Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Skiing outside the Cities (part 2)

After submitting my thesis to the committee I took a vacation and travelled around the Midwest with my parents. We took a different loop and did it counter-clockwise compared to last year (see the blog here) when we went from Giants Ridge (NE MN) to ABR (UP MI). Here are the trails we did this time:
Birkie trail. Besides the race, I have only been skiing here once on April 27th last year when the temps reached 70F and not surprisingly the trail was not at its best shape. Now we stayed for 5 days and fully enjoyed the skiing here. The grooming was great despite the snowfalls.

April or December he is watching you on the Birkie trail
Near the Fire Tower
This year they also added the “Birkie Ridge” trail, a 3.5K connector from Hwy 63 to the 15K point on the Skate trail. It is essentially all uphill, and one can continue to climb when going to the highest point at 13.6K near the Fire Tower.
Near OO with my mom
A cool illustrated book I found in the cabin
I especially enjoyed a long ski from the Powerlines to OO and back on the Classic trail. It is so awesome to ski a huge loop with no intersections deep in the wild woods, but on a wide and perfectly groomed trail at the same time! And it is only 2.5-3 hours from the Cities!
In the north part there lives a raven family that we met quite often. I once saw one charging on the power lines, and it was funny to hear him do an unusual electric-like kra-kra after.
Minocqua Winter Park. After a 2 hour drive east we arrived in Minocqua, a cool island-city in NE Wisconsin. The winter park is located in the nearby woods and contains 75 km of well PB groomed XC ski trails. This system is really large with three outer loops of about 10 K and numerous inner loops. The chalet is located in the middle under the downhill slope, and there is a super steep trail in the woods that goes up and down (!) that hill.
On the Lake Marie loop
On the Nutcracker loop
Dense forest with evergreens, swamps, lakes, ponds and creeks makes a very scenic trail. This together with twisty rolling terrain (especially on the black diamond trails) gives a very fun skiing experience. From a training prospective, the trails vary from flat to very hilly (although the climbs are shorter compared to the Birkie trail or Giants Ridge), and are often very twisty and technique challenging.

Sunset over a frozen swamp
ABR. We stopped by ABR for just one ski on the way to the North Shore. This year they got much more snow and trails were very smooth. Actually it’s impressing how much work they need to do for grooming 70 K when it snows almost every day! It was cold but the trails were fast and I enjoyed 3 hours of skiing on a sunny winter day. My favorite loop for easy skiing here is probably the twisty and rolling Coyote Canyon/Highlands.
Skiing in ABR
North Shore. There are a number of trail systems on the North shore, and Sugarbush-Norpine-Cascade are interconnected. We stayed right across the Norpine trail near the Lake. One day was clear and the sunrise was very beautiful. It is amazing for me that the Lake does not freeze at all, because near S-Petersburg, where I am from, there is a lake that is also very large but freezes completely in winter.

Sunrise over Lake Superior
I have skied the Sugarbush trail for two days. It is a nice trail system, but one needs to know what’s groomed before heading out. It is not as dense as many other trails, but one can make a 30K+ loop. It is a rolling terrain in the woods, with the views of the lake through the trees in many places and a few high points with the overview of surrounding lands.

Lake Superior in sunshine through the trees
A woodpecker made a show for us after skiing
On the third day we went 20 miles north to Grand Marais. It is the last somewhat large town (it has a traffic light!) before the Canadian border. Very nice shoreline with a small bay, lighthouse and a lighted pier.

In Grand Marais
The land raises gradually from the shoreline which is probably why the XC ski trail system there is called the Pincushion Mountain. In my opinion, it is the best trail system in this region. Although it only has 25K, the terrain and views are great! Even on a cloudy and foggy day we could see Lake Superior from the parking lot and one of the loops. The trail goes through a deep evergreen forest which makes a “wall” in some places. I had a blast doing classic intervals on their well-groomed roller-coaster terrain with a lot of long climbs! There is a 7K intermediate loop with gentle but long uphills and an advanced 8K made of quite steep ups and downs.

