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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Voile WSP Skimo Race Skis-Review (part 1)

Got the new Voile WSP race skis in the mail yesterday. I love this ski (have to actually ski on it to further confirm this).

Initial impressions:

- They look cool. At first glance there’s no denying that the graphics are the best in the industry. To ski good you gotta feel good about your gear. Graphics ARE important.

- As you can see from the picture there’s quite a bit of rocker. I’m really eager to try this out as a lot of our skimo races actually do take place in the back country (almost all of them when in Europe) and gliding over powder and chopped up powder soup is difficult on such small skis. The long scooping rockered shovel on these looks very promising.

Yet to be seen if, what I figure to be about 12% less skinning surface area, will affect climbing. Also, less edge on the snow for nailing hardpack. I’ll letcha know.

-This is the First American made skimo race ski. Hooray for Voile for breaking through the barrier. It shouldn’t come as a surprise since they make some pretty light and cool looking backcountry skis already. And yes, they are made right in Utah.

-Aspen wood core. Interesting choice. Aspen is a very dense, strong wood. Most skis seeking lighter weights opt for the Paulonia wood, which apparently grows like a weed down south. Aspen is a Rocky Mountain native and plentiful species...probably harvested locally. Very sustainable friendly.

I favor a wood core over the foams and honeycombs as I just think they retain their form longer.

-weight. This is the only dissappointment. I measured 807g and 811g. With bindings on they’re a full 100g heavier than my SkiTrab World Cups.

Commenting on the last 2 points. Fischer xc race skis puts a wood core in their race stock skis (generally only available to world cup racers) and a honeycomb in their "off the shelf" race skis. The wood core makes them a little heavier, but they figure that the stronger world cup athletes would destroy the honeycomb core skis too quickly. So, world cup skiers actually use a heavier ski.

A few years ago I remember my friend (USA skier) Pete Swenson sharing that he opted for a heavier, wider ski that was better at descending. During the world champs where this conversation took place (Claut, Italy) one of Pete’s USA teammates broke 2 skis in one race (super lightweight Merrelli’s). So there are several factors to consider in ski selection.

-Dimensions. According to the stats, the WSP's are ~10cm's narrower than most other race skis. But as you can see from the picture they're identical in width to the SkiTrab WC's. Maybe the Trab portion that is off the snow is wider, but the actual on snow portion is the same.

More to come!

The race quiver...

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Wind. That pretty much sums up this winter. For the Castle mountain skimo race the course was altered 3 times. The Crowesnest pass area has unbelievable winds (hence all the windmill turbines) and it was blowing around 100km/hour at the top of the mountain. The drifted in snow and wind kept race crews from even getting to the top of the mountain on snow machines. They knew there was no way we could run the race up there. So the final plan (after a couple alterations) was to have 2 up and downs in the cat skiing area. It still would be a 4000' plus vertical climb total.

As we ascended the top we were so exposed to the blowing wind that you literally got your breath blown away from you. You couldn’t see where you were going at times. However the descent was fun. Blown in powder for at least the first descent.

I was towards the back of a strung out pack of 6-7 skiers. But we were all pretty close except for super skier Reiner. I actually made up some time on the first descent. I blew by Canada’s top mountain and trail runner Adam on the descent, and even made up some time on USA top skier Ben Parson. At the turn around to climb up again I was only 30secs or so away from Ben. So many years he and his (mine too) good friend Brandon French, would come to Canada and absolutely school all of us. In this race Ben was 5th and I was right behind him. Good sign that Canucks are improving.

Last year I was on the podium in this race, yet this year there were just a couple more go fast skiers. So I was pretty happy with my sixth place finish. No cash this year, but lots of satisfaction.

As for this wind.... so many weeks we’ve had unbelievable wind. This week during one of the episodes I thought our home was going to blow over. It was shaking all night long. With the wind impacted backcountry the avi danger is sky high, so for my long 4 hour ski yesterday I just went to the nordic centre and pounded it out. There were so many blown over trees I couldn’t believe it. They must have really kept the crews busy.

So now we have a low snowpack that’s wind loaded. Giving us a red-high rating even for below treeline. One can only hope this pattern changes soon.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Should I stay or should I go now?! I definitely should have stayed. The Wyoming Rando Rally featured 3 races in 2 days and I was finishing up with the toughest of the three, the Jackson Hole race. It features 8000' of vertical climb... that and the weather conditions made it a tough day.

