About Michael

I am running, skiing, and exploring the Sierra Nevada. I first learned to ski at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, I returned to Los Angeles to work for two fire seasons on the Little Tujunga Hotshot Crew (USFS). This is my second winter in Tahoe.

Long-Distance Cycling Hijinks

I like to combine business with pleasure, which is why I started planning a cycling route down to Loomis/Rocklin immediately after signing up for the Sierra College Community Education BasicRider course for new and aspiring motorcyclists. (Or is that combining pleasure with pleasure? I am not sure.) I had a full day on Friday to get from Truckee to Rocklin, and I figured the net elevation loss was a good way to balance the high miles. It’s still a long day though.

From Truckee to my overnight destination at Rattlesnake Bar in Folsom State Rec Area (near Newcastle), it was 80 miles. Climbing Donner Pass Road from the start is nice because you know that if you make, you can do the rest of the ride. (Corollary: If you cannot make it to Sugar Bowl, you definitely can’t do it.) As they say, “It’s all downhill from here.” By the way, they are almost lying when they say that. It’s a rule for life.

I had a couple of hiccups on the way down. First, Google Maps for Bikes gave me the notion that I could ride a bicycle on I-80 from Cisco Grove to Magra Rd. in Gold Run. As a friendly CHP officer let me know, cyclists should exit WB 80 at Baxter and take Baxter Rd. to Alta Bonnynook to Ridge Rd. Those roads are much nicer than 80 anyway. Not that 80 is dangerous or anything. The shoulder is huge and most people are on their best behavior. Narrow country roads worry me more because the shoulders are non-existent and blind turns are common. However, they don’t typically have much traffic except for a very few locals.

Later when I passed Rollins Lake and went up Norton-Grade, the directions sent me “towards” Narrow Gauge Rd. The access was down into a pretty steep ravine and really suited for a strong mountain biker, not a fully weighted touring cyclist. It’s a good thing to keep in mind for future trips though. If Google is telling you to go towards something without actually giving a road name for the right of way to that something, it’s a red flag.

After pushing hard up the hill I was seriously in need of some calories, preferably hot calories. I landed in historic Colfax at Main St. Pizza and ordered the large plate of penne pesto. When they came back to refill my water after 15 minutes, I paid the bill, told them thanks, and left immediately. It was a priceless moment. The inability to chill somewhere and take in the scene for more than a few minutes is the cost of seeing so much in one day.

The rest of the ride was really fun. The temps were getting cooler as I dropped in elevation. The last stretch of the ride on Auburn-Folsom Road is the first part with real agricultural activity that I could see. Plus, there is a really nice 500′ drop in the last mile of Auburn-Folsom Rd. before Shirland Tract/Rattlesnake Rd.

Although I was seriously considering a climb back up to Truckee, probably spread over Sunday evening and Monday, I got a little bit discouraged after looking at the return ride as I rode down. I got a ride from a Zimride member for just $20. That might be the cost of peanut butter and jelly supplies for the ride back up so I am not complaining. The map down is linked below. If you have never tried touring, it’s the way to go!

Finally, I am leaving the Far West Farm Team and the Tahoe area. It’s been a really fun 2 1/2 years and I really hope to come back soon. It’s incredible that I spent 19 years in Southern California without ever realizing that there is such a great community here. And my family was a recreational Nordic family too! We went to Yosemite and the Mammoth area when I was growing up, but never Tahoe. With a little good fortune, I can stay on the west coast and visit and/or race occasionally. I want to thank Far West Nordic for this great opportunity. The Farm Team has traveled far and wide in it’s first few years and it has a promising future.

Bicycle map from Truckee to Rattlesnake Bar:


Some electronic music from Mophono:

Redemption at Mammoth Marathon

It has taken me awhile to learn how to ski marathons. Last year, I thought that drinking some HEED from my drinkbelt would give me adequate calories for the 42km distance. Not so much. I was hurting by the time I reached about the 30km mark and I did not even come close to finishing strong. I learned that a bottle of HEED has about 100 calories depending on its strength. I did much better at the Gold Rush a couple weeks later, which was also held in warm spring conditions.

