Lindsey Freeman crossed the Goose Lake ice slowly, helping her visitor from Maine stay upright. Freeman has found ice skating to be a good way to enjoy the outdoors at a time when so little snow is on the ground in Anchorage, and she wanted to share the experience.
“I went to East (High School) and cross-country skied. That was our winter sport,” Freeman said. “But I’ve gotten more and more into skating as the years have (had) variable snow.”
In Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley, good ice skating conditions have drawn skaters to frozen lakes and lagoons. What little snow has fallen in recent weeks has disappeared, leaving inviting surfaces and smooth terrain to explore.
Ice thickness has measured at least 6 inches at several popular city lakes, according to climatologist Brian Brettschneider, who measured it himself on Dec. 17. That’s thick enough for skaters at Cheney, Goose, Waldron, DeLong, Sand and Jewel lakes, the lake at Cuddy Family Midtown Park, and at the city’s most popular skating venue, Westchester Lagoon. Most safety guidelines, including those published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, recommend at least 4 inches of clear ice for safe skating.
Conditions have been right for many enthusiasts of nordic skates, a blade that binds to cross-country ski boots for long strides. The Rabbit Slough access to the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge has attracted many nordic skaters this week. They travel downstream on Wasilla Creek toward the head of Knik Arm, often portaging to glassy lagoons nearby.
Ice skating is inherently risky, whether on urban waterways or in remote wilderness. Ice conditions change with the weather and can vary from place to place. Anchorage Parks and Recreation has not yet released data on ice thickness. The department’s Dec. 18 Ice and Trail Status Report urges extreme caution.
When snow eventually returns to Anchorage -- a possibility for this weekend, according to National Weather Service forecasts -- ice skating will diminish as other winter sports opportunities expand. But for now, count recent University of Alaska Anchorage graduate Yvonne Jeschke among those who have learned to embrace the bare ice.
“Last year, I got a hockey puck and a hockey stick. I’ve been enjoying it a lot,” Jeschke said as she made laps on Goose Lake near campus.
“This is the thing to do. You just got to go with the seasons,” she said. “When it’s time to skate, you gotta skate.”