Friday, 24 January 2014

Avalanche Update for Western Newfoundland

 by Keith and Heather Nicol
I have gotten some avalanche updates from some people that have been traveling around in various places in
Carry the right gear
Gros Morne Park and it seems like there has been some avalanche activity in that area fairly recently. One report is from Gerald Murrin who lives in Pouch Cove near St. John’s and he emailed me that he has just recently bought all the avalanche safety gear (shovel, probe and beacon) even though he is the only snowmobiler he has seen that has bought this equipment.  He told me that he had never seen an avalanche until his last trip to Gros Morne on January 16th when he saw two in an area that would normally be thought to be quite safe. He writes” At first I felt a little foolish spending so much money on avalanche gear most will say you will never need, especially in NL, then last week on the 16th in Gros Morne, I saw two decent sized avalanches! First time I've seen one in NL, let alone two together! I immediately felt better about my purchase! The co-ordinates of the slides are N 49 degrees 43.080'  W057 degrees 33.625' . The co ordinates are at the bottom of the hill, and from looking at my GPS, it appears that there is a creek underneath the location of both slides which is normally snow covered with no sign of water flowing underneath. I will attach a few photos. Sorry they are not better detailed, but you can see where the slab broke away at the top, and the path they traveled. I seemed to get a feeling for how powerful they are by the amount of trees and debris mixed in with the slide. My main purpose of this email is simply that I am wondering if any avy awareness and training courses are offered in NL?”
One of the avalanches recently seen in Gros Morne Park (photo G Murrin)
I thanked him for his note and immediately located the position on a topo map and it appears that it is in an area that we have not noted avalanche activity before. From the photos it appears that the avalanche is quite fresh and my guess is that it slid on an ice crust. The recent blizzard on Wednesday night and Thursday morning (Jan 22-23, 2014) has only added a lot more snow to the ice crust. I emailed Peter Deering at Gros Morne Park to find out if their wardens and other backcountry researchers had seen anything and he said that their teams really hadn’t been in the backcountry much this winter due to the wild weather we have had so far. But if any readers see any avalanches let me know their location and take a photo or two if you can. My email is And yes we usually offer at least 1 AST Avalanche course each winter so if readers are interested in taking a course please contact me. 
You can see the avi debris with branches and trees in the middle of the photo (photo G Murrin)
   I also recently received a note from backcountry skier Andrew Stokes and he made a trip to the Tablelands Bowl near Woody Point on Sunday Jan 19 and he reported the following. “The snow cover certainly took a big hit from the rain. We could skin to the bowl by following the strip of snow along the creek. Although the gullies and chutes in the headwalls have good cover, the run-outs and lower aprons in the area are almost completely devoid of snow. Hopefully a few days of snow will start filling everything back in. There have been at least two avalanches in the bowl that were probably due to cornice collapse during the rain. One of them came down on the lookers-left side of the bowl and looked particularly nasty as there seemed to be some rock in the debris along with the snow. I did not have a camera with me so couldn't get any photos unfortunately. The surface of what snow is left is quite hard but it is not nearly as icy as I expected. It actually resembles a cold spring snowpack consisting of refrozen corn snow as opposed to a true rain-crust. I expect to see some instability between this and any new snow but I don’t think it will be as persistent as I originally feared.  Hope to get out soon so will be sure to keep you posted!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

CCNL member clubs offer great cross country skiing in Newfoundland

 by Keith and Heather Nicol   

      It has been said that cross country skiing is just about the perfect activity since it exercises legs and arms and is also a good way to get aerobic exercise in the winter. For some people, breaking their own trail through the woods and experiencing nature under a blanket of snow is their idea of a perfect winter outing. Others like the social atmosphere of a local cross country ski club. For many families this is a good option since most ski clubs in Newfoundland will have a chalet, trails groomed specifically for cross country skiing and programmes  for kids and adults alike.
The Blow me down ski club in Corner Brook has hosted many national events
     Cross Country Newfoundland and Labrador (CCNL) is the umbrella group for cross country ski clubs in the province and these clubs are located in just about every corner of the province. There are close to 20 clubs which are members of CCNL and together they offer 100’s of kilometers of well groomed tracks for both classic and skate skiing as well as snowshoe trails. Classic skiing refers to the traditional style of skiing whereas skate skiing refers to the newer, faster technique. You will find that both of these are best done on trails that are specifically designed and groomed for this activity. In addition to groomed trails, most CCNL member clubs also have chalets which offer food and a chance to warm up, rest and relax.  A number of ski clubs are located in Western Newfoundland where there is usually an abundant amount of snow. There are also several cross country facilities in central and eastern Newfoundland and several clubs in Labrador. The CCNL web site: has lots of information about these cross country clubs and is a great resource for anyone planning a cross country ski trip in the province. CCNL also hosts a variety of races and loppets and its web site has a detailed event schedule. 
Menihek Nordic ski club in Labrador City is also well known for hosting races

