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by: Tim Kelley

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20 February 2013: After Work Urban Backcountry Loop

More Urban Backcountry skiing !?  Yep.  I've been having fun coming up with these local ski loops, that combine urban trails and trail-less areas.  But this kick is about over.  I have just one more Urban Backcountry loop on the list (unless a new idea pops into my head).

I did this West Anchorage loop after work on this day.  The idea was to link up several large undeveloped pieces of land that run north to south: Connors Bog, Strawberry Lake area, the land between C street and Minnesota (south of Dimond) and the large swampy area north of Klatt Road.  Then to finish the loop after this link-up - ski the coast and the Coastal Trail to Earthquake Park.  The crux of this loop is the airport area.  I waited until after a snowfall and reconned the roads and bike trails going past Lake Hood to make sure they were ski-able.  I started and finished at the Connors Bog parking lot.  I was able to ski the whole loop with the exception of 5 road crossings.

As expected, I found lots of backcountry ski trails running through the undeveloped land that I skied through.  So the amount of trail-less skiing was likely less than 5 miles.  Most of the trail-less skiing was on the coast.  But there were also some great ski and snowshoe trails on the coast.

Ski route: 22 miles. Urban Backcountry Skiing ... bring it on!  ;-) Just after sunset at the Carr Gottstein Park, Pt. Campbell in the distance. Snow biking is sometimes not that awesome. Nice snowshoe trail, looking back towards Campbell Lake,
  The Anchorage coast is scary place at night ... ice floes with fangs!  
16 February 2013: A Beaut Butte Loop

I had been wanting to do this ski loop for a while.  But I had to wait for over two months this winter for conditions to be right.  Winds can quickly steal the snowcover from this area of the Knik and Matanuska rivers.  And wind has done that here a number of times this winter.  So when several inches of snow fell, followed by a windless day, I figured it was time to give this loop a try.

I started and finished this loop at the Knik River Bridge on the Old Glenn Highway.  I went in a clockwise direction down the Knik River, up the Matanuska River (with a stop at the "Mini Butte").  From the Matanuska Bridge I took the bike trail to Maud Road, skied the snowmobile trail along the side of the road to the end of Maud Road, skied down the snowmobile/truck route to Mud Lake, skied south to the Knik River (got messed up in this area a bit - see map) and once on the Knik River floodplain skied down to the Old Glenn bridge.

About half of this route required breaking trail.  So that made progress slow at times.  95 percent of the time I classic skied and two-sticked.  Hardly any skating in these conditions.  I saw a number of old ski tracks on this loop.  From this and previous trips to this area - it seems like xc skiing is pretty big with Butte residents.  Overall, this was a fun loop around Bodenburg Butte - varied trails, some unique country I had not been to before, nice weather, temps in the 20's.  Also, it's satisfying to see a new ski loop go from your imagination to reality ... which is something that always seems to keep me entertained.

Ski route - 30 miles. Satellite view of route, shows river channels. Pioneer Peak. Wind on top of Pioneer Peak, weather is changing. Nice ATV trails along the Knik River.
I brought Neos overboots for water crossings.  I used them twice. View of Bodenburg Butte from the southwest. There was some nice riparian cottonwood skiing. Much of the Mat river floodplain was covered in ice from early season flooding.  This made for good skiing. On top of the "Mini Butte", that I hiked to this year with my wife.
Following Ranger/Rhino tracks along the Matanuska River.  Bodenburg and Burnt Buttes in the distance. The Alaska state bird - the willow ptarmigan. Following snowmobile tracks towards the Matanuska bridge.  Matanuska Peak in the distance. Skiing across the old Old Glenn Highway bridge over the Matanuska River.
Looking at Bodenburg Butte and Pioneer Peak from the north.  Clouds moving in. Following old, and road grime filled, ski tracks on the Old Glenn Highway bike trail. An abandoned house on the banks of the Matanuska River.  A number of houses here have been "eaten" by the eastward shifting channel of the Matanuska River.  Looks like this house is next.
  South of Mud Lake, heading towards the Knik River. Following a snowmobile on the final stretch of the Knik River. Open water just before ending at the Knik River Bridge.  Time to break out the Neos overboots again.  
Early February 2013: Mid-Anchorage Urban Backcounty Ski Loop

A side-project of mine over the past few years has been to come up with new Anchorage Urban Backcountry skiing loops.  These are loops that combine established winter trails in Anchorage with some backcountry skiing.  This loop is my latest.

I started and ended this loop at the Huffman Carrs store.  Here is a description of the loop: headed west to the Old Seward roundabout, railroad tracks to Oceanview Bluff Park, Anchorage Coastal Refugee to Campbell Creek, across Campbell Lake, Campbell Creek bike trail to the New Seward Highway, skied under the bridges, followed bike trail to Lake Otis Parkway, bike trail to Tour of Anchorage Trail, TOA trail to Service HS, subdivision and roadside sidewalks to the Abbott Loop/ Elmore Road intersection, Ruth Arcand Park equestrian trails and backcountry trails to the Lake Otis softball fields at O'Malley, crossed O'Malley and Lake Otis and skied undeveloped land south to the Tanglewood Lakes golf course, through the South Anchorage Assembly school grounds to Huffman Road, and then to Carrs.

If you find yourself getting bored of the standard cross country skiing options in Anchorage, then maybe it's time you gave the dark side of Anchorage xc skiing a try.

Ski route - 24.9 miles. We haven't had enough snow this year to knock down the grasses on the coastal flats. Signs of the times.  Many more snow bike tracks than ski tracks.  XC skiing is not cool any more. Skate tracks on the coastal flats, and high winds in Turnagain Arm. Kite boarder tracks.
Nice trail on Campbell Lake.  A lakeside resident sets these tracks. Don't fall through the ice on Campbell Creek, cuz the ice sharks will getcha! Trivia:  This boarded-up house along Campbell Creek housed the NSAA offices in the 80's. The temporary bridge for the New Seward Highway doesn't give you much clearance. My first time skiing on groomed equestrian trails.
  Skiing besides the O'Malley Golf Course fence.  I've heard that some people jump the fence and crust ski on this golf course, even though they are not supposed to.  I find such behavior shocking!  Just shocking!   ;-) Nearing the end of the loop.  You never know what you will find in the woods of Anchorage, Alaska.  
03 February 2013: Winter In Willow, Finally

Finally, some snow and decent trails in the Susitna Valley.  I went up to Nancy Lakes and did the classic Red Shirt Lake - Big Swamp Loop (Nancy Lake Parkway - Red Shirt - Steve's Trail - Iron Dog - Big Swamp - Old Hunter - Rolly Lakes - Parkway to trailhead).  The trails were a bit soft, as new snowfall hadn't had time to set up.  But the trails were firm enough for skating.  It started spitting rain as I was leaving.  Hopefully the snow will hang in there.

The route - approx 30 miles. Are there trails in Willow?  Yep, there are lots of trails in Willow. A marker on Red Shirt Lake for the start of "Steve's Trail". One of my favorite Willow Trails - the Old Hunter Trail.
26 January 2013: Palmer Creek Road

Skiing the Palmer Creek Road, south of Hope, had been on my list of "places to ski that I have never skied at before".  Though I had never skied this road, I had driven it quite a few times, and I had even mountain bike raced it once.  And, I was skiing at the head of this valley last summer.

In the winter this road is not plowed and it becomes a snowmobile trail.  There had been snowmobiles on this road earlier this year, and they made a good trail.  But recently snowmobiling on this road, and in this valley, was cancelled due to low snow conditions.  So I guess I lucked out - because I had a nice trail, and the Palmer Creek Valley all to myself, on this clear and cold day.

The route - approx 20 miles out and back on the Palmer Creek Road. Nearing the top of the long climb at the start of this ski.  The Resurrection Valley is in the distance. Past the big climb, heading into the Palmer Creek Valley.
Nearing the end of the Palmer Creek Road.  You can see wind-driven snow plumes on the ridges. Passing by the Coer D'Alene campground. Heading back down towards Hope.  You can see Anchorage in the distance.
Mid January 2013: A Quirky Park Link-Up Loop In East Anchorage

STILL waiting for decent snow and weather on backcountry trails in Southcentral, Alaska.  Geez, what a year.  So for kicks, I pulled out the rock skis and did a park link-up loop in east Anchorage.  This loop hit three parks that have trails, but they are parks I had never skied at before (Nunaka Valley, Cheney Lake and Baxter Bog).  This loop required some sidewalk skiing on thin snow in Nunaka Valley and along Baxter Road.  But I was able to ski the entire loop, except for 3 road crossings and one underpass.

Route: 20 miles.  Start and finish at Hillside Trails, Abbott Road parking lot. The small parks I linked into this loop were Nunaka Valley, Cheney Lake and Baxter Bog. Nunaka Valley.  Cool ridge (moraine) in this park that I didn't know about. Cheney Lake.  Crazy the number of trees blown down here last September. Baxter Bog.  Really nice trail around the park.
06 January 2013: A Cool Skiing Destination, Via Plan B

This summer my wife and I were on top of Bodenburg Butte, for the first time in about 25 years.  On top I looked to the southeast and saw a small butte out in the Matanuska River flood plain.  I was surprised that I hadn't noticed this highpoint before.  I said to my wife: "We gotta ski to that place!"

Well, I ran out of patience waiting for ski-able snow in the lowlands.  So we pulled a "Plan B" and hiked from the Old Glen Highway bridge down the west side of the Matanuska River to this mini butte.  We hiked river bars, overflow ice and ATV trails (there was an ATV trail that went to the top of this bump).  This butte must have a name, I hope to find out someday.  I plan on going back when there is snow, and when I can use skis instead of IceBug running shoes.

Hiking along the west bank of the Matanuska River.  Bodenburg Butte is in the center.  The mini butte we hiked to can be seen on the right of this photo.
We went from the bridge to the "mini butte" and back.  Don't know this butte's name (yet). Bodenburg Butte to the northeast, open main channel of the Matanuska River and a severe lack of snow. Checking things out from on top of the mini butte.  An ATV trail went to the top of this hill. We saw three ice bikers east of the Matanuska main channel.  They had lots of overflow ice to cruise on.
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Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing