December 10th, 2014
The early snow was a blessing and a curse. In mid November we had single digit F temps. Weather more akin to mid January then right after Halloween. The woodpile took quite a hit so it was back to the woods to drop a few more trees. It is not uncommon to burn wood having been bucked up and in the fire with a shorter time frame then fish caught in the neighbor’s pond and set onto the grill.
This past summer there were many trees falling across the trails. Several of these blowdowns deposited large Pick-up Stick piles of bent, broken, and intertwined trees. One “pile” had red maple, sugar maple, poplar, hemlock, linden and a pine tree in the mix. The piles often contain hanging limbs and other widow makers which add a bit of excitement and the real potential to get pile driven when something dislodges. The bent trees also store a lot of energy. In short, clearing piles is dangerous and time consuming. At least we had firewood.
Ski racers are made in the summer. So are ski trails. This past summer my enthusiasm for performing routine maintenance and blogging about it was pretty low. Truthfully, it was dead. Two big things contributed to my apathy. First, my point and shoot camera was broken. My belief is this blog post pretty much sucks without photos. The 99% contributing factor was finishing school and not finding well paying employment.
The sled I have been using for the past 4 seasons is not made to work. Last season my tolerance for using this sled was ground to a minimum. It doesn’t steer very well even with dollies and acrobatics; it is geared way too high so belts get destroyed; the narrow track lacks traction and constantly digging the sled out of the trails was more shoveling then grooming (shoveling is a big part but to create good skiing, I was extricating); I need to pull lightweight implements when a heavier piece will make better skiing. The list is long.
My hope was school would be a repaint of this old jalopy enabling me to find employment allowing the acquisition of a tracked 4-wheeler and the cash to stop patching equipment and build what I want with better quality stuff. There are other more domestic hopes too but this is a ski blog not so much a therapy session.
Don’t let my whining make you believe I don’t enjoy, strike that, absolutely love grooming trails. As more and more of the community use them and offer up property to add trails (with a better grooming rig we could have almost 30k!) and send emails asking if the trails are in skiable shape, my desire to do a good job just grows. People are getting exercise, driving less, and meeting the neighbors. This is a fantastic model of sustainability and I’d like to help it grow. Not being able to deliver the best skiing in Vermont actually pisses me off quite a bit. When a significant portion of my grooming time is repairing and patching and wrestling with equipment some of the enthusiasm is worn away.
After the cold snap we received about 10 inches of snow. the single stem blowdown, exposed roots, found rocks, and large branches had not been cleared from the trails. The sled was taken out of mothballs and used to drag a roller while I removed the trees and detritus from the trails. This little taste of zero BS and high productivity while grooming was a shot in the arm reigniting the ember for trail prep almost extinguished by my apathy and self pity. Skiing minimally groomed trails prior to Thanksgiving on natural snow. How cool is that? Nothing short of awesome.
The huge snow dump forecast for last night (12/9) didn’t materialize and we have light rain over snow. Normally, grooming this would create ice and junk skiing. As it is early December this crud will be rolled and packed hoping temps remain cold and the stuff sets up into a solid base.
Until I grab another point-and-shoot camera (my phone is an old flip thing without a camera and most likely about to become retro cool it is so old) the posts will have a lack of visuals suckish quality but I’ll make them anyway. I won’t keep up with the prolific contributions of Jessie and Reese. The blog will return to enthusiastic and hopefully amusing posts.
April 4th, 2014
Since the last installment of Citizen Groomer there have been many grooming highs and quite a few times where not drenching the sled in gasoline and burning it right on the trail required great restraint. Temperatures have gone as high as the mid 40s during the day and the snow has corned up and melting. There is still anywhere from 2″-18″ on the trails and we might be skiing until mid April and I’m almost certain the grooming for the ’13-’14 season is complete.
The last post was made during a snowstorm taking place during the Olympics. Since that time we received almost 48″ of dry powdery snow. The skiing has been fantastic; the grooming less so. The dry snow and relatively lightweight equipment doesn’t pack very firm and the sled track tends to shear the surface and bury the sled. Moving slightly off the base of the trail caused the sled to roll off the firm skiable snow and into the deep powder where excavation was required.
