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by: Tim Kelley

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

Late December 2016: Early Winter, Recon Time For Later-Season Ski Routes

I like putting together the pieces to make ski loops.  But first you have to understand what the pieces are and how they fit together.  Early winter is a good time to try and figure out the pieces of trail that make ski loops.  And then try to pull off the loop later in the year when the snow is faster and there is more light.  Recently I have been skiing sections of the northern part of the Haessler-Norris Trail System in the Willow area.  Quite the maze of trails here.  And the map of the area doesn't always jive with trails that are in use.  Frustrating at times, but always fun to ski new trails.

Deception Swamp mushing trails. Mushers like their trails groomed smooth.  It's easy on their dogs' feet. A sign of a real Alaskan town - snowmobiles pulling up to the gas station pumps.  Knik used to have a lot of this, but over the years yuppie-fication has put an end to most of it.  Wonder when the last time was that a snowmobile pulled up to a gas station pump in Anchorage?  1970's?
Mid December 2016: Old School Skiing In The Su Valley

Back in colder previous decades, people would often classic ski (stride) on flat trails.  Due to modern trail grooming, better equipment, warmer weather and infrequent, in Southcentral Alaska at least, snowfalls of cold powder ... this form of skiing is rare these days.  Recently conditions showed up in the Susitna Valley that support this old school technique.  It's fun to get a dose of striding on flat and soft-ish snowmobile trails on Susitna Valley rivers.  You use a technique that is nearly forgotten and it brings back good memories of Iditaski racing in the 80's and a method of travel you once took for granted would always be a staple of your skiing experiences.

Early December 2016: Low-Snow Little Su Skiing

Trails in the Willow area are 1-2 inches of packed powder on top of dirt, brush and tussocks.  Not great skiing.  I heard that Martin Buser had been running his dog teams on the Little Susitna River, so I decided to check that out.  Starting at the Parks Highway bridge that goes over the Little Su in Houston, I skied 9 miles down-river and then back.  Decent trail for classic or skating.  However, the trail went alongside a few open areas where the current flow was swift.  So paying attention and being safe here is key, as getting wet at 10 to15 below zero is not a good idea.  Note: When I go skiing in Houston I park at the Houston Chamber of Commerce cabin near the emergency services building.  Seems safe(?).  Had my vehicle broken into (several years ago) at the Little Su bridge parking lot next to the Parks, so I won't be parking there again.

Late November 2016: 20+ Mile Big Lake Nordic Skating Loops

Big Lake has been offering excellent Nordic skating.  I've logged over 100 miles of skating on Big Lake so far.  You  can do 21-22 mile loops around Big Lake and Mud Lake.  Or you can extend that to nearly 25 by adding in Flat Lake (though you have to walk the road next to the channel that connects the lakes, still some soft spots when I was there).  I'd rather ski than Nordic skate.  But when the ice is as good as it has been on Big Lake, and the only skiing options in Anchorage are tiny loops, I'll take Big Lake big skating loops anytime.  Update: As of 12/1 the skating is over.  Snowfall finally arrived and they have begun plowing Ice 5 (the Big Lake ice road).

The nicest ice I've ever seen on Big Lake. A common Big Lake sight, an Air National Guard C-130 on a training flight. A lady driving a hovercraft.  Some folks that live on islands or sides of lakes with no road access use hovercrafts during freeze-up and break-up times, when boats, snowmobiles, cars/trucks, hiking or airplanes can't get you to your home.
Late November 2016: Skating, Biking or Belly-Sliding ... It's All Good

No snow at low elevations in the Susitna Valley.  But the skating, ice-biking and belly-sliding is all good.

River otter belly-slide tracks on Horseshoe Lake

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Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing