Thursday, January 8, 2015

Steve's Cold Weather Training Tips

Now that we`ve successfully sent our bone chilling Alberta Clipper to the USA Midwest, I figure the least I can do is offer some cold weather training (& living tips) to get through it all. I know that we`ve all got our own cold weather survival tips often gleaned from painful experiences and frostbite. So, for what it`s worth, here`s mine:

-Warm torso = warm hands. Same goes for legs and feet. I can be ski touring uphill in -20C (-8F), but my hands are sweating so much I have to take my gloves off to keep them from getting too wet. Same with feet. Warm enough layers on legs means warm feet. I like to use pants with ventilation zips to keep from overheating on the ups, then zip up for the downs.

-Heater packs. These chemical warmers have saved me on many occasion. In a very cold skimo race at Jackson Hole last year I’d opened them up and placed them in my spare mittens and put them in my pack. Since the heaters take about ½ hour of exposure to air to really heat up, by the time I needed them part way into the race I simply swapped them out for my gloves and my hands were happy the rest of the race. One of my travelling partners didn’t fare so well and spent 2+ hours in emerg for frostbitten hands. Her hands were actually yellow, blue and green... really nasty looking. Unfortunately she’ll have circulation problems and cold hands the rest of her life. This is how it often goes when you frostbite a particular part of your bod.

They also make insole heater packs that you can slip into your boots. I’ve had mixed results with these.

-Hand/arm swinging. If the hands are cold and getting numb, then it’s time to stop your activity, take poles off and swing your arms hard. Raise ‘em up high, then forcefully swing them down. This effectively brings warm blood from the torso and arms down into the hands. Do it until the numbness ends and the until the pain (of thawing) abates (ouch!!).

-Fur lined bush pilot hat. I love my hat. It’s insulated and has big fur lined ear flaps that wrap around my cheeks. I’ll wear a balaclava or full face mask underneath and laugh at the cold. What they say about having a warm head bringing warmth to the rest of the body I think is true.

-Anti-perspirant and powder on the feet to keep them dry. This is an old truck driver’s secret. When you’re exerting hard and sweating, your feet can easily chill out when the pace slackens a bit. Another foot trick is to use neoprene sox. Your feet will really sweat in these so the powder and anti-perspirant are important to use in combination with these.

-Protect the face!! Use a balaclava or Buff (I love Buffs. You can configure them so many ways to adapt for whatever cold condition you’re facing). For really cold I have an old face mask similar to what my mom made me wear when I was a kid. It’s got eye holes and a hole for breathing. It makes you look like a Palestinian terrorist or WWF wrestler, but that just adds to the badness factor.

-Moleskin/physio tape. When you’re racing you tend to take a few more cold weather risks for flexibility, breathing and to avoid overheating. So instead of the face protection mentioned above I’ll often use either of these. The moleskin has a little better insulation, but the physio tape comes in cooler colours. Back in the day we’d often get awesome looking frostbite marks in the shape of a Nike swoosh right at the place where the wind came off our Oakley Factory Pilots. So we’d put the tape on that spot. Worked good!

-Hood. This is a new one for me, but it seems every training jacket and base layer I prefer now comes with a hood. It’s so great to have the flexibility to throw that hood on when needed as it’s always in tow, but out of sight. My latest favourite base layer is the Sherpa Tchimi hoodie. The hood actually zips up so high that it has balaclava built into the hood. Materials are super fine, with an incredible fit. It’s a Nepal company so I assume the pieces are made by actual Sherpas. Nice to help out a developing economy (no I’m not sponsored....yet).

-Woolie Boolie sox. Man, I love my all wool, thick Woolie Boolie sox. I have them in ankle high and knee high. Even with the advent of all the new hi tech synthetic materials, it’s still pretty hard to beat old fashioned wool. After a workout I’ll put these on along with a dry base layer and be smiling all the way home. It’s paradise when you can also slip into dry underwear, but that’s a little more challenging to do in a crowded parking lot!