This March was strange and cold. Many nights had low temps below zero F which had us constantly running the woodstove. We heat exclusively with wood and it became pretty obvious the winter was going to outlast the woodpile. A large 24″ poplar was dropped near the house and the roller was pressed into service to ferry the new firewood to the storage area. The wood we were burning was on the stump twelve hours prior to finding the stove but the house would be warm.
The cold temps and easily sheared snow did make for fantastic grooming conditions and we took advantage of them whenever possible. As a matter of pride, it is a goal to lay down at least one day of trails allowing ethereal skiing. Fast snow which holds together while charging through corners with the utmost confidence of remaining upright while moving at speeds the best on the World Cup would envy is the goal. The snow conditions had these conditions on several occasions and one weekend the grooming gave me a career defining system.
This season the number of skiers went up dramatically. One landowner is a summer camp and they graciously allow the trails and grooming with the condition of keeping the trails tucked away to lower the attraction of snowmobiles. This is the fourth season of CG and this is the first winter anyone from the camp came out and skied.
The first hint was discovering pulk tracks coming in from the road across the street from the camp. The clincher was seeing new faces while grooming and starting up a conversation. The skiers were ecstatic to discover the rumor of skiing was true. Knowing the trails were being used by the extended community was encouraging. After extricating the sled at least fifty times this winter it was great to know the trails were getting people outside. A game trail camera was hung with the intent of being able to count skiers. It didn’t work as well as I had hoped but the photos are pretty neat. A future post will be a photo montage of trail cam pics.
After four seasons of grooming reading the snow to obtain the best skiing is becoming easier. I feel like a groomer and much less of a hack who puts trails into recreational use.4 comments
February 13th, 2014
In between enjoying watching the Olympics and actually skiing myself, there has been the opportunity to groom the trails. This winter has been cold but not too snowy. The season began with promise before a warm spell reduced the good skiing to enough snow to slide around on and possibly get hurt during a fall. The firm edgable (code in ski report parlance for icy) conditions with a dusting of powder was really good at hiding all of the rocks, stumps and other hard, immobile trail stuff. The edgable layer wasn’t thick enough to scour into a fun surface. For two weeks the trails were not usable for much of anything.
When the snow finally arrived it was super light, dry and 12″ deep. The sled couldn’t pull anything since the track just sheared through and spun. Admittedly, it was pretty fun yahooing around the trails pre-packing the trails with just the sled. The sled-packed areas firmed up enough to offer traction and reduced drag when the roller was pulled around. Let the snow set of a few hours and the level drag was next and did an awesome job filling the divots, hollows, and getting the trails as planer as the new snow allowed.
Unfortunately, the light snow packs pretty well and the edges of the trails are rather square and in places, narrow. When skating the ski tips get caught beneath the edge and cause all sorts of headaches for skiers. What to do has always had me a bit flummoxed.
Grooming supply companies sell wings to round out the edges of trails and other implements to pull snow in from the sides and redistribute it under the drag. Whatever it was it needed to be flexible to flex around trees and pop back into shape. I wasn’t interested in making hinges and spring and anything too mechanical. Just another thing to break and need fixing. The answer needed to be passive.
We heat exclusively with wood and to keep precip. off the woodpiles, sections of metal roofing top the stack and are held in place by old tires. Eureka! What about a 1/4 round of tire bolted to the Tidd? It will hold its shape, act as a scoop, and flex around trees.
An old truck tire was pulled off a woodpile and quartered with the abrasive wheel of my grinder. A sharp knife removed a bit of sidewall before being bolted into place.
During a test run the tire turned out to be a bit flaccid and a few lengths of rope helped but there was too much stuff. My old barrel roller from a few seasons ago was stashed in the shed and re-purposed as a backer for the tire. A few short bolts and large washers held it together. The lamination worked great holding the tire in place with minimal support from rope.
My 10 year old son likes to drive the sled and groom. He runs the sled and I sit behind him for safety and to offer suggestions on where to go etc. This all works great when bulking out the snow with a roller or something else where we can remain towards the center of the trails. Packing near the edge of the trails requires a bit of understanding of the offtrack between the tracking of the sled and whatever is being pulled. With the wings the serpentine game of avoiding immovable objects like trees has gone away.
