Skiers waiting for snow

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2002

It's usually not a good sign when one is planning to host a high school ski meet Saturday, yet hears a rumbling, looks out the window and is greeted by thunder and lightning in the middle of the week.

"We've had hail, rain, we've even had 20 minutes of thunder and lightning this week," said Rich Houghton, the ski coach at Seward's high school. "It's just been weird weather over here this year.

"This isn't even the first time we've had thunder and lightning this winter. It's our third time."

Like every other trail groomer on the peninsula, Houghton is waiting for the temperature to drop below freezing so he can scrape up the trails and wipe out nightmarish, icy conditions.

Saturday's meet is supposed to be held at the Mile 12 Ski Trails, located at Mile 12 of the Seward Highway. Houghton said there is snow there. Until the temperature drops below freezing, though, the snow will make for lousy skiing because it will remain water-logged and icy. This makes it nearly impossible to groom.

Once the temperature gets below freezing, Houghton said, about 4 kilometers of intermediate-level skiing will be available for skating. All the other trails in Seward are washed out.

On the central peninsula, groomers find themselves in the same predicament as those in Seward.

"We can't even pull the equipment right now," said Dave Feeken, the ski coach at Kenai Central High School, of attempts to groom the Kenai Nordic Trails. "The snowmachine gets on top of the ice, and it just spins."

Feeken said he'd heard the forecast for today called for temperatures below freezing. If that happens, he should have 4 kilometers at the trails, located on the Kenai Golf Course, ready for skating. The portion of the trails closest to Coral Seymour Memorial Park remains shoddy due to standing water.

The nordic trails offer mostly flat skiing with a few hills that will challenge beginners.

Out in Nikiski, Dale Bakk, the coach of the high school team, also is waiting anxiously for colder temperatures or, better yet, snow.

"The last three or four days the skiing has gone from OK to, let me just say, hazardous," Bakk said. "We tried to practice (Wednesday) with the high school team, and only lasted for 30 minutes."

Bakk said when the temperature drops below freezing, he will scrape up the trails behind the Nikiski pool and the Nikiski Community Trails, located at the high school, as soon as possible. The Nikiski pool offers 3 kilometers of easy skiing, with a few dips, while the community trails offer 5 kilometers of intermediate to challenging skiing.

"If we would scrape the trails when it's above freezing, we'd just create big ice clumps," Bakk said. "Then when it froze, it'd be really nasty.

"If we wait until it drops below freezing, we'll get a fine powder when we drag the trails."

At Tsalteshi Trails, located behind Skyview High School, the skiing also has been miserably icy. Tom Seggerman, the treasurer of the Tsalteshi Trails Association, said most skiers had quit trying to ski by Monday.

Seggerman was optimistic, however, that if the temperature dropped below freezing for the weekend, the trails could provide good skiing.

Tsalteshi has about 11 kilometers of skiing for all levels of skiers.

Across the Sterling Highway at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Dave Kenagy, refuge ranger, said the Nordic Lake Trails are closed due to construction and icy conditions. The Overlook Routes are open to snowshoers, but those trails are too icy and hilly for safe skiing.

In Homer, Dave Brann, vice president of the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club, said 4 to 5 inches of recent snow has fueled optimism that good skiing is just around the corner.

However, in a familiar refrain, Brann said that good skiing will have to wait until the temperatures drop below freezing.

Once the temperatures drop below freezing, Brann said, there should be 15 kilometers of good skiing at the Baycrest Ski Trails, located off Roger's Loop Road in Homer. There also should be 5 kilometers of classical tracks set at Baycrest. The trails there are of all difficulties.

Brann also said most of the 170 or so trees that blew down on the trails at Baycrest at Christmas have been cleared. Brann has been involved with the trails since 1982, and said this is by far the most trees he's ever had to clear from the trails.

Elsewhere in Homer, the McNeil Canyon Ski Trails, located 12 miles out East End Road in the parking lot of McNeil Canyon Elementary School, are almost set for their first skiing of the year. Once the temperatures drop below freezing, McNeil should have 5 kilometers of good skating.

At Lookout Mountain, located on Ohlson Mountain Road, the 4 kilometers of mostly flat trail remains good for skating.

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