     This is going to be a big winter for cross country skiing in Newfoundland and Labrador since there will be 2 large national events held this winter in the province. The first event will be Canada’s National Cross Country Skiing Championships to be held in Corner Brook from March 15-22, 2014. This is a very  prestigious series of cross country ski  races  and Corner Brook could see upwards of 800 visitors (athletes, coaches, managers and families) for this event, including Canadian National Team athletes and Olympians! No ski club in the province has ever held this event and it promises to be one to remember. This is going to be followed by the Canadian Masters National Championships which will run from March 23-30, 2014 at Menihek Nordic Ski Club in Labrador City. So between these two events the province will see a flood of cross country skiers from across Canada this coming winter. So whether you are a world class athlete or a novice skier, cross country skiing offers a great way to stay fit through the winter and all the CCNL clubs welcome visitors.
Many clubs like Birch Brook Nordic in Goose Bay have well groomed trails

Skating is a faster technique than classic skiing and normally requires well groomed ski trails


Friday, 17 January 2014

Tips for improving your intermediate christie on cross country skis

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Photo 1- start from a snowplow position
     As a skier gains speed on downhill sections of a cross country ski trail there is often a need to learn how to make a skidded turn. This involves learning how to stay balanced while steering both feet through the turn.  It is easiest to learn how to make a skidded turn from the familiar snowplow position (photo 1). Once you reach the fall line begin to steer the uphill ski parallel to the lower ski (see photo 2) to allow the skis to skid through the final portion of the turn (see photo 3).   The key to this turn is not to rush it and it really helps to have your weight on the outside ski so that the inner ski can easily be steered to match the lower ski. I often have skiers drag their outside pole to force their body over the outside ski.  Another common problem is having your arms by your sides, instead think about having your arms out and forward for balance. It also helps to gradually rise up between turns and gradually flex the ankles, knees and hips through the turn. Try not to rush each turn but instead focus on making each turn as round as possible. Thanks to Rossignol ( for their continued support of these blogs and  videos. 
photo 2- Gradually pivot the uphill ski parallel to the outside ski

Photo 3- Finish with a skidded turn with skis parallel

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Improve your Marathon or Half Skate in Cross Country Skiing

by Keith and Heather Nicol

Photo 1
The marathon skate is the skating technique that started it all back in the early 1980’s. As you can see this is the only skating technique where a free skate leg action isn’t used. Instead one ski stays in the track while the other ski performs a skating action. The marathon skate is used when the skating lane is narrow or when the groomed tracks are especially fast.  The key to this technique is to do a double poling action and to make the skating action short and snappy. To learn this technique start with one foot in the track and other ski angled out 20-30 degrees (photo 1).   A bigger angle is needed for slow conditions or for going up a slight hill and you will find a smaller angle works for faster conditions. Use a double poling action directed down the track and your leg push involves edging the skating ski and make sure that you push off to the side (photo 2).

Photo 2

Photo 3
    Common problems that I see with the marathon skate are pushing back with the skating leg.  Instead think about starting your skate from a foot forward position with push to the side. Also don’t spend too much time gliding away from the track that you end up doing the splits (see photo 3). Commit just long enough on the skate ski to push off of it and then glide on the ski in the track. Once you push off, be sure to relax and ride the glide on the ski in the track. This allows you to recover your skating ski back underneath your body and to bring your poles back for another double pole. This gives you a momentary rest which is especially useful when skiing long distances. Have a look at the following video to improve your marathon or half skate. A special thanks to Rossignol ( for their continued support.