Thanks to all those who made this possible ...

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2002

To whom it may concern: A couple of Sundays ago, I had a most excellent ski trip in Turnagain Pass. Sliding amongst snow-caked mountains, soaking in the long spring sun and wading ankle deep in powder, it was the stuff of which Alaska dreams are made. In the fine tradition of a Clarion "Applause" letter, I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few of the folks that made this trip possible.

A millennium from now anthropologists and historians will look back and evaluate what we will have done. Will the consensus be that the early second millennium Kenai Peninsula people built modern towns, but the rest of their culture left them placeless and angst-ridden?

-- Dr. Alan Boraas, Professor of anthropology, Kenai Peninsula College

First, a little background. Alan Boraas, who is quoted above, has often told me that the key to living on the peninsula is shared, outdoor activity. But I've always found sharing akin to eating pastry -- it can be rich and fulfilling in limited quantities, but downright sickening in heaping portions.

So, when a ski buddy and I headed up to Center Ridge that gleaming Sunday, we were ignoring our Mr. Rogers and hoping we wouldn't have to "share" with too many neighbors. As it turned out, even though Center Ridge is a common ski destination and a convenient drive of less than three hours for some 300,000 people, my ski buddy and I saw only five other people on Center Ridge the entire day.

Thus, I thought it would be appropriate to thank some of the people who, in the fine fashion of too much garlic, kept all the other people away. Like any well-meaning Academy Award winner, I'll "try" and keep it short.

Thank you, God. Sunday on the peninsula means a lot of people were in church thanking and worshiping God, which means they couldn't be up in the heavens at Turnagain Pass with me. I'm not saying thanking God is a bad thing. I try and do it every Saturday night, so I can get up and go skiing Sunday morning. (Also, thanks to God for making it so bugs can't bother you in the winter.)

Thank you to everybody who says fishing is the reason we live on the Kenai Peninsula. Since fishing is really only a viable activity half the year, I've always thought this attitude is like driving to Anchorage and only looking at the scenery on the right side of the road.

But if these people want to stay inside and argue fish politics all winter, that's fine with me. I've noticed fishing fanatics have a tendency to cluster up, especially around king holes and the Russian River, and that behavior just doesn't work on the slopes.

Thank you, Tiger Woods. Woods was leading, and eventually won, the Masters that day. Market research shows when Tiger's in the hunt at a major, more people watch TV and less people ski.

I guess I can't blame people for this one. There are rumors Tiger fishes the Kenai, so you could say he's one of our own. And Augusta National, like Pamela Anderson, is beautiful in its own artificial way. But I'll take natural beauty over contrived beauty any day.

Thank you, tourists and snow birds. In spite of all the awe-inspiring things Alaska offers in the winter, you only come in the summer. That means I don't have to worry about you and the carpetbaggers who show up to take your money stealing my opportunity to make first tracks on a pristine hill.

Thank you, bars and purveyors of fine spirits. "It's five o'clock somewhere." I've often heard it and just as often lived it. And it's on Sundays like these that I come to really regret that. (On a lighter note, I'd also like to thank bars and liquor stores for being there because long days of skiing, like that Sunday, usually leave me pretty thirsty.)

Thank you, tanning parlors. At the end of a daylong roast in the sun, my skiing buddy, whose sun roof doesn't quite close all the way anymore, has the piping red face of a man sitting on the toilet after a week of a diet consisting solely of sausage, onion and extra-cheese pizza. He tells me the office ladies love his tan. Thanks to tanning parlors, people can get this look without actually having to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.

Thank you, movie theaters. Whether it's summer or winter, on many a drive home from gleaming outdoor adventure I've continually been amazed by how many cars pack the movie theater parking lots in this community.

I know. I know. "Gotta see it on the big screen." But while the dimensions of a movie screen are measured in feet, the dimensions of the view from Center Ridge are measured in miles.

An avalanche sloughs off here. A telemark skier daringly darts down the mountain there. And a solitary ski track leads boldly and mysteriously off into a distant valley, begging you to fill in his or her story. All around, mountain tops dance up and down in the enticing, dynamic manner of the sound of a good string quartet. This beats anything I've seen on the "big" screen, with the possible exception of "Slapshot" or any film involving Gwyneth Paltrow.

Thank you, video rental stores, for the same reasons as movie theaters. Except, in this case, the view is measured in the inches of a television screen as opposed to the miles of Center Ridge.

Thank you, advertising geniuses. You fill media with glossy pictures convincing people that they need your pricey product to escape boundaries. I've been to Turnagain Pass in everything from a new SUV to a ratty old pickup truck, so I can say boundaries are not in the car you drive, the shoes and clothes you wear, or even whether you own a Gore-Tex cell phone cover or not. Boundaries are in the mind. But, advertising geniuses, your secret is safe with me.

Thank you, fitness centers. I climbed for a good hour straight that Sunday, but like continuing education, the enlightened views each step up provided made it worthwhile. I find it hard to believe somebody, other than Sisyphus, would choose to climb for the same hour looking at a wall, or even directly at themselves in a mirror (which in my case would be especially horrifying). But, I guess exercise is exercise.

Thank you, Alaska Schools Activities Association. Your sports schedule tells kids that even though snow was still covering the entire peninsula, they should be playing soccer and running track. Turnagain Pass was good for a lot of things that day, but soccer and track weren't two of them.

Finally, I'd like to indulge in a bit of self-aggrandizement (which some say is all my column writing is, anyway) and thank myself. The Friday before this Sunday, I'd written an article for the Clarion and told people how awesome it would be that weekend on Center Ridge.

I must have done a poor article, or gave poor directions, because the skiers we met that day were from Anchorage and Utah, meaning nobody got my message.

Again, a heartfelt thanks to all who, like stars in the sky, meshed together to create wonder. Please, keep up the good work.


Jeff Helminiak

This column is the opinion of Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak. Comments and criticisms can be directed to

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