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Ski Trips:

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by: Tim Kelley

Early February 2023: Quiz:  What Kind Of Tracks Are These?

Often I have posted animal track pictures on this web site.  But here are some tracks I have never posted a picture of.  Can you guess what kind of tracks they are?  A moose lying down to rest?  A coyote rolling in the snow?  A lost sled dog bedding down?


These are scum bag tracks.

These are tracks from some scum bag that laid on the snow as he/she used a battery powered reciprocating saw to quickly cut off and steal the catalytic converter from my truck.  Scum bags steal catalytic converters because they contain precious metals like platinum and palladium that can be sold to unscrupulous metal recyclers.  Catalytic converter theft is a prevalent scourge these days.

I realized that I was often putting myself at risk to be a victim of this crime, by parking in remote locations.  Eventually my number came up.

So ... beware.  This happened at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough public parking lot on Ayrshire Road at Point Mackenzie.  But it can happen most anywhere.

If your catalytic converter is cut off and stolen from your vehicle, you will still likely be able to drive your vehicle (unless other stuff was cut into).  But it's gonna be loud driving.  Because you will be driving with an engine that has been disconnected from the muffler.

If this theft happens to you, hopefully you have decent comprehensive auto insurance.  The thief might get $50 for the stolen item.  But the cost to you will likely be over $2000, minus whatever your insurance company pays above your deductible amount.

I recently talked to a guy that commutes to Anchorage from the Valley.  He said a couple of weeks ago, during the height of evening rush traffic, he went by an overturned truck, something that is seen often on the Glenn Highway in the winter.  And he noticed that someone was at the truck cutting off the catalytic converter.  A thief boldly stealing as hundreds of people pass by a few feet away.  Welcome to the new Alaska.

Mid January 2023: Blair Lake State Recreation Site

I had noticed the road to the Blair Lake State Recreation Site on Google Maps.  But I had never been there before.  So it seemed like a good place to check out on skis.  The 4 mile, un-plowed route to the lake starts just outside the entrance to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge.  There is a sign there saying the road is private property and to call the Boy Scouts of Alaska for permission to use the road.  I called, texted and emailed BSA ... but no response.  Oh well.  There was a considerable amount of snowmobile tracks on the road, so I set off following the tracks.  In the big picture ... this seems kinda strange, having to get permission from the Boy Scouts to access a State of Alaska recreation site.  Why does the State of Alaska have a "recreation site" here that has no clear public access?  Apparently there is history here that I am unaware of.

Though the distance to and from the lake is not very far (8 miles), there is a considerable amount of elevation change, going out and back.  I'm glad I did this on a good trail with a few inches of fresh powder on top.  I would not want to do this trail if it was icy or rutted up.  Blair Lake was picturesque.  The moraine abundant terrain in this area is interesting.  And of course, the views of the Alaska Range are impressive here.  In all, a good little ski jaunt to check off the list.

Turnoff to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge is at Milepost 133 of the Parks Highway. Significant vertical is dropped to get to the Gorsuch Creek bridge.  And plenty of climbing to regain altitude on the other side. Bridge at Gorsuch Creek.
Route Near the start of the ski, service buildings and housing for lodge workers. Good classic skiing conditions.  Denali in the distance.
  One of those days ... when you are reminded that the gear you are using is for groomed trails.  And not for the type of skiing you do.  Happens now and then.  
Early January 2023: Three Months Of Rain ... The Gift That Keeps On Giving

The latter part of our summer in Southcentral Alaska last year was basically three months of rain.  Aquifers got maxed out.  And there was not enough time for evaporation or drainage to bring the water cycle back to equilibrium.  So the bottom line is ... it's wet out there.  Lots of places in the Susitna Valley are reporting open water, collapsing ice (from high water level freezing followed by water levels dropping) and overflow.  Is it all bad?  No.  Still lots of good trail conditions to be found.  But you have to be on the lookout for "surprises"!

A surprise this year on a normally dry trail. The Big Susitna River. 7" of ice that settled as water levels dropped, and is now resting on a mud bar.  Cracks are filled with wind-driven snow.
Rough skiing where the wind blows. Nice conditions in the woodlands. Here you can see where the river froze over, then the water level dropped and the ice collapsed.  Lots of this in the Susitna Valley this year.
Late December 2022: A New Crust Skiing Access Point - Settlers Bay Coastal Park

The last few years saw the creation of the Settlers Bay Coastal Park in Knik-Fairview, Alaska.  This new Matanuska-Susitna Borough park offers access to upper Knik Arm tidal flats, which can be good crust skiing in the spring.  From the parking lot you have a choice of trails that will take you to the bluff that overlooks the tidal flats.  Crane Lane is the trail that takes you down to the flats.  Crust skiing on the Knik Arm coastal flats can also be accessed from the Knik Bar, to the south, or the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge trailhead to the north.  So now there is a third access point.

This is a surprisingly nice park.  Multi-use trails here are groomed periodically by an MSB snowmobile pulling a drag.  Latest grooming info is posted here (at least it was late December 2022).   I liked the Merlin's Meander trail that works its way along old moraines. This 300 acre park does not have a huge trail system.  But if you enjoy checking out new trails that you have never skied before ... this place is worth a visit.

Settlers Bay Coastal Park overlook, looking towards Anchorage. Map (click on map to expand) Skiing on the coastal flats.  Following ski tracks.  Crust skiing is a few months away.
Ski Season 2022-23: Ski Someplace New.  Share.  Repeat (for 20 years).

This will be the 20th year that I've posted ski trip reports on this web site.  For two decades now my modus operandi has been to find new places to ski on xc racing skis and then share information about the trail or crust skiing venue I visited.

The goal of all of this, besides me having fun, is a knowledge base that Southcentral Alaska cross country skiers can use for ideas of new places to ski at.  This website is that knowledge base.

Providing a bigger picture of where skinny skis can take you helps the sport.  Too much time spent only skiing your local trails can lead to boredom and skiing-malaise.  Skiing at new places fosters enthusiasm and keeps your engagement with xc skiing vibrant and healthy. 

I hope this spring skiing season is half as good as last year was.  Spring crust skiing in 2022 was epic!

No ski-able snow in Anchorage in September this year.  So, no "9 month ski season" in Anchorage like last year.

Fall 2022: Random Early Season Pictures ...

Just like xc skiers, horses look forward to snow in Alaska.  And just like xc skiers, horses take note of bear tracks in the snow!

Sniffing brown bear tracks.
Having your own ski trails means doing your own trail maintenance. Hey!  Where did this "trail arch" come from!?

Black bear

Ermine Porcupine Marten Brown bears




Coyote Brown bear Moose  
Game cameras show you who has been partying at your cabin while you weren't there.

Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing