to promote non-motorized trails along the Beartooth Front

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A few rules do apply at the Nordic Center to keep skiing enjoyable:  

  • No dogs allowed

  • No snowshoes

  • Please stay off ponds

  • Please pack out your garbage

  • No sledding

  • Do not touch fences (some are electric, ouch!)


“But I don’t want to go fast!” the customer replied to the salesman’s question.

Waxing your skis isn’t always about going fast. Think of it as having more to do with smoooooothness of glide than increasing your speed.

We’ve all been there, the 6” of griptonite growing on the bottom of our skis; the herky jerky forced slide, stop, stick, stumble; working hard to just try sliding, even a little bit, down this darn downhill. Frustrating! Mostly just not fun. The flipside of frustration: kicking and gliding “almost” effortlessly in tune with the rhythm of nature; getting that nice, long controlled runout at the bottom of a hill; or pushing a sustained double pole cadence on the flats. What do the fun ski days have in common? Wax.

Waxing your skis can help squash the frustration bug and enhance the “moment”.  Things just click when it comes to skiing for the sheer joy of being outside on a beautiful winter day. Waxing doesn’t have to be complicated. Although, at every level of the waxing spectrum, the “peg-the-needle-on-the-fun-meter” factor is present or companies wouldn’t be investing millions of dollars to enhance our skiing enjoyment.

Waxing can be as complicated as multi-tier wax box(es), irons, waxes, brushes, flouros, scrapers, thermometers, topcoats, weather forecasts, portable wax benches, predicted snow conditions. Or as simple as the back pocket of your ski pants. The committed citizen racer can have $800-$1000 invested in just the “basics” of “go-fast” waxing. And has committed at least that much in their equipment selection.

“WHOA, Slow Down, I DON”T WANT TO GO FAST, or spend half a mortgage payment! That’s not what I’m after.” said the customer again.


Oh, right, the back pocket, Fun Hog, on a budget, simple approach to ski waxing. Notice I didn’t say “dirtbag”, as budget-minded skiers were once called. (Now that term is reserved for what you purchase at your local garden center to fill the flower boxes on your porch).

Simple “back pocket” or “cold” waxing as it is sometimes called is comprised of a few basic ingredients: the combi brush, the polishing cloth, and the “all important” rub-on wax. Obviously the most important of the ingredients is the wax. Most every wax company worth their “salt” has a wide (universal) temperature range quick, liquid, or paste type wax option in their product line that is applied by “rubbing” it onto/into the ski base and letting it dry. The polishing cloth and brush help with durability.

These products will usually* take care of the less than fun conditions mentioned above; will usually* add to the enjoyment of “the best ski day ever”; and can be purchased for roughly one $50 bill. You can spend more if you want, but hey, we are on a budget and are trying to keep it simple. Did I mention that these products are as easy to use as applying under-arm deodorant!? Dare I say that if you can grate cheese, carrots, or potatoes you can wax your skis? Can you wax your skis at your car, on the trail, or in the warm comfort of your home, she-shed, or man-cave? Absolutely!  It really is just about that simple.

First, take a look at the bases of your skis to see if there are any flagrant dirt violations (note to self: skis are for snow not muddy parking lots, roads, bogs, grass, dirt patches………). If there are, a wet paper towel should suffice to wipe away the grime; let dry completely or take a fresh clean paper towel and dry the bases.  Next, apply your product of choice by rubbing it onto/into the ski bases and give it about ten minutes to dry. On “waxless” ski bases rub in a tip to tail motion on the grip (fish scale) pattern. On the tip and tail (smooth) sections, skate ski bases, and alpine bases you can rub however you want, circles, crisscross, up and down……… GO SKI!

Oh wait, you have a brush and polishing cloth (aka clean, old wash cloth) that you are waiting to use. After letting the wax dry about ten minutes take the felt side of the combi brush and rub/scrub the smooth area of the base rather vigorously. Brush the entire length of the ski base, fish scales too, with the nylon bristles of the combi brush. Polish vigorously the entire ski length with the clean old wash cloth, errr, polishing cloth. Now, GO SKI! The extra five minutes you spend on brushing and polishing is equivalent to what the first 150-200 yards of skiing will do, but gives your wax job durability during the course of your ski day.

You are probably asking yourself, “How often do I have to perform these ski waxing antics?” The correct answer is, “Every time you ski”. In reality though the practice is carried out “Whenever I remember to, or when my skis aren’t sliding very well”. If you make a commitment to waxing your ski bases most every time you go skiing, not “only when desperately needed”, and getting them “hot waxed” a few times during the season at your local shop, you will be on your way to many more enjoyable ski days and extending the life of your ski bases. Not just going fast.

*DISCLAIMER: Approximately 10%-15% of the time it may be easier to just concede and go for a walk/run/hike, bike ride, snowshoe, golfing (OH Gawd!), fishing, road trip, curl up by the fire with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate, or, (insert favorite alternate activity here).

[Mike Dye is co-owner and XC ski shop manager at Sylvan Peak Mtn. Shoppe, Red Lodge].

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“Let’s go over that way,” I say to the dog, pointing at a slight gap in the trees that seems to run for 10 or 20 yards. On this hillside thick with lodgepole, it’s the only direction that’s both relatively flat and wide enough for me to shimmy through.


