In the 1960s and 1970s, the ski trails at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge were the place to be to ski groomed trails on the central Kenai Peninsula.
As more and more ski trails have come on-line recently, use at the refuge has decreased. But for those who enjoy rustic skiing, the refuge is still a valuable option.
The trails are not as spacious as most on the peninsula, because they were designed before freestyle skiing, which requires wide trails, became popular. While that lack of width can make for some interesting twists and turns on some downhills, it also can provide a little more intimacy with the surrounding environment.
After a slow start this year, Dave Kenagy, a volunteer coordinator at the refuge, said he groomed the refuge trails for the first time last week. While many trails in the area are packed down pretty good at this point, the refuge trails are still relatively soft due to their late start.
"It's not that well consolidated," Kenagy said. "There's not a real solid base -- the snow is nice, sugary stuff."
Kenagy has groomed the first two loops on the Nordic Lake Trails, which run south of the refuge headquarters, located off Ski Hill Road in Soldotna. If all the loops are done, it's a total of 3 miles. Kenagy said he did not set classic tracks because people prefer using different widths of skis at the refuge.
Kenagy also said he expects the remaining loops on the Nordic Lake Trails to be groomed this weekend or next week.
He also mentioned that the Overlook Routes, which run north from the headquarters toward the Soldotna Municipal Airport, provide a good area for snowshoers.
"Snowshoers are welcome out here, too," Kenagy said. "We'd prefer they use the Overlook (Routes). There's some rather steep sections that would be tough for skiers, but would be appropriate for snowshoers.
"Snowshoers don't have to stay off the Nordic Lake Trails, but we try to steer them to the Overlook."
For those more interested in flying around trails on freestyle skis, the central peninsula retains plenty of options.
Across the Sterling Highway from the refuge, at Tsalteshi Trails, the skiing remains good on all loops.
Bill Holt, the vice chair of the Tsalteshi Trails Association, said the trails have recovered nicely from the warm temperatures and rain of a week ago. Pete Sprague, the chair of the association, said early in the week that the skiing at Tsalteshi, located behind Skyview High School, was as good as it gets.
"It was getting a little hard at the end of last week after it got rained on a little bit," Holt said. "I pulled in some of the crusty grain from the edge of the trail, and that seemed to work pretty well."
Tsalteshi, which offers skiing of all difficulties, has about 11 kilometers of trail ready for skate skiing. About 3 of those kilometers also have classical tracks.
At the Kenai Nordic Trails, located at the Kenai Golf Course, the skiing has been hurt a little bit because the snowmachine used for grooming has broken down.
The outer loop at the nordic trails measures 5 kilometers, and there are currently no classical tracks at the trails. The trails are mostly flat, with a few rolling hills.
"I'd imagine it's fast," said Bob Frates, the director of the city of Kenai Parks and Recreation Department. "There's no doubt the trails are hard, and maybe a little icy in some areas.
"We need more snow."
Out in Nikiski, there also is good skiing available. At the trails behind the Nikiski pool, groomer Dale Bakk said there are 3 kilometers available for classic and skate skiing. Those trails are easy, with a couple challenging dips.
At the Nikiski Community Trails, which are at Nikiski Middle-Senior High School, there are about 5 kilometers ready for skating and about 2 kilometers with classic tracks. Those trails are of a moderate difficulty, with several hills that require caution.
Away from the central peninsula, the skiing picture isn't as rosy.
In Seward, Rich Houghton, the ski coach at the high school, said skiing was wiped out by rains a week ago.
In Homer, Dave Brann, vice president of the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club, said there is no skiing at the McNeil Canyon Ski Trails and very limited skiing at the Baycrest Ski Trails.
The best skiing in Homer is at Lookout Mountain, located on Ohlson Mountain Road. The first high school race of the ski season will be held there Saturday, so groomers have been caring for it diligently. Lookout is mostly flat skiing. There are 4 kilometers groomed for skating and 3.3 kilometers set for classical skiing.
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