Located adjacent to Service High School, the Hillside Trails are heavily used by high school and APU skiers as well as the after-work crowd. These trails reminded me of many Midwest Nordic trail systems.
The 18-plus kilometers wind through hilly, wooded areas with fun descents and very manageable terrain. Topping out on ridgelines, the skiing frequently affords distant views of downtown Anchorage and the city skyline. Typically Pisten Bully groomed on a daily basis, Hillside includes eight km of lighted trails enabling skiing until 11 p. m. or so. The most challenging segment of trails, the Spencer Loop (7.5 km) was originally built to FIS racing specifications.
And challenging it is. After dropping down to a creek and the lowest point in the system, the trail hooks hard right and begins a long sidehill traverse. The views increase as you gradually begin to see your starting point below. Once attaining the first high point, you get a break with a quick drop, sharp right turn and whip around before climbing again. This trail is a good test, for even a strong skier. Numerous sharp turns and swift descents keep the adrenaline flowing. The trail skirts the edge of Hilltop Ski Area before shooting back down to the core Hillside trails.
Recent improvements at Hillside include the widening of the classic-only Richter Loop so that larger grooming machines can access it. Skiing at Hillside is thoroughly enjoyable experience and should be one of your first stops on a cross country ski tour of Anchorage.
Bartlett High School
Like many of Anchorage’s trails, the Bartlett trails were developed by a dedicated group of coaches, students, parents and volunteers who supported competitive cross country skiing. The first trails at Bartlett were completed when the school opened in 1974. Located adjacent to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, an expansion was completed in 1997 resulting in approximately five kilometers of trails.
Russian Jack Springs is the site of another school-connected system -- a series of trails that start at East High School. The system includes a 2.5 km intermediate loop and a five km loop accessed via an underpass. A portion runs along a golf course and is lighted for night skiing. A chalet built by the city is the central focal point of the trail system. The park is also the site of the start of the 25 km classic and skate races of the Tour of Anchorage.
Alaska Pacific University
The members of the university ski team and their coach, Jim Mahaffey, constructed trails at Alaska Pacific University, formerly known as Alaska Methodist University, in 1967. The system has been expanded over the years and now totals 10 kilometers. The trails, entirely on APU property, are part of the area-wide trail system that connects to Chugach State Park on the east side of Anchorage and Kincaid Park on the west. It is also connected by a highway overpass to the trails in Far North Bicentennial Park and the Hillside Trails.
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Click on the photo for a larger version.
A multi-use trail, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail runs 11 miles from near downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park. It skirts the fault line of the 1964 earthquake as it wraps along Knik Arm passing Woronznof Point to Campbell Point, entirely along the ocean. This is one of Anchorage’s most popular all-season trails.
At 61 degrees north latitude, darkness comes early during the Anchorage winter. To allow local Nordic ski enthusiasts to keep on skiing, several area trail systems have installed lights for night skiing. Lighted Anchorage area trails include: Kincaid Park - 15 km, Hillside - 8 km, Russian Jack - 3 km and Bartlett High School - 3 km.
It’s easy to allow yourself to be captured by the wild ambiance of Alaska, even in its largest city. Couple that with immense cultural variety and the most colorful of histories for a resulting destination of huge potential. Layer on the tremendous Nordic skiing options in and around Anchorage and you’ve got a cross country ski hotspot that pretty much has it all.