With scant snow in Anchorage, high school skiers will head to Girdwood

Beth Bragg
The moon and headlamps light the way for coaches and skiers in the Junior Nordic League on Goose Lake on Thursday evening, November 29, 2012. This group normally meets at the Hillside Ski Trails but moved the program this week for lack of snow. The Junior Nordic group that normally meets at Kincaid Park gathered at Sand Lake. Junior Nordic is a program of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage for kids ages 6 to 14. MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News

For the first time in history, man-made snow is falling at Kincaid Park, but even that minor miracle won't facilitate the start of the high school ski season Saturday in Anchorage. But instead of a cancellation, there's been a relocation -- the Service Snowball race will be held 30 miles away in Girdwood.

With no snow of note anywhere in the city -- some skiers are making the most of light snow cover on lakes, but few other options exist -- the race was in jeopardy until Wednesday, when the Girdwood solution came together.

"Kids really want to ski," said Lauri Bassett, a member of Service High's booster club who helped save the race. "Girdwood was about the only (choice). Sand Lake was considered, but that's getting used up and I don't know if you can get a groomer there."

Moving the race from Service to Moose Meadows, near The Hotel Alyeska, happened through efforts of the Anchorage School District, which will provide a couple of generators and the buses to get kids to and from the race; the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage, which will bring volunteers and timing equipment; and the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club, whose volunteers will groom about three kilometers of trail that will be used for the race.

Moose Meadows isn't part of Girdwood's new nordic trail system, which will have its grand opening on Dec. 21, according to Deb Essex of the Girdwood ski club. While the new system is five kilometers of advanced and intermediate trails north of the hotel, Moose Meadows offers flatter terrain and a six-inch base of snow on a loop groomed for skate-skiing.

"I'm out here right now and it's beautiful," Essex said. "This is where Girdwood walks their dogs, bikes, and goes on walks.

"We're listing it as just under three K -- a nice, wide, safe loop. It's a great venue because it can hold the 500 skiers (in a high school race)."

The Service Snowball race was supposed to be a sprint, a race that involves multiple heats and puts a lot of stress on a course. It has been changed to a 2.5-kilometer interval-start freestyle race that will begin at 11 a.m., Bassett said.

Although there is some snow on the trails around Service High, so many people are eager to ski that conditions are deteriorating quickly, Bassett said.

"With so much traffic and no moisture to bond it, it's getting more treacherous by the day -- exposed rocks, exposed ground," she said.

Meanwhile at Kincaid Park, piles of man-made snow started accumulating Wednesday night -- a first for the park, NSAA member Dick Mize said.

He said Kincaid's snow-making system is still in the testing stage, but he's hopeful some trail will be available for skiing soon.

"It's encouraging to see there's a possibility of having a nice covered track here before too long if everything works like it should," Mize said Thursday afternoon. "I'm pretty confident that before too long we have enough snow to get one of pisten bullies out and start moving it around."

The park has 17 lance guns situated on trails and eight mobile fan guns, or cannons, that are used to cover big areas like the stadium and biathlon range, Mize said. The snow-making system is part of $10 million in upgrades and additions that have also brought soccer fields and a new biathlon range to Kincaid.

Early snow-making efforts will focus on the stadium, Margaux's Loop and the tunnel that leads to the new biathlon range, Mize said.

"It's a shame we haven't been able to move fast enough to be ready in October," he said, "but everyone is working as hard as they can just to get it finished up."


Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or call her at 257-4335.