Gear up & get out!

by • November 2, 2017 • Feature, HighlightsComments (0)930

The snow’s coming; here’s how to be prepared when it gets here

There’s no denying that snow-lovers everywhere are itching to hit the slopes, run the trails, and breathe in the crisp, cold air of winter. And so far, La Niña is helping it happen. This year’s winter is shaping up to be pretty darn good, according to long-term weather forecasters (see our Trailmix story on this, on Page 6). That means skiing, snowboarding, dog mushing, climbing and winter biking are all legitimate goals.

If you’re new to any of this, though, look no further than this condensed primer of where to go to learn more about winter sports in Alaska. And, above all, be thankful. While the season might be slow to begin, it will be here before we know it. For those who’ve endured the wet, warm winters of recent years’ past, this is reason to celebrate.

— Coast staff

More Resources

Fat Biking:

Try before you buy. Arctic Cycles rents fat bikes ( and most bike shops will let you test ride. Get connected at the Anchorage Fat Bike Public Facebook Group:


Ice Climbing:

This online site is a resource for climbing in Alaska: Or go to a Mountaineering Club of Alaska meeting to meet fellow climbers (



Simon Evans
A skier grabs some air skiing at Alyeska Resort.
Melissa DeVaughn
The Beach Lake Sled Dog Trails are some of the best for learning how to run sled dogs.
Courtesy Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage
A young shopper looks for deals at the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage’s annual ski swap. Two other ski swaps are scheduled for November, one in Anchorage and the other in Eagle River.

If downhill skiing is your favorite sport and lifts are part of the requirement, there are only four options in southcentral Alaska for alpine skiing. But don’t let that limit your imagination. Getting vertical in Alaska is always possible for those willing to find a way.

For ski areas, though, here are the deets:



If you’re not sure downhill skiing is your thing, DON’T buy anything. Rent a few times first to make sure the sport is for you. Be realistic when claiming your level of expertise, too. Don’t claim to ski black diamonds if you’ve never been off the bunny slope; gear rentals are adjusted based on your ability and you can get injured if you aren’t paired with the right equipment. If, however, you want to venture into the owner-market, start with UAA’s used-gear sale.

UAA Alaska Ski Swap: noon-5 p.m., Nov. 4 at the Alaska Airlines Center. The swap not only includes the big stuff, like skis, bindings, boots and poles, but also jackets, gloves, hats, waxing supplies and more. If you have gear to sell, check out the website,, for how to register equipment and when to bring it in. Also, if you’re really serious about getting the best gear, buy a $20 book of the ASC raffle tickets and get into the swap 15 minutes early.



Alyeska Ski Resort is the primo destination for lift-assisted downhill skiing and snowboarding. Girdwood is a fun, funky town and an outing here is like a mini-vacation, even if you’re just skiing for the day. It’s spendy, though, and opening day in not until mid-December, so come prepared to make the most of the commitment. The Mountain Learning Center offers a great variety of ski lessons for everyone from beginner to advanced, and you can even get one-on-one training if you’re nervous or want the added attention.

For a more convenient fix closer to town you can try Hilltop Ski Area, which is right in Anchorage, and also offers lessons for all ages and abilities.

Just outside of town is an Anchorage tradition. Arctic Valley Ski Area is a rustic version of Alyeska, offering tubing and skiing between Eagle River and Anchorage. Run by the Anchorage Ski Club, this off-the-beaten-path ski area is a great place to enjoy a less-crowded skiing and snowboarding experience.

A fourth downhill skiing option is available – but only if you have military privileges or know someone who does. Hillberg Ski Area is located on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and features a tube park and ski hill. There are lessons by appointment and gear rental is available at the front desk.



For comparison’s sake, prices for tickets are based on a general admission day-lift ticket. Ski passes, punch cards and other deals can lower the cost of the ticket, so be sure to ask.

Alyeska Ski Resort: Adult life tickets are $65-85 for a full day ($50-$68 for students)

Hilltop Ski Area: Adult life tickets are $32 for a full day ($30 for students)

Arctic Valley Ski Area: Adult life tickets are $25 for a full day for those who join the Anchorage Ski Club. ($20 for student members)

Hillberg Ski Area: Ticket prices are $20 for a full-day of skiing and $10 for a two-hour session of tubing.



