Starting the New Year with Birch Bakken TT

With temperature a balmy +8 deg F in the Birch Hill stadium and a somewhat chilly -11 deg F at Fort Wainwright, the remedial SCUM decided to start off the New Year right with a predawn Birch Bakken (BB) Time Trial (TT).

Dreamed up by deputy groomer, Bill Husby, the Birch Bakken goes from the Fort Wainwright Ski Chalet to the top of the Tower Loop. This 4 km ascent incorporates all or part of the Cliffside, Sunnyside, Outhouse, Blue Slot, and South Tower ski trails. My Polar heart rate monitor indicated a 215 m climb during the BB.

Bill’s data for the Birch Bakken from 4/9/2018

Accessing the BB start was fast as without any recent snow, the grooming has made the downhill tracks death-defyingly fast for remedial SCUM. So we took every opportunity to enjoy the view that the Sunnyside Trail provides.

Photo by Dan Johnson

One nameless SCUM and parttime KUAC producer, decided to howl at Denali (and the moon) to scare off any rabid marmots or lynx with tularemia. His fellow SCUM provided encouragement.

Video by Joanna Fox; click on image to start music.

Needless to say, the SCUM were all business on the climb, and some finished the Birch Bakken before the sun was up. However, not all of us were that speedy, but everyone finished the climb.

Photo by Joanna Fox

Unlike Selfie Queen, Joanna, who didn’t sweat getting up the Birch Bakken with her new skin skis, Dan worked a lot harder with his newly glide waxed and grip taped skis.

Photo by Dan Johnson

All of us agreed today’s BB TT was a perfect way to start off 2021.

Merry Christmas from Santa & his SCUMmy reindeer

Today Santa and his SCUMmy reindeer did the grand tour of all the skate trails at UAF, which were being combed as we arrived before dawn today. (Thank you, Jason!)

With temperatures in the mid-20s, snow was packing under our ski boots making it impossible to get into our ski bindings. Here are two SCUM with advanced degrees are assisting Mom get into her bindings in the predawn darkness:

Photo by Joanna Fox

And here are the eager skiers ready to chase the sun:

Photo by Joanna Fox

With no other skiers in sight, we bellowed out Christmas songs that were successful in drawing one cow moose near the socially distanced line of skiers.

Photo by Dan Johnson
Photo by Bill Husby

Because of travel quarantines caused by COVID-19, Santa had to recruit very SCUMmy reindeer this year. On Smith Lake, Santa was tried to convince the reindeer to skate without poles, this was their response:

Santa and SCUMmy reindeer on Smith Lake–photo by Bill Husby

By then, Santa’s sore back had loosened up so he skated off ahead of the reindeer:

Photo by Dan Johnson

Happy Holidays from all the SCUM. Enjoy getting outside on the ski trails. This week we’ve enjoyed groomed tracks at the golf course (thank you, Stan) as well as the perfectly groomed skate trails at UAF (the classical tracks were are great, too). We’ll be back at Birch Hill soon, but enjoying the winter solstice on a variety of trails is a real treat.

If you are able to help contribute to the maintenance of the UAF ski trails, please consider a tax-deductible donation through UA Foundation. You can make the donation online at this URL:

After you enter the dollar amount that you wish to donate, specify “other” in the designation box. A new box will appear under “other” for you to enter: UAF XC Ski Trail Maintenance. These funds will go to grooming and maintenance of UAF crosscountry ski trails. With declining state support for UAF and the rising costs of dealing with COVID-19, please consider helping to maintain the wonderful UAF XC ski trails. These trails are even more important during the pandemic as they provide us a place to safely exercise and socialize.

Winter solstice on the north side classical trails

With temperatures at -5 deg F and about an inch of new snow, the remedial SCUM headed out toward the north side classical trails to do trail grooming the way it was done 40 years ago (i.e. skiing in the tracks). Here Mom, who remembers skiing in tracks, skis a more direct route than Ken had set before the snow.

Photo by Joanna Fox

It was almost sunrise as we skied through the birch and aspen:

Photo by Dan Johnson

Some trail sections were total spruce forests:

Photo by Joanna Fox

These spruce made us think of Christmas trees, which we’d later find totally trimmed for Santa’s visit.

Before seeing the decorated Christmas trees, we saw the bear skull on the trail:

Bear skull and Dan Johnson for size perspective–photo by Joanna Fox

and we got to the Really Steep Down HIll Bypass. But given the conditions, we could head straight down the RSDH:

Photo by Joanna Fox

Here is a clip of Dan Johnson on the RSDH:

And here is one of the two Christmas trees we found with cookies and candy canes decorating the branches:

We all agreed that skiing the Classical Bear, North Star, and Aurora Run was a great choice for a chilly, snowy morning near winter solstice.

