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MINOT, ND – After one of the most brutal winters in recent memory, which at one point saw measurable snow in 49 of the 50 states, brought course measurement throughout the U.S. to a virtual standstill for several months, the Road Running Technical Council of USA Track & Field is looking at a new methodology that will allow courses to be measured during the increasingly long and snowy winters predicted for the future.

A working committee of measurers from several snowy states – Duane Russell (Colorado), Scott Hubbard (Michigan), Jay Wight (Chicago), Jim Gilmer (upstate New York) and Justin Kuo (Massachusetts) – began studying the challenge of measuring in the snow and formulating possible ways to overcome it. Rick Recker of Minnesota was also tabbed as a group member, but was unable to get out of his apartment due to the eight-foot-high drifts that piled up and blocked his door for most of the winter.

After several abortive attempts at rigging the traditional bicycle for winter measurement, including snow tires and a front-mounted battery powered snow blower/melter fashioned from a pair of hairdryers, the committee decided to go in a completely different and non-traditional direction. The result was the Calibrated Cross Country Ski Method (CXCSM), which was able to be tested extensively thanks to the seemingly never ending winter.

The key apparatus in this new procedure is yet another iteration of the workhorse Jones Counter, this time known as the Jones Oerth Riegel Nordic Counter (JORNC). This device attaches directly to the measurer’s cross country ski, just ahead of the binding, and turns a fixed number of counts with each “schuss” of the ski.

“We tested it in Rocky Mountain powder, lake effect slush and a mix of hail, sleet and graupel from a Nor’easter, and the results were remarkably consistent,” said Russell, as he chipped away icicles in his moustache from a late-spring Denver snow squall. “I think this could really extend the effective measuring season, in some places, almost year-round.”

Praise for the new method was quickly forthcoming from the measurement community, with several members offering potential aids and improvements to the procedure. Bob Baumel was first to jump on the bandwagon, since cross country skis are measured in his beloved centimeters rather than inches. Mike Wickiser came up with a strobe light that could be attached to the ski tips for measuring on busy roads or in limited visibility, while Neville Wood announced he was working on a method to retrofit an electronic bicycle computer to a pair of ski goggles and connect it wirelessly to sensors mounted on the skis. And Mike Sandford offered to conduct a study of the variability of friction coefficients of different types of snow, although he admitted his results might take some time since the U.K. sees measurable white stuff about once in a decade.

Recker, currently in the federal witness protection program after receiving multiple death threats since his ill-advised decision to end the MetroDome indoor running program just prior to the worst winter in Twin Cities history, voiced his enthusiasm via a coded message delivered by carrier pigeon. “This could really be a boon to measurers in Minnesota and the northern states,” it read. “After this winter, I think we could be using it in Duluth to verify Grandma’s Marathon in June.”

Even Pete Reigel, former RRTC Chair and ex-officio curmudgeon, offered a grudging endorsement, stating, “If today’s measurers are crazy enough to go out and freeze their gonads measuring a 5K for some race in August, knock themselves out. Personally, I’m going to sit back in front of the fire with a nice Manhattan and watch the Ohio State basketball team make its run to the Final Four. Oh, crap.”

Not every reaction was quite so positive, it should be noted. RRTC Education Chair Toni Youngman of Florida first had to be convinced that skis aren’t always ridden in the water by someone being towed by a motorboat, and that snow is an actual element in many parts of the country, not just something sprayed on Space Mountain at Disneyworld.

And RRTC Chair Gene Newman, who spent most of his life in New Jersey, which plows the roads after snowstorms only at the whim of whatever politician has bribed his way into office that term, seemed reluctant to be reminded of the horrors of that winter existence. “I’ve been living in Arizona for just under a decade and I’m only now beginning to thaw out from some of those East Coast winters. I’d just about forgotten what a snow shovel was for and now you’ve got to bring those memories back? I’m going to have nightmares about blizzards for weeks now!” he said, slathering on more SPF 45 sunscreen before going out for a pre-dawn run while the Tucson temperature was still below 90.

The CXCSM will continue to undergo testing as long as there is snow on the ground, which in some parts of the country may be until Labor Day, and then will be brought to an up or down approval vote at December's USATF Annual Meeting in Anaheim. “It’s too bad we didn’t have this ready last year in Indy,” said Wight, noting that the snow that hit the city as the meeting began would have offered an excellent demonstration opportunity.

An alternate winter measuring procedure, the Calibrated Snowshoe Method, did not prove as successful and is unlikely to be brought up in Anaheim.
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You mention me in your piece above as offering to do a study on the variability of friction coefficients of different types of snow. Rightly you say we don't often get much snow here in the South of England (if at all) as you had last winter. In fact of course while you were gripped a jet-stream-induced cold winter, over here we had a succession of rain storms through the winter and many many road race courses were flooded. Races were cancelled and measuring was postponed. You may have read of my investigation of the effect of flood water on the calibration constant described in my post on here.

I find your post completely lacking in any quantitative result from the tests that have been carried out on snow. I would certainly need to see these before I took the method at all seriously. In fact it is not at all clear to me how you expect to get any accuracy at all if you are relying the the jones counter gear wheel been turned by the snow. Would it not be better to mount the jones counter on the drive wheel of a tracked vehicle such as a snowmobile? I have had experience of using a motor powered vehicle with a Jones counter - my electrically assisted bike, which gives really excellent results. If it works on a bike with motor drive I dont see why it should not work at some level of accuracy on a tracked vehicle on snow.

However, before I commit to doing any work at all on this, I want to know how the measurer is going to judge the positions of the road boundaries and keep to the SPR when every thing is covered with feet of snow. I am afraid you have not convinced me at all about this.
Big Grin Thanks for reporting on the research, Jim! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), the Denver snow melted before I could finish my comparison measurements in Spring Snow conditions.

Mike, we have posts planted by the sides of the roads, so we can tell where the edge of the road is. Even when the snow is 3' deep, we have those for reference points.

Pete, the problem I see with adapting this method to water skis, is that the counter is limited to 15 mph. I water ski at about 30 mph. I would have to fashion a reduction system, to keep the counter from spinning too fast. But hey, I'm game. It works on X-C skis, so we should be able to adapt to water.

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