Trails in Pincushion
I took Saturday off from skiing and went snowboarding in the Lutsen Mountains with my girlfriend. I was surprised with how tall those mountains are. Unfortunately (in my opinion), the XC ski trail that they have goes downhill from the top of the chairlift.
Giants Ridge. The weather has been mild so far, but changed to sub-zero on Sunday. With -33F last morning, I was sitting at home till noon, but then regretted because it was calm and did not actually feel that cold, and Giants Ridge’s great grooming kept the trails fast for this temperatures. Skied for 3:40 at Gold, Silver, Bronze and Summit. Only 1:50 today, but at colder temps and classic. Going back to the Cities tomorrow on the New Year’s Day. Hope 2014 will bring more skiing adventures!
At the top of Giants Ridge
After being in many places I can say that there are a lot of great trails in Midwest. Giants Ridge, Birkie trail and ABR all offer great terrain and grooming for a serious XC skier. At the same time many other trails, such as Minocqua or Pincushion are also very good, but offer great views as a bonus (not to say that the first three places are not pretty). An important thing when skiing in a group is a warm chalet or shelter and all those places have it! Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a place to wax the skis, but I discovered an instant paste wax (Fast Wax Slick Pro) and it seemed to work quite long on the new non-abrasive powder snow that I have been skiing on so far.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Skinny Santa Solstice

Saturday was the Skinny Santa Solstice 20k skate race at the Woodlands trails in Elk River, MN. This is always a fun race since the course is one of the most twisty, windy, up and down fun courses in the Midwest (and always in good shape). And since there were really not a lot of other options for racing this weekend, the competition was (as usual) pretty good.

I lined up next to fellow 2005 Gustavus grad Jon Miller, and former U of MN skier Andy Brown. Andy had beat me in the Vasaloppet 35k last year, and Jon always skis tough, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. In the field: Matt Liebsch (We heard before hand that he would be taking it out hard to get in a good workout before US Nationals, so we knew the race was for second place), but also former CXC skier Doug Debold, a resurgent Fred Kueffer, the always strong Even Pengelly, and a host of other good skiers including a few college guys home on break.

The course starts on a short, flat loop around a prairie before you head into the woods for two 10k laps. This race always bottle-necks very quickly, so it is important to get out fast into a good position. I got myself off the line in 5th or 6th place, and as predicted Matt jumped to the lead quite early and was soon out of sight.
Early in the race
By the time we hit the woods I had worked myself in to 3rd position in the what-I-will-refer-to-as-the-lead-pack (Matt doesn't count). The trails are narrow and passing is difficult, but people soon started to cycle through the lead, and I took my turn at the front. After I pulled over to let the next skier lead I found that the strung out field had an almost lead pack of 4 skiers: the now leading Cory Ellertson, Jon, Andy, and myself. Cory took a hard pull that really separated things out, but when he pulled off to let Jon and Andy by he wasn't able to stay with our pack, and we were down to 3 skiers.
Coming through the lap with Andy (6) and Jon (70)

Jon, Andy, and I shared the lead for the next 10k, trading off every couple minutes. Each of us took an equal time leading, and it was a lot of fun skiing with two skiers I know well. From our time trading off it was apparent to me that Andy was probably the strongest skier of our group, and when he went to the front at about 14k and pushed the pace up the biggest hill on the course Jon fell back and it was just Andy and I.

I took my turn at the front and kept the pace a bit higher - I didn't want to have to fight off Jon again. When I moved over to let Andy lead he put in a surge again and I couldn't match him. All I could do was watch him slowly pull ahead. I told myself at that point to stay relaxed and ski my race. There was still a bit of racing to go and I didn't want to blow up and get caught by Jon.
Bringing it home
I had a Finn Sisu fine grind with Fast Wax Green and Fast Wax Flight Cold over the top, and my skis felt good the whole way. I was able to maintain a good pace, and Andy was never really out of sight. I pushed the last bit of the race but couldn't close the gap. Matt crushed us all, winning by over 5 minutes. Andy beat me by 18 seconds, with Jon coming in 49 seconds after me. I think all of us were pleased with our race, and the loaves-of-bread-as-trophies were great too!

This was the first race of the newly renamed Cities Cup. There is supposed to be a team competition, so I am sure Vakava will put our name in the running.

