120lbs. Or they got a good deal on a package at a big box, all purpose sporting goods store. Or their mom bought them stuff they'll "grow into". They thought they could skate on their classic gear or classic on their skate gear. I've heard and seen it all.

These people are doomed to frustration until they get properly fitted gear that is designed specifically for either skate or classic skiing.

Last Saturday is an excellent case in point and served as my inspiration for this post. I was working with a really enjoyable couple from Missoula who had downhill and touring experience but wanted to try skate skiing. I could tell Shannon's skis were too long for her, but hoped to make the best of the situation. That was a wasted hope. Despite her CrossFit training and obvious athleticism, she couldn't overcome the fact that her skis, purchased at a large, local sporting goods store, were way too long for her. The tails of her skis were crossing nonstop, killing her momentum and causing her to fall repeatedly. She was trying to be a good sport about it but her frustration was building and I could see the tension growing in her. What had started as a good time was going south in a big way.

As we approached her emotional breaking point, Shaun Radley skied by pulling two of his (adorable) kids in a plastic sled.

"Hey, Mike!"

"Shaun! Hold up a second. I've got a question. What do you think about her skis? They're 181's."

"Way too long. I'd put her on a 173. I've got some in the car, let me grab them."

We happened to be less than 100' from Shaun's car. In less than five minutes time he had her on skis that fit, the birds began singing. the clouds parted and Shannon was bathed in a pool of divine light. I may have heard heavenly hosts singing on high, but can't confirm that. Immediately, and I mean RIGHT NOW, she was able to make those skis do what they were supposed to do. It was a 180 degree turn. She went from being totally frustrated to actually having fun and feeling like this might be a sport she would enjoy pursuing.

What's so special about Shaun, other than he was incredibly kind to help us out? This: he is a long-time racer who owns a shop that specializes in bikes and cross country ski gear. He is experienced in the sport and trained to fit people with the proper equipment. When he sells someone a new pair of skis he knows what he is talking about.

You can walk into a huge multi-purpose sporting goods store and buy some stuff from a very friendly sales person and, yeah, you might save $50 or even $100. But if it doesn't fit and you consequently are battling to learn basic technique, what have you actually saved? You won't be having fun, you'll think skate skiing sucks, or you'll be convinced the problem is your own spastic tendencies, and those skis and boots will gather dust in your gear closet. You didn't save squat.

If you're thinking of taking up classic or skate skiing, or you want to get your kids started, don't cut corners. There are several good shops in Missoula that will get you headed down the right path and some of them have programs that allow you to trade in your kids' gear as they outgrow it. You don't have to break your piggy bank for the best stuff money can buy. These shops sell entry level packages that will work fine and most importantly, they'll be fitted to your height, weight and ability. If you don't want to take the plunge, then try renting. Most shops will apply the price of the rental to a purchase if you later decide to dive in.

Shaun's shop is called MTCX and you can Google them for more info. Tell 'em Mike sent ya.


One of many trees that were on the trails this week.

All of western Montana got blown away last Wednesday and Seeley Lake was no exception. The wind was howling, trees were dropping with reckless abandon and some folks were without power for 48 hours. There may still be people without power for all I know.

The ski trails always take a beating when the wind rages. Not only do we get trees falling all over the place, but the amount of debris that blows in is mind boggling. Needles, boughs, limbs, lichen, you name it. It is a colossal mess and the only thing that can fix it is snow to cover it up.

Some of the worst debris.

Fortunately, Lynn knew we were going to be in a world of hurt trying to get the trails cleared after the holocaust and he had the presence of mind to call Matt, our connection at the Seeley Lake Ranger District. Matt hooked us up with three sleds, chain saws and the manpower to go with it. While those guys were cutting out the trails our volunteer groomers were working to make them skiable. After about four hours of intensive logging the trails were open, but far from skiable. It took two teams of groomers the better part of the day to get major debris off the trails by hand and machine. There's still a lot of junk on the snow but it's skiable, even if it's not great.

Limbs on the storage container.

It would be pretty tough to destroy the shipping container where we store one of our sleds and a ginzu, but a well-placed tree could wipe out about $15,000 worth of grooming equipment, plus another $4k for the shed. I'm not sure what this looked like before it was cut out, but the post mortem appeared as though a tree had gone down parallel to the container, leaving limbs on the roof and a mess to the side.

Tree that narrowly missed the shipping container.

The forecast is calling for a couple inches of snow tomorrow and we sorely need it to make things reasonably skiable again. In fact, we could really use about a foot, but not all at one time. If we could get a few inches a day for four or five days in a row, we would be in excellent shape. The boughs and needles and junk would disappear, we'd have the base we need and life would be good. So, if anyone has any influence over the weather now would be a perfect time to exercise it. Thank you in advance.



I am at the stage of life where I am allowed to be a crank and get away with it. And having my very own personal blog, I get to be a crank in a public forum, a true luxury. I struggle mightily not to abuse this privilege, but it seems like every year my chain gets yanked about something and I take to this page to vent. Last year it was smoke pollution from the yurt stove, the year before it was dogs on the ski trails, and lord knows what else I've pissed and moaned about in this space. Today's lecture will be on the topic of parking.

Anyone who has skied at Seeley Lake on the weekend knows that parking can be at a premium. If it's a holiday weekend then the problem is compounded. Sure, if you arrive early in the morning the lot is fairly empty and you can park wherever you like with very little competition. But, get there around noon and you may find yourself parking on the road. That's why it's important that folks using our parking lot try to be as efficient and thoughtful as possible when they park. That means first and foremost pull head in to your space leaving enough room to the next car that you don't bang doors but you aren't taking up two spaces, either. And whatever you do, DON'T PARK PARALLEL IN THE MAIN LOT!!!!

I'm not sure what the owner of the van in the photo was thinking, but that is a big ass van and took up at least three, if not four, spaces. This was Saturday, January 2, on a holiday weekend that saw as much traffic on the ski trails as I have ever seen, with the exception of OSCR days. The lot was stuffed full forcing skiers to park on the road as well as across the road in the snowmobile area. The exception to parking parallel is if the main lot is full and you park adjacent to the groomer sheds where we can squeeze in another ten vehicles or so parking parallel out to the road. If you have a large vehicle that will stick out too far in the main lot when you park straight in, either park at the east end of the lot or go across the road to the snowmobile parking lot.

When I finished skiing the big ass van was blocked from both the front and the rear, so maybe there is some karmic justice in the world.

As bad as that was, the worst I have ever seen is two trucks with snowmobile trailers attached parked nose to tail the length of the lot. Bad enough that snowmobilers would use what is obviously intended for cross country skiers, but they took up well over 70' of space. Oh, well, sled heads, what do you expect?

Lynn has instructed me that as long as I'm on a rant I should remind snowshoers and walkers to stay off the ski trails and use the roads. I seriously doubt that any of them will be reading this post, but if you are, please, stay the hell off the ski trails. Can't you tell you're tearing up the surface with every step you take? Use the snowmobile trails adjacent to the ski trails. You can even take your dog there and he or she can poop and run to his heart's content.

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