Turning Around the Winter of Discontent

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In February the roads finally got snowy enough to pull pulks. 

It’s been a strange winter in Eldora, Colorado. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever felt to the “winter of discontent.” That’s certainly being a little bit dramatic, but there has been a lack of flow that has been disconcerting.

As fantastic as our Continental Divide Trail thru-hike was – and I would never trade it out – it did break up our traditional “rituals” for getting ready for ski season. Personally, late summer and autumn has been prep-for-ski-season time since I was 15 or 16 years old. The norms during these months are lots of roller skiing, running intervals in the mountains, biking up steep trails, lunges and the like. This year, we just walked. And while our fitness was fine the lack of going through the processes started things off weird and effected our mental readiness.  It’s kind of like showing up to work or class late…things are all out of whack.

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Back on the CDT for a Valentines Day ski at Tennessee Pass before dinner at the cookhouse. 

And then, winter just took a long, long time to come. We had some flirty snows in October and November, but then the faucet turned off. December was the warmest and driest twelfth month I’ve even seen here. The nordic center had their latest opening ever by nearly three weeks, and the two ski shops we work in, Larry’s Bootfitting and Boulder Nordic Sport, had customer flow more reminiscent of March than the supposed busiest time of the year.

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This was the first year we ever shoveled in a skin track to keep skiing. Lots of downhill skinning this early season.

We did our best to get out on snow, but it required different thinking and adaptability. Early season was a lot of uphill skinning and then skinning back DOWN on 2-3 inches of snow. The resort opened, so we spent more time than normal honing resort turns, gazing out at the brown hills as we made our way down the man-made strips of white. We bought uphill passes because the backcountry was non-existent. Around Christmas the nordic center finally opened, but it was just a fraction of its normal self in terms of available kilometers.

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More resort days than normal as a result of the low snow. 

Slowly but steadily, snow came. We have yet to have a big storm, but there have been a fair amount of 2-3 inch offerings. Mid-February was actually good. We could finally ski right out the door, usually a norm for most of the winter, but then a warm spell hit and basically set us back another two weeks. 48 hours ago it was 77° F in Boulder, but a cold front hit, and right now it’s 9° F.

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Sled pull up to 4OJ. That’s either a fox track or Gary Neptune’s work on the left there. 

The snow graphs say we are at 90 percent of normal snow pack, but I’m skeptical of this. It seems much less. Down south in the San Juans, they are fairing much worse, and even with some recent winter blasts are sitting around 50 percent of normal. Meanwhile, the east has had polar vortexes and bomb cyclones, Europe has had their best winter in a decade and even South Korea looked enviably cold during the Olympics. Most years you win, some years you lose. And it’s not over yet, but things will start getting warmer now here on the 40th parallel, where the March sun burns long and high.

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Classic powder days have been few and far between, but there have been a few. Let’s hope spring brings more. 

On top of the odd weather, my wife Elaine has had a bit of a rough go. The Continental Divide Trail left her dead tired and really what can only be described as over-trained. Six months of twelve hour days can do that. Most hikers take an entire winter off. We had planned to dive right back into training, but that proved unrealistic. She has battled fatigue and a fair bit of sickness. So while we have skied a lot, until very recently it has not been with the normal aplomb. There have been no nordic races, no intervals, just lots of days exploring the woods and waiting for the body to recover. We were actually a bit concerned about our health, so we got physicals recently, and it turns out we’re in perfect health, albeit overtrained. The only way to get out of that hole is to wait it out.

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Finally, real winter came in February, where we could ski out the door and take runs behind the house. 

Eventually, recovery came. Something clicked two to three weeks ago, the snap returned, and with it a deep endurance born from the long walk along the spine of the nation. She’s been crushing again, we’ve had some strong sled pulls and systems are go for the Greenland trip. That said, we’re taking a year off nordic racing just to let the body build properly without unnecessary stresses. Greenland will require long, plodding strength and mental toughness. The gain versus potential risk of diving into a late season racing program simply is not worth it, We’ll fry that cat in 2018-19.

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After a few months of extreme fatigue and sickness, Elaine has found her mojo again. It’s been fun to watch. 

A highlight of the winter has been the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Korea. Olympic years are always fun and I find myself feeling more motivated after watching the best athletes in the world at the top of their game. Of course, the shining moment as a nordic skier in the United States was Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall winning the team sprint race. While it has been dubbed as something of an upset, the truth is they were primed for this race. Diggins is 3rd overall in the World Cup and Randall is a multiple World Cup sprint champion. It would have been a disappointment if they had not finished in the top three, and once it comes down to the last few hundred meters, and the skis are fast, it’s open season.

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Cold nordic ski days have been rare, but we’ve had a few.

I’m hopeful this will provide a needed boost to nordic skiing in this country, because I really do think it’s the best sport around. Racing is just a small part of that. To me, buying a nordic pass is like buying health insurance – it’s really, really good for the body. The question now is how do we take that momentum and really make the sport grow in the United States? I have some ideas based on personal experience that I will write about in the next few days.

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Nordic skiing makes this girl happy. 

For now, it’s time to ski. Tomorrow is supposed to be in the single digits, so it’s time to take advantage and enjoy what will possible be the last Green wax ski of the winter. It will be our 90th day on skis of the winter, not bad considering it’s been anything but smooth. But in skiing, as in life, adaptability, creativity and persistence are essential.

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Green wax day tomorrow.

How to Ski 100 Days this Winter (and Work Full-time)

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Morning light and cold smoke.

Elaine and I have spent a lot of time in the past seven years since our wedding day sliding around snow on skis. It’s our passion, and has led us to mountains and northern locales around the world. We’ve had the fortune to ski chest deep powder in British Columbia,  beautiful mountains that drop to the ocean in northern Norway and endless plateaus of white in that same country that resemble Greenland or Antarctica. Skiing has brought us much good.

Yet those trips are a major outlier to what actually happens on a daily basis. They are the exclamation point on seasons where honestly a lot of the skiing is mundane and sometimes downright terrible. Take a couple days ago, for example. A ridiculously warm November melted out the one slope decent for some tentative turns. We ended up walking down the hill, skins on skis, picking our way through rocks and tundra and dreaming of a better winter to come.

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It’s ain’t always pretty out there. On that note, a good pair of rock skis is a solid investment for aspiring 100-day-a-year skiers. 

A point of pride among skiers is the magical 100 day a year mark. In the Vermont mountain town where I grew up, under the shadow of Mad River Glen, it was a badge of honor with the generation of ski bums I admired and looked up to. The John Egan’s and Jeremy Nobis’ didn’t miss days because they didn’t feel like skiing. The credo was, get out there as often as you can, don trash bags when it’s raining, don’t be afraid of black ice and -30° F temps, and ski every damned day.

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Dawn patrol solo mission. Keep your footprint tight so the next person can enjoy it too.

Since being married in 2010, Elaine and I have never skied less that 125 days in a winter, and one year, the magical winter of 2010-11, we almost hit 200 days. Elaine and I also work full time, 40 hours a week, and right now, when our value in the ski industry is high, quite a bit more.

Of course, the easiest way to ski 100 days a year is to work at the resort. But that’s not an option for everybody. Don’t worry…there are other ways. This article is written for skiers who do not live in those lucky areas where there is night skiing available. Of course, night skiing with tracks and runs lit till 9 or 10 pm makes it much easier to rack up the days.

Skiing 100 days a year and working 40 hours a week requires dedication that borders on obsession. But if it’s something you want, and you live within a reasonable drive of accessible snow, it’s possible. Here are ten tips to ski 100 days a year:

  1. The early bird catches the snow – This isn’t really about getting first tracks, although that can be an added benefit. Simply put, if skiing 100 days a year is something you want, early rising is imperative. After a long hard day of work, it might not happen. The couch can be too appealing. Get your kit – your clothes, pack, skis, boots, essentially all your gear – organized the night before. That way when the alarm goes off at 4:30 am, all you have to do is stagger out of bed, get dressed and go. Early nights to bed and dark and cold mornings will be your reality for the next five months. Embrace it.

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    Early mornings can hurt. The rewards are plentiful.

  2. Backcountry is your friend – Unless you work as a night chef, waitress or late night E.R. surgeon (or work at the ski resort), it’s near impossible to work 40 hours a week and ski 100 days a year just relying on lift-accessed skiing. Invest in a backcountry set-up. A robust BC kit can work fine at the resort. But you need to be able to access snow on those Monday thru Friday mornings too. To ski 100 days a winter and work full-time, you need to earn your turns and ski outside the 9 am to 4 pm window. Your lungs and legs will thank you.

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    Pre-dawn backcountry laps are rarely confused with morning trips to Starbucks.

  3. Find a go-to route – Skiing 100 days requires consistency and repetition. It’s kind of like going to the gym (wait, it’s WAY better than going to the gym) in that a regular place to go and a routine is needed. I find 1,000 vertical feet is a magical number. I still get a good ski in but can usually make it happen in an hour or less. Us working stiffs don’t have all day. Pick a few spots and get efficient at them.

