Winter opens up trails and invites wanderlust
As winter creeps in and Alaska skiers, snowboarders, snowmachiners and mushers make their wishes for good snow, we cyclists are right next to them crossing our fingers and performing our snow dances. Anchorage winters of late have been either boom or bust for snowfall, but gone are the days when cyclists felt they could only ride their bikes if they had a stationary trainer or studs for their mountain bikes. Sure, some of us still occasionally hop on our trainers or spin at the gym, and I still have a commuter with studs, but more riders have taken up fat-tire biking and set their sights on snowy singletracks.
The evolution in bikes over the last several years has led to an increase in the number of trails and the kinds of trails that are fun to ride in winter.
I recall a Thanksgiving Day ride from 2000 when some friends and coworkers biked on some of the then little-used skijor trails on the north side of Campbell Airstrip Road. There was no snow on the ground and other local trails were glazed with ice. We biked Moose Ridge Loop and explored some skinnier, unnamed trails. We also had the trails to ourselves.
Things sure have changed. In the ensuing years, I have watched and participated in the changes in trail use as wheels and tires became fatter and the number of winter cyclists has grown exponentially.
With more winter cyclists, the most popular trails often become firmly packed on the same day as a snowfall. What once felt like exploration now feels like a highway. Maybe this is part of what leads people to begin exploring. Or maybe it is curiosity, a sense of discovery, or a desire to challenge our slow-speed handling that leads us to follow the singletracks that veer away from the wider trails.
Explaining this is like explaining to people in the Lower 48 why I enjoy driving the back roads when the interstate will get me to my destination faster.
When I’m commuting to work, I will take the most direct bike-friendly route I can find, but when I’m on the trails for fun, it isn’t about getting to a destination in a set amount of time; it’s the character of the ride.
Singletracks, whether they are built to a certain specification or crop up after a few snowshoers have forged a route, keep me engaged and moving, even when my speed drops to a crawl while I wend my way between the birch and spruce trees.
This is the experience many of us look for when we glance into the forest and see a narrow trail inviting us in – trails like Hansel and Gretel, Baseball Boogie, Paper Plate. You won’t find those names on the maps, and you won’t find me on them in the summer, but once snow is packed between the roots that braid across the trail and I’ve pulled my fat tire bike from the back of the garage, those trails will be my destinations.
Sidenote: During the snow season, please stay off of the mushing trails and ski-only trails except at dedicated crossings. Refer to locator maps in the parks or see the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) trail map that lists trails by usage. It is available at many bike shops. www.anchoragenordicski.com/