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Archive for December, 2011

What to do with no snow to groom?

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Christmas morning got underway at 5:30 AM. In most households with kids, the morning usually gets started by children sneaking around trying to be quiet hoping to appease parental units who have set some sort of curfew about releasing noisy excitement. This year it was me kicking things off. Not so much from excitement; I just couldn’t stay in bed any longer.

The morning was fun. When the after present opening hangover set in we all decided to burn it off going for a ski. The 3″ of snow we received a few days before stuck around and was transformed by the sun and cold nights into a 2″ layer of excellent styrofoam just perfect for crust skiing. The house trails are too bumpy and in the trees to have any decent amount of snow to ski so we headed down the hill to the local airport. The grass runways are free of rocks and have been supporting early season/low snow skiing for years. It was a blast ripping around (relative to sitting around in the morning) the airport. We played freeze tag and just skied 4 abreast for about an hour.

Arriving home it was disheartening to see the trails with snow at an unskiable depth. Then it rained wiping out the airport nordic center. The rain did fill up the “pond” out behind the house. This depression gathers and hold water during the winter months and might be 20 meters long and 8 meters wide. We messed around and played some form of pond hockey. It soon dawned on me there was more snow like skate generated white stuff on the pond than on the ski trails. I Googled home snowmaking while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate. Making snow will be extra impracticable so I just might try it at some later date as we get more desperate for snow to ski on. The bridge has been decked and the frost has firmly attached any rocks to the earth so prying them loose will have to wait for summer. What to do to advance the condition of the ski trails?

There has been a 24″ diameter section of double walled plastic culvert sitting in the back yard for the better part of two months. Time to build a roller to replace the crappy blue plastic barrels I have shish-kabobbed with a piece of conduit and haul around behind the sled. It works but is too narrow and not very round. It has terrible directional stability and tends to slide downhill while traversing slopes or to the outside of turns due to the taper acting as a ski tip shovel allowing the thing to glide over the snow.

The first task for building the roller was figuring out how to support the axle inside the barrel. My friend and fellow CG, Andy, used wheels from an ATV. He stuffed the wheel assembly into the culvert, inflated the tires and ran a steel rod through the bearings. A wooden frame connects to the axle to the sled and he has a very cool roller. Seeing Andy’s roller was inspiring. I don’t have an ATV to cannibalize but I do have a pile of 1″ square steel tubing and a torch.

Cuttin' steel

Using AutoCAD to divine the dimensions of the steel pieces, I set to work cutting the long stock to finished length. My bearings will be a section of plastic decking bolted to the four armed “spider” and have another piece of conduit for the axle. The spider will have stubs welded to run parallel to the long axis of the culvert. The stubs will accept bolt to keep everything together.

Welding the center of the 4 armed spider to center the bearing in the culvert.

I hadn’t welded in a year or so and it shows. My old shop teacher must be rolling in his grave assuming he’s dead. The welds will hold despite being splattery and slightly under-filled with rod. The welds did improve as I regained some form but overall they look really fugly.

Adding stubs to connect the spider to the culvert. The welds are getting better.

The spider actually fit! The square in the spider's center will have the plastic decking bearing bolted to the outside face.


Next up is retrofitting the barrel frame to accept a 6 foot long cylindrical roller. The wider roller should reduce the number of passes I need to push the air out of the snow after it falls. I still have faith we will have a decent ski season ahead of us.

Bridge Poles and Big Rocks

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

2″ of snow helped lubricate the trail surface greatly enhancing the ability of a telephone pole section to slide. The smaller pole required about an hour to move the final 100 meters to the creek and span the gap. Not too bad with one down and one to go. The larger pole must weigh 50 to 75 pounds more than the smaller section. Just enough difference to make lifting it onto the dolly a lot of extra work. In frustration with the extra lifting, my impatients got the best of me and I managed to peel the tire off one of the wheels. Riding on the plastic rim, the dolly continued to work easing the pulling but the smaller diameter tended to become stopped more often.

The first pole in position ready to span the creek.

Saturday morning in between basketball tournament games (one in the morning and one later in the afternoon) the kids were co-opted into moving pipe sections while I yanked on the rope. There was a section of pipe with a strip removed sitting in the scrap pile. The rim of the dolly slipped perfectly through the slot and supported the wheel enabling a much easier traverse of mud, rocks and roots. The second and final pole is now set across the creek awaiting the decking to complete the bridge.

The rim of the wheel slipped into the slot in the pipe. Too bad this was discovered after 75% of the moving was completed.

Both bridge poles in place. The kids made the first crossing after helping me move them into place.

With the bridge poles in place the next order of trail building was plucking rocks from the skiing corridor. Anything up to the size of a bowling ball was easily popped out with the pointed end of a pick axe. Bowling ball to laundry basket sized rocks needed a pry bar to lift out of the soil before being rolled off the trail. Bigger than a laundry basket and another form of mechanical advantage was necessary.

In addition to size, the shape and how it is buried determines how much effort will be needed to move a piece of stone. The tool kit for moving the BIG rocks is a chain, several nylon tow straps, pry bars, and a come-a-long. If the rock can be moved even the slightest bit there is hope of getting the thing out of the trail. A bit of digging is needed to find some aberration in the surface to give purchase to a tow strap connected to the come-a-long. By pulling with the come-a-long and lifting the rock using a pry bar, the large piece of stone can be lifted up and out of the ground. Once the rock is free of the earth it can be rolled off to the side of the trail.

