Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hickory Ridge Ski Area, Bloomer, WI--Last outing of the season

At 8:30 in the morning, I headed for Hickory Ridge outside of Bloomer. Traffic was non-existent but I paid attention while crossing Chippewa Falls because on the previous morning I was almost hit by someone running a stop sign. A family from the Edgecumbe team had their car totaled by a drunk driver. The result of living in the town with a famous brewery? Hard to tell ...

The landscape north of Chippewa Falls was rather flat, infact the wide and shallow valley of O'Neill Creek with low hills on either side. All along 124, I noticed many homesteads with abandoned farmhouses. Often, the barns were still in use but there were some spectaculare ruins, testimony to decades of consolidation, away from small family farms to larger scale operations.

Directions were good, there were even signs pointing to Hickory Ridge Ski Area. That did not prevent me from overshooting the intersection with 226th, even though I clearly read the street sign.

When I arrived at Hickory Ridge, only one other car was in the parking lot. I did not waste any time and got going after taking a quick look at the map. I decided to do the outside loop, crossing Hickory Trail and abstain from adding the Tram Lake loop. I stopped to take a photo at Paws Lake and continued. The description on the Hickory Ridge warns that "the trail system consists of three loops, all loops are challenging to the skier, with rolling to steep grades." This is correct, though I found that there were sufficient level areas to recuperate a bit between climbs.

View Hickory Ridge Ski Area, Bloomer, WI in a larger map

When I got to the Tram Lake Loop, I could not resist and had to take the scenic route. I am glad I did, the landscape was pretty, the snow was a grade above what I found on the remainder of the trail and it was only about an extra 3.5 km. Speaking of trail conditions: except for the Tram Lake Loop, the trail was about 50/50 good snow and glazed over, the latter especially on exposed south and west facing slopes. Debris on the trail was minimal. The only times the snow conditions were bothersome was on steep, twisty slopes with glazing.

I caught up with the folks from the car in the lot on the Tram Lake Loop. At the rate they wer going they would have a long day on the trail. When I was almost back at the parking lot, I met another couple heading out and at the parking lot, two more cars had jst arrived with three skiers. Very light use. 14+ km in an hour, a good workout in a beautiful environment.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Skiing Tower Ridge, Eau Claire, WI

It's easy to moan about having to take James, my 13-year old to an out of town hockey tournament, it's just as easy to make lemonade when life hands you lemons. I had done a little prep work to see what would be out here and I had found some promising opportunities: Tower Ridge Ski Trails outside of Eau Claire. WI and Hickory Ridge Trail, near Bloomer, WI.

I decided to do Tower Ridge first, because it was nearby. James also requested a skate sharpening, it turned out that Play-it-Again had a franchise at the same side of town, too. Thus two birds with one stone. While paying the park fees at the warm house, I chatted with a local skier. He was praising the fresh grooming, the nice weather and the lack of skiers. This is Birkebeiner weekend and a lot of skiers are congregating there, which means less pressure on other trails. I asked him if he knew Hickory Ridge, and indeed he did. He said that the scenery is gorgeous and that the area benefits from a micro-climate that retains the snow longer than in surrounding areas. He gave me some good directions, too. I had decided that I would try to make it to Hickory Ridge on Sunday, hockey schedule permitting. But first Tower Ridge.

The friendly local guy was right, a freshly groomed trail welcomed me, it had received very little use before my arrival. Initially, the trail followed the road N and then turned east, meandering through hardwood forest. I kept going along the outside edge of the ski area, trying to maximize distance without having to think too much about where I needed to go next. Very little leaves and debris on the trail and few other skiers. The terrain was mostly level, giving me an opportunity to work on switching my poling leg. Along the east side of the trail system I had a few welcome opportunities to work in some hills, as several loops left the main trail for the bottom of the Eau Claire River Valley. The first two climbs were quite challenging. Before I descended into the valley a second time, I met to women, volunteers at the ski area and another skier. I complimented them on their beautiful trail system. They pointed out where the trail would descend a third time into the valley and would stay there for quite a distance. I followed their advice and included this loop as well. Well worth it, the terrain is much more varied here. I logged 10.86 km in 47 minutes. A beautiful morning out!

View Eau Claire Skiing in a larger map

Monday, February 22, 2010

Continued Good Skiing in February!

What an excellent winter we've had this year. A good base with an occasional refresher snowfall, fairly mild temperatures, a willing partner in my dog Mellie and just the right amount of hockey practices in Highland forced me to be out on skis a lot this winter! The best: it's still going on.

A week ago, I dropped of James and Jack at the Hyland Ski Area and decided to take advantage of the trails at the Hyland Park Reserve next door. The snow seemed kind of slow, soft after the recent snowfall and mild weather. what a difference from my usual venues, Highland and Como Parks, it seemed well used if not crowded. I skated every trail and found the varied terrain nice, with just the right amount of challenge. I made the mistake to wear my shades. Needed to stop to retrieve them after clumsily and unsuccessfully trying to stash them in my pockets during a steep downhill. Got into a very nice rhythm during the last mile or so.

