Spring skiing -- It's all about attitude

Posted: Friday, March 30, 2001

Jimmy Buffet once sang something about changes in latitude bringing changes in attitude. Buffet, naturally, was talking about life changing for the better as one heads for southerly and warmer climes.

But when it comes to latitudes changing attitudes, I wonder why some Alaskans haven't realized Buffet's rule goes both ways. Attitudes must be changed not only when one heads south, but when one heads north.

In terms of latitude, Alaska is purely un-United States. All of the other 49 states are south of the 50th parallel north, while the majority of Alaska, including Kenai, Seward and Soldotna, are north of the 60th parallel north. To put this in terms of Europe, it's the difference between France and Norway.

But the problem for Alaska is that, in terms of culture, we draw our lead from the United States. While a country like Norway is free to adapt a culture that acclimates it to life in the north, parts of Alaska culture remain unhealthily bound by maladaptations from the 49 states far south of here.

A prime example of such a maladaptation comes every March and early April during the spring skiing season.

As a skier who frequents area trails, I know the type of day that brings cross-country skiers out in droves. It's those sunny days when the temperature is over 20 degrees and there's a soft, pleasant layer of snow paving the trails.

This week has offered one day after another of the above conditions, yet in my skis at Tsalteshi Trails, I have yet to see a person and have seen signs that only a few people are using the trails.

Would this be the case in mid-February? No. So why is it the case in mid-March?

The perception I get from people is that the ski season is over. Where does this perception come from? My contention is the Lower 48.

When people are saying the ski season is over, they are referring to the high school season, which ended Feb. 24 with the state ski meet in Anchorage.

To me, ending the season in February is illogical. It's hit-or-miss getting a good snow cover for the start of the high school season in late October, but even in this lack-of-snow year, there's still snow covering Tsalteshi Trails through March.

Why doesn't the season follow the climate? Because it's convenient to end the high school season the week before the Junior Nationals, a skiing event at which the top high school skiers from across the United States compete.

You see, most of those in the Lower 48 have to end their season at the end of February. At that latitude, that's about as long as they can hold on to snow.

Up here at more northerly latitudes, we hold snow longer. In fact, most of the time during March the ski season is just getting good. It's warmer. It's sunnier. It's light out longer. And, in most years, there's still plenty of snow to play on.

Yet at this time of the year most consider the season over.

Big deal, right? So people aren't skiing. That phrase doesn't exactly join, "The fish aren't running," or, "They're trying to steal my dividend," in utterances that cause widespread panic on the peninsula.

But I believe such Outside influences pile up and have an insidious effect on Alaska attitudes. In March, as spring training and opening day replace Iditarod and skiing on the sports pages, Alaska winters become "long" and cases of cabin fever increase.

Images from the Lower 48 are telling people winter is over and it's time to play ball, yet there's still this accursed snow on the ground. What if Alaska was a distant state of Greenland? Would the winters seem long then?

For people who've been looking out their window lately, seeing snow on the ground and starting to feel a little batty, I've got a cure for that cabin fever.

Try a little Jimmy Buffet.

Jeff Helminiak is the sports editor at the Clarion. Opinions or comments on this column can be directed to clarion@alaska.net.

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