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  • MIke McGrew

Where There's Smoke, There's OSCR?


Another OSCR is history. That's what, 37 years worth of self-induced pain and suffering? We ran the two loop course again this year, which according to my data-addicted friend, Bruce Rieman, is 4244' of elevation gain. This race is not for the faint of heart and the weather gods made the challenge even more unkind by dropping 2" of warm snow on an already warm base at the top of the course while Bruce and Chris were grooming in the dark. That made for some slow skiing. Timing is everything in life and it's too bad we didn't have the same conditions we had the previous week, or even today for that matter. Today was scary fast and the grooming was perfect. So it goes.


Attendance was off a little bit which makes me wonder if it was the weather and lack of snow pack or the tough course that had the greater effect. Skiing hasn't been easily available for anyone living in Missoula or any of the other major towns in western Montana and lack of good training options generally dampens attendance. The difficulty of the course could play into it, also. We're talking about a boatload of climbing which can really impact the fun factor, especially if the snow is slow.


The last three years looked like this: 50k 25k (2018 was 20k)

# of skiers 2018 58 48 (50k went over Rice Ridge)

2019 65 47 (2 loops)

2020 40 44 (2 loops)


That's a pretty shallow dive into the history but I'm too lazy to dig deeper right now. It's 3:30 and I've got to finish "composing" this mess, split two sled loads of wood and walk the demanding dog who must have an internal clock since I never see her checking a watch or her phone. That all needs to happen before dark.


In any case, it will be interesting to see how things trend with the new course and participation. I heard some comments about how hard the race was but I didn't hear any major whining about the course. We'll see how it goes and whether or not Bruce and Chris can hold up under the pressure of getting it all groomed before 9:00 a.m.

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Every year I allow myself at least one rant and the time has come for the first bitch-fest of 2020. (Yes, there may be more. I am old and cranky.) Last year it was dogs and this time we're going to have a little discussion about the "efficient" stove in the yurt. As you can see in the photo above, we aren't burning clean. We aren't exactly puking black grunge but it's the next best thing. The stove in the yurt is designed to burn smoke free if the people who stoke it take a little time to use the right size wood and allow the fire to get hot enough to re-burn the gases emitted during burning.


I'm not sure which torques me more: seeing someone's mutt on the ski trails or pulling into the parking lot and seeing smoke coming out of the chimney. Far more often than not, when I drive up the product coming from the chimney looks like the above photo.

Today the air intake was set to about half way and there were several

large pieces of split fir that were smoldering. All I did was open the door about an inch, push the air intake to the top to open it wide and gave it a few minutes for the fire to ignite and get going well while I put my boots on. I went outside and verified that there was no smoke coming from the chimney, went back in and shut the door tight and left the air intake wide open. Now we're burning smoke free. Easy. Unfortunately, I have to go through this routine damn near every time I go skiing.



This is typical of the size of wood that I find in the stove when it's smoking. If you split those in half they're going to get hotter faster and consequently burn cleaner. The fire may not last quite as long but it's going to last longer than you think and you can fill the stove with them. When I first moved to Seeley sometime way back in the last century, it was a point of pride to get the longest burn time possible out of one fire. You'd stuff your homemade barrel stove completely full of big-ass pieces of firewood, shut down the damper on the chimney pipe, close the air intake and let that baby puke black, oily sludge all day long. Hell, my stove will hold a fire for 12 hours! Yeah, no doubt.


Getting the stove to burn with out smoking is pretty simple. There are detailed instructions on the wall if you're not a regular and you're unsure of the procedure. When the fire is first started in the morning it's going to smoke for a while as the fire ignites. That's unavoidable. Later in the day there is usually a good bed of coals that will help get a good hot fire going without much trouble and it won't take long for it to quit smoking. If you're a newbie or unsure, take the time to read the instructions. If you're a regular then you should know better. The key is to see what the chimney is doing. If it's smoking then you ain't doing it right. Or maybe you're untrainable. Or maybe you just don't give a damn. I don't want to assign motives but I'm having a hard time figuring out why a stove that will burn so efficiently, so easily, is smoking far more often than not.


This rant may sound self-righteous but here's the way I feel about it: it's really tough to have an impact globally but there are small things we can do on a local level that add up. We don't have any control over Northwestern Energy's backassed energy portfolio but there are things we can control that make a difference. I'm reasonably sure that as skiers we're in favor of clean air and we're not overly impressed with the type of winter we're experiencing as a result of all the crap we've put into the atmosphere over the last 150 years. This is one of those little things that we can control.

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