John Estle and a dozen SCUM cut and clear Junior National trails

Today John led a group of 12 SCUM and two dogs in a highly effective several hours of cutting trees and brush (all early successional trees, i.e. willows, alders) from the trails to be used for Junior Nationals in March as well as sections of the White Bear trail. Skiers, spectators, and disk golfers will notice the difference the late season cat work and brushing has done.

We broke up into 2 groups working on the South Tower and Relay Return, and two groups on the White Bear, so I didn’t get photos of the group that was the furthest from the Birch Hill stadium. There were two groups within each group: cutters and brush haulers.

John Estle cutting downed spruce tree on South Tower
Bernardo chain sawing
Eric stacking cut brush on Relay Return
Norma moving brush
Tim and Robert brushing
Lola supervising the removal of branches from trails

Some of the younger SCUM haven’t retired yet so were unable to participate in our work party today. Thus, Dave Prusak and Eric Buetow got a head start on Sunday when they worked with John on the South Tower uphill:

Sunday South Tower work party–photo by Dave Prusak

Norma, Tim Woster, Mike Schmoker, Robert, Bernardo, Kent, Cam, Tim Prusak, Mike Mathers, Bob Moloney, Dave, Eric, and yours truly had enjoyable day helping John and the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks widen the trails so our groomers can make trails even better this winter. It won’t be long before we’ll be skiing.

Last (?) dryland White Bear of 2022

Last winter, we were skiing on rolled trails by 6 October. However, today Norma and I ski- walked the White Bear as steady rain changed to snow.

Norma was fully dermotized with three layers on her head and insulated Alaska mitts for her hands.

Color coordinated Norma with her Alaska mitts on

We took off at a moderately fast pace to warm up, knowing by the top of Hilltop we could readjust our clothing:

It was 34 deg F at the top of Hilltop

However, it didn’t take long for the rain to change to snow:

It’s snow!

As we began Heart Rate Hill, we were startled by a serious looking dog carrying a moose femur in his mouth. He didn’t growl at us, but it was VERY apparent that he was NOT going to share his treasure. We didn’t get his photo, but the dog’s muzzle and the large bone that he was carrying was certainly the biggest surprise of the day.

The snow began sticking in earnest as we crested Heart Rate Hill and rang the bell for doing the ascent without stopping:

Ringing the bell at the top of Heart Rate Hill

That photo would be my last as battery of my new phone wasn’t as warm as I was. However, we actually were getting a little glide in places on the downhill trail. Our cars left in the Birch Hill lot were looking a little wintrier than when we had left. The snow was sticking in the stadium and the temperature had dropped to 31 deg F.

Snow in the Birch Hill parking lot

We will still be doing trail clearing work at Birch Hill on Tuesday, 11 October starting at 11 a.m. Please let us know if you’ll be able to join us:

Still ski walking in shorts and doing trail work in October

Lola and SCUM on top of Fort Wainwright alpine hill

Every winter in Fairbanks is different although the definite trend has been a shorter and warmer ski season. Last year we were already skiing at Birch Hill on 6 October 2021, but today the Eric and Tim were ski walking with poles in shorts!

Next Tuesday (11 October), the SCUM will be doing tree removal along trails to be used for Junior Nationals beginning at 11 a.m. John Estle will be directing our efforts so please let us know if you can help out for several hours. Bring chainsaws and safety gear (eye, ear, and body protection) if you have them. If not, join those of us who will be moving cut sections of trees off the trails. Everyone should wear ear and eye protection as well as sturdy work gloves.

If you can help, please contact us at:

Our work will make skiing more enjoyable for everyone this winter.

SCUM tidy up trails on the fly

The Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks groomers have been busy removing trees downed by recent wind events so that you can enjoy the Birch Hill trails. In the photo below you can see the freshly sawed trunk of a spruce tree that had fallen across the gate to the Sunnyside trail and sprung up after cutting. As you run, hike, or bike on the Birch Hill trails, cross train by hauling or tossing the debris off the trails before ski season.

Remnant of spruce tree (upper right) that had been lying across the Sunnyside gateway
Bill and Dan heading up FWW ski hill while Bernard strolls back down

Today the SCUM ended their ski walking workout on the Fort Wainwright alpine hill by returning to the stadium via the Sunnyside trail and encountered remains of a large, downed spruce tree on the Outhouse trail. What better cool down than removing debris from the trail? Volunteer trail clearing as a short diversion from your run or bike will make trails better for skiing in winter.

Injured groomer, Bill Husby (with knee brace), leads SCUM in trail maintenance
Dan, the youngster of the group, moves spruce branch from Outhouse corner
Mike moves tree debris

If the SCUM (average age of today’s volunteers was 70 years old) can pause their workouts to do some trail tidying, won’t you help, too?

