Sparse snow cover, low temperatures an issue for skiers and homeowners

Mike Dunham

Snowfall received in Anchorage so far this autumn stands at about a quarter of normal. The official total for the season reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as of noon on Tuesday was 3.3 inches. That's 9.8 inches below the average of accumulated snowfall for the date.

Sparse snow cover has ramifications for both outdoor recreationists and homebodies.

Alyeska Ski Resort, which opened last week, has a scant 10 inches at the base of the mountain. Hilltop Ski Area's website warns of "low snow covering, bare spots, sticks, rocks, stumps."

"We've been making snow for a few weeks," said Hilltop CEO Steve Remme. "We have one run completely open and hope to have the whole hill open before Christmas."

Remme said the hill would be putting in "park features" for snowboarders Wednesday and estimated that about one-third of the runs are skiable at the moment. Ski lessons and after school programs have not been disrupted, he said, but admitted, "It would be nice to have some natural snowfall."

Diane Moxness, executive director or the Nordic Skiing Association, agreed. "When the first snow fell, we took out our lightest piece of equipment, but there's not enough snow to groom. We were kicking up rocks, so we laid off of it."

People are packing trails with their own weight, she said, and having good results on flat, smooth surfaces like lakes, the golf fairways at Russian Jack and the trails at Glenn Alps. The grassy shoulder along the new bike path at Kincaid Park is also getting skiers. But savvy schussers are using their "rock skis."

"There are a lot of trails that are not skiable," she said. "You could have some unpleasant surprises."

Homeowners are also encountering unpleasant surprises. Chris Kosinski of the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility said the utility has received calls from customers with frozen water lines.

"Usually it comes from (basement) vents not being closed or a lack of insulation around those vents," he said. Garage doors left open or ajar can also freeze plumbing, he said, and some people have neglected to disconnect their hoses from outside faucets, which can cause pipes to break.

The utility itself isn't experiencing any cold weather-related breaks. "We bury our lines 10 feet deep," he said. "But our hydrants are more susceptible."

Without the insulation provided by a thick layer of snow, cold can be transmitted down vertical pipes from the above-ground hydrants and the cold ground around them, he said. "We're not seeing anything yet, but some snow in the near future would be certainly welcome for our hydrant crews."

NOAA says that no snow is expected through at least this weekend and nighttime temperatures in the single digits remain in the forecast.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.