-Ease up on the throttle. Regulating your sweat rate is super important in sub cold. If you feel you’re sweating too much then back off. You’re going to pay for all that moisture build up with getting chilled at some point coming soon! You’re already getting the training leg up on your competitors just by being out there, so don’t sweat it!

-Insulated pants. This final tip isn’t for training, but just general life. I love my flannel lined khaki pants for kicking around during the day. Their way more comfortable than regular long johns and easier to put on to start your day!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

To Heart Rate Monitor or not to Heart Rate Monitor

I’ve worn a heart rate monitor so long that my chest has a permanent rash from the chest strap. This summer I decided to cast it aside, run up mountains and just let my body go. That is, go when it wants to hammer and slow when it feels the need. I did start to do some weekly 1km intervals on the road just to keep my speed up and for those I started using my hrm, but then I misplaced the chest strap (my skin is grateful) so I just ran by time.

 I found this to be freeing. I was free to run at a pace strictly by feel. To soak up my surroundings without constantly checking my watch and monitoring my intensity level. As I get older my heart is losing that top end and I find that kind of depressing. My max is about 20 beats lower than the already low reading (I guess my big heart just beat more slowly than others my age). So I guess running sans hrm fuels my aging denial.

Years ago, my coach-Sten Fjelheim told me he obtained a heart rate monitor when they first came out (mid 80's). He used it for a year, then sold it. He figured he learned all he needed to know about his body and could attach his body feel with the numbers. Once he was well aquainted with this he felt there was no longer any need for the tool. Another friend, Suzanne King-2x Olympian, would usually only drag hers out when making an altitude change in her training location. Since the body’s response to the training varied she wanted to be careful or ramp things up accordingly.

I’ve usually felt the last several years that the heart rate monitor is a great tool when doing intervals, keeping you from over doing it, or as a kick in the pants. I still feel this is decent reasoning and especially for younger athletes just finding their way and dialing in their body and training the hrm is effectively used at all intensities.

So after all my mountain running adventures this summer I was kind of curious as to what kind of pace I’d been running on my longer more vertical runs, so I hooked up the hrm. It worked for the first ½ km, then kind of froze up (prob. Just needs new batteries). I stopped to readjust it-didn’t help. I stopped again to spit on it giving some moisture hoping the added conductivity would help (no wonder I have a rash!)-didn’t help. I stopped again to snap the transmitter on and off several times to also aid conductivity-didn’t help (after all these years I know all the tricks). So in the end I ran again without the feedback.

As I ran I realized how much my training had been comprimised by the constant starting/stopping and how distracted I’d been from the fiddling. Once I was back just to running it felt kind of freeing to be rid of the distraction.

I want to end though by saying that the hrm is a very valuable tool and should be used. Especially for younger and newer athletes as they dial things in. I guess for me, seeing that I’ve had an array of hrm’s since 1987, I should have things figured out by now!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


With over 30 years of waxing for xc ski racing, including a couple of Olympics and World championships, 100's of ski marathons and countless other races, I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two about prepping and waxing skis. In skimo racing, waxing isn’t a huge factor, but certainly time can be gained or lost on the more flatter “gliding” sections. I find that in my skimo races I almost always make up time on those around me in these sections. I don’t know if people just don’t bother to wax their skis before a race, or simply rely on the last tune they had, or perhaps  are putting on the wrong stuff.... either way, improvements can usually be made.

Rex Racing Blue Glide Wax - 86gMy first thought on waxing for skimo racing is relief, because of  how much easier it is than xc. You can’t use flouro’s as the slickness prevents skin glue from adequate bonding to the ski. So first off, it’s cheaper, and simpler because you don’t need a big array of waxes. I try to keep things simple. I have a wax that I like and know that it’s generally fast in most conditions. That wax is Rex Blue. It’s temperature range is -1 to -10 C. Even if you’re out of that range, it seems to work pretty good. It’s a very hard wax, so maybe not the easiest to apply,  but that characteristic has many advantages. For one I think it’s more durable. Icy conditions don’t seem to wear it off as fast. I believe it also works well with the ski to skin interaction. A softer wax will actually be removed from the ski and incorporated into the skin glue, thus compromising it’s sticky effectiveness. Finally, as already noted and of utmost importance, Rex Blue seems to make skis pretty fast!

Another consideration that many skiers in all ski disciplines neglect is the structure in the base. This is actually a more important factor than wax in ski speed.  As you glide over the snow the weight and friction actually melt the snow under the ski so you’re skiing on a thin film of H20. This can cause suction-and slow skis. Think about a few drops of water between 2 panes of glass. They’ll be stuck together like glue. Same thing with your skis, so you have to put a structure into the skis to break up this suction affect. Colder temps call for less structure (less thin film of melting water) and warmer conditions call for more structure (larger water film). I’ve noticed that many of the Euro made skis are manufactured with a pretty heavy structure. Maybe it’s because most are made in Central Europe, where it’s warmer and need a correspondingly larger structure pattern.

You can change this by stone grinding your skis. But do this with someone experienced in putting in a variety of grinds. Most local ski shops that just do alpine skis don’t play around with dressing the stone and experimenting with various grinds. I found this out the hard way just before one of the world skimo champs I went to. I had 2 pairs tuned by my local alpine ski shop  and asked for a grind for warmer temps (for central Euro country). The stone grind they put in my skis made them about as fast as skiing on dirt. I was probably the first person to request a change in their stone grind pattern that required them to dress the stone. I ended up scraping this grind out with a utility knife blade which actually puts in a nice little structure itself for colder temps. There are also rilling bars and tools that you can put your own structure in or even the edge of a common metal file works pretty good too. I’ve got a cheap Toko rill tool that I use for my XC skis and the roller bars on it put in a nice linear structure that is pressed in and can be easily scraped out.

I guess the final dimension in prepping skis is sharpening the edges. Your alpine ski racers and tuners will have more insight that this old dog xc ski racer, but I’ll throw in my 2 cents. The best way to get a nice sharp edge is with a skilled stone grinder. There’s nothing better than a fresh grind with a razor sharp edge installed by a skilled technician. I’ve only found one tuner in my area that successfully did this and unfortunately the shop went out of business and sold their stone grinding machine.  That said, it is possible to diy (do it yourself). I’ve tried using the tools alpine ski shops sell for the supposedly perfect angle, but I’ve never gotten them to work. So out comes the trusty file. I use quality ski vises to keep things in place for that nice sharp edge angle. Reliable racing supply ( has a dizzying array of tools for this purpose (files, guides, vises, stones, etc.).

My typical modus operandi for my skis is thus:
Pre-season: stone grind for a nice sharp edge (only time I’ll do this during the year, hoping the sharpness maintains for the season.

Race season: wax and structure as explained above

Post season: repair scratches with p-tex candle, apply a warm summer storage wax (to protect base-from oxidation and keep it from drying out). Put in a ski bag and place in a cool dry location

There you have it. Train hard this summer so you can fully enjoy your fast skis next year!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dogtooth Dash, Vert180, end of season

Our ski season started back in October with the Canmore Nordic Centre’s "Frozen Thunder", it continued with various races-for our family xc, skimo, biathlon. Now it’s late April and we’re seemingly going strong still. Lots of backcountry adventures to be had. Currently, April 16th, it’s really puking snow out my back door. My good friend Ian Murray and myself hammered some runs at Norquay this Morning and I plan to do some backyard backcountry tonight (with sunlight past 8PM there’s no rush getting out there!).

It’s been a great year. Anna brought home so much hardware and really has risen to the top spots in Alberta for her age in both xc and biathlon. Kjirsti really learned how to race this year and has become quite the little skier. For me, the skimo race season was satisfying, but still a little unfulfilled, only because we have so few Canadian races and 2 of the 6 in our nat’l series were cancelled due to extreme cold. This being a non world championship year, I’m really glad I elected to race in the USA. The 6 races I did in the 2 trips (Jackson WY and UT), comprised over ½ my race schedule.

