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Introduction to Crust and Winter Trail Skiing ... Where to go near Anchorage, Alaska

Crust Skiing 101 : Popular Crust Skiing Spots Near Anchorage
 
Portage Lake
A Crust Skiing Classic

How to get there:  Drive 40 miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway (AK-1) to Portage.  At Portage turn left on the Portage Glacier Road and drive 6 miles to Portage Lake.  Park in the visitors parking lot on the west end of the lake.

Best time to go: Crust skiing on Portage Lake can occur anytime of the winter when the lake has ice that is thick enough to be safe.  But usually the best time to crust ski here is between mid-March and mid-May on clear mornings.  Skiing is usually best before noon, before the sun causes the snow surface to soften.

Tips:  This is a popular crust skiing location, so you may be able to find current skiing conditions for Portage Lake on the Cross Country Alaska trails forum

When conditions are right, a popular extension of this ski is to continue east NE from the end of the lake and climb to Portage Pass, turn around and then enjoy the ski-run back to the lake.

Be aware that  Portage Glacier icefall from the terminus of the glacier can calf off and crush you if you are too close to the glacier.  Or icefall can crash into the lake and cause waves that disintegrate the ice and cause you to become submerged in the lake.  Also, stay away from the base of steep mountainsides where avalanches could run down onto the lake.

Length:  Approximately 6.5 miles to ski to the east end of Portage Lake and back.  To include Portage Pass the total distance is about 8.5 miles and 800 feet of elevation gain climbing to the pass.


 Google Maps link
Glen Alps - Powerline Pass Valley
Easy Access to Great Crust Skiing

How to get there:  From the Seward Highway and O'Malley Road intersection, go east on O'Malley towards the mountains.  Go left on Hillside Drive and then right on Upper Huffman Road.  Follow Chugach State Park signs and go right up Toilsome Hill Road to the Glen Alps parking lot.  If you don't have an Alaska State Parks parking pass, you have to pay $5.00 to park here.

Best time to go: Practically every day of the year that there is ski-able snow in the Powerline Pass Valley - someone will be skiing there.  This is Anchorage's favorite backyard and Glen Alps is the number one local backcountry take-off point.  Depending on storm activity and freeze and thaw cycles, crust skiing can occur in this valley anytime.  But the best times to crust ski here is between mid-March and mid-May on clear mornings.  Skiing is usually best before noon, before the sun causes the snow surface to soften.

Tips:  This is a popular cross country skiing location, so you may be able to find current skiing conditions for Glen Alps on the Cross Country Alaska trails forum

Length:  If you want to ski the entire length of the Powerline Pass Valley, it is approximately 11 miles from Glen Alps to Green Lake at the base of Powerline Pass and back.  Of course, you don't have to ski all the way back to the end of the valley for fine crust skiing if conditions are good.  Other popular destinations are Ship Pass (11 miles RT from Glen Alps) and Williwaw Lakes (13 miles RT from Glen Alps).


 Google Maps link
Skookum Glacier
Cruising Through a Majestic Valley

How to get there:  Drive 40 miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway (AK-1) to Portage.  At Portage turn left on the Portage Glacier Road, cross the railroad tracks and park on the right (south) side of the road past the Alaska Railroad buildings.  Make sure you don't park in the way of the Alaska Railroad workers.

Best time to go: Crust skiing to Skookum Glacier is often the best  from mid-April to mid-May on clear mornings.  Skiing is usually best before noon, before the sun causes the snow surface to soften.

Tips: Some years see snow bridges on Skookum Creek and its tributaries breaking up early, so you may have to detour out towards the railroad tracks and cross the creek on the small railroad bridge.  Crossing this bridge is illegal per Alaska Railroad rules.  So be careful and look long and hard both ways before you trespass your way across this bridge.  Also watch for thin ice while crossing the swampy area 1/2 mile from the start.  You want to be careful you don't find the thin ice and go swimming in "Benji's Pond".  ;-)

This is a popular crust skiing location, so you may be able to find current skiing conditions for Skookum Valley on the Cross Country Alaska trails forum

Length:  12 to 13 miles round trip to the glacier and back.


 Google Maps link
Turnagain Pass
Wide Open Terrain is Worth the Climb

How to get there:  Drive 60 miles south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway (AK-1) to Portage.  Park in the large parking lot on the east side of the divided section of the highway.

Best time to go: Crust skiing at Turnagain Pass is often the best  from late-April to late-May on clear mornings.  Skiing is usually best before noon, before the sun causes the snow surface to soften.

Tips:  This is a beautiful place to ski.  And when crust skiing is prime here, this place is hard to beat.  But skiers need to be aware of dangers here which can include: avalanches, snow bridges over creeks that can fail and steep gullies that you can fall into.

This is a popular crust skiing location, so you may be able to find current skiing conditions for Turnagain Pass on the Cross Country Alaska trails forum

Length:  Varies.  From 2 to 4 miles flat loops down by the highway to 12 to 14 mile treks to the headwaters of both Lyon and Tincan Creeks.


 Google Maps link
 

 
Winter Trail Skiing 101: Good Backcountry Trail Skiing Venues Near Anchorage
 
Far North Bicentennial Park
A Taste of Primitive Trails in the Big City

How to get there: In Anchorage, AK drive east on East Tudor Road, turn right on Baxter Road and drive about 2 miles to the North Bivouac parking lot and trailhead of the Far North Bicentennial Park.

Summary:  This is a good location for sampling non-groomed winter trails.  These trails are popular and well marked.  Trails are shown in magenta on the map to the right (click on the map to enlarge it).

Best time to go:  During or after snowstorms when trails are powdery.  These trails are somewhat narrow and windy, so going when the trails are skied into powder snow is often more enjoyable.  If these trails become hard, icy and rutted due to freeze and thaw cycles ... the fun factor of these trails goes down. This area gets little wind compared to other parts of Anchorage, so trees here are often picturesquely cake-frosted with snow.

Tips:  If you want a break from groomed xc skiing highways and want to try some rustic trails in Anchorage - this is a good area to go to.  If the snow is not too deep, it is fun to ski tour off of these trails and explore this large park.


 Google Maps link

The Anchorage Coast
Surprisingly Unique Skiing On the Edge of Town

Summary:  The Anchorage coast, between the coastal bluffs and the waters of Cook Inlet, is an often overlooked winter trail skiing venue.  You can often find lots of skied-in tracks here, and good crust skiing in the spring.

How to get there:  There are a numerous access points to get onto the ski-able areas f the Anchorage coast: Westchester Lagoon (just west of the railroad underpass), Earthquake Park, Pt. Woronzof, Kincaid Park, Campbell Creek (ski under Dimond Blvd and across Campbell Lake), Oceanview Bluff Park and the Rabbit Creek Rifle Range.

Best time to go:  After recent snowfalls and during crust skiing season.

Tips:   Skied-in tracks will show up during the days after snowfalls.  If you go immediately after a snowfall you will likely be making your own tracks.  Don't go when high tides are reaching the 30 foot level.  Such high tides will soak much of the skiing terrain and make it un-skiable.  Warm Chinook winds coming out of Turnagain Arm can ruin the skiing on the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge between the rifle range and Kincaid Park.
 

 
Nancy Lakes
Great Trails in a Unique State Park

How to get there:  Drive 67 miles north of Anchorage on the Parks Highway to the Nancy Lakes Parkway, turn left and drive 2.5 miles to the winter trailhead.

Tips:  The areas around Willow are often colder than Anchorage when a high pressure system is situated over South-central Alaska.  Be prepared for temperatures that are 20 degrees F or more colder than Anchorage.  Trail maps are often available at the kiosk at the winter trailhead parking lot.

Many of these winter trails cross lakes.  So you have to make sure the ice is safe, and watch out for overflow.

Length:  Varies.  Lots of route choices, click here.  See the Nancy Lakes State Recreation Area winter trails map.

The Nancy Lakes area is often a good location for early season Nordic blading.
Eagle River
When Eagle River Freezes, Good Skiing Options Open up Near Anchorage

How to get there:  Drive to the Chugach State Park parking lot at Mile 7 of the Eagle River Road in Eagle River, AK (see red arrow on the map to the right).  Or go to the Eagle River Nature Center at the end of the Eagle River Road.

Best time to go: When Eagle River freezes so that snowmobile traffic is possible, then it is often safe and fun for skiing on the river and trails that intersect with the river.

Tips:  Listen for snowmobilers when skiing on Eagle River.  Stay away from cutbanks where the ice is likely thinner.  The South Fork Eagle River Valley is known for both good winter trail skiing and spring crust skiing.

Length:  Varies.  Short loops on trails can be done out of the Eagle River Nature Center.  Longer out and back ski treks on the river  between the Eagle River Bypass Bridge and upstream to Echo Bend (and beyond) can be done.

Willow West Gateway Trails
Now THIS is a Winter Trail System!

How to get there:  Drive about 70 miles north of Anchorage to Willow, AK on the Parks Highway.

Best time to go: During December through mid-March these trails are often good powder conditions for classic or skate skiing.  From mid-March to the end of April these trails can offer fast crust skiing.

Tips: Willow Trail Committee maps are available at local Willow stores and at the Willow Community Center.  To access these trails one can park either at the Willow Community Center or drive Long Lake and Crystal Lake Roads west to the Crystal Lake public parking lot.

Listen for snowmobiles and watch out for dogs teams, these are multi-use trails.  On a clear day Willow can be 20 degrees F colder than Anchorage.  Check Willow weather before you go so you know what to expect.


 Google Maps link
 
For more ideas of unique places to ski near Anchorage, Alaska, check out the
Anchorage Urban-Backcountry Cross Country Skiing web page.
 

 
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