Anchorage Urban Backcountry XC Skiing

Cross country skiing routes that combine urban and backcountry trails in the Anchorage, Alaska area.

 

Welcome to the Dark Side of Anchorage Cross Country Skiing!

 

Web page and ski routes by Tim Kelley

What:

The term "Urban Backcountry" sounds contradictory; it sounds like an oxymoron.  But in Anchorage, Alaska "Urban Backcountry" makes sense.

Anchorage is unique in that it is a large urban area bordered by wilderness backcountry on most of its sides.  There are lots of urban trails in this city, and there are lots of backcountry trails on the edges of this city.  Because of these diverse and plentiful winter trails - in Anchorage you can easily link together urban and backcountry trails and make interesting cross country skiing routes.  In other words, Anchorage is a great place  for Urban Backcountry XC (UBXC) skiing.

If you want to ski Urban Backcountry routes in the Anchorage vicinity, it helps to be open minded about what you can slide your skis over.  Example routes shown below use a variety of trails including: multi-use groomed trails, skied-in trails, backcountry skier skinning tracks, foot and snowshoe trails, fat bike trails, snowmobile trails, paved roads, dirt roads, sidewalks, moose paths, horse trails, break-your-own-trail trails and on occasion even a groomed ski trail.  Any type of Nordic skis will do for this type of skiing, but this type of skiing is often the most fun when done on xc racing skis.

       
Some Example Anchorage-Area Urban Backcountry XC Skiing Routes
The maps below can give you ideas of where you can link together UBXC ski routes.
~ Click on links below maps for route information ~

Loops:

  Northern Anchorage Loop Southern Anchorage Loop Ski Around Anchorage

Loops:

  Campbell - Coastal - Chester Loop Mid-Anchorage Loop West Anchorage Loop

Loops:

  Hillside - Snowhawk Loop East Anchorage Park Link-Up Spenard - Northwest Anchorage Loop

Pt 2 Pt:

  Coast to coasT (Coast of Anchorage to coasT Pizza in Girdwood) Anchorage Coastal Route (with no use of bike trails) Chugiak / Beach Lake Trails to Anchorage Hillside Trails

Pt 2 Pt:

  Eagle River Nature Center to Chugiak / Beach Lake Trails Eklutna Powerline Pt. Mac Railroad To Nowhere

Other:

  Hatcher Pass to Palmer Loop Around The Butte Chugiak Coastal Skiing
       

Why:

Why try Anchorage Urban Backcountry XC skiing?  Well, here are a few reasons I can think of: 1) Learn more about the many and varied trails in Anchorage, 2) Improve your mental health by taking a break from doing endless loops on the same groomed xc ski trails, 3) Become a better skier by skiing challenging and varied trails, 4) Learn more about Anchorage by visiting parts of the city, military reservations or local  backcountry that you have not been to before, 5) Have an Alaskan adventure without having to travel far from home.

Why the bullet holes in the header on this web page?  For humor mainly.  But hey, this is ... Anchorage!

       

Intro:

Want to give Anchorage Urban Backcountry skiing a try?  Here are some starter suggestions:  Ski from Glen Alps to Kincaid.  Head out to the Mirror Lake School in Peters Creek and ski the local powerline loop.  Ski the multi-use trails groomed by the municipality and look for trails heading off the main routes, and follow them to see where they go.  Explore trails in Far North Bicentennial Park.

  UBXC 101: Glen Alps to Kincaid Park Far North Bicentenial Park "Outer Loop" Peters Creek Powerlines
       

Tips:

If you are not sure how to link up trails to ski an Urban Backcountry route - make shorter trips to the unknown sections and figure out how to make the trail connections.

If you discover neighborhood trails - enjoy them but don't ruin them for the folks that maintain them by telling the world about them.  Let others discover them by themselves.  If you get the keepers of such trails pissed off by too many people using their trails, the trails will likely disappear.

The north, west and south sides of Anchorage are coastal tidal flats.  Don't forget these backcountry areas.  They are cool places to ski and often have nice skied-in trails.  And often there is good crust skiing found here in the spring.

Respect private property, respect mushing-only trails, follow JBER protocols if skiing on base and when you come to the start of a trail you've never skied before say: "Hmmm.  Where the heck does this trail go?!", and go ski it.  You will learn a lot of trails this way, and discover a lot of Anchorage you didn't know about.

       

History:

Urban Backcountry XC Skiing in Anchorage is nothing new.  The first ski race in Anchorage in 1917 was on dirt roads and trails on the edge of the city, which was a small settlement on the banks of Ship Creek back then.  On into the 50's downtown Anchorage residents would ski out to areas that were backcountry then like Spenard, Lake Hood and Lake Otis.  Early Anchorage had a small urban footprint with more wilderness than today just past the edge of town.

The patch below shows that Urban Backcountry skiing was a part of the early Anchorage Nordic Ski Club scene.  This patch commemorates a ski tour from Eagle River to Anchorage, on the Iditarod Trail.  Early Iditarod sled dog races traversed a section of trail that went from Anchorage to Eagle River.  And the first Iditarod sled dog race was in 1973, the year shown on this patch.

I've been having fun skiing UBXC routes since the 80's.  A number of trails I used to like to ski have been lost to development or military restrictions.  Probably my favorite UBXC route from back in the day was my "Kincaid Big Loop".  I did this 80 mile loop that starts and ends at Kincaid, and hits Ship Pass and Arctic Valley, in March 1989 (see map below).

Nowadays urban backcountry skiing is the most popular form of cross country skiing in Anchorage.  If you ski any of the areas that border Anchorage or through any park or undeveloped land you will encounter ski tracks crisscrossing everywhere.  Mostly these tracks are from people out on touring skis getting exercise with friends or pets.  People tend to ski whatever trails are nearest to their homes, rather than drive to trailheads of maintained ski trail systems.  If you guesstimate that one out of every 30 people in Anchorage cross-country skis, then likely much more than half of these skiers are primarily urban backcountry skiers.  That's over 5000 urban backcountry skiers that make tracks around Anchorage.

Alaska Performance Backcountry Skiing