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by: Tim Kelley

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Late February 2017: The Potter Drop, An Illegal Lost Skiing Venue In Anchorge

Anchorage, Alaska has a few "bandit ski areas".  These are locations where skiers can be driven to the top of a run, ski down, and then get picked up (and do it again perhaps).

The granddaddy of all drive-up, ski-down trails in Anchorage is probably the 5 Mile Trail that starts at the old military Arctic Valley ski site and parallels the road down to the biathlon range.  Another drive up, ski down venue is the Glen Alps drop-off, followed by a post-ski pickup on Canyon Road.

5 or so years ago another drive-up, ski-down venue appeared. Though, I will say up front, this was an illegal skiing venue because the access crossed private land.  And most people did not have permission to do this.  During the early stages of the Southpointe subdivision on the south side of Potter Valley there was an undeveloped cul de sac at the end of the road.  Folks would get dropped off here and skin or hike to the top of the ridge.  Then they would ski down through woodlands, cross the Old Johnson trail, and end at the Seward Highway ... where they would get picked up.   The subdivisions developers eventually put a stop to this skiing venue.  Now mostly only the residents that live in the area and know how to navigate private properties without trespassing ski here.  Though you can still ski from the Old Johnson Trail up through Chugach State Park land to the top of the ridge, and come back down.

I've always referred to this route as the "Potter Drop".  From the top of the ridge I drop down to the Old Johnson Trail and ski it to the Potter Section House.  Of course, conditions make or break this route.  I choose the rare powder days we have near the mouth of Turnagain Arm.  I hadn't done this route for a few years because of unfavorable snow conditions.  But this year has had good snow to pull off this scenic and unique route.  Note: The route on the map below starts at the Chugach State Park boundary.  Respect land owners and do not trespass to do this ski route.

Route: Start at CSP boundary. Beautiful glade skiing on top. Painting the canvas.
Views during the Potter Drop aren't bad. Hitting the Old Johnson Trail.
  Texas Christmas tree decoration on the Old Johnson Trail.  Can't say I've ever seen this before.  


Mid February 2017: A Quick Local Ski Trip - The Rippy Trail
Winter and fall shots from must-stop-at overlook on Rippy Trail.


A unique place to ski, that does not see many skiers, is the Rippy Trail.  After snowfalls (like we've had a lot of), with loose snow tempering your speed ... this is a good out and back route.  I park at the end of Maud Road in Palmer (Butte area) and ski the traveled but not plowed road for 3 miles to the start of the Rippy Trail.  Trucks and cars use this section for access to a Department of Natural Resources run shooting range.  But I'd rather ski this section than drive it as it's sketchy going if you meet an on-coming vehicle on this essentially one-lane winter road.  The Rippy Trail was upgraded a few years ago by former Dartmouth ski racer Jon Underwood and his Happy Trails business.  Because a skier last worked on this trail, not surprisingly it has a really good flow for skiing.  But I'd suggest not skiing this trail if it's icy.

GPS track: 13 miles out and back from the end of Maud Road. Start of Rippy Trail, 3 miles in from end of Maud Road. Rippy Trail shots, metal bridge near end of trail seen in photo on right.


Early February 2017: A Fogged-out, Yet Fun, Ski Trip

Recently my wife and I snowmobiled to the Big Indian Creek cabin in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  Our intent was to ski-explore the nearby Chickaloon Tidal Flats.  But dense fog at sea level (the same ice fog that Anchorage experienced for two weeks) made for not seeing much of anything while skiing.

While there, we buzzed out to Burnt Island.  This is an island at the mouth of Turnagain Arm, on the edge of the Chickaloon Tidal Flats.  Most Anchorage residents have seen Burnt Island, you see it as you drive south out of Anchorage.  But very few people go here due to there being no easy access (except by small plane).  I skied to Burnt Island 13  years ago (70+ mile RT on the Mystery Creek road/trail).  But my wife had never been here.  So now she can look at Burnt Island from our house and say that she's been there.

This small island is half owned by the Feds, and half privately owned.  It's only truly an island, in my opinion, at very high tides ... when it is surrounded by water, and not mud.  In the above picture you can make out a small cabin.  12 years ago the private half of this island was listed for sale for one million dollars ($1,000,000).  But that was quite a bit higher than the $11,000 tax appraisal value the Kenai Borough tagged this property with.  Like almost 100 times more than it's likely value.  So it looks like this property never sold, as the cabin is not doing well.  A tree has fallen and punctured the roof, deadfall covers the short trail to the cabin and the dock that was once anchored to the shore is gone, a victim of the tides.  Indeed, this is a cool, yet very inconvenient, location for a cabin.

We stayed at the Big Indian Creek cabin, which you can rent online.  Nice place.  Interesting, long ago there was once a primitive mining road from Hope to this area.  From Hope the Gull Rock Trail follows the old mining road.  But from Gull Rock to Burnt Island, the road is pretty much lost to time (and downed beetle-killed spruce trees).  You follow remnants of the old road between Burnt Island and Big Indian Creek.  Another Burnt Island tidbit: inveterate adventurer Mel Straugh of Anchorage has figured out a way to calculate and  time Turnagain Arm tides and hike the shoreline from Gull Rock to Burnt Island.  He's hiked from Hope to Burnt Island and back a couple of times.

A foggy day on the Chickaloon Tidal Flats The Big Indian Creek public use cabin
Early February 2017: Dry, Cold And Slow Snow.  But Not Complaining.

Finally, after a 3 year hiatus, we have decent snow cover in Southcentral, Alaska.  Storms have delivered dry and air-filled snow.  On-trail skiing has been good, though slow.  Skiing off-trail - not so fun ... you sink right through the snow to the ground.  Not yet the conditions for throwing down big loops ... so nothing new for ski routes yet.  But it's been fun skiing trails I haven't skied in 3 years due to previous low-to-no snow winters.

On the trail to Beluga, west of the Big Susitna River.  Hadn't skied here for a few years due to lack of snow.
A cool "cut bank end-run" trail along the Big Susitna River.  Folks that haul freight across the Big Su have to deal with the river's cut banks.  River erosion and snow drifting can determine if a snowmobile pulling a heavy load can make it up a cut bank.  If you are hauling 55 gallon drums of fuel, you don't want to get part way up a cut bank and start sliding backwards.  So sometimes to avoid a 30 feet section of steep cut bank trail, a bypass trail will be made.  In this case the trail went one mile down the Big Su until a gradual ramp up off the river was found.  Then the trail meandered through big cottonwoods back to the top of the cut bank.
Above and below, skiing on Big Lake Trails.  Good conditions, though cold and slow-ish snow.
Some hoar frost-covered winter crust skiing in the Twentymile, Portage and Placer River valleys.
     River otter tracks, heading to open water at base of a frozen waterfall.

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Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing