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Alaska Performance Backcountry Skiing Photos and Videos
2009/2010

by: Tim Kelley

Oct - Dec Jan - Feb Mar - Apr May - Jun Summer

Springtime In December
Late December 2009 - Big Lake / Red Shirt Lake: A year ago I was shuffling around backcountry xc ski loops in 10 to 20 below F.  Not this year.  It's about 50 degrees warmer than the same time last year.  No jacket, no hat, sleeves pulled up, 38 degrees F. ... seems like spring skiing, without much light.

There was a section of Big Lake snowmobile trails I had not skied before, so I headed north with my skis.  These trails loop from the Big Lake North Shore Park area and go around behind Horseshoe Lake, past Martin Buser's mushing area and then hook up with the Iron Dog Trail.  At Cow Lake I headed north onto Red Shirt Lake and then returned on the same route for a 40 mile ski.  In general - good snow conditions, but we need more cold to freeze up creeks and rivers that still have moving water.
GPS track: 40 miles Lots of good parking ON Big Lake. Big Lake snowmobile trail No. 1 heads toward Bald Mountain Ridge. The Iron Dog Trail ... probably Alaska's most famous snowmobile trail. The Valley is not much different than East L.A.  Leave a broken-down vehicle unattended and soon it's completely stripped.  Crazy. A dog team between Red Shirt Lake and Cow Lake.  Expand this picture to see the stylin' lime green suit on the lead dog!  Should a call be made to the fashion police about this?  :-)


Skiing A Missile Trail?
Late December 2009 - Willow: A few times in the past I have heard of the Nike Trail in Willow.  When I heard or read this name I immediately wondered: "Why is it called the Nike Trail?"  I still don't know the answer, but I'm am trying to find out from a friend that is a Willow-area history buff.  I do know that in 1955 a Nike-Ajax missile site was proposed for Willow, to protect South-Central Alaska from Soviet bombers.  The proposed Willow missile site was never built.  Nike missile sites at Arctic Valley, Point Campbell and Goose Bay were built instead.

So was the Nike Trail originally built to asses or survey the proposed missile site?  Or was it built under the assumption that the missile site was going to be built here?  Or does the Nike Trail have anything to do with a missile site?  Again, I don't know - but I hope to find out one day.

I had never skied the Nike Trail, so I headed up to Willow to ski it and check out the mushing trails in this area.  It was all nice skiing.  But the parking and property access is all questionable, so I don't want to give details out and get local residents ticked at me.  Word has it that a Willow Trail Committee map may be coming out soon for the Nike Trail - Teakwood Lake area.  If so, that will be a good reference for the trails in this nook of Willow.

Spring 2010 update: Thanks to musher and historian Steve Charles of Willow ... we now have the answer to why this trail is called the Nike Trail.  Steve emailed: "Well, I finally ran into Emil Stancec. He come to Willow in 1948 working for the RR. He is almost 80 but looks like he could run a 5K. He also trapped extensively and knows all the trails, etc.  He said very simply that yes they did put a road in for a Nike site but never got around to installing it."    Thanks Steve!! 

Nike Trail and vicinity of Teakwood Lake mushing trails. Groomed mushing trail near Teakwood Lake. Nice country. Near the Bullion benchmark near the end of the Nike Trail.  This beautiful location seems like it would have made a good missile site. The spruce-lined Nike Trail.  You can tell it was once bulldozed (a long time ago).

Winter Solstice

December 21, 2009: Pictures taken while skiing on the day with the least amount of daylight this year.  And the first official day of winter.

2:00 PM and headlight beams hitting snow. Solstice and heavy clouds means not much light at all. Standoff.  She won. Tree bombs.  Ready to detonate and fill the back of your neck with cold powder snow. "Aurora Anchoralis" ... the glow of Anchorage, 30 miles away, at night. A living Christmas tree.  The closest power pole is 25 miles away.  So these lights are running off a generator.

SNART
Mid December 2009: SNART = SNow ART.  It seems like winter, more than any other season, is when you can see a lot of unique natural sights.  For more SNART shots, that I've taken on recent ski-ramblings, scroll down to the "Fog and Frost" section below.
  Owl take-off wing tip and claw marks in the snow  

Another Big City Big Loop

December 12, 2009: Last December I did a 44 mile loop around the northern part of Anchorage.  So this year I wanted to do another long Anchorage loop around the southern part of our big city.  A bonus with this loop is that it started and finished at my house.  So it was cool to put my skis on in my back yard and head out for a 52 mile ski-loop that I had never done before.

