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Skiers, mushers welcome season's first big snowfall

Beth Bragg
Marc Lester

The long-awaited first big snowstorm of the season on Wednesday brought droves of skiers and snowboarders to Hilltop Ski Area, deployed a platoon of trail groomers to work on cross country trails throughout the city and gave hope to mushers who are still running dog teams with 4-wheelers instead of sleds.

"It's about bloody time," said Diane Moxness, executive director of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage.

With nearly a foot falling in most parts of Anchorage, the storm was welcomed by outdoors lovers but caused a minor headache for at least one indoor sport.

Organizers of the Cougar Tip-off basketball tournament, scheduled to begin Thursday at 3 p.m. at Service High, were considering contingency plans for the eight-team, three-day event. Monroe, a Class 3A team that is considered one of the best in the state this season at any level, is scheduled to play at 3 p.m. but may play later Thursday if road conditions delay the team's journey from Fairbanks.

As of Wednesday evening, however, the schedule had not been changed, tournament official Tim Scott said.

The snow didn't change operations at Hillside -- because of snow-making machines, all runs but Ptarmigan have been open for awhile now, said ski school director Mark Dehertogh. But the new snow inspired a lot of people to head to the South Anchorage ski hill on Wednesday.

"We had a line at 1 p.m. waiting," Dehertogh said. "It was pretty neat to get here -- the snow's falling and people are waiting for the lights to go on at 3."

Skiers and snowboarders heading to Girdwood, meanwhile, should find plenty of powder. Alyeska Ski Resort reported a foot of new snow.

Arctic Valley, which doesn't have snowmaking equipment, still needs another two or three feet before it can open, general manager John Robinson-Wilson said. The alpine ski hill just north of Anchorage got six to eight inches overnight, he said.

"The wind was blowing all night as well (and) that helps fill in some of the low areas around the mountain," Robinson-Wilson said in an email. "We couldn't see the top of the mountain this morning due to snow and clouds, so (we) have no idea how the winds affected the snowpack on top yet. I'd estimate that we still need 21/2 or so feet of snow before opening."

The tube park could open sooner, he said, but there is no target date for that.

It could be awhile before mushers will be able to swap 4-wheelers for sleds, said Greg Sellentin of the Montana Creek Dog Mushers Association.

"There's a couple brave souls on sleds," he said, but most are still on 4-wheelers.

The dearth of snow prompted the cancellation of this weekend's Sheep Mountain Lodge 150 and the first six sprint races of the season -- three apiece for both the Montana Creek and Chugiak mushers associations, including races scheduled for this weekend. Sellentin said Montana Creek hopes to hold its first race on Saturday, Dec. 22.

At least one sled-dog race is scheduled to come off before that -- the Alaska Excursion is scheduled run Saturday and Sunday at Big Lake, with 45-mile heats each day, according to Selletin.

The Alaskan Sled Dog Racing Association hasn't lost any races at Tozier Track -- the season opener is at the end of the month -- but trail conditions have been marginal.

"We're finally getting to where we can do something out there," said ASDRA's John Rasmussen. "It'll take another couple more snowstorms like this (to get trails ready), but at least we'll be able to get out there now and put snow in the tunnels."

For cross country ski racers, the snowfall means business as usual -- finally.

"Groomers are out all over town," Moxness said.

The first two weekends of high school racing were compromised -- the season-opening race was moved from Anchorage to Girdwood and the two-day Lynxloppet at Kincaid Park became a one-day race on Sand Lake -- but Saturday's relay race at Bartlett will go on as planned, Moxness said.

The AMH Cup series, scheduled to begin last weekend, will instead begin Sunday with a sprint race at Kincaid Park instead of scheduled 5-kilometer and 15-kilometer races at Chugiak.

"We decided, let's start with a short one," Moxness said. "People have been skiing around lakes in circles, and it's hard to put in a lot of miles that way."


Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.



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