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Archive for January, 2012

Becoming Discouraged or Just Enought to get Hurt

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

The January thaw arrived just in time to thaw….what? A bee keeper friend explained the January thaw is crucial for the survival of bees. The warming temps are an opportunity for the bees to clean out the hive which helps prevent disease in the colony. Bees are a vital part of food production and I like to eat so if a few days of mid 40F temps help ensure a good supply of fruits and vegetables the following summer, sacrificing a bit of snow is a worthwhile tradeoff.

This winter Vermont’s Upper Valley has not received very much snowfall so the bees chores should be vastly simplified. The trails around my house have a gross snowfall of 16″ since Thanksgiving with 3″ of ice encrusted white gunk still here.

With new trails cut, the desire to head out and ski is very high. I’m curious if the trails actually ski as well as planned. Before the rains of the January thaw, we had 3 to 4″ of snow cover which is just enough to ski on and hurt ones self.

Snow depth in the fields.

Snow depth in the woods.

Rocks, stumps, roots, sticks, and clods of frozen dirt along with very uneven ground are covered with a thin veneer of very powdery snow. My wife Jill and I decided to temp fate and go for a ski around the trails. In short, the skiing sucked worse than Tom Brady’s self deprecating analysis of his performance in the AFC title game. We were able to ski around the trails with several crashes onto the aforementioned debris and frozen earth. One crash produced an impressive hematoma on Jill’s rear end. Beg as I might, requests for photo documentation for the loyal CG readers was denied so you will have to take my word for it.

The raspberry covers and area the size of a tea saucer and from the correct vantage point, the bruise appears to be a mottled pair of cycling shorts (it covers one butt cheek and half a thigh). Fortunately, this is the extent of the injury.

One of the many hazards of skiing the trails with low snow.

On the plus side, we skied across the bridge! The 17 feet of hard earned trail brought a huge smile to my face while gliding and not fighting my way across the creek. In the open field sections of the trails the skiing was quite good and enjoyable.

Finally, tracks on the bridge!

Examining the weather forecast and seeing the lack of snow on the ground I am getting a bit discouraged about the prospects of grooming and fearlessly skiing the trails. I am aware there are still 2 months of snow producing weather ahead and we might receive more snow than we care for but right now my mood is pretty bleak.

Hoping to break up the hopelessness I contacted Harry Roberts, the east coast distributor for Yellowstone Track systems grooming equipment and also the North American importer of Alpina Sherpa (no relation to the boot company) snowmobiles. . Harry has a warehouse in White River Junction and we met up one afternoon so I could ogle the sleds and YTS gear. He offered me the chance to take a grooming pass on a trail with 4″ of snow. Cold weather and my lack of preparedness (no gloves, wearing sneakers) and having to pick the kids up from school forced me to take a raincheck.

The Sherpa is an impressive machine fitting in between a full on snowcat (Pisten Bulley, Thiokol, Prinoth) and a utility snowmobile. Powered by a Ford automobile engine driving twin tracks provides great floatation and traction. With a Sherpa it would be possible to pull wider equipment and groom up my trails making one pass rather than three. The market for these machines are touring centers and industries ranging from mineral exploration to energy production and transmission. I figured while I was dreaming of having snow I might as well fantasize about having a tow vehicle I can also use to pull cars out of ditches. Cutting grooming time and not smelling two stroke exhaust would also be a plus.

An Alpina Sherpa and Ginzu in action. The machine is big and I can't wait to give it a test drive.

The YTS grooming equipment is pretty cool too. After having built up a quiver of implements I’m not in the market for anything new right now but while I’m fantasy shopping let’s add an 82″ Ginzu with dual tracksetters to the order.

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What to do with no snow to groom part 2

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

This past weekend, we got together to taste friend’s collection of single malt Scotchs. The collection is quite extensive with each distilling region of Scotland well represented. While debating and discussing the merits of Highland region Scotch, someone brought up the lack of snow here in Vermont. I wish it was an excess of tasting causing me to whine, bitch and complain about not having any snow to groom or the ability to ski locally. My diatribe was the product of being spoiled not loaded.

After twenty seconds of whining about being all dressed up with nowhere to go I was told to shut up and quit complaining. A lot of people (ski industry, property maintenance workers, snowmobiling, etc.) who depend on snow to earn a living were going to have a hard time of it even if we receive the average amount of snowfall for the rest of the year. After the flooding of Irene put a hurting on the autumn tourist season and the lack of snow, the tourism dollars Vermont is so dependent upon are way down.

He had a good point so I returned to discussing the balance of malt and peaty smoke, the finish and general impressions of the 16 year old Ancnoc in my glass which I raised to toast those who rely on snow to make a living. I am still disappointing and aware of being a bit spoiled by my good fortunes of skiing right out the door. Part of my disappointment with the lack of snow is grooming has become a bit of an end in itself. I enjoy grooming the trails and watching people having fun while skiing on them. The trails are clear of sticks, rock, and debris. The snow catching and eye poking limbs have been cut and the grooming equipment is all set to go as soon as we receive another 6″ of snow.

The latest snowfall event dropped 3″ at the house. This brings the total snowfall to 16″ for the year. Only the latest 3″ are still here everything else having since melted. There is now just enough snow to cover rocks. roots, bumps and frozen ground. There is not enough snow to bury them enough to ski safely.

The snow line must have just passed us by because 10 miles away the Strafford Nordic Center was blessed with enough snow to groom and open the trails. This winter is the first season for the new center and I’m glad to see the trails are available for skiing. I’ve skied there a few times and gone running with the owner this past autumn. They have a beautiful area and fun terrain. If I really need a grooming fix maybe I can beg my way into the extra seat in the snowcat and take a lap or two of the trails.

Lake Fairlee has frozen over and the three inches of snow have been transformed into a nice layer of styrofoam. The fun of skiing on the lake is the ability to ski 4 abreast with the family. The lack of hills is a bit dull but the constant wind makes for a slight change of pace. The lack of groomed snow accentuated the tracks left in the snow. Based upon the number of different tracks we saw, humans are the only animals traveling in a straight line. Everything else wanders around. When I downloaded the GPS the trace on a map wanders around quite a lot too. Looking at the small animal tracks in the snow and the large animal tracks (us) on the map was a fine example of fractals. The kids pointed this out so evidentally sending them to school is paying off.

Bird, dog and small pawed animal tracks out on the lake.

With the wind cranking pretty good I broke out the traction kites stowed away for the past 5 years. With metal edged tele gear strapped to my feet and by attaching a rope to the back of my harness it was possible to tow the kids around. The 7 meter Flexifoil generated a good amount of power and the kids had a blast cutting big turns and slingshotting around behind me.

We ended the MKL weekend by taking the dog out skijoring today. Pip has been the sled dog last year (there might be photos in previous posts) when we had deep snow and defined tracks. With the open space provided by the lake he too wandered around quite a bit. Pip is at his best with something to chase so I skied out front while Jill, Liv, and Nate took turns attached to the dog.

Out skijoring with the family on the lake

The forecast is calling for a wintery mix with 1″ of snow before switching over to rain for Tuesday. With luck it will be all snow.

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