The challenge of doing this loop is the Anchorage Coastal Refuge.  Skiing conditions on these tidal flats can be fickle due to the snow getting consumed by warm Turnagain Arm winds or Cook Inlet high tides.  For this ski trek the Coastal Refuge was good skiing, but there wasn't much snow in the mountains.  Conditions weren't perfect for skiing the whole loop, but they were good enough to make this fun loop happen.

If you live in Anchorage, you might think of trying a ski loop or point to point ski that incorporates local backcountry and trails.  This ski loop, as does last year's loop, hints at the many unique places in Anchorage you can adventure on skis outside of the NSAA skiing-only corduroy trails.

GPS track: 52 miles.

 

A dawn start. Trail choked with alders.  In some places I had to crawl underneath them on my hands and knees.  Slow going and not too fun. Volcanic ash from last last winter can still be seen in the mountains above Anchorage. Anchorage in the distance, smothered by fog. Cook Inlet covered in fog. On McHugh Ridge, looking towards Ptarmigan Pass.
While skiing towards Rabbit Creek I saw some cool Fata Morgana mirages to the west.  You can see hikers on the ridges in these pictures.
North Suicide Peak.  And to the right - the slopes where the last WCOW Summer XC Skiing Smackdown was held. Fox tracks Sheep tracks Climber tracks Igloo in progress? Nice skiing at Ptarmigan Pass.
Wolf tracks heading towards Ptarmigan Lake. Looking at The Ramp from Ptarmigan Pass. For a few longish sections with no snow I used Neos over boots to keep from trashing my ski boots in the rocks. Powerline Pass Valley.  Anchorage smothered in fog in the distance. Heading down towards the fog zone. The Gas Line Trail.
Ha!  Tilling the Tour of Anchorage Trail when there is not enough snow (and digging up rocks), a time-honored NSAA tradition. Overpass over Tudor Road. Coastal Trail ... looking into the gloom. Frosted Coastal Trail trees. A recently deceased moose on the beach below the Kincaid bluffs.  Perhaps it slipped and fell down the bluffs?  I couldn't tell in the dark. The shaman's hut.  Looks like there are two rooms now ... so things must be going well for the shaman.
Views from night skiing across the Anchorage Coastal Refuge.  There was quite a lot of good skating.  And a fair amount of double-poling on ice.  I had recon-skied some of this section the day before, so I had a planned route to follow in the dark. Potter Marsh area: "What? I thought the Alaska Railroad was drug-free!"  ;-) Potter Creek Road and the start of the Moen Trail. Fueling for the final uphill push to home with a chocolate chip cookie from Sagaya's!

Fog and Frost

Early December 2009: Fog and frost ... lately Anchorage has been having a lot of both.


Skiing, And the Good Life, West of the Big Su
Early December 2009: As soon as a trail opens across the Big Susitna River, it's time to leave Anchorage and go home to Alaska.
A tough Alaskan skier-girl strides Alexander trails. Snowmobile trails groomed like pool tables by the super folks that live at Alexander. Skiing across the Big Susitna River (I have ice rescue picks hanging around my neck). At night in the Susitna Valley it is easy to tell where Anchorage is.  Just look for a glow on the horizon (left).  Or light from the city bouncing off of clouds (right).
  This skier-girl rarely slows down to let me go ahead of her and take a picture.  So ... here's another butt shot.   Skiing the Big Su. Be safe when skiing snowmobile trails - be seen.  Reflective accents on clothes help you to be seen.  
About 1/2 of the 20 residents of Alexander got together to build a snow ramp up a creek bank on the 25 mile trail to where they live.  Now they can haul freight on this trail.  Very cool community spirit. Old fashioned strength training. A trip to the outhouse.

Snow Opens the Door of the Lower Susitna Valley
Late November 2009: Yes!  Snow comes to the Lower Susitna Valley.  I did a recon ski to Flathorn Lake and back to check out the trail conditions.  Not an overabundance of snow, but enough to make for good skating.
   
  Flathorn Lake Trail. The abandoned ice fishing shanty on the Flathorn Lake Trail.  Someone left this here 10 or more years ago. Eagle nest in cottonwoods along Fish Creek. A wet spot just off of Flathorn Lake.  
       
    It's now the time of year that skiers start seeing folks using snowmobiles to haul all kinds of stuff out to remote properties.  Here is a video I made last year that will give you view into snowmobile freight hauling. Here is another video I made last year that shows a wild and beautiful Su Valley Eskimo princess out riding her snowmobile.  When she is not cruising on her snowmobile ... she is out ripping up trails on her xc skis!    

Early Season Backcountry Skate Skiing in the Valley
November 21, 2009: I have long heard of Jim Lake.  But I have lived in shame ... because I had never been there.  Today I drove to the Butte area, headed east to the end of Maud Road and down the narrow road to Jim Lake.  I found some good lake, marsh and creek skate skiing.  Jim Lake is a picturesque lake next to the mountains, a nice place.  While there I realized that there are a bunch of trails I've never skied in this area that I need to check out when we get more snow. Thanks to intrepid Valley backcountry xc skier and Nordic skater Brad Meiklejohn for the tip-off about good skiing here!
A muskrat push-up on Jim Lake. Gull Lake.  Nice skating.  Pioneer Peak in background. Getting late on Jim Creek. Jim Lake area.  Access is from the end of Maud Road.

The Skiing is Cold ... But the Light Is Warm

Mid November: Temperatures are going sub-zero F at night.  Skiing has turned chilly.  But the light has gotten warmer.

    Mount Redoubt volcano - quiet, but not asleep.  

For those who work normal business hours in Alaska, skiing in beautiful winter light is a rare treat.  More often folks that work spend a lot of time in the dark if they want to exercise outdoors.  Here are a several pictures I took to try and capture what winter night training in Anchorage is like ...

This is a 15 second exposure with no flash.  The picture was then lightened digitally a bit.  The squiggly line is from my headlamp beam as I ran up the hill. This shot shows an often seen view of Anchorage while night skiing in the Hillside area.  You can see the ambient light from the city bouncing off of the clouds ... which then lights up the entire Anchorage Bowl. Another Anchorage in winter shot.  There is no moon out, but ambient light from the city lightens things up so you can usually travel without a headlamp.  The white line is a jet heading for the airport.  And in the middle of the trail are two moose.
This is an attempt at a 360 degree panoramic of the Anchorage Bowl at night, under moonlight.
Bear warning on Powerline Pass Trail at Middle Fork Trail cut-off. XC skiers stick to main trail, move away from where the bear has been feeding on a moose kill. In contrast, snowboarder kids come back from "bording with the bear dudes".   Cold weather skiing tip:  Grab onto the sun when your hands get cold.  But be careful, the sun is a tad hot.

Blading the Flats
Knik Arm Duck Flats - November 8, 2009: Cory Smith and I had never bladed (i.e. Nordic skated) the Knik Arm Duck Flats marsh area.  So we headed out to give it a try.  The access route, via Rabbit Slough, was a bit dicey.  The ice on the Duck Flats was solid, but dirty and rough in places from the high winds of a week ago.  Though not perfect ice, it was a fun 20 mile foray on ice and now we can check this location off on the list of places we wanted to skate.  I'll go back here again ... but I will wait until a time when the ice is better.  To see Cory's pictures and a GPS track of where we went, visit Cory's web site.
Heading out on Rabbit Slough, which was not quite ready for prime time skating. Hitting the good stuff on the Duck Flats.
Ice build-up on marsh grasses from wind-whipped spray during the high winds a week ago. Checking out a duck hunter's blind. Cory changes his socks on the stairs of a duck hunting shack. Heading back on Rabbit Slough

Tips for Making A Single-Pole Skiing Sled

November 1, 2009: A skiing question I am often asked is: "How do you build those single-pole skiing sleds?"  So ... now there is no need for me to answer this question any more ... as I put tips for making single-pole sleds on this web page.  Now go build a sled and head off on a ski trip to someplace cool !!


