How to Wax for Spit, Blood, and Teeth

FasterSkierOctober 31, 20112

A guide to hosting Zamboni Snow XC Ski Sprints

The idea of using ice rink shavings originated a few years back at the University of Utah.  We wanted to make a small sledding hill for Fan Fest (August event where all the sports teams meet and greet thousands of fans).  Out of ten (or so) rinks in the valley, we only found one that was willing to let us shovel up a load into our truck.  Some said that we couldn’t take their ice shavings because of liability (?).  So we got one load, and it was a hit on a 90 degree day at Rice-Eccles stadium!   Here in Traverse City, we have one close and very willing set of Zamboni drivers at the Civic Center Howe Arena.  These guys are great!  More than willing to help.  Actually they “grew up” the ice extra thick for us, and scheduled out some big maintainence zamboni trips to get us extra loads.  According to Gary, our original Zam driver, there is nothing bad for the environment in this snow, just froze water…”but watch out for a little blood, sweat, and teeth.  Our guys really like hockey!”

Relationship with Zam driver is key. Here we are with Gary after “paying him off” with a case of cold ones.

The inspiration of bringing cross country skiing in front of the public comes of course from city sprints around Europe (and Madison!).  If we can get the sport in front of people, it can only help it grow.  Another inspiring video for creating a mini race came from this, my favorite you tube video; World Smallest Velodrome.

We decdided to do the event to get people excited for winter, and have a good time.  It was great exposure last year, and the second annual this year was a smashing success. We started plans for Nordic Fest a few months ahead.  Scheduling and planning with the rink, and getting local media on board was priority one.  This year we made a big push with our local race series the Michigan Cup.  We were lucky enough to add our race to the official calendar and award participation points for the series which is crucial to the overall season team points competition.  The event was also our towns first Nordic Ski Swap, Brick Wheels Sale, and party for the local club, the Vasa Ski Club.  Local trail organizations planned to attend, food, beer, cider, chili, and snacks gathered, and a live reggae band was booked.  The media frenzy began about a week out.

Local press is good.


Our poster for Nordic Fest


Durand boys skied the loop more than anyone…and shovelled a bunch as well!

We started in the grassy patch out back (drainage ditch), by building some culverts to divert water.  Also new this year was banking the bottom curve of the course (rather shape it with dirt than snow).  We then covered the course with hay almost 1 foot thick.  The course was designed with drainage in mind so that if it rained or got warm the water would move away from the snow pack.

The local rink has a ton of skating programs so we decided to start six days out this year getting snow.  Almost every ninety minutes, the Zam drivers were dropping a full load into a low boy trailer, and we were headed back to build the course.  Loads varied in size and moisture content.  When the Zamboni did a dry cut after the big guys skated hard, we got the best loads.  Very full, and dry Utah Powder consistency!  When they wet the rink, it was heavy wet snow, and when the little guys hockey was over, those loads were pretty small since they don’t cut as hard.

The big decision was whether to stock pile the snow, or pack it out and get the loop intact first.  With cold temps, we decided to spread and pack it out.  We went for about 10 inches thick, packed down tight on the edges, and raked smooth to harden up a nice base.


Started with the hill first (so we could ski up and down it!)

Using metal rakes, scoop shovels, we were able to build a good track.  Wide enough to step turn and skate fully up the hill, and tuck on the way down.  With 50 loads of snow total, despite a big midweek rain storm, we were able to make a track good enough that people could demo new skis! (in the end we probably had 25-30 loads on the ground, the storm was pretty brutal!).  We continued getting loads right up to during the event.  Always nice to have back up snow for patching.

Edging the course with tarps while unloading helps eliminate snow loss.

In preparation for high winds and an inch of rain, we covered the course with tents, tarps, and  Visqueen.

Ready to fight Mother Nature!

The nice thing about building out the course rather than stockpiling, is you can further motivate the volunteers by getting them out for First tracks.

Author, getting my fix.

All week we had a steady stream of onlookers and volunteers.  We were able to create quite a buzz around town, which added to the numbers on race day.  Everyone stopped by with extra tarps, bricks, and of course, rock skis. 

Local rock star, Scott Howard, getting his Birkie Fever On. First Tracks, October 18th.

We ended up getting snow right up until race time.  Our local snow guru, Mike Wagner (rep for Fischer and Swix), worked the snow with salt and rakes to nicely firm it up.  Final passes were done with a human groomer.   Which we pulled by two volunteers, one on either side of the course.  The Human Groomer worked great by the way.  Excited to try it this winter!

Mike Wagner and Peter Bruning working the snow during the event.

Race day for us was 40 degrees and sun shine!  Folks came up from downstate and we were ready for the First Official Race of the 2011-2012 season!  Race format was to start with a two lap individual time trial, with one athlete on the snow at a time.  Best two times in each age group raced later in the finals head to head.  Similar to the pursuit in velodrome racing, we had an athlete start on either side of the track and they started simultaneously and tried to catch each other.  Here is some of the racing action!

Course was open for warm up.
Womens runner up Susan Vigland getting ready to thrash in lycra and jeans.
Spencer Todd from Grand Rapids taking his turn while others wait for their run.

In summary, it was a great event!  Very cool to introduce the sport to new people, as well as get the die hards fired up for winter!  And to be able to try new skis on snow in October, is always fun!


Equipment List:

scoop shovels (plastic has less icing than metal)

lowboy trailer (pickup bed is too high for Zamboni to dump into)

metal rakes – break up the ice, and help level the trail.

snow rake – big metal ones for spreading and smoothing

Human Groomer – this was a great tool to finish the course

Culverts – we dug trenches, but could also use PVC pipe for drainage

Scrap wood – used for edging, and building bridges over culverts

Scrap carpet – used to cover the culverts

Hay – we used 6 bales for our 100 meter course

Timing equipment

Flags – mark course, but put out far enough so skiers don’t catch a tip


Wax area

Podium – of course

Tarps/visqueen – enough to cover the course, also used for edging during unloading

Bricks – weight down the tarps at night

Sea Salt – salting the course can help draw away the moisture in warmer conditions and help the snow pack stay firm


Volunteer List:

back up snow crew and vehicle

people to meet for unloading and spreading….all day on and off

race day course workers

race day snow getters


announcer (line up athletes)

judge (for head to head comp)

A few days later…

A special thanks for making this event a success goes out to the staff at Brick Wheels, volunteers from the Vasa Ski Club and the employees at Howe Arena!  We plan to do this event again, and hope to see others do it as well!


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  • Aubrey Smith

    November 1, 2011 at 10:25 am

    This. Is. Awesome.

  • doughboy

    November 1, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    In Finland some folks run their shower runoff through car radiators – to avoid draining all of that heat out of the house and into the sewer – to add a little heat to their basements. Heck, that snow/ice is just gonna sit and melt into the storm sewer. Might as well reap a small benefit. This is a GREAT idea. And good clean fun.

    -Luvin’ it!

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