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Thursday, January 13, 2011

The South Pole Ski Club

Membership is free.  Ski, boots, poles, groomed tracks, and a warming hut are provided, also free of charge.  Club trips, twice a week, go out on some of the most unique terrain on the planet, and are also gratis. It all comes with being a citizen of the South Pole Station. 

The idea came about back in November, when the mercury first rose above the -40 F level.  Mark (the station doctor) and I decided to check out some of the ski equipment that Raytheon generously provides, some of it brand new, still in the original package.  We went out for about one hour and we had such a great time that we figured we had to make it a routine and get more people involved.  So we talked to Elissa, our Recreation coordinator, and the ski club was born.  Linda made a sign for the club, so it is now official.

We go out twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, for one hour at a time.  The extreme cold temperatures here at the South Pole make the skis stick to the ice, but with temperatures warming up in the last few weeks we have been able to get a little bit of a glide.  Still, we move fairly slow, at average speeds of about 3.5 mph (5~6 km/h).  We have a significant turnover, as many people come to the South Pole only for a short few weeks to get their science work done, then they go back home. 

Here are some of the people and some of the sights.

Left to right Mandi , Mark, Marcopolie, Joselyn, Linda, and Charles, on Jan 2.

Our first outing was on Nov 24, still in -38 F (-39 C) temperatures, our breath and transpiration turning into an insulating layer of ice on our clothes.  Here we are in front of the station, on our way back from a trip.  Notice a C-130 on the skiway in the back.  From left to right Marcopolie, Zoe, and Katherine.

Zoe and Aron on the ski loop on Dec 1, with a sundog in background.

Linda pointing out to one of the orange flags denoting the location of a neutrino detector down in the ice during our science tour on Dec 19.  The science tour is a 2.5 mile loop that we have created, which takes us from the station to the BICEP telescope, then to the 10-mt telescope, on to the Ice Cube Laboratory, the Ice Cube Drill Camp, and back to the station.

The heavy equipment operators have groomed a ski loop with several options, for a total of about 5 miles of groomed terrain.  In the middle of it they have brought a warming hut where we can take refuge if we needed to.  In the hut there are blankets, a bed, and a stove.  We have not had the need to use it, but I hope that, before the end of the season, I find the time to go spend a night out there.

On January 2 we skied over the sastrugi to the tourist camp site.  Adventurers who ski all the way to the pole are not allowed in the station, except in case of emergency.  However, we do set up a campsite for them where they can stay without interfering with the station activities.

Mark and Anne on the ski loop on Jan 12.

Sometimes it is just nice to go wander away from the groomed track, alone on the sastrugi, turn the back to the station, look at the immensity of nothingness, and ponder what it must have felt like to be the first person at the pole 100 years ago.  Here is Linda taking a meditative detour on Dec 26.

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