In addition to pulling in more snow, the wings greatly reduce the tip catching and also make the trails appear visually wider.
As this post is being written it is snowing quite hard. The forecast predicts 8″-16″ and the first rolling will be undertaken right after this installment is available on-line. We should have deep set trails and I am really eager to see how the tire wings perform.
January 2nd, 2014
Grooming with a snowmobile not intended to move slowly while pulling a load has its drawbacks. In addition to burning up belts and fouling plugs the biggest hassle is not being able to steer very well. Having the Citizen Groomer blog mixed in amongst the Athlete’s Blogs has always felt a bit out of place. A guy riding around on a petrol burning snow machine doesn’t seem to fit in with the contributing World Cup athletes and coaches until I remembered how tired I am after a wrestling match with the sled; shoveling a few driveways volume of snow to level the trails; and grappling with equipment. My clothing has the unique malodorous combination of sweat and 2-stroke exhaust. The physical effort of grooming helps me feel a bit less out of place.
The other day I received an email announcing a fellow CG in NH was selling off his tracked 4-wheeler and a few implements. Dave is the guy who warned me about grooming becoming addictive and an end in itself back when I was contemplating setting up the local trails. I was a bit too late contacting him and the equipment was sold off to another local family heading down the GC path.
Large, wet snow began to fall and the idea of grooming was daunting. The sled wouldn’t steer very well in the barely frozen water passing off as snow. If it could be compacted well, the base for the rest of the season would be solid and a superb foundation for simpler grooming and exciting skiing.
The general consensus among the CG community is a tracked 4-wheeler or UTV is the way to go for grooming. Better traction, steering and smaller learning curve compared to a sled. With the missed opportunity for acquiring Dave’s setup my attention turned to improving the steering of the pressed into service touring sled here at the house. There are several good websites dealing with grooming. Somewhere there is a post about using a dolly to carry the load of the equipment to alleviate the compression of the rear suspension and keep the weight over the front end so the skis have a bit of tooth and actually turn the sled.
There was a bit of tubing and bedframe left over from the roller build and a pile of outdated alpine skis sitting in the corner of the basement; just enough stuff to build a dolly. Not knowing what to do and having a basic idea of what this dolly is supposed to accomplish was enough to jump in. A few hours later and it was finished and put to work.
The Tidd is the heaviest piece of equipment here at the shop and also the largest contributor to the steering whoas. When putting the teeth into the snow to chop the surface the extra drag puts a downward vector on the suspension making the steering even worse. Within the first twenty feet of the pass a right-angle turn in required to access the trails and the sled just turned without a lot of grunting and gymnastics on the bars. Two hundred meters later is the nightmare situation of a slightly off-camber, slow right hand bend into a short but steep hill with another hard left-hander at the top. If the dolly was going to prove its worth, this 40 meters of trail was the interview. There was a bit of hesitation by me fearing the potential to stuff the sled into the woods but the the entire ensemble went smoothly around the turns and up the hill. It worked!
The remainder of the grooming was orders of magnitude simpler and much more enjoyable. The extra coupling and length did require a bit of line adjustments but the positive steering made it easy by comparison. The roller has the least effect on the steering. With snow predicted tonight (flakes are falling as this is written) and just for S&Gs I left the dolly in place to roll in a section of connector trail in need of more snow. If the 6″-8″ falls as predicted this trail will be pretty deep and a bear to get firm. The dolly improved the handling with the roller in tow.
A dolly is critical for the not optimally equipped CG. The sexy equipment to chat/brag about are the debates between the Tidd and YTS Ginzu and the merits of the tracked UTV (do I get the Gator or the Ranger?) and how best to set the tracks. There is nothing sexy or cool about a tow dolly and it is so easy to underestimate its worth and the beauty of simplicity.2 comments
December 21st, 2013
The snow has been falling off and on for the past two weeks leaving no appreciable accumulation. When 3″ of fluff managed to stick sometime near December 12, it was time to begin skiing. The first ski of the year is almost never on the local trails and this season was no different. Skiing laps of the local grass strip airfield cut the ribbon and opened the season. Time to think about getting the sled going with a snowstorm predicted.
