With winter here, the perpetual sunlight of summer has been replaced with grayness. Though the days are shorter, darker and certainly colder, now is the time that the outdoor activity possibilities are endless. So as Christmas break approaches, get up, get out and enjoy what the Kenai Peninsula winter has to offer.
It's not where can you cross-country ski on the Kenai Peninsula, but where can't you. If there's snow on the ground in a flat, open area, it's a safe bet that ski tracks can be found.
* One of the most popular areas for skiing is Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna.
Tsalteshi has more than 18 kilometers of ski trails and several different loops, said Bill Holt, maintenance manager of the trails. Loops range from one kilometer in length up to 12 km.
The trails are regularly groomed, Holt said.
"The skiing has been really great since the middle of October."
October skiing is made possible because maintenance on the trails begins in the fall, Holt said. Trail preparation prior to snowfall is performed "so we can ski on as little snow as possible."
This year, Holt said people were able to ski on just three inches of snow.
"We were on a well prepared trail," he said.
Holt estimated between 1,200 and 1,500 hours are spent each year maintaining the trails. Last year, as long as it wasn't raining, Holt said Tsalteshi had about 85 skiers per day.
Both skate skiers and classical skiers are welcome, though no classic tracks have been set because there isn't enough snow.
Snowshoers are welcomed, too, but are asked to stay to the opposite side of where the classical tracks are set.
No walkers, dogs, motor vehicles or horses are permitted on the trails during the ski season.
Tsalteshi is open seven days a week, and has about five kilometers of trails equipped with lights for those wanting to ski at night. The lights come on at dark and turn off at 9:30 p.m.
Though located near Skyview High School, "The trails are for everybody to use," Holt said, not just high schoolers. "The public is always welcome to come there and ski. The community owns the trails."
* Ski trails are also open at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Soldotna. Park Ranger Jetta Minerva said the trails need another two to three inches of snow, but they are still open.
The refuge has 35 total miles of groomed ski trails, Minerva said. They also have several hiking trails for walkers and snowshoers. Dogs are not allowed on the trails.
This year, the refuge is instituting a new program where people can check out binoculars for free, Minerva said. Binoculars can be checked out at refuge headquarters on Ski Hill Road and need to be returned the same day.
On Jan. 24, the refuge is celebrating national trails day. They will be hosting two guided walks in honor of the holiday. The first walk is for beginners and/or families and starts at 11 a.m. It will be a mile walk and end at noon. The second hike, for older youths and adults, lasts from 1 to 3 p.m. and is a two-mile walk.
For more information contact the refuge at 262-7021.
* The Kenai golf course, too, is open for cross-country skiing.
"As long as we've got snow coverage, we'll be good to go," said Bob Frates, director of the Kenai Parks and Recreation Department.
The course has five kilometers of groomed trails currently set up for skate skiing but classical tracks will be set once there is more snow, Frates said.
The trails are 12 to 15 feet wide.
Skijoring is also permitted at the golf course, Frates said. He said skijoring has become increasingly popular over the last couple of years.
Frates said that skijorers should make sure the trails are hard packed so their dogs don't break through the snow and ruin the trails for the skiers.
"It's a wonderful place to snowshoe," he said.
Frates said he's even seen a few dedicated disc golf players in winter. The course is open and last winter Frates said he saw a group of disc golfers playing on a regular basis.
He did have one warning to all those using the golf course this winter: "Be mindful of the moose, they're attracted to the hard-packed trails."
* For those North Roaders, the North Peninsula Recreation Area has what's needed to get your cross-country skiing fix. They have two sets of ski trails, the Nikiski pool trail, which is about a 1.5-mile loop, and the Community Trails located by the high school, which has approximately five miles of skiing.
* There's plenty of places to go skiing, but where can you get the equipment you need?
Look no further than Beemun's Variety in Soldotna. They have all the clothing needed to brave the winter temperatures and carry just about all the gear needed to have fun in the snow. Hats, gloves, helmets, goggles -- all this and more can be found at Beemuns, said bike shop manager Brad Carver.
They also sell all the materials needed for skiers to do their own waxing at home, Carver said.
Beemuns also rents both classical and skate skis as well as snowboards for those who want to give a new winter activity a try.
For the bicycle enthusiasts that don't let the cold keep them indoors, Beemuns carries studded bike tires.
Snow shoes, too, for purchase can be found at their store. Carver said they carry everything from an entry-level shoe through an advanced, upscale snow shoe.
Wilderness Way on the Sterling Highway also carries a wide range of winter outdoor gear.
* Though still in need of three inches of snow, Extreme Tubing is hoping to open for the Christmas holiday, said Park Manager Justin Clark.
Located approximately three miles down Ohlson Mountain Road, the park has extended its hill by 100 feet this year, for a total length of 800 feet.
"It's one heck of a ride," Clark said.
But don't worry, the park has a rope tow to pull sledders back to the top, so no need to bring hiking boots.
The park can accommodate about 60 tubers at a time, with four people going simultaneously. Once they receive more snow, Clark said a fifth lane will be opened. Each tubing session is two hours long.
Once opened, Extreme Tubing hours of operation will be Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m., 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Tubers must be 42 inches tall and at least 7 years old, Clark said.
The park is also available for private parties.
For those who need a break from the cold weather, the park has a warming shack and concessions including food and hot chocolate.
"It's nothing fancy, just a lot of fun," Clark said.
For more information, Clark can be reached at 235-5119 or e-mail to email@example.com.
* Closer to home, sledders can rent out time on Solid Rock Bible Camp's tubing hill.
It is open to the general public, but prior arrangements must be made.
The camp provides the tubes and has a rope tow to bring tubers back to the top.
The hill is not currently open due to a lack of snow. For more information or to rent sledding time, call Solid Rock at 262-4741.
* For those that thought fishing was just a summer sport in Alaska, you're way off. There are several places on the peninsula for anglers to keep their hobby alive during the winter.
Sport Lake is one popular location, said Scott Miller, store manager of Trustworthy Hardware in Soldotna.
"There's lots of fish, they're easy to catch and it's easy to get to," he said.
Spirit Lake and Island Lake are two other popular locations for ice fishermen, Miller said.
There are 26 stocked lakes on the peninsula, said Jason Pawluk, assistant area manager for Alaska Department of Fish and Game sport fishing. Along with the lakes Miller mentioned, Pawluk said Longmere Lake and Johnson Lake are heavily fished in the winter.
In February, Pawluk said, Fish and Game adopted regulations allowing anglers to use five lines through the ice when targeting pike. The law applies to Mackey Lakes, Tote Road Lakes, Union Lakes, Cisca Lake, Derks Lake, Scout Lake, Sevena Lake and Stormy Lake. If another species is caught, it must be released if using five lines. The regulation only applies to pike.
Anglers have through the calendar year to record fish caught, Pawluk said. He encourages all fishermen to send their harvest surveys in within a month after the new year.
Pawluk also said that fishermen will need a new license as of Jan. 1.
One key piece of equipment for ice fishing is an auger. Miller said a hand auger is fine but a power auger makes drilling the hole easier. He also said an ice scoop is essential for clearing out the fishing hole because you don't want to use your hand.
Though they're not necessary, tents and heaters can make the fishing more enjoyable, especially on the bitterly cold days. "It's almost like a winter camping experience," Miller said.
"It's really a lot of fun to get out there and spend time with my kids," Miller said. "We have a lot of fun."
* The Conoco-Phillips arena in Kenai has public skate seven days a week from 1 to 2:30 p.m. That time is reserved for skating only and pucks and hockey sticks are not allowed.
Outside of that designated time slot, as long as no one else has the ice reserved, sticks and pucks are allowed, Frates said.
The rink has lights for evening skaters.
Cost is $1 for public skate. A box is located in the rink where skaters are asked to place their money.
* The Jason Peterson Memorial ice rink in Nikiski is another outdoor rink on the peninsula. Though they haven't put ice down yet, they're hoping to by next week, weather permitting.
During the winter, it's next to impossible to drive anywhere without seeing a snowmachiner taking advantage of Alaska's extended winter.
Though riding along side of the Kenai Spur Highway is a popular place for snow machines, the Caribou Hills is even better.
On weekends with ideal weather conditions, the hills have more than 1,000 riders said Les Crane, president of Caribou Hills cabin hoppers snow machine club.
"It's a pretty popular recreation area."
The hills have several hundred miles of trails. One-hundred-fifty miles of trails are groomed once a week at 16 feet wide, Crane said.
"They're as smooth as a highway when we get done with them," he said.
Crane said he likes to have at least two feet of snow in the hills before they can be groomed.
Dog sledding is also a popular activity in the Caribou Hills. The hills are host to the annual dog sled race, the Tustumena 200.
Crane said that the several different user groups of Caribou Hills can co-exist peacefully.
"We get along pretty well down here," he said.
Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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