Vakava Results:
3rd Nate
35th Rob
39th Dave C (age group win)
62nd Mike
4th Cheryl

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Training on the Other Side of the World

This just in from Mike...

Just when I thought I had my professional career tweaked to allow me to focus on skiing and training everything changed. I’m now responsible for business in Asia which means I may easily join the “one a month club” in my travels to Asia. The good news for skiers is that so far every time I’m in Asia it snows back home. It snowed in November when I was in Japan and last week Wednesday as I was leaving it definitely was snowing. According to Karen (who’s on her own shoveling) it’s snowed at least one more time…

So back to training in Japan, It seems odd to be doing so much non- ski specific training at this point in December. Given that if anything I was too ski specific through the whole dryland training season. For the past week I've been running, swimming and riding a stationary bike. I feel more like a tri-athlete than a member of the Vakava ski team. I've found it’s best to run before the majority of Japan wakes up, which means getting up before 5AM (which might sound early but it’s 2PM back home), otherwise there are too many cars, bikes and pedestrians to negotiate around.

I've been lucky this week since the hotel I'm in has a lap pool, good gym and great spa with cold and hot baths plus a sauna. It seems like I've been working, working out, sleeping or spending time in the spa doing cold / hot contrast baths and using the sauna. Yes, Ahvo, I will buy a sauna some day (still working on permission).

Looking on the bright side, I likely have been flirting with over training for most of the off season so if anything the last two trips to Japan have given the body time to recover. If I can get past the jet lag I should be ready to ski and train when I get home this weekend. Can’t wait to see everyone on the trails and at Wed night workouts.

Monday, December 9, 2013


I hate to say it, but skiing today sucked. The snow was such dry, wind blown, sandpaper that my skis would hardly glide and kept kind of catching and causing me to lurch which in turn made my shin muscles burn from trying to keep my balance. But I really needed to get in some intervals since I haven't had a chance to do any in almost two weeks and I was short on time so I headed over to Como to get in what I could. I toughed out 3x11 minuters and I must have gotten the hang of that cold snow because the fire in my shins subsided and I actually took 15-20 seconds off each of my intervals for negative splits, so I guess it wasn't so bad. But I have to admit that the whole time I kept thinking that I really don't want to race in those conditions.

The reason I've been short on time for training is that I've been helping out with the Roseville Area High School Nordic Team a couple days a week and skiing with my daughter on the weekends. She's on the team and it's been fun to be able to ski with her and the other kids. She hadn't shown much interest in nordic skiing until she joined the cross country running team last year and absolutely loved it. Her new running friends convinced her to join the nordic team too. Unfortunately she broke her arm at Thanksgiving last year and missed most of the season. No such bad luck this year and she's doing great despite not having skied all that much. Even though running is her main sport, she seems to be enjoying the skiing as well, even when she lets me drag her out on the weekends. Yesterday we went to French Park to try out her 'new' classic skis. I really wanted her to try them because they're the first real classic skies she's used. They're my old classic skis from high school and they're still in decent shape. (I've never been very hard on my equipment.) I took them to FinnSisu to see if they would fit her and they would work if she kicked them properly. I was afraid that she'd have trouble with them since she's done so little classic skiing on waxable skis so I made her come out with me. She actually did great and had no trouble with them. Her kicking is quite naturally and looked good. Her double pole needs work, however. She can feel that it's not very effective and was getting frustrated. I kept trying to help her but she's so impatient that she kept spazzing out and waving her poles around because it just wasn't working for her. We both ended up laughing so hard we could hardly ski or breath. So I didn't get in a workout, yet again, but had a great time skiing with my daughter.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hey all,
Yellowstone was amazing! I was able to ski with a lots of friends and family. There were so many Minnesotans out there that it was almost "Old Home Week" I was able to check it off my bucket list, but I think I need to go back again. The weather was perfect, sunny skies with single digit temps in the morning, perfect for classic skiing. The afternoon temps rose up into the mid 30's which made it nice and fast for skating.  The new Fast Wax Race Pro glide wax worked great for skating.  It was fast and durable. I was very impressed with it!  One of the highlights of the week was watching Caitlin Gregg win the sprint race! Go Caitlin!!!