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Author Topic: The Pollen Problem  (Read 2376 times)
Charles
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The Pollen Problem
« on: 06/12/03, 09:41 AM »

A lot of recent reports have mentioned "the pollen problem". That is, the dark tar-like substance which sometimes accumulates on ski bases in the spring. Here's a photo of the problem on waxless skis (north side of Mt. Adams, June 2003):


My experience is that when the pollen problem is bad, it can ruin the skiing on what would otherwise be good snow (it's maybe not as bad as breakable crust, but close). Predicting the "pollen danger" seems to be even more difficult than predicting snow conditions or the avalanche hazard.

For this thread, I'd like for people to add their experiences with the pollen problem and theories about what conditions cause the problem to manifest itself. Perhaps the information we gather will lead us to be able to more accurately predict when there will be a bad pollen problem. I will start off with some of the main questions I have, then some recent observations.

Questions
1) Is it really pollen?
2) Can the period of major pollen release from trees be predicted?
3) Are there certain conditions under which pollen does or does not stick to the ski bases?
4) Are there any reliable preventative measures (waxes or other base treatments)?
5) What is the best way to deal with the pollen problem in the field?

Observations
1) Everyone seems to think it is pollen. The typical pollen TR mentions the problem appearing as treeline was neared on the descent. Waxless skis are useful for determining when the pollen problem is occurring, since ascending can be done without skins, and partners can easily check each other's ski bases. Does the pollen stick to skins, or only ski bases?

2) I did a search of the TRs for "pollen". The first report to mention a pollen problem this year (2003) was 5/25 (Mazama Ridge), with subsequent reports from throughout the Cascades on 5/30, 6/1, 6/3, 6/5-8, 6/8, 6/8, and 6/7-9. It seemed to me that the blossoming of pollen reports this year somewhat coincided with the end of the cold spells of May. Maybe the trees don't burst forth with pollen release until significantly warm weather arrives? In 2002, the pollen problem was mentioned in reports from 4/28 to 6/19, and in 2001 from 5/24 to 6/19 (but the number of available reports was much smaller than for 2003).

3) Pollen can be present on the snow but not stick to ski bases; sun followed by no-sun can trigger pollen sticking (or warm followed by not-warm; or liquid water followed by no liquid water); old pollen may not cause a problem.

On May 30, we skied from FS 73 to Grand Park (MRNP), from ~4400' to ~5600', almost all through forest, much of it on fairly dirty snow, and didn't get pollen accumulation. Soon after we started skiing across the tree-ringed, flat, and relatively clean looking snow of Grand Park, we started to get the pollen problem. After cleaning our ski bases, we again got pollen build-up skiing back across Grand Park. The day was sunny to begin with, but clouded over about when we reached Grand Park itself, which is when the pollen problem began, and it stayed overcast for the rest of the day, with moderate showers at times.

On June 5-8, we skied on the north side of Mt. Adams; the car was at 4400', camp at 6200', and our high point was 9200'. On the first day, we skied up from 5000' through forest to camp at 6200' (treeline), then another 1800' above treeline on the Adams Glacier in the late afternoon - no pollen problem. Right after sunset, I went out on a little ski just above camp, and immediately got a large pollen accumulation. The entire day was sunny and warm.

On the third day at Adams, we skied between 6200' and 9200' on the Adams and Pinnacle Glaciers, with no pollen problem until descending the last ~800' to camp (treeline) in the late afternoon, when our skis quickly picked up a lot of pollen. The day was sunny and warm until the mid-afternoon, when localized clouds cut off the sun until near sunset.

On the last day at Adams, we skied up to 8000' on the Adams, then down to camp, down through 1500' of forest to the road, and most of the way to the car on the road - no pollen problems. The car was very heavily coated with pollen. It was sunny all day but somewhat cooler than it had been, and obviously quite shady in large parts of the forest section.

Summer reports don't seem to ever mention pollen problems, even for locations where there have been spring pollen problems. Does the pollen degrade or otherwise change so as to become non-sticky?

4) I haven't found anything that will stop the accumulation: fresh hot wax, maxiglide (maxxwax), F4 paste wax.

5) Waxless skis are a real problem due to the pollen getting into the pattern. Maxiglide does OK removing the pollen, but citrus solvent makes the cleaning much easier (either way requires a lot of small rags). F4 is easy to use for rewaxing and seems to persist well through a lot of turns (but doesn't seem to stop pollen accumulation when it is destined to occur).



If you have had to suffer through "the pollen problem", please feel free to add your observations and ideas - the more the better.
« Last Edit: 06/13/03, 07:24 AM by admin » Logged
Charles
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Re: The Pollen Problem
« Reply #1 on: 06/12/03, 09:42 AM »

Here are some other pollen observations, collected from recent posts:

markharf wrote: "Pollen issues have been puzzling me each spring, but I don't usually spend long enough skiing a confined area at different times of day to notice the sorts of striking differences that you did. ╩I'd always assumed there were localized patterns of pollen deposits, that these build very gradually on the surface of the snow, and that a thick layer on the snow yields thick deposits on skis....but your report makes it sound like this is not at all the way it works. ╩Is it possible that only very freshly-deposited pollen is available for redeposit on ski bases, and that sunlight, warmth or the presence of water somehow keeps the older pollen from sticking? ╩Even a very thin, fresh coating on the snow could rapidly build that familiar, tarry coating on a pair of skis; it wouldn't take the kind of accumulation which we're forever seeing on cars parked at trailheads. Apparently, most of the pollen particles don't stick to skis, most of the time."

