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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.

Snow machine residue is evident on many rocks along the trails and goes to show my eagerness to start and extend the season. Better the snowmobile than ski bottom.

Snow machine residue is evident on many rocks along the trails and goes to show my eagerness to start and extend the season. Better the snowmobile than ski bottom.

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.

Where's CG? Trying my best to hide from turkeys.

Where’s CG? Trying my best to hide from turkeys.

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.

Ostrich Ferns filling the space on trails where show should go. They are the height of a nine year old boy.

Ostrich Ferns filling the space on trails where show should go. They are the height of a nine year old boy.

I've always marveled at the way fallen branches stick into the earth just like an old lawn dart. In a future post I have some observations about trail junk.

I’ve always marveled at the way fallen branches stick into the earth just like an old lawn dart. In a future post I have some observations about trail junk.

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.

Woods view at the beginning of the spring.

Woods view at the beginning of the spring.

Similar view of the same spot two weeks later.

Similar view of the same spot two weeks later.

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.

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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.

High winds at the end of the season left a few widow-makers across the trails. In addition to grooming, trail maintenance requires a bit of tree work too. This hanger is hemlock and not too far from the house and will become firewood for next season.

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 kids heading to catch the bus. The trails run along the road and it was a nice sendoff having the children pelt me with snowballs as I rolled some of the fresh mid-January snow which arrived in late March.

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.

Despite the illusion of a deep snowpack, the Tidd is riding just a few inches above the tree roots and a few rocks which the teeth soon found.

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.

Steve in MN sent me this photo of his newly restored 1974 Cushman Trackster pulling his 6′ Tidd.

Kurt from Canada sent a few shots of his homegrown leveler and packer.

Kurt’s rig packs the trails and moves firewood too. Re-purposing a metal culvert is really great.

Kurt’s rig is an ATV on tracks. Looks like deeper snow up north of the border than we had here in VT.

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.

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Since the last post over a month ago a lot has happened in the CG world. We’ve had a massive melt out which brought the base to essentially none. Sure, there were spots of snow but nothing skiable. We had a cold snap with temps in the –20F range making the patches of snow very icy allowing the cold to blister the exposed soil with hoar frost boils. We finally received 6” of groomable snow.

While compacting the snow with the roller and attempting to pack the trails wide anticipating more snow during the next eight weeks of winter, the PVC roller frame contacted a tree and broke. The ends were lashed together and the pass was completed with little more incident. Heading to the DMV to renew my CDL the opportunity to stop at the steel supply presented itself. The day of the trip temps were right on the edge of snowing and the precip left the salted roads wet. Not wanting to liberally coat the virgin steel with a powder-coat of road salt I passed on the acquisition of the materials and just repaired the PVC frame.

Cold temps and plastic aren’t too compatible. I just lashed it together with an old piece of webbing carried along for the inevitable repair.

A friend moved a 24’ X 36’ barn using a crane to reposition the building about ninety feet from his neighbors property to his own. Very cool seeing an entire building, including the contents, plucked off the foundation and moved. In about 5 minutes the barn was sitting on a new set of piers. This move uncovered a few old fashioned bedframes which were donated to the CG arsenal of implements.

When I first began grooming the trails I was under the impression sophisticated and specialized equipment was required. The idea of pulling a bedframe seemed stupid and desperate. Turns out I was wrong. In the right conditions the bedframe is awesome. It doesn’t have the ability to cut the snow very deep to rejuvenate a hard frozen surface. What it excels at is buffing out a frozen granular trail scuffing up the surface and leaving a layer of loose ice ball bearings and fast skiing. The corduroy is great in wetter conditions for getting air under the skis but the corduroy is stationary and compresses rather than mobile nature of the ice bearings.

The bedframe also does a fantastic job of removing the wide wale left behind by the corrugated roller which essentially sets a seven foot wide row of tracks. After the rolled surface sets up the springs distribute the raised and freeze dried/slightly transformed snow.