With snow already on the ground, and ski trails already groomed up at Hatcher Pass, Nordic skiing season is heating up. Learning to ski, however, can be a slow process. Fortunately, there are plenty of programs from Mat-Su to Anchorage for those who want to learn. Try the more traditional classic skiing first. You’ll need to learn the correct waxing technique to provide the perfect kick and glide. Waxless skis are popular among beginners but once you’ve mastered the sport, they will quickly hold you back on the snow.

After you’ve got the classic technique figured out, move on the skate skiing, which is pretty much like ice skating on skis. This great all-over workout is a fantastic way to get huge fitness gains in a short amount of time. It’s also a fun way to explore Alaska’s trails in the winter.



If you’re new to skiing, or on a tight budget (it’s a spendy sport, for sure!), check out two upcoming gear swaps where you can nab some high-quality used gear at affordable prices.

UAA Alaska Ski Swap: noon-5 p.m., Nov. 4, at the Alaska Airlines Center. The swap not only includes the big stuff, like skis, bindings, boots and poles, but also jackets, gloves, hats, waxing supplies and more. If you have gear to sell, check out the website,, for how to register equipment and when to bring it in. Also, if you’re really serious about getting the best gear, buy a $20 book of the ASC raffle tickets and get into the swap 15 minutes early.

Chugiak Eagle River Nordic Ski Club Ski Swap: 9 a.m.-noon, Nov. 11, at Beach Lake Ski Chalet, Birchwood Loop Road, Chugiak. This annual event coincides with Eagle River Junior Nordic ski sign-up and rentals. There also will be a ski-waxing demo, and signups for Alaska Nordic (


The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage is the brains behind all of the great ski trails in Anchorage, and if you aren’t a member, join now. Your donation helps keep the trails groomed and gives you plenty of opportunity to learn from the masters.



Lessons, or training programs (depending on your experience) can be had through several venues. This list is geared toward adult skiers, but each group also offers junior Nordic programs as well:

Anchorage Parks and Recreation Adult lessons: Called Muni Masters, this program includes beginner to intermediate training and is available in several training blocks. (

NSAA Learn to Ski With AARP: If you’re over 50 and want to learn to ski, NSAA is partnering with AARP for discounted lessons in a five-week block beginning in February. (

Alaska Nordic Racing: This ski-training program offers adult lessons for all abilities in both Eagle River and Anchorage. Whether you are new to skiing or training for the Tour of Anchorage, this group can help you out. (

Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center: This Anchorage-based program offers year-round training for adults with several options – a women’s training group, daytime training and evening training. The focus is on technique and fitness. (

Alaska Winter Stars: Like ANR and APU, Alaska Winter Stars has varying training options for adult skiers who want to strengthen their skiing abilities. Most training takes place at Hillside Trails in Anchorage, and there are summer training options as well. (

Mat-Su Ski Club: This club offers adult ski lessons at the Government Peak Recreation Area, using a punch card system to choose which days you want to train. Lessons alternate between skate and classic with daytime and evening options available. (


New to Alaska or just interested in trying a new sport? There is nothing that screams “Alaska” more than dog mushing. And there’s no better place to learn more than the Chugiak Dog Mushers Association, based in Chugiak. The CDMA grooms and manages dozens of miles of trail at the Beach Lake Sled Dog Trails, and the club holds weekly races during the season that are as fun to watch as they are to race.



Start with the Chugiak Dog Musher’s Association website (, which features a great classified section to help you get started at less cost. Sled Dog Central is another online option (



Because taking on the responsibility of a dog team cannot happen overnight – one doesn’t just drive to REI and buy one – it’s best to start out as a volunteer, get comfortable with the chaos of the dogs and learn best practices for caring for your canine teammates. The CDMA welcomes volunteers at its weekly races. It also has a juniors program for young mushers who want to learn more.

Another option is to find a friend who has dogs or ask CDMA members if you can be a guest driver in its annual Cheechako Race, set for 10:30 a.m., Nov. 18. This annual 1-, 2- or 3-dog race is geared toward beginners and introduces those interested in the sport to the fun that is sled dog racing. Only newbies are allowed to race, but it does take practice, so plan ahead to get a few practice runs in before the day of the race. The Cheechako Race takes place on the very manageable 2-mile course at the Beach Lake Sled Dog Trails.



Chugiak Dog Musher’s Association has a Facebook page and a website ( The Alaskan Sled Dog & Racing Association ( also offers a junior program for junior mushers, ages 4-17.






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