The Grand Tour

“Start slow and go, go, go; start fast, and you won’t last”—advice from a wilderness adventure friend of Mike Ruckhaus

With the Sonot Kkaazoot just 40 days away, today’s unseasonably warm temperatures combined with having all the Birch Hill trails groomed within the past 48 hours made for absolutely awesome conditions for doing the “grand tour” of all the Birch Hill Recreation Area trails. This workout is a great pacing exercise as well as a dry run for nutrition and clothing needs for an extended ski effort.  Completing the “grand tour” of 26 km or the “mini-tour” of 16 km for skiers training for the 40 km Sonot is a fantastic confidence builder as well as an important element of one’s pre-Sonot training plan.

The black loops are the most demanding trails at Birch Hill and for good reason. They are technically the most difficult loops with short steep climbs, long continuous climbs, and technically challenging downhills. They are north facing and drop to the lowest regions of the park so are generally the coldest trails and are less frequently groomed than the more utilized lighted loops and White Bear trails. Also, unlike the Tour of Anchorage, where the challenging Spencer Loops are encountered at the very beginning of that 50 km race, in the Sonot Kkaazoot, a skier is in the midst of the Black Hole when the 25 km mark is passed.

To most effectively train for the Sonot, the “grand tour” should be skied in the order that trails are encountered in the Sonot. So today we skied the White Bear Access, White Bear, Moilanen Meadows, and Warm-up Loops that all 40 and 50 km Sonot participants ski, before skiing the Competition, North 40, Black Hole, Blue, and Outhouse loops that the 40 km skiers will by-pass (these loops according to my GPS total 9.91 km). Finishing off the tour involved skiing the Tower and Roller Coaster loops and around the main building to where we had started 3 hours and 23 minutes previously. The others had finished over an hour before the slowest of us, but two pieces of Eric Buetow’s birthday cake were awaiting our finish.

Thanks to my gizmo (as one SCUM called it), I had more than just a good feeling after this workout but also data to download.  With an overall average heart rate of only 129 (79% of my max), I know that I can ski faster without “blowing up.” The 9.91 km that the 40 km skiers will not ski took us 1:25:47, which works out to a pace of 8:40 min/km. By comparison, we skied the 11.05 km from the Sonot cutoff on the White Bear to Moilanen Meadows, the rest of White Bear and White Bear Access, and the Warm-up at a 7:42 pace, and we finished the Tower and Roller Coasters at a 6:39 pace when we could see the finish line. Heading for the warm-up hut for dry clothes and birthday cake, we started  replacing the 1882 kcal that we’d burned while skiing the “grand tour.”

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