This has been the fourth weekend in a row where I've gotten in big skis in at Waterville Valley followed by epic trail rides the next day. The weather and conditions have played nicely into big cardio weeks. I've been averaging 12+ hours per week of fairly rigorous work, including running, riding and skiing. The bitter cold has actually helped matters out. It preserves the skimpy snow base at Waterville and lets the folks at Weston build at deep man-made base. The frigid weather also keeps the local trails firm and frozen.
On Saturday, our five-man posse hit the north end trails at Waterville. Fortunately the wind was calm this time with the temp in single-digits. No snow in a week meant firm trails. The snow was not fast though. It rarely is when it is that cold out. It was a green wax day for sure.
With sluggish snow, we hit the Tripoli Rd climb first, an 800ft ascent, to get it out of the way. Pacelining to the base of the climb, Brett relinquished the lead for me to set pace up Tripoli. Nobody likes to set pace on skis. If people stay on your heels, you think you are going too slow. It messes with your head.
Even though my skate technique still needs a lot of work, I don't suck as badly going up, just like on the bike. It is a VOmax thing. Tripoli has several very steep pitches, including one at the bottom. I started moderately hard. The grade relaxes for a bit. I V2'd fairly hard until I had to V1 up the wall in the middle. By this point, the group was split into onesies spanning a couple minutes on the climb. I'm evil like that.
Brett was the first to summit behind me. In between gasps, he blurted "I hope you're wrecked for the rest of the day!" Funny how athletic friends inflict pain on each other and then the recipients hope the instigators implode from unleashing pain. I thought uh-oh, we're skiing three hours, and these slow twitch guys will probably bury me in the last hour and show no mercy. I also took it as a challenge.
Brett approaching Thornton Gap, the summit of Tripoli Rd. Purdy, eh?
The Tripoli descent was awful, probably the coldest descent ever for me. I developed an excruciating icecream headache I could not stop. Wearing only an ear band on my head that saturated with sweat on the climb no doubt was a factor.
We hit the modest Osceola climb next, then a lap around Moose Run before crossing over to the Livermore Rd side. The group came all together again at the summit of Upper Snow's, where all of our waters were frozen about 2hrs into the ski. We decided to split paths at this point, as I wanted to go all the way down before coming back up over Cascade. Two planned to hit Cascade on the way down, two were just going down and back to the Nordic center.
Bill, Dave, Brett and Keith at summit of Snow's Mtn trying to coerce slush out of bottles
I still felt pretty good heading up again. I expected to bonk on Cascade, but didn't. I was going on three hours skiing time and drank only 3/4 of a water bottle before it froze and ate two granola bars. I never used to be able to survive on so little. I see this as quantitative evidence that my skiing economy has improved significantly in the last year or two. I think there are three factors behind this. One is I've been running two years now. I think this delays fatigue on the skis. My hips certainly hurt less after a long ski. Another is I continue to increase the amount of core work and stretching I do year-round 2-3x per week. This includes push-ups, sit-ups and a number of stretches involving glutes, hamstrings, ITB and calves. And finally, even though I did very little rollerski work this fall, I target very specific weaknesses. These were committing to each leg and double-pole work to strengthen abs and triceps. Keith noted during our ski that I still avoid full commitment to my left ski and thus don't glide on a flat ski. A flat ski is a fast ski. I'm still giving up some economy there. There will always be room for improvement.
Thornton Gap across the valley from summit of Snow's Mtn
I plan to do the Rangeley Lakes Loppet in March. It is a fairly tame course. With so many top tier masters skiers in New England, a podium finish is still a long stretch, but some day maybe my technique will catch up to my fitness and good things will happen. I hope we get good conditions. I'd love to take a good chunk out of the three hour mark at Rangeley. I did Rangeley in 2:44 one year, but the course was around 48km, just shy of 50km.
Back to Waterville. I finished my longest ski so far this season with 51km on the Garmin in about 3.3 hours. I finished strong, but I was completely tapped out when I got back to the Nordic center. Sometimes I wonder what true skiing distance is. I know on a bike, the Garmin can trail a wired odometer by 10% or more on off-road terrain. Did I really ski 55km? Probably not. Ski trails are not as tight and twisty as singletrack, which causes errors, but I'm sure the Garmin missed at least a kilometer or two.
Sunday was almost a repeat day weather-wise. The snow just south of my house is nearly gone. Only ice remains in a few places where foot/bike traffic packed snow down into ice. I saw a group had ridden a variant of a loop on Saturday I call "C-towns" (for Chelmsford, Concord and Carlisle). That is less than 30 minutes away and looked like a good match for the day.
I mounted up studs on my Racer-X dualie. Normally I would not ride a nice bike in the winter for fear of salt trashing it, but it was supposed to stay below freezing and there was so little snow left along the roads anyway.
I parked at Russell Mill. At first I thought wow, I wasted 30 minutes mounting studs. Then once I got into the singletrack, it was almost all ice. I met a rider on his way out who did not have studs. He was pulling the plug on trying to ride there. As I headed south, there was less and less snow/ice. There were icy stretches here and there on the rail trails, something you could finesse without studs, but I was glad to have them and ride with reckless abandon.
Typical trail condition at Russell Mill
My goal was to ride a comfortable tempo pace for 3-4 hours. I cut through Estabrook, a conservation area I still haven't figured out and always seemed to get turned around in when I ride without a GPS track. Today was no exception. I reacquainted myself with how poorly carbide tipped tires grip baby head rocks on top of glacial eskers. I'd much rather ride on black ice with studs.
Threading the needle in Thanksgiving Forest in Chelmsford
I completed the loop by swinging through the western portion of Great Brook. The whole Acorn Loop is open now, the first time in what, two years? Lack of snow/rain I think has brought the beaver dam backstop levels down. I finished with 37.2mi in 3.6hrs on the Garmin. I forgot to put a sensor magnet on the wheel. I likely rode 40 miles. I hate not getting full credit for my rides. At least the timing is accurate. Another back-to-back ski-bike weekend, seven hours of rigorous aerobic effort, 6000ft of climbing, with brilliant skies.