With fresh snow falling pretty much all week, excellent skiing has returned to the Kenai Peninsula.
"The course is groomed beautifully," said Dave Feeken of the Kenai Nordic Trails Thursday. "It's probably the best in the state."
The Kenai Nordic Trails, located on the Kenai Golf Course, will be hosting high school and middle school races Saturday.
Currently, there are 7 kilometers available for both classical and skate skiing. The trails are mostly flat, with some hills that may challenge beginners.
Feeken said as long as the vandals on snowmachines leave the course alone, it should be good for the weekend.
"If you could put a note in the paper for snowmachines to please stay off the course. A big please," Feeken said. "We've been getting some vandalism-type damage.
"They're actually, on purpose, tearing it up. They destroyed course markers -- that sort of thing."
Feeken spent three hours getting the snowmachine tracks out Wednesday to get the course ready for Saturday. Racing starts at 11 a.m. and will wrap up about 2:30 p.m. The course will be crowded during that time, so recreational skiers should probably head someplace else.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options because groomers all over the peninsula are reporting some of the best conditions of the winter.
Out in Nikiski, groomer Dale Bakk said both the Nikiski Community Trails and the trails behind the Nikiski pool are in tiptop shape for both classical and freestyle skiing.
"There's been nothing but big smiles all week," Bakk said.
At the trails behind the Nikiski pool, there are 3 kilometers available for skiing. These trails are mostly flat, with a few dips that may challenge beginners.
At the Nikiski Community Trails, located at Nikiski Middle-Senior High School, there are 5 kilometers ready for skiing. These trails are of medium difficulty and have some difficult hills.
The skiing also is idyllic at Tsalteshi Trails, located behind Skyview High School. Bill Holt, the vice chair of the Tsalteshi Trails Association, said the snow that fell this week wasn't bonding well, and that led to soft trails early in the week.
However, Holt and other groomers spent nine hours packing the trail in the middle of the week, and that led to excellent skiing Wednesday.
Tsalteshi Trails has about 11 kilometers available for skiers. The trails are of all difficulties, and Holt wasn't sure if there would be classical tracks for the weekend.
Across the Sterling Highway at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, groomers also are having a little trouble getting the new snow to bond.
Nicole Johnson, a park ranger, said there still is decent skiing on the Nordic Lake Trails. The Nordic Lake Trails offer four loops for classical skiing, with the longest loop being 6 miles. These trails have some hills where intermediates and beginners should exercise caution.
The Overlook Routes, which are 2 miles long, also are groomed. These are for snowshoers and only the most expert of skiers.
Down in Homer, Lookout Mountain is no longer being groomed, and that's a good sign for area skiers.
Lookout Mountain, located way up on Ohlson Mountain Road, is usually used for early season skiing because, at its high elevation, it gets snow first. Once good skiing hits the Baycrest Ski Trails and McNeil Canyon Ski Trails, though, people no longer bother driving all the way up to Lookout.
Baycrest is in excellent condition, with 25 to 30 kilometers of all levels of skiing set for skating. Dave Brann, the vice president of the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club, said he expects to have 20 kilometers of classic tracks in for the weekend, as well.
The Baycrest Ski Trails can be accessed from two points. The first is on Roger's Loop Road. The second is at the Department of Transportation station just before Homer.
The McNeil Canyon Ski Trails, located at McNeil Canyon Elementary School 12 miles out East End Road, also are in prime condition. The trails have 7.5 kilometers available for skating and should have classical tracks by the weekend. McNeil has inner loops that are flat and suitable for beginners, and also has outer loops that will challenge intermediate and advanced skiers.
Brann also reminded peninsula skiers to mark their calenders for Feb. 10, which will be the annual Wine and Cheese Tour. The Wine and Cheese Tour is a ski tour with two stops where exercisers can refresh themselves with wine, cheese, crackers and nonalcoholic drinks.
The tour is self-guided and begins at noon at Baycrest at either the Roger's Loop trail head or the DOT trail head. At the Roger's Loop trail head, the total tour will be 10 kilometers. At the DOT trail head, the total tour will be 15 kilometers. The cost is $10 for members of the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club, $15 for nonmembers and nothing for kids 12 and under.
In Seward, Rich Houghton, the coach of the high school team, also had a positive outlook on the skiing.
Houghton said there are 3 kilometers available for skating at the Mile 12 Ski Trails, located at Mile 12 of the Seward Highway. These trails offer intermediate to advanced skiing and may be a little slushy if the temperature in Seward continues to rise above freezing.
Classical skiers might want to try Bear Lake, which has 7 kilometers of classic tracks set. Bear Lake is located off Mile 7 of the Seward Highway.
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