View Hyland Park Reserve Skate Skiing in a larger map

This last weekend, I had some of the best and fastest skiing at Como and Highland Parks, yet. Saturday, I did two laps at Como, on a firm and fast skating track. On Sunday, after dropping James and Joe off at Afton Alps, I skijored two laps and skated one lap at Highland. Again, a firm, almost hard surface made for fast skiing under a sunny sky.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Improved Performance Over 2009-10 Ski Season

For the first time since the Como Park Championships on Dec 26, I returned there to ski. All of the rest of December and January had been taken up with skijoring, various excursions (incl. Duluth and the UP) and Sisu ski school. Mellie was quite upset that I didn't take her along this morning, but I figured that after yesterday's City of the Lakes Skijoring Loppet I deserved to ski by myself. I wanted to do it especially to gage my progress after taking the lessons with Sisu.

Conditions were perfect, the snow was not as fast as it had been on 12/26, but immediately noticed the difference. I expended much less effort and was moving better than before. I was curious to see and compare my times on the Forerunner. It was obvious.

Today, on Feb 7 (See GarminConnect 2.7.10), my average speed for 9.75 km was 15.1 km/h, while on Dec 26 (see GarminConnect 12.26.09) it had been 14.5 km/h over 9.25 km. More importantly, along with the improved speed came a drop in average heart rate from 171 bpm to 162 bpm, showing that my skiing had become much more efficient. I'd say that this clearly shows the value of the Sisu ski lessons. Glad I did it and looking forward to another course!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

City of the Lakes Skijoring Loppet

Today was the big day, The City of the Lakes Skijoring Loppet! We drove to Lake of the Isles around 11:30, quickly found a parking spot near the warming house by the skating area and skied over. I tried a new technique to prevent Mellie from chewing up the rope: I gave her a tennis ball to carry. It worked!

The staging area was a veritable zoo, dogs and people and bicyclists from the bikes on ice race taking place while we picked up our bib. We met many nice dogs and people. Unfortunately, Mellie got a bit too friendly with a little boy and pushed him over in her exuberance. His parents were very kind about it but I felt so bad.

We met up with our friend Sher Stoneman, who had been wanting to take some pictures of Mellie and me skijoring, thanks to modern technology we met near the parkway bridge, on the Lake of the Isles side. I am grateful that she came and she certainly took some great pictures. We chatted a bit and then moved to the start. Being in the second wave we could see how the pros were doing it. Most of them had handlers along that held their excited dogs back.

You can see the tug line going under Mellie's stomach. From

My concern during the start was to avoid getting tangled up with other skiers' tug-ropes, a valid worry, if you care to look at the photos at Mellie ran nice and straight, as I suspected, the presence of other dogs was a huge incentive, getting her competitive juices flowing. Somehow she got the tug-rope caught under her belly and I couldn't free it until about the middle of the race. That probably cost us three or for places in the rankings, if not more. After we had the rope freed, she pulled way better.

Photo by Sher Stoneman, from Christian's Running Blog

And then the stumble (red marker on map): the snow on and after the ramp from the lake to the mall was very deep and mushy, kind of heavy, too. This is where the race organizers had needed to cart in snow from the outside and it was not premium quality. We made it up the ramp but when it leveled off one of my skis dug into the soft snow and I fell flat on my face. Fortunately I could get up without having to roll around but it probably cost us another two or three places!

View City of the Lakes Skijor Loppet in a larger map

For Mellie and me it was still a success! We placed 38th out of 124 total and 17th in our (Recreational) category, finishing in 10 minutes 41 seconds! (See here for the results). I have to say that per my Garmin Forerunner 305, the course is significantly shorter than the advertised 4.5 km (3 miles): I clocked only about 3.25 km. Now we know what to expect.
On the home stretch, seconds after kissing the snow.
No time to re-cap my head.

Mellie seemed a bit shell-shocked, so many dogs in one place! She was trooper, though. I wish I could have gotten that tug-rope out from under her belly faster. The only place where she got a little confused was between the phalanxes of spectators, especially on the mall. she wanted to stop to say "hi" to people but did continue. Mellie slept hard after we came home.

While walking back to the start to retrieve our bag, we heard all of a sudden "Nice shirt."
It was Jerritt Johnston from the Minnesota Orienteering Club (MNOC), volunteering for the Junior Loppet. Besides Sher, he was the only person I knew.

From Christian's Running Blog

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Night Time Skijoring at Highland

Great night skijoring at Highland 9-hole golf course. The surface was soft and fluffy from the 5 cm of fresh snow. It did not look like it had been groomed but many skiers had used the trail before us. Oh well, made for a better workout.

Saw a very bright shooting star in the west, when going up the first hill, along Edgecumbe Pkwy during our second lap. So bright in fact that I first thought it was firworks.

Mellie was getting tired during the third lap but she hung in there. Picked up her pace considerably when we had a chance to pass a fellow skier. I hope her competitiveness bodes well for the City of the Lakes Loppet Skijoring event this Saturday! We really fly when she gets going. Maybe she'll feel animated by the dogs who will be ahead of us.

Planning to be out there again on Tuesday night!