The roller on the first 6″ snowfall after the thaw and frigid temps. The cross section is in the driveway and the bootprint was interesting. The overall boot compression is deeper on the un-rolled snow. Guess it works.

The downside of the home-grown implements is the lack of weight to pack the snow. Any more than 4”-6” (depends upon the water content) and the roller can only compress the snow so much. Lack of compression allows poles and skis to poke through. What heavy equipment does is set the snow faster. What will set the snow eventually is time. Grooming and skiing at home is fun but getting up at 2 A.M. to groom the trails allowing enough time for the snow to set for an 8 A.M. ski is borderline maniacal. The lightweight equipment does offset the shortcomings of the sled allowing me the decadence of having ski trails twenty feet from the door and the ability to ski almost at will. Everything is a compromise.

A 9 year old for scale.

I’ve been curious what other CGers out there are using to keep the trails in good shape. If you have any photos, send one or two along to me and I’ll post them in future entries.

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Until this week’s warm spell the skiing has been spectacular. The grooming has been non-existent due to the low volume on the trails. No matter, with temps remaining in the single digits or just below zero at night with highs in the 20s the skiing surface remained packed powder and never glazed over enough to require a scuffing. In the past teo weeks the groomer has been used for forty-five minutes and the amount of skiing dome by me has been about twenty hours. This is a fantastic effort to reward ratio.

The community has been skiing quite a bit too and the new trails are well received. As a 6th grade school project, my daughter is taking a GPS trace and creating trail maps to leave at intersections. The class is using computers and this project encompasses the use of peripheral data acquisition devices (GPS), available data bases (Google Earth) and basic data manipulation. The signs will also be bi-lingual for the occasional Spanish speaking visitor. The project is really an exercise in thinking and planning.

With no trails to groom and too much time on my hands I needed something to do with the limited snow available in the yard. Grooming is a great way to play with snow and create something for people to enjoy. I love playing in the snow and with snow. I just love snow and should have chosen a different career path so I could be paid to do something with snow.

Several years ago the family went to Quebec to race a biathlon at the ValCartier venue just north of the city. While I raced at this fantastic venue, the family went to a snow tubing park and heard about the Hotel de Glace (http://www.hoteldeglace-canada.com), about twenty minutes away from the venue. The idea of going to some stupid tourist trap bummed me out. Was my pre-judgment wrong. The Ice Hotel was huge, filled with rooms and artwork, had a bar and slide inside and worth the trip to see it. The place was spectacular and amazing and somewhat inspiring.

The Hotel de Glace helped add to my desire to play in the snow. I had built quinzees and other snow caves and these were fun but lacked imagination and WOW factor. The purchase of an igloo form (http://www.grandshelters.com/index.html) made for some great outings and we built igloos for the elementary school.

The idea of building some sort of ice fishing shelter with rooms and only a door to remove come springtime or building a few shelters along the trails or maybe a snowmobile trailside snack bar made entirely out of snow. I have always wanted to throw a skiing party during a full moon and having a snow shelter along the way might be a fun place to stop, have a drink and a bon fire.

To accomplish this idea, a lot of snow needed to be moved quickly and the form needed to allow for a variety of floor plans. A catenary shape was built using the available materials, hinged so it would collapse away from the snow, moved , re-erected and continue the build. I built it and the snow=less winter last year kept any trials from happening.

With the recent snow the kids helped me add a few hinges, screw an old pair of skis to the base to move it and I borrowed a snow blower to begin the field trials.

The photos tell the story pretty well.

The warm weather hammered the snow and the forecast is for a few inches to fall. Hopefully enough to groom and ski and support my snow building habit. The grooming is fun too.

I’m fairly certain the green and yellow tractor company would cringe and claim improper use seeing photos of their product’s augur being tied into the “RUN” position. It worked great and kept me from lifting too much snow. Might also be a candidate for a Darwin Award if things go bad.

After covering the form with snow, the screw-jack was collapsed and the form pulls away from the sintered and hardened snow. Note the crack at the upper form joint. It did self heal.

