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by: Tim Kelley

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

Skiing From Beach to Hillside
February 27, 2011: I figured it would be a fun challenge to try to and ski from the Beach Lake Trails in Chugiak to the Hillside Trails in Anchorage.  From previous ski and mountain bike trips I knew all of the trail sections that I would have to link up.  I just needed the right conditions to make it all come together.  Well, the right conditions showed up for this urban trail connecting puzzle.  This ski trip turned out to be fun due to its diversity:  groomed trails, un-groomed trails, mushing trails, skiing on roads, lakes, bike trails and under power lines, skiing in places where they warn of wolf attacks, skiing through a military base, running a few miles, skiing next to Alaska's busiest highway, skiing "secret" neighborhood trails ... yep, plenty of variety.

Here is a description of the route:  Chugiak High School.  Beach Lake ski trails.  Beach Lake Road to Beach Lake.  Beach Lake mushing trails to the Conners Beach (military) Road.  (Yes, I called in my Recreation Access Permit number to the Army, and checked out when I was done).  Clunie Lake Road.  Across Clunie Lake.  Clunie Lake Road to railroad crossing.  Pole Line Road.  Davis Highway.  Bike Trail around the National Guard airfield (it was spread with gravel, had to run 2 miles), Dyea "Flagpole Trails", bike trail along the Glenn Highway, Muldoon overpass, Centennial Park, local Muldoon trails to power line on Fort Rich, Far North Bicentennial Park, Tank Trail, Gasline Trail and multi-use trail to Hillside parking lot on Abbot Road.

One bad thing that happened on this ski trip is that I damaged my camera.  Grrrr ... now it's on its way to Canon for repairs.  So here are a few pictures leading up to the demise of my camera.

GPS track: 34 miles. Beach Lake mushing trails. Wolf tracks on north Fort Rich trail. Wind blown-in military vehicle tracks (good skiing). Insignia on old jet.
This was a cool sight along the Conners Beach Road - remains of an F-15 Eagle. Insignia on old jet. I didn't see any wolves, though I was hoping to.  Update: The State would eventually kill 9 wolves on Fort Rich. Clunie Lake. Un-sanded northern Fort Rich roads.  FAST double-poling.

Ptarmigan Lake (Moose Pass)
Late February 2011: During the last weekend of February there were high winds hammering Southcentral Alaska.  I wanted to pick a ski route that would at least partially be out of the wind, so I suggested to my wife we ski to Ptarmigan Lake.  This is the only lake in the Moose Pass area I had not skied on and I had wanted to check it out for quite a while.  Snowmobiles are not allowed on the 4 mile Chugach National Forest Ptarmigan Creek Trail that leads to the lake.  So it's a narrow snowshoe trail that you can ski 75 percent of.  The trail was wind free, but we found plenty of wind on the lake as we skied to the far end and back.
GPS track: 17 miles RT. Skiing a snowshoe trail next to Ptarmigan Creek. My wife skied through this hole, but I chickened out!  ;-) Skinny skis on a skinny trail.
On Ptarmigan Lake, heading east. Having fun bucking the wind.  The "fuzzy" surface of the lake in the distance is blowing snow. The east end of the lake, skiing back into the wind.  Mountain ridges block the sun from hitting this lake for most of the winter. A windy day in the Kenai Mountains.  The high peak is Mt. Ascension.  Last summer Dante Petri and friends did a cool July ski descent of this peak.
  There is minimal snow in the Kenai Mountains this winter.  So avalanche danger on this trail was low.  On normal snow years there is likely much higher avalanche exposure on this route, so beware.  

Have You Skied All of the Groomed Trail Systems in Anchorage?

Here is a skiing project for you if you live in or near Anchorage: Ski all trails on all of the groomed trail systems in the Municipality of Anchorage (MOA).  By groomed I mean machine groomed using some kind of drag, not trails that are skied-in or made by recreational snowmobilers, snowshoes, winter bikes, foot, paw or hoof.  Here is a list of what I think the groomed trail systems in the Municipality of Anchorage are (I'm listing them somewhat in north to south order, and somewhat grouping them by the organizations that do the grooming):

Eklutna Lake Campground trails, groomed by the Chugach State Park
Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) Mirror Lake School Trails
Edmonds / Mirror Lake Trails (groomed infrequently)
Beach Lake Mushing Trails
Eagle River Nordic Ski Club / NSAA Chugiak / Beach Lake Trails
Eagle River High School Trails
Eagle River Nature Center Trails
Dyea Ski Trails (Fort Richardson)
Eagleglen Golf Course Ski Trails (Elmendorf AFB)
MOA groomed bike trails in the Anchorage Bowl (many, including Ship Creek, Chester Creek, Campbell Creek and Coastal Trail)
NSAA Anchorage Bowl trails (Bartlett, Russian Jacks, Tour of Anchorage Trail, Hillside, Kincaid)
APU Groomed Trails
BLM Groomed Trails in Far North Bicentennial Park
Chugach State Park Hillside Trails
Tozier Track Dog Mushing Trails
Campbel Lake Homeowners Association's groomed trail on Campbell Lake
Girdwood Nordic Ski Club Trails
Chugach Powder Guides cat track

There are also a few bandit groomed trail systems in the Muni.  But my life would be at risk if I identified them.  So the above list is all I can think of.  If you are looking for a quick local trip to ski someplace new and you haven't completed this list, well now you have a goal!  This of course isn't backcountry skiing, but it may be some fun "skiing at new and different places" for you.  It's all good.

Recently I think I finally wrapped up skiing all the groomed trail systems in the MOA.  I had two left - Dyea and Eagleglen.  Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of these trail systems.  I would bet 90% of xc skiers in Anchorage have never heard of or skied on these trails.  Both of these trail systems are on our military bases, so you need to go to the main gate off the Glenn Highway and get a free RAP (Recreation Access Permit) to ski these trails.  I skied Eagleglen first.  The outer loop was just under 4 miles.  It's about half golf course skiing and half trails in the woods.  It's pretty flat, really just one hill, but it's neat skiing next to Ship Creek.

When I skied at the Dyea ski area I was surprised by the amount of groomed trails they had.  It wasn't really that much, but way more than I had expected.  The trails go right next to the big Fort Rich flagpole you can see from the Glenn Highway.  Of course when you finish skiing here you have to tuck the little Dyea alpine skiing and snowboard hill.  There are usually a bunch of rote beginners on this hill so they will be dazzled by your skill and prowess in bombing  this massive 50-60? foot vertical ski area.

Eagleglen golf course ski trails.  This picture shows a skier, Ship Creek, a suspension bridge across the creek and the club house. Checking out the ski trails at Eagleglen has been on my low-priority, backburner to-do list for 20 plus years.  It's finally checked off the list now. The Dyea Ski Area trails go past the main Fort Richardson flagpole that you can see from the Glenn Highway.

Recent Photos
Night skiing under nature's floodlight in the Western Chugach Mountains. High winds racing to an incoming low pressure system, vacuuming the snow off the Big Susitna River. Real Alaskan women: 1) have their own chainsaws, and 2) don't let others use their chainsaws. "No! You'll just screw it up!  Use your own damn chainsaw!"

More Talkeetna Ski-Ramblings

Talkeetna River to Sheep River

February 11 & 12, 2011: This winter my wife and I tried out staying at rental cabins in Talkeetna a couple of times.  Early winter finds Talkeetna cabin rentals available with only a day's notice.  And the rental rates are discounted because of low demand.  So this turned out to be a good deal and a great way to spend time in Talkeetna and check out some of their trails.  On a recent trip we skied the Luthman Trail and did two skis on or near the Talkeetna River.  Shown below are pictures from a 13 mile loop I did with my wife.  And a 28 mile river ski I did by myself to get to the Sheep River and back.
GPS tracks: Yellow = 13 miles.  Talkeetna River yellow + maroon = 28 miles RT. 2/11: Skiing mushing trails to the south of the Talkeetna River.   Stopping for tea at Tim's Talkeetna Taj Mahal.
  Sphagnum moss blowing in the wind. Skiing a riverside trail cut in the willows. The snowmobile trail on the Talkeetna River.  
2/12: Cottonwood sunrise at 15 degrees below zero. A river otter had found salmon remains in the river and brought them here to munch on them. Just above the Talkeetna River confluence with the Sheep River are these neat looking granite intrusions. Heading back.  -5 F, wind at my back, sun in my face.
Luthman Trail to Montana Creek Falls
February 10, 2011: Until a month ago I had never heard of the Luthman Trail.  A little research showed that it was a popular hiking trail with the Talkeetna locals, and the trail's destination was a cool waterfall in an area that you would not think had large waterfalls.  I figured this trail would be a good candidate for a winter trip with my wife.  With fresh snowfall and knowing we'd be following a creek, we decided to do a combination snowshoe and ski.  By snowshoeing in we made a good trail for skiing out, and packed in some detours around wet spots.  We could tell that several days before we went a couple of very determined snowmobilers fought their way up this route to within a quarter mile of the falls.  Without their trail this trip to the falls would have been a very long and slow slog through deep snow.
GPS track, 9 miles RT. Trailhead on Yoder Road. Snowshoeing in. Approaching the falls. The falls, frozen.
Heading down from the falls. The slave husband carries the skis in, snowshoes out. Skiing out. My wife deals with a crumbling snow bridge.
  Rock dancing. Arriving back at the trailhead, which is next to the Montana Creek bridge. An Aquatic Restoration and Research Institute photo of the falls in summer.  

A Ski To My Wife's Past

February 6, 2011: When my wife was in her early teens she would work at her family's commercial setnet fishing camp near the mouth of the Big Susitna River.  She would get flown out to this remote location in her father's Super Cub and would spend the fishing season wrestling salmon out of gill nets, pulling nets against the Cook Inlet tides, pushing setnet skiffs off mud bars and living at her family's remote fish camp.  I had wondered where this fish camp was.  And it had been 40 years since my wife had been there.  So I suggested that we try to find the old family fish camp ... on skis of course.  We snowmobiled to the Figure Eight Lake trail and then skied south onto the Susitna coastal flats.  We lucked out and were able to find the old fish camp.  Here are some pictures from this ski trip ...

GPS track of our route, 28 miles. Skis strapped to her snowmobile ... she's ready to go!  (as always) The start of this ski trek involved following some obscure, long and non-descript old seismic testing cut lines that were made a long time ago. Eventually we hit the sweet zone ... winter crust we could skate fast on.
  Tracks of a wolf pack.   On an isolated, treed moraine we stopped to get out of the wind and wax up for skiing the brush zone to the coast.
Leaving the "tree island" and heading south to the coast. The brush zone looked endless and forbidding for skiing.  But a mosaic of moose trails made for easy travelling. At the high tide mark we visited an old boat that my wife's father said was once owned by Joe Redington Sr., founder of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
We skied by this classic setnetter abode.  This house built (in the 50's) on top of a skiff was where a Swiss couple named Joe and Lottie Cameron lived when they were out here working the fishing season. My wife's family's old fish camp. A view of Anchorage in the distance. My wife leaving the fish camp behind.
Tough physical work as a kid, like working at fish camps, often makes for tough adults ... as would be the case with this girl. Everyone has heard chipmunks sing, like in Disney movies.  It is a little known fact that beavers sing too.  This is where a very famous singing beaver lives.  It's the house of Justin Beaver!   Saddling up after a good day of skiing to places we'd never skied to before. Nice Susitna sunset to end the day.

100 Miles of Caribou Hills

January 29-30, 2011: This weekend I skied the 100 mile route that is used for the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race (the T-200) .  I did this as an overnight campout trip.  This is actually the 2nd time I have skied  this sled dog race course in the Caribou Hills area of the Kenai Peninsula, my first time was in 2004.  Since I skied this course in 2004 a lot has changed.  In 2007 there was a massive forest fire here.  It was unbelievable to ski a bleak landscape where trails, like the "5000 Road", once cut through dense timber.  So now that I have skied this 100 mile trail in both directions I can arguably say I've done the T-200.  The catch is, I set the record for slowest time ever for the T-200 ... 7 years!!

This is approximately the course of the 2011 T-200.  My GPS said the route was 104 miles. Sled dog racing trails are usually well marked by wooden lathes with reflective tape. Near the start I skied underneath a HUGE eagle. This shows my travel mode: a small Camelback pack and overnight gear in a sled. Working my way up old oil and gas exploration seismic cut lines.  The Caribou Hills are crisscrossed with these.
Up higher I came across a spring cabin owners had tapped for a community waterhole. At the first checkpoint on Caribou Hills the T-200 mushers had gone by.  But the T-100 mushers were passing.  Cook Inlet in the distance. Signs of the massive 2007 forest fire that burned a big chunk of the Caribou Hills area. Near the top of the Caribou Hills there are lots of private parcels, and lots of cabins. A T-100 racer chases another musher up on a seismic line cut on the Caribou Hills.
The Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers snowmobile club grooms many of the trails in this area. The 1996 and 2007 forest fires in this area made for some desolate cabin sites, with great views. When I see dangers in the trail, like this sinkhole, I take the time to mark them to alert mushers. A couple of T-100 mushers slowly climb through burned forest up one of the many climbs in the Caribou Hills.  The T-200 is the hilliest of all the Iditarod qualifier races.  By far.
I skied past Caribou Lake in the dark, with a stop to chat with the T-100 mushers who had a big bonfire on the lake, and set up camp for the night.  I did 60 miles the first day. Breakfast before dawn.  My usual - a slurry of instant oatmeal and hot chocolate with bagel.  Quick and easy hydration and calories. It's often easy to see where you came from and where you are going on these trails.  Lots of straight shot seismic runs. A stark, post apocalypse landscape at dawn.
Runway model turned musher Zoya DeNure of Paxon.  Note the ski pole.  Mushers often kick and pole like xc skiers.   T-200 racer Kristy Berington of Kasilof. Crossed trail markers mean ... watch out!  Steep hills, overflow or rough trail ahead. OK, I can see where I will be going.  A seismic line leads towards Tustumena Lake.
  Skiing through bleak terrain on the way down from the Caribou Hills towards Clam Gulch. Dee Dee Jonrowe and her team blows by me on their way to the T-200 win.  A 57 year old car crash and cancer survivor, Dee Dee is a tough lady.  