Tips for Making A Single-Pole Skiing Sled


Make Your Own Nordic Skate Sharpening Jig
Late October 2009: The Nordic skating season is coming soon (we all hope).  So are your Nordic skates sharp?  Probably not, so you should consider sharpening them.  To sharpen Nordic skates you can't take them to a hockey skate sharpening place.  Hockey skates are sharpened to have a concave surface on the blade base.  Nordic skates are like speed skates, they need the blade base to be flat.  So you will need a sharpening jig and a sharpening stone.  You can get the stone at a hardware store like AIH (in Anchorage) or maybe Lowe's or Home Depot.  To get a jig you can order one off the web.  But if you are like me, you will say: "Why buy one when I can whip one together with stuff I have lying around my home!?".  So ... here is the jig I made (see below).  It's no work of art ... but it gits 'er done!
1/2 inch plywood makes up the bottom.  Window casement scraps make the ends. To hold the blades firmly I use a metal plate with a wing nut to tighten it down on the skates.  I covered the edge of the plate with duct tape. A long carriage bolt goes through a hole in the plywood.  A nut holds the bolt firmly in place.  And an washer and wing nut are used to tighten the plate down on the sides of the blades. I also installed no-skid rubber tabs on the bottom.  These help when you are sharpening to make sure the jig does not move.
 
Before you go "wilderness" Nordic skating this year, make sure you have ice rescue picks.  These are good ones.  And last year they were for sale at Sportsman's Warehouse for 6 dollars.  Seems like a good deal to me.

Spring Skiing In New Zealand
Cardrona, New Zealand - October 2009: "Hey, I thought this web site was about skiing in Alaska!?!?"  Yeah, it mostly is.  But I thought I'd throw in some recent pictures from down under the equator.  My wife and I were traveling around New Zealand during their spring (Alaska's fall).  We spent a day checking out the Waiorau Snow Farm.  This is a skiing center on the top of a mountain ridge between Wanaka and Queenstown where a number of national ski teams (including the US XC Ski Team) train during the austral winter.  This ski area, the only Nordic skiing center in New Zealand, had stopped setting tracks for the season  two days before we arrived.  We were still able to get some track skiing in ... and also try some Kiwi crust cruising.
Skiing the Merino Glen trails in the bowl below the Snow Farm lodge. Someone went nuts with a bulldozer here.  A very unique trail layout indeed. The distinctive lookout of the Snow Farm lodge. North facing ridges had lost most of their snow (note: at 45 degrees south of the equator the sun is to the north at noon).  If you look closely you can see my wife in this picture. Even though it was partly cloudy, the off track snow froze-up for some decent crust skiing.
Cruising Kiwi Crust. The limestone tors all over this area were strange and bizarre ... yet very cool.  It sure gives this place a Lord of the Rings feel. This tor was creepy.  It seemed to have eyes!  Perhaps it's a frozen orc?!
A panoramic view of the rolling highlands of the Pisa Range.
We checked out a couple neat cabins that are on the Snow Farm trail system. A warning sign on the Snow Farm track setter.
It's evident that the prime business of the Snow Farm owners, John and Mary Lee, is not xc skiing, but the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground (the SHPG).  Automobile industry manufacturers lease facilities from the Lee's for winter conditions testing.  By testing here they can get a jump on new product releases in the northern hemisphere.  The Lee's have many buildings and test tracks set up on top of this ridge.  Check out the picture above of the massive building that covers an indoor ice track. This is the campervan we cruised in (when we weren't hiking or peak bagging) for 15 days around the South Island of New Zealand. But at the nearby Snow Park ski and snowboard area I saw the van we SHOULD have been driving!  Awesome - it even had my name on it!
A few non-skiing shots from New Zealand ...
On Mt. Sebastapol, Mt. Cook in background. Southern Alps. Mt. Haast in the Victoria Range. Tasman Sea beach running. Milford Sound
Castle Mountain above Christchurch. Pacific coast rambling and seal watching. "Bandit Tramping" on sheep stations (ranches). Routeburn Track "We aren't in Alaska anymore, Toto."
Crazy roads. Cool birds - keas (mountain parrots). S l o w l y backing away from a pair of scary and very dangerous New Zealand beasts, and praying they don't charge and attack us!!

Blast from the Past  ...
For the past few years I have been starting off my seasonal web-barrage of skiing pictures ... with oldies pictures.  The above photo is the oldest yet.  It shows that taking skinny skis off the groomed trails and into the boonies, i.e. performance backcountry skiing, is nothing new.  Here a kid (yep, it's me) is ripping through the woods on spring corn snow using wooden racing skis in 1973 (36 years ago).  And lots of kids were doing this kind of skiing long before the kid in the above picture was.  Photo by Jan Reynolds.
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Alaska Performance Backcountry Skiing 2009 Skiing Pictures
2008 Skiing Pictures
2007 Skiing Pictures
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2005 Skiing Pictures

2004 Skiing Pictures