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Intrepid cross-country skier gets in shape for the backcountry

Intrepid cross-country skier gets in shape for the backcountry

The day before Thanksgiving

Ty Belknap

On the day before Thanksgiving, I was clicking into my cross-country skis while my son waited for his friends at the parking lot of Sandia Ski Area. If they didn’t show up to go snowboarding, he would have to go skiing with me. Most kids would rather eat bugs than cross-country ski. There is something inherently nerdy about it.

The friends arrived, pierced and surly-looking, with some half-baked plan about driving up to the service road above the ski area, building jumps to practice their 360s and flips, then hiking to the top of the ski area, riding their boards down, and hitching a ride back up the mountain.

They politely refused my offer to provide a shuttle, so I started skiing up the bunny slopes to the Crest, figuring we’d meet up somewhere along the way. Despite a foot of early snowfall, the ski area wouldn’t open for several weeks. It lay empty like an abandoned factory, recreationists plugged into some other form of entertainment until the ski industry resumed operations.

It didn’t take long to realize that I was having no fun huffing and puffing my way up the hill. Maybe my summer fitness program was inadequate or maybe I just need to buy some “skins” to get better traction. A few clumsy telemark turns later, I was driving my car to familiar trails further up the mountain. The boys had left their truck just below where we had parted company and were gone. It seemed to me that I had been ditched.

My tracks were the third set on the trail. The woods were quiet beneath fast-moving clouds that spread sunshine around like a kaleidoscope. The overlook at the Kiwanis Cabin was completely socked in with fog, and it was starting to snow.

I was thinking about the time I jumped ship on my old man to start racing on a faster sailboat with my friends. Maybe raising kids right means you’re eventually going to get ditched.

Skiing down delivered the pure solitary joy of the return of winter. The boys’ truck was still there, but I couldn’t find them. I put a note on their windshield saying I was going home and drove back to Placitas through Las Huertas Canyon.

The road was a bit unkempt with quite a few trees downed by the early snow. At least the snow had not yet yet been packed to ice, and there were only a few other drivers to contend with. I stopped near the Sandia Man cave to watch snowmelt drip into the creek under the now clear blue skies.

At home I took one of those drooling, slack-jawed naps that keep a driver from falling asleep at the wheel. My wife interrupted me and sent me on Signpost errands in the mean preholiday streets of town, where traffic was backed up from I-25 to Rio Rancho. The last errand was to pick up ad copy at McCole’s Pub and await instructions about picking up my son. It sure was fun boring the other customers with my story about the day’s amazing transitions.

The sun was setting through my glass of India Pale Ale when my son called to say he wouldn’t need a ride home from town. (Good thing!) They had completed their half-baked mission exactly as planned, read my note on the windshield, and done it all again.

 

Preparing for winter driving

AAA New Mexico

Because more crashes involving property damage occur during the winter months than at any other time, AAA New Mexico encourages motorists to be prepared for adverse conditions as the weather turns cold.

"In 2002, sleet and snow contributed to more than 205,000 reported crashes," said Brenda Yager, AAA New Mexico’s public and government affairs manager. "Many of these could have been avoided by adequate preparation for winter driving."

AAA New Mexico recommends motorists follow these simple guidelines to get ready for winter driving:

  • Make sure the battery and charging system are in good condition. Cold weather places high demands on vehicle electrical systems.
  • Have the brakes inspected, and check that they apply smoothly and evenly to help prevent wheels from locking when the roads get slippery.
  • Equip the vehicle with snow tires, which have 30 percent deeper tread than standard tires. Keep the tires properly inflated. The air pressure in tires will drop one to two pounds per square inch for every ten-degree drop in outside temperature. Underinflation can reduce traction and damage tires.
  • Choose narrow tires over wide tires for the best snow traction. Wide tires "float" on top of snow, while narrow tires cut through it for better traction.
  • Make sure the engine coolant provides adequate anti-freeze protection. A fifty-fifty mixture of antifreeze and water provides protection to -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34 degrees Celsius).
  • Visibility is very important in adverse weather conditions. Replace wipers that streak the windshield, and consider using winter wiper blades that have rubber covers to prevent snow and ice buildup from impairing effectiveness. Fill the windshield-washer reservoir with an antifreeze washer solvent.
  • Keep the gas tank at least half full at all times to minimize condensation that can lead to gas-line freeze-up.
  • Carry a winter driving kit for use in the event of an emergency. The kit should include tire chains (if legal in the area driven), a small bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter), a small snow shovel, a snow brush, traction mats, a flashlight with new batteries, window washing solvent, an ice scraper, a cloth or roll of paper towels, jumper cables, a blanket, warning devices (flares or triangles), a charged cellular phone, drinking water, a pair of gloves, and extra clothes.

Safe winter driving isn't only about preparing your car for winter storms: preparing yourself can be just as important. "Because the task of driving is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, a prepared driver is as essential as a prepared vehicle," says Yager. "Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter-driving tasks reduces driving risks and helps prepare the driver for emergency situations."

2004 Winter Driving Fact Sheet

1. There are three ps in winter driving: prepare, protect, and prevent. Prepare by maintaining your vehicle and having emergency supplies on hand. Protect yourself and your children with proper restraints. Prevent crashes by slowing down, keeping your eyes open, and avoiding drugs, alcohol, and fatigue. 

2. In 2002, 837 people were killed in vehicle crashes related to snow and sleet conditions. 

3. Property crash rates are higher during the winter months—an average of 179 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2002. 

4. In 2002, forty-five thousand people were injured in vehicle crashes related to snow and sleet conditions. 

5. Tires that are designed for extreme snow conditions have specific tread patterns and are made out of a different material than all-season tires. These tires are designated with M/S, M & S, or M+S, and are accompanied by a mountain-snowflake symbol. 

6. Injury rates are higher during the winter months—an average of seventy crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2002. 

7. More crashes do not occur during winter storms, but actually when it isn't snowing. Drivers are less cautious during nice weather, creating more crashes than when the weather is adverse. 

8. Heavy snowfall and blizzards can trap motorists in their vehicles when traveling. Walking away from your vehicle to look for help in a blizzard can be a deadly decision. 

9. Automobile or other transportation accidents are the leading cause of death during winter storms, which can be deceptive killers. 

10. Keep an emergency winter kit in each vehicle your family drives. Items should include several blankets or sleeping bags, rain gear, extra newspapers for insulation, plastic bags for sanitation, canned fruit or food that doesn't require an electric can opener, several bottles of water, cans of broth or soup, a small shovel, a knife, small tools, a first-aid kit, and a brightly colored cloth for the antenna.

 

 

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