Life: McMurdo Ski Season

Now that the weather has stabilized, and the sun’s in the sky all day and night long, it’s my favorite time of the year: ski season. I brought a pair of skate skis with me this season to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, where I’m working for the austral summer. But in an effort to branch out and learn some different styles of skiing, I’m borrowing an old pair of Karhu Nordic skis with a three-pin binding system and a pair of soft leather boots, circa 1985. The skis have fish scales in the middle on the underside and some metal edges of unknown utility. They have little camber. They’re not superlight, nor are they superfast. These skis are sort of made for slogging along at a slow-steady pace. They’re dangerous on the downhills.

Despite the limitations of this set-up, I’ve been able to get out and about on Ross Island with my fellow Antarctic ski buddies, and others who prefer to throw a Frisbee around instead. Notice the red flags attached to bamboo poles in the photo below—these are the Castle Rock Loop’s trail markers, with Castle Rock itself looming in the background.

The Castle Rock Loop is (almost) perfect for the Kahrus—it’s got a gradual ascent at the beginning, and when the trail isn’t very smooth, these skis can just cut through the crud. Before reaching the loop’s highest point, we normally stop for a snack in the “apple,” a nice little warming hut along the trail.

Then it’s back outside for more plodding along until the screaming descent down to the sea ice, followed by a flat section that leads to Scott Base, the New Zealand Antarctic Station.

Deany (below) has been the most keen of my ski partners so far this season. Every Thursday evening, he skis from McMurdo to Scott Base. Thursday night is the only night when Americans are officially invited to hang out in the Scott Base bar with its lovely Kiwi people.

Scott Base is a 3.5 mile ski from McMurdo along a trail marked on the sea ice. Since it’s warming up outside, portions of this trail will melt out in the next few weeks, and this route will close. But more ski routes will open up on the permanent ice shelf along the roads to the late-summer airfields. The Karhus have been fun…but skate skis will be better for that; they make skiing feel like flying, fast and strong.

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One response to “Life: McMurdo Ski Season

  1. I have old bc skis much like this – the old Kästle lightweight, with metal edges, but waxable. I crossed the Seirra Nevada in these skis long ago. I also skied the Commando run in them, back in the 80s. They’re nice for ging light, but don’t turn!

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