Here’s a few parting shots:

Mom after a surprise run-in with Dan
Bernardo’s SCUMsicle after our leisurely ski–last 2 photos by Joanna Fox

Until the groomers get back out to the North Classical trails, we’ve skied them in for your enjoyment.

Herding SCUM around the virtual Rat Ponds tour

Bill Husby scouted out the Rat Ponds virtual tour on Tuesday so he could “herd” the remedial SCUM around the course today. He instructed us to meet promptly at 10 a.m. today at the Seventh Day Adventist Church and School. In the pre dawn chill, I quickly discovered it wasn’t 39 deg there like it had been at home when I checked the thermometer before breakfast. I put on all the layers that I had in my car (my second closet) but still was slightly underdressed for what was to be a leisurely 12 km tour.

Route of our virtual Rat Ponds tour, phtoto by Bill Husby

After awaiting for late arriving Robert Hannon, Bill was able to line us up for the first and last time of the morning. Dermot was skiing out of the tracks with his fish scale skis so that their noisy gliding wouldn’t disturb the rest of us.

SCUM already showing signs of individuality as Dermot skis his own tracks. Photo by Bill Husby

Bill led most of the ski, which is a novel approach to herding SCUM:

Bill leading Mom, Bernardo, and Robert, where are the others? —photo by Dan Johnson

but we do follow the leader, in this case, Kent:

Kent Karns leaving the SCUM behind —photo by Dan Johnson

The nearly full moon was overhead as we enjoyed the tracks that Stan Justice had set for this virtual tour. Thank you, Stan!

Dermot blazes his own trail —photo by Bill Husby
Robert Hannon and Dan Johnson —photo by Kent Karns
photo by Kent Karns

The sky after sunrise was delightfully orange.

Robert and Dan enjoy the sunrise —photo by Kent Karns

The tracks were so enticing that even Dermot had to use them at times. As seen below, around some of the larger ponds, Stan had set two sets of tracks so that you could ski around the ponds more than once and see slightly different terrain.

Photo by Kent Karns
Kent urging Dermot along —photo by Bill Husby
Single tracks —photo by Bill Husby

Stan had marked the Rat Ponds tour with red plates that not only gave directional information but also informed the skiers of historical landmarks and recent sections of land and trail acquisitions that have expanded Creamer’s Refuge. The SCUM really appreciated these markers as they gave us an excuse to briefly rest.

We encourage other skiers to use these trails as they are perfect for the beginning skier as the trail is virtually flat. There were a couple of tricky herringbone rises to keep the ski interesting:

photo by Dan Johnson

Because the trails are predominately in spruce forests, skiers are spared the birch seed and branch debris in the tracks after a chinook wind event. However, temperatures on these trails are comparable to the Fairbanks airport so don’t expect the Birch Hill inversion. Also, sections of the tour are on dog mushing trails (where there are no set classical tracks) so be alert for dog teams.

Thank you Stan Justice for grooming these trails for a wonderful virtual tour.

Fun in the black loops on Friday the 13th

Although our fearless leader (and grooming hero), Bill Husby was injured and unable to join the remedial SCUM for our Friday workout, we prevailed in his absence. Bill had warned us that the downhills were fast, faster than anytime this season. So we decided to head for the black loops, where the lower volume of skier traffic would make the downhills safer.

Without Bill or Dan Johnson today (and with Dermot, starting well behind us), it wasn’t a popular decision to head down the black loops, but being SCUM, they begrudgedly followed. We found lots of tracks, fox tracks in the new snow, including around this den.

Fox hole on the N40 trail (All photos in this post from Joanna Fox)

As we were finishing up the N40, we had to make the decision whether to take the Black Baron cutoff or head for the luge run on the Black Hole. Being a cautious skier after multiple injuries, Mom headed down the Black Baron where a snow snake grabbed her ski. Uninjured, she got up without removing her skis or dignity:

Motherly encouragement by demonstrating how much fun the Black Baron downhill was

As we were finally extracting ourselves from the Black Hole, we turned around and saw Dermot Cole behind us. Unlike the rest of us, Dermot was skating so didn’t have the excuse of kick wax shearing in the tracks as an excuse for a fall. So to make the rest of us feel better, Dermot deliberately fell while standing in place:

Dermot down on Competition Loop near the intersection with the Tommy Knocker extention

In going down, Dermot jointed the rest of us who looked like we’d rolled in powder sugar:

Staying sociallly distanced as we individually roll in the newly fallen snow.

All of us agreed after skiing the black loops on Friday the 13th, that the trails were lovely and that conditions were perfect for our early season fitness. Here’s the smiling crew as we finished our recovery ski of 6.7 km with 185 m of climb.

If you haven’t already done so, please donate to the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks trail fund so we can keep having fun on the trails this winter while doing our part to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

You can also drop contributions (cash or checks) in the Iron Ranger as you enter the Recreation Area from the main parking lot.

Cautionary note on early season skiing

As one of the trail groomers for the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks, perhaps no individual spends more time on the Birch Hill trails during the winter than our own Bill Husby. On Wednesday, he was “at the office” as seen in this photo from Byron Broda:

Brother Bill at the office on 10-21-20sm

And on Thursday, Bill sent me this trail report:

“Went skiing on the White Bear this morning. Skiing on the trails with the current conditions are not for the faint hearted. Went down the W Cub, thru Range and around WB. Rather than returning the same way up the W. Cub backwards, I chose to travel through Biathlon Way backwards. Big Mistake! Caught a rock and did an instant face plant and snapped a pole. Fortunately no major injuries, just pride and money.” 


Although I’m sure that one of our local ski shops will appreciate Bill’s unplanned business, we are definitely relieved to hear that Bill did not injure himself in his mishap.

So, skiers, beware of hidden hazards.

What La Nina means for winter in Alaska

1st single digit day at FWW_sm

NOAA has indicated that the winter of 2020 to 2021 will be influenced by a mild La Nina, which usually means colder temperatures for Alaska. So although we’re still not skiing, you should start acclimating to colder temperatures by ski walking with poles if you want to enjoy the snow when it has covered the ski trails. 

Ask a Climatologist: What to expect when you’re expecting La Niña

SCUM participate in FNSB Trails Challenge

Socially distanced SCUM head up the stadium ramp on a sunny Friday morning

The remedial SCUM headed toward the Tower loop for our normal Friday morning workout of multiple ascents of the Fort Wainwright alpine hill. However, today we were greeted with sunny blue skies and decided to take a different trail to the towers. En route, we encountered one of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Summer Trails Challenge signs. However, we were upstaged by a cute bear cub:

SCUM snag a FBNB Trails Challenge sign but aren’t on social media so can’t promote their accomplishment.

Not wanting to be accused of harassing wild life, the SCUM left the cub to his gymnastics and went on to do their three ascents of the Fort Wainwright alpine hill. Afterwards, wayward Robert signed the rock to document his rock carrying efforts from 17June.Don’t you want to join the successful few who have carried the rock up the 0.83 km under the Fort Wainwright alpine hill chair lift? We’ll be back there again next Friday.

Debunking SCUM myths with science

In an attempt to add a fresh challenge to our ski walking up the Fort Wainwright ski hill, this season the SCUM added carrying “the rock” that Allen Doyle (former Equinox Marathon winner and Sonot Kkaazoot skier) used to slow himself down when training with the SCUM last summer.

As reported here, Bill Husby and Robert Hannon were the first SCUM to carry “the rock”, previously estimated to be 30 pounds:

Several weeks later, Carl Hemming carried “the rock” up the hill in a backpack.

Because Carl is a retired Alaska Fish and Game fish biologist, we asked him if he had a fish scale that we could use to weigh the rock. Being a professional at estimating fish by eye, Carl didn’t need a scale. However, Dan Johnson, our retired nurse and EMT administrator had one and offered to bring the scale and a shopping bag to hold the rock to today’s workout. So before we did our 3 ascents of the FWW ski hill, we officially weighed “the rock” and it was lighter than all our estimates at a mere 20.2 pounds:

weighing the rock

Bill Husby in official Sonot Kkaazoot orange tank top holds “the rock” in Dan’s fish scale

Bill was the only rock hauler that showed up for today’s workout and his estimate of the rock’s weight was the closest to today’s measurement (Carl was fishing and Robert was recovering from a tough night). However, the three gramps and I did three ascents of the FWW ski hill in the unfamilar sun today.

3 Gramps w ski poles after 3 FWW

Three Gramps wait on platform at the top of FWW ski hill for me to finish

We walked up Beacon Road and down the Tower Loop to the Birch Hill parking lot where our four silver Subarus awaited us.

SCUM w silver Subarus

4 SCUM owned silver Subarus (that match our hair color)

My car like my carcass was the oldest model at the workout today.

Join us on Fridays at 9:00 a.m. We also let skiers with blue and red vehicles to ski walk and carry the rock.