Outdoors/Adventure

For early-season cross-country skiers, Independence Mine is ‘the No. 1 best place to be in the world’

While most of Southcentral Alaska is firmly still in autumn, at Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass it’s decidedly peak ski season already. Skiers of all ages and abilities flocked to the area on Tuesday, enjoying sunny skies and freshly groomed ski trails.

Dana Brokofsky brought her daughter Eira for their first time skiing this season. The 4-year-old got an assist up the hill from her mom’s ski pole, which she called her “rope tow.”

Sixty-something Anchorage residents Tom Atkinson and Doc Brunquist made the hourlong drive for their first ski of the season as well. “I skied the first couple hundred feet up and said, ‘Oh, nope, that’s probably for the 20-year-olds,’ ” Brunquist said.

The Mat-Su Ski Club began grooming the hilly and challenging trails at Independence Mine on Friday night, and by Saturday the elite Alaska Pacific University ski team was already making daily trips.

“This is our fourth day up here,” coach Erik Flora said. “We have the World Cup, that’s only six weeks away, so we came up to take advantage of this and it was pretty fun.”

“On Saturday, everyone felt like they were out of shape and didn’t know how to ski, and then we came up Sunday, and the sun was out and the grooming was perfect and then you just feel, you know, you feel amazing.”

Olympian Logan Hanneman was beaming after his workout. “It’s incredible,” said Hanneman. “It’s October, what, 12th or something like that? And we’re on race skis, which is unreal.”

Not all of the APU skiers got to enjoy the skiing, however. “We have a team that’s down doing an altitude camp in Utah, and they’re getting snowed on right now, and they’re trying to decide what the rollerski workout is,” Flora said.

Hanneman said there’s no question which group has it better. “We have it better, of course,” he said. “It’s great to get back on snow after summer training on pavement, and yeah, just trying to get the snow feeling back in the body.”

“We feel really, really lucky,” Flora said. “Hatcher Pass is the No. 1 best place to be in the world today. Sunshine, good altitude and perfect skiing thanks to the Mat-Su Ski Club.”

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