Mikes and Mom ski walk FWW alpine hill under blue skies

Mikes and Mom on Fort Wainwright alpine hill before our third ascent–photo by Mike Mathers

After training days when we’ve had hazardous wildfire smoke, winds, or persistent showers, temperatures this morning ranged from 56 to 64 with sunny skies and the Alaska Range clearly in view as we descended the hill. SCUM, of course had perfectly legitimate excuses of why they couldn’t join us: (e.g., “fair booth duty for the League of Women voters”, “moving stuff in Portland and painting a room”, “meeting up with relatives for breakfast”, “doctor’s appointment”, “simple cold although I tested negative but in abundance of caution”, “duty (work) calls “). Two young runners did two ascents while we were ski walking our first two, but I think our fun factor was higher.

We missed our wayward SCUM but they missed a perfect day as the three of us had a great workout before we went home to jack up a sauna, insulate an attic, and mow a lawn.

Life is good for the retired SCUM.

Heartrate monitor data showing we actually did three ascents

Gang of nine ski walk Ester Dome

Eight ski walkers on Ester Dome (Jill is not shown because our photographer, Joanna Fox had to rush back to work)

With blue skies and cooler temperatures, 9 SCUM (and friends) showed up to ski walk up Ester Dome yesterday. One month past the summer solstice, we can feel the approaching ski season. Some of us have been training through the unhealthy smoke, but I felt it wasn’t good to encourage others to follow our example:

Dan and Bill halfway through their 4 FWW ascents for the 4th of July

However, some of us had to be out in the smoke, regardless, and we had company:

Moose don’t need ski poles

Just 8 months to train for the 36th Denali State Bank Sonot Kkaazoot. I’m determined to have at least one SCUM finish the 50 km event in 2023.

I think Tim Woster is our best prospect because he’s been doing both weekly SCUM workouts and Christina Turman’s FXC Masters interval workouts this summer. Also, Tim has wisely chosen not to carry rocks up the FWW alpine hill.

Nine ski walkers climb FWW alpine hill today

With the Birch Hill trails officially open for the “dryland” season, the SCUM and friends gathered at 10 a.m. today for our inaugural climbs of the Fort Wainwright (FWW) alpine hill. On a 60 deg morning, this was by far the largest training group to date. I tried to assemble a group photo, but it was only of the early arrivals:

Early arrivals at Birch Hill

because Dermot Cole pulled into the south Birch Hill parking lot exactly at 10 a.m. Thus, Poles took a second group photo of all nine ski walkers:

Nine ski walkers with poles (except for Dermot) —photo by Bill Husby

And we were off, up the Tower Direct trail to Beacon Road. The FWW alpine hill still had some remnant manmade snow from some of the halfpipe jumps. The hill seemed steeper than it was in September, but most of our group did two ascents in just over 12 minutes a climb. We’ll start increasing the repeats so that we do four hill climbs by the 4th of July.

Part of our group finishing their first ascent past the remnant snow from the halfpipe jumps.

It was a glorious day to be outside. We saw Alaska Fire crew and others on the FWW alpine hill and a large group of hikers on the Birch Hill trails as we were returning to the stadium on the Tower Direct. Some of the trails are still wet in places but it’s pretty easy to avoid them.

Crust skiing at Birch Hill on 27 April 2022

Here are a few photographs from our “adventure” ski at Birch Hill this morning. We were treated to a red fox on the Tower Direct, but the only other skiers we saw were Nanooks.

With temperatures dropping just into the low 40s overnight, the crust is not overly firm so light poling and flat skis were essential.

April sunshine on the White Bear–all photos by Joanna Fox
Water damage on the South Tower with bare spot to negotiate without skis

Taking off our skis at the bottom of South Tower was worth the effort, because the climb had remarkable glide, making for a fast ascent.

White Bear has one major water hazard outbound from the Sonot Connector junction but skiing to Hilltop was fun as long as you didn’t bury your poles.

Sonot Junction creek– will need a culvert to divert water from the road before next season
Dermot near Hilltop Junction
Happy SCUM, who all stayed on top of their skis for 7 km of fun this morning

Snowpack & SCUM going down fast

With predicted daytime highs in the 50s, our record snowpack is going down fast. With the pistenbully down and waiting for a part to be trucked from Reno, Tom Helmers has been grooming icy trails with the Sherpa and drag. Although less effective than the pistenbully, this grooming allows skiers with marginal technique to still enjoy the sunshine and fast trail conditions.

Tucking on a downhill (shorter distance to fall) —photo by Dan Johnson
Joanna–photo by Dan Johnson
Bernardo–photo by Dan Johnson
Dr. Dermot Cole (upright and confident) —photo by Dan Johnson

The spring warmth also encourages skiers to seek their own trails through the crust-covered snow, researching stories to inform and educate us.

Dr. Cole investigating a trail less traveled
Why Dermot was missing from the group SCUM photo—photo by Dan Johnson

UAF will be presenting Dermot Cole a Doctor of Humane Letters degree on
Friday, 29 April 2022 in the Davis Concert Hall, beginning at 5 p.m.

Congratulations, Dermot!