This year, I packed 3 GU packets along with my HEED. I took every feed that I passed by and I did much better. I managed to cram down 3 GUs in one lap which was a little much but I felt good enough to drop my drinkbelt and lose the weight for the last 2 laps. The aggressive feeding worked wonders for me. Even skiing on my own, I was pretty confident through the end, except for the banked S-turns. I could not risk an ugly fall here with my reflexes getting slower and slower.

The conditions were a little bit easier than last year. Although a fresh snow fall slowed the overall times somewhat, the last half of the race did not feature rapid changes from slick cold snow to suctioning warm slush like last year. Hitting the brakes in every warm spot was truly the last straw. If I have a bad race, it’s a great motivator for the next year.

Far West Nordic has two epic point-to-point races in the next weeks. The Tahoe Rim Tour will run from Tahoe XC to Northstar XC this coming Saturday. Find some fishscales or klister and get out for our longest classic race, or hop in the skate or snowshoe division. Anyone with a love for snow travel can do it without competing hard. The local race season concludes at the Village at Squaw Valley. It’s short (3.2 miles) and sweet (uphill). If you haven’t skied corduroy at Squaw High Camp before the alpine skiers arrive, you have not really lived in Tahoe.

Cold, Fast Conditions in Late March? Sure Why Not . . .

I sometimes get worried if I feel strong the day before a race (or the morning of a race) because then I have been known to fall apart during the race. Likewise, feeling off before a race makes me think that I be back on top of the Wheel of Fortune when the start gun goes off. I don’t like being superstitious, but there it is.

I felt great in training yesterday at Tahoe XC and, contrary to my superstition, I felt great in today’s 10km at Royal Gorge. The gravity assistance helps too, but I felt very smooth on a course that features long stretches of hard-work V2. The course had enough snow to slow things down on the hard corners (a big plus for me) and I had some great wax as well.

Afterwards I got lost in the Palisade Peak trail area of Royal Gorge with Peter Hanson, a great help with the Incline H.S. team. Usually we can handle a post-race ski without too much trouble, but apparently that did not hold today. It was worth every calorie.

I think I can let go of my pre-race superstitions . . . until they are confirmed in a couple of months ;)

Race Season is On!

It’s pretty obvious to anyone who has been shoveling the last few days that our winter is back on. This is the point in the ski season when it is sort of difficult to motivate for training and racing. On the other hand, conditions are great and the next 4 weeks of racing feature some really fun events. Paraphrasing my college coach, “Everyone will drive 15 hours North to find snow in December. When they have great conditions on their front doorstep in March, they don’t bother to get on the snow.” It’s really true though.

Maybe just pick two races to do instead of doing all four. Focus on technique. Do some adventure skiing somewhere new (up the fiberboard freeway maybe?) The race today was a great return to our usual winter conditions, and the good base makes the next month very promising.

I hope to see some busy ski trails!

9,000-Strong Nordie Showdown

A few days ago I returned from my first trip out to the American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wisconsin. The experience of skiing on such cold and dry snow was something to behold. Even when the West Coast does get a nice storm (as we are now) it’s rare for the snow to come so dry. I am not sure if this is purely a function of the temperature during snowfall, or if Sierra snow always comes down wetter due to the humid air coming directly off the Pacific.

In any case, this is one event that every Nordic should do at least once in their career. The northern Midwest has a tradition of Nordic skiing that I have not seen anywhere else. There are about 9,000 participants in all the events (54km skate, 50km classic, 23km skate, 23km classic) and most of those are from the Midwest. That says something about the popularity of Nordic skiing in the Midwest, but there is more! When you drive to one of a few massive parking lots for a shuttle to the start, you can hear about the course conditions from the local experts in North America’s only known sportscast for a Nordic ski event.

I was lucky enough to start in the elite wave with about 200 other men. Those spots fill up quickly. Once they are full it’s a done deal and there is not any way to get in. Even you don’t think of yourself as “fast,” always apply for a better wave start. The Birkie recognizes Great Ski Race results as valid because of the large field. If you have any racing ability at all, you need to get moved out of the last Wave 10 up to somewhere in Waves 1-6, depending on ability.