The screw-jack allows the form to collapse so it can be removed and repositioned for the next course or length of arch. The black strap at the bottom keeps the form from spreading too much.

The form repositioned to add more length to the quonset hut snow building.

After reinstalling the snow fences the addition of snow begins.

The trail runs past about ten feet from the snow blower. If the resolutions is good enough you can see how much snow is needed to create a four foot long, seven foot high and seven foot wide at the base snow shelter. The snow in the yard is about 10″ deep

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My sliver of hope paid off this past few days as it snowed about 6″-8″ and didn’t warm up or rain afterwards. This was the upside. The less upside was the panic of procrastination (masked publicly as superstition) of building a roller frame.

The 30 minute roller frame after completing the first pass at the trails. We’ll see how long it lasts but for now it got the season started.

There isn’t a pile of steel available for welding up a roller frame and the idea of racing the 50 miles north to the steel supply was bordering on ridiculous. Plus, the $75 in gas to make the trip is better off spent on fueling the sled. Fortunately, the cheap Yankee in me has kept a pile of 3″ PVC pipe stashed behind the barn “just in case…” Scaring up a single 90 and two 45s and thawing the glue inside the house and the roller frame began taking shape. Eventually a steel frame needs to be welded and the PVC was going to get me through the moment and most likely result in another tree contact disaster but the forecast called for 10″-14″ and not packing in 6″ lifts makes for soft and hollow trails. A piece of 3/4″ poly-pro webbing and steel ring for a hitch and load limiter and the 12/13 grooming season was underway.

So far the frame has worked despite being bounced off a few trees. The webbing did its job as a load limiter and failed several times. Each failure rendered the “hitch” a bit shorter and tying knots was a chore. Before heading out to groom the spare webbing was taken out of my pocket and left on the kitchen table figuring the frame would succumb to rapid deceleration against a tree and suffer catastrophic failure. I didn’t truly expect the webbing to fail first and do its job.

I finished the roller passes of all 10k well after the sun went down. The rolling didn’t take too long I just began as the disc of the sun was perched at the horizon planning to roll half the trails. Everything was working and the Cheshire Cat grin clouded my thinking and the entire system was rolled.

I took this with the drag attached since I rolled it in the dark. I was advised to make the bridge wide and I made it as wide as I had materials on hand. Should have gathered more. There is a foot on either side of the sled and it looks barely enough.

The bridge was actually rolled; the new sections of trail cut two summers ago (some post has photos of us pulling rocks) were rolled with the intent of being able to ski them and not make a run dodging sticks and other low snow trail crap fearing puncture wounds and just too high stump impacts as I made last season.

The roller wasn’t very free of frost and ice adhered grass and dirt from sitting for a year so a lot of snow grabbed on and the rolled trails were packed and very lumpy. The next morning the drag was pulled to level the humps and move the snow around a bit more to help make it solid and flat. It worked well to level everything and managed to snag every stick and lump of hoar frosted soil. There is barely enough snow to groom and ski.

An hour after beginning, the first groom of the season was complete and time to set first tracks. The plan was for me to have the virgin go at the trails but I was beaten to the ski by my kids. They were excited to ski and dug out their skis, boots, poles and whatever else they could find and went skiing without me. I was both bummed and thrilled with an overriding sense of pride with my children’s independence.

Found these upon my return home.

We managed to ski almost all of the trails and ran into a few neighbors who after hearing the sled, grabbed their skis and went out to get the season started.

Why is taking a photo of a skier in a well balanced position so difficult? Here we were messing around on the super wide (15′) racetrack in the field across from the house. This 350 meter loop is a great place for skier cross and simple terrain to cruise.

Tracks on the bridge. Having this connector trail is a huge improvement to the trails from both a skiing and grooming perspective. There is much better flow to everything.

Having the bridge has reduced the number of skunk stripes needed to connect the sections of trails. The road crew is pretty good about stopping the sand to accommodate the skiing as long as they are reminded. The stripes are still layed down but without the sand they are easier to build.