After super suffering the day before in the Grand Targhee race because I went out too fast on the 30 minute wall climb to the top of the mountain (in altitude I wasn’t acclimated to). For the JH race I kept my heart rate 10-12 beats lower on the first climb that was probably as long, though not as insanely steep as the day before. Interestingly, half way up that hill skiers started coming back to me. One by one I passed several skiers. This was a lot more pleasant way to race than suffering a major lactic acid dump at the start, then trying to continue as it slowly-dissipates.

The JH racnd bootpack in the race) up the iconic Corbett’s Couloir. At the base of the couloir I was feeling great. "Finally get to stomp up this section that I’ve seen in several Youtube vids." However at this point I was greeted by my good friend Janelle Smiley who commented that my face was real red and needed attention (she later said her second look revealed a lot of frostbite white). I was thinking, "red-ok, white-bad" so I didn’t think that much of it, but I shielded my nose with my mitten covered hand for some of the climb. This section tops off with a super cool ladder up and over the cornice at the top. From this point there was a short 150 meter ski then a 4000' descent, however the wind was so bad it almost was blowing us right off our feet. What I figured out later was that at these temps the wind almost instantly turns exposed skin frozen and into frostbite. Janelle’s volunteer partner at Corbett’s base shared (as we waited in "emerg." for one of my teammates suffering major frostbite on her hands), that 75% of skiers came through with at least some fb on their faces (there was a real exposed section leading up to their Corbett’s base station).

So after fighting hard all race to reel in skiers one by one I was forced (yes, forced) into the ski patrol shack because I had some serious frostbite all over my face. The race director said, "I hate to do this and wouldn’t unless you were really bad... and you are." As I entered the shack I saw a guy in there who had a really frozen white nose. I’d never seen such a badly frostbitten nose. I thought to myself, "He looks awful." I later learned after talking to the same race director in emerg that I was almost certainly a LOT worse.

At this point of the race you’ve got a 4000' descent, then a shorter climb, then final descent. Perfect for recovery and a strong finish. I can’t tell you how hard it was to sit in there trying to warm my face. I thought about how hard I’d worked all morning. I also recounted how many months I was looking forward to this race and how long I’d driven just to be there (13 hours). So way too soon I charged back outside, put my skis on and went on to finish the race. I was probably in there 10-15 minutes.

Looking back on it that was really stupid. My skin had faced some major trauma and now I’m hurtling my carcass down the mountain with my face fully exposed to the cold again (I put my mittens up and shielded it at many points while tucking). So what that I worked hard, fought a good fight, was doing well, etc. It’s just another stupid race. Who cares what the results say (my 10-15 minute warm up cancelled out a good result anyway) or what anyone thinks about me. I’ve got to take care of myself. There will always be other races. Heck, that would have given me a good excuse to come back again next year. Your first priority has to be your health and safety. For the rest of the race I’d dialed in the dress perfectly. I wore an extra wind vest over my race suit. Legs and feet warm thanks to my Craft pro cool long undies (wind panels on all the front). Even carried, then eventually used warm mittens with hand warmers in them (busted them out before the race so they’d be at max hotness). My only mistake was to leave my balaclava in the lodge. If I’d just brought that then everything would’ve been fine.

That gal at the base of Corbett’s remarked that the athletes that had a hood built into their race suits were the only ones w/o frostbite. I’d always thought those things were useless. Not now.

So here I am, 2 days later. My nose is itching like crazy, it’s red and kinda hurts. My cheeks too.

Oh, one other dumb thing. One of my race partners from Canada needed to get home and get some specific health care for frostbite. She had to hold her hands in a perpetually Pentacostal position the entire 14 hour drive home. Needless to say, I did all the driving. We didn’t get in until 6 a.m. the next day. So I lost an entire night of sleep. I haven’t trained since. My body needs to recover. This sounds like something a 20 year old would do. I ought to know I’m not invincible.... especially after my humbling trip into the patrol shack at the mountain top.

Next week...race weekend #2 at Castle mountain. Let’s hope it’s not as eventful.