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Ski Trips:

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by: Tim Kelley

Late April - Early May 2020: Broad Pass, West Side

Last year we parked at Milepost 201 on the Parks Highway, at Broad Pass, and skied west into Denali National Park.  This year we went back and skied similar routes but pushed further back into the park.  Nice country with endless crust skiing options.

This aerial photo was taken by my wife 2 days after we skied at Broad Pass.  It shows where we started our two crust skis (MP 201), and the approximate furthest point of each ski.
Late April 2020: Kseugi-Ken Campground To Curry Ridge Shelter

I skied from the Kseugi-Ken campground, up the Curry Ridge Trail and on to the Curry Ridge shelter cabin.  I had skied to this cabin before, about 15 years ago, via a snowmobile trail from Lower Troublesome Creek.  But that trail has been gone for a long time.  The Mat-Su Trails and Parks Foundation is working on funding and building a trail that would extend the existing Curry Ridge Trail to this historical shelter cabin and on to the Troublesome Creek Trail (see map).  So perhaps this route I skied will become a popular hike before long.

Above tree-line on a nice morning. The Curry Ridge Shelter Cabin.  It has been renovated and new tie-down cables have been installed since I skied here 15 years ago. GPS track:  12 miles RT approximately.
View from the Curry Ridge shelter.
Curry Ridge shelter in 2005.  No paint or roof-top anchor cables back then.  But it did have an Alaska flag!
Late April 2020: Parks Highway Mile 173

Parked at the pull-off on the Parks Highway at Milepost 173.  Skied up and to the east.  Had skied here before, but altered our route to check out new areas.  Lots of snow this year, so the alders were mashed down ... making for easy access to the higher country.

Early April 2020: The Ski Trip That Keeps Getting Longer

I try to only post new ski trips on this web site.  Ski trips I have never done before.  Well, this was my 6th time to the Twentymile Glacier.  So what is this trip doing here?  It's here because a small part of this ski trip is always new.  As the Twentymile Glacier retreats, you have to ski further and on a frozen lake surface that did not exist the last time you were here.  So a little of this trip is always new!  Actually, it's rare that I ski the same route in this valley.  Open water always seems to throw new challenges at route finding.  Plus, it's a big valley ... so it's fun finding different routes here.  As far as "ski to glacier" routes in the Anchorage area go, this is my favorite.

I always bring Neos waterproof overboots for the water crossings in this valley. The face of the Twentymile Glacier had a "nose" this year.  A 40 foot long rock sticking out from the ice. Looking back across the terminus lake.  Really nice crust skiing here.
The only people I saw were these three super-tough biker girls ... that were good at social distancing! Janice Tower picture of me.  Thanks Janice!
GPS route: about 28 miles roundtrip.  Lines show the estimated glacier terminus in 2012 and 2020. Wooly mammoth poop.  From the genetically engineered mammoth, made from Siberian mammoth DNA, that got too big for the Alaska Wildlife Center in Portage and ran off.  Really!
Early April 2020: Eklutna Valley Water Pipeline Access Road Crust Ski

A few years ago the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) cleared the overgrown pipeline access road in the Eklutna River valley.  This road was made in the mid-80's to facilitate construction of the water pipeline in this valley.  Not too many people know of this route.  But apparently a few backcountry touring skiers know of this trail ... as I found their tracks in the Valley.  Skiing crust snow next to their tracks worked out well.  This route is not that long.  But it is nice country that most people haven't seen.  There are several stream crossings.  But when I did this ski they were no problem.

This ski can be done as a drop off on one end, pick up at the other.  Or as an out and back from either end.  The east end starts at the Eklutna Lake campground entrance guard shack.  Go past the gate and down the AWWU plowed road for a mile.  Sometimes this road is ski-able, sometimes not.  The catch with this route is the parking at the west end, at the curve where the road starts the long climb up the valley.  This year there was only a spot for one vehicle to park, due to deep snow.  And I was the one that shoveled that spot out (earlier in the winter).  It's always fun to crust ski in new country.  So, this is a good trip to add to your local crust skiing list.

Steep access to valley floor on the west end. AWWU access road.  Bold Peak in distance. Near the AWWU station, where the water tunnel to beneath Eklutna Lake starts. GPS  track: 7.5 miles one way.  I parked at the west end and did a 15 mile RT.
Late March 2020: Bell Island Loop

Over the years I have often skied snowmobile trails and crust routes in the Bell Island area of the Big Susitna River, near the base of Mount Susitna.  So ... here is a route that I have never posted before.  This was good "thin skin" skiing.  Due to the recent cold winter we had, the snow here is of low moisture content and not conducive to crust skiing (yet).  But a thin skin of compressed snow where snowmobile freight hauling routes have been established has made for some fast spring skate skiing.  PS: Note the fuzzy ridge line near the summit of Mount Susitna.  That's blowing snow.  Plenty of wind in this area recently.  And cold for this time of year ... 0F the morning of March 31st.

Crossing the main channel of the Big Susitna River. Main channel of the Big Su.  In 2 months seals will be chasing salmon where I am skiing. Back channel on Bell Island. Bell Island loop: 20 miles.
Mid March 2020: Klutina River Trail

From the parking area on top of the Trans Alaska Pipeline (yes, actually on top), at the base of the road that leads up to the Copper River Lodge in Copper Center, I skied 17.5 miles out the Klutina Lake Road/Trail, turned-around and skied back  This is some scenic skiing.  You are high on the Klutina River bluff most of the way, with views of the river below and the Wrangell Mountains in the distance.  This is a popular route in the summer.  I have mountain biked it in the summer and there is a lot of truck and ATV traffic.  Where the trail descends the bluff and arrives at the Klutina River, one could hear a lot of crashing and splashing sounds.  This was from big rocks being set loose by sun melting ice that had been holding the rocks high on the river banks.  Once free, the rocks would tumble down the cut banks and crash through the ice into the river.  Other than this area, a very quiet trip.  Only met two guys that were heading out to a cabin in the Klutina Lake area. 

Skiing on the edge of the bluff.  Nice. Skiing next to the Klutina River. Mile 17 marker. 35 miles out and back.
Mid March 2020: Caribou Creek And Matanuska River

I don't believe I have posted this ski route on this web site before.  Park at the Caribou Creek pull off on the Glenn Highway.  From there you can ski up Caribou Creek.  And you can also ski down Caribou Creek to the base of Lion Head.  From there you can ski the Matanuska River going upstream.  Care should be taken on the Matanuska River because it is a big river and water flow below the ice is high.  You will likely find snowmobile trails on this route.  It can be good crust skiing too.

Late February 2020: The Haessler-Norris 'Capital Trail' in Willow, Finally

The Haessler-Norris Trail System is an extensive multi-use trail system to the north of Houston and east of Willow.  I say multi-use, but I consider it a dog musher's trail system.  Dog mushers are the ones that use this trail system the most, and they are the ones that drag and maintain the trails.  And they do a great job.

I've skied the H-N trails many times.  But there was one trail that had eluded me.  The Capital Trail.  Skiing this trail, that connects the swamp-lands to the high country, has been a challenge.  The challenge has been due to a) this trail is not put in regularly (from my experience), b) it's not abundantly marked and c) until recently it didn't seem like it was mapped right.  I'm not complaining about any of the above items.  It's marked great if you use these trails a lot and  know them well.  But if you are a skier dude from Anchorage, it's easy to get mixed up here.  But that's my problem.

Recently I saw on Facebook that Matanuska-Susitna Borough mayor and local Willow dog musher Vern Halter had been working on the Capital Trail.  And that the Willow trails folks had a new H-N trails map out (see below).  So I figured maybe the third (or fourth?) time would be a charm and I could finally ski the Capital Trail.

With the new map, I navigated through the maze of trails in the 'Dismal Swamp' to the un-signed start of the Capital Trail.  I avoided a couple of un-mapped turn-offs and worked my way up towards the Nike Trail and Bullion Mountain.  Good cold snow diagonal skiing on a recently dragged trails brought me out of the swamps and up onto the beautiful, open mixed forest area of Bullion Mountain. I skied back the route I skied in.  After a  good 24 mile ski, I can finally say that I have skied all "mapped" H-N trails.  But dog mushers in the area no doubt have some tribal trails (secret trails) that I haven't skied.

There are a few signs, not many. Heading towards Bullion Mountain and the Nike Trail. Un-marked junction of the Capital Trail with the Nike Trail.
The Capital Trail is #13 on this map.  I parked at the 'P' in the upper left, at the MSB parking lot on Tuxedo Avenue.  The out and back I did was 24 miles.
For a super-detailed map of the Haessler-Norris Trail System (7MB pfd), click here.
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.  Ha!  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