By Ron Bergin
Though the city of Anchorage sits at sea level, enveloped on almost three sides by the ocean that can have a moderating effect on temperatures, it sees regular and consistent snowfall, much to the delight of the area’s large and enthusiastic Nordic skiing community. A city of 277,638 people, Anchorage is the population center of the state. Easy to navigate urban sprawl links the downtown with access to numerous community ski trails on the periphery of the city.
A skiing holiday to Anchorage, in addition to a bounty of trails, offers a plethora of non-skiing diversions to fill out even the most inquisitive traveler’s itinerary. From the downtown Anchorage ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race to the omnipresent influence of Native Alaskan, Russian Orthodox and historic exploration and extraction endeavors, a full immersion experience of Anchorage and its environs should not be limited to the ski trails.
But the skiing opportunities are so plentiful that one could easily devote a week or more to exploring the 130-plus kilometers of trails just in the immediate Anchorage area. With more time, one could venture to numerous other trails just a short distance away for even more cross country adventure.
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The Nordic skiing culture of Anchorage is impressive, too, with the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) anchoring the regional cross country skiing scene. And the area has quickly become an epicenter of skier development, from youth programs such as the Alaska Winter Stars to a flock of Olympic caliber skiers based at Alaska Pacific University.
The NSAA (profiled in the December 2005 issue of Cross Country Skier) is a sizeable organization with an equally sizeable agenda of initiatives, trail maintenance and events. The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage is, in fact, responsible for all of the major cross country ski trails in the greater Anchorage area, which includes seven or more distinct trail systems and interconnecting links.
Through its stewardship, the NSAA makes these trails available to the public free of charge. Grooming and other maintenance are paid for primarily through voluntary donations and the purchase of a Trail Pin, which serves as a trail pass indicating that you have paid your share of the freight to help maintain the trails.
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It would appear that Anchorage Nordic skiers are more than willing to help support the trails, judging from more than 700 names of trail pin purchasers’ names that appeared in the February 2007 issue of the Alaska Nordic Skier newsletter – and that was as of mid-January. Trail pin collections totaled in the range of $200,000 last year, which not only helped cover grooming costs, but also some general operating costs and summer maintenance.
The Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage isn’t only about trails, for it also offers numerous events and activities and publishes a very comprehensive regional newsletter. Highlights of the club’s activities include the annual Tour of Anchorage ski marathon, the Ski 4 Kids Day – a day of events, activities and just plain fun for kids and adults -- and the annual Ski For Women, probably the largest women-only ski event in the country, where outrageous costumes are the norm. The much-anticipated NSAA Ski Train takes fun-loving skiers out into the wilds for a day of backcountry thrashing and a return trip that is more of a rolling party, complete with a polka band!
Many western U.S. Nordic trails are based at altitude, so acclimation is one of the biggest challenges for those accustomed to traveling to find idyllic cross country skiing experiences, especially those hailing from the East or Midwest. Not a problem in Anchorage, since it’s pretty much at sea-level. So it’s off the plane and right onto the trails and, except for perhaps a touch of jet-lag, you’re ready to ski.
Nordic skiers of Anchorage are in the enviable position of not simply just deciding whether to ski or not, but where to ski. Here’s a quick overview of the many trails from which they have to choose.