Embracing Winter: How Do You Do It?

Last week I foolishly opened my mouth about the Winter That Never Was here in the Wasatch. Fittingly, I woke up yesterday to half a foot of snow with the white stuff falling fast. Fast forward a couple hours and a foot of fresh festooned the foothills of the Wasatch Back. With more snow on the way in the coming days, my trail running (at least from home) is done for the next month or two. What to do?

No, seriously, what do you do when winter intrudes up your trail running turf?

If you keep running, do you live in an area where you can keep the trails open by running through the snow or do you rely on machine grooming, whether for Nordic skiing tracks or by snowmobiles? How about giving in and heading onto *gasp* the roads for your runs for a couple months?

Do you add in or switch over to another outdoor endurance sport? If so, what’s your pick: Nordic skiing (classic or skate?), snowshoeing (trekking or running?), backcountry skiing/skimo, snowbiking, or maybe something else entirely?

Perhaps you end up spending time indoors on the dreadmill, some other exercise equipment, or indoor track? Do tell.

In just the past few weeks, us trail and ultra running folks have seen our kind show how it’s done in winter. For example, Kilian Jornet just won the European Skimo Championships while Mike Wolfe won the US Winter Triathlon National Championship. A bit further back, Luke Nelson won the US Skimo National Championships. That’s getting it done in the off season!

If you’ve been out and about in wintry conditions this season, please share your tales and pics. As much as I’ll miss running the trails, I’ve had some fabulous wintertime adventures (i.e., TransYellowstone Snowshoe, Yosemite Hut-to-Hut Snowshoe, and failed TransYosemite Snowshoe) and look forward to many more!

Bison and Electric Peak in a Yellowstone winter.

Bison and Electric Peak during a Yellowstone winter snowshoe adventure. Photo: Bryon Powell

There are 74 comments

  1. Roger Soto

    Anyone can give a little explanation on all those types of skiing you are mentioning? I should know all of them but the names are just confusing me… (sorry, other side of the pond here, and more used to french names ;-) )


      1. Bryon Powell

        I'm no skier, but would the following also apply?
        Backcountry (general) – ski de randonnée
        I'm pretty sure that ski mountaineering is ski mountaineering with possible local variation on spelling. :-)

  2. JKal

    Roland, a well waxed classic ski is almost nearly as fast as a skate ski. The wax pocket is held up off the snow by the camber of the ski. Downhills on classic skis can be more of a rush than skating because you usually try to stay locked in those fast tracks!!!

    And, yes, the barrier is often waxing adn equipment. Skiing is very $$ and time intensive. Technique can make or break it being fun.

    A perfect day xc skiing beats a perfect day trail running any day in my book. BUT, those days only happen about 15-20 days all winter. Perfect running conditions can happen 7 days/week all year round in many locales!!

      1. Roger Soto



        – XC = Crosscountry = Nordic and then two styles, skating and classic (I suppose classic is when you can only move your feet forward and not to the sides)

        – Then skimo = ski mountaneering = rando

        I've learned vocabulary today!

        In andorra, in winter, I run in the snow, actually it's quite easy, snow here is very wet and it snows less, then it gets packed fast. when its too soft sometimes i run in the ski slopes with a pair of microspikes (that i bought online from the states, they are not yet here!)

  3. JKal

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMEN. thanks for staying out of that track. Now if we can get more people to be as polite as you and keep their DOGS out of those tracks we'll all be happy skiers.

  4. Sam Winebaum

    Totally Jkal. Nothing like a well waxed classic ski on firm but not icy tracks on what is called a hard wax day: blue or special blue conditions. That kind of waxing is easy. For dicer conditions have you tried the new Atomic Skintec no wax skis? Comes with 2 snap in skins. If fitted right supposed to have great grip and glide.

    1. JKal

      ahhhhhh yes Sam. Blue extra and -6C with sun…. PERFECT. Have not tried the new "skintec" skis. Too $$$, will stick with my klister skis with some of the fluoro based hard waxes like VR55/VR60. Had a GREAT, AMAZING ski on melted/refrozen slush in solid track yielding super fast glide with monster kick. Skintec skis only seem to work with new falling wet snow in solid tracks where its 29-31 degrees F. This is such a small niche type condition that i'm not spending $$ on one pair of skis to match it!! I'll run on a day like that!! Do you have a pair?

      1. Sam Winebaum

        Skintec are wildly expensive indeed and hard to find. Haven't tried but a sports shop has a demo pair in Park City. Now I am getting antsy to ski. Was planning on running the groomers with Bryon P Thursday but maybe I will ski 'em and try… to give him.. a lesson…

    2. Roland

      JKal – I have done and continue to do a lot of nordic ski testing at the highest levels (world and national). A properly waxed/proper flex classic ski for the conditions is no where near as fast as an equivalent skating ski. Now, perhaps we need to put a calibration on that: a 1-2% difference in gliding speed is huge in this very competitive sport. A skating ski done properly will typically be 2-3% faster than an equivalent classic ski. It does not sound like much but it can make all the difference and is why nordic ski teams have techs that travel with them. The Norwegian team has a staff of about 15-20 and a fully fitted mobile waxing facility (converted commercial euro-bus). Check out Zach Caldwell's wedsite (http://www.caldwellsport.com) for some interesting articles on ski speed and waxing.

      I am lucky to live in an area with over 200 km of daily groomed ski trails where we ski from mid-Nov until well into late April (and last year into May).

