Several inches of new snow helped cover much of the birch seed and leaves on the trails today, and happy skiers like these were out enjoying the white wonderland at Birch Hill Recreation Area.
Nordic skiers in Fairbanks lost a dear friend and a Birch Hill Recreation Area trail grooming pioneer with the passing of Russell Lizotte last night. In the days before the piston bully or even the Sherpa was part of the trail grooming arsenal available to the trail grooming crew at Birch Hill, Russell took on the task of grooming Birch Hill and the entire Sonot Kkaazoot course with an Alpine pulling various grooming sleds, rollers, and drags behind him.
Donna Hawkins wrote in the April 1992 issue of “The Northern Nordic News”, the newsletter of the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks, “The can’t take the track setter of the saddle award goes to Russell Lizotte, who so accustomed to running over a race course with the Alpine on the day before a race, went down to Anchorage and skied all the trails at Hilltop and Kincaid the day before the Tour of Anchorage and wondered why his legs felt so bad during the race.”
Russ had the ultimate “can do” attitude and nothing that Mother Nature could throw our way was going to prevent him from creating beautifully groomed trails for ski events and trail users. For example, in the winter of 1992–93, we had our first snowfall in September before the deciduous tree leaves had changed color and fallen, thus, leaves would fall whenever the wind blew creating a lasagna of snow and leaves on the ski trails. Russ constructed a sled with a powerful leaf blower that he could use to clear the snow surface before he set his beautiful classical tracks.
As recently as 2013, Russ was an instrumental member of the grooming team responsible for “taming” the river ice surface so that all the Sonot Kkaazoot skiers would have an enjoyable experience.
Current Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks trail operations head, Tom Helmers felt Russ was like a brother to him, so Birch Hill skiers will continue to benefit from the Fairbanks guy whose pickup had “Nordic”vanity plates and just wanted to set and ski perfect classical tracks.
Thank you, Russell for all you did for us. Even the cold, scary ride down the black loops in the chair on the track sled seemed worthwhile if the Alpine driver was happy.
We are looking for photos of Russ Lizotte grooming or skiing at Birch Hill to honor him in the Ski Center trophy case. Please contact Tom Helmers (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any contributions. A donation to the Birch Hill trail fund in Russ’ memory would be greatly appreciated (https://nordicskicluboffairbanks.wildapricot.org/Donate/) .
Unlike last year when the November chinook came with wind and rain, this unusually warm early winter in Fairbanks has been arid with no significant snow in over a month. Skiers are left wishing for even hoarfrost that might cover a month’s worth of birch seed and leaves that litter the Birch Hill trails or provide some structure on the ice-covered Smith Lake.
Trails in some areas of Birch Hill are approaching 100% organic, but, other trails are much better.
In fact, trails look better at night or slightly out-of-focus, like this photo taken today on the South Tower loop.
But, we are skiing on snow. At Hatcher Pass, the ground is brown not dirty white:
So enjoy the ski trails that we have, and do some cross training. As Pete Leonard pointed out to his FXC Masters Group, most Masters skiers would make significant improvements in their skiing by adding regular strength training. Here are some links to Swedish and Russian Cross Country skiers doing strength training that might motivate you to do the same while snow conditions are less than ideal.
Although there is still no snow in the near future (as shown by the 6- to 10-day outlook for precipitation from the NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center)
as long as temperatures stay below freezing, skiing at Birch Hill will remain remarkably good thanks to the summer trail work. Today the warm temperatures brought recreational skiers out to Birch Hill
where a first year skate skier was leading a veteran classical skier up heartbreak hill on the White Bear trail.
Enjoy the unseasonably warm temperatures
as the sub-zero conditions will eventually arrive as will our long-awaited snowfall.
Don’t forget to make your trail grooming donation that makes the long ski season at Birch Hill possible:
Although Birch Hill has not received any significant snowfall in over three weeks when about 7 inches of fairly wet snow fell, skiing remains remarkably good. Thus, as clocks fall back into standard time mode, recreational Nordic skiers need to fall back to skiing on snow.
With the minimal snowpack after a very wet summer, the trails are not as smooth as they usually are. In some areas, ice lens have melted out leaving large divots, excess water runoff has created valleys next to water bars across trails, and leaves litter the compact snow surface. Thus, the first challenge is relearning balance on skis with fast snow conditions and obstacles. Although uphills may be an aerobic effort, the downhills are a stability challenge for the non-elite skier, adding a mental component to the early ski workouts. Thus, there are lots of opportunities to regroup and socialize as we did today.
The 2015 Sonot Kkaazoot is just 5 months away. Make the commitment and sign up today. See https://sonotkkaazoot.wordpress.com/register/ for the registration form.