By Jim Todd
Willamette Chapter–Oregon Nordic Club
P.O. Box 181
Salem, OR 97308
RUMINATIONS ON “SKIING” ICE
January’s warm, heavy rains followed by cold temperatures produced the curse of Cascade skiing—frozen crud, ice; a surface so hard that skis scarcely scratch; steel edges don’t catch; and the grip is zip. Negotiating these challenges last week lead me to thoughts of the many variants of ice and the ways we deal with them.
First, in its defense, ice produces superb glide. Many years ago George Miller and I crossed Big Lake when it was frozen solid and swept clean by the wind. With careful attention to balance and cautious double poling we experienced speedy and nearly effortless skiing. Likewise, a freak Willamette Valley storm (half inch of freezing rain over two inches of snow) once provided a surface that deformed gently and offered just enough grip for excellent skate skiing out my back door.
But these are isolated instances of skiing on smooth, level surfaces—rarely encountered in the Cascades. What happens on the slopes or on dips in the terrain? During a side hill traverse the effort required to remain erect is exhausting and all but the most skillful frequently find skis slipping sideways and their hips making intimate contact with the ice. Even on gentler terrain skis can bridge frozen dips in the trail and, being suspended on the slippery tips and tails, produce alarming gyrations. Of course, it is possible to maintain balance by heading straight downhill in a parallel stance; but then gravity takes over, escape velocity is reached and ice is REALLY hard when you fall.
The first defense against ice is slapping skins or climbers on your skis; essentially turning them into long snowshoes. This works reasonably well going straight up or down and provides some improvement in side hill traverses. But on steeper slopes or solid ice, these aids quickly reach their limits and flailing and falling again enter the picture.
The second strategy is timing your tour. The freeze/thaw cycle, which produces much of our ice, also softens it on warmer days; and a frozen pack with a couple inches of thaw on top is one of the best skiing surfaces offered by the Cascades. A skier who checks the forecast and watches temps on ODOT webcams could plan to arrive at the pass just as the snow softens and the skiing gets good. This often means waiting until 11 am or noon to begin skiing. While this may shorten your tour, it makes skiing much more pleasant. Unfortunately, current COVID induced crowding at SnoParks ruins this strategy. Even a 10 am arrival may leave you without a parking space. Still, you could drive up early and bring good books or music to while away the hours until the snow softens. Relax!
If you are too impatient to wait for the melt, a third strategy comes into play. When ice is too hard and slick to ski, it’s usually firm enough to walk. Gone are the purest days of youth when I was determined to ski every inch of a tour. Now, if ice is too slippery, I strap skis on my back and hike. Better a leisurely stroll on boots than a frustrating scrabble on skis.
Lastly, what of the days when a hard freeze follows soaking rain and the ugly sheen of ice endures until sunset? Or when the surface ice is too hard for skis to scratch, but too thin to stop boots from plunging through to the crotch? Well, skiing toute la neige et toute la montagne is a worthy goal, but there are limits. At such times the wise recline in a comfortable chair with a suitable beverage and plan for the next tour when the weather changes. It always does.
If you have ruminations, orations or observations on ski related topics please send them to Denise and Genice for inclusion in the March Newsletter.
Willamette Chapter activities have been curtailed by COVID-19, but please renew your membership for the 2020-2021 season. For only $20 you receive access to all the inside club news and support our efforts to improve cross-country skiing for everyone. Our chapter pays $10 from each membership to the statewide Oregon Nordic Club to support its efforts and cover the cost of insurance for all ONC chapters. You can renew by downloading a renewal form at oncwillamette.org/membership.
If you are missing the Willamette Chapter Ski School (we miss mentoring for it) there is still an alternative that gives expert skiing guidance. Mike Armstrong and Bev McDonald, Hoodoo’s PSIA Nordic instructors, offer lessons in classic and skate technique to individuals and small groups (<6). You must book lessons on line at https://skihoodoo.com/explore/lessons/nordic/. Once you have a reservation, just go to the Ski School Ticket window by the tent at the end of the Lodge. Registering online will also give you priority to go into the lodge and pick up rental equipment, if you need it. Please review Hoodoo’s COVID-19 policies at https://skihoodoo.com/covid/ before booking a lesson.
The Willamette Chapter will not sell Sno Park permits in the absence of our regular monthly meetings. Sno Park permits may be purchased online at the Oregon DMV:https://dmv2u.oregon.gov/eServices/_/. Annual permits purchased directly from DMV cost $25—no handling fee. The process takes only a few minutes and includes a downloadable copy you can print and use immediately while waiting for your permit to arrive in the mail. Buy a permit and support Sno Park plowing.
The Willamette Chapter has an active volunteer program assisting the Forest Service with ski trail clearing and marking, as well as shelter construction, maintenance and firewood stocking. Thank you volunteers! Please call Mark Olson (503-559-0728) or Jim Todd (503-378-7003) for more information or to sign up for one of our projects.
During the ski season Willamette Chapter members help the Forest Service maintain and improve ski trails by reporting trail and shelter conditions. Please help the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests use their limited resources efficiently by sending a Nordic Trail Report when you ski their marked trails. Contact Mark or Jim about trail or SnoPark conditions and we will forward the information to the appropriate Forest Service office.
January 16, Saturday: we did more skiing than working this month, but Bianca and Jim took timeout from their Santiam Lake tour to hike the SnoPark Tie between Santiam SnoPark and the PCT parking lot and removed two fallen snags blocking the trail.
SKI TOUR REPORT
January 27, Wednesday: Frank introduced me to a nifty off trail route at Santiam Pass on a day with beautiful fresh snow. We parked on the shoulder of Big Lake Rd. just south of its junction with Hwy 20. Road #801 heads east here and accesses ODOT’s gravel storage area. Beyond the scenic snow covered gravel piles it was route finding eastward through lodgepole pine regrowth until we struck a very faint road #910. We turned south here and soon picked up the North Loop trail to North Blowout Shelter for lunch. For our return we skied the North Loop back to the PCT junction, turned north on the PCT for a short distance, then headed northwest to hit road #801 for the short run back to our cars. The tour is 3-4 miles, depending on how much you wander, has great views and avoids much of the North Loop traffic. Check it out.
XC SKI RACING NEWS
Cross-country ski racing is seldom the focus of Willamette Chapter members, but now and then it is worth attending to the doings of the lycra set—especially when the home team has notable achievements. The US women’s team is a powerhouse on the World Cup Skiing circuitthis season. Rosie Brenan is ranked number three in the world and Jessie Diggins is number one. Diggins won the grueling Tour de Ski, a three weekend race series in the Alps in January and last weekend took gold in the 10K Free Style race at Falun, Sweden; beating Norway’s great Therese Johaug who had been undefeated this season. The winning time for 10K (6.2 miles) was 23:35.9; but they weren’t breaking trail in Cascade Crud. For all the news of Nordic Ski Racing visit https://fis-ski.com/cross-country/.