jim_oker wrote: "Someone posted a trip report on Silver Peak last week and mentioned meeting a 70-something gent who told them to try vegetable oil instead of white gas to clean off the pollen from their ski bases. I picked up quite a bit of crap on my bases on the bottom part of Shuksan, despite a fresh hot wax (hot wax does seem to help somewhat but clearly has its limits), and just tried wiping the bases with canola oil, and darned if it didn't get that crap off pretty quickly. I'm thinking it left more of the wax on my skis than swix citrus cleaner (or white gas!!) would."
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Charles
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Re: The Pollen Problem
« Reply #2 on: 06/13/03, 07:19 AM »

Larry, I'm not sure I understand how you used the duct tape. Did you use it for the ascent or descent? Skins would presumably protect the ski bases from pollen on the ascent, but I don't know if pollen sticks to skins because I'm usually using waxless skis during pollen season.
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: The Pollen Problem
« Reply #3 on: 06/17/03, 04:31 AM »

My experience is that pollen is usually a problem around the first week of June, although I think it can exist anywhere from about the 3rd week in May to mid-June. These are not scientific observations. The problem dissappears after mid-June for some reason. Maybe the sun "dries out" the pollen to eliminate the stickiness.

Here's a photo of pollen in early June on Mt Shuksan a few years back. Note that Gordy's ski (on the left) should be white).

http://www.alpenglow.org/themes/subalpine/cd-3025-004-shuksan-base-crud.html

I've never found pollen too troublesome for the descent (yeah it makes the snow sticky) but it can cause havoc with adhesive climbing skins. I started backcountry skiing with strap-on climbing skins and I still retain a pair (from Ascension, do they still sell them?) that I use in spring when the snow is dirty and sloppy. I used them last weekend to do the Ruth-Icy traverse.
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philfort
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Re: The Pollen Problem
« Reply #4 on: 06/17/03, 07:14 AM »

Charles, as you know, we were on the north side of Mt Adams some of the same days as you (June 7/8), only a few miles away,  but we noticed no pollen on the snow at all... weird stuff.

Our trucks were covered in pollen once we got back to the trailhead though.
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ski_photomatt
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Re: The Pollen Problem
« Reply #5 on: 06/17/03, 08:38 AM »

I'm faily certain the pollen's adhesiveness is a function of temperature.  Through carelessness, I've managed to infect the sticky side of my skins with pollen (thanks for the cleaning tips Larry, I'll try that).  Last weekend during the very warm weather, every time I would put them my my skis, they would leave serious residue.  However, during the cooler temperatures this weekend at Baker, I noticed much less of a problem.  During the winter, residue on the skis is non-existent.
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: The Pollen Problem
« Reply #6 on: 06/17/03, 05:20 PM »

Maybe we should try a change of attitude. Think of it as an opportunity instead of a problem. Call it "Cascade Klister."
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Charles
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Re: The Pollen Problem
« Reply #7 on: 06/18/03, 12:39 PM »

Great photo, Lowell! I guess for steeper descents a pollen coating doesn't interfere with the skiing too much, but if the angle is lower, or if there is a lot of XC skiing, I've found it to be an unpleasant drag, literally. As someone recently described, there's nothing like that feeling of sudden deceleration/impending faceplant that can result from a heavy pollen coating. As you point out, however, it does make it possible to climb without skins.

ski_photomatt, I'm not sure how to fit your observations in with what I've seen recently, since my experience has not been that the warm temperature alone triggers to pollen to build up on the skis. Maybe you are dealing with aged pollen (on your skins) but I've been dealing with newly released pollen. Perhaps there is a pollen expert at the UW who could explain this all (anyone have contacts?).

Phil, my guess is that although you didn't experience the pollen sticking to your skis, it was on the snow as you were skiing down through the trees (we didn't have any pollen build up on the ski out to the car either).

Larry, that's a new cleaning tip for me - thanks for posting it.

Does pollen ever build up on the furry side of skins, or just transfer from the skis to the sticky side?
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markharf
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Re: The Pollen Problem
« Reply #8 on: 07/15/03, 08:45 AM »

Just an update of my continuing confusion re pollen sticking to ski bases:  During the end of June I skied five days in rapid succession through pollen-caked snow (you know: the kind of snow that looks distinctly lime-green in the right light).  On three of these days I had absolutely no problem at all.  On two, my bases picked up enough pollen so that I had to resort to skating in order to keep moving on slopes of 10 or 15 degrees.  

The obvious variables of slope aspect, time of day, elevation, temperature and sun exposure seemed irrelevant, as best I could tell.  One likely contributing factor: on each of the sticky days I was skiing the same set of skis for a second day without re-waxingŚI use a fluorinated, graphited Swix, and I've long noticed that religiously hotwaxing before every tour can make a big differrence.  Another: my three carefree days were all in California, at Lassen and Shasta, while the other two were in Oregon, at Scott and Bachelor.  The former are in a drier part of the Cascades, with lots of red firs and ponderosas, and the locals I asked about problems with pollen didn't seem to relate real well.

Not very illuminating, I know, but these are my last datapoints of the season.  I'll have forgotten all about this by next spring.

Hope all your July tours are sun-filled and pollen-free.

Mark
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curmudgeon
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Re: The Pollen Problem
« Reply #9 on: 07/25/03, 04:32 AM »

I have been cleaning the guck off with Citric Hand Cleaner -- from an Auto parts store.  Then I was washing the cleaner off with a wet rag, leaving the remnants of my last host wax.

The last few times out, I have just left the hand cleaner residue on the bases.  To my amazement, the bases came home clean. Hmmm -- soap as klister?
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