Actually grooming the trails points out all of the saplings and areas where summer maintenance could have been better. This past summer I was excessively apathetic and didn’t get out enough to put the trails in good shape for skiing. The next few ski events will be carrying a set of loppers to trim back branches and remove what should have been cut during the off season.

I’ve also come to realize trails should be cut much wider than originally believed. If during the build a tree location gives pause about the stay/go aspect just cut it. Mow a bit wider too. Walking and operating a rig almost fifteen feet long requiring wider radius turns are different and in time I will be able to walk and see the trails as I do from the sled. For now I’ll tag the larger trees and stuff for removal next summer. For now I’ll just groom and enjoy myself.

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December 21. Traditionally the day with the shortest possible amount of daylight. Once again, this year didn’t disappoint and the day was short just as predicted.

The winter has been dark, from a psychological perspective, and its time for things to become brighter. Snow, or the lack of it has again been the story for the start of Vermont’s cross country ski season.

In the last post, superstition was the main theme. The fear of being prepared too early kept Snow Miser from dumping a lot of snow. Apparently, his brother, Heat Miser, was pissed and didn’t give old Snowey a chance to do his stuff.

By mistake the chosen word was superstition and it should have been apathy. Last winter stole the fun right out of grooming. We had plenty of snow but it was usually followed by warm temps and rain. This season it was difficult to get excited with great fears of another disappointing ski season lurking around.

One of many waiting to be removed. I’m hopeful getting the trails in good nik will invite the Snow Miser to grace us with his talents.

Maybe the extra three minutes of daylight perked me up today and a feeling of hope germinated and began to grow. Stepping outside to the woodpile with hopes of reigniting the last few glowing embers in the woodstove back into a roaring fire to heat the house, my deck was covered in a light but measurable amount of snow. There was no precipitation forecast and the snow found a way to squeak in anyway. I was excited.

Wanting to get a bit of exercise in the waning hour of daylight, Nathan and I decided to walk the trails and check for any downed limbs, brush, and remember where the fallen trees are. We had a blast walking on hoar frosted and heaved trails. There is a decent amount of water in the ground and the cold temps were drawing the water molecules into towers pushing up soil, leaves and forest floor detritus.

Nate is enthusiastic about keeping the trails clear of fallen limbs. Not as much fun as riding the snowmachine when it comes to maintenance.

Fortunately this rootstock is right off the trail and did not take part of the ski surface with it when it pulled up. The 10 year old is for scale.

It has been at least a month or two since I’ve been around the length of the trails and I was amazed to see how good they look. The neighbors have cut the tall grasses, ferns and ragweed from the trails. I usually refer to the trails as community ski trails to avoid the conceit of saying they are mine. They are not but since most of the maintenance is undertaken by myself there is a sense of ownership. Having the neighbors head out and clear the trails was awesome and the term community is now more than a bit of cloaked misdirection to hide behind.

What a great surprise to find part of the trail cut short ready for snow. This section will be skiable with a few inches of cover.

The season’s firewood cutting finished off the remaining two-stroke fuel so I headed to the local store with a big gas can. A gallon of mix will keep the saw running long after the trails are cleared and the extra fuel is for the sled. Yes, I am hopeful enough to buy fuel in anticipation of getting the snowmachine going. My enthusiasm was overblown enough to drop an email to a guy on Craigslist selling a BistenBully PB150 with an 8 foot width and plow. Why I believed I had a spare 30 grand for a toy is beyond me but it was nice to be excited about the prospect of grooming this season.

Have a joyous holiday season and let’s keep hoping for snow.

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Last night we received enough snow to make a snowball if you scraped off the hood of the truck or porch railings. Not time to break out the grooming equipment just yet. This veneer of of snow did provide a wake-up call and a segue to a bit of collegiate memories.

Certainly not West Yellowstone and more like the first cough of trying to start a chainsaw with the choke fully closed. Hopefully we can go to fully open and get the winter into the scream of a throttle wide open two-stroke.

