With more than a foot of fresh snow in Anchorage this week, outdoor enthusiasts are excited to get out for weekend adventures.
“The stoke level is high,” said Kikkan Randall, Olympic champion and executive director of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage.
There’s plenty of snow on the ground in the city, which means grooming will continue through the weekend on cross country ski trails as well as bike trails. More downhill ski areas are set to open this weekend around Southcentral Alaska, and backcountry skiers will want to monitor avalanche hazard if they venture into the mountains to sample the fresh snow.
Here’s a guide to help maximize your weekend outside.
Grooming continues on Anchorage trails
Randall said they were doing wishful snow dances at NSAA headquarters earlier this week but are now a bit overwhelmed by the dump of snow that fell over ski areas the group maintains.
“Our crews have been working really hard to try and get out and get things packed down,” she said. “But it’s going to take us a few days to catch up, just like (plowing of) the roads and the neighborhoods.”
NSAA has enhanced its grooming report with up-to-date information about grooming and trail conditions. The ski association manages a major trail network around Anchorage, and this year, groomers who are out on the trails will record GPS data that’ll be posted to the organization’s website, anchoragenordicski.org, once they’re finished.
That information will include a map with up-to-the-minute information about when the trails were most recently groomed, whether tracks were set and any other comments from groomers. Each trail has a color — green means it was more recently groomed while yellow, orange and red mean less recent grooming.
The association maintains Kincaid Park trails, the Hillside trails and others around the municipality, including in Eagle River, where NSAA has a dedicated groomer.
“The lighted trails are our top priority because we know a lot of people are out skiing in non-daylight hours,” she said. “Once those are taken care of, then we hit what we call the dark trails, which are the other most frequently used trails at both Hillside and Kincaid.”
From there NSAA moves on to trails at Bartlett High School, the multi-use corridor from Service High to the Tudor Road bridge and elsewhere.
Randall said while the grooming report is the best place to get updated information, the organization has also worked on doing more outreach on social media channels like Facebook and Instagram.
The Municipality of Anchorage is responsible for maintaining popular trails like the Campbell Creek and Chester Creek trails, as well as the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and trails within Russian Jack Springs Park. As of Thursday afternoon, no updates had been provided on the Parks and Recreation Department website since Tuesday, though online reports elsewhere indicated that some city-maintained trails had been groomed.
The Mat-Su Ski Club maintains Nordic ski trails in the Hatcher Pass area, including at Government Peak Recreation Area, Independence Mine and Archangel Road. Their grooming updates at matsuski.org use a similar format to NSAA’s, and a post there said that they planned to groom Archangel Road on Thursday night.
Downhill ski season heats up
Hilltop Ski Area was open to start the month, and as December progresses, more options for downhill skiers will be available.
In Girdwood, Alyeska Resort will open to the public at 10:30 a.m. Friday after receiving more than a foot of snow on the mountain. Passholders got early access Thursday.
“We will have top-to-bottom skiing and riding, early season conditions do exist and terrain will be determined day-of,” Alyeska Resort said.
Also kicking off its season this week, Skeetawk ski area at Hatcher Pass will open earlier than expected. Season passholders get early access on Saturday, and the ski area will open to the general public Sunday, Skeetawk said on Facebook. Lifts will operate from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days.
In Anchorage, Arctic Valley Ski Area has postponed its original opening date — originally scheduled for Saturday — due to a lack of snow, with no new opening date officially announced. But for those interested in a different kind of downhill experience, the tube park at Arctic Valley has been operating since last week.
While this week’s snowstorm brought some much-needed snow to the mountains around Southcentral Alaska, it also elevated avalanche hazard, and those venturing into the backcountry will want to use extra caution.
According to the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center, the storm dumped 18 to 20 inches of snow there, essentially doubling the snowpack. On Thursday, avalanche danger was moderate at all elevations, according to the forecast.
“Be thoughtful about the slopes you travel on if you decide to head into avalanche terrain,” read Thursday’s forecast, written by assistant avalanche specialist Jake Keyes. “Start on small low consequence terrain features before exploring large steep slopes.”
Keyes cautioned backcountry skiers to watch for signs of instability, like shooting cracks in the snow or a collapsing snowpack; use safe travel practices; and be equipped and trained to use avalanche rescue gear, such as a transceiver, probe and shovel. Another avalanche forecast for Hatcher Pass will be issued Saturday morning at hpavalanche.org.
Farther south, Turnagain Pass didn’t receive quite as much snow this week — up to 8 inches — but the new snowfall combined with recent winds raised avalanche danger to considerable at mid- and upper elevations, according to the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center.
The avalanche forecast Friday reported that wind slabs were the primary avalanche problem at Turnagain Pass. Forecaster Andrew Schauer noted that human-triggered slides were likely on terrain where the wind has deposited snow, prompting a need for cautious route-finding. Avalanche forecasts for Turnagain Pass are issued each morning at cnfaic.org.
Closer to Anchorage, the avalanche center noted that the front range of the Chugach Mountains received up to 2 feet of new snow from the storm followed by strong winds, creating dangerous conditions there for travelers. An observation posted online described an avalanche on a slope northwest of Flattop Mountain that was remotely triggered by a cross country skier Wednesday, with the slide breaking down to ground level.
Skate and bike options
The Municipality of Anchorage maintains several rinks, lakes and other surfaces for skating each winter. Popular options like Westchester Lagoon, Cheney Lake and Cuddy Park are tracked on the city’s Parks and Recreation page. As of midweek, all three options had more than 10 inches of ice, but the city said work was still ongoing and asked the public to use caution when skating.
According to consensus in local fat-bike groups, trail conditions for riding were very good until the recent snowfall. But the new snow means work must be done to re-form the trails. At least one trail-stomping party is scheduled for Friday at Abbott Loop, including popular runs like Owl Box, Baseball Boogie, Scooby and Stranger.
Jason Lamoreaux, a bicycling enthusiast in Anchorage, said the singletrack at Kincaid Park had been groomed by the group Singletrack Advocates. Aside from that area, he thought the best options would be multi-use trails as work continues to prepare singletrack trails throughout Anchorage.
“People don’t have to wait for an organized event,” he said. “They can go out on their local trail anytime they want. Anything helps, even on foot, skis, snowshoes, going out with the dog. Whatever can help get that snow packed down.”
All of Nancy Lake State Recreation Area south of Nancy Lake Parkway is open to snowmachines, with about 2 feet of snow on the ground, and Denali State Park — with an average snow depth of 28 inches or more — opened to snowmachines Thursday, according to Alaska State Parks. Farther south, areas traditionally available to snowmachiners within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge have been open since the beginning of the month.
Other popular areas in Southcentral Alaska, including Turnagain Pass, Hatcher Pass and Chugach State Park, remain closed to motorized users for now due to an insufficient snowpack for snowmachine travel.