      Sam – I have tried the Atomic Skintec, they work but just like the Fischer zeros and the Salomon equivalents they are a bit slower than a waxed ski. However, on a "zero day" they are hard to beat and they come in handy when you just want to get out and not have to go through a 3 or 4 layer waxing procedure. I keep them in the quiver and use them about 6 or 7 times a year.

      1. Sam Winebaum

        Thanks for insights on Skintec Roland. For those not into the waxing it's not so bad most days. Kind of a mental puzzle on some days and sort of a comforting ritual. You do learn and can pick the right kick wax most days just by feeling the air and snow without a thermometer. Other days, wel,l Skintec or other no wax classics would be the solution. I guess skate has become more popular in part as it eliminates the kick wax calculation.

      2. JKal

        roland, that's why i used the word "nearly" as fast. 1-3% slower sounds about right to me. Was out skiing with a friend last week – me on classic skis (green kick for less drag on a cold day) and my buddy on skate skis. I outglided him on downhills. Yes, I totally agree with all your numbers at the world cup level though. The world cup guys live and die by glide – 1% difference making or breaking a podium finish with 30th place. Definitely. As for Zach Caldwell's site I know it well – he's top notch. For the average guy though, a properly waxed classic ski can be REAL fast. I feel sorry for the newbie skier on CHEAP low grade waxless skis with no glide. That's just plain old no fun.

        Roland, where are you? Who are you waxing/testing for? Boulder Nordic? Do you know Chris Miller?

        1. JKal

          and I forgot to add, this is precisely why i am more into running than skiing as i age. I don't have the time/energy/$$ to XC ski race and train like I used to. Back in the day it was 5 pair of skate skis, 4 pair of classic skis, new boots, new poles ($280 alone) … travel every weekend to a ski race, entry fees, travel to other states to race (Birkie) etc. These days I'm content to just go out the door and ski … or if its not nice conditions, run.

          I simply like putting on the running shoes and heading out the door. Wish I didnt live where we get 150 inches of snow a year … Flagstaff …. here i come.

  5. JKal

    that's exactly how i got started too Sam. XC runner converted to XC skiing by the skiers on the running team. Until i learned the technique they could all absolutely destroy me. But, once technique is mastered it correlates very well with your running ability. Interesting that some who are not "elite" runners can be so at running. My college room-mate was a state champ 800m and 1600m runner – also an elite level XC skier, winning and ncaa relay championship.

    1. Sam Winebaum

      Great example of a 3 sport college athlete now all running: Ben True who went to Dartmouth. He was an all American in XC run, nordic ski, and track. Just running now and US Road 10K and I think 15K champ in 2011. Another recent Dartmouth grad who excels on the run and on skis: Glenn Randall recent winner of Pike's Peak ascent. For me still prefer the classic over skate any day especially those blue wax days. This winter having a hard time shifting to skiing. Been running the multi use "groomers" in Park City now that the snow is finally here.

  6. Jay

    HAHA. I was going to make the same comment to Bryon: Move to Boulder. :)

    And indeed Anton does usually get first tracks, though he's taken to some unorthodox routes, so I don't think his tracks benefit as many of us anymore.

  7. Cody Hanson

    Backcountry Skiing!

    Snow Mountain Biking!

    Snow Angel Making!


    Snow Ball Throwing! (intervals)

    The possibilities are endless!

  8. zeke

    I live near aspen co and do a fair bit of training running up the ski mountains. Not sure if park city allows that, but it feels just like trail running only softer on the way down. Running the cat trails down is a little lower angle for the decent. Snow mobile tracks are also good.

  9. StephenJ

    I live in the mountains outside Park City. The San Rafael swell is 4 hours away, which makes it suitable for a day trip. Yesterday was shorts and tee shirt weather and absolutely gorgeous. Today I went telemark skiing at the resort, hoping for a powder day. Later today I will go search for some freshies around the neighborhood or run on the snow packed roads.

    I telemark ski at the resort with my kids. I spend enough time away for them running in the summer. It's not a real workout, but at least telemarking works the legs kind of the same way as running downhill does.

    Bryon – You live in Park City. The backcountry touring Wasatch mountains is the winter is a whole other experience. There's nothing like a nice 6 hour ski tour to the top of something special like Box Elder peak or the Coalpit Headwall, followed by the trill of ripping down the best snow in the world.

  10. JKal


    from 1:20 to 1:40 you can watch them going up a hill with skis obscured by something. Looks just like running. Also the first 30 seconds of the video is a hill so steep they are just running up it on skis without glide. Bryon you should really give classic skiing a try in the winter – your area has some amazing trails and snow for classic.

  11. dave

    I'm in Calgary, where the variation can be pretty extreme – -30C and two feet of snow, followed by a chinook that takes us up to +10C and melts almost everything into a shiny sheet of ice, followed by another plunge into the deep freeze. If it stays cold there's lots of x-country skiing, on the local golf courses or in Kannanaskis or Banff. This year it hasn't stayed cold; my run yesterday was at +1C on four inches of new snow that was mostly gone at the end.

    So for running, there's the road and multiple layers. And before you scoff, consider that the side of the road is rutted, partly-packed snow on ice, covered with a mix of slush, gravel and chunks of ice. Its slippery, very uneven and wet: a lot like running on a wet trail covered with sand, with roots thrown in for fun, all on top of a teflon skillet, with very large hunks of steel racing by. It makes me miss trail running, but typically because trail running is both less work and less scary.

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