Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Appreciating the Weather and Snow (both natural and man-made)
    We experienced much warmer than usual weather for September, October, and November here in Minnesota. Yes, there’s the warming, not good for skiing...but honestly, I loved it!
In September I did just about every workout in shorts and a t-shirt. There was no need to think about what to wear- it was like 58 degrees all the time.
October and the first half of November followed suit. It seemed we had endless days with lows in the 40s and highs in the 60s. We kept thinking this would be the last nice weekend and then we had another one. So many great shorts and t-shirt days for running and rollerskiing, even in November. Our November rollerski time trial proved to be the same temperature as the September one which meant fast rolling wheels and non-slipping pole tips.
The temperatures were so warm it really made me want to go canoeing. On two Saturdays in a row in November (the first with highs in the 60s), I went paddling. It was wonderful. There is something so cathartic about being on the water.
But then the weather finally turned towards the end of November with a dumping of wintry mix to make the rollerskiing unsafe and the running either sloppy or icy. Now I needed an attitude adjustment. I had to see it as an opportunity to run both to and from work, something I hadn’t done in a couple years. And I could PLAY in the slop! This also was a great time to do some indoor workouts at the Y and make use of my husband’s guest passes. This also meant attempting to bench my bodyweight again (I tried this last year as well). I disappointed myself again but did achieve a new max of 105 pounds so that must mean I’m getting stronger and only 10 pounds away from benching my bodyweight! I really can’t be disappointed though since I only benched about 3 times over a one month span prior to my attempt.
As snow fell in certain areas but not the Twin Cities, I have to weigh the pros and cons of driving long distances to snow. Giants Ridge provided some promising trail reports and so Thanksgiving weekend, even though we only had 2 days, we drove north to snow. Yes, we spent more time driving than we did skiing, but not if you include our combined time skiing! The long range forecast did not look good for natural snow or making man-made so we decided to seize the opportunity.
The luring trail reports from Giants Ridge. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Due to some warm temps and unfrozen ground, the conditions at Giant’s Ridge proved less promising than predicted but alas, I suppose all those “river” crossings are just part of the adventure. I guess it’s about appreciating what we have and making the best of what we don’t have. Skiing around at Giants Ridge, we knew just about every other skier. I’m not sure if this suggests our desperation to train on snow or is more a reflection of our love for snow.
Bruce Adelsman did an excellent job of capturing the "rivers" during early season skiing at Giant's Ridge. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

After a weekend of dryland back in the Twin Cities, Erik and I drove to ABR in Ironwood, Michigan for a 3 day weekend of skiing. Everything in life is relative and that includes average amount of snowfall. Our average annual snowfall in the Twin Cities is pretty meager at 45.3 inches (less than 4 feet) but up in Ironwood it’s huge at 167.5 inches (about 14 feet)! Because of the expected low snow in the Twin Cities, our trails are designed to be ski-able on 4-6 inches of snow. That’s not true in Ironwood. When we were there, they had 2 feet but kept saying “we need more snow.” Some trails were closed and a good number had bare ground spots in wet places where the ground hadn’t frozen yet due to our warm fall.
I spent the first two days in Ironwood skiing slow on cold, new snow, not getting any good pole pushes as conditions were also quite soft. This made me feel more like a tourer than a racer. Then on our third day in Ironwood, I suggested we do some pick-up sprints and in combination with finding some harder tracks, I felt like a real racer again and my dignity was restored.
When we returned to the Twin Cities, we had gotten a bit of snow. We were still waiting for man-made loops to open and so we skied on natural snow. Conditions were very lumpy and while I struggle to have good balance skate skiing, I especially struggle in lumpy conditions. I attempted skate intervals twice but just couldn’t get my heart rate up as all I did was flail.
A beautiful backdrop over a not so beautiful (highly rutted and sparse snow on 12/15/16) trail at Columbia Golf Course. I tried to do intervals this day but wasn't going so fast. Photo: Erik

Then we got more snow! Just in time for a weekend with cold temps! We had good skis at Lebanon Hills (so nice to do one big loop in 2 hours as opposed to skiing laps) and at Battle Creek East.
For the past few weeks we were in a pattern of doing an out-of-town ski trip every other weekend and we kept this up as we headed to Maplelag a couple days before Christmas and then to Bemidji for the weekend. Conditions at Maplelag were about as good as natural snow skiing gets. They were so so good. A dedicated groomer everyday also really helps. The trails are also designed ingeniously and have perfect flow. Then it was on to Bemidji with more sparse lumpy skiing. We made the best of it though and I guess at the end of the day having fun is most important. 
Erik and I at Hobson Memorial Forest in Bemidji. The bare ground in the tracks is evident in the background. Photo: Leif Ronnander
Here I am skiing with my bro, Leif, in Bemidji. It's rare these days that we get to ski together. Photo: Erik
We were told the hills at Hobson were pretty lame but there is one black diamond and my bro took a big fall. Even the best fall down sometimes! Photo: Erik

As I’ve been skiing on mostly natural snow over the past few weeks in the midwest, it makes me realize just how much skiing on man-made snow I’ve been doing over the past few years. Man-made snow is ridiculously consistent. The base is deep and the snow itself mimics ice pellets or what sometimes makes me feel like I’m skiing on sand. The trails are wide with a classic track on the side with still plenty of room for two skating lanes. And the trails are not lumpy. The scenery is fairly boring though. Assuming the grooming is good, I can usually ski fast even when going easy and the conditions are firm yet soft to get good pole plants and really be able to push during intervals.
Contrast that man-made snow to something called REAL SNOW. I’ve almost forgotten the real stuff exists. The last few weeks has been a lesson on real snow which is temperamental. This stuff gets slushy and slow and cold and sticky. There is no thick base and it’s not uncommon to find bare ground. And often the pole plants are not solid- sometimes because the snow is too deep and sometimes it’s punching through a crust. Talk about lost power! Unless there is a lot of snow, trails are often quite lumpy. Oh, and if not groomed daily, they get icy with lots of ruts from previous skiers. For all of these reasons, I can feel like a real beginner out there flailing around on natural snow instead of feeling like the expert skier I am.
One more comment about grooming. I’ve been skiing some single and double tracked classic trails around the midwest over the past few weeks. I always appreciate when the track is pulled up on big corners. I feel so much more comfortable maneuvering outside the tracks. I know, this is partly because I’m still not confident on all downhills, but it’s pretty scary to trust in the tracks especially when there is minimal room to maneuver outside the tracks should I get spit out. Almost always, if the tracks are pulled up on the downhill, they seem to start too soon again. We see tracks get pulled up for World Cup races.
So I have a theory: touring skiers really like the comfort of the tracks and since their skis aren’t very fast, they won’t glide as far down a hill. Thus becomes a conundrum for groomers- whether to groom for racers or tourers. There were a few hills out at Lebanon Hills where the tracks were pulled up but then put down again at the final downhill corner. This either makes for some scary or thrilling skiing depending on who you ask.
After being spoiled with my out of town natural snow ski trips for the past five weeks, I’m actually looking forward to some good new fashioned man-made snow skiing!!!