Transitioning at the Dogtooth Dash
In the Dogtooth dash, our Nat’l championship, I finished 8th overall, 5th Canuck. Considering I was on the podium 2 years ago, you’d think I’d be disappointed, yet I really felt like I upped my game. 2 of Canada’s best trail runners were behind me and several other good skiers. It’s just that the field is finally getting a little deeper. My overall skiing abilities have improved. Downhills actually became a way to pass people instead of just trying to minimize the damage.

My 14 year old daughter, Anna, and I teamed up for a 2 person relay at the season ending Vert 180. We won the relay division. I helped with a clinic the afternoon before the race. I presented the section on gear.

I guess I do have one more race, the Ski 2 Sea race in Bellingham WA. We’re hoping to move up from last year’s 8th place. We should. One more reason to keep training.

The only possible glitch here might be some of my rehab. I’ve got a couple injuries I want to clear up before I hit the mountain running hard. I’m currently receiving weekly shots to deaden a 7 year old nueroma in my foot. I’m 3 weeks in. This usually has a 80-90% success rate, so I’m hopeful. I also discovered a couple weeks ago that in the early fall I suffered a "sports hernia". Apparently it’s quite common. Fortunately, it didn’t bother me at all skiing, but now that I’m starting to run a bit (how I injured it-on a 4 hour epic mountain run), I can really feel this tear that can only be cured by surgery. So I hope my surgery date is just after Ski 2 Sea.

Where do I go from here? I tell all the Olympic athletes I work with to never make big decisions like these right after the season. You’re usually a little burnt out and tired. Thinking about cranking things up too soon can often be difficult. I love the sport, and for sure will want to keep racing at some level. I kinda still want to do at least one of the Grand Classic races in Europe. Can’t delay though, I’m not getting any younger! I want to do it with my fitness level as high as can be.

Until later......

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Powderkeg Race

It’s Thursday today and I’m starting to feel human again. Last weekend’s N. American champs in Utah took a toll! For some crazy reason almost everyone in our Canadian group of  7 couldn’t sleep despite physically cranking out some really tough races. Personally, I slept for an entire 1 hour the Friday night before Saturday’s solo race, tried to nap unsuccessfully Sat. afternoon after the race, then got a whopping :10 min of sleep Sat night in preparation for the Sunday team’s race. A couple of us were amazed we could go as hard as we did given how little sleep we got.

I was also a little mystivied as to why several of the racers I handily beat earlier in the season in Jackson WY were in front of me in the solo race. Reiner Thoni pointed out that the Jackson Hole was 600m lower in elevation which may have helped me a bit as these Utah races were quite high. Starting around 8k’ and going up from there. But even in Jackson the altitude really seemed to crush me. You really have to learn how to race in that stuff. If you’re not acclimatised I find it much more effective and pleasurable to start out slow and build from there. And that’s what I did in Utah at the Powderkeg. However, the only athletes I seemed to do well against were my fellow lower landers. Interestingly though, 2 of our skiers that really over achieved (Nick and Eric) live at sea level in Squamish. Eric is doing his PhD work in altitude training, so maybe he has some secret he’s not revealing!

A really fun part of the weekend though for me was the team race. I didn’t have a partner initially, so I sent out some feelers. What came back was a guy that needed a partner and indicated that we’d duked it out earlier in Jackson. The funny thing was in that earlier race we were going back and forth the entire race. And uncharacteristically for skimo, he was trash talking me the whole time! Actually it was more in jest...good thing, because we partnered up and pushed each other really working well together. In the solo race I could see that Josh was faster on the downs and I would usually go just a bit faster on the climbs. We ended up finishing within seconds of each other. Pretty incredibly well matched!!

In that teams race I made him go out conservatively as I knew I’d die otherwise. I did fade a bit on the 3rd of 7 climbs, slowing Josh down a bit. He really rocked the downhills making me push harder. Finally I got to contribute a bit extra as I pulled ahead on climbs 6 & 7.... encouraging him and then towing a bit on the last climb. This was my 3 ever teams race (both others occurring at world champs) and both previous times I was the towee, so finally it felt great to be a bit stronger and become the tow-er.