After a legitimate strength workout with the pull starter cord, the snow machine awoke from the summer hibernation, belched forth a cloud of blue smoke and the pinging exhaust note of the two-stroke reverberated throughout the shed. A quick run around the field to try and burn any gunk off the plugs and the Polaris was parked and ready for action. The first groomable snow fell on the 15th and with the “should have been replaced this past summer” PVC frame still intact, the roller was hitched up and grooming commenced.
The snow was 8″ of champagne powder which was super dry having fallen in single digit temps. The roller knocked out the air but didn’t do too much to pack the snow. The coverage was minimal and wanting to ski more than groom, only the trails with mown grass were rolled in about an hour.
One goal of early season grooming is packing out the trails much wider than they will ever be skied. In some placed the trail is packed twenty feet wide. Throughout the season the trails become narrower as the skiing surface moves away from the ground in a slight triangular cross section. With each successive snowfall the trail surface rises up creating a “ditch” along the edges. Snowmachines don’t do well in deep, unconsolidated snow and seek well groomed and firm snow with greater vigor than most skiers. If the sled moves too close to the “ditch” it falls off the trail and a lot of swearing, shoveling, and sweating takes place extricating the the snowmobile.
Many older skiers claim the changing lines and elevation on the circuitous trails of old were more fun to ski. This might be true. The advent of skating brought with it wider trail systems and larger grooming equipment. The larger equipment also required wide trails to properly groom. A thirty foot long snowcat and drag/tiller combination cannot negotiate a series of closely linked curves. I never understood the move to wide trails myself until spending time on the sled grooming. The old Polaris isn’t as large as a Pisten Bulley but I often times hope certain trees will break so I can cut them away and remove some of the headaches encountered when grooming.
After rolling 75% of the trails my confidence was growing (it always takes a bit of remembering what to do, how to watch the ski to gauge clearance of the roller with respect to obstacles, etc) the roller frame bumped a small tree and succumbed to a catastrophic failure. Tossing the mangled carcass aside, the remaining snow was packed under the sled. Not having to worry about the implement it was actually fun tearing around the trails enjoying the floating sensation of the sled on new snow.
To build another frame there was the need for materials. Wood and PVC were stopgaps. What I needed was steel. Getting to the supply house an hour away wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. I still had a few finals to take and should have been studying and not screwing around with grooming. Remembering the EMT conduit at the local building supply, I grabbed a few bits of carpet to protect the roof of my new car (a 2003 Toyota Echo) and returned home with thirty feet of 2″ galvanized pipe. When finals ended the tubing notcher was excavated from the tool crib and a quick CAD drawing gave me dimensions and a few hours later I had a roller frame hopefully built with more resistance to failure than the three previous attempts.
For the hitch a U-bolt was brazed to the pipe. Not having any brass rod, a few dozen spent .22 casings were melted into the joint. A quick twist with a wrench to confirm it should hold and the roller was slid into place ready to pack out the next snowfall.
Eager to move onto the next house project i fired up the sled with the intent of returning to the grooming shed. 30 meters later I was dragging the frame without the roller. In my haste to get going i forgot to tighten the clamps and the roller departed. Feeling like a complete moron-dumb-ass I just stood in the yard and laughed. The roller gremlins were not chased off by welded steel.
A few hours of dragging the Tidd packed out the snow and the skiing while not superb, was really fun. We need a few more inches to enable the leveling drag to work its magic. Rain is in the forecast and we’ll see what happens to the snow. My hope is the water consolidates things into a hard base sealing off the hoar frosted earth and setting us up for a really great season.
October 29th, 2013
The first half of the first semester of law school has gone pretty well. I’m a smart guy and in many ways going back to school has made me feel a bit stupid. I really do not like feeling stupid and as the semester progressed, the feelings of intellectual inadequacy have melted away. Three to five hours of reading per day is the norm. Jumping into twenty to thirty five hours a week has the same feeling at stepping on the upturned tines of an iron rake and stopping the handle with your face.