I had a professor who would assign a paper on a Monday and have it do Friday. This schedule gave his students five days to conduct the research and write the paper. His logic presume we’d wait until the last minute to start even if we had weeks of lead time. He could have assigned it to me on Thursday afternoon with no effect on my planning. Decades later and the pattern of last minute heroics remains the SOP.

Leap forward to this week and winter shooting a warning across the bow of my grooming operation. Groomable snow might be a few weeks away and there is still a lot of work to do. The trails provide a place to ski in the winter and access to firewood in the summer. My procrastination at collecting the bucked up trees bit pretty hard. My last post showed a dry season and firm trails. With a few good sized storms and steady rain have rehydrated the trails making truck passage a mud bogging adventure. Now I need it to stay cold with no snow so the ground freezes so the family won’t.

Last season I destroyed my wooden roller frame and had every intention of welding up a much stronger and hopefully crash resistant steel chassis. I haven’t even made the trip to the steel supply for materials. Granted, the drive is long and gas is expensive but these are only excuses to cover my procrastination.

My ego can’t admit/accept pure sloth so I’ll play the superstition card. Last season I was all set to groom by the beginning of November and we had a horrible winter for skiing. With a bout of omnipotence followed by humility, my preparation was responsible for the horrid ski season here in the Upper Valley. This year I’m going to wait until the middle of a blizzard to buy steel and begin the welding projects. Yes, the “s” is correct. I need to rebuild my drag too. Just a bit of insurance for the tempt fate strategy for enticing the gods of winter to bury us this season.

Busted and prototype grooming equipment looking pretty glum cavorting with abandoned appliances and other detritus. Just a piece of New England you won’t see gracing the cover of Vermont Life magazine.

The sled needs servicing, trees downed by storms need clearing, wood chips need to fill in the few holes and cover rocks and hollows, the fields need a bit of mowing, and the far out reaches of the trails have yet to be inspected. I’m certain the list is longer. Public admission to my procrastination makes me look irresponsible and not just lazy, or better yet, superstitious.

Since posting last ski season the email notice someone has commented on the blog has stopped working. I really appreciate the comments and feedback so I apologize to Tim for not getting back sooner. I’ll take the risk of running up the hit counter and cover my narcissism with the guise of maintaining relationships with the readers.

In Vermont people are pretty much at the top of the food chain and I never thought the noise of machinery as a survival mechanism. Seeing a bear in Vermont is pretty rare. I’ve seen plenty of evidence bears live near and use the trails for traversing the woods but I have yet to see one on the system near the house.

I’m making this post early Saturday morning and the day is setting up quite well for getting a bit of trail work/equipment maintenance/building today. Can’t do it. There are still a few weeks before the snow arrives for the winter and I don’t want to risk chasing it away by being prepared.

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Hello Fasterskier readers. I hope you enjoyed the summer. Mine was pretty good. The Vermont weather was fantastic and I hope the great summer translates into a mindblowing snowy winter. Before the snow flies there is a lot of work to do on the trails to make them ready for grooming and more importantly, skiing.

Just about once each month during the summer I’d walk the trails with the kids and see what work needed to be completed. There was no plan to expand the trails this season so we just picked up branches and enjoyed the walks. A few windstorms and heavy rain events knocked over a few trees leaving them hanging as Widow Makers or blocking the trails. The grasses and other vegetative matter has grown taller than a newly minted fourth grader and needs to be cut.

The trail winds through here. The scythe cuts a swath wide enough to leave a skate width trail.

Done cutting the path.

Here are a few kids for scale. The scythe is awesome for clearing the trails. Quiet and efficient.

The scythe cut through the base of an Ostrich Fern. The base is the size of an artichoke.

The bridge we worked so hard to install last season has held up great and is inundated by Maidenhair Ferns The tree companies clearing branches from the powerlines needed a place to dump chips so we snagged a few loads for distribution into hollows and uneven terrain. Much easier to move lightweight chips than move earth with a shovel and definitely less cash expensive compared to renting or hiring and excavator to level things a bit. The chips should add a bit of organic matter to the muck, decompose and build decent soil to support growing grass. Mowing sucks but making a pass twice a year with the scythe is actually good exercise and enjoyable.