I had a relatively slow start but I was quick to catch up with a pack of fairly quick guys. Drafting off of fast skiers on the downhills is critical since the course loses 1400′ in elevation from start to finish. The high point is at 13km but the first 22km does not have any enormous net loss or gain and then the course takes a series of long rolling downhill until 38km.

I stayed with my pack of guys finishing around 100th place until about 44km or so. I didn’t get truly get dropped from the pack of 10 but the pack continued to spread out more and more. Once I got to Lake Hayward I had used up a lot of energy and I just had a hard time keeping my pace up in the headwind. There is about 500 meters going down Main Street in Hayward but aside from that the final 3.5km is all on the lake and it is tougher than any hill on the course. I lost a lot here. Even if you have lost places coming up on the lake, a racer has to pull it together for the lake and draft on someone to be successful.

I finished in 128th overall and 120th among men. Frankly, I was fairly confident I could place in the top 100, so it is a little bit disappointing. Many of the other skiers in my travel group pointed out that the race is extremely tactical because of all the drafting and that Birkie experience counts for a lot. What does that mean? I need to come back next year, naturally.

I have posted a photo from the middle of the race. I am not sure of the exact location. I made a point of posing for the camera while recovering in the finishers pen and if I can find the picture on the interwebs I will have up here on the blog.

This race is not one to miss. Ask a Birkie finisher for some advice if you decide to go this. It’s a complicated race to train for and plan for, but it is well worth the effort.

The frost beard begins to grow.

Birkie Fever is Alive in Minneapolis

Wyatt and I just arrived in the Minneapolis home of Aaron Blazar’s parents. I skied with Aaron during my first (slightly embarassing) year of ski racing with Colby College. The next year Aaron was my assistant coach under Tracey Cote.

The Blazars make an annual tradition of hosting Colby skiers on their way to the American Birkebeiner running from Cable to Hayward in Wisconsin. The cast of characters from Nordic past is deep and wide, including everyone from the class of 2004 (Colin Reuters) to class of 2012 (Jeremy Blazar). Altogether we have about six mules staying with the Blazars and another few who are coming to the race and might be seen at the finish line, or maybe in the bar next to the finish line. It’s a fine distinction. Needless to say this is the finest college reunion I could hope for.

As for the race, there is snow falling tonight and maybe some more tomorrow. The start temps are slated to start around 10 F which is a relief since last started at -3 F or thereabouts. I could maybe do that when I trained in New England but since adapting to California that kind of race start doesn’t sound too inspiring. I don’t think there will be enough snow to make things really punchy which is also a help. Of course, racers in the last few waves will have very difficult snow conditions regardless. 9,000 skiers snowplowing across Wisconsin farm country does not make for a level trail. The trail at the back of the 54km race has been described as a narrow bowling lane with piles of sugar on each side. A challenge for anyone but not something to relish. I am fortunate to have the support of Swix for my early starting berth and Wyatt was offered his berth by Fischer.

I am thrilled to be here representing Far West Nordic at the Birkie. We will keep FW in the loop with some results, photos, and stories of victory and triumph. I am not sure sure how the stories will turn out, but there will be stories.

Allen Bard Classic

Michael Collins and Kara LaPoint start 20km race

With the 52km Birkie coming up in less than three weeks, it’s really important to get some longer distance races under my belt. That’s been a tricky thing this year with so many races postponed or canceled altogether. The Allen Bard Classic fit the bill and it completely wiped me out. I have done plenty of easy over distance workouts around 2.5 – 3 hours and about one specific strength (double pole) workout per week but somehow that didn’t prepare me for an hour of nearly continuous high tempo double poling. (Weird huh?) Result are up here.

The gym in which we stayed at Mammoth H.S. was a lot like the weight room where we stayed last year for the Mammoth Marathon . . . with one exception. The gym has virtually unlimited space for games, and comes with a full complement of basketballs, volleyballs, tennis balls, the big blue medicine ball for physical therapy, and maybe some other things I forgot about. This means that when ski training and bouldering are done with, there is still a nice space for just about any game you can think. So what did I learn on this trip? (1) Do more strength. (2) Juniors never, ever stop playing, no matter what the laws of physics would tell you.