Skiers readying for winter, excited by snow so far

Teri Ostrander leads her daughter Allie up a hill at Tsalteshi Trails in Thursday afternoon's sun. The last week's snowfall has left ample powder for skiers.

Dale Bakk has been too busy shoveling snow, plowing and cutting up fallen trees to enjoy winter just yet.


But that doesn't mean he hasn't been looking longingly at his set of cross-country skis, anticipating the feel of winter's bounty under his feet.

"They are already out and they are waxed and ready to go," Bakk said Wednesday with a laugh. "I just need to get the trails done so we can get the family out and go."

Bakk, who grooms skiing trails at the Nikiski Pool and Nikiski Middle-High School, said he was headed out the door to investigate this year's current snowfall. But, he is excited by what he's seen so far, he said.

"This is the way it used to be -- 15 years ago I remember it being like this," he said. "This is really a nice way to start the ski season. If we can maintain this kind of snow, we should have some superb skiing this year. This should give us a real good base to start off with."

Across the Peninsula, skiers have been waiting with bated breath as a healthy early snow has left the area with decent amounts of fresh powder to enjoy. Crews from various trail systems indicate trails will be ready by early next week at the latest.

"It is good conditions right now, especially for early," said Bill Holt, maintenance manager at Tsalteshi Trails. "The snow cover isn't real deep, but it is good."

Bakk said the 3-kilometer trail system near the Nikiski pool and the 5.5 kilometers of community trails adjacent to Nikiski Middle-High School would both likely be useable by the weekend.

The pool trail is located on gentle terrain ideal for youth and beginners, Bakk said, and the area behind the school is for those skiers in the intermediate to advanced categories.

"It is good and challenging," he said.

Holt said all the trails at Tsalteshi are currently groomed and set with classic tracks, save for a new trail that has been "roughed in," he said.

"This is pretty early in the year to have classic tracks set because it requires more snow than just a flat groomed trail," Holt said.

Tsalteshi's 18 kilometers of trails, 6.5 kilometers of which are lighted for nighttime use, are currently seeing a lot of traffic, he said.

"A lot of citizens are all fired up because it is the first few days of skiing this year," he said. "When it gets really cold like it did (Tuesday) it slows the skiing down, so it is not quite as much fun. But there has been a lot of people out skiing."

Holt said he was keeping his fingers crossed for a good season, snow and other conditions considered.

"Well, it is a maritime weather system, so you just never know," he said. "But it is certainly shaping up to be (a good season). It can change really fast, so I think we just need to be happy with what we have right now and hope that it stays good."

Bob Frates, Kenai Parks and Recreation director, said the city is in the process of mobilizing its equipment to start maintenance of the Kenai Nordic Trails at the Kenai Golf Course.

Frates said the 5-kilometer system of trails was good for beginners and had intermingled obstacles -- sometimes the occasional moose, he joked.

"This course is really a user-friendly course," he said. "That's one thing we hear comparing this course to Tsalteshi Trails or some of the others. On a majority of what we will lay out, hills are minimal and it is predominately flat."

Officials at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge said trails had not yet been groomed, rather just packed down. Residents can expect grooming on those trails sometime next week, depending on weather conditions.

Sterling resident Sara Hepner said she has been cross-country skiing in various forms for about 35 years.

"I go for the fitness because I don't like working out indoors," she said. "I would much rather be outside in a beautiful venue. Tsalteshi Trails are always lovely to ski on and see the different phases as we go through winter. There is always the social aspect of seeing other people on the trails."

Hepner said much of what residents find enjoyable about downhill skiing or snowboarding can also be found in their back yard with a set of cross-country skis.

"Also it is a lot quicker to go to Tsalteshi than it is to head up to Girdwood," she said. "You'd certainly be able to practice your sport more often."

Brian Smith can be reached at