The trail passes through the downed log and right below this hanging Widow Maker. Hopefully the removal won’t generate any exciting posts.

Maidenhair Ferns at the bridge. These are my favorite fern. They remind me of a beach filled with umbrellas.

The grass seed we spread in the spring has grown into a decent carpet and after the autumnal mowing we’ll put down a bit of limestone to sweeten the soil a bit since a good percentage of the trails run through conifer laden woods and tend to have acid soils. Adding chips will acidify things too and the limestone will help counter the effect of the chips. The spot or in this case meandering treatment will give the grass a better shot at remaining strong and hold the trails together and with luck, help cover the small rocks and other base destroying detritus scattered about.

Moderate success with the grass. This 30 meter section of trail is always wet and the dry summer helped keep the grassletts from drowning.

Each spring this dug well has water surrounding the tiles at the ground surface. During the summer I use the well to gauge the ground water level. This summer has been dry. Each tile is two feet high. The snippet in the top right corner is the bottom of the first completely buried tile. The ground water level has fallen almost eight feet since spring.

In addition to trail work there is rebuilding the roller and welding up a new leveling drag. These two tasks should have been completed during the summer when I had more time. I had a professor in college who’d assign a term paper on Monday with it due on Friday. Students complained and his response: “Even with the semester to do it most of you won’t start until the due date is two days away so I’m saving you the stress of worrying about it.” Term papers and trail work suddenly feel connected.

One motivator for getting started now and not waiting for the first snow to begin the work is keeping up with the blog. I appreciate the comments and feedback from the readers. If there is anything you’re curious about please ask. This will be the third season of the at home trail network and I’m really excited to see what the season brings.

This beer bottle was buried beneath the leaf litter and tree debris. Not sure of the era but am going to guess sometime in the 70s. Finding relics like this always makes me think about who did what with the forest and if someone in 40 years will find something (trash, trail, tool, etc) I left behind and to make them wonder about the woods.

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The vernal equinox is still a week in the future but from the weather you think its a week in the past. Temps in the mid 60, sun and almost no snow left at the house. The dirt roads contain axle deep ruts filled with sloppy mud running parallel to the direction of travel. Mud season reminds me why I own four wheel drive vehicles. Definitely not for snow travel. The only thing keeping me tied to winter is the lack of crocus by the depleted woodpile.

The grooming season wasn’t a complete bust. After the roller incident, temps remained below freezing for three days! The sled was full of gas and oil so I groomed up the field across the street into 250 meters of fast trail. The family had a blast chasing each other around, made up a few relay races and it felt like mid winter fun. Sad to admit how tired I was that evening and day after from skiing for a bit over an hour on flat terrain.

With 1/2 tank of fuel still in the sled I debated siphoning it out. The decision was easy, $8.00 worth of gas was not worth the mouthful I’d spit out and horrid after taste. Might as well burn it up pulling the Tidd and risk dragging it through the woods to access the snow filled open areas a kilometer away. Well worth the risk. The snow packed with the busted roller was firm with a slight glaze which the Tidd pulverized into super fast roller bearings made of chopped ice. Stiff muscles and no ski fitness be damned. A neighbor and I skied the bejeezus out of the trails. Upon returning home it required great effort to lift my arms to pluck a drinking glass out of the cabinet. By the next morning, the sun had melted the snow. At the house trails, the 2011-2012 ski season was a bust. The last day of grooming and skiing were fantastic and it’s always good to end things on a high note so the decision was made to put everything away.

Tucked in for the summer hibernation.

I took advantage of the fast disappearing snow to put the sled away for the summer. The dismembered roller is in a good spot for off season repair. The rest of the grooming tools are piled into the barn awaiting the next season’s snowfall.

A bit anthropamorphic but it does appear distraught without a job.

With all of my whining this season it’d be difficult to believe we received 30″ of snow. A bit below a normal winter but still enough to ski and groom. What we also received was a lot of warm weather and rain which melted almost every flake soon after it found the trails. Each snow event was re-starting to lay down a base. We spent winter in perpetual early December.

Including the pre-Thanksgiving groom and ski, a total of 9 gallons of gasoline was purchased at a cost of $37.00. 4 hours was spent grooming and 8 hours fifteen minutes spent skiing. I never waxed my skis so the kit is right full for next season.

In short, I am very much looking forward to next ski season. The off season plans for the trails are leveling a few spots and maybe adding a few hundred meters. There is also that pesky roller to rebuild. I’ll post some of the highlight.

For those of you with enough snow to ski, enjoy it. If you’re a fellow CG, please take a pass for me.

Thank you all very much for reading and writing comments. Your participation helped me laugh at a very strange winter.

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The highly anticipated snowstorm left us with almost 6″ of wet snow on top of bare ground and ice. In the wood, 3″ made it to the trails. I hooked up the virgin roller to run it through the fields across the street hoping to see how it works. The results were better than I had hoped for. Easy to pull and wide which will hopefully reduce the number of passes needed to prepare the trails. This pass reintroduced me to the crappy steering of wet snow over bare ground. After a pass the snow sticks and sets making the steering on subsequent passes still poor but significantly better. The snow also shears away from the ground under the tracks so the ass end of the sled tends to wander a bit going uphill or across a pitch.

Overnight temps dipped into the low 20s which dried and firmed the snowpack. In the morning, the leveling drag was pulled over the rolled areas leaving a very nice skatable 200 meter loop. The forecast called for rain and warm temps and I was feeling a bit desperate to take a pass on the new trails before the snow melts. The new trails have a few narrow sections (openings in stone walls, trees, the bridge deck) and I was curious how the roller fit through or didn’t. The snow was deep enough to put a good lubricating layer on top of rocks and reduce the friction of snowmobile skis in addition to easing the transitions up onto and off the variety of lumps and bumps.

The roller frame is made of wood since it is cheap, available, already made for last season’s barrel, and easily altered. The flaws in the roller are flats at the end to catch on whatever I pass too close and no complete loop around the roller which drastically reduces the stiffness and bumpability. The axle is held in with hitch pins and stick proud of the side rails. Aware of these flaws I decided to go anyway and just be careful. A few times I did stop the sled, unhook the roller and walk it through the tight spots.

700 meters into the new trails at an off-camber slightly uphill left hand turn with the bars at the stop and under light power the sled goes straight, the back jags right. I feel a light bump and hear a loud crack. The flat of the roller frame grabbed a tree and broke. Normally a scenario such as this might send me into a profanity laced diatribe. Not this time. I just laughed at my impetuousness and luck of this happening at the end of a miserable season. I keep a bungee on the sled for some reason and it worked great to patch things up enough to pull the roller out of the woods.

remodeling the roller


Good enough to keep going

Approaching the turn to head back to the house or across the bridge and the bulk of the trails I chose to head across the bridge and finish grooming with the roller. There were still a few places to gauge and the thing still moved so why not.

Notice the sled tracks on the bridge. Yeah!

7 km. later with 1 to go the right side of the roller clipped a tree dislodging the hitch pin. The axle popped free and the roller experienced catastrophic and terminal failure. More laughing and I removed whatever pieces might fall off on the road and headed home for a cup of tea and something to eat. Later that day I loaded the debris into my truck and stored it in the barn for reconstruction this summer.

At least the bungee held during this train wreck.

With rolled trails the only thing left to do was ski. Aside from crust skiing at the airport my beater skis hadn’t been used on the house trails all season. They have also never been waxed and the whitish bases should have miserable glide on the wet snow. Good thing too since there is still only enough snow in the woods to hurt myself on the downhill sections.

Two pass, twelve foot trails give me something to look forward too next season.

Even with the busted roller the day was a smashing success. The trails ski very well, the bridge held the equipment and I am now forced to buy some steel and weld up a proper roller frame.

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