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    The local haunt. Pick a few this winter and learn them well.

  4. Lighten up – Lighter gear is faster. It’s not necessary to go full randonee racer, but I promise a good AT boot, a light pair of skis and a tech-style binding will be way faster than a heavy alpine boot with an Aprés ski mode and a big bulky frame binding. Speed is your friend. The less time you spend going up, the more realistic it is to get sleep and still get in a good ski before work.

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    Lightweight backcountry skis, tech style bindings and good snow tires make morning sessions more efficient.

  5. Go nordic skiing – Elaine and I embrace all types of skiing minus the 225 meter ski jump at Vikersund. We alpine, tele, backcountry, nordic tour and nordic track ski. When the backcountry gets crappy as it sometimes does here in the Front Range, nordic centers provide an outlet. Consistent grooming ensures good skiing during long dry spells. Also, there is no better way to build fitness quickly than nordic track skiing. The skin track will feel flat after a 6:30 am anaerobic threshold workout at 9,500 feet above sea level on nordic skis. Careful though, you might end up falling in love with the sport and make it your go-to.

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    Get your nordic on. Because really now, who doesn’t want abs like those?

  6. Embrace resort skinning – Resort skinning lacks the aplomb of the backcountry, but for many folks this is a necessity to daily skiing. Many resorts allow skinning before and after work. Gear choice is simple, you don’t need a partner and you can just pop on the headphones and jam out if you feel the need to escape. Summiting the top of Arapahoe Basin as the sun is setting at 13,000 feet on the Continental Divide listening to whatever music makes you feel good is one of the finest skiing experiences around in my book.

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    Sunset laps at A-Basin are a great way to end the work day.

  7. Give yourself a test – Self-motivation is awesome but sometimes we need a little extra push to get out the door. This is where a big race, goal or ski trip later in the season can provide powerful impetus to go ski. Every year we’ve signed up for something, or planned a much bigger trip that requires fitness and comfort in the backcountry. Go register for that Elk Mountain Grand Traverse or something similar. It will lead to a great winter because it will get you skiing regularly.

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    Our first ever BC race together was the Power of Four in Aspen. It was a test alright! We ended up spending the night in the guest bedroom of a Hedge Fund guy’s mansion because he was worried we’d crash our car driving home after a 15 hour ski race.

  8. Give yourself regular skiing rewards – Beyond an end of the year goal, dot your ski season with fun trips. Maybe this is the year to take that long backcountry skiing weekend to Teton Pass? Nelson, British Columbia is an easy, inexpensive trip and the skiing is out of this world. Or book a Colorado hut trip, ski powder all day and get tipsy with friends at 12,000 feet in the evening – easy to do at that elevation after exercising in the fresh mountain air all day. Plan some awesome (not expensive) trips to snazz up the season and keep it fun.

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    It’s hard to ski Rogers Pass, BC and not have a smile that gigantic afterwards.

  9. Go deep into the season – Resort-only skiers have a set season: Thanksgiving to mid-April, give or take a few weeks. That’s ridiculous, because some of the absolute best skiing is in May and June. If the goal is 100 days a year, it becomes much more achievable if you extend the season to 6-7 months instead of 4-5. Embrace the concept of the endless winter.

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    Short sleeves, corn snow and steep line. Three big reasons why the season should never end in April.

  10. Don’t be afraid to take a day off – Skiing 100 days a year and working full-time requires discipline and consistency, but it’s not a prison sentence. If you are exhausted, sick or just burnt out, take a day or two off. I find that usually cures whatever is causing the hang up, and after a few days off I’m psyched to get back out there. By averaging five days a week on snow, 100 days a year will happen. That leaves two days a week to sleep in, grab a greasy spoon breakfast and just chill.

Once you commit to skiing 100 days this winter, start strong. Bank days early in the year. Make it a habit. After 30-40 days, it will feel automatic and you’ll begin to question why anybody wouldn’t want to ski as much as possible. There is a satisfaction to heading into work well exercised, awoken by the cold, soul filled by a gorgeous sunrise and smiling huge because that’s what snow – whatever condition it might be in – does to human beings.

Have a great winter and think snow.

If you like this article and want more content like it, we ask for your vote!: So Elaine (featured in all these photos) has signed up for Fjallraven Polar Expedition, a dogsled trip with Fjallraven in northern Sweden this winter. She’s quite well qualified I think but it’s a social media, popularity contest based entirely on votes, and despite what our boss Larry says, we’re little pions in the social media world. So, if you are so inclined, cast your vote her way! We promise, there will be an amazing story on here when it’s all said and done. D&E

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Sub-zero sunrise skin rip.