The dog bounces off through snow in the appropriate direction, as if she’s reading my mind. Or even more than that: as if she’s happy that finally I can read her mind. After so many years of sticking to the boring trails, I am now seeing the forest as she does—not a predefined progression to some distant goal on a map, but as a meander, an exploration, a discovery.


Two things brought about this transformation. First I bought snowshoes. Then, after five years, I figured out how to use them.



I bought snowshoes because I thought they were for walking, when deep snow made walking difficult. You could walk on top of it. Compared to the wooden ones I had as a child in the 1970s, today’s snowshoes are not only tough and lightweight, they’re also tiny. You don’t need a bow-legged gait. You can participate in a winter sport without learning any complicated techniques.


So early on, I walked trails in snowshoes. I exercised my legs while admiring the beauty of the snow, smelling the fresh air, hearing the awesome stillness between each footfall-crunch. It sure beat a treadmill in front of cable news. It was rewarding.


But somehow the snowshoes soon ended up languishing in the garage. I realized the reward I’d felt was only relative to a treadmill. I was finding greater reward in cross-country or telemark skiing, feeling the grace and the speed. I kept thinking I should learn how to ice-skate, to gain the competitive and teamwork rewards of hockey. Meanwhile, I found myself rationalizing, if I was just going to walk, why not walk the plowed streets of town, where I didn’t need any equipment at all.


Finally I remembered the words of my friend Mike, when he sold me the snowshoes. “With these things you can go anywhere,” he said. “You’re not limited to a trail.”


So one day I drove to a popular trailhead and took off in a different direction. Instead of following the creek along the well-trod path to the left, I turned right. Soon I found myself ascending an unfamiliar ridgeline that divided the creek from another place familiar to me, a summer camp. “So that’s how this landscape fits together!” I thought. I’d walked trails around the camp and the trail along the river, but never held the two in the same view. I paused to admire them—and wanted to strike out for more.


Could I find the spot where we took those pictures? Could I approach it from the other side? Could I even move behind it, through an area that in the summertime was too swampy to navigate?


Suddenly I understood the freedom implied in Mike’s words. I was free of the trail. Snow blanketed (and protected) shrubs, twigs, and grasses—which meant that the differences between “trail” and “not-trail” seemed tiny. Furthermore, because my snowshoes left easily discernible tracks to retrace, I had less worry about getting lost.


I could go anywhere. And thus snowshoeing transformed the landscape from a two-dimensional trail-backdrop to a three-dimensional world with an infinity of potential paths. At that moment I came to see snowshoeing as a unique and wonderful sport.


To me, the primary benefit of any outdoor sport has always been the way it enhances your interaction with landscape. You see landscape differently from a bicycle or motorcycle, or on foot, than you do driving. As a hunter you see it more richly, looking for animals. Downhill skiers suddenly appreciate fall lines; kayakers see standing waves. A cliff face means something different to a rock climber, a hang-glider, or me—and each of their views is far more sophisticated than mine


But somehow I’d forgotten that philosophy, and so expected snowshoeing to demonstrate its sportiness through some sort of degree of difficulty: deep snow, hard workout, top-flight equipment, and pleasure at my increased control over hazardous natural conditions. In my ignorance I thought I would master snowshoeing the way I’d progressed from the bunny slopes to the black-diamond runs at the ski resort. But what I found was a route to mastery that more resembled the transition from Alpine to telemark: a change in philosophy. You can free your heel from a binding; you can free your legs from a trail. The only problem comes when you forget your freedoms and give away your power.


The next several times I went snowshoeing, I found myself always starting at a trailhead, attuned to the beaten path. Although I thought I’d learned that I could go anywhere, somehow my car didn’t yet realize it could park anywhere. Nor my feet: I would forget to go in the “wrong” direction, find myself on or paralleling the route I knew best.


But gradually I trained myself in the new philosophy, and riches laid themselves out before me. On old terrain, new views. Behind familiar ridges, new nooks. On old snow, new prints made by deer or moose, the only other creatures to have come up this draw since the last storm.


I now allowed myself to follow those tracks, instead of human ones. I was thinking like an animal. Hell, I was thinking: not merely plodding along a trail but engaged with the landscape as I debated where I wanted to go and how I might get there. This was what the dog saw on every hike. This was why she continually bounded off trail—because she could.


Up hillsides and down into glades: the world was so much bigger than I had realized. I’d been hiking these trails for 20 years, and in some cases I was even starting to get a tiny bit sick of them. Now, I discovered nearby abandoned logging roads, foresters’ fuel-reduction slash piles, impenetrable deep canyons cast in daylong shadows—all within a few hundred yards of those landscapes I thought I knew.


This new sport felt to me like exploring. I felt a camaraderie with 16th century seafarers Columbus and de Gama and Vespucci, the heroes of my youth. At first following familiar routes, they’d veered off toward an unfamiliar horizon.


We realize today that calling the results of their expeditions “discoveries” is unfair to the people who had long inhabited those lands. Still, to the expeditionists, the wonder of discovery must have been profound. I know it has been—continues to be—for me, whenever I put on snowshoes and discover vast new worlds in lands I thought I had already long inhabited.


[John Clayton is a BRTA board member and author of several books. For more information, visit[


A few rules do apply at the Nordic Center to keep skiing enjoyable:  

  • No dogs allowed

  • No snowshoes

  • Please stay off ponds

  • Please pack out your garbage

  • No sledding

  • Do not touch fences (some are electric, ouch!)