Our final result wasn’t stellar, but it truly was a solid effort (Josh was 1.5 hours faster than the previous year-he’s really improving plus his partner was slower). After racing I can’t wait to go again, improving and correcting mistakes. This time around though I’m glad I have 2 weeks of rest before the Dogtooth Dash. I need the rest!!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


It’s a pretty well worn true tale about Winston Churchill’s shortest, most famous speech. Addressing a high school audience he repeated the words over and over again, “never give up..... never, never, ever give up, etc. etc.” Indeed, his own political career really didn’t blossom until he was almost 70.

coldsmoke-powder-fest-280x210I should have heeded those words last Saturday at the Nelson Roam skimo rally race. I was doing ok, not great, but ok. Top 10 for sure, maybe running 7th , then I skied off course. The last time I came to Nelson same thing happened. That time I was running a strong 3rd on my way to a possible podium. So I was really, really trying to be careful at the approximate same location that I blew it once before. It wasn’t meant to be. While screaming down a fast, crowded cat track I lost site of the very small red pin flags that were supposed to be marking the descent. I paused, looked around, then knew that it’d happened again. This time though I had an approximate idea where I was supposed to go. So I descended an easier mogul run, but knew I was going to miss the checkpoint, usually a dq for the day.

When I finally caught site of the up track and got back on course I saw a couple guys I knew were well behind me. Instead of chasing them down (I did catch one of them 50m from the finish), I kind of cruised my way home back up the long ascent to the mountain top. I’d figured I would be disqualified, so why put myself in the hurt locker.
Little did I know that almost EVERYONE missed the same corner. The results ended up totally being bunged up. If you’d stayed on course you had a huge advantage in the results. In fact, the checkpoint person failed to get to her station on time so there was no way they even could dq anyone. Wow! Talk about a highly efficient, professionally run event (sic.).

So the point of this blog is to heed the old words of Churchill, never give up! Never, ever give up. You just never know what could happen or maybe even what is happening that you’re unaware of.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Ok.... so I’ve skied on my Voile WSP skis almost daily for 2.5 weeks.

Initial impressions:
-love how the graphics look
-the rocker is amazing.
-not so light, but I couldn’t really tell the difference when I had a SkiTrab (720g) on one foot and WSP            (807g) on the other.
-super easy turning
-stiff enough in firm moguls
-not a carver

This ski really gives me a lot more confidence in charging powder & chop. The rocker is very effective. I find myself out of the back seat and confidently bombing over cut up pow and other chowder. Mentioned in my initial review is the less skinning surface (due to the rocker); actually, they seem to grip the snow better than a stiffer ski. They climb exceptionally well. Also the softer, rocker tip gives the impression that it’s a soft ski, but this isn’t the case (at least not for my 145lbs). Even with my super light Dynafit Evo race boots, charging down icy moguls is no problem. The carbon construction must give enough stiffness where it counts to give you a nice stable ride. I’ve had race skis that were too soft and couldn’t handle these conditions, so I know that these have the right stuff.

The rocker in front and the slightly upturned tails in back make turning exceptionally easy. You just whip the ski around and it flies right into place. No need to un-weight the ski. I love this.

As for mounting... Voile gives very detailed instructions on their web site. Follow them. Initially I thought I’d fudge a couple cm’s forward to give a more balanced weight for quick kick turns. With the already small contact area in front of the binding, even this little bit made a huge difference and I didn’t like the feel at all. I re-mounted the binders and it drastically changed the ride. It stabilized it and gave enough contact area up front for secure tracking.

The one thing these skis don’t have is the ability to really carve. The emphasis seems to be on sliding over powder and chowder effortlessly. This doesn’t leave enough side-cut to really slice and carve in firm, icy conditions. I don’t think you even can have both-a rockered smooth ride for powder and ultra carving ability. Given the choice, I’d for sure choose the former anyway. Pretty much all races in Europe and most of the races in Canada take you into the back and side country with these conditions.

All in all I’d say that the WSP is a VERY good entry into the skimo race genre. I’d use these skis for fast touring as well. If they could be improved at all I’d say the skin notch in the tip could be widened (I made mine a little more “V-ish” for faster transitions) and somehow lighten them up a few grams