Patrick's Kodiak Crust

Mid January 2011: It seems like a skier worthy of envy in Alaska is Patrick Saltonstall.  Patrick has his own private island where crust skiing can occur at any time during winter.  The island is Kodiak Island and it is private because he is often the only skier, or one of very few skiers, out cruising Kodiak crust snow.  Recently he met up with long time ski racer Brian Glaspell and they both got some Kodiak mountain skate skiing in.  Here's a short video that Patrick made to show what it's like.  Check out Patrick's YouTube channel - he's a good skier and has videos of many of his Kodiak ski-ventures.

Patrick's back yard. Patrick, crust snow and sun ... in early January! Brian Glaspell skiing Kodiak in January.
Above photos from Patrick Saltonstall's blog.

Talkeetna - Larson Lake

Mid January 2011: For many years I have heard of and read about Larson Lake east of Talkeetna.  Looking at maps it seemed like Larson Lake would be a cool place to ski to.  I couldn't find any information on trails to this lake, so I went up to Talkeetna with my wife and we started wandering trails in the general direction of the lake until we found a way to it.  Most maps don't show recent roads east of Talkeetna or even the Intertie (power line).  There are a lot of cool mushing and snowmobile trails to ski east of Talkeetna.  And a fun way to learn these trails is to just head out and ski-explore them.

"X" marks Larson Lake east of Talkeetna. Skiing into the sunrise. I'm always ready with my camera to document "wife crashes".  But they rarely happen. The Intertie - backbone to many feeder mushing and snowmobile trails. My wife arriving at the south end of Larson Lake.
  Looked like a coyote had dug up a salmon jawbone. Nils Hahn and his great looking dog team on Larson Lake. Ha ha ... now give me my camera back please.  
The abandoned Bartlett Earth Station (1970's era satellite communications station). A raven admiring its shadow. Land of sphagnum moss and glacial moraines.
I knew Talkeetna was a friendly place.  But they even let snowboarders on their ski trails?! The Ridge Trail.  Very nice. STEEEEEEP !! Nice skiing on tops of moraines. "REPENT ye skiers that never leave thy groomed xc ski trails, or thou shalt never know thy true Alaska!"  ;-)

Curry Ridge Riders Trails - West Loop

January 7, 2011: There were a few trails on the west side of the Curry Ridge Riders snowmobile club's great groomed trail system in Petersville and Trapper Creek that I had not skied.  So I went and did a loop to check them out.  This area did not get hit as hard as Anchorage with the meltdown that came through the week before.  So it was good combi-skiing - skating the flats and downs, striding the uphills.  I chose a non-weekend day to do this ski loop to minimize the number of snowmobile encounters.  I only saw about 10 snowmobilers.  I had been sick for a while, so it felt really good to be out skiing backcountry trails again.

Route, approx. 30 miles. Black spruce sunrise. Safari Lake Trail Chunky at the start.  Better closer to the Peters Hills. Lots of trail signage, it would be hard to get lost here.
3 feet of snow.  Not that much for the Petersville area. Nice conditions on the East-West Trail heading to the Petersville Road. Low and blinding sun on the Petersville Road.  It's that time of year. The Forks Roadhouse Forks Roadhouse guard dog.
I found this Dodge key out on the trail.  Someone dropped it.  Bummer.  I left it at Gate Creek Cabins. Mt. McKinley turned cloud-free later in the day.  Was a little chilly here, just south of zero F.  On clear days this area is usually 20 degrees colder than Anchorage. Good cruising on the Petersville Road. I'm a member of the Curry Ridge Riders snowmobile club.  I've actually never snowmobiled on CRR trails.  But I love to ski on them. I finally checked out Wal-Mikes in Trapper Creek.  Wow.  Not many stores like this place!  Put it on your list to check it out.

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Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing