Finding the Ski Route to Beluga

This year the Enstar Natural Gas Company made an ice road from the Pt. MacKenzie farms area to Bell Island in the Big Susitna River.  The ice road was made for pipeline maintenance work.  Such ice roads don't happen often and they get me pumped.  I drove this ice road many times this winter.  Besides being just plain fun in knowing that you are driving over creeks, swamps and muskegs that would be impassable by vehicle in the summer, the ice road makes for quickly accessed advance takeoff points for ski trips.

This winter I wanted to check out trails to the west of the Susitna River and head to the outpost of Beluga (population 26).  My first attempt turned out to be a 40 mile recon trip.  The snowmobile trails I was following petered out on me.  However on my way back out I ran into a guy that owns the store in Beluga.  He told me of the "magic" seismic line trail that connects the gas line right of way that I was following to the Beluga gas field road system (which are unmapped on USGS topo maps).  My next attempt got me to Beluga and I had a fun 60 mile ski in new country.

Heading out on the ice road.

Entering the Sustina Game Flats

The Susitna Game Flats are ... REALLY flat.  This section is a 5 mile straight line on top of the buried natural gas line pipeline that originates in Beluga.
The Susitna Game Flats/ Chedatna Lakes area is bleak.  But when there is decent snow, which was not the case this year, it's a cool place.  I ski here quite a lot when I'm at my cabin.  It's like skiing on the North Slope, yet you're only 20 air-miles from Anchorage.  The windblown snow here crusts up easily and there is often good skating here at any time of the winter.
After my first attempt there was a major meltdown.  The Game Flats trail became 5 miles of double-polling on ice that cracked under your skis. Looking back at the trail across the Game Flats.  I was hoping that the thin ice wouldn't melt itself soft by the time I was heading back out. Tracks showed that a wolf was out on a morning breakfast run.
The "magic seismic trail" brought me to a gas well pad, and the Beluga gas field road system.

Skiing was fast on the road that gas field workers maintain to wells and production facilities in the area.  Mt. Susitna is in the background.

Most of Anchorage's electricity comes from Chugach Electrics Beluga power plant.  The juice flows to the big city on this powerline.
  Nearing Beluga, you start seeing the backside of Mt. Susitna. The bridge over the Beluga River is kinda sketchy in my opinion.  40-50 feet above the river bed, single lane, tiny guardrails, packed rutted snow on top.  I wouldn't want to be on the bridge when a truck came blasting through.
The main drag leading to the power plant. These towers are easy to climb.  So if your camera batteries are running low - just climb up and touch the battery terminals to the power line.  Doh! At the Beluga power plant.  I talked to a couple of Chugach Electic plant operators there - friendly guys. 
The Beluga airport.  I was impressed with site that Beluga is situated on ... it's a really nice place. ConocoPhilips offices. You can tell that this area has Kenai gas field connections.
"You first!"  Heading back across the bridge.  I got across 2 minutes before a truck came along.  Not many trucks though - I only encountered four. Heading back across the Game Flats.  After 5 hours the only tracks are my out-going ones.  Gee - why do I like Alaska trail skiing?  Maybe because no one else is out there and you have Alaska all to yourself.  Yep - that works for me. Map of ski route (in yellow).
Back to 2006 Skiing Photos Photos and web page by Tim Kelley