In skiing parlance, the best analogy might be taking some time away from skiing or not doing much over the summer to prepare for the upcoming season. During the first few workouts, when we train like we did when we were twenty years younger (for those twenty somethings, save this and re-read it on your fiftieth birthday, it’ll make sense.) our bodies revolt against the increase in workload and protest by sore muscles, stiff joints and a general feeling of “Why am I doing this?” After a few weeks we aren’t stiff and sore and the joy of movement and feeling strong make us want more.
Drinking to excess is a valid if misguided escape strategy for graduate school. You don’t feel any better but you just don’t care. This isn’t to say I’m on the moral high road and haven’t been a bit heavy-handed mixing an occasional post study cocktail, but as with skiing, school requires some distraction to stay mentally fresh.
My early season distraction is coaching a group of U-10 boys soccer players, the Fury, with the Lightening Soccer Club. It has been a blast and gets me out of school mode (running from the law) for about ten hours each week. This season we’ve stressed the basics and fundamentals of playing well. Just as with skiing, the fundamentals set the foundation and when the basics are automatic and subconscious we are able to parcel out some mental capacity for making good decisions. The boys have improved dramatically and hanging out with ten year olds also helps me think like a kid and enjoy the moment.
What does this have to do with trail grooming? Getting the ski trails into skiable and easily groomed condition is the replacement drug for coaching soccer. Working with the Fury taught me and demonstrated there is an extra ten hours a week available and it should be spent doing something creative. Law school isn’t big on creativity.
Our house is heated almost 100% by a wood stove and there is enough deadfall and blown over trees on the property to supply a good jag of the wood we need each winter. Occasionally, there is a need to drop a few trees and modifying the trail layout is a good way to use the wood. Most of the modifications just smooth the radius of curves or give a better angle to pass between obstacles.
This will be the fourth season grooming trails and reducing the mental load of having to run the equipment on a precise track to reduce the effort of grooming will be nice. Right now I’m THE grooming equipment operator for the trails and while exclusivity has its rewards, it would also be nice to just have a ski once in a while.
During trail walks to remove branches, or even entire trees which have fallen across the trails, it is not uncommon to find old bottles, cans, car parts, discarded farming implements along with a few rocks and bit of erosion. Every once in a while there is some bit of trail junk that inspires.
I began finding gray lumps of paper scattered throughout the woods. At first I thought they might be discarded hornet’s nests. Once I found the courage to investigate I discovered they lumps were tissue paper lanterns. The bamboo ring supports a wire with some fuel soaked cotton to heat the air inside and fly them off. Over the course of the past few months I’ve stumbled across twenty or so melted balloons and bamboo frames.
I’ve always had a fascination with hot air flying and wanting to build a small hot-air balloon. When I found an almost intact lantern/balloon my yahooing could have been heard for miles. Now I have a pattern and something else to place onto the pile if stuff to do someday.
In the meantime, trails are being buffed up for the onset of snow. We had a few flakes last week so it is on the way. The weeds and grasses are being cut back; branches and sticks removed; widowmakers taken care of; rocks and other base grabbing stuff is being plucked; and erosion areas are being filled. I might even pull out the sled and start rebuilding the roller. Nah, I’ve never been this prepared prior to the first snowfall but I am looking forward to the distraction of grooming trails and skiing.1 comment
August 27th, 2013
…turn and face the strain.
Bowie’s refrain just hung in the air on the drive home from South Royalton. Looking out across the Vermont valleys and hillsides the deep green of summer was fading into the colors of autumn. The change was inevitable. Six weeks from now most of the leaves will have given way to sticks, and soon, the sticks to snow. Our lives are not static but always in a state of inevitable change. We get older, smarter, weaker and stronger. We change careers, hobbies, interests and a single decision drastically alters our lives.
Last winter was the first I had spent with little money making opportunities. My thumb was so firmly planted in my ass had I been killed and lost my arms, the identification could have been made by the fingerprints firmly embossed into my colon. Grooming the ski trails was actually a salvation and gave a bit of purpose to being home. The sitting around needed to change and the idea of going back to school came up at dinner one night.
After much deliberation and research I decided to apply to Vermont Law School (VLS) and earn a master’s degree in environmental law. For better or worse they let me in and the last obstacle was financial aid which was also granted and as of today, Monday August 26, 2013 I began my career as a full time student.
Let’s get it straight right now; I am NOT becoming a lawyer.
You read it correctly, Citizen Groomer, age 47, is headed back to school. Last week, the first day of law school orientation was a bit overwhelming. The “How to survive…” seminar focused on time management (a skill I can’t claim any expertise with) and budgeting our day. Plan on three hours out of class for every hour in class. Simple math. Twelve credit hours per week means an additional twenty-six trying to stay current and figure out what is being taught. School will be a full time job.
The original idea of this blog was to describe what the joys and pains of grooming a home trail network might be. The school bit is a full time job (although I’m paying to do it instead of getting paid) with more consistency than any job I’ve had during the past twenty years. For the past few seasons I’d take some time off work to get the trails in good order. Not sure how this is going to work this autumn.
Admittedly, this change is a bit scary. I’m not too worried about the new adventure and hopefully school will give me something new to write about and continue the exploration of what it entails to keep a home trail network going even during a time of change.2 comments
July 15th, 2013
As posted previously, just as athletes use the summer to build fitness for the upcoming season, so too do the trail groomers/maintainers. Just as athletes have unexpected setbacks due to injury or sickness, so too do the trail groomers/maintainers.
This summer, Vermont has had its share of heavy rains. On July 10, 2013, the National Weather Service put out a warning for heavy rainfall and flash flooding. Living near the top of a hill, the idea of being effected by flooding is pretty much dismissed. Right about 3:30 PM, three inches of rain fell in just ten minutes. The creeks and low spots blew out and water covered most of the ground.
Normally, the water level sits four feet below the road surface and has never filled the culvert even during spring snowmelts. During and after the afternoon rain, debris carried by this thick blanket of water plugged the three foot diameter culvert running beneath the road, water backed up and and began pouring and scouring the hardpack. Eventually, water found its way along the culvert and swept the road away leaving a twelve foot wide gash in the road. The flash flooding had found us with the subtleties of a rake handle catching the unexpected gardener who happened to have stepped on the tines.
The creek, normally crossable with a large step, became a twenty foot wide raging torrent with enough power to remove large trees from the banking and reset the channel. The display of force was awesome. Being stuck on the side away from the house getting home might be an ordeal. Wanting to avoid winning a Darwin Award, the decision to try and cross at the road was abandoned and thoughts turned to heading downstream to where the creek enters the swamp. With luck the angry water will have mellowed and finding a safe way across would be easy. I could also try to find the phone pole bridge surly washed away and rendered little more than bio-degradable litter scattered about the forest. Jill, my wife, came along and we headed out on the stream crossing adventure with moral support and help each other through the mud and intimidating flow.
Approaching the bridge we fully expected it to be gone and to our amazement it hadn’t moved at all and was a dry way to cross the stream. The deck was covered with mud and sticks and otherwise unharmed. The walk from the cars to the house took almost 30 minutes and was fairly exciting.
After assessing the house had pulled through just fine, I grabbed a camera and the dog for a tour of the ski trails. The trails can be very wet and if the road had flooded over the walk was hoping for the best and expecting the worst. Over the past three summers the family and a few neighbors have spent a fair bit of time keeping the small culverts free from debris. We’ve spread grass seed leftover from landscaping jobs and work pretty hard to build erosion resistant trail-side ditching based upon the riparian corridor reconstruction work I have done. To my astonishment and delight, the trails held up extremely well with a few trees being uprooted and only minor erosion taking place. Most of the erosion can be fixed in a few hours with an iron rake and some seed. There are a few more trees to remove and many of them were in the way and their demise is a bit of a blessing.
In short, we got out lucky. Because we live at the end of a dead-end section of road and were essentially stranded by the gash where the culvert had been, the DPW had the road patched up by nightfall. By Saturday morning the water level was back to the mid-summer trickle and the only evidence of the flooding is mud flats and bent over vegetation. The workload became a bit larger than expected but we should be able to get things in good nik by the first snowfall.
June 12th, 2013
After a long season of racing, athletes take a month or so off to relax and recharge the enthusiasm for racing in addition to getting some rest. Maintaining ski trails is not too much different. Take a break and make a plan for the upcoming summer to be sure the trails are ready to go at the first skiable snow.
Back in September, I purchased a used, left handed compound bow manufactured sometime in the early 2000s. I had forgotten how much enjoyment there is in shooting a bow and arrow. Just as ski poles have evolved from wood to aluminum tubes to carbon fiber so have arrows. Just like ski poles, carbon arrows are so much tougher than aluminum which is a good thing since my archery skills were pretty rusty.
The ski trails near the house were fantastic archery lanes and I set up a 110 meter archery range along a section of ski trail we refer to as “The Drag Strip.” The trail is wide with very few overhead branches to catch snow or arrows as they travel from the bow and hopefully find the grain bag target.
I was always curious about life in New England a few hundred years back. Six winters ago my curiosity focused on how much work it might take to heat the house exclusively with wood. How much effort does it take using modern internal combustion engines to cut and move wood while heating an insulated 1,550 square foot house? To explore the heating question was pretty simple. Just use the woodstove. Too much effort or complaints and with the flip of a switch the furnace can be brought back to life. At first the experiment lasted until Christmas and the last two winters we haven’t run the heater except when we have been away for more than a week.
In late April while walking the trails after a spring thunderstorm I spooked a flock of turkeys. Just about every other time I went for a ski this past winter there would be evidence of a relatively large turkey population roaming the properties where the trails are located. The idea of hunting turkeys with a bow and arrow has always held intrigue with me. Just as with the heater, I wondered how much effort went into catching one’s food?
Before May I knew very little about hunting turkeys besides hearing it is very difficult. How hard can it be when almost every time I’m in the woods I run across the things? Should be like picking apples. After buying a license and doing some research, opening day was just over the horizon.
I used to own a clothing company and have several sewing machines and patterns for pants and jackets. In just a few hours of sewing and making modifications to the gear I was all decked out in camo. My daughter Olivia helped me thin a piece of slate roofing and by combining some extra carbon fiber biathlon rifle parts with a broken arrow shaft I had a slate call. An old palette yielded wood for a box call and my son Nathan went wild with spray cans and a length of burlap to make up a basic blind to be hung between a couple of trees. May 1, opening day and I was awake at 3:30 AM to head off down the ski trails for my first try at turkey hunting. Admittedly, I felt a bit ridiculous making such efforts to conceal myself from a bird and try to seduce it close enough to take a shot. Good thing just about everything in Vermont was asleep as I made my way along the ski trails in the dark. Having spent many hours on the trails my familiarity with every tree shape helped as I moved through the woods, without a light for fear of getting busted by roosted birds, in the darkness of the pre-dawn.
Spring Toms and Jakes (immature males) are basically horny and anything resembling a willing female is investigated even if the “willing female” is a dude dressed in camo hiding behind a fallen hemlock rubbing a stick across an old piece of roofing. I had two opportunities to break a shot.
I was courting two woodstove sized Toms just out of range. They were in full strut with iridescent feathers and bright blue heads while gobbling up a racket. The focus on those birds was intense and I was excited to have actually called in a bird. My singular focus masked a third set of birds sneaking up from behind and a loud gobble scared the hell out of me. I turned around to see four turkeys just ten yards away. Two hens and two Jakes. My startled leap spooked them pretty good (I don’t know who was more surprised me or them) and they strutted off. I pulled to full draw and my brain went to mush. I couldn’t recall how to tell a hen from a Jake as they walked away. Wanting to play by the rules (only males are legal in the spring) I let down and watched them all disappear into the ferns.
The next opportunity came one morning while sitting beneath an oak tree large enough around three people holding hands would be unable to hug it. The oak sat at the top of a field located on top of a ridge. Morning thunderstorms and rain moved up the valley and I figured it best to head home. Cutting across a section of woods to gain access to the ski trails I decided to sound off a few clucks to bid the quiet turkeys good-bye. Something gobbled nearby and twenty yards away across a stream and behind a rock wall I watched the fan of a large Tom rise above the piled stone.