The kids enjoy moving large rocks and spent the time between Sunday’s tournament games pulling the handle of the come-a-long while a neighbor and I added power with pry bars. For the really big stuff the kids stepped aside, took photos and enjoyed telling the adults to keep working. Best guess, based upon moving large stones while landscaping, the biggest rock we moved weighted in somewhere in the 800-1,000 lb range.

Just for scale, I am about 6 feet tall. The dark area was buried, the rest was sticking up into the trail.

Same rock, different angle. It took two of us to flip the rock onto its side before winching/prying it off the ski trail and out of the way.

While not perfect, the trails are now skiable. I have a line on some 2″ rough cut hemlock to deck the bridge and this task can be accomplished even after the ground freezes. There is still a few hours of trail work to complete but with enough snow what we have now will ski just fine. Each pass of the trails gets them a bit closer to use with minimal cover. Eight inches of cover is enough to begin grooming. Right now, the newly cut trails need about a foot of unpacked snow to cover the assortments of objects (rocks, roots, wet areas, etc.). Two feet will be better. There is no snow in the week’s forecast but with nighttime temps in the teens the ground should freeze so any snow we do receive should stick around.

Stonehenge Methodolgy on Ski Trails

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

The last few posts contain quite a bit of whining about my procrastination for getting firewood put up and the completion of trail work/bridge building and how these chores have been compromised by the arrival of snow. The stars aligned this past week and blessed me with no work, no kid chores and decent weather. The firewood is almost finished being split and stacked. The ski trails are free of downed trees and stove ready logs.

The new sections of trail have been flagged and mostly cut. What’s left is clearing the cut wood and trying to remove a few large stones. The first goal was to make the new sections of trail groomable and skiable. If the snow holds off the next order of business will be to make the trails skiable with minimal snow cover.

There is hope of connecting a few sections of trail now separated by roads. Having continuous trails will greatly improve the ability to groom and enhance the skiing. The currently finished trail system is made up on four plots of land. The lots are separated by either a road, creek or trail-less wooded areas. Skiing between lots requires a bit of off-piste skiing or removing skis to cross roads. The bushwhacking is okay going downhill but heading up just plain sucks. Most of the suck factor is not having packed snow to prevent pole baskets from disappearing. Crossing a small creek adds to the difficulty of a ski. Diehard skiers don’t seem to mind but for those new to nordic skiing, the bushwhack and stream crossing don’t do much to make skiing fun. True cross country for sure but a lot of work.

This past summer a few telephone poles were replaced along the road. The installation crew told me the old poles were available to whom ever wanted them. I snagged one planning to build a small bridge to cross the aforementioned creek. 16 foot long sections of telephone pole are too heavy to drag as they lay. The field across the road with the shortest access to the creek is undergoing a restoration and we were asked not to drive a vehicle through to the woods. The poles were moved by hand using rollers (3″PVC) a few nylon straps pilfered from the climbing rack, a come-along, some chain, a pry bar, a few shackles, and 100 feet of 5/8″ static rope. From the base of the driveway where the poles were stored to the bridge site is, at most, 500 meters.

Moving telephone poles using rollers, ropes, shackles and one 45 year old man power.

Moving the pole section was simple. The pole ends were lifted up onto the rollers and by tying one end of the rope to a tree ahead of the pole and running the free end through a shackle (no pulleys on hand fit the rope) a makeshift doubler was made. Even with the friction of the rope on shackles, there was enough mechanical advantage for one person to pull the rope and move the poles. Working alone since all of the available help have jobs, I was able to move each pole about 75′ per hour. Most of the time was spent walking around the poles picking up sections of pipe, finding a fulcrum to help lift the pole and inserting the pipe beneath the pole. The longer the pipe, the less likely the pole would fall off which reduced the amount of time rigging things. Pulling was the easy part.

All sorts of speculations have been made about how the Egyptians built the pyramids and how the blocks of stone were erected in England to complete Stonehenge. Someday, maybe an archeologist will ask how the bridge was built across the creek. In some odd way, moving the poles with rollers was satisfying but I couldn’t help wishing for a tractor and a pint of diesel fuel to move both poles in about 10 minutes. After a few hours, the poles were still less than half way to the bridge location and I was moving the poles through pretty level terrain. The next section of trail is filled with rocks, mud, roots and holes.

The pipe worked well but took a lot of time to keep resetting. As long as the leading edge of the poles was off the ground they moved relatively easily. Searching around the barn, an old mower was cannibalized and the wheels used to make a simple dolly to support the leading edge of the poles. The dolly worked great allowing the poles to more easily cross small roots, logs, rocks and even shallow mud. I quadrupled and maybe even pentupled the the distance moved per hour. The distance was now long enough to switch measuring units from feet to meters when describing how far the pole has been transported. Human power was still satisfying although I was still pining for help from internal combustion engines and hydraulics.

The dolly greatly improved moving poles especially if the aft end was supported by sections of pipe.

In total there are still 350 pole meters to go to the bridge site. Snow is predicted for tonight and while I’m still not finished with chores best done without snow, the idea of even more reduced friction while pole dragging gives new hope for having a bridge to use this winter.

The red line is the last 100 meters of trail before the bridge.