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Ski Trips:

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by: Tim Kelley

Early February 2020: Eklutna Lake to Chugiak (Beach Lake Trails), via Eklutna Canyon

So, here's a new ski route.  I had been working on this route, doing recon, off and on ever since the dam in Eklutna Canyon was torn down a few years ago.  With the dam gone, I figured you could ski from Eklutna Lake down through the canyon and out to the Inlet.  If the conditions allowed.  Well, now I know that you "can" ski this canyon route.  But it's tricky.  It took me 5 or 6 recon trips to figure out how to get through the canyon, and to pre-check ice conditions.

The other challenge was figuring out how to get past the shooting ranges west of the Birchwood airport.  I once kayaked from the Knik River Bridge to the Port of Anchorage, and naively went past these firing ranges.  Not fun.  Lesson learned.  You don't want to be down-range from a war zone.

The crux of this trip was the narrow point of the canyon about 3/4 of a mile above the dam site.  Why was it a crux.  One word: beavers!  Some adventurous beavers had moved into the upper part of the canyon and decided to build a dam to replace the one that humans had torn down.  So the bottom line was ... I had to bring a pack raft.  Just to use it to navigate 20 feet of water (that was 5-6 feet deep).

A surprise, at least to me, on this ski was the water pipeline access trail along the Eklutna River above the canyon.  I mountain biked this road in the 80's when it was first built.  Then I skied it 10+ years ago and it was very overgrown.  But in the last couple(?) of years the trail has been cleared so trucks could drive it.  Super nice skiing ... as long as the half-dozen river fords are frozen and cross-able.

This ski trip is a type of skiing I call Urban Backcountry XC (UBXC) skiing.  Elements of backcountry wilderness are mixed with populated environments.  This is a type of skiing that we can do in Southcentral Alaska that is rather unique.  Of course, this xc skiing sub-genre is off the radar of mainstream xc skiing, and practiced by only a handful.  Or ... maybe half a handful.  Or ..  maybe just me.  Whatever ... it's a kick figuring out UBXC ski routes.  Have been doing UBXC skiing projects now and then for years: http://crust.outlookalaska.com/UBXC/

AWWU access road to the water tunnel outflow station. AWWU (Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility) pipeline access road.  Good skiing. Where the access road starts up a step climb to the Eklutna Lake Rd, I went left and bushwhacked 1/2 to get to the canyon.
Start of the canyon.  No skiing here.  1/2 mile of river walking in Neos overboots, over my ski boots. My pack raft on a beaver dam, after the 20 feet of rafting I had to do.  Thanks beavers. I drug my pack raft for a while after the beaver dam, but didn't need to use it.
Skiing through the canyon, above the site of the old dam. At the site of the old dam.  People frequently hike from the lower end of the canyon up to this point.  So there was a trail from here on out. The most popular ice climb in Eklutna Canyon - Ripple.
Ice climbers. Out of the canyon.  Under the Old Glenn Hwy bridge. Following the powerline towards Mirror Lake school. At the mouth of Peters Creek.
Skied between fences of the airport and the AK troopers firing range. Skiing along the coast towards Beach Lake.  Slow going.  The Chugiak Dog Mushers Association trail on the tidal flats.
Beach Lake. Skiing past dog mushers parking lot, a mile from the Beach Lake Trails chalet.  Last picture before my phone's battery gave out. GPS track: ~24 miles.

Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing