Alaska, Featured, Outdoors, Sports

Winter Snow Sports are Here!

Snowy Forest. Photo: Ben Larson
Snowy Forest. Photo: Ben Larson

The winter sports season has begun on the Kenai Peninsula and in Girdwood. Snow cover in many areas remains light, but Alaskans are still getting out into the Chugach National Forest.

Alyeska Resort opened officially on Thanksgiving weekend. Ted’s Express and the Bear Cub Quad (Chair 3 and Chair 4) were open Thursday through Sunday. The Magic Carpet opened in the middle of the holiday weekend. Terrain open on the mountain was limited. Skiers could take a direct route down the mountain, but most side trails were closed. The resort announced a total closure from Monday Nov 28 through Thursday Nov 31. During the closure, staff will focus their efforts on building up the trails for next weekend.

The good news at Alyeska is that cold temperatures have enabled continuous 24 hour snowmaking. Cold temperatures are expected to continue through the week. There is also a chance of natural snow next Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. There was snow in the forecast for November 26 and 27, but it largely missed the Resort. Everyone is hopeful for snow this week that hits the resort head-on.

According to Alyeska Marketing Director Eric Fullerton, there is snow on the upper and lower mountain, but the mid mountain experienced melting during a recent inversion. The Resort will be able to open more terrain if they can create more connections between the top and the bottom of the mountain. The most focused snowmaking effort is currently on the mid mountain.

When the resort re-opens next Friday, more terrain should be open. Staff can not predict exactly what will be open until close to Friday morning. The Alyeska snow report recorded hotline at (907) 754-7669 (SKI SNOW) gives daily mountain snow and trail status reports.

Several cross country ski trails in the Seward and Cooper Landing area including the Crescent Lake trail are skiable. Cover in many areas remains thin. Grooming began at Russian River over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. 

Wilderness ice skating is a great consolation for spotty snow coverage. The Thanksgiving holiday brought many families out for a skate. Anchorage’s Potter Marsh, the wetlands all along the Seward Highway, and many Kenai Peninsula lakes currently have hard, smooth ice in great shape for skating.

Backcountry skiers and snowboarders wait all summer for ski season to start. Riders started braving short days and cold temperatures to hike up the hills on the Kenai Peninsula shortly before Thanksgiving. Hikers have been rewarded with fine, cold powder. However, there are still exposed rocks in many popular lines and persistent avalanche danger has limited the terrain skiers can access safely. Most riders have minimized their risk with conservative terrain choices.

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Frost Crystals Destabilize Snow
Frost Crystals Destabilize Snow

The snowpack safety is determined in part by how well layers of snow from different weather events are stuck together, or “bonded.” The beautiful ice crystals that form on dry, cold days do not bond well to the snow above or below them, creating a weak layer. A layer of frost crystals built up in mid-November during a cold, clear period. Skiers and snowboarders triggered avalanches throughout popular backcountry sites during the past two weeks because the weak layer could not support the strain of their activity. Glide cracks and other very scary snow features are prominent throughout Turnagain Pass and the Summit Lake area. Fortunately, no one has been hurt so far.

No one should ski or snowboard in the backcountry without training as to how to recognize and avoid avalanche danger. A beacon, shovel, and probe are considered the absolute minimum safety equipment in addition to training. These tools are not effective if you do not know how to use them, and they do not guarantee an avalanche burial victim will survive.

Snow machining throughout the Chugach National Forest remains closed due to insufficient coverage. 

Alaska’s dedicated snow sports enthusiasts are all hoping for a few more storms and a long, safe, and fun-filled winter sports season!

By Allison Sayer for Seward City News 

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