The flash of lightening followed closely by thunder proved the storm was close. The Tom moved from behind the rock to a gap in the wall but branches obscured a good shot and despite my better judgment I moved into the field trying to end-run the quarry. My mouth became so dry the diaphragm mouth call just stuck to my tongue rendering it little more than a choking hazard. Popping into the field a streak of electricity arched to the ridge and concurrently the crack of thunder crashed my ears. I pressed on towards the Tom. Another flash and crack followed by a gobble just over the slight hump of the field. What to do? The odds of getting struck down from above were the same for me and my chances of filling my tag so I let down again and hustled back home. Looking back, I was pretty sure the Tom held out a wing to flip me his middle feather as I skulked back into the woods. For centuries, pharmacists, chemists and experimenters have, with no success, tried to put the kind of rush and excitement I had just experienced into a pill or powder.
Good thing for grocery stores as the great hunting experiment yielded no food. What getting up at 3:30 and hanging out in the woods for 28 of 31 mornings did give me was a fantastic appreciation for the early morning and the wildlife in our area. In addition to finding turkeys I saw a Black Bear meander past me at thirty yards, many deer, a buzzard of some sort picking meat off a carcass, and seeing a barred owl sitting in a tree.
The ski trails provided me quiet and freedom from getting whacked in the face while walking in the dark. I was privileged to see the trails transform from the first green sprouts of early spring to the full-blown cover of ferns and seedlings trying to find a place to grow. Wandering about in the woods also disclosed a few beautiful areas it be fun to send a trail through with minimal cutting. The early morning meanders and constant peering through the trees has generated a list of things to be accomplished, a.k.a. work, before the snow begins to fly.
April 25th, 2013
It’s April 25th and the last bit of snow has melted off the trails. Skiing has been finished for almost three weeks and looking back the season was pretty good.
Grooming began on December 27, a bit later than we had hoped for but the at home ski season had started. The biggest snowfall, a whopping eight inches, was in March and fell after the equipment had been put away. Of course it was taken out of hibernation and some of the best grooming of the season was during this six day re-immersion into winter.
Snowfall total for the season was just shy of forty inches. Even with all of the snowfall, not much accumulated and the good race skis remained in the bag for the second straight season. They still have the storage wax applied after the 10-11 season.
At best. portions of the trails had a base of eight to twelve inches of compacted snow. On average the trails held around six inches. Compared to last season, this year had very little mid-winter rain to transform the snow into ice. The impediments to deep snowpack this season were the long stretches of sunny weather and lack of refreshing snows. Most of the base sublimated away exposing the rocks, sticks and uneven surface pushed up by the hoarfrosts of early December.
The sled consumed $75.00 worth of gasoline and ate one $85.00 belt. Time spent on the sled grooming was about fifteen hours. All in all pretty inexpensive in cash and time. Add in the convenience and decadence of ski trails twenty feet from the door and the value is huge. This season I managed an almost 3:1, ski:groom ratio which is most likely contributed to the infrequent snows. Most grooming passes were made with the bedspring and just broke the glazing of the trail surface. The Tidd was used three times mostly to wear off some of the surface rust.
I did manage to break the shear pin on the Tidd’s hitch. The teeth hit a root and stopped the groomer while the sled and I kept going. Never having broken the pin (just an 8D box nail) there was not a replacement anywhere on the sled. There was a length of webbing under the seat so I lashed the equipment back together and finished laying down some really nice skate lanes.
This summer I have access to an excavator and plan on fixing up some of the trails. Moving rocks with levers and pulleys is actually really fun but diesel powered hydraulics are much faster and safer too. There are a few widow-makers to clear up and maybe a few more trails to cut in. I’m also on the lookout for a better pulling machine but first have to find some cash.
Thanks to you fellow CGers who sent in photos of your rigs. Here are two and the photo captions will describe what we have out there.
Thanks for sending the photos and anyone else out there who wants to share the fun, send me some pics. to